Equinox Preview: Chapters 1 – 3
I stirred my hot chocolate, dunking the tiny marshmallows until they melted into gloop.
Across the table, Amy took a large bite of chocolate cake. We were catching up over some serious calorie intake at Ruby’s. Some people might think it sad to socialise at your workplace on your day off, but if they lived in Burnt Oak they would understand there were few alternatives. Besides, Ruby’s hot chocolate was first class. Taking a sip, I winced as the piping liquid burnt my mouth.
“So when is Jack getting home?” Amy asked through a mouthful of cake.
Everyone thought Jack was in Australia visiting his family. The truth was if he wanted to visit his family he would have to go a lot farther than that.
While it was true Jack had been born there, and lived in Australia until he was fourteen, he didn’t have any family there. None that he knew of anyway. His mum abandoned him when he was little, and his dad, well, he was some fancy Syonian warrior, but to Jack he was whatever the Aethian word was for ‘absent’.
She grinned. “Bet you can’t wait.”
“I’m counting the hours.”
“I don’t know what I’d do if Dane went away for that long,” Amy said. Tucking a strand of chestnut hair behind her ear, she absent-mindedly touched one of the topaz earrings Dane had bought for her birthday last week.
“How was your birthday dinner?” I asked.
“Great,” she said, wiping the cake crumbs from her mouth with a napkin. “Although listening to Dane laugh at every single one of my dad’s jokes is getting old.”
“You can’t blame him for wanting to get into his girlfriend’s father’s good books. Especially when his girlfriend’s father is also the chief of police,” I added with a grin.
When Dane and I had dated, he hadn’t had to worry about impressing my parents. My father had died when I little (or so I had thought), and my mum and stepfather weren’t exactly the birthday dinner types.
Amy laughed. “I guess so. Hey, maybe next time we have a family dinner you and Jack could come too.”
I nodded, but I wasn’t so sure. It was a nice idea, and now that Dray had left town we were able to do normal things like family dinners. I was close to the McIntoshes, and I loved Amy’s parents. But when Jack and I had bumped into Richard at Ruby’s, not long after we got together, he had been really off with Jack. Considering he had only just met Jack, he had no reason to act that way. I had planned on bringing it up with him, but had been distracted when we had been ambushed by a group of Dray’s men at the visitor’s centre. I’d forgotten all about it until now.
Just the mere thought of Jack in any capacity made me go all warm and fuzzy. It felt like forever since I had seen him. Four weeks might not be forever, but it was long enough.
After everything that happened in the warehouse with Drayton that night, we had maintained a steady equilibrium over Christmas. But then Jack had found a lead on Callan and taken off, with Freddie in tow. Jack didn’t trust easily, and wasn’t dealing with Callan’s betrayal well. He wanted payback and was hell-bent on tracking him down. A few days turned into a few weeks while he followed the trail. It was hard to tell who wanted to catch Callan more, Jack or Equinox.
To make matters worse, I had to keep all this a secret from my friends, which is why I stuck to the story of him visiting family in Oz.
Thank God for the internet. We’d emailed and Facetimed, and whilst it was better than nothing, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on him again. I missed the feel of him. His scent, his touch. I missed him.
Our relationship had continued burning like wildfire as soon as Jack had healed after his huge fight with Dray. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other. I felt tingly at the memories of the time we’d spent an entire weekend without leaving his room.
Whilst it was wonderful, sparks and fireworks, we still hadn’t said the ‘L’ word. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him—I truly did. But it wasn’t something I took lightly. However, this time apart had made me realise how hard I had fallen for him, so when the time was right I planned to tell him.
As Amy and I sipped our drinks, talk turned to the missing link in our trio: Tasha.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit odd, Tasha’s family just taking off like that?”
Amy arched a brow. “They went on holiday to Marbella, Eliza; they didn’t go on the run.”
“But they left before term ended. It seemed so sudden. One minute we’re in History, the next Tasha’s texting me from the airport.”
“It was probably one of those last-minute deals. It’s expensive to go away in the school holidays.”
