I yawn as I check my watch and groan inwardly at the time: one fifteen. It’s technically Saturday morning and I am tired after having spent the majority of the day Friday worrying over the date I was going to have with Esmera, and then worrying during the date that Esmera might be an assassin like her mother, and then fighting my conscience when I got home.
My father came in around ten to tell me he had a last minute mission for me to carry out. It was another sabotage mission, of course; that’s all I ever get anymore. He said it was an important one, a mission possibly more important than that of the others I have done recently.
I have been sitting in a tree for almost three hours now. My back aches from leaning against a rough tree - even through my agent uniform I can feel every crack in the bark - and my left leg has fallen asleep from remaining in this position too long. My eyes droop from the lack of sleep and my head nods dangerously to the side every now and then.
Just as I am about to change my position to wake myself up, a shadow passes over the half moon in the sky. Just for a second, a black human shape darts between branches of a tree opposite the road to me, blocking my view of the only light besides the pinpricks of stars.
I rise slowly, keeping my weight close to the trunk behind me. I watch a barely perceptible shape swing between the branches. Is it just me, or did the figure have a white tail?
I shake the illusion off and follow the figure through the trees. It stops briefly and fusses with its headgear for a moment before continuing and I match the pace of the agent, keeping in the shadows and silent as an owl in the night. The agent stops and crouches on a branch near a window on a house I do not recognize. The target is sleeping in her bedroom, to be hit with a poisonous dart that will leak through her body so fast it will not be traceable. This will make her death seem as though she had some sort of natural problem in her sleep and the death will be ruled natural.
The problem is getting the agent away from the window before he - she, I have to remind myself - shoots her weapon so that I can kill the target. I reach to my belt and run a gloved hand over a small tranquilizer dart, one that will put the agent out for about ten minutes.
I load the dart silently and near the base of her tree. I point upward, aiming for the point in the back of the calf where I know the agent uniform is thinnest. The small dart flies through the air, it’s black feather tail fluttering in the slight breeze. I hear the impact of the point as it pierces skin.
The agent falls.
Despite my father’s orders not to touch the opposing agents, nor help them, I position myself under the tree and spread my arms to catch the CAA girl. She lands in my arms, graceful even in unconsciousness. For half a moment I consider pulling the mask off to see the face beneath but think better of it; the more time I have to kill the target and escape the scene before the agent awakens, the better. I carry the girl to the shadows of a small apple tree and lay her in the snow, careful to position her comfortably. I slip a pre-written note from my pocket and slide it into the agent’s gloved hand that my father told me to just place somewhere the agent would see it when she awoke. For another moment I stare at her concealed face and my hand finds the edge of the mask.
The agent groans in her sleep and I jump away. The dart has already begun to wear off. I scale the closest tree and bound across the branches until I am in front of the target’s window. The glass slides up easily and I let my leg fall over the sill to get a better position. I aim the dispersing dart at the soft skin exposed at her shoulder between her collarbone and shoulder blade. The needle-like weapon shoots out of my wrist shooter and pierces the woman’s skin without a sound. Her breathing almost immediately stops.
For a moment, I sit and wait for the burning sensation to begin on my back but it does not come. Not quite knowing why I was expecting the scar, I close the window behind me quietly and climb down the tree to the snowy ground. Glancing at the agent under the tree, I watch as her hand slides from her side to her stomach as she wakes up. I bolt, leaving the scene behind, the note still shining like a white beacon against black.
Your deed has been done for you. Return to headquarters and tell Mr. McKain of your defeat, for Mrs. Evans is dead and the BAA shall take credit. The note was written by my father. He told me not to read it but I did anyway. I had no idea who the target was before I read the note. The mother of the boy that was murdered only one week ago has also been killed. Her death will be recognized as shock, or people will suspect she died of grief over her son. They will not know she was turned into a vampire and killed a little girl in the city yesterday.
I pull myself over a short wall between the Evans’ property and the back alley. I jog down the alley and cut through a line of trees to get back to my house. In a matter of minutes I am on my front porch. I swing the door open and quickly strip out of my uniform. I drop the black fabric down the chute before taking the stairs two at a time to my room.
My father sits on my bed, his arms crossed. He raises his eyebrows as I enter. “Well?”
