The Island – C.L. Taylor COVER REVEAL

I am so thrilled and excited to be working with HQ Stories for the cover reveal of this fantastic author’s new book.

Cover Reveal:

C.L. Taylor's The Island - Cover Reveal and First Chapter ...

HQ Stories have also provided an exclusive first look extract of this book which you can read below:

CHAPTER 1
JESSIE
Life would be so much easier if I were a psychopath. I’d
be charming, manipulative and a pathological liar. I also
wouldn’t be wondering what Danny, Honor, Jeffers, Meg
and Milo are talking about on the other side of the pool,
their faces cast in shadow, the Thai night sky a blank blanket
above them. And I definitely wouldn’t be convincing myself
that they’re talking about me. Even if they were, I wouldn’t
care. But the biggest advantage of being a psychopath by
a mile would be lack of empathy. Life doesn’t hurt as much
if you stop caring.


‘Who’s up for a swim?’ Honor, who’s been intertwined
with Danny on a sun lounger for the last hour, wriggles out
of his grasp and stands up. She slips off her flip-flops, strips
off her T-shirt and wriggles out of her shorts. It’s dark and the
surface of the pool is still and calm, striped with the reflected
glow of the hotel and dotted with candlelight. Honor dives
in, barely making a splash. She pulls her arms through the
water, blonde hair streaming behind her.
Seconds later Danny’s in too. He tries to grab Honor
around the waist but she slips away like a fish and swims
almost a whole length underwater.


‘Meg?’ Honor’s voice echoes off the walls of the hotel
complex as she breaks through the water, just a few feet
away from me. It’s after eleven and an older couple to my
right, talking quietly on their sun loungers, sigh loudly.
‘Milo? Jeffers? You coming in? We could play water polo?’
She glances at me and the expression on her face changes:
uncertainty replaces excitement. She doesn’t know whether
to invite me to join them or not. I pull the sleeves of my top
down over my hands and shift in my seat. Swimming’s one
of my favourite things in the world and I’m good at it – I’ve
swum for the county – but I haven’t been in the pool since
we got here and I’m not about to start now.
‘You guys go ahead,’ I shout. ‘I’ll watch.’


As holidays go this is right up there with the time we
went to Center Parcs and Danny did a poo in the corner of
the ball pit at soft play. OK, so we were all three at the time
but the memory of the warm squelch as I put my hand in
it is indelibly burnt into my brain. The walking tour of the
Scottish Isles when we were all twelve was pretty grim too.


It never stopped raining and I slipped and twisted my ankle
when we were still an hour away from the car. Almost every
year since we were born there’s been an enforced group
holiday and now here we are, in Thailand, a disparate group
of teenagers forced to socialise with each other because our
parents happened to go to the same antenatal group over
seventeen years ago. Our friendships have changed over the
years. As five- and six-year-olds Honor and I were about as
close as two little kids could be. We tried to include Meg in
our games but she was more interested in trying to muscle
in on the games Milo, her twin brother, was playing with
Jeffers and Danny. As pre-teens Meg gravitated back to
me and Honor and there was a distinct girls versus boys
dynamic. That all changed when hormones kicked in and
Honor and Danny got together and me and Milo . . . well,
I’m not sure how to describe that. We danced around each
other, I guess. Sometimes I fancied him and he didn’t fancy
me. Sometimes it was the other way round. It’s not that
we’ve got a ‘thing’. It’s more of a ‘non thing’ but it’s not
just friendship, not like me and Danny or Jeffers.


Don’t get me wrong, Thailand is amazing. The people are
so smiley and friendly, the food is delicious, the streets are
buzzing and vibrant and the scenery is breathtaking. Yes, it’s
hot and humid but, hello, I’d rather be dripping with sweat
over here than dripping with rain in England. No, Thailand’s
not the problem, nor is the amazing complex we’re staying in.


The fact is I can’t do holidays like this anymore. The others
don’t know how to act around me and I’ve forgotten who
I used to be. I can’t relax. I’ve forgotten how to banter, and
if I catch myself laughing, I immediately feel guilty. I might
be seventeen but I feel like I’m a hundred years old.


‘Jessie?’ I jolt as Milo appears behind me. I was so caught
up in watching Danny trying, and failing, to lift Honor above
his head that I didn’t notice him slip away from the table
he was sitting at with Meg. She’s changed since we hit our
teens. She used to be competitive, loud and outspoken. These
days, if she does speak, it’s usually to say something snarky.


