Shooting Blanks

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Summary

Thea Lancaster wants nothing more than to spend her life curled up with a good novel in her bookstore but those plans are blown to hell when her father, a private operative, goes missing. Now, she is expected to take over where he left off on his last mission, the one that got him captured. With the frustrating help of her 'handler', she is sent undercover at Westview University. Her target? The young billionaire, Zachariah Blanks.

Genre:
Romance / Humor
Author:
Jane Darling
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
4
Rating:
4.8 15 reviews
Age Rating:
13+

Chapter 1: Gun Shy

The doorbell chimed behind me as I escaped the pouring rain; my neon yellow poncho was drenched but luckily, my bag remained safe and dry under its protection.


I tucked my keys away and flipped the sign in the window to open. Can’t forget that again.


Less than a week into opening my store I forgot to open and spent an entire afternoon wondering why nobody wandered in to browse.


There was a clear learning curve.


I sighed and peeled off my poncho before hanging it on the coat rack. The dimly lit room felt more welcoming than usual. Rain droplets raced down the glass windows and enhanced the cozy feel of my shop.


As I made my way behind the counter, I flicked on the lights. The yellow glow filled the room and brightened the shelves of books lining the walls.


I ran my finger along the bottom of one of the dark oak shelves and examined it. I’ll dust tomorrow.


Then, before I could collapse from the type of exhaustion that only came from staying up late to read a good book, I went to the back room.


I stifled a yawn and grabbed the closest Keurig pod I could find. There was no time to be picky. I plopped it into my saving grace and started brewing.


I glanced at the clock and wondered why I ever decided to open at eight in the morning. Oh, right. Early risers are lethal.


I rolled my eyes at my dad’s false claim. My whole life, he woke me up at the crack of dawn only to drill me on things I would never use.


And there I was, subjecting myself to the same soul-sucking torture. Maybe that quiz was right, I am a masochist.


While the Keurig was hard at work, I perused the shelves for a new book. After finishing a weirdly charming ghost romance, I craved something less paranormal.


I pulled out a couple of titles, some new releases, one about a nerd seducing the hottest girl in school. Then, I read the synopsis of a book centered around a sex store.


I crinkled my nose. I ordered the book, sure, but I need time to process its contents. Eventually, I settled on a story that had a healthy mix of romance and mystery.


Satisfied by my choice, I set Love, Eliot down on the counter and went to the back to retrieve my coffee.


The heavenly French vanilla scent filled the cramped kitchen area and I smiled. Perfect. Everything was perfect.


Then, as I was reaching for my favorite mug, the doorbell chimed.


I fought off a groan. If I wasn’t twenty years old or a woman, I would be a crotchety old man who fought off all human contact.


The only person I could seem to stand was the one who was always away on ‘business’.


I tapped my mug, as if making a promise for later, and screwed on a smile for the first customer of the day.


“Good morning, how can I hel-” My greeting trailed off once I saw the tall stranger dripping in the entryway.


He was standing, rather menacingly, at the entrance. His trenchcoat came straight out of a mystery novel and I, for one, did not like it.


I cleared my throat, “Can I help you find anything?” Profiling isn’t a cute look, Thea.


The stranger turned and met my curious gaze. Fuck. His light green eyes stuck out against his all-black outfit and for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t pry my attention away.


Suddenly, my throat went dry, unlike my books which were getting drenched by Mr. Tall Dark and Mysterious. Ugh. So much for attraction.


Trench-coat stepped away from my soggy new releases table and approached the counter.


“Are you Thea Lancaster?” He asked in a gruff voice while lifting Love, Eliot off the marble counter and turning it over.


I frowned, “Who’s asking?”


He smiled and waved the book in front of me, “So it’s that kind of book store?”


“Sometimes.” I took my book out of his hands and didn’t linger when I felt his rough hand graze against mine. Without taking my eyes off of him, I placed it down safely next to the box of its newly released sequel Yours Truly. It was becoming clear that I wouldn’t have time to enjoy my, now slightly damp, book until the man left.


“I’m a friend of your father’s,” The man turned his chin up to the light and I bit the inside of my cheek. Tall, dark, and handsome it is then.


“Doubt it,” I pulled my chair up to the counter and sat down, “My dad doesn’t have friends.” His last friend produced me, and even that relationship was tumultuous.


“Right, well, he’s missing.”


Thunder roared outside the building and shook the windows. How dramatic.


“Right, well, he does that. If he had a friend, they would know that.”


The man stifled a laugh, “Okay, I’m more like a coworker. And no, not like this.”


