Authors: Jessie Humphries
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 by Jessie Humphries
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Skyscape, New York
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Cover design by Krista Vossen
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014905884
To my Mr. Humphries, for enduring me when I’m at my worst and beaming at me when I’m at my best.
Je t’aime à jamais
But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,
The Little Prince
Through floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows with a view of the bright Southern California coastline, sunshine and seagulls abounding, life should have looked breezy.
But as I sat in the eleventh-floor conference room of a high-rise government building, all I could see were my own metaphorical gray clouds: from Grissom Island, where the truth of my family’s past had finally been exposed; to the Newport Beach mayor’s office, where my adoptive mother, Orange County district attorney Jane Rose, was scheduled to speak (in other words, continue to lie) for a campaign fund-raiser. Life was anything but breezy—or “Rosey,” as the tabloids still liked to put it—for Jane and Ruby Rose. Some very public questions continued to go unanswered.
Even prepping for this “unofficial meeting” with yet another innocuous federal agent assigned to my case required some serious brushing up on my beaten-to-death “official” statements to police. It had been five prison-free months since
given it last. And five home-less months since
had a decent conversation with my mom.
Not that my situation was altogether miserable. Of course, living with Dr. T meant very few custody visits with Gladys and the Pips (aka my shoe closet), but it also meant very few limitations on how much time I spent with Liam. Dr. T’s rules were way less strict than Jane’s—maybe because Dr. T never wanted to appear as if she were stepping into any kind of mothering role, or maybe because she was really a bohemian at heart and wanted me to experience some of the freedom
never known before.
If my mom only knew how close Liam and I had become in the last few months, sh
die. Then rise from the grave to have him arrested again.
Running my forefinger over my lips, I remembered the way Liam pinned me against a pillar at the pier this morning and pressed his mouth to mine. The seawater dripped down our faces, creating a salty-sweet taste as he turned morning to night—while kissing him, I saw only stars. With our wetsuits hanging low around our waists, our damp bodies steamed against one another. This was the only kind of naked
ever been with him—I still wasn’t ready to go all the way—but he took opportunities whenever the string bikini came out. Which was more and more often lately, since it was summer and we spent nearly every day at the beach.
Mother Jane would be horrified for too many reasons to count, but mostly because I should have been studying and concentrating on my future.
“Have you decided if you’re going to meet her for dinner tonight?” Sergeant Mathews asked from his seat next to me, as if he knew I was thinking about Jane. I was glad he didn’t seem to know the rest of what I was thinking about: Liam’s full lips and amazing abs. “It’s important to her, you know.”
I swiveled my chair—and my glare—to him. “Is it as important as pulling off a miracle win in the election in two weeks? In fact, I can’t believe she even remembered what today is.”
“Of course she remembered.” He gave me his best fatherly tilt of the head. Being so tall, and with such a long neck, Mathews sort of reminded me of a giraffe. A very nice-looking giraffe, that is. I thought about taking a dig at him for being a middle-aged gigolo with no actual parenting experience, but decided to keep my mouth shut—I didn’t hate his concern. “She might not show her sentimental side to the world,” he continued, “but it’s there, believe me. I know she loved your father. And I know she loves you. She wants to be with you on the anniversary of his death. It’s important to her.”
“Yeah, I heard the first ‘it’s important to her’ guarantee. You’re not her campaign manager, you know.” I wondered if Mathews was right, if she really did care about me and want to honor my dad’s memory—or if she had an ulterior motive. As usual. Like a conveniently timed photo op with one of her favorite paparazzo, or a trick up her sleeve to blackmail me to move back in with her. She still controlled my inheritance and trust—if there was anything left.
Mathews looked down at his watch and tisked. “What’s taking these jokers so long? I don’t have all day.”
“You don’t have to be here,” I assured him. “I’m a big girl. I’ve done this dozens of times now.”
“I’m not leaving you alone, so don’t even start with me.” He shook his head. “I don’t trust these CIA guys. They’re as slippery as fish.”
Just then, a CIA guy in a shiny black suit, with equally shiny, slicked-back hair, walked in and cleared his throat. Speaking of fish—it was the agent who initially interviewed me in the days following the “Showdown at Grissom Island.” The one who had assured me they would catch Detective Mastermind Martinez if and when they caught a bigger fish connected to Martinez.
“Ruby Rose,” Agent Fishy said, a luring gleam in his eye. “It’s a pleasure to find myself in your presence once more.” He offered his hand like a seventh-century English duke.
I seriously considered not shaking his pretentious, poser hand, but after a moment’s hesitation, I took it anyway. When we let go, Mathews stood and offered his hand to Fishy as well. “Sergeant Mathews. And you are?”
Agent Fishy paused, looking up at Mathews’s intimidating frame as if he might refuse the gesture, like I almost had. “You can call me Skryker.” They shook.
Stupid, paranoid CIA name.
“Nice to meet you,” Mathews said, pulling his shoulders back to assume his I’m-so-much-taller-than-you stance. “Now what’s this about?”
“Sergeant, I understand why you’re here, and I’ll do my best to respect that. But let’s get one thing straight: I will be the one asking the questions today.” Skryker’s tone was light and cordial, but his tight jaw and piercing glare expressed quite the opposite. “So, Miss Rose, I bet you’re on the edge of your seat wondering why I’ve asked you here?” He sat and placed a large manila envelope in front of him, apparently unconcerned with the fact that Mathews’s long arms could reach across the table easily and knock the condescension off his face. Lucky for him, Mathews was far better tempered than me, and he took his seat with a dignified swallowing of pride.
