“We need to talk,” Tal said. Then I knew it was going to go badly. ‘We need to talk’ is the conversational equivalent of walking into your basement without turning on the light, on a dark and stormy night, when a known psychopath is on the loose. You might as well cut to the chase and slit your own throat.
Chloe Diaz assumed three things: that when Tal said that she was one of The People sent from heaven to maintain the cosmic balance, it was code for ‘I’m a pamphlet distributing, incense burning, religious weirdo;’ that the gorgeous Seth Wilks would never be her soul mate and that she’d never have to choose between them. Chloe was wrong.
Now the future of the world is in her hands, but what if price is too great to pay?
This is a brief description of the plot:
After a lifetime in the shadow of her sister, Chloe is severely phobic of the chronically cool. Seth is everything she avoids; a pre-med philosophy major who works in a bar, plays in a band and is so good looking that grown women stare at him in the street. But it’s hard to say no to your soul mate. Thinking she’s maxed out her supply of destiny, Chloe settles down to enjoy the happily-ever-after.
Tal says that she’s one of The People sent from heaven to maintain the cosmic balance. Chloe assumes this is code for ‘I’m a pamphlet distributing, incense burning, religious weirdo.’ Actually Tal’s main extracurricular activity is fighting the forces of Oblivion. The People never need to hide what they are because no one ever believes them. Until Chloe does.
Chloe sets out to help Tal and The People as much as she can as an outsider. Seth says as long as no one wears their underpants on the outside Chloe can do what she likes. What he doesn’t say is that he’s also one of The People, although non-practicing. But as the Final Battle draws nearer, Chloe realizes it’s time for Seth to go collect his regulation sword. The only thing standing in his way is her. Seth says he’ll give up his place in heaven to stay with her. Chloe must choose between Seth’s soul and her own happiness.
Praise for Life in the Palace
An interesting take on the paranormal romance genre. …..While other books in the genre have unrealistic buy in to the acceptance of someone from the outside entering a “new world” Life in the Palace handled it from both the main character looking in and the dwellers of the Palace looking out at this person trying to enter their world. …….I am so happy to hear that there are more books in the series! – Yonit on Goodreads
I loved this world that Catherine Green created. I happily lost myself in the life & deep love between Chloe & Seth …..I loved the attention to detail, the fleshing out of the world around them, the obvious growth of all the characters… Even the heartbreaking choices made at the end.
Book two I cannot wait to read! – Ebon Darkmyth on Smashwords
Loved it, great story line, fun characters and after reading it and thinking deeply about the duality of our lives, it made my prayers come alive! – Rebecca Wittenstein on Amazon.com
This book introduces you to a whole host of characters that you want to meet in real life. ….The action keeps you reading, while the budding love between Seth and Chloe makes you breathless. A great read. – Cypora Cohen on Amazon.co.uk
Catherine Green writes fantasy books featuring religious characters in a brazen attempt to make the people in faith communities seem less weird. She lives with her husband, children and three marginally neglected goldfish. When she’s not writing, or pretending to be one of her characters on Facebook, she has been known to cook dinner.
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When Chloe met Seth (from Chapter 1):
Seth leaned over in my direction.
“Are you into extreme sports?” he asked softly. I caught my breath as his tone made a mundane question unbelievably intimate.
“Only vicariously,” I answered, and immediately congratulated my mouth for producing an answer worthy of the moment without bothering to bypass my brain.
He cracked a smile. His left cheek had a dimple.
He looked me in the eyes and I nearly died.
Why are you making this happen to me? We both know that I don’t date the untouchable guys. I date the normal guys, maybe the friends of the untouchable cool guys. I go to the movies, watch Kristen Stewart do what I can only dream of, and like any other girl I go home happy with the fantasy. But I won’t ever go home with Rob Patterson, so don’t ruin my dreams by making me hope.
“Are there any other pleasures you enjoy as a voyeur?”
Do you have no mercy?
“Line dancing; although, strictly speaking, it is an extreme sport.” My mouth was on a roll.
He smirks. “I haven’t much experience with line dancing.”
“I’m from Texas,” I shrug.
He’s not sure if I’m joking. “What do you wear to go line dancing?”
“Steel-toe capped boots, a floor length velvet dress and fake eyelashes.” It’s my turn to laugh. His face is a picture. “I’m actually serious. It really happened. I did say it was an extreme sport.”
He looks at me curiously, “And you made it out alive?”
I nodded. “Ok, I’ll tell you the whole story. My best friend back home is an uber goth: long straight black hair down to her bottom, porcelain white skin and enough eyeliner to make a drag queen proud. It drives her mother crazy. Her mother is this super southern-beauty-queen-Barbie-doll type. She decided that Spike and her needed to spend more quality time together so they went line dancing. Her current (and fourth) husband is some sort of line dancing champion. Spike said she’d only go if I went to.”
