My friends, on February 9, 2019, I will be launching the first volume of my new novel LAURA AND THE SHADOW KING at Amazon. It’s a kind of zombie-apocalypse military action thriller with an emotional side to it, as usual. Here’s the blurb:
In a world devastated by a rampant maddening disease, Lieutenant J.J. Berger takes his Special Operations team into Southern Portugal to search for his lost comrades. His path will cross with a mysterious woman and her little daughter, escaping from their captors. They might hold the key to a better world.
Today, I start a new phase, that of recruiting my Launch Team. The team is made up of volunteers that will receive the whole book a month in advance and complete tasks like: download it for free when the time comes and post an honest review at the Amazon book page. Anyone willing to do that, please subscribe to the Launch Team list by clicking here:
For now, let me give you a taste of the book. In three posts I will be showing you the Introduction (Chapter 0), Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. They are all independent – you can read them as you wish. I hope you like it!
LAURA AND THE SHADOW KING
Maria flinched. She could see the way Dmitri looked at the little girl playing on the ground and she froze, terrified. It was a greedy look. A drooling look. She wanted to scream, and her heart was racing. And then she made the mistake. She knew it was a mistake as soon as she made it. But the instinct was stronger than her. She stepped forward and called her daughter, and the little girl looked at her, held her arms out and let herself be lifted by her mother. Maria glanced at Dmitri and knew what she’d done. She should have kept her cool. She should have ignored that predatory look. Now he knew she knew. He knew she would stand between him and the girl. And that put them both in danger.
That episode made Maria even more determined. She made her plans. She knew the moment they’d find out her secret they’d take her daughter away and she’d never see her again. So, she had been plotting for weeks. And that’s when they’d brought in the soldiers.
She had been sent to take care of one of them, to treat him, and she’d done just that. And, in a rare lucid moment of consciousness, the soldier had turned to her and said, ‘Mérci. Mérci.’
‘Je vous en prie,’ she replied automatically in French. And he had smiled and squeezed her hand. She felt he was putting something in her hand and she looked and saw a device with a blinking red light. She feared it was a grenade or something and immediately jumped to her feet, dropping it on the floor. She looked at the device then at his eyes and understood she was wrong. It wasn’t a grenade. It was a tracking device or something. She looked around to make sure no-one else had seen it, and quickly picked it up and hid it in her skirt.
‘Allez Ouest,’ the soldier had said. ‘Go west and tell them.’
She didn’t really know who or what she was supposed to tell, but the soldier was well dressed, well fed, well equipped, and looked like soldiers used to look before. So, suddenly, she had a place to go. Another place, a chance for survival, surely a better place than here, in Dmitri’s court. Her plans looked much better all of a sudden.
But now she knew she had to be quick. She couldn’t take her time, she had to act. Each moment they stayed they would be in danger. Dmitri could decide to separate them at any moment. She knew he would, eventually. She was surprised he hadn’t yet. Maybe he thought she would cooperate better if she kept her daughter close. But now, after her mistake, he would soon change his mind. He would think that he could control her just as well if he separated them both. And he would be right. And the girl would be at his mercy. Maria shivered at the thought. It had to be now. It had to be tonight. And she was ready.
Boris was a nice young man with blond hair and blue eyes. She knew he craved her, and she had led him the best she could without putting them in danger. She had talked to him, so she listened and smiled, and he touched her hair in a sensuous way when she knew he was looking and nobody else was paying attention.
He was a mechanic. Some time ago, Maria, already planning to escape, had asked Dmitri for driving lessons. She wanted to be useful, she said. But he had been firm: no driving lessons, she was very useful already. So, Maria turned to Boris. In her seductive way, she had convinced the boy to give her private driving lessons. His first instinct was to say no. If they got caught it would mean their lives. At least for Boris. Something even worse for her, perhaps. But she had been convincing. Very convincing. She knew he was thinking the driving lessons would lead to something more pleasurable. And so, he said yes. And the first one would be tonight.
She couldn’t take any provisions or anything else, because they would know. No. Nothing more than an apple and a pocket knife and a compass. That night she looked at her daughter, lied to her and gave her a sleeping pill. Maria had considered only giving her half a pill, for fear it was too much, but the risk would have been much greater if the amount was too little and the girl woke up at the wrong moment. So, she gave her the whole pill with some sweet chamomile tea. The rest of the pills had gone into the tea and she poured a cup for Virginie, her . . . what to call her? Maid-guard? The young woman was nice and helpful, but she also would’ve betrayed her in a heartbeat. Soon, the maid was unconscious as well. For a few hours, at least.
Then Maria took some warm clothes, hid them under her regular clothes, picked up the sleeping girl and left the building before Dmitri or Alexei or any of the others noticed.
If she had timed her plan correctly, Bartosz, the huge Polish assassin who watched her all the time, would be in the toilet. That was his only flawed routine. Every night, exactly one hour after he had dinner, he would go to the toilet for eleven minutes precisely. But that was enough for Maria to slip out before he saw her.
She walked through the shadows, avoiding the eyes of the armed men and women around, and went to the outskirts of the town—a ruined Spanish village where the force was staying. To the northwest, there was a large abandoned factory where she had agreed to meet Boris. It was far away enough to be isolated, but still inside the guarded perimeter of the group.
She didn’t go directly through the front gate. She went around to the back entrance. And her heart started pounding as she anticipated what she was going to do.
