Sunday, 8 April 2012

Bemused, Chapter One

It's sample Sunday on twitter, so please enjoy this sample of Bemused.

Book Blurb: When self-made property developer, Niall, is attacked by vampires on his way home, his neat and ordered life soon begins to fall apart. His rescuer, the effervescent Mel, declares herself to be his Muse - better known in modern times as a Guardian Angel - and offers him a business proposition; she wants them to go into business as supernatural detectives.

Slightly sceptical to say the least, Niall eventually agrees to work one case with her - helped in no small part by his rather strong attraction to Mel.

Mrs Hart's house has been plagued by a series of deadly and inexplicable events, culminating in the death of a local boy. As they look into possible causes, Niall finds himself growing even more fond of Mel, although she seems determined to keep him at arm's length.

He discovers why she she is so reticent but that is soon overshadowed by the cause of Mrs Hart's problems; a foe so powerful that even the immortal Mel seems terrified!

Chapter One
As Niall paused in the dark alleyway he silently cursed himself. He shouldn't have had that extra beer. Hell, he shouldn't have agreed to come out tonight, he had a lot of work to do. He hadn't intended to drink but he'd been talked into it. Then into a second, then one for the road which meant he couldn't drive home and didn't have the money on him for a cab.
Which is how come he now found himself facing down two thugs in a dark alleyway.
As they approached him, he tried to remember everything he'd heard about being attacked but his thoughts were very scrambled. He seemed to remember that playing dead was a good idea but did that mean he should just drop where he was and pretend he'd had a heart attack?
The thugs were moving closer, he would almost describe it as stalking, and he knew that he had to decide on a course of action soon.
He looks scared,” the slightly taller of the thugs said to his partner.
All that adrenalin should make him real tasty,” the other one agreed.
Niall held a placating hand up and took a step back.
Hold on a second. You can take what you want, just don't hurt me.” He took his wallet out of his back pocket and held it towards them.
The thugs laughed and though the alley was dark, Niall would swear that he could see fangs glistening in the moonlight. He blinked and looked again. The fangs were still there.
I'm going crazy,” he said softly.
The thugs laughed again but it was cut short as one was kicked in the back and fell forward, landing face first in a muddy puddle. His partner turned to face the threat and earned himself a roundhouse kick to the face for his troubles.
Niall began backing away from the scene, now certain that he was insane. Five-foot blond chicks in skinny jeans and four inch heels might be able to kick butt on television, but this was real life.
As he turned to run he felt a hand grab him, holding him in place.
We're not done with you yet,” the first thug said calmly. He pushed Niall into the wall and ordered him to, “stay there.”
For reasons that he would never fathom, Niall did as he was told and stayed put.
Both thugs had now found their feet again and approached the woman from either side. She didn't look at all fearful, just excited, almost as though she was looking forward to the fight.
Thug number two punched her with such a bang that Niall could almost feel the blow himself. The woman just laughed.
Is that really all you've got?” she taunted them.
The second thug took a swing at her but she caught his fist and twisted. Niall heard the crunch as his arm snapped. He howled in pain and cradled his arm. The second thug hesitated for a moment before deciding he needed to fight to defend his friend's honour.
The woman blocked his punches repeatedly but didn't move in to debilitate him as she had with his friend.
The first thug shuffled closer to the fight and tried to rejoin it. He raised his leg to kick her, thinking that she was distracted by his friend but she kicked backwards first, her foot connected with his shin and Niall heard another crunch just before the thug screamed again.
Fucking bitch!” he exclaimed as he tottered on one leg before crashing to the concrete alleyway.
The woman suddenly dropped her defensive stance against the second thug saying “I'm bored now. You can go.”
The thug again hesitated for a moment before deciding that perhaps discretion was the better part of valour. He collected his friend and together they hobbled towards the other end of the alleyway.
When she was sure they were gone, the blonde came over to him.
Did they hurt you?” she asked.
Niall couldn't speak and even if he could, so many questions were begging to be asked that he wouldn't have been able to choose one. In the absence of any verbal clues, she turned him around and took his jacket off and began running her hand over his arms and back.
You'll have a few scrapes and bruises but nothing serious,” she assured him as she helped him back into his coat before she looked around for his wallet, which he'd dropped during the fray. It was lying at the edge of a puddle and she wiped it off on her jeans before she handed the wallet back to him. He accepted it very gingerly, as if it might be poisoned or something.
I'm Mel,” she said, holding her hand out to him.
Niall shook it hesitantly. “Niall.”
I know. Let's get you home; we really should get some antiseptic on those abrasions.” She put her arm around his waist because he was obviously in shock, and helped him out of the alley.
Who are you?” he asked when his mind finally cleared enough to ask a question.
All in good time, Niall. All in good time.”

