Bonds of Freedom Pt. 2

The streets of Kerenth bristled with uncharacteristic activity for an overcast morning. Aveline scanned the crowd from above, hidden from view in an aging tower that loomed above the centre of the country. The colorful booths set up inside the business district stood out flamboyantly from the neglected buildings behind them. Their attraction not only drew out the citizens who lived nearby, but also the reclusive upper class. It wasn’t hard to see why.

Droves of people pushed each other to catch a better glimpse of the performers and unique items for sale. The items imported from the trend-setting country of Rondev were extravagant, but also expensive. The average citizen in Kerenth could only dream about owning such luxuries. Despite being unobtainable, the populace seemed content admiring the rich pieces—something that had always baffled her.

Within an instance, the bustle of the crowd faded. Her right hand went straight to her side. Soft fingers gripped the rough leather hilt, drawing the weapon in a blur. Aveline spun to the space behind her, her dark brown eyes narrowed and focused. The years of her training showed as she pinpointed the length of the blade against the throat of a man with dark black hair. He loomed above her by seven inches, but that was not what she noted about him first. The toned body was steady and had not flinched at her drawing a weapon suddenly. His cold black eyes seemed to penetrate every barrier around her. A thin scar above his eyebrow drew recognition as to who this person was.

“Your senses are impeccable as always,” the man drawled in a dark tone of voice, “Aveline.”

She relaxed her stance, pulling the weapon away from the man’s throat. The assassin, though she knew the newcomer, did not put her weapon away. Aveline watched as he took a spot next to her, watching the district as she had done before, but with less interest.

“You never come to watch initiations.”

The man smirked. Her eyes focused on a man clad in brown linens, like most of those who crowded the district. However, the sandy-haired man below was on a mission. The commonly dressed person passed by someone dressed in fine silk—dyed a rich blue and accessorized with golden jewelry—pricking them with a small needle laced with poison. However, the person made two mistakes in the exchange.

It was disappointing to witness as the man looked back at his victim and carelessly left the needle on the now-dead council member.

“He’ll have to be killed,” the man next to her said. “That was embarrassing.”

Her eyes followed the doomed trainee as he disappeared in an alleyway. The man hadn’t even made it to the meeting place when his body fell to the ground, void of life.

“You knew,” she remarked, not fazed by the quick, but gruesome exchange she had witnessed. She turned toward the taller man next to her.

“Of course, I would never let a fool destroy my work.”

“However, to ensure his death is not the only reason why you’re here, Kier.”

The man faced her, looking her in the eyes. His face was expressionless to everyone but her.

“Your missions have gone well; I am pleased with the quickness upon which you eliminated your top target.” He paused. While praise from Kier was rare, she knew that there was more to come. “However, I am uncertain if you will be able to execute the next part of what I have planned.”

“You know that among all you have trained, there is no one better than I,” she said, insulted that he would even suggest that her skills were sub-par.

“I know. In terms of execution, there is none to rival you aside from me. That is not the issue.”

She frowned. “What is the issue then?”

“I need you to scope a potential target at the masquerade at the King’s ball tomorrow night.”

She scoffed. “That is hardly a challenge.”

“I want you to do it from inside the palace. You must secure an invitation as a guest. I will have the clothes and further instructions delivered to your place tonight.”

Before the full effect of his words could sink in, the man had disappeared from her sight. Aveline stared at the empty space where the taller man had once stood. In order to obtain an invitation, she would have to go as a guest to a nobleman. She had seen the way that the noblemen picked their women before. It was a disgusting process. The more one shared of their skin and batted their eyes, the likelihood of them going increased.

“But I’m not charming,” she uttered.

Aveline moved from her position and began to climb down the winding stairs. Most of her life had revolved around being an assassin. She never learnt how to be a proper woman, much less a charming one—a flaw that had never been a problem before. However, part of being excelling in the field included adapting to the current situation. That was what she had to accomplish here. Even if she was clueless as to how she would accomplish that.

A deep gong rang through the city, indicating the start of a new hour. With it, Aveline shifted into her role as an assistant baker. She pushed past the droves of people in the streets, making her way to the outskirts of the business district, and to the edge of where the upper class lived. A well-kept, white stoned building rested on the border between the two differing areas. Elegant statues of men and woman alike littered the pathway to the entrance. Many often commented on how the place bore great resemblance to a church as opposed to a bakery—a statement she agreed with.

Aveline walked into the building, already dressed for work in the gray wool dress and white apron required by the owner of the place, Mister Tomas Freynor. The usual monotony of the place was replaced with lively chatter and hoard of giggling young maidens. Her eyes glanced over the workers, curious to find out the reason why they were so eager. However, she could not draw a conclusion based upon their simple actions. Ignoring the irritating laughs of the rest of the group, she found her post and set to work.

