Stephenie Meyer's 'The Chemist': Read an excerpt
In her latest adult novel, The Chemist, Stephenie Meyer replaces vampires and alien parasites with some high-tech, brilliant — but 100% human — spies. The titular chemist, who goes by the alias Alex, is an ex-CIA agent on the run from her former employers who want her dead because she knows too much. (Normal work problems, right?) But when they offer her freedom in exchange for one last job, the case becomes wildly different than she thought it would be. Oh, and she just might be falling for the wrong guy.
To give you a taste of what you can expect from The Chemist, out now, check out the excerpt below, which sees Alex and non-spy Daniel getting closer than they’d planned.
Excerpt from The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
He put his hands on the edge of the counter behind her, one on either side, and as he leaned forward, she could smell the clean, citrusy scent of his hair. He was so close, she could see that he must have shaved recently—his jaw was smooth and there was the hint of razor burn just under his chin.
Daniel’s proximity confused her, but it didn’t frighten her the way it would have with just about any other person on the planet. He wasn’t dangerous to her, she knew that. She didn’t understand what he was doing, though, even when he slowly lowered his face toward hers, his eyes starting to close. It never occurred to her that he was about to kiss her until his half-open lips were just a breath away from hers.
That realization startled her. It startled her a lot. And when she was startled, she had ingrained reactions that manifested without her conscious approval.
She ducked under his arm, spinning free. She dashed several feet away, then spun back to face the source of the alarm, sliding into a half crouch. Her hands were automatically at her waist, looking for the belt she wasn’t wearing.
As she took in Daniel’s horrified expression, Alex realized that her reaction would have fit better if he’d pulled a knife and held it to her throat. She straightened up and dropped her hands, her face burning.
“Uh, sorry. Sorry! You, um, caught me off guard.”
Daniel’s horror shifted into disbelief. “Wow. I didn’t think I was moving that fast, but maybe I should reevaluate.”
“I just…I’m sorry, what was that?”
A shade of impatience crossed his expression. “Well, I was about to kiss you.”
“That’s what it looked like, but…why? I mean, kiss me? I don’t…I don’t understand.”
He shook his head and turned to lean back against the island. “Huh. I really thought we were on the same page, but now I kind of feel like I’m speaking English as a second language. What did you think was going on here? With the dinner date? And the sad little candle?” He gestured to the table.
He walked toward her then, and she forced herself not to back away. Confusion aside, she knew her wild overreaction had been rude. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Even if he was a crazy person.
“Surely…” He sighed. “Surely you’ve been aware of how often I just…touch you.” He was close enough at that point to reach out one hand and brush his knuckles along her arm in demonstration. “On the planet I come from, that kind of thing signifies romantic interest.” He leaned toward her again, his eyes narrowed. “Please tell me, what does it mean on yours?”
She took a deep breath. “Daniel, what you’re processing now is a kind of sensory deprivation reaction,” she explained. “It’s something I’ve seen before, in the lab…”
His eyes widened; he backed out of her space. His expression was totally flummoxed.
“This is a valid response to what you’ve experienced, and it’s actually a very mild response, under the circumstances,” she continued. “You’re doing remarkably well. Many people would have had a complete nervous breakdown by this point. This emotional reaction might seem similar to something you’ve experienced before, but I can assure you that what you’re feeling right now is not romantic interest.”
He regained his composure as she explained, but he didn’t seem enlightened or reassured by her diagnosis. His eyebrows lowered and his lips tucked in at the corners like he was annoyed.
“And you’re sure you know my feelings better than I do because…”
“As I said, I’ve seen something like this before in the lab.”
“‘Something like this’?” he quoted back at her. “I imagine you saw many things in your lab, but I’m also sure that I’m still the best qualified to know when I’m experiencing romantic interest.” He sounded angry, but he was smiling and he was moving closer while he spoke. “So if your only argument is anecdotal…”
“That’s not my only argument,” she began slowly, unwillingly. These weren’t the easiest words to say. “I may have been…absorbed by my work, but I wasn’t totally oblivious. I know what men see when they look at me, the ones who know what I am…like you do. And I understand that reaction. I don’t disagree with it—fear, loathing, an eagerness to assert physical dominance. I am the bogeyman in a very dark and scary world. I frighten people who aren’t afraid of anything else, not even death. I can take everything they pride themselves on away from them; I can make them betray everything they hold sacred. I am the monster they see in their nightmares.” It was a version of herself she’d come to accept, but not without some pain.