‘Hi.’ I shove my hands beneath the table and smile, tightly,
up at Milo as my heart hammers in my chest. Like his sister
he’s got jet black hair but, while Meg’s tumbles over her
shoulders in dark corkscrews, Milo’s is shaved around the
sides and wavy on top.


‘I’m going to the bar.’ He reaches a hand towards me and,
for one heart-stopped second, I think he’s going to touch me.
Instead he places his hand on the back of my chair and rests
his weight against it. He glances towards my glass, most of
my mojito mocktail long gone. ‘Do you need a top-up?’


Instinctively I glance across the pool, to Meg, sitting
in her seat, hunched forward, her elbows on her knees,
watching us. If Milo was interested in me, which these days
he’s not, she wouldn’t approve and who could blame her?
Who needs my kind of screw-up in their life? If you need
me I’ll turn my back. If you want to talk I’ll run. And if
you love me . . .


Something lurches inside me – like a bruise being pressed
– and I twist the tender skin on the underside of my forearm
until the feeling fades. I might not be a psychopath but I’ve
got my own ways of switching off negative thoughts. My aim
is to be in complete control of my emotions. I’m not there
yet but one day I will be.


‘No thanks.’ I look back at Milo. ‘I’m going to bed in
a bit.’

Something in his gaze shifts. Did he just look disappointed
or did I completely imagine that?
‘Are you going to the bar?’ Danny shouts to Milo from
the pool as he launches Honor into the air. She shrieks for
all of two seconds then plops back into the water with
a splash. ‘I’ll come with you. I want a snack.’ He pauses,
waiting for Honor to resurface. ‘Want anything to drink?’
he asks her.


She runs her hands through her hair, slicking it back from
her face. ‘Lemonade, please.’
‘You don’t want a cocktail? This barman’s not fussed
about ID.’
‘Nah. I’m good.’


As Danny swims to the side and heaves himself out of the
water Milo drifts over to him. I watch as they saunter over
to the bamboo bar that’s surrounded by palm trees. When
I look back at the pool Honor has swum to the side nearest
me. The top half of her body is out of the water, her blonde
hair slicked back and her arms folded on the tiles.


‘Are you OK?’ she asks.
I stiffen. I can deal with people being kind on WhatsApp
and social media but, in person, any kind of sympathy makes
me want to cry. Thankfully no one’s pushed me to open up.
Other than a few awkward ‘I’m really sorry, Jessie’ comments
on the day we arrived no one’s mentioned the reason my
family didn’t go on the group holiday to Norfolk last year.


And I’d rather it stayed that way.
‘Fine. Hot, isn’t it?’
Honor takes the hint and changes the subject. ‘Is Milo
getting you a drink?’
‘No. I said I didn’t want one.’


‘Oh right.’ She shrugs lightly. ‘I’m not sure why I asked
Danny to get me one. I’m not even thirsty.’
Danny’s always doing nice things for her. In the three days
we’ve been here he’s rushed up to their room to get things for
her at least half a dozen times, given her countless shoulder
rubs and, when she didn’t like her fried snapper at lunch, he
swapped with his own meal, even though he’s not keen on fish.
Honor sighs loudly, prompting me to ask her what’s up.


She ignores the question and eases herself effortlessly out of
the water and sits on the edge. ‘Are you looking forward to
going to the island tomorrow?’
I shudder, despite the heat. ‘Not really, are you?’
She shrugs. ‘Seven days with no 4G, no WiFi, no clean
clothes and no soft beds. It’s either going to be hell, or the
best thing we’ve ever done.’ She gestures across the pool to
Jefferson whose got his face buried in a book. ‘Bear Grylls
over there is crapping himself with excitement.’


I can’t help but laugh. Jefferson Payne, the youngest of
the group by nine days, has been obsessed with camping,
hunting and foraging for the last few years. He’s small and
wiry with over-sized glasses but, in his head, he’s some kind
of action hero. If the WhatsApp group chats are anything
to go by he spends every night after school whittling knife
handles out of bits of wood and plaiting huge lengths of
cord into bracelets. I’m not judging – how he spends his
time is his own business – but it is a bit weird that a kid
who lives in a three-bedroom house in North London and
goes to private school is so obsessed with prepping for the
end of the world.


I’m not sure if it’s the prepper stuff or something else but
he’s changed since the last time I saw him. He was always
the most reserved kid in our group, but he’s got a real loner
vibe going on now. We’ve chatted a couple of times since we
arrived – small talk mostly – and I got the distinct vibe that
he’d rather be anywhere than hanging out with us.
If our parents have noticed that we’ve all outgrown these
group holidays they’ve chosen to ignore it. They all seem as
chilled and relaxed as they normally are. Well, maybe not
my parents, not this year.