Her job included several precise calculations and efficiency if they were to make production for the day. She set to work. It had only been a week since she took this post, and could already let her mind wander as she worked. Memorizing the recipes had hardly been a challenge, but it did require more care in mixing them than she had originally thought. Slowly, her muscles were growing used to the motions, making it easier for her to accomplish more.

A person sat at the bench next to her, also beginning their work. Aveline glanced over and nodded at the newcomer, whom she noted wore an odd amount of jewelry. She frowned. Now that she thought about it, all of the women had worn several pieces of flashy jewels. Odd that anyone would wear it, since the ornaments usually hindered their work.

“Good morning, Miss Frost!” the woman next to her exclaimed cheerfully.

“You are a bit cheerful this morning, Miss Leav,” Aveline commented, returning to her work.

“Of course I am! It’s an exciting day.”

“Do you mean in regards to the booths from Rondev?” she inquired.

The woman, Exandria Leav, giggled. The assassin waited patiently for the other person to provide a satisfying explanation as to why the day was so exciting.

“I keep forgetting that you’re new,” the blonde-haired, green-eyed woman said happily.

Aveline kneaded the dough, taking her frustrations of having to navigate banal chatter before garnering vital information out on the mixture for raisin bread. She bore her knuckles in deeply at each annoying laugh that filled the air.

“On the last night the merchants from Rondev are here, the King throws a masquerade at the palace,” Exandria explained. “Those invited are the merchants and the upper class. Master Freynor gets invited every year for being the King’s baker.”

“What does that have to do with the strange behaviour everyone is exhibiting?” Aveline inquired.

“Oh, it’s not strange.” Aveline raised an eyebrow.

Could have fooled me.

“Master Freynor always brings a guest with him. Instead of choosing women from the upper class, he brings one of us. Everyone would kill for an opportunity to see the inside of the palace.”

“So that’s the reason why they’re acting so ridiculous,” Aveline muttered. Exandria laughed at her statement.

“You’re so funny!”

Aveline did not understand what was so hysterical about her words. The women in the bakery, who were shortening the skirts to their dresses and adjusting their jewelry, reminded her of the upper class. Her stomach churned at the thought of acting that way. It was an appalling idea for her to even consider. Words from her earlier encounter never strayed far from her mind. If she wanted an invitation, then she supposed she would have to act like that.

Just for one day.

She looked down at the bottom of her dress, pulling up the skirt a little, trying to imagine walking around so bare. Aveline played with the length, trying to decide how short she should pin it when the doors burst open. Her attention immediately went to the man who had entered. Brown hair slicked back with oil, in a low ponytail and thick sideburns. He wore a tailored black suit with a dyed red shirt. He walked with a cane though he had no need for one. A preference she didn’t understand.

The man passed everyone by and smiled at them, greeting them. Aveline gladly let her attention wander back to her work, noticing that Exandria had dropped a spoonful of pepper instead of poppy seed into the grain mixture.

“You’ll have to restart,” Aveline commented in a low voice. The young woman let out a squeal in embarrassment before quickly discarding of the ruined batch before their boss noticed. Mister Freynor stopped by each station to inspect their progress and give them positive remarks about their work. However, the women took this as an opportunity to flirt and fling themselves on to the owner of the bakery.

It was sickening to listen to. A shadow loomed behind her and Exandria. The woman next to her giggled endlessly as the man complimented her work. She excitedly chatted about how she grew up dancing in her mother’s kitchen. Aveline did her best to tune out the endless chatter.

“You, Miss Frost, are very good at your work,” Mister Freynor said near her ear. She had resisted every instinct to pull out a knife at the man standing uncomfortably close behind her.

“Thank you, Master Freynor. I only do my best,” she said in the most humble tone she could muster.

“It’s incredible what you have accomplished in a week.”

She could feel his gaze wandering from her hands to her legs. To her relief, her skirt had fallen back to its normal length instead of the ridiculous height she had pondered before he had entered. He chuckled.

“It seems you’re the only one who isn’t trying to get my attention.”

“I don’t feel that I should gussy myself up to get attention,” she stated.

Mister Freynor let out another chuckle. “You’re right. You are already charming enough,” he whispered in her ear.

Aveline suppressed a shudder. The man had stood too close for her comfort.

“Ladies!” their esteemed Master announced in a loud voice. Everyone stopped their production to look at him. Aveline watched as the man surveyed the room with a goofy grin. “As many of you know, I have been invited to attend the King’s masquerade this year. I wish that I could take each of you as a “thank you” for the work that you have done. However, only one of you can attend with me. The person that I have elected to take with me: Miss Frost!”