I tapped my spoon on the table. “I suppose. It’s just…” I trailed off as the bell on the café door jangled and a familiar slender, pale blonde walked in.
“Equinox are a bunch of pencil-pushing morons,” I muttered as I crept along the pavement, blending into the shadows.
There was a muffled laugh in my ear from Freddie.
It was late, and most of the people in the small seaside town of Seaton, Devon were tucked up in bed—where I should be.
But no. Me? I was trudging through the streets, in the rain, looking for an alien pet that had gone AWOL. And that was the bizarreness of my life. Even Freddie was tucked up dry and cosy, doing his comms thing from the comfort of our hotel room.
A young couple hurried down the road, the icy wind blowing them along as I watched in horror. The girl squealed as her hair whipped in her face. Her dress was so short she might as well not have bothered. What was wrong with these Brits? It was freezing. I had on two layers plus a winter coat, and my teeth were still chattering.
“At least it’s hot in Brazil,” I muttered.
“Hey, it’s your fault we’re not in Brazil,” Freddie reminded me.
We were supposed to be in Brazil with Rick, helping a fellow Syonian girl who had escaped from an Andronian attack. Or better yet, at home with Eliza, waiting for Scarlett to return, but I’d had a tip that Callan—the rotten traitor who was supposed to be our friend—was staying in some backstreet dive in Leeds, so I’d bailed on the trip to go and check it out. I’d come up with a big fat nothing, and now Equinox were on my back, giving me jobs like a trained chimp. Freddie, like the top bloke he is, had come along to help, so I wasn’t alone. But unfortunately for him I wasn’t the best company. Lucky for me, he was used to my crap and took it with a pinch of salt. Rick, on the other hand, was not happy.
“So on a scale of one to ten, how pissed off is Rick?”
“Ten.” Freddie’s answer came without hesitation.
“What?! That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?”
“Jack, he’s worried about Scarlett, trying to be there for Lola, and we left him to deal with a hormonal teenage girl, in Brazil, all by himself.”
“What use would I be?” I had zero patience with that sort of thing. Playing bodyguard to Eliza had left me wanting to jump out of a window, especially during the early days. “Besides, it’s good practice for him for when Lola grows up.”
“Yeah? Why don’t you tell him that and see if it makes things better?” Freddie laughed.
I regretted dumping Rick in an awkward situation, but, as miserable as the trip was, I didn’t regret following up the lead on Callan. I wouldn’t let him get away with it.
Everyone kept telling me to forget about it, to let it go, but I couldn’t. So much had gone on that night at the warehouse. But once the dust had settled, my bruises had faded and the shock had worn off, the enormity of Callan’s betrayal had risen to the surface. I was gutted. I was hurt. And I was angry. Things had been pretty rough for me growing up, and as a result I didn’t let my guard down much. Once I met Rick, Scarlett, Freddie, and Callan I had eventually let them in. But after what Callan had done I was struggling, fighting against the desire to protect myself and shut everyone out. In order to avoid those feelings, I had been concentrating on looking for Callan. I knew I might not get answers, but I wanted to make him pay. I didn’t expect anyone else to understand, and I didn’t want to talk about it. All I wanted was to find him.
“It’s done now. Let’s get this sewn up and we can go home and all—” I broke off. Something orange caught my eye, darting around the street corner. “This Myanno thingy—”
“Myanna,” Freddie corrected.
“Whatever. I think I just saw it.”
“Does it look like this?” A 3D hologram of the giant hamster-like creature, which had just scarpered off down the road, hovered in front of me.
“Yep, that’s him.” I waved a hand in front of my face and swiped the picture away. With another hand gesture, a small map appeared in the upper right-hand corner of my vision. The flashing red dot told me the Myanna was headed north.
Z10, kind of like the alien internet, was pretty cool by Syonian standards, but here on Earth it was bloody fantastic.
“Remind me why I’m doing this again?” I grumbled as I broke into a jog after the creature. “Surely Equinox have got agents to do this sort of thing?”
“Clark Anderson asked for you personally.”
“Of course he did,” I muttered. “His new mission in life is to torture me.”