“Spike?” he raised his eyebrows.
“Her real name is Lauralee Crystabell. If she ever finds out I told you, we will both have to die.”
“I’ll take the secret to the grave. So you went all gothed up? Is that your usual mode of dress?” He looked me up and down.
“No… yes… sometimes.” I opened my mouth and said something I’d never admitted to myself before. “I pretty much just do it to fit in with her. Our other best friend, Jared, does too. Although in his case I think it’s just an excuse to wear makeup. It’s not that I’m not into it at all. I’m not a total wannabe. It’s just not really my identity. Although it can be pretty cool sometimes.”
I knew it couldn’t last more than about thirty seconds. I waited for him to turn away, now that I just admitted I’m a total loser.
He’s still staring at me.
I wriggled in my seat and shut my eyes.
When I opened them he was still staring at me.
I could feel my heart beating through my chest and there was too much saliva in my mouth. This has to be a dream. Any minute now I’m going to find myself naked in a room full of people.
But he’s still staring at me.
With any luck it could be one of those dreams.
Chloe watching a battle at the nursing home (Chapter 11)
I considered protesting that I wasn’t trying to do any Service, I just liked spending time with the elderly. I was about to give some bland response she would have seen straight through, when Tal saved me by walking through the door guitar in hand.
She smiled when she saw me, “Oh good, you made it. We’re in for a treat today. Gal and Dava came today too.”
Her brother and the chick with the mousy brown hair that was at their house for the Dinner wandered over to the little stage area. In actual fact, it was just where Marian had cleared away some of the chairs, but it was as close to a stage as any one was going to get in the activities room. Gal pulled up two extra chairs for them and they took their places. Jov waved hello at me as he took his place.
Marian seemed to have disappeared so Cale just started playing. It was the same opening number as always, the one that seemed like a prayer. Now that the music and the setting were familiar, I felt brave enough to try sliding my mind with Tal’s. I couldn’t get a clear picture. There were swirls of pink and sunflower yellow. Something beautiful was happening but I couldn’t tell what.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mrs. Hols staring at me again. After a minute she seemed to make a decision. “They’re thanking He Who Gives for life and for enabling us to make the Service,” she whispered.
I guess she really wasn’t deaf because she pitched her comment exactly right for me to hear clearly but for no one else to overhear. I nodded and smiled. I didn’t want to say anything and break my concentration.
When the song ended, it felt like a curtain had dropped over the stage. As Dava began singing the next song, it was obvious that we had changed scenes. Her voice was spectacular. The notes seemed to weave higher and higher as Tal, Noy and Jov harmonized and Gal strummed the guitar. I didn’t recognize the language. The song itself sounded as old as time. The melody flowed up mountains and across oceans. I was almost lulled to sleep. In contrast, Mrs. Hols was remarkably alert. I vaguely wondered if I’d eaten too much lunch. Another thirty seconds and I’d have been asleep. Later it occurred to me that was the point. Just as my eyes closed, the attack came.
It started with a feral snarl somewhere to my left. For a second I saw Tal still strumming her guitar, Dava and Noy were still singing, and Cale’s hands didn’t even pause on the piano. Like a badly developed photo superimposed on their calm performance, I saw each straighten and clasp their weapons for battle. Dava pulled an arrow from the quiver on her back as a bow materialized in her hands. Behind her Tal gripped the hilt of her sword with both hands. Cale readied his spear. A low rumbling that was almost more threatening than the original snarl announced the enemy getting closer and closer. This beast was in no hurry to attack. A matching snarl from the right made it clear that they were in no hurry to attack.
When they came into view, I realized that my hands were trembling. This was no species that walked the face of the earth. It was big like a bear with a face like a wolf, but no wolf was that big, no bear that light on its feet. Its fur was jet black, only emphasizing the double row of bared teeth. The jaw looked large enough to snap a person in two. With heads cocked to one side, they stopped about five meters away and looked the defenders up and down.
Tal was white with fear. Jov looked like he was about to throw up. Apparently they had never seen anything like it either. I could tell they were thinking what I was thinking: how the hell were they going to defeat these things and still walk away? I remembered what Tal had told me, if you die in the Palace, you die in the physical world too.
Am I just supposed to sit here and watch them die?
I looked around wildly and nearly fell out of my chair. When I took my focus off the immediate battle scene, I was still in the beige walled old age room. The elderly were all still sitting there in their chairs; some of them were still clapping. Mrs. Hols was muttering something under her breath. I stared at her.
She looked up, “Just keep clapping, dearie. We don’t want Marian to notice anything funny going on.”
Anything funny going on? My friends were about to be mauled to death by some quasi-mythical beasts and we were worried about Marian getting the wrong impression.
I opened my mouth to say something.
“Don’t worry love, we’re on it.”