The assassin froze from shock. Never did it cross her mind that he would choose her out of all of the eligible women present. It seemed no one else did either. Anger burned in several of their eyes, making her feel uncomfortable. Aveline did her best to smile.

“I am honoured, Master Freynor.”

“Thank you for all of your hard work! Please, let us resume production! We have many pastries to make before the ball tomorrow. The King wants nothing but the best!”

His words snapped everyone out of their daze as they resumed their work. Aveline started a new batch of dough after finishing the last. Even though she was not looking directly at the other women in the room, she could feel their eyes glaring at her. She did not care. At least she had secured her invitation as requested.

To her, that was all that mattered.

Reckless Revenge Pt. 4

Jaynes stared at the black and white photos for the millionth time. Each one playing out a vivid story that plagued his dreams every night. While Terrah recovered from her injuries, he sought out any information about the assassination attempt. Every possible lead turned into a dead end. He had people in every part of the world and he couldn’t trace the hit ordered on him and his wife.

He understood why Terrah didn’t want to see the photos. He never intended on showing her them. This was his personal mission. If he couldn’t protect Terrah, then everything else they had set in motion was worthless. Jaynes was so tired of everything.

The red convertible had been replaced with a more sensible car. This one discreet and more fuel efficient to get to his destination three states over. The drive only took a few hours. He pulled into the driveway of a picturesque home in a fall background. Jaynes could hear the sounds of a saw behind the home. He headed that way—finding a workshop with its doors wide open.

An unsuspecting man focused on running wood through carefully. Several cut pieces laid in a neat pile. To anyone else, the person inside the workshop would seem like the perfect neighbor. Clean shaven, family man, blue collar job, and the perfect model of a husband. He looked up to grab a new piece of wood and saw Jaynes. The saw stopped soon after.

“Gavin,” Jaynes said.

“Never thought I’d see you again.”

He shrugged, not bothering to fill in the details. While they hadn’t seen each other in over five years, Gavin always kept up with the news. “Things happened.”

The other man laughed and pulled out two beers from the mini fridge in the shop. “That’s an understatement.” Jaynes took his and popped the lid off the edge of the table. Crisp. Ice cold. “Something tells me what happened yesterday isn’t why you’re here though.”

Jaynes took another large drink from his bottle before pulling out the photos he always kept close to him. He laid them on the table for Gavin to look at but didn’t say a word. Instead, preferring to finish this drink as quickly as possible before grabbing a new one.

He longed for something stronger to take the edge off. Gavin looked through the photos, taking his time with each one. The creases in his forehead getting deeper as he grew closer to the final few. Jaynes had looked at those the least.

Gavin put them down and took a long drink. “You’re in some serious shit.”

“I know.”

“What do you want me to find out, Jaynes?”

“Anything you can. Mainly their identities and who hired them.”

Gavin scoffed. “Oh, is that all?” Jaynes took another drink, peeling at the label of the bottle. “I assume you’ve exhausted all your sources. What makes you so sure I’ll be able to turn up anything?”

Jaynes had a vast network nationally. It would be easy to go through his channels, but… “I haven’t had anyone look into it.”

He could feel Gavin’s eyes on him. Normally, Jaynes wouldn’t look away. This time, he kept his gaze firmly to the ground.

“It’s that important to you?”

He looked up, “It’s Terrah. She’s the most important thing in my life.”

Gavin looked through the photos once again. “Whoever hired them intended for you to die. If you go down this path, you realize there’s a good chance you won’t make it out alive.”

“I know.”

“And what does Terrah think about this?”

He shrugged. “She doesn’t support it.”

“Can’t say I blame her. You two have been separated long enough. A piece of paper doesn’t change the fact that she needs you after going through this.”

“I didn’t come to you for marriage advice,” Jaynes hissed. “I don’t need your help in that department.”

Gavin shrugged, not bothered by his outburst. “I’m just saying, based on the pictures—she’s lucky to be alive. This type of incident doesn’t come without trauma.”

“She’s fine.”

“So she says.”

Jaynes finished the beer and slammed it on the workbench. “Are you going to look into it or not?”

“I will. Just—make sure she’s okay, Jaynes. She’s been through enough.”

Jaynes walked to his car. He sat behind the wheel, body shaking.

The feeling of betrayal gnawed at his mind.

Bonds of Freedom Prologue

Piercing wind swept through the quiet city. Residents of the elegant town took refuge in their homes. The dark sky loomed over the land, veiling the sculpted stone buildings. Lights littered the cobblestone streets, illuminating a safe path. A large clock towered above the rest of the white walled homes, visible to everyone, even those looming in the shadows. The second hand ticked faintly, bringing a constant noise to the otherwise silent area.