‘I mean, it’s only a week,’ Honor says, ‘and the guide will
be doing all the hard work building us a shelter and stuff. It’s
not like we need to be fashioning spears out of bits of wood
and killing fish for dinner.’
‘I’m packing Pringles,’ I say. ‘Seriously, sod all the sensible
stuff we’re supposed to take with us. I’m filling my bag with—’
I’m interrupted by the slap, slap, slap of flip-flops as two
lads – one with a nose ring about our age and the other
a couple of years older with closely cropped hair – appear
from between the palm trees and saunter towards us. Honor
turns to look, flipping her wet hair over her shoulder. Inwardly
I groan. I’m paranoid and self-conscious enough with people
I know, never mind people I don’t. I should have gone to bed
while I still had the chance.


‘All right, girls?’ The shorter of the two boys looks me
up and down dismissively before his gaze rests on Honor.
Behind him, the older boy smirks. With their blue eyes, fair
hair and long, angular faces they’re almost certainly brothers.


‘How you doing?’ The shorter boy with the nose ring
plops himself down next to Honor, who immediately angles
herself away from him. Her eyes dart towards the palm trees,
anxiety written all over her face.
‘Jesus,’ the older one says, taking a seat next to me. ‘Aren’t
you hot wearing that?’


Unlike me, in a long-sleeved top, linen trousers and flipflops, he’s barefoot and naked from the waist up.
‘I’m fine,’ I say, ignoring the fact my top is glued to my
back with sweat.
‘Each to their own.’ He grins widely and sits back in chair,
blocking my view of Honor and his brother. ‘I’m Jack by the
way, and that’s Josh, my brother.’
‘Great.’
He laughs. ‘Chatty, aren’t you? How long have you been
here?’


‘Too long.’ I give him a pointed look. I know what he’s
trying to do. He’s trying to keep me distracted so his brother
can crack on with Honor. I shift my chair to one side so I can
see round him. Short-arse now has his arm around Honor’s
shoulders, his fingers denting the skin at the top of her arm.

She’s smiling at him but it’s a fixed grin – the kind you use
when someone’s overstepping the line but you don’t want
to cause a scene. She’s doing her best to wriggle away but
he’s tightened his grip, pulling her into his body. Over on
the other side of the pool Jeffers still has his nose in his book
and Meg has disappeared.

‘Hey!’ Honor says, whipping her face away as Josh dips
his head to kiss her. ‘Leave it out, I’ve got a boyfriend.’
‘I heard you guys talking,’ Jack says, shifting his chair
towards me. ‘You off on some kind of survival experience
tomorrow or something?’


I ignore him. His brother has one hand on Honor’s face now
and he’s angling her towards him, forcing her to look at him.
The hand around her shoulders has slid under her arm and
his fingers are plucking at the thin material of her bikini top.
Beneath the table I pinch at the only patch of skin on my
forearm that’s smooth and soft but the tight feeling in my
chest remains. I don’t want to get involved but someone has
to. This has to stop.


‘Hey,’ Jack says as I stand up, still gripping the arms of
my metal chair and carrying it behind me like a turtle shell
as I walk to the edge of the pool. ‘What the hell happened
to your hands? Jesus, they look really—’
‘Hi.’ As I draw closer Josh releases his grip on Honor’s
face and rests his hand on the tiles. He feigns nonchalance,
all cocky and chilled—’look at me just chilling by the pool
late at night’ – but he’s moved his wandering hand back to
Honor’s arm and he’s pinning her to his side.


‘Where are you going with that chair?’ he asks. ‘Going
to take it for a swim?’
Behind me his brother laughs.
‘No.’ I smile down at him. ‘I thought I’d join you.
Apparently you don’t have a problem with personal space.’
He looks up at me in confusion but, before he can reply,
I lower the chair so one of the metal legs is directly above
his hand, then I sit down. His shout fills the air – a howl of
surprise morphing into a scream of pain. He pushes Honor
away from him and grabs at the chair leg but it doesn’t
move an inch. I’m too heavy for him to shift. He looks up
at me and I feel a stab of satisfaction at seeing Honor’s fear
in his eyes. Nothing happens for what feels like for ever
then I hear Jack’s chair scraping on the tiles and his roar of
anger. A split second later I’m shoved so hard in the back
that I tip forwards. There’s no time to react. All I can do is
hold my breath as I fall out of the chair and the lights of the
pool rush to meet me. The last thing I hear before my ears
fill with water is a single word.
It sounds a lot like ‘psycho’.

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