Niall hissed as she ran the TCP soaked cotton pad over the cuts on his back.
Don't be such a baby,” she admonished. Niall didn't know what to say to that so he clenched his teeth until she'd finished.
All done,” she proclaimed a few minutes later, taking the seat opposite him at the kitchen table. “Drink your tea, you've had a shock and you need the sugar.”
Niall dutifully took a sip.
So, now will you tell me what the hell is going on? What were those things?” Now that he'd had a chance to relax a little he knew that he hadn't been dreaming. Well, either that or he really was insane and none of this was real, in which case it didn't really matter if he sounded crazy.
They were vampires,” she answered calmly.
Niall thought this over. “Vampires?” he asked, just to be sure. When she nodded he continued. “So what are you, Buffy?”
Not quite.” Mel smiled. “I'm a Muse.”
Niall opened and closed his mouth a couple of times before he settled on something to ask.
Okay. Whilst that display was very inspirational, it's not exactly what I picture a Muse doing.”
She shrugged. “Well I could have given you an idea for defeating them, but the truth is you probably wouldn't have been successful and it was easier to just take them out myself. It was a judgement call.”
And why were you there?” he asked.
Because you were trying to think of a way out and you called on me.”
How could I call on you when I didn't even know you existed?” came his sceptical reply.
Doesn't matter, you wanted me so I came. Just think of me as your guardian angel.”
I think I need you to back up a dozen steps here.”
Mel took a deep breath and rolled her eyes.
Fine. My name is Melpomene and I act as a Muse to one person in every generation who calls me. You first called me when you were seven and I've been helping you ever since.”
When I was seven?”
Yeah. You were doing a project on Culloden for school but you couldn't think of a good angle so you asked the universe for help.”
And you've been following me ever since?”
Ever wonder where all those great ideas came from?” she asked. “All those great gift ideas you have, the businesses, getting into property development, taking a risk on that first dilapidated apartment that could easily have bankrupted you before you'd even started. Choosing those lovely sand coloured curtains last week instead of those bold burgundy ones you were contemplating. I was also the one who told you not to take that job with McPhee and Sons.”
They were charged with fraud two years later,” he recalled.
Yep. I checked them out for you and didn't like what I saw.”
So why are you watching over me?”
Because you called me.”
Once, and that was years ago!”
Whoa, don't get upset. When you called me you also tied me to you. I am your Muse for life now. If you call, I have to come running. I was actually enjoying a night out when you called, hence the rather inappropriate vampire fighting outfit.”
How did you know that?”
Know what?”
What I thought of your outfit?”
Yes, I can hear your thoughts.” Mel rolled her eyes.
'No you can't,' he thought.
Yes I can.”
That was easy to guess,” he said. 'This time I'm thinking about oranges and lem- no pears, oranges and pears.'
Oranges and pears?” she shook her head as though upset with his originality.
'Oh God, there's so many things I shouldn't think about, mustn't think about! What if she hears about the-'
Stop it, it's nothing I haven't heard a few million times before. You can't shock me, Niall, so don't worry about it. Besides, I can only hear you so clearly right now because you're still pumped from the fight. Usually your thoughts are much quieter.”