Another gust of wind passed by, the chill air penetrating her clothing. The cold nights never made her work pleasant. Despite the turning of the weather, she could not neglect her duties. To live the only life she chose to know. This was the last opportunity to complete them before returning home. Her orders were clear. Eliminate anyone who threatened his empire. If only the suppliers that went against her boss knew what fate was about to befall them.

Too late now.

She gripped the smooth hilt of her blade tighter at the sound of shuffling footsteps approaching. The textured grip wrapped around the base of her weapon rested comfortably against her gloved hand. There would be no second chances. The person walked into her view, but she remained still since he was still easily visible to the main streets. He drew nearer. She stood in the darkness, inwardly laughing at his pathetic state. The man swayed from side to side, occasionally reaching out to the walls for support. She moved from the shadows, falling behind her victim. She matched his clumsy steps, following his movement so not to alarm him.

The stench of alcohol wafted toward her, and she felt bile starting to rise in her throat. This was another reason as to why she hated such missions. They always reminded her how much she disliked drunken stupor.

However, it makes my job easier.

Aveline lifted the blade to his throat. Her free hand covered his mouth. He tried to pull away from her. Her heels dug into the ground to keep her body steady against his attempt to struggle. To regain control of the situation, she pierced his flesh. The man stilled. “You should have known better than to break your contract,” she whispered. “Honestly, did you think that my boss wouldn’t find out that you’ve been stealing his merchandise?”

His elbow swung toward her body. Aveline saw the movement a bit too late in her peripheral. She could not stop the blow now. Moving her entire body to the right, she dodged the blow. However, she had also lost her grip on the victim. There was no avoiding that. Turning her head around, she looked for sight of her target in the dark. A heavy body slammed into her, knocking her back. She bent her knees slightly and pushed against the unfamiliar weight, bringing the two of them to a standstill. He had a height advantage over her, but she had sobriety.

His body shook against hers as, a sign that he was folding against the pressure she was putting on him. Aveline took advantage of that, bringing her free arm to grip his throat. She pushed him against a pile of wooden crates, while squeezing his neck. His fingers clawed at her hand, but she held firm. He tried to gasp for air, but she continued crushing his larynx. The man twitched and tried to fight her off, but each blow continued to weaken. Bringing her blade to his chest, she pressed through his breastbone, relieving the pressure on his throat as she perforated his chest.

He fell forward. Aveline took a step backwards to bear the full weight of the corpse. She bent her legs to begin lowering the body to the ground. The muscles in her arms groaned from the unfamiliar weight.  Once he was on the cobblestone, she pulled the blade from his chest. Red began to spill from the wound.

Aveline pulled a black cloth from the pocket to her coat and cleaned the blade. Once wiped free of the red liquid, she sheathed the small weapon.

Aveline strode far from any of the places she had visited that night and into a house nestled in the darkness. Few dared to venture to the shady area. It was the perfect place for her to stay. She found herself standing in front of the entrance; her hands searched her pockets for the key. Upon finding it, she inserted it to the handle and turned the metal knob.

Finally, I’m out of the miserable rain.

Aveline closed the door behind her and lit a lamp. She took off her scarf, letting her hair lay flat at her side. On the desk, a creamy envelope rested. The red seal caught her attention. It seemed that there was no need for her to write the report after all. She picked up the letter and opened it. Scrawled writing filled a single page.

Congratulations are in order again. You did well in completing your tasks. I require your presence in Kerenth immediately as several branches have broken down. The rapid rate of deterioration is alarming. The King is plotting to destroy all underground operations. This must not take place.

A carriage awaits your arrival that will take you back to Kerenth. Once there, I will inform you of the additional details regarding your new post.

Aveline smirked. She grabbed the lamp that she had lit and moved over to the fireplace. She dangled the letter over an open flame. The fire caught the edge of the paper and began to creep upward. She tossed the blazing parchment into a pit of ash.

Reckless Revenge Pt. 3

Yellow markers littered the small interrogation room. A flash went off every once in a while. Marie Corbin surveyed the chaotic scene around her. Her hair disheveled and the smokiness that once filled the room still occasionally burned when she swallowed. Beneath the stony exterior, anger simmered. Gray powder smudged her white blouse. The black jacket over it had long-since been collected for evidence.

Her shirt would eventually follow. However, two officers were picking through her hair for any particles that may be helpful in their investigation. Corbin had given the best description she could of the person who burst into the room. None of the shots fired were meant to kill. Not for lack of experience either. She had worked on enough crimes to know the difference between an amateur and a professional.

Every shot had missed, but not by much. The bullets had come too close. They were meant to incite panic and fear—to create separation between them and Terrah. The shooter had succeeded. Their only connection to Jaynes taken from their custody.

By one of our own.