“Are you sure he knows about you and Eliza?”
“I reckon that’s why I’ve been handpicked for this little job that happens to be almost two hundred miles away from her, don’t you?” I raced around another corner, the flashing dot showing the Myanna wasn’t far up ahead. “By the way, when I spoke to Eliza earlier she said Daisy told her she could see a bubble-gum-pink-coloured shield around their house, but if she reached her hand out whenever she went in or out, a hole appeared and she could just walk through.”
“What?” Freddie sounded gobsmacked. Eliza’s little sister had shocked us all when she had blasted a hole in Dray’s force field in the warehouse that night. Eliza was worried sick, and we were still trying to figure out what the deal was with Daisy, especially since we’d been using a force field to protect the home Eliza and Daisy lived in.
“I know! We couldn’t see it, and if an alien could make a hole like Daisy did, that renders it useless.”
The Myanna stopped, so I slowed down. I didn’t want it to notice me until I got closer. I lowered my voice. “So anyway, if you could work on an answer to that before we get home and stop Eliza from kicking my arse for leaving her little sister exposed for all that time, that’d be great.”
The creature, who had been snuffling behind some rubbish bins, lifted its head up, and seeing me it scarpered down a nearby alley. “On second thought, scratch that: Eliza is seriously sexy when she’s angry. Is it weird that I find it a turn-on?”
Freddie made a gagging noise down the phone. “Yuck. Please don’t tell me stuff like that. And yes, you are very weird.”
With a chuckle, I sprinted down the alley, spotting a burst of orange in the darkness. Coming to a stop at the end of the alley, I relaxed. It was a dead end. A chain-link fence blocked the way. The creature cowered in the corner. I took a slow, careful step toward it.
“It’s all right, little fella. I’m not going to hurt you,” I said, keeping my voice low and gentle.
The animal quivered. Up close he was actually quite cute. Who wouldn’t love a spaniel-sized, bright orange hamster?
“Be careful, Jack. They have a hell of a temper,” Freddie said in my ear.
“What, this little guy?” I slowly reached out to him, but all of a sudden he snarled and sank his teeth into my arm.
With a yelp I sprang back, and the Myanna dodged past me and ran off back up the alley. Gritting my teeth against the pain in my arm, I took off after it, spewing a load of curses that made Freddie threaten to hang up.
It was gone two in the morning by the time I caught the little rat and arrived at the drop-off point Equinox had provided coordinates for. A female agent took him off me and even gave me some sass about taking too long. I not-so-kindly pointed out she could do it herself next time and left.
“Clark Anderson is such a dick,” I grumbled as I got into my car. “Don’t try and tell me he’s not doing this on purpose. I wouldn’t be surprised if he let that thing loose himself.”
Freddie was silent. He usually let me rant, but it was also possible he’d nodded off.
My phone bleeped, and I glanced at it. Speak of the devil. “I’m on my way back. I need to get some sleep. I’ve been summoned to Equinox in the morning, by the man himself.”
“That sounds ominous,” Freddie said, awake after all.
It certainly did. I had a bad feeling about this.
I once read, ‘When you believe, the signs are everywhere.’ Yes, okay, it was in one of Daisy’s storybooks, and they were talking about fairies, but for me it applied to aliens. Once I knew the truth, it was hard to believe I had ever not noticed.
Today, Scarlett was a prime example. She glided into the café, radiating an ethereal glow. Her emerald-green eyes were too exotic to possibly believe she was human. I also wondered how I had never observed the similarity between her and Dray. Her eyes were identical to her younger brother’s, but I guess that was the benefit of hindsight.
Scarlett’s appearance in the café was a weight off my mind. The last time I saw her, she was jumping through a wormhole, holding the Orb of Tealon, and believe me, it was quite a sight. The boys had all assured me she was fine, and would be back home soon, but it was still a relief to see her in the flesh.
“Eliza,” she said, with a warm smile that lit up her face.
“Scarlett, it’s good to see you,” I said, hugging her tightly. “When did you get back? How’s Lola?”