If I had retained power over my body, I might have slapped her. Instead I just watched. I hadn’t noticed that she was holding a small book in her hands. I looked from the book to her face.
She paused for breath and said quickly, “Supplications. They need more firepower.”
I felt pressure building in the seat next to me. Mrs. Hols spoke faster and faster, her wrinkled hands flicking the pages as she went. After a lifetime, that was probably no more than half a minute, I thought I saw an ax head hover in front of her.
I looked back to the battle. The beasts were inching closer. Suddenly two things happened, the color returned to Tal’s cheeks, and she seemed to grow taller. At the same time a heavy wooden stick with a double headed axe appeared in her hands. I didn’t dare look at Mrs. Hols, but it seemed like the extra firepower had arrived. The others now also brandished new weapons. Presumably, all of the other elderly were busy doing what they could.
My heart began to beat again. Now they might actually win. At least they might walk away from it alive. Do those things ever just retreat? I’m not sure if I missed the signal but one the beasts leapt in attack. Dava shot off her arrow, hitting the left beast in the eye. It didn’t pause for a second. Noy was closest to its giant paws. As the thing bore down on her, she ducked and rolled under it. Tal swung the pike and the axe lodged behind its left ear. She jumped to the side, retrieving her pike and swinging wildly again as soon as it was free from the beast’s flesh. Noy had disappeared but as the beast reared suddenly in the air, I saw her roll out from underneath it, a bloody dagger in her hand.
On the other side, Dava seemed to be holding the beast at bay with a barrage of arrows. Cale flexed his muscles and hurled a spear into the side of the attacking animal. I counted five other spears still lodged in its hide, making it look like a really angry pincushion. Gal held a large sword, but he could hardly get close enough to use it. Jov was creeping around to the side of the snarling animal. Just as it looked like he might get close enough to attack – it wheeled around and sent him flying with one flick of its head. Jov landed awkwardly and seemed unable to get up again.
Even with the extra firepower, it wasn’t working. They were only just managing to hold them at bay. Do they just keep going until they drop from exhaustion? A quick glance around me showed that the elderly were still doing their thing. For every spear Cale threw another arrived in his hands but it didn’t seem to be enough. My mouth was dry and I had to remind myself to breath.
Would You really let them die here with everyone watching? What about Marian? What would happen? Would they just drop dead here in the middle of the activities room? Would they do an autopsy? How would anyone explain away five young people just dying in the middle of the afternoon?
I didn’t want to watch the battle, but I couldn’t draw my eyes away. They were going to get massacred and I was just sitting and watching. As I felt despair washing over me, something changed. At first I didn’t see him, I just saw the shift in their posture. I registered surprised and relief.
“About time,” Mrs. Hols whispered under her breath.
Soon I saw what they were all looking at. The beasts moved closer to each other and further away from the approaching horse. I skipped that horsy stage when I was younger, but this thing was certainly not My Little Pony. Its hazel flank glistened, standing at least as tall as the black beasts. It moved with the calm of a body builder breaking up a playground fight. The beasts still snarled but the edge had gone out of their menace.
It took me a while to realize the most unusual thing about the approaching horse; it had a rider. In all the times I’d seen the Palace through Tal’s eyes, the animals had been the forces of the Adversary. The regal figure in robes rode the glistening horse like a farmyard pet. His sword was blinding as he drew it from beside him. With a tiny twitch of his heel the horse surged forward. With one swoop, the head of the first beast lay on the floor and the return thrust finished off the second. As suddenly as it had started, it was over. The hood of the rider’s long mauve robes covered his face, but he seemed to bow to Tal and the others before he too disappeared.
My head pounded as the pictures snapped back into one and the activities room returned to being the only thing I saw. Gal wiped his brow, Tal shot me a smile of relief. Dava held one long note as she ended the song I hadn’t heard, continuing in the present. The elderly clapped with extreme enthusiasm. Their shining eyes made it clear they were acknowledging a job well done in more ways than just singing.
Chloe arrives unexpectedly at Tal’s house on the Day of Connection (Chapter 8):
Mrs. Perr stood to see me out, “It was so nice to meet you Chloe. Feel free to stop by again.” Her voice was warm, but I was sure she didn’t mean it.
“Thank you so much for the hospitality. You really saved my life on the bathroom front.”
We were just making our way towards the front door when it opened and through it walked a group of men all wearing suits.
We all froze.
“You’re home early,” Mrs. Perr said brightly.
“A lot of people are on vacation so things moved more quickly,” one of the men explained.
“Who’s this?” a youngish guy asked. He might have been the brother-in-law.
“This is Chloe, Tal’s study partner. She just stopped by for few minutes.”
I would have smiled and made my way towards the door if it wasn’t for the fact that I had lost all control over my body. I just stood there and stared. I didn’t even care if by now they thought I was beyond weird.