Corbin itched to get in on the action, to begin the investigation with a renewed vigor. Yet she was stuck in the room, being picked clean for residual particles. Logically, a part of her knew the importance of every detail in this crime. The desire for revenge burned through her veins. She spared a glance at her partner, Brendan Rose, hadn’t fared much better.

His anger was barely concealed, just like hers. Their eyes met. A silent vow to hunt down Jaynes and Terrah went unspoken, but their resolve wouldn’t waiver.

For ten years, they had led the investigation into Jaynes McConnell. He had grown up under their radar and would never stay on it long enough for him to get caught. New charges popped up every month. The only oddity in the familiar pattern came around the time the infamous couple got married. Terrah Johnson had only popped up on their radar a couple of weeks ago almost a year after their “wedding.”

Corbin didn’t know why, nor did she particularly care. All she knew was that this attack was orchestrated by McConnell. He had broached their grounds, solidifying their conviction that he needed to be brought in. An investigator walked up to her after taking Rose’s statement.

“What do you think, Marie?” he asked.

She had two options: lie about who she suspected or tell the truth. One would take her and Rose off the investigation. The other would steer them in a different direction. At least long enough to buy her time to track down McConnell’s latest plan.

“Revenge,” she answered. “Terrah Johnson had many enemies. She probably made friends with the wrong one.”

“I thought she was mostly harmless.”

Corbin took in a deep breath. “Normally, but she’s a drug dealer. God knows how many innocent lives she’s taken indirectly. Or who she got her products from.”

The other agent looked less than pleased with her answer. She wasn’t going to hand over her investigation on a silver platter.

“That all you got?”

She shrugged. “I’d look into undercover operations. We’ve planted many agents in local gangs to try and track her operations. I’m sure you’ll find an answer there.”

The investigator left her alone. After all the particles were recovered from her hair and skin, she was given a set of clothes to change into. Corbin handed over her singed outfit for further examination without question. After that, she was free to go.

Rose caught up to her not too long afterward. He was also dressed in borrowed clothing. They didn’t say anything about their next move until they got into a car. He had driven her since they lived near one another.

“So,” he began. “He’s made it personal.”

She hummed. “Not the first time.”

“I doubt it will be the last either.” Rose prepared a cigarette, offering her one. She refused as always.

Corbin ran through the events from earlier. “No. This was a different level of destruction though.”

Rose exhaled. “Trying too hard or panicked?”

It was hard to tell without seeing the photos and evidence collected. McConnell very rarely acted on such a large scale for no reason. Panicked would be her initial reaction but something felt different about the scenario compared to run-ins in the past.

“I need the file.”

Rose shook his head, “They won’t let us near it.”

“I know!” She didn’t need him to tell her the obvious. They wouldn’t solve anything today. Corbin hated feeling helpless, hated this wasn’t her investigation. Most of all—she loathed that they weren’t any closer to McConnell. They needed him.

The drive to her house was silent. Her brain looped the moments before and during the interrogation. No one appeared out of the ordinary. They were all familiar faces, people she had trusted.

How long has McConnell had a spy in our ranks?

It was the only explanation that made sense. She thought of the newest faces amongst their ranks, only going back to a year. There were a handful of them present. Corbin’s thoughts broke when the car jerked to a stop. Her neighborhood slowly came into focus.

“See you tomorrow.”

Rose waited until she got inside her home before he drove away. She should have told him of her suspicions, but it could wait until tomorrow. He needed the evening to rest. Corbin had no intention of doing so. Not when came to McConnell and Johnson.

Reckless Revenge Pt. 2

They arrived at their next stop just after night fell. Jaynes grabbed three duffles from the back while Terrah carried her only one. They walked up a few flights of stairs and knocked on a door numbered 1735. It didn’t take long for it to open. A tall, thin woman stepped aside to let them inside.

“Thanks for letting us stay here, Ash.”

“Always happy to help out a friend. Go ahead and put your things in the guest room.”

Terrah knew this area like the back of her hand, spending most of her early adulthood in that very guest room. It looked much the same. Ashley had finally thrown out the gaudy bedspread that used to occupy the full sized mattress. Hideous shades of orange, green, and brown sewn together in a patchwork mess that had no rhyme or reason.

Though she declared her hatred for the blanket often, Ashley claimed she loved it. To which Terrah always replied, “yes, but not enough to have it on your own bed.”

Her duffle bag was put next to the lounge chair in the room. She headed back out to the living room, knowing Jaynes would take a little longer than her. Ashley was in the kitchen, pouring drinks for the three of them. They always drank when they were together.

“Do you guys need any food?” she asked, back still turned to her.

“We ate before we came.”

Jaynes joined them. Arms wrapping around her waist. A gentle kiss pressed to the top of her head. Terrah let her guard down in his embrace. “Could I have a double, Ash?” he asked.

