Authors: Fiona Palmer
Jaz is back in another explosive mission—but her hardest task is keeping her secret from her friends…
Jaz’s last mission for the Agency had unforeseen consequences, and she is only now beginning to understand that the hardest part isn’t the physical training. Her ongoing mission involves an undercover operation—pretending to be the girlfriend of the son of one of the Agency’s most wanted.
What starts out as a chance to prove herself soon becomes a lesson in emotional detachment, as her pretend boyfriend starts to feel too real. Factor in Ryan, still sexy, still dangerous, and still irresistible, and Jaz is discovering that her love life is more treacherous than anything the Agency can throw at her.
Fiona has been writing rural stories for Penguin for years and is now indulging in her love of YA. It’s not a big change, considering she already writes about strong women who fight for what they want. She is a full-time writer and mum from rural Western Australia. Her two kids remind her often that she’s not seventeen anymore, but writing at least lets her relive it again.
I couldn’t do this without Jim, thank you for always answering my questions and helping my creativity along. Also to my friends and family who read my work and to Kate and the Escape team. Thanks again to Belinda Holmes for editing my series. To my writing buddies Rachael Johns, Cathryn Hein and Margareta Osborn, such wonderful ladies, thanks for being just an email away. Big thanks to my family, Darryl, Mackenzie and Blake, for their understanding. And as always, thanks to the readers who make all this possible. Thank you.
For Jim Jim
Jaz jerked awake as if she’d been slapped. Sweat coated her body, making her black hair cling to her face and neck. Sucking in air, she waited for her heart to stop racing. The vein pulsed in her neck like a death march, just like it had the last few mornings. Yet another nightmare.
And it’s the same one where Jaz finds herself fighting for her life, struggling with the bullet wound in her leg and fear racking her body as an armed man has a gun aimed at her best friend Taylor.
Tommy. The man who had seemed so nice when she’d met him before. But now he laughed, it was scratchy and sinister. Jaz raised the gun she found in