Behind each of the men was a large shape of fire and light. I couldn’t actually see them. It was more like my mind told me they were there, without bothering to bypass my eyes. Part of my mind was telling me it wasn’t true, while the other part was just staring at these huge figures radiating splendor. It would be an understatement to say I’d never seen anything like it. I’d never imagined anything like it. I’m not sure if Steven Spielberg has ever imagined anything like it.
Tal was introducing me to her brother and acting like everything was normal. I don’t even think I said hello to him. When I did speak I couldn’t even remember to fake politeness.
“What is that?” I didn’t even blink. I just stood and stared. I might have been in shock.
Tal looked shifty, “That’s my Dad.”
“What’s the problem?” One of Tal’s friends asked the other.
“I think it’s because he’s wearing a hat,” the other replied.
“Who cares about the hat?” The panic was apparent in my voice. I still didn’t take my eyes off them. “Behind him,” I croaked, “Can’t you see them?”
The whole room froze.
“See who?” Tal’s mother asked casually. She’s a good actor, only her eyes betrayed her.
Tal was less cool, “What’s there to see?”
Sweat was pouring down my back, I was about to totally lose my cool. “The giant creatures of light and fire standing behind him.”
“Ahhh, behind all of you!” I leapt back. I wrapped my arms around myself so they wouldn’t see how my hands were shaking. Now even Mrs. Perr was having trouble playing it cool. We all just looked at each other for five horrible seconds.
“It’s the angels,” a voice piped up. Tal’s little niece smiled brightly while her mother clearly considered infanticide.
“The angels?” I wasn’t sure the voice was my own.
A vein on Tal’s left temple was throbbing. “I did tell you,” she said very quickly. “Angels come to our house on the weekend.”
“You didn’t tell me it was fucking TRUE!!” I exploded.
Then clamped one hand to my mouth as I realized I’d just sworn in front of a bunch of religious people and a swarm of angels. I sank into the sofa behind me. I put my head in my hands, but when I looked up they were still there, radiating eternal light.
“It’s supposed to be a metaphor for spending quality family time together, it’s not supposed to be real,” I said half to myself.
Over my head, I felt an exchange of meaningful looks. Someone reached a decision.
For the first time, Mr. Perr spoke, “It’s all true. There really are angels that come to our house, we really live in the Palace, we really defend the world from Oblivion and Disconnection. We are the Servants of He Who Sees All. It’s real.”
I thought, holy crap.
I said, “Oh.”
Then my brain began to function so I added, “So when Tal said you were part of an eternal battle she actually meant that you were, like, part of an eternal battle?”
Cautiously, Tal nodded.
“All those stories are true?” I asked.
Tal nodded again.
“Anything anyone missed?” I asked more brightly than the moment called for.
The blond friend put up her hand, “There really is a force in side of us that drives us away from the true path.”
“You’re actually possessed?”
“A bit. Somewhat. Maybe,” she floundered.
“We prefer to think of it as being provided with daily challenges to become greater,” explained Mr. Perr. He’s slick. I wondered if he was a motivational speaker or a divorce lawyer.
They seemed to be waiting for me to say something.
“How come you guys don’t tell anyone about all of this?”
“We do,” said Tal.
“They just don’t believe us,” the clean cut guy, who I presumed was her brother, explained.
“The angels aren’t a giveaway?”
“Others, people who are not of our kind, can’t usually see them so we tell the whole truth and they don’t believe us.” The brother looked around for encouragement. The others nodded.
“Why can you see them?” The blond friend asked.
I shrugged, “Gifted?”
They all considered it. There may have been another unseen exchange because Mrs. Perr suddenly smiled brightly and asked, “Would you like to stay for dinner?”
Right then, going home to watch X-files re-runs seemed a little lame, so I stayed.
Spike’s advice after Seth declares his undying love (Chapter 4)
“Well, it had to happen to someone.” Spike said cheerfully when I finished telling her about the most perfect day of my life.
“What do you mean? Isn’t now when you tell me to stop being all Hollywood?”
“Nope. Hollywood can only get away with telling all those stories because sometimes it does happen. Sometimes someone does meet their soul mate. Some people are destined to fall in love and live happily ever after. The mere possibility keeps everyone else hoping. But someone has to be the one in a billion that gets it. Congratulations.”
I took a few deep breaths to steady myself. “You don’t think I’m crazy? Or just infatuated or overwhelmed by his coolness?”
“You, of all people, will never be overwhelmed by anyone’s coolness. You are way to cerebral to let yourself be infatuated and I’ve never noticed you to be crazy. From what you say Mr. Wonderful secretly had his eye on you all along. So it’s not even totally out of the blue. I wouldn’t bother buying a lottery ticket ever again, though. You’ve probably used up all your good luck for a lifetime,” she chuckled to herself.
“What do I do now?”
Okay, seems like a very interesting duality to me. What do you think?