At the mention of her one-year-old daughter, Scarlett’s smile grew bigger. “She’s great. I feel like she’s grown up so much in only a few weeks.”
“Amy, this is Scarlett, Jack and Freddie’s aunt. She’s been working out of the country for a while. Scarlett, this is my best friend, Amy.”
They greeted each other, then Scarlett followed me to the counter as I went to get her a coffee.
“So how was your trip?” I asked, lowering my voice.
“Good, all things considered. The Orb of Tealon is safe, and I spent a little longer than intended taking care of some unresolved issues.”
“With your family?” Being Dray’s sister, Scarlett was Andronian. Rick was Syonian. Andronia and Syonia were two rival sides of their planet, Aether. Scarlett and Rick had gone against the wishes of their families, eloping to Earth. Jack teasingly referred to them as the alien Romeo and Juliet.
“Yes. And whilst things are far from perfect, they are certainly better.”
Her smile slipped slightly. “I just wish the same could be said for Drayton. He is still missing.”
I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t say I was sorry he was missing; he had kidnapped my sister and used the power of the Orb to beat Jack unconscious. Personally, I didn’t think finding him would make any difference. He seemed to enjoy being evil, and he hated Jack with a fiery passion. Then again, to Scarlett, he was her little brother. If Daisy tuned into a raving lunatic I expect I wouldn’t be able to just forget about her either.
Scarlett reached out toward me, pulling my cardigan over my necklace. I looked down and was surprised to see it was glowing bright blue. I put my hand over it. It was gift from Jack, an animmiaa maotus gemstone, from their home planet. It reacted to emotion, but this seemed to be limited to the aliens. I guess mentioning Dray had upset Scarlett.
“It is beautiful, but be careful who sees it,” she warned.
“Thanks,” I said, tucking it away inside my blouse.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here… you know, afterward. Rick said Jack was in a pretty bad way.”
A lump formed in my throat at the memory of seeing Jack collapse on the floor of the warehouse.
I set Scarlett’s coffee down on the counter in front of her.
“And is your sister…?” She trailed off, but I knew what she meant.
All the signs pointed to Daisy being one of them. She had enhanced abilities, artem, like they did. She was able to alter the structure of things. After she had revealed her powers that night, I had talked to her about it. Thankfully it didn’t seem to faze her, and she told me she had instinctively hid it from others. That didn’t mean I wasn’t terrified for her and the implications of what this meant, but I couldn’t brush it under the rug. I had to find out the truth.
My first theory was that my stepfather, Daisy’s dad, was an alien, though Jack and Freddie had quickly ruled out this theory with a few cover tests. It was safe to say there was no love lost between Stan and me. I hated him. He was a loser who had been physically abusive toward me for the first few years after he moved in with me and Mum. Ever since she was born he hadn’t touched me, but he was still a pig. We avoided each other as much as possible when living in the same house.
They had also ruled out my mother, which was my next theory, although that would also mean I was half-alien, so that didn’t make sense either.
So that only left one last possibility as far as I could see—the worst one as far as I was concerned.
Daisy wasn’t related to me at all.
I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I told Scarlett.
At the look on my face she squeezed my arm. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.”
I mustered a small smile. She sounded just like Jack.
“Listen, Scarlett, before you go, I wanted to thank you… That night was pretty crazy, but the vision you sent—I don’t know what would have happened if you—” I stopped, as Scarlett’s mobile had started ringing, but the confusion clouding her face twisted my insides.
“Vision?” she asked as she dug out her mobile out of her bag. She signalled for me to hold on as she answered her phone and began speaking to what sounded like Rick.
My mind whirled. Until now I had assumed it had been Scarlett who sent me that vision. But if Scarlett hadn’t done it, then who had?
Since Jack and the others arrived in town I had experienced visions and weird dreams, but that same night in the warehouse Dray had revealed they were down to Callan messing with me. This final vision had happened after Callan had left, so could he have done it to help us? Or was it something else entirely? A tendril of fear wound its way from my stomach to my chest.