She wasn’t unaware that outsiders, people who didn’t know her, saw her as a woman rather than a demon. When she needed to, she could make use of her ability to appear delicate and feminine. It was no different from her ability to look like a boy. Both were deceptions. But even those outsiders who saw her as a female didn’t look at her with…desire. She wasn’t that girl, and that was okay. She’d been born with her own gifts, and you didn’t get everything.
He waited patiently while she spoke, his expression neutral. She didn’t think he was reacting to her words strongly enough.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” she asked. “I am intrinsically incompatible with being an object of romantic interest.”
“I understand you. I just don’t agree.”
“I don’t understand how you of all people can disagree.”
“First, but not entirely to the point, I’m not afraid of you.”
She exhaled impatiently. “Why not?”
“Because, now that you know who I am, I am in no danger from you, and I never will be unless I change into the kind of person who should be.”
Her lips screwed into a half-pursed frown. He was right…but that wasn’t really the issue.
“Second, still tangential, I think you’ve been spending all your time with the wrong kind of man. A hazard of your particular work, I’d imagine.”
“Maybe. But what is the main point you’re dancing around?”
He got into her personal space again. “How I feel. How you feel.”
She held her ground. “And how can you be sure what you’re feeling? You’re in the middle of the most traumatic experience of your life. You’ve just lost your whole world. This is pretty basic Stockholm syndrome stuff, Daniel. I’m the only human female in your life—there aren’t any other options. Think about it rationally; think about how inappropriate the timing is. You can’t trust feelings born in the midst of severe physical and mental anguish.”
“I might consider that, except for one thing.”
“And what’s that?”
“I wanted you before you were the only human female in my life.”
This threw her, and he took advantage, placing both his hands lightly on her shoulders. The warmth from his palms made her realize that she’d been cold without recognizing it. She shivered.
“Remember when I told you that I’d never asked a woman out on a train before? That was kind of an understatement. On average, it takes me about three weeks of fairly regular interaction—along with an embarrassing amount of encouragement from the girl—before I work up the nerve to ask someone to go for a casual coffee. But from the second I saw your face, I was willing to leap miles outside my comfort zone to make sure I saw it again.”
She shook her head. “Daniel, I roofied you. You were high on a chemical compound with manifestations similar to Ecstasy.”
“Not then, I wasn’t. I remember. I felt the difference before and after you ‘shocked’ me. That was when things got confusing. And before the drug, I was already in neck-deep. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get off at your stop without looking like a stalker.”
She had no answer. His physical proximity was becoming disorienting. He still held her loosely, bending in slightly so that his face was closer to hers.
It wasn’t until this moment that she began to really consider his words. She’d written off everything he’d said and done since the kidnapping as aftershocks from the trauma. She’d analyzed him like a subject, always separating herself from the equation. Because none of it was about her. And all of it was within normal parameters for what he’d been through.
She tried to remember the last time a man had looked at her this way, and she came up empty.
Wonder and fascination mixed with something electric as he gazed at her face…her battered, swollen face. For the first time, she felt mortified about her mangled appearance for an entirely vain reason. Her hands had been hanging limply at her sides. Now she raised one and covered as much as she could, hiding like a child.
“I’ve put some thought into this,” he said, and she could hear the smile in his voice. “I know what I’m saying.”
She just shook her head.
“Of course, all of that is moot if you don’t feel a similar way. I’ve been a little overconfident tonight.” He paused. “Given that we haven’t been speaking the same language at all, have we? I’ve been misreading you.”
He paused again like he was waiting for an answer, but she had no idea what to say.
“What do you see when you look at me?” he asked.
She lowered her hand an inch and glanced up at him, at the same perplexingly honest face she’d been trying to understand from the beginning. What kind of a question was that? There were too many answers.
“I don’t know how to respond to that.”