“Sure. Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable.”

They always compensated her for putting them up. And for how much alcohol they drank. Jaynes steered them to the love seat a few feet away. They sat down, the plush cushions far more comfortable than the leather seats in the rental.

Ashley handed them their drinks a few moments later before getting her own. Terrah put the glass to her lips, but didn’t drink.

“How’s life on the run treating you? You two have been off the radar for almost a year.” Ashley asked as she sat down on the couch across from them.

“Fine,” Terrah answered. “They’ve been pouring more resources into their search so Jaynes and I have been separated for a few months.”

“So what’s the next step?” she asked.

“Sorry, Ash. Can’t tell you this time. The less you know, the better.” Terrah gave a small smile, hoping her friend would understand.

Her friend changed the subject. They chatted about most of the events that occurred in their absence. Ashley had gotten herself a new girlfriend who lived out of state and was seriously thinking of moving in order to be with her. They congratulated her.

Keeping in touch would be difficult, but they’d make sure to stop by if and when that happened. Hours passed before Ashley declared it was time for her to go to bed. She was an upstanding citizen now—well, aside from her currently housing fugitives.

Terrah gets ready for bed first. Jaynes is busy—as always. “Your turn.” He locks the encrypted tablet before leaving the room. A kiss pressed to her lips quickly.

She puts her clothes inside the duffle. And notice that Jaynes left one of his opened. Terrah moves to close it when black and white photos catches her eyes. Masked men armed with assault-style weapons. Her breath caught in her throat as memories of that day came swirling back.

Pain ripped through her body. She fell to the floor, clutching her side. Gunfire echoed loudly around her. “Terrah!”

She could feel hands gripping her. Blinking several times, she could make out Jaynes. Not just him, but Ashley too. A broken sob escaped her throat as she reached for her husband. He pulled her near.

“Why?” she asked, voice breaking. “Why do you have those photos?”

“I need to know,” Jaynes answered. “I need to know who did this to us, to you.”

She pulled away from him. “I don’t want you to look for them. They…did enough. Just forget about them.”

“I can’t,” he whispered.

Terrah moved away and stood on shaky legs. “If you go after them, I won’t go with you.”

“I’m going after them. I can’t let them get away with this.”

She stumbled toward Ashley. “I’m going to sleep elsewhere.”

Her best friend said nothing, but helped her into the master bedroom. Terrah couldn’t understand why Jaynes would give up the final step of their plan for something that didn’t matter. They hadn’t succeeded.

Once they took care of the main threat, the two of them could live in peace. Could make their clean break from the life that had given and taken so much. She laid down on the bed and turned to face the wall.

Memories of that day plagued her throughout the rest of the night.

Morning came far too quickly. She felt Ashley leave the bed. Terrah knew that she should get up. They had planned to leave earlier in the morning. She couldn’t bring herself to move. The sound of her alarm going off gave her the final push to get up. The door to the spare bedroom was open.

As she walked into the living area, Terrah noticed Jaynes was nowhere in the apartment.

“Is Jaynes waiting outside?” she asked quietly.

Ashley turned around, a frown on her face. Her eyes darted toward a piece of paper. On it was all capitalized letters.

            I’m sorry, Terrah. This is something I have to do. Proceed with your half. I’ll meet you later.

The ink on the note smudged under a water drop. Her stomach churned, forcing her to run to the bathroom. After emptying her guts, she curled up into a ball on the floor. Tears flowing freely now.

Ashley entered the restroom. A glass of water in hand. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. You two will always find each other.”

Terrah shook her head, wanting to tell her friend the weight of the situation. She couldn’t. Jaynes had abandoned her.

“I’ll call in sick today. Seems like we’re going to need a girl’s day.”

She didn’t say anything. Her mind raced with the idea of what she would have to face alone. Before, everything seemed less daunting. Jaynes was by her side. He had promised to be by her side forever.

Now, their wedding vows felt hallow. After what happened, she had spent several months apart from her husband. He had kept himself busy in putting together their final plan. They reunited about four months ago, promising that they were done forever.

Revenge wasn’t part of that plan.

Terrah wanted to forget everything that had happened.

Once the tears stopped, she moved out of the bathroom and in to the living room. Ashley was eating breakfast and watching a sitcom. Terrah noticed a plate set out for her, but she couldn’t bring herself to eat. Not right now.

Instead, she remained still and tried to figure out how best to explain what had happened last night and this morning to her best friend. Ashley deserved an explanation at the very lease.

The words were harder to say.

“Hey, you don’t need to tell me anything you don’t want to.” She looked at Ashley. Terrah nodded in understanding, grateful to have a friend like her, but the truth needed to be told.

“Jaynes and I got married almost a year ago,” she whispered.