“She went down easily. I left her still unconscious when I left. Mrs. Evans is dead by a British dart, don’t worry.” I drop into a chair beside my door.
My father gives a short nod of approval. He does not ask how I knew the identity of the target.
“Can I go to sleep now?” I ask.
My father rolls his eyes and says nothing as he leaves the room.
I cross to my bed. I do not know how long I lay there, but I stare at the ceiling for a long time. I think about the girl I knocked out, and the woman-turned-vampire I killed. Just one week ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about letting that agent fall on the ground, but now that I know Esmera’s parents are the leaders of the CAA and those agents work for them, I cannot help feeling guilty for seeing them as anything less than the agents from my own organization. After all, we are all the same race of humanoid creatures.
Esmera might have been that agent. Something in the back of my mind says.
I shake my head. “She doesn’t have the abilities. I would have known when we were on the date.”
You wouldn’t know Gen was an agent if you hadn’t grown up with her. Esmera is the same.
I shake my head again, harder this time, trying to turn off the voice. “She is a normal human. She isn’t an enemy. She can’t be.”
“Please don’t be mad at me,” I plead. For the past five minutes, I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell Genevieve that Reid and I went on a date. She is my best friend and I have no idea how to tell her about the most important recent development in my life.
Gen rolls her green eyes in her characteristic way. “What could I get mad at you about, Ez?”
I bite my lip and look straight at her. We are sitting on her bed, cross-legged and facing each other, as has become custom when specifically important things need to be said. “Ried asked me out,” I say hurriedly.
I watch for any sort of reaction but get none. Her lips remain in a thin line and her eyes do not give away any spark of emotion.
I continue before I lose my nerve. “I said yes and we went out yesterday after school. Please don’t be mad, it was just one date and you know I like giving people my own chance before I judge them.”
Gen stays quiet for a moment, then she sighs. “I do know you, Ez,” She says slowly. “I had a feeling you were going to be seeing him a lot more often when I saw you walking with him after the funeral on Wednesday. But,”
I hold my breath, waiting for her to decide how she is going to finish her sentence.
“I think if you can find the guy I used to know, I’d be happy for you,” she closes her eyes as though pained. “Just don’t expect me to start liking him or being nice to him. He hurt me and he is going to have to do a lot more than date you for me to forgive him.”
“But it’s not impossible?” I ask before I can stop myself. “You would forgive him if he gave you a reason to?”
Gen nods reluctantly. “If he’s good to you, then I’ll try to be nice.”
“He is,” I answer, unable to help my smile.
"But," she raises a finger and looks seriously at me in a no-nonsense-you-should-listen-carefully sort of way, "I knew him before and he was not the nice guy to other girls. I was like his sister. You're another hot girl he is interested in. I just don't want you to be surprised if he only wants to hook up."
"Gen, he took me to coffee. He asked me to a movie on Friday. He barely touches me."
“Alright,” my friend hesitates but her curiosity takes over, “tell me about the date.”
I allow all of my giddy happiness to pour out as I talk about our afternoon together. “He walked with me from the school to Tim Hortons and he bought me coffee. We sat by the window talking for like four hours and he bought me a donut and another coffee before we went out to the Little Hen,” a small restaurant on the corner of Main Street that is owned by a nice family obsessed with making the best food a restaurant could ever have, “I paid for supper and he seemed a little embarrassed that I picked up the bill first. Then he walked me back to my house and gave me a hug good night.”
Genevieve stares at me in awe. “He didn’t kiss you?”
“Just a hug.”
“A hug.” She repeats, dumbfounded.
I nod. “Is that bad?”
Genevieve shakes her head. “From what I remember of him, he was never the type to go so slow. I mean, when I left he was sixteen, and he didn’t hesitate to kiss her on the first date and keep going on the second. He’s always been the type to do everything he can before he runs out of time.”
I frown. “What does that mean?”
Gen shrugs. “He might have changed.” She sounds unsure.
My mind is suddenly racing. If he isn’t going so fast with me, is it because he doesn’t really like me? Did I make a mistake? Will he want to see me again?
“Ez,” Genevieve takes my hands as though reading my thoughts. “Maybe he’s nervous around you.”
“Why?” I ask in disbelief. I look down at myself. Other than the fact that I’m trained to kill people, I am harmless. Besides, he wouldn’t know I’m an assassin.
