Welcome to my stop on the blog blitz for The Choice by Jake Cross. My thanks to Noelle Holten at Bookouture for the opportunity! Today, I have a thrilling extract to share with you but first, here’s what The Choice is all about.
Author : Jake Cross
Title : The Choice
Pages : 341
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : March 23, 2018
On a wet road in the black of night, Karl Seabury is driving home to his pregnant wife. Suddenly, caught in his headlights in the middle of the road is a woman shaking with fright.
The woman says her name is Liz Smith, that her home was attacked, and that she was the only one to escape.
In a split-second decision, Karl decides to help her to safety. But Liz is hiding a dark secret and now his good deed has put his family in terrible danger…
Nobody wants to run someone down in the road, but for a long time afterwards Karl Seabury wondered if things might have worked out better if his van had slammed the woman into bloody oblivion.
He was piloting 3,500 lbs of Ford engineering along a road as wet as a solid river when something came at him. He didn’t even see a shape, let alone a woman, just a hint of colour that extracted itself from the black wall of trees on his right. Instinct pistonedhis foot hard onto the brake. There was a screech of rubber that sent birds panicking from the treetops like gravity-defying leaves. His seatbelt cut hard across his chest as he was thrown forward.
Before he had time to wonder what the hell had happened, it was all over. The van sat stalled and silent, headlights illuminating the curving road ahead and a woman in a sodden summer dress. He reached for the handle to open his door, missed it, cast his eyes away from the road to locate it, found it, started to open the door, ready to unload foul language, and let out a yelp as the door was wrenched from his grasp as if by a fierce gale.
She was right there in the doorway, a face that had been gaunt and terrified in the headlights now gaunt and terrified in the van’s interior light.
‘What the Jesus are—’ Karl began, but froze when she grabbed his shirt in two tight fists.
‘You gotta help me!’ she moaned.
Autopilot kicked in. On a bright summer’s day, he might have told her to calm down, might have stepped out of the van and led her to the side of the road to seek an explanation. But it was dark and eerie out there and that fired an alarm in his mind. He grabbed the woman under the arms, yanked her up and literally threw her across him into the passenger seat. Her head smacked the window but she didn’t seem to care, and neither did he. He just needed to get out of there.
He twisted the ignition key and stamped and pulled at all the appropriate pedals and levers until the road started to vanish beneath the vehicle. By the time he hit second gear, the woman had already slipped out of the seat and crammed herself into the footwell. She clearly didn’t want to be seen in the van by whoever she was running from.
And then it happened again.
This time the shape was black, just like the night, and he didn’t see a thing until it stepped into the funnels of his headlights. He recognised a human form, but the mental alarm was in full flow and this time his foot stayed away from the brake. He did not want to stop out here again, ever.
Instead, he tugged hard on the steering wheel, and the silhouette in his headlights vanished off to the side. It flashed by his door window then was gone. Only once he had passed did he realise it was a man in dark clothing and wearing a balaclava. A shiver ran down his spine at the image.
He looked in the driver’s wing mirror at the shape in the road, saw twin dots of white high up in the blackness that must have been eyes, staring after him. Then the masked face turned to look the other way along the road, as if searching for something. Karl gripped the steering wheel hard and faced forward again. Nothing ahead but the road and the trees and the headlights. He glanced at the woman.
‘What the fuck’s going on?’
‘Is he gone?’ she croaked.
The road grew bright ahead. Another vehicle. Karl hit his door lock, then cursed his paranoia – what did he expect, this new vehicle to screech to a halt and block his path? It would just be some car, just some guy heading some place. The headlights grew brighter, and then the car emerged from around the curve. The van’s interior was lit up like a surgery.
In that moment he noted that her dress was patterned red and yellow, the material thin. She had manicured nails, smooth skin, and a bob haircut that was an ash blonde you couldn’t get from a chemist. An indoor look, or a summer-lunch-on-the-patio look. Certainly not a cold-March-walk-in-the-woods look. Then the car flashed by and all was dark again.
‘He bloody who? Was he chasing you?’ Karl realised his error even as he asked the question. Of course the guy was chasing her – he all in black, and her face coated in fear. ‘What did he want? You know him? Where did you come from? What are you doing out here?’ He took a breath, aware that his rapid speaking broadcast his own panicking heart. The man in black was gone, and the woman was safe, but not yet calm, and he felt some kind of male pride telling himself he needed to appear strong, as a knight in shining armour would. ‘You want to tell me what’s going on? The guy’s gone, so you can sit up.’
She didn’t sit up. She lay her head on the seat as if it were a pillow and closed her eyes.
‘Do you live nearby? Did you get chased out of your house? You weren’t out geocaching dressed like that, that’s for sure.’
No answer. He touched her shoulder, using a fist because that felt less intrusive. She jerked but her eyes stayed closed.
‘They came for us,’ she said, voice low, as if talking in her sleep.
They? More than one? ‘What did they want?’
‘We have a house on land beyond the woods,’ she murmured, a delayed answer to his previous question. ‘We were going to have dinner. Our friends. I hope they’re okay.’
‘And what, these men came? And everyone ran away? Why are you on your own?’
‘They wanted to hurt us, I think. And rob us. My husband… he…’
This was making his head spin.
‘Where are you taking me?’ she blurted, eyes open, a new fear imprinted on her face as if she suspected the nightmare might yet have another chapter.
‘I’m sure all the others are okay,’ he told her. He tried to picture a party on a rain-drenched patio. Men in tuxedos and women in flowery dresses. Expensive wines and political chat. And masked men in black rushing at them out of the trees, making them scatter. Might there be other drivers out here with scared people in their passenger seats, listening to such a tale?
‘You’re not going to throw me out, are you?’ Her eyes were pleading.
‘I’m not taking you anywhere,’ he said. ‘I mean, I’ll take you to a police station. I’m not going to throw you out.’
She didn’t speak again for a minute, and he was grateful for the silence. It gave him time to let this whole palaver sink in. He held his breath until he caught sight of the mist of orange lights oozing from around the next bend. A few seconds after streetlights appeared.
Ahead were terraced houses in two neat lines. Karl felt himself relax. The proximity of the human world woke some confidence in the woman, too, because she struggled up out of the footwell and sat in the seat like someone… normal. She gazed out of the window as if enjoying the view, but then he realised his error: she was concentrating on the wing mirror. Checking behind them for pursuers.
‘Burglars don’t come chasing people who got away,’ he said, unable to think of anything else. ‘I’m sure they got spooked by everyone seeing them and just ran off.’
She looked at him. Hard. As if he had said something naive. Or just plain wrong.
If you’d like to read more and find out what on earth Karl has gotten himself in to, then you’re in luck as The Choice is now available for purchase!
Jake has been making stuff up from a real early age. His parents never believed his silly lies when he was young, so he still has no idea why he thought he could invent a decent story as an adult. But he kept trying, and here we are. THE CHOICE is his first novel, the first of three thrillers to be published by Bookouture, and he hopes you like it. If you don’t, he at least hopes you don’t ask for a refund.