“Congratulations!”

“The day we got married is also the day I almost died.”

To be continued…

Reckless Revenge Pt. One

As she watched across the activity across the street, Terrah couldn’t help but smile. Her freshly dyed brown hair air-drying as she followed every movement closely. Headphones plugged in. White noise filtering through them. An occasional crackle and voices speaking but gone within a moment. Despite the mass of black vehicles in front of the run-down hotel, she had a perfect view of the action below.

The hotel room she had rented earlier in the week was strategically chosen. Three floors above ground level. The perfect height to see what was happening below but high enough to go unnoticed. The curtains pulled back just enough to see. Several individuals at the center of all the activity wore bulletproof vests with rifles as their preferred weapon of choice. A utility belt with an array of items secured around their waist. Several police officers in their standard uniforms and issued weapons stood near barricades placed—keeping the crowd of people from interfering with their activity.

Between the media and bystanders, every movement was captured. In the background, a sleek black SUV stood out from the armored vehicles and police cars. Two people stood near it, wearing finely tailored black suits. They looked out of place. Displeasure etched into their faces. Neither of them wanting to be there but required to. They were watching and waiting.

Noises sparked to life in her headphones. Commands bellowed and followed.

Terrah hummed and began to pack her suitcase. Items all gathered near the desk and chair by the window. Every item neatly folded and placed. Rustling filling the space.

The two in black suits perked up when several people started exiting the building. Those wearing street clothing were escorted by heavily armed law enforcement members. Most of those in handcuffs were minorities and male. Frequent reports of fights, drug use, and prostitution all lent to a high probability of police raids. The hotel wore its seedy reputation as a badge of honor. Anyone looking for illegal substances knew where to go. The city’s police chief worked hard to shut it down entirely, but a final decision remained in limbo for years.

Today’s activity, however, might be enough to shut the place down permanently. The police were the last thing the owners had to worry about. This organized operation had nothing to do with local law enforcement, but federal.

Throughout all the masses of drug dealers, arms dealers, and pimps—a blonde haired woman was escorted out of the front entrance. Skinny, pale, and eyes dilated. Her body shaking as she came off the high from her drug of choice. Instead of being put on the sidewalk like the rest, she was escorted to the black SUV. The agents in suits approached her and spoke.

She was placed in the back of their black SUV and taken away. The remaining FBI officials spent several more hours clearing the scene. The street reopened to traffic in the early hours of the afternoon. She watched. Waited.

Terrah sent a text message on a burner phone before picking up her pre-packed bag and exiting her luxurious hotel room. The conclusion of the raid would be on the news later.

Dressed in designer labels and a new hair color, Terrah looked vastly different than just 24 hours ago. With her shoulders back, head held high, she checked out of the room and thanked the staff for a wonderful stay.

She walked out of the hotel and began trekking across alleyways to reach her destination. By the time she arrived, Terrah was sweating due to the heat. The water bottle in her hand glistened with condensation as she took several large drinks for it. Behind her, an abandoned building. Windows boarded up. Debris lined up against the aging brick. The entry hidden from the streets. No security cameras were placed outside to capture transients or passersby.

Terrah leaned against the brick siding, her mind running through the next steps of her plan. Nausea bubbled in her stomach. So much was at stake—and not just for her.

Being so close to the end was surreal. Over a decade on the run with one survival story piled on top of another. The promise of it all coming to an end never felt within reach. Not like now. Anticipation continued to build with every passing second. Terrah hadn’t seen Jaynes in months.

Her heart pounded at the mere thought of seeing him. While working, she could ignore the lingering ache of him being gone. Knowing he was getting closer pulled that feeling to the forefront. God, what would he look like? Changing appearances wasn’t anything new between them.

Soon, there would be no need to hide who they really were.

A red sports car turned down the alleyway, Terrah tensed at the sight of an unfamiliar vehicle in her proximity. Within seconds, the car pulled up next to her, a man behind the wheel. Sandy hair and hazel eyes that could charm anyone.

“You look like you could use a ride.”

The accent was unmistakable. British in origin and hadn’t faded despite living in America for over ten years. Terrah rolled her eyes.

“I thought we were going to keep a low profile.”

The man smiled. He was the textbook definition of a model. “This is a low profile. You’re wearing Chanel. I’m in Michael Kors. I needed a car to match.”

Terrah opened the back seat and threw her bag without regard. The duffle contained clothes mostly—ones that had been well-worn and ready to rip at the seams. They resembled nothing akin to her current outfit. The change was intentional for the time being.

Eventually though, she would need the practical outfits.

She got into the passenger seat and the man leaned in. Terrah gave him a quick kiss. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too, Terrah.” In that moment, the world stopped between them. Her heart longed to be closer, to hold on to him tight. The smile on his face softened to the one she was familiar with. The one only she was allowed to see.