Okay. Wow, this is a lot to process.”
I know. I'm sorry.”
Are there a lot of vampires out there?”
No. And most are super nice, you were just unlucky that those guys were jerks.”
Oh.” Lost for words, he looked closely at her for the first time. “You're exquisite, you know. Your hair is like spun silk, glistening in the summer sun and your eyes are like the Mediterranean sea on a warm summer's day.”
He frowned, wondering where that had come from. Usually he would just say she was pretty and had nice eyes.
Sorry,” she cringed. “That can happen around me sometimes. It's the whole 'Muse' thing. Turning off the flowery prose option.” She closed her eyes for a second then grinned as she opened them. “Done.”
Good. So where were you this evening?”
I was in Chicago.”
Niall did a double take. “Chicago? How did you get here so quickly?”
Like this.” She disappeared. “Boo!” she said as she appeared beside him.
Niall jumped slightly. “Don't do that.”
You asked.” Mel shrugged.
If you can do that, why did we have to walk home? Why didn't you just do the poof-magic-disappearing-thingy?”
The poof-magic-disappearing-thingy?” Mel frowned. “I think maybe I need to dial the flowery prose back up a notch.”
No, don't. Just answer the question.”
Okay,” she sighed. “I can't teleport anyone else so I had to walk you home.”
You could have just left me there, you didn't need to walk me home.”
I know but I actually wanted to talk to you.”
You did?”
Yeah. You've been thinking about starting a new challenge but you're not sure what you want to do yet, right?”
Yes,” he answered cautiously.
Well I've been trying to make it as a private detective and I think we should go into business together.”
Because, as it turns out, I'm not a very good detective.” Mel frowned.
Why not?”
Because I don't have any good ideas. I can't make that intuitive leap that turns a good detective into a great one.”
But you're a Muse!”
Yes, and that means I can give you good ideas, not myself.”
That doesn't sound very fair,” he agreed.
Exactly!” She grinned. “So you will help me?”
Now hold on, I didn't say that.” Niall frowned.
I can't believe you!” Mel crossed her arms over her chest. “Everything you have is thanks to me, your house, your investment properties, your businesses, every good idea you've ever had was thanks to me. I made you a multi-millionaire by the time you were twenty three and even though you're at a loose end these days, you still won't help me?” She stood up and began pacing.
How do you think it feels to spend your life at someone's beck and call, giving them all their brilliant ideas and never getting even the slightest credit for them? I helped create the Eiffel Tower, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, even the bloody pyramids were my idea but do you see my name in any history books? No! You humans, you're all the same, just take, take, take. Well that's it. That's the last good idea you'll get out of me, Mister.”
Now hold on, I didn't-” but it was too late, she was gone. “Mel?” he called. “Mel, I'm sorry. I didn't mean... I mean, come back, please.”
She appeared in front of him. “Too late,” she said and she disappeared again.
God, I hate temperamental women,” he said softly.
I heard that!” came a disembodied voice.
Niall sighed and rested his head in his hands. This night had been the craziest of his life.
I am never drinking again,” he promised himself.