“I wouldn’t say ‘edge of my seat,’ exactly,” I said, not as talented at false cordiality. “More like the end of my rope. It’s always the same procedure, same questions, same black suits. No, I haven’t seen or heard from Detective Martinez. Yes, I’ve kept the whole
to myself. And, of course, no, I’ve had no contact with any known criminals.”
An uneven smile spread across Skryker’s face, and his eyes creased as if he were amused by the impetuous child across the table. “Let me assure you, then, that I have a
question for you today.”
He pushed the manila envelope to my side of the table. I felt Mathews sit up in his seat while my heart sat up in my chest. The envelope could contain anything. Evidence rebutting my explanations of my justified crimes, a presidential decree to reopen Alcatraz just for m
e . . .
“It’s about your father,” Skryker said.
Did he mean my adoptive father, Sergeant Jack Rose, who was killed by Martinez one year ago today? Or my biological father, Commander Damon Silver, who was still alive and free but hadn’t come to see me once since Grissom Island?
Mathews reached for the envelope, but Skryker pulled it out of his giraffe-like range. “This is for Ruby, not for you.”
“May I remind you that Ruby is a minor, and I have been given the authority to represent her rights in this matter?”
And the pissing match had begun!
“Agent Skryker, why am I here?” I asked, growing annoyed with the escalating testosterone smackdown drama. “What do you want from me?” I stared at the envelope in his hand. I hadn’t noticed before, but he was missing the tip of his left pinky finger. Somehow I doubted it was from a carpentry accident.
“You’re quite a lot like your father, you know.” He raised his chin but kept his creased eyes on me.
“You’ll have to be more specific,” I said, narrowing my eyes back at him. “Apparently I have a few of those.”
“Right.” His smile deepened as if he appreciated the irony. “Perhaps both. Capable, talented, fiercely adept.”
“Adept at what?” I asked, my irritation growing. I could be quite adept at knocking that grin off his face.
He passed the envelope back across the glass table. “Why don’t you have a look for yourself.”
Mathews’s spine grew even taller as he poised to snatch. Shooting him a warning glare, I took the envelope myself. I wouldn’t hide the contents from him, but he wasn’t going to stop me from opening it on my own. The temptation rose to pat it down or shake it like a kid at Christmas to decipher what was inside. Heavy and slightly uneven, it definitely wasn’t a pair of Coach sandals.
I opened the flap and pulled out a thick stack of papers and photographs. My blood surged, pounding in my temples, as my eyes focused on the picture on top—my bio-dad, Damon Silver. It was no grainy surveillance picture, like the one Liam got for me. It was a head shot, an official military photograph. And he was young; fresh, even. No salt-and-pepper beard, no deep lines. It must’ve been taken at least twenty years ago. Maybe around the same time he loved and left my biological mother. Swirls of longing and loathing rose simultaneously.
I put the picture down and moved on to the next document. It looked like some kind of test results. Aptitude percentages that made no sense to me. The next document summarized some kind of field assessment. Certain words began catching my attention as I skimmed.
Shot Accuracy. Emotional Stability. Analytical Reasoning. Psychological Impact.
From between the pages, a chain with dog tags fell out—listing Silver’s full name, blood type, etc. Also a few small medals.
“What is all this?” I asked. More and more pictures of Silver caught my eye, along with dangerous words like
that made me uncomfortable.
“It’s exactly what it looks like.” Skryker folded his arms and sat back in his chair.
“Why can’t you CIA guys ever answer a direct question?” Mathews grumbled as he looked through the papers
“Does Silver know you’re showing me this?” I asked.
I turned to Mathews, tag-teaming his annoyance. “How’s that for a direct answer?”
After several more minutes of perusing what was labeled “CLASSIFIED,”
seen enough. My bio-dad was a badass who excelled at special operations testing and rose through the ranks. Got it.
“So what? Am I supposed to be impressed? Are you trying to convince me that I come from good stock? Are you his friend or something?”
“Like I said at the beginning of this conversation, I will be the one asking the questions. Or, more to the point, I will be the one offering the proposition, since an answer will not be required
accepted today.” He sat forward in his chair.
“Proposition?” Mathews and I asked in unison.
“I am presenting an opportunity. A chance to do something important. A way to save lives. An
for your developing abilities.”
Was he saying what I thought he was saying? That he knew about my former “outlet” of stalking criminals? That he was recruiting me? That he wanted me to follow in the steps of my bio-dad? And what, shoot people?
“This meeting is over.” Mathews stood and placed a man-hand on my shoulder. Instinctively, I shot up and thrust back my arm, knocking his hand off. Mathews lost his balance for a second before recovering with a hurt look in his eye.
“See what I mean?” Skryker looked entertained by the move. “Quite capable.”
“No, I jus
t . . .
” I started to explain to Skryker, then turned to Mathews. “I’m sorry.” I was sorry, but he knew better than to grab me. “Look, Sergeant Mathews is right. We should go.”
“Of course.” Skryker stood and smoothed out his suit. “I understand. But before you go, I would like to make a promise to you. Should you consider my offer, Miss Rose, I can guarantee the thing that you most desperately desire.”
I closed my eyes to try and keep them from rolling out of my head. “How would you know or be able to promise me my ‘desperate desire’?” I asked. My mind went straight to Liam Slater—I was pretty sure I didn’t need Agent Skryker to fulfill my desire for him.
“I have my ways.” His uneven smile was back in all its self-satisfied glory.
As I turned to follow Mathews out of the room, a bright flash of light outside the window caught my eye. An explosion in the distance. A crack like thunder came a few seconds later.
Time slowed down; my brain tried to make sense of the subtle sway beneath my feet. A plume of sinister smoke emerged into the perfectly blue sky—smoke coming from a building down the coast.
In Newport Beach.
Very near the mayor’s office where my mom should be right this moment.
Mathews grabbed me again, but this time I didn’t resist.