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Double Twist
Author: Stephanie Rowe

 


Chapter 1

 

 

A shadow moved across my fifth-floor window.

Assassin.

I yelped and launched myself out of bed. My foot caught in the sheet, and I crashed to the floor. I rolled onto my back, frantically kicking to get free. I scrambled up and lunged for the doorknob—

Then I heard a meow.

I whirled around and saw King Tut, my neighbor's rude and massive black cat, staring at me through the glass, with his unblinking yellow eyes, thick gray mane, and unruly tufts of fur in his ears.

A cat. Not a hit man. I wasn't going to die tonight.

My legs gave out. I landed hard, and then pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes, trying to slow my frantic heart rate.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. I'm not going to die tonight.

It was hard to believe I used to be fairly chill. Relaxed. Resilient.

Being raised and trained by a con artist mother had made me pretty unflappable, even after I'd ditched that life when I was seventeen.

Now? A grumpy cat had sent me running for my life. Two years being undercover against my drug lord ex-husband, Stanley Herrera, had totally screwed with my tolerance level for stress.

I'd made one little anonymous tip to the FBI hotline after finding bags of white powder in our china cabinet. One tiny, socially conscious gesture. That was all it had taken to get me dragged into a two-year sting run by an FBI control freak I'd nicknamed Griselda.

Agent Straus didn't appreciate my pet name for him, which made me call him Griselda as often as I could. I'd needed to find some way to amuse myself, because spying on the man I was sharing a bed with had been surprisingly stressful, especially once I learned how much he liked to have traitors chopped up into little pieces and used as an example to others.

Con artists were non-violent. Non-confrontational. Clever law-benders who delighted in the artistry of deception. My childhood hadn't prepared me for thriving in a world of hit men, murder, and violence.

The night Stanley had figured it out and pointed a gun at my forehead? If Griselda hadn't been literally breaking in the front door at that second—

But he had. So it had worked out fine.

Except for the apparent wee bit of lingering jumpiness on my part.

King Tut meowed again, tapping his left paw impatiently on the glass.

I took a deep, calming breath, and rolled to my feet. "All right. Cool your jets."

I walked over to him and fought with the window until I was able to get the crooked casing to move. As soon as it was open, King Tut hopped off the sill and strolled into my cardboard-box-sized bedroom, the one I'd been stashed in during Stanley's trial so a hit man couldn't keep me from testifying.

I'd always thought it would be fun to have my ex sending killers after me. Childhood dreams right there, right?

Tonight, no FBI agents were lurking in my hallways, and no one cared what I did. Why? Because ten hours ago, Stanley had been convicted, and he was now heading off to his new home behind bars.

Since I had nowhere else to go, Griselda had let me stay in the safe house for one more night, which gave me a chance to say good-bye to the cat who had been my only decent company for months. My only friend, actually, but who wants to sound like a loser?

The FBI had offered me witness relocation, but I'd turned it down. The last thing I wanted was to turn my life over to yet another person. I'd been forced into crime by my mother. I'd been tangled up with Stanley for years. And then I'd been used by Griselda as his little spy.

I was done letting someone else control me.

No more. Never. Ever. Again.

Tomorrow, I was packing up and moving on. To where? I had no idea. But I had about twelve hours to figure it out, so plenty of time.

The air drifting through King Tut's window was cold and crisp, an early May chill that made me shiver. The spring air felt alive and clean, like the fresh start I was claiming for myself. I braced my hands on the window and leaned out, inhaling the night air.

My next-door neighbor's window was open, and I marveled once again at how King Tut managed to jump the gap between our windows without being fazed by the five-story drop to the unforgiving pavement. Granted, I'd met my very sketchy neighbor a couple times, and if I lived with him, I'd probably risk plummeting to my death to get away from him, too.

The sound of a police siren drifted up from below, and I leaned out to check the street. It looked more like Griselda's ride than a Boston police car.

It stopped in front of my building as the theme from The Greatest American Hero burst from my phone.

Habit borne from two years of taking every call in case Griselda had news that would save my life made me hurry over to the nightstand and check the screen. Griselda.

This was supposed to be over. He wasn't supposed to call me in the middle of the night anymore. Ever again. Alarm prickling at the back of my neck, I hit the send button. "What's up?"

"Mia! Assassin. Get out!" he shouted. "Now!"

Terror shot through me, and I grabbed King Tut. But just as I started to run for the front door, I heard the whoosh of a silenced gun, and the lock on my front door exploded.

I skidded to a stop, scrambling backwards as I gripped the phone. "He's at the door!" I whispered. "He's here!"

Griselda swore. "Hide in the bathroom. Lock the door and get in the tub. I'm on my way up."

The front door splintered, and King Tut yowled in fury and tried to leap out of my arms.

Struggling to keep my grip on him, I raced into the bathroom, locked the door, and then dove into the tub, clutching the wriggling feline in my arms. I yanked the mildewed shower curtain closed, and then curled onto my side in the fetal position so all my body parts were below the rim.

The floorboards creaked outside the door, and I tried to hold my panicked breath, but it echoed off the yellowed tiles. Loud. So freaking loud. I really had to learn how to stop breathing in times of crisis.

I couldn't believe this. After all I'd survived for the last two years, now I was going to get whacked in a tub?

There was so much indignity in being murdered in a bathtub.

King Tut purred and began kneading my chest, through my tank top. I bit my lip and slid my hand beneath his claws to protect my skin.

His purring got louder, and the footsteps paused just outside the bathroom door.

Seriously? I was going to get busted by a cat?

I raised my head enough to peer around the edge of the curtain at the door. The wood was so flimsy there were already cracks in it. Literally one bullet is all it would take to get in. It probably would take no more than a gentle nudge with a pinkie finger, actually.

I was pretty sure my late-night visitor could muster up at least that much force, which meant I had maybe a millisecond at most until the only thing between me and a hired killer was a moldy shower curtain.

Griselda was, at that very moment, sweating his way up four flights of stairs. He was almost as fit as he liked to tell everyone he was, but he wasn't that fast.

In retrospect, maybe it would have been better to lock the bathroom as a red herring, and then hide somewhere else, like hang out the window by my fingertips. I would admire myself so much more if I died that way, instead of cowering in a tub.

My mom would be so disappointed in me for cowering in my last moments of life.

Truth? I would also be disappointed in myself for cowering in my last moments of life. I needed to die as more than a bathtub victim.

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