Before going into work the next day, Niall took a cab into town and stopped into House of Fraser but for the life of him, he couldn't decide what to buy.
Karen, one of his employees in his property development business, was leaving next week and the money from her leaving collection had been given to him, because he always knew exactly what to buy someone. Anyone.
Except for today.
Every now and again he thought he caught a glimpse of that blonde pixie bob but whenever he turned to look, Mel was nowhere in sight.
Sighing he put down the pea green vase he was holding and walked from the homewares department to the kitchen department. He was drawn to a microwave but he knew an appliance wasn't the way to go. It was just so shiny though...
To avoid temptation, he headed down to the floor below and was pleased to see the escalator came out in the perfumery department. Surely he'd find something here, he thought, smiling.
Thirty minutes later he knew how sadly mistaken he had been. There was just so much choice. Spicy scents and fruity scents, musky scents and sweet scents. He just didn't know what Karen would like.
He picked up a random bottle of perfume and lowered his head as he pretended to sniff it.
Okay, you made your point,” he said softly. “Help me.”
As far as he could tell nothing happened, he was still clueless.
Mel, please, I'm asking for your help,” he said, looking around to make sure that no one was in earshot. “You're tied to me, remember, you have to help me.”
Wrong,” the disembodied voice he'd heard last night corrected him. “Being tied to you means I have to listen to your pleas for help, but I don't have to actually help.”
That's not what you said last night,” he argued. “Mel, come on, don't be like that!” he said, getting slightly angry. She was torturing him and enjoying it.
The woman passing him shot him a worried glance, wondering why he was talking to himself.
Embarrassed, he put the perfume bottle down and headed out of the store. He still had a week before Karen's leaving party, he could pick something out another day. And maybe Mel would have forgiven him by them.
No chance,” came Mel's disembodied voice.
Niall looked around, wondering if anyone else could hear her talking or if it was just him.
From the department store he took another cab to where he'd left his car last night and drove to one of his current projects. The renovation was nearly finished and now he needed to pick out the decorations for the apartments.
The site manager, Billy was waiting for him when he pulled up outside.
They settled in the Portacabin which served as a base for the workmen, and started looking through the catalogue for the tiles to be used in the kitchens and bathrooms.
Usually Niall had an eye for decorating. He knew how to inject a little bit of personality into his properties without making them too unique and putting some buyers off.
What about the Ocean?” Billy asked, pointing to the picture of a bathroom decorated in three different shades of blue tiles. They had been browsing catalogues for nearly an hour now and Niall hadn't made a single decision yet.
No,” Niall shook his head, realising that Billy was getting a little impatient with him. “Look, why don't you get back to the job and I'll look through these some more.”
It's not like you to be indecisive.”
I didn't get much sleep.” Niall shrugged the comment off.
Well, we've got to get the tiles ordered by 6pm if we want delivery next week,” Billy reminded him, putting his hard hat back on as he left the Portacabin and headed back to the building site.
Niall spent another hour looking through the catalogue for inspiration but he just couldn't make a decision. The mosaic tiles looked great but they were very bold. On the other hand his next choice, simple black and white, was too bland and maybe a little cold and clinical.
He sighed and realised that he still had kitchen tiles to decide on, and appliances, and cabinets...
He thought about asking Mel to help him again but he was too proud.
Angry at his indecision, he picked the mosaic tiles and left a note for Billy letting him know which ones to order. The kitchen tiles would just have to wait. He could afford for this job to overrun slightly so it wasn't the end of the world if the tiles were late being ordered.
He went to check on his other project to see how the work was going. He was grateful that this time he was just checking up on the work and wouldn't have to make any creative decisions.
The townhouse had already been converted into six apartments but it had been decades since any money had been spent on them and the building had been boarded up for nearly five years, until Niall saw an opportunity and purchased it at auction.
Right now the plumbing and electrics were all being renewed and the floors were strewn with debris. It was hard to imagine the finished product, which was one of the reasons Niall got his properties so cheaply.
He finished touring the building and left quickly, almost afraid that someone would ask a question that would require a bright idea.
Back in his car, he took his hard-hat off and shook his head at his own insecurity. He was letting this situation freak him out and that wasn't like him. He just needed to calm down and take a step back. Just because someone had been giving him good ideas in the past didn't mean that he was incapable of having good ideas himself. His confidence had just taken a knock but he would bounce back, he always did. He ignored the little voice that said he usually had help in bouncing back, even if he hadn't known it.