She looked for some thick bushes and laid the little girl down under them. As she looked at her face, sleeping soundly by the moonlight, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. She was leaving her daughter, her whole life all alone, fragile and vulnerable, on the ground behind the bushes. If something happened . . . But this was the moment to risk everything. If they didn’t manage to escape all was lost. Gathering her strength, Maria covered the child with some vegetation, protecting her as best she could, then went back around the factory and entered the building through the main gate.
Boris was there waiting for her with an old black Volkswagen Golf he’d fixed himself. He smiled as soon as he saw her, and she forced herself to smile as well, trying to seem as relaxed as she could.
‘Nervous?’ he asked.
‘Very,’ she said.
‘How long do you think we have?’
She shrugged. ‘Twenty minutes. Virginie is looking after my daughter, but if she sees I’m gone . . . Maybe half an hour.’
‘That’s plenty,’ he said, opening the passenger-side door for her. ‘Come on.’
She was a little disappointed he didn’t put her at the wheel immediately, but she decided to play along. She got in and Boris went around and got behind the wheel. He looked at her.
‘You look very pretty tonight.’
She smiled and looked away. Just a little bit more, she thought.
Boris turned the key and the car started.
‘I’m going to take you around the factory so you can see what I do, okay?’
Her heart missed a beat. This was going to take too long.
‘Why can’t I do it myself? I don’t know if I’m going to understand what you do.’
‘Don’t worry. Just pay attention, okay?’
Maria nodded. She had to play along. If he became suspicious, everything would fall apart.
Boris put the car in motion. ‘See that pedal on the left?’ Boris said, starting his lesson. ‘That’s the clutch. See how I press it before I change gears? That’s going to be one of the most confusing things for you, so see how I do it.’
‘Hmm-hmm.’ She looked at the fuel meter instead. It was only a quarter full. But there was nothing she could do about that.
‘See . . .’ continued Boris as he drove slowly around the empty factory. ‘I use my left foot only for the clutch and my right foot manages both the gas and the brakes.’
‘Hmm-hmm.’ This was taking too long. ‘Why don’t you let me try?’
‘Just a little bit more.’
‘No, we don’t have much time. Please let me try.’
He looked at her and she smiled at him, looking excited. He hadn’t seen her that excited yet. He hesitated. If something happened to her, he was dead. But he had been the one to suggest this. Or had he? He was still undecided when she put a hand on his arm.
It was enough. All his doubts evaporated with her warm touch. She was so beautiful.
‘Alright,’ he said, stopping the car. ‘Get behind the wheel.’
Her smile widened and he stepped out of the car and went around as she climbed over the gearbox to the driver’s seat. And then she did something unbelievable. She leaned back and locked the passenger’s door. Surprised, Boris tried to open the door, unsuccessfully.
‘Maria? What are you doing, Maria?’
And then she locked the driver’s door and started the car.
‘Maria? Please stop kidding around. We don’t have much time.’
And then he saw her looking at him and watched her lips form the words, ‘I’m sorry,’ and his whole world crumbled beneath him.
Before the disease, Maria had known a very good life. She grew up in a big beautiful house with two older brothers and two shaggy old dogs. Her father was not rich enough to be famous but was rich enough to have expensive tastes. And his main hobby was cars. Racing cars. He raced in amateur competitions on the track and on the road. And he taught her. Since she was ten she had been competing in kart races. When she was sixteen, she’d been racing in rallies. And as soon as she sat behind the wheel of that VW, she remembered everything. Everything was as familiar as brushing her teeth.
She put the car in first gear, stepped on the gas and released the clutch. The car jumped forward, leaving poor Boris behind, screaming in desperation.
The tires were old and the car was made of spare parts, but it worked. By God, it worked! Maria sped toward the back of the factory and went through the fence without losing speed. She turned left and stepped hard on the brakes. The car stopped in a cloud of dust. Maria jumped out.
She could see Boris running after her. She had to be quick. She pushed the bushes aside and felt the relief flow through her as she saw the little girl still there, safe, still asleep. She picked her up. She was warm, she was breathing, she was safe. Maria ran to the other side of the car and tried to open the door, but it was still locked. She’d forget to unlock it! ‘No! No!’
Boris was running and running.
Maria went around again.
‘Mommy?’ The girl was waking up.
‘Everything’s alright, baby! Everything’s alright!’
Boris was now fifty meters away or less.
Maria went into the driver’s seat, carrying the girl in her arms, and she twisted and the girl hit her head.
‘I’m sorry, baby!’
‘Mommy!’ the girl protested as Maria almost threw her into the passenger seat. ‘You hurt me!’
But there was no time. A bruise was a small price to pay for freedom.
‘I’m sorry, baby.’
The car had stalled and she turned the key and the car wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t start! And Boris was there. She locked her door.
‘Maria! Stop! Stop, Maria!’
He tried to open her door and he couldn’t, so he looked down and picked up a big stone! Maria turned the key again and again. But the car vibrated and choked, and Boris swung the stone and smashed it against the side window. The glass broke all over her.
‘AAAAAAAAAH!’ cried the girl.
‘Nooo!’ cried Maria.
And Boris dropped the stone and tried to grab the wheel, but then Maria turned the key once more and stepped on the gas, and the car started and the wheels turned and it jumped forward.
But she wouldn’t stop. She shoved his arm away and drove through the bushes into the muddy road, and he tried to hold on to the car but couldn’t and got scraped off by the branches. Maria drove away as he fell to the floor.
‘Everything’s okay, baby. Everything’s okay.’
Maria sighed with relief, feeling the cold air running through her hair and looking at the open road in front of her. The easy part was done.