He pulled her close once more and kissed her again. Every second of contact breathing new life into her. When they broke apart for the second time, his touch lingered. She leaned into his hand.

As much as she wanted to hold on to this moment, their lives wouldn’t wait. “We better get going if we’re going to make our next destination.”

The boyish grin was back as the man shifted the car into gear. “Yet another reason why this car will come in handy.”

The blonde woman sat in a bland-looking room. A faux mirror on one of the walls. She had been left alone for several hours now. The remaining drugs in her system finally wearing off, leaving her shaky and anxious. Her mind raced through the possibilities of what was to come. Nothing she conjured could even compare to what was about to happen.

The heavy door to the room opened, handle hitting the wall. A tactic of intimidation but she didn’t even bat an eye at the noise. Two people in tailored black suits walked in. One a woman, the other a man. The woman had dark hair and eyes, athletic in nature, and sharp features. Her face severe as she carried herself with confidence.

The man slumped his shoulders slightly, but his beady eyes thinly veiled his contempt. His muscles were accentuated in the suit and were an obvious product of many hours at the gym. She would have been intimidated but it was mainly for show.

They glanced over her appearance, but neither of them addressed her current state. There wasn’t much to say for someone whose clothes were stained and torn from repeated use. The crooks of her arms covered in needle marks, makeup smudged, and hair greasy.

She didn’t give a damn what they thought.

After all, they only had one thing they wanted from her. Something they both knew was pointless, but here they were once again. Different room, same conversation. Their eyes met. She didn’t back away.

“How is coming off your high treating you, Terrah?” the female agent asked. She didn’t answer. Her legs shaking underneath the table. “You know, we hate doing this.”

Yeah, right.

“We’ll go over your rights once again—in case you forgot from the last time.”

Who could forget?

The rights were recited. She consented to being recorded and to speak freely at the time.

“If you’re back here, that means Jaynes is likely nearby. The two of you are never far from each other.” She glared at the female agent. Mutual contempt held between them. Straight to the point as always. “Let me remind you that your cooperation is important, Terrah.”

The woman scoffed at the statement. “There’s nothing in it for me.”

The air became colder. She smirked, knowing exactly that she had struck a nerve. Neither of the agents had much patience—let alone tolerance for dealing with someone like her.

Still, the female agent forced a smile. “Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a lot I can offer you. You’re looking at years in prison for drug possession, drug paraphernalia, assault, conspiracy to commit murder, illegal possession of a firearm, and aiding and abetting a fugitive.”

The smirk never left her face. “Those are serious charges to accuse someone who is speaking freely to you.”

“For you Terrah, I’m willing to work out a deal to where you serve a reduced sentence along with entry into a cushy rehabilitation program. You could start fresh, leave this life behind, and become the person your family would be proud to have back in their lives.”

“But only if I tell you where Jaynes is.”

“Exactly.”

She fell silent, letting the time pass in effort to feign her contemplation of their offer. Of course, she had no intention of revealing that information. Not now. Not ever. It was the same song and dance over and over. Flat out refusal was her usual go-to. She decided to change things up a bit.

“I don’t know where he is.” If they were thrown by the answer, neither showed it through their expressions. The only sign that it had any effect was the long pause after her statement.

“My patience has grown thin, Terrah. I know he tells you everything. Now, tell me where your husband is.”

Her eyes widened. “How do you know about that?”

“We have our sources. We’ve kept the information tight-lipped. We want to bring in Jaynes ourselves and can’t do that if one of his many enemies comes after him first.”

The woman didn’t respond. The feds weren’t supposed to know about their marriage. They had done it in secret and out of the country. No one was supposed to find out.

She let out a laugh in the small room. “And you think that because we’re now married that I’d sell out my husband?” Her response caught the others off-guard. “I’ve never betrayed Jaynes in the twelve years I’ve known him. What made you think that I would start now?”

The stunned silence didn’t last long. The female agent recovered much quicker than her male counterpart. She straightened her posture before speaking. “Terrah, let’s be reasonable, you know what a danger your husband is to society. The people have been terrorized by his hands. Lives have been torn apart because of his actions. We can’t let this continue.”

She leaned forward, closing the gap between her and the agent. The other woman pulled away slightly to create more distance between them.

“Let me make one thing clear, Agent Corbin. I will never help you catch Jaynes McConnell. I’ll die first before that happens, she growled.

The door to the small room opened. A flash went off followed by smoke. It covered the entire room. She coughed and tried to cover her nose and mouth. Then, several rounds went off. One of them hit her body, tearing through her body.

More shots were fired and soon all the sound that remained was the blare of a fire alarm.