“Look at you,” Gen giggles. “You’re gorgeous. You have two different eyes and they’re both so brightly colored that you look like you could kill someone with a single glance. Your hair is so long you must have iron muscles in your neck so your head doesn’t fall off when you turn it, and your body is like a model’s. You’re the ideal girl that any guy would chase and yet you agreed to go out with Reid.”
I blush as I shake my head. “Okay, you have it all wrong. Have you actually looked at Reid? He’s that tall, dark and handsome all the girls are talking about wanting. He has the jawline, the muscle, the smile… He’s the full package of perfect. If anyone should be nervous, it’s me.”
“Are you though?”
I hesitate. “No.” Only because I’ve had to kill people that look like him before. It’s like looking an enemy in the face, except that he isn’t a target. And the mission is to kiss, not kill.
“See?” Genevieve says as though my answer explains everything.
“But,” I frown at my hands. “What if he isn’t nervous? What if he’s just really not interested in me?”
Genevieve slides across her bed and leans her head against my shoulder. “Then he’s an idiot.”
Almost as soon as her words are out of her mouth, my phone rings. I look at the caller ID and a smile threatens to appear on my lips. “It’s him.”
“Answer,” my friend says, trying for enthusiastic but only achieving defeated support.
Nevertheless, I touch the green button on the screen and put the phone to my ear. “Hello,” I say casually as though my heart isn’t pumping itself out of my chest. Genevieve leans her head against the back of my phone to listen in.
“Hey, Esmera,” Reid sounds distracted. “Where are you right now?”
I glance at my friend. “Gen’s,” I answer slowly.
“Oh, sorry to bother you guys,” he pauses and coughs. “I just wanted to talk to you and I didn’t think a text was enough.”
A mixture of happiness and fear shoots through my stomach. “What about?”
“I want to make sure you want to go to the movie on Friday,” I hear the nervous undertone in his voice. “I had so much fun yesterday that I was hoping you didn't just say yes to be nice.”
My smile stretches from ear to ear. “I definitely want to.”
“Perfect,” he says happily. “I’ll call you tomorrow night. We can plan everything then.”
“Okay,” I answer. “Talk to you later then.”
“Bye, Esmera,” he sighs.
Genevieve offers a smile as I hang up the phone. “Second date. I told you he liked you. And did you hear his voice? He was so nervous.”
I bite my lip. “You think so?”
She nods decidedly.
“He’s nervous?” I ask.
She nods and an amused expression slides across her face.
I feel butterflies blossom in my gut and a blush creeps up my cheeks. “He’s my first date, Gen.”
“I know,” she nods. “Your first official boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” I counter, feeling the butterflies getting more frantic.
“Not yet,” she answers. “But soon he will be. Trust me. I’ve never heard him talk like that before.”
I purse my lips. “Why are you so excited about this if you hate him?”
She lets her eyes drop with her smile. “I want to be happy for you. I want you to be happy. If Reid gives you that happiness then I can’t stand in the way. Besides,” she adds, grabbing my shoulders and shakes slightly. “You’re my best friend. I have to be as excited as you are for your first boyfriend.”
I grin. Suddenly, I am so glad that Genevieve and I are friends that I feel emotional. If our roles were reversed, I cannot honestly say that I would be so happy for her being with a guy I hated. She has always been so supportive of me that I feel guilty, not for the first time, that I am going to have to leave her.
“It’s okay, Ez,” she says. She smiles one last time before rolling off the bed to retrieve box of movies. Before long, we have decided on a Friends marathon and a tub of ice cream with two spoons.
What is wrong with you? I think as I pace my room. You weren’t supposed to ask her out again. You were supposed to end it. She is Silvanna and Brian McKain’s daughter. She is the enemy’s daughter. I am sabotaging her parents’ company. It’s my fault that three of the CAA agents quit because they thought they betrayed their Association by failing their mission.
I push my fists into my eyes and reach for my phone. No, I can’t call her back. I can’t break her heart while she’s at Genevieve’s house.
I can’t break my own heart by ending it before it’s started.
I throw my phone back into my pillow. Already, after being with her only three times total, I am hooked. She is unlike anyone I have ever met. She is strong and brave and independent.
And Brian McKain’s daughter.