Niall's home was a detached house in the Grange suburb of Edinburgh. After he'd bought it he'd had it completely redecorated, preserving the original features while updating the overall look. It was far too large for him but it was an investment as well as his home and one day when he sold the property, it would be his retirement fund. It had seven bedrooms, only one of which was used and downstairs it had a living room, drawing room, library cum office, dining room and a large kitchen, complete with stone floors and the requisite Aga.
The walls were adorned with original art works, most of which had been bought as an investment rather than because he liked them. The walls were all painted a vanilla shade, which was a fancy way of saying light cream, and the furnishings were complementary shades of beige, mink and brown. There were a few splashes of colour but not many. Niall had liked it five years ago when he'd completed the renovation but now he was starting to think it was a little cold. And he was tired of having to be so careful with food and drinks around his beige sofas.
When he was a kid their sofa had been older than he was, but at least he had never had to worry about spilling things on it.
He had enjoyed the trappings of success once but as he got older, they were starting to wear thin. How many Armani suites and Gucci loafers could one man wear, after all? Wearing his Rolex watch to his work sites where it could easily be damaged or paint spattered just seemed wrong, and he hated the heavy gold bracelet his ex-wife had bought him because he thought it was garish. Ever since they had separated, the bracelet had been left to rot at the back of his sock drawer. Out of sight but not out of mind.
Niall got himself a drink and settled down to work in his office. After an hour of paying invoices and answering emails, he stretched his arms above his head and was pleased to be finished for the day, even though it was still only 1pm.
He decided to brush up on his putting skills and spent a couple of hours in his garden trying to hit a tiny ball into a tiny hole. Golf wasn't really his thing, it was too slow for him but a lot of contacts could be made whilst playing a round of golf, so it was a necessary evil. He was a member of the Merchants of Edinburgh Golf Club and he tried to play a round at least once a month. He knew he should attend more of their social events but he didn't have a steady relationship and usually couldn't bring himself to go alone.
When he could stand no more putting he went back inside, made himself a latte, turned the kitchen television on and sat at the kitchen table. It wasn't until he noticed that he'd just spent the best part of an hour watching Murder She Wrote, that he realised just how boring his life had become.
He knew he needed something else in his life. His businesses were such well-oiled machines by now that they hardly needed him at all and he was getting bored. He just couldn't find any opportunities that captured his imagination. He would have to look harder he decided, and his mind drifted to Mel's offer of helping her in her detective business. Now that sounded interesting.
Still, he did have dinner with Candi to look forward to tonight. He hated her name and was pretty sure that she was a gold digger, but she was gorgeous and he felt he owed it to her to see where the relationship went.
Tonight was their second date and they were going to a small, cheap Italian that just happened to be one of his favourites. It was just what you might call a 'Mom and Pop' restaurant but they made everything themselves and Isabella's secret pasta sauce recipe was to die for. In fact he'd tried to buy the recipe from her many times, but had always been gently rebuffed.
This was the perfect second date restaurant because gold diggers couldn't appreciate the good food since they were too worried about status. Izzie's Italian wasn't a place to be seen, the menu told everyone exactly how reasonable the prices were and the the clientèle was nothing to write home about.
In the past, a few women had been good enough to fake it, but Izzie's weeded most of them out. Plus, he was looking forward a good home-cooked meal.
He picked up a Dan Brown book he'd been reading and wasted a few hours embroiled in a tale of deception, danger and intrigue in the Arctic Circle before getting ready for his date.
Deciding what to wear for dinner was relatively easy and he began to laugh at himself for his earlier worries. He checked his reflection in the mirror and was quite pleased with what looked back at him. He wasn't vain and he was well aware that he was no Brad Pitt, but he made the most of what he had. His dark hair was kept short and tidy but somehow it always looked mussed. At university he had finally stopped fighting and just decided to go with it.
He was about six feet tall and though he wasn't muscular, he was of average build and his expensive clothes helped him to make the best of what he had.
He finished the outfit with black dress shoes and a cheap Casio watch, then headed to the garage where three cars waited for him.
For work he usually drove the Porsche Cayenne because it was unobtrusive for a four wheel drive and it's spacious interior allowed him to transport building supplies when necessary. Not that he ever needed to these days. Plus, the interior would get all dirty if he did and he'd have to have the car cleaned and valeted afterwards.
He also had a Porche 911, though he rarely drove it because it was too low set for a city that liked its speed bumps as much as Edinburgh did.
The final car was a Volkswagen Passat and it was his favourite because it was the first one he had bought new, when he was 22 years old. It still had a sentimental value and although it was getting on in years, he couldn't bring himself to replace it.
The first time he had picked Candi up he'd driven the 911; he wondered what she'd make of him picking her up in the Passat tonight.
