Time for the second of this week’s blog tour stops, and this time I’ve got a sneak peek at some (rather creepy-sounding) adult romance for you, with an excerpt from Abigail Osborne’s self-published debut novel The Puppet Master. Sounds rather apt with Halloween looming! Check it (and the bookish details) out below the cut.
Manipulated by fear and love…could you cut the strings and take back control?
Billie’s hiding from the world, believing it to be the only way to take control of her life as she lives in fear of the man who nearly destroyed her. But what she doesn’t realise that she’s exactly where he wants her; isolated and afraid. A chance meeting with budding journalist Adam sparks a relationship that could free her from the terror that controls her. But will Adam be able to see the real Billie buried under her terror and pain?
Adam knows exactly who Billie is and is determined to expose her and get justice for the lives she ruined. But first, he needs to convince her to open up to him but as unwanted attraction and feelings blossom between them, Adam is forced to realise that all is not as it seems. Most of their lives have been unknowingly governed by the desires and needs of someone who considers himself their master. He has influenced and shaped them for years, meticulously weaving a web of lies and control around them. Can Billie and Adam survive the betrayals in store and cut the strings that bind them?
One thing is for sure. The master wants his puppets back – and he’ll do anything to keep them.
About the Author
Abbie was born in the Lake District and has moved all around the UK since then until she met her husband at University. She lives with him and their two crazy cats in the West Midlands. She is a Needs Assessor for students with disabilities and has her own book reviewing blog called Many Books, Many Lives. Even though she did English Literature at University it wasn’t until she started reviewing books that she realised how much she loved to write. The Puppet Master is her first novel but it certainly won’t be her last.
Present Day – 2018
Billie stole down the street avoiding all eye contact and people. Once a week, on a Sunday, she braved the world to visit the bookstore not far from her flat. ‘Once Upon a Time’ had thousands of books and a quaint little cafe, it was her haven.
“Same as usual, love?” asked the elderly lady at the till.
“Err… yes please,” whispered Billie, blushing bright red. She focused on her tray, the same hot chocolate and sandwich she had each time. She didn’t really like the sandwich but she felt silly just buying a drink.
“That’s £5.50 then please, love.” Without looking the lady in the eye, Billie handed over the money she had already got out in preparation.
“Thank you,” Billie said, and then scuttled off to the same table by the window that she always had. She liked this table because she could look out the window at the people hurrying down the street – no one stopped or took their time any more. But if she didn’t fancy that she could also people watch in the cafe. It was a small, intimate setting, a few tables and lots of quirky signs dotted around. Her favourite was ‘Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup’.
Today, she watched the two women through the gaps in her long red hair, shielding her gaze. They were at the table next to her, chattering about the possible affair that one of their husbands may or may not be having. She enjoyed these little snippets of society. Some days she felt a pang of loneliness, no one would ever sit at this table with her. But mostly, it was a relief. It wasn’t safe. People were dangerous. She looked over at the lady who had served her. Her face was wrinkly with laughter lines, her smile was wide and welcoming. White hair bounced cheerfully on her head as she moved around. But Billie knew that appearances were deceiving. Nearly everyone wore a mask. No one was themselves any more. Too afraid to be judged. Everyone had to fit in with what was ‘normal’. Billie could just make out the lady’s name badge. ‘Martha’ could easily be hiding something. She could be stealing children and cooking them just like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.
She shook her head and returned to her food. It was no good thinking like this. It would only trigger memories of the person who had had the best mask she’d ever seen. A mask so well constructed, no one could have sensed the evil behind it. She went back to eating her food, surreptitiously watching the people around her. She could live through their lives. People watching was much safer than making actual connections. At another table, a mother was helping her son with a jigsaw. She watched them and allowed herself to become absorbed in their lives. She wondered what the woman did. She was dressed haphazardly so it looked like she was a full-time mum. The boy looked happy and content. Billie hoped his mum was strong enough to keep him safe. That she wouldn’t abandon him when things got tough. That she wouldn’t put herself first.
She was distracted from her thoughts by a man that had entered the cafe. She watched as he made the rookie mistake of ordering his food without checking to see if there was table free. For a moment, his black-clad body stiffened as he realised his mistake. But then, instead of putting his head down and scurrying away as she would have, his powerful and well-muscled body moved with effortless grace over to her table. Billie couldn’t look away as he stared down at her with warmth in his unusual pale green eyes, which were in perfect symmetry to his humorous, kindly mouth. His stance exuded a sense of restless energy. For the first time since she could remember, she wasn’t scared. He stood there, devilishly handsome and she was captivated.
A lock of his wavy blond hair fell casually on his forehead as he spoke. “Can I sit here?” Billie knew words weren’t going to come, so she just nodded.
He was so calm, as if sitting next to strangers was normal and not potentially dangerous. Whereas she couldn’t stop fidgeting, her eyes darted all around. Why was he sitting here? She could be an axe murderer for all he knew. Although, she supposed, she was a bit too female and frumpy for the average axe-wielder.