I let loose a cry of anguish, which brings my father into my room again.
"You're having quite a time, lately," he observes.
“Don’t make me continue with the missions,” I beg immediately. “I can’t keep sabotaging an agency that has done nothing whatsoever to me. I keep thinking about how they are the same people, the same species as us. I can’t just keep sabotaging for your personal gain. That’s how you get into feuds and it can get really ugly and-”
“Shut up, Reid,” my father growls, interrupting me. “You are the most important agent here. You have to carry out these missions or the family name will go to ruins.”
“What if I don’t want to be the bad guy?” I demand. “What if I want to carry on with missions the way I was before? You know we are supposed to be Karma’s agents of punishment. We are to listen to her and not just go on killing sprees.”
My father steps forward so quickly I stumble back. “You will do it for as long as I say and until the CAA is in ruins, you will continue to sabotage.”
“Why are you even doing this?” I try to sound as angry and intimidating as my father but my voice shakes and cracks as I ask the simple question.
“I’ve told you before,” he snaps. “The CAA is our biggest competition. If we can take over the Canadian association and create a united association with Canada, run by me of course, then we will be more powerful than anyone else in the world besides Russia.”
“Why aren’t we attacking Russia then?”
“I’m not an idiot,” my father snaps, sounding offended. “We need more strength before we can take on an Association that big. In time we will own the whole world, then the Association will be left to you to run.”
I close my eyes and take a breath. “I’ve told you a thousand times. I don’t want to take over the business.”
“You do and you will,” he barks. “As long as you are under twenty, I will tell you what you will and won’t do. You will obey me and you will not question me.” He slams the door behind him, taking the last word before I can retort.
Feeling lost and confused, I open the window, still broken from the plate that went through it. Removing the torn screen, I step out onto the porch roof and gently close the window, wedging a rock I keep out there under the edge to keep it open so I can get back in later. I swing myself over the roof of the porch and drop the few feet to the ground. As soon as my toes touch the grass I break into a run.
I do not know where I am going until I arrive. I find myself mystified and satisfied at the same time that I found my way here unconsciously. My feet seem heavy as I tread up the short flight of steps to the door. I hesitate only a moment before I knock.
“Genny, someone’s here to see you,” my mom calls up the stairs.
I glance at Katherine, asleep on my bed and turn to the door just as it is pushed open. I see the familiar face, defeated and tortured, looking back at me. “Hey,” Reid says quietly.
Despite the fight we had the other day, I rise and usher him out of my room, closing the door softly behind me. “What’s wrong?” I ask. His expression is all too familiar and I recognize it from the days when he used to show up on the roof outside my England house after his father had been particularly harsh.
Reid runs a frustrated hand through his hair in the familiar way that I didn’t know I missed until now. “I know I shouldn't be here. I know you hate me but I didn't know where else to go."
"Reid," I take his elbow and he loosens his grip on his hair enough for me to pull his hand away. Despite my anger at him, I fall back through the years to when I still considered him my brother. "Just tell me what's wrong."
"It’s my father,” he says, not to my surprize. “He’s making me do something terrible and I need to talk to someone that knows. You’re… Gen we’ve always been there for each other and I didn’t know what else to do.”
I hold my breath for a moment before taking his wrist and pulling him into the spare bedroom across the hall. As though stepping through a time machine, I feel like I am fifteen years old again as I sit on the bed facing the boy. “Talk.”
Reid is hesitant at first, but after I place my hand on his arm, he opens up more. He tells me about how he has been assigned to sabotage CAA missions and kill their target before they do. He says his father is trying to make the CAA go out of business so he can take over Canada and other countries later.
“And it gets worse,” he hesitates and his eyes go to the door. “Do you know who the leader of the CAA is?”
I frown. “I have never had any information on the CAA except that it exists. That information is reserved for the leader and the leader only, possibly shared with their chosen successor and their spouse.”
Reid’s eyebrows rise. He obviously did not realize this, as his father has always been blunt about things with Reid since he is the only possible successor in his eyes. “You’re really not going to like this,” he says slowly.
I feel my stomach drop and my heart quickens its pace. “Who is it?”
Reid does not look like he wants to tell me but he casts another nervous glance at the door. Then he takes a deep breath and, in a whisper that I can barely hear, he says, “Brian McKain.”