She was waiting for him when he pulled up outside her flats but she didn't realise it was he who had pulled over until he got out of the car. She looked surprised but only took a second to recover before she flashed him her brightest smile. He leant down and kissed her on the cheek then opened the passenger door for her.
He had told her tonight was smart casual but he noticed she had gone all out instead. Her little black dress was very little, her white blonde hair had been teased and sprayed to within an inch of its life and her five inch stiletto heels could easily kill a grown man, if wielded correctly.
Where are we going?” she asked as he climbed back into the driver's seat.
A small Italian restaurant in town. It's a hidden gem, you'll love it.”
He noticed that her smile never wavered and took that as a good sign.
New car?” she asked.
His spirits sank slightly. “Old one, actually,” he said, choosing not to answer the implied question, where was the 911?
It doesn't look old.”
That's because I look after her. This was my first new car, I bought her with the proceeds of my first renovation.”
She's special to you,” Candi guessed.
Yep.” He sometimes wished he'd kept his very first car. It had been a beaten-up Golf costing five hundred pounds, that had clearly seen better days, but it had meant the world to him. It had been ten years old when he'd bought it and fifteen when he sold it, but sometimes he wished he'd held onto it. He'd made a lot of good memories both inside of and thanks to that car.
Here we are,” he said a few minutes later as he pulled up close to the restaurant.
Candi got out and looked around for the restaurant, her gaze sliding over the basic exterior of Izzie's and moving on as she decided that couldn't be it.
As he went around the car, he thought that he glimpsed movement behind him and turned to look but there was no one there. He turned back to Candi, took her arm and guided her to the restaurant.
Her eyes widened slightly but she didn't make any comment.
Isabella's husband, Alessandro, greeted him warmly and Niall introduced him to Candi. They chatted for a few moments, exchanging pleasantries and catching up. Niall noticed that Candi was carefully taking in her surroundings, although he couldn't read her expression.
Alessandro then showed them to a corner booth, took their drink orders and left to fill them.
What do you think?” Niall asked her. Personally he liked the eclectic and slightly worn look of the place, the scarred table tops, the mismatched cutlery and glassware. It gave the restaurant a lived-in feel.
Candi clearly didn't feel the same. “Uh, it's okay, I guess.”
Niall tried to be charitable and give her the benefit of the doubt. “Wait until you try the food, it's the best in a hundred miles, at least.”
The meal was a rather awkward affair as it seemed that Candi's only real topics of conversation were celebrity gossip, films and reality TV. Niall was quickly running out of questions to ask her. He also noticed that Candi never seemed to ask about him, which either meant that she had done her research and already knew everything about him, or she just wasn't interested in him as a person. Perhaps she was used to men falling over themselves to impress her and so didn't think that she had to put any work in.
Either way, he was fairly certain that this would be their last date.
When their main course arrived, he gushed about the food for a while and insisted she try some of his mussels but she didn't look overly impressed.
Dessert turned into a mostly silent affair so Candi finally made a few attempts to ask him some questions, just to fill the silence. Unfortunately her questions sounded more like an interview than a casual conversation and it was clear now that she had done her research, so he wasn't really interested in answering her.
He had rarely been more pleased to see someone than when Isabella came out of the kitchen to say hello. He invited her to sit with them and they chatted for a long while. Eventually Alessandro joined them as well since the restaurant was beginning to empty out. By the time Niall asked for the bill, his evening was much improved and he left with a smile on his face.
As they reached the car, Candi kissed him and Niall remembered why he'd asked her out in the first place, because she was smoking hot! He considered sleeping with her and it took longer than he was proud of to decide that it wasn't a good idea. He disentangled himself from her and momentarily changed his mind as he saw her flushed face. Then reality kicked in again.
I'm sorry, Candi, but this isn't working for me. I'll take you home.”
What? Why not?” she looked genuinely confused. Perhaps what he had just seen as a date from hell passed as normal in her world.
We're just too different” he said kindly. “It would never work between us.”
But why?” she demanded.
Because I like sitting in front of a fire discussing anything from politics to philosophy but you like going out and having fun. I'd be a bit of a downer for someone like you.”
I like nights in too,” she said. “Look, come back to my place for a coffee and we'll talk.”
I'm sorry, but no.”
Why not! You're just a snob, aren't you? I'm too working class for you, aren't I?”
Niall took a deep calming breath
No, Candi, it's because I like people with drive and ambition and frankly your biggest goal is to meet David Beckham.”
She looked devastated for a moment, as though it had never occurred to her that some men might enjoy a woman who was an equal and not just a pretty arm ornament.
Suddenly her features hardened and she stood up straighter.
Well screw you! I don't need you, Mr I'm A Property Developer, Mr I'm So Loaded I Can Have Anyone I Want. I'll make my own way home.”
She turned and tottered away on her ridiculously high heels.
Candi wait! Let me see you home, please.”
I'm fine!”
And then suddenly she wasn't so fine anymore because someone had a hand round her throat and was holding her off the ground. 
I hope you enjoyed this sample. If you would like to continue reading, Bemused is available on 

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