“Eliza?” I looked up to see Scarlett had finished her call and was staring at me. “You said something about a vision?”
I waved a hand. “It’s nothing. We can talk later.” The need to clam up suddenly overwhelmed me. It wasn’t like I didn’t trust Scarlett; I did, but I wanted to speak to Jack first.
“Are you sure?” I nodded, and Scarlett squeezed my arm again. “Okay, well I’d better go; I only stopped in to say hello. I need to get the house ready. Rick is bringing Darcy home tomorrow.”
“The girl from Brazil?”
“Yes. He said she is putting on a brave face, but she’s been through a lot.”
Scarlett finished her coffee and said goodbye, making me promise not to worry.
I went back over to Amy, apologising for taking so long, but she didn’t seem to mind; she had been texting Dane. I forced the niggling worry about the vision to the back of my mind until I spoke to Jack. He had a way of looking at things that made me feel better. There was no need to panic until I had his take on things.
Amy and I carried on gossiping for another half an hour, and were finishing up when suddenly her eyes widened.
“Who is that?” She was looking at someone over my shoulder, so I turned to see what had her eyes out on stalks. I was surprised to see Ruby with a guy who could only be a few years older than us. His entrance had turned more than a few heads of the female variety. He didn’t hold a candle to Jack, but I couldn’t deny he was good-looking. His dark brown hair was short and stylish, and he had a clean-cut look despite the shadow of stubble on his face. He must be funny, too, as Ruby was giggling like a schoolgirl at whatever he was saying.
“I have no idea,” I murmured to Amy. We watched as he smiled down at Ruby, flashing his killer dimples. “But whoever he is, he is some smoothie.”
I felt a pang in my chest. I wasn’t sure what caused it: Jealousy? Protectiveness?
Who is this guy? And what is he doing with Ruby?
Their heads bowed together as they spoke intently, and Ruby waved her hands, gesturing around the café. Mr Smoothie’s eyes scanned the room, pausing briefly when he saw me, then continued.
At the same time Ruby noticed me and rushed over, her cheeks pink with excitement. “Eliza!” She clasped her hands together and rushed out, “I was hoping to see you today. I have huge news. We are selling the café.”
I stared at her blankly.
Ruby motioned to Mr Smoothie, who strolled up next to her. “This is Riley, and he is going to buy the place.”
She introduced Amy and me, and Riley held out his hand, which I took, still too dumbfounded to speak. His hand was warm, his handshake firm.
Finally, I snapped out of my trance and found my voice. “I didn’t even know you wanted to sell up,” I said to Ruby. My voice sounded croaky, but I felt like I had been struck by lightning.
“We’ve been thinking about it for a while. Len and I have always talked about getting an RV and doing Route 66. It was a pipe dream, but then I told him, ‘Len, we aren’t getting any younger. Let’s do it!’”
An RV? Route 66? What? Am I in an alternate universe? I worked in the café and had dinner with Ruby and Len at least twice a week, and they had never mentioned this before.
“Eliza?” Ruby’s voice was filled with concern. I had zoned out for a moment.
“Sorry,” I managed, forcing a smile. “I’m just surprised… I mean, you never said anything. Ever.”
Her face dropped, and she wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “I’m sorry, darling. I shouldn’t have sprung it on you like this. It’s just once we decided, it all seemed to happen so fast. But we won’t be gone forever.”
“You won’t?” I felt like a little girl again as she squeezed my shoulders.
“No, of course not. You and Daisy can’t get rid of us that easily.”
I suddenly realised Riley was still standing there, watching us. I glanced at him; he had a pleasant smile fixed on his face, but I could tell he thought I was crazy. Embarrassed, I looked away.
Ruby promised to speak to me later, and they continued their tour of Riley’s new café.
“Wow,” Amy said, once they were out of earshot.
“He is going to be your boss!”
Equinox is out now. Thanks for reading!
Amazon Kindle – myBook.to/Equinox
iBooks – https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1219045386
Kobo – https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/equinox-36
Nook – http://www.bn.com/w/equinox-joanna-homer/1126035741
Paperback – coming soon