“Yes, like this,” I sighed, “He disappears for a week, maybe two, then shows up randomly for dinner. He’ll come back soon. Promise.”


I glanced around my nearly vacant store and started wishing for that familiar emptiness again. Ever since I spent my rainy day fund on opening it, I couldn’t stay away.


“Thea,” The man said, “He’s been gone for over a month. We can’t find him.”


A month? I twisted the rings resting on my fingers; silver and bulky, in case I have to punch a werewolf. At least, that’s what my dad always said when he teased my fashion taste.


“When’s the last time you talked to him?”


The ceiling fan squeaked above us with every turn and the lovely scent of French vanilla had almost completely disappeared.


“Not that long,” I spoke before my brain could catch up. Surely, it wasn’t that long. My father and I didn’t talk often, not since I moved out, but I would have noticed if he was truly missing. Wouldn’t I?

The man nodded, “We need your help finding him.”


My gaze refocused on him, “How? I own a bookstore.” I gestured around me and ignored the ache in my chest.


“We think the assignment your dad was working on has something to do with his disappearance. He got too heated one day and then the next, he was gone.”


I bit my lip, “What does that have to do with me?” Other than being my worst nightmare.


“We need you to pick up where he left off.”


Trench-coat stood there, watering everything but my fake fern by the reading nook, and waited for my response.


I blinked and then laughed--hard.


His eyebrows pinched together.


“I’m sorry,” I gasped for air, “You really had me there.” I pushed a piece of hair out of my eyes and let relief wash over me. “He put you up to this right?”


It was too ironic. My whole childhood my father told me to be prepared for when adventure came knocking, but there I was, getting lazy and slow with a lust for literature.


He pinched his lips into a tight line, “I’m serious. We need an undercover operative.”


I wiped a tear from my eye, “Well, even if this was real, you’d have other agents who were capable of doing that for you. Trained ones.”


“You are trained.” He pulled a sheet of soggy paper out of his pocket and placed it in front of me. I stared at him but then, curiosity got the best of me. I unfolded it and found ink smudges alongside my picture.


“What is this?” I smoothed out the creases and tried to decipher the words.


“Part of your file.”


My stomach dropped. “Why do I have a file?”


“Your dad set it up. He also registered you in our system of specialized agents.”


I opened my mouth then shut it--tight. Good ol’ dad. I slid the paper back to its owner, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” As soon as the document was out of reach, I found the gun bolted to the underside of the counter. Locked and loaded.


The man didn’t take I don’t know for an answer, however, and continued, “Your father trained you himself, didn’t he? Then, when you turned eighteen, he had you take a performance test.” He paused, “Our test.”


Silence is golden. I kept my finger ready to pull the trigger, if necessary.


“We have your test scores,” He said as if that would convince me to give myself up, “And you’re a registered agent. Time to act like one.”


I frowned.


“Say something.”


“Fuck. You.”


The man’s eyes widened, “Wow, you really are Vincent’s daughter.” A smile played on his lips; I wanted to gag.


“Leave my store,” I narrowed my focus to his hips but in the trenchcoat, it was hard to tell if he was armed.


“Thea,”


“Leave.”


He raised his eyebrows, clearly, I was getting next to nowhere, “Don’t make me do this.”


A threat? I cocked the gun and watched his eyes grow wider, then roll. “I should have known.” He sighed before pulling his phone out and tapping it a few times.


“Go.”


He scoffed.


“I mean it.”


“If you’re not trained then how do you know how to use that thing?” He pestered me without even looking up. I should shoot him. “Here,” He held the screen up so I could see. “As you can see up here,” He pointed to the top of the screen, “This is your checking account and this,” He tapped once more, “Is your savings.”


This time, my eyes widened. No.


He tapped again, “And now, they’re both empty.”


I shook my head, “It’s a trick.” I should shoot his dick off.


“Why don’t you check?” He seemed bored by my disbelief but I couldn’t help but see it for myself. I kept one hand on the gun and the other on my phone. Once I logged in to my bank account and saw the zeroes, my stomach dropped. Every penny, gone. Thousands, my savings, were wiped out. I glared at him. Stolen.


I fought the urge to lunge at him.


He held up his hands, “You’ll get it all back, scout’s honor. As long as you cooperate.”


“I’ll kill you.”


He laughed, unconcerned by my threats, “Good. Keep that energy.” Before I could coax myself into pulling the trigger, the man slid something else my way; a business card.


“Meet us there at 6 PM.” He glanced around the shop one last time, “We’d hate for you to have to close early.”


He winked and then, as suddenly as he arrived, left.

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