He sat down and looked at her intently; his eyes were pale but unreadable. But then, like she had passed some test, a smile broke out across his face.
“So, how are you?” he said. She didn’t reply straightaway, thrown by his familiar tone, as if they knew each other.
“Er… Fine… Do I know you?” Blushing from head to toe, she rapidly wracked her brain, trying to remember if he worked with her. She made a point never to talk to anyone outside of work and just kept her head down. Literally.
“Nope, never seen you before, just thought it would be rude not to talk,” he said. His smile widened, and his face changed, a light came into his eyes and her pounding heartbeat lowered a few decibels. She realised that she had been staring and quickly lowered her head.
“Okay,” she murmured, to her hands. Her hands were shaking. To calm herself, she focused on them. She’d always had fat fingers, but her fingernails were nice. She’d managed to kick the habit of biting her nails.
“Are you texting someone for help? Is that why you keep looking down at your knees?” he said. She looked up instantly, her face redder than she had ever known it. “I’m going to have to work on my image. I thought I’d mastered looking sweet and innocent, but from your reaction, I’m more like an axe murderer.” Despite herself, she smiled. Her stomach was fluttering, it couldn’t keep up with the varying emotions she was experiencing.
“I don’t have a mobile.”
“How curious, are you also one of those loons that don’t have a television?” He visibly shuddered. “I’d rather sit on the floor if that’s the case. I don’t trust people that don’t watch TV; it’s unhealthy.”
She chuckled quietly, still unable to look him in the eye. “I have a TV.”
“Is it black and white?”
“No, it’s a regular TV.”
“Phew, that’s a relief, you had me worried then.”
She laughed as he flopped back in his chair in exaggerated relief. It was strange. Although she was wary and uncomfortable with him, it wasn’t as bad as it usually was.
She remembered her first week at her job. She was staring out of the window, grateful to have a window seat, when one of her male colleagues came over to her. “Hi, I’m Andy, you must be Billie?” His hand reached out to shake hers and she froze. She stared at his hand. It loomed over her and it began to magnify. She could see every hair on it. His hand was massive and all she could think of was how it could easily crush hers. Instead of shaking it, she got up and ran to the ladies bathroom. She got into a stall and was sick. From then on, no one spoke to her and she never spoke to anyone, unless she absolutely had to. She heard muttered rumours about her but she didn’t listen properly. The only people she talked to regularly were customers on the phone, and that was only perfunctory conversations.
With the shock of this man’s arrival at her table wearing off, she was surprised how little she felt intimidated by him. She didn’t even know his name. Alarm bells had begun to ring in her head as soon as he had started talking to her but his relaxed manner and humour had disarmed them. She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed with someone, let alone spoken comfortably with them. Life had kicked Billie down and trampled over her until she realised that the only way she could exist safely in this world was to close herself off to the rest of humanity. People were dangerous. She had lived alone, with this mantra, for the five years since she had left university. She thought that she no longer felt loneliness, but this stranger was stirring feelings she didn’t know still existed.
“Although we still need to discuss the phone thing… I’ve never met someone who doesn’t have a phone. How do people get in touch with you?”
“I have no one that needs to get in touch with me.”
“No one? I don’t believe that. What about your parents?”
She sucked in a breath of pain, sharply reminded why she didn’t like to talk to anyone. People were nosey. They walked around quizzing people about their personal lives, believing that they had the right to ask whatever they want. Life was one big interview, and Billie hated it. Everyone should be able to give information when they are ready, not when someone else wants to hear it. But basic personal information seemed to be a requirement for social interactions, so she gave her standard lie.
“I don’t have any, and before you ask, no siblings or other relations, just me.” She hoped that her sharp tone would make him realise that she did not want to talk about this anymore.
“Aw. Do you want to talk about it?”
She shook her head and then added, “No.”
He was quiet for a moment, brow furrowed. Then his face brightened. “What about work? They have to be able to contact you. You must have a phone to talk with them.”
“I have a neighbour in the flat next door; she has a phone that my work can call.”
“You know you could just get a phone don’t you?”
“I don’t want one.”
She floundered. How could she possible explain that such a simple question would take her entire life history to answer? This was the most she’d spoken with anyone for years. His light tone and handsome smile had her spellbound. She was even considering telling him. She’d never told anyone the whole story and until now, she hadn’t known she wanted to. She realised she hadn’t answered and began to panic. He must have seen it on her face though, because he changed the subject.
“So, can I know your name, or would you prefer crazy beautiful anti-phone lady?” The word beautiful echoed in her head. She felt sick. He was just like the rest. She got up quickly, sloshing his coffee on the table.
“I need to go, sorry.” With that, she ran towards the door and out of the cafe. Trying hard to beat down the memory of the last time that someone had called her beautiful.