His eyes narrowed for a moment, considering. She wished he would take a step back so that she could think more clearly. Then he seemed to brace himself, squaring his shoulders for some kind of blow.
“Might as well get everything out in the open. Answer this instead: What’s the very worst thing you see when you look at me?”
The honest answer popped out before she could think it through. “A liability.”
She saw how harshly the word landed. Now he gave her the space she’d just wished for, and she regretted it. Why was the room so cold?
He nodded to himself as he backed away.
“That’s fair, that’s completely fair. I’m an idiot, clearly. I can’t forget I’ve put you in danger. Also, the fact that—”
“No!” she took a hesitant step toward him, anxious to be clear. “That’s not what I meant.”
“You don’t have to be kind. I know I’m useless in all this.” He gestured vaguely toward the door, toward the world outside that was trying to kill them both.
“You’re not. Being a normal person is not a bad thing. You’ll learn all the rest. I was talking about…leverage.” She couldn’t help herself—his expression was just so openly devastated. She took another step toward him and grabbed one of his big, warm hands with both of her little icy ones. It made her feel better when the word leverage replaced the pain in his eyes with confusion. She hurried to explain. “They’ve never had anything on me. Barnaby was my only family. I didn’t have some sister with a couple of kids and a house in the suburbs that the department could threaten to blow up. There was no one I cared about. Lonely, yes, but I was also free. It was only myself I had to keep alive.”
She watched him think through the words, trying to sort out her meaning. She fumbled for a concrete example.
“See, if…if they had you,” she explained slowly, “if they grabbed you somehow…I would have to come after you.” It was so true it frightened her. She didn’t understand why it was true, but that didn’t change the fact.
His eyes widened and seemed to freeze that way.
“And they’d win, you know,” she said apologetically. “They’d kill us both. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have to try. See?” She shrugged. “Liability.”
Daniel was waiting for more. She spread her hands helplessly. She didn’t know what else to say.
He smiled a little. “Well, liability doesn’t seem such an awful word as it did before.”
“It does to me.”
“You know if they came for you, I would do what I could to stand in their way. So you’re a liability for me too.”
“I wouldn’t want you to do that.”
“Because we’d both end up dead.”
“Yes, we would! If they come for me, you run.”
He laughed. “Agree to disagree.”
“Let me tell you what else I see when I look at you.”
Her shoulders hunched automatically. “Tell me the worst thing you see.”
He sighed, then reached out to gently lay his fingertips along her cheekbone. “These bruises. They break my heart. But, in a really twisted and wrong way, I’m sort of grateful for them. How shameful is that?”
“Well, if not for all this, you would have disappeared and I would have had no way to ever find you again. Because of your injuries, you needed help. You stayed with me.”
His expression when he said the last four words was very unsettling. Or maybe it was his fingers lingering on her skin.
“Now can I tell you what else I see?”
She stared at him warily.
“I see a woman who is more…real than any other woman I’ve ever met. You make every other person I’ve known seem insubstantial, somehow incomplete. Like shadows and illusions. I loved my wife, or rather—as you so insightfully pointed out while I was high—I loved my idea of who she was. I truly did. But she was never as there to me as you are. I’ve never been drawn to someone the way I am to you, and I have been from the very first moment I met you. It’s like the difference between…between reading about gravity and then falling for the first time.”
They stared at each other for what felt like hours but could have been minutes or even seconds. His hand, at first just touching her cheekbone with the very tips of his fingers, slowly relaxed down until his palm was cradling her jaw. His thumb brushed across her lower lip with a pressure so light, she wasn’t totally sure she hadn’t imagined it.
“This is entirely irrational on every level,” she whispered.
“Don’t kill me, please?”
She might have nodded.
He put his other hand on her face—so softly that despite her bruises there was no hint of pain. It was just live current, like the way a plasma globe must feel from the inside.
She started to remind herself, as his lips pressed gently against hers, that she was not thirteen years old and this was not her first kiss, so really…then his hands moved into her hair and held her mouth more firmly against his, his lips opened, and she couldn’t even finish the thought. She couldn’t think how the words were supposed to string together.
Excerpted from the book THE CHEMIST by Stephenie Meyer. Copyright © 2016 by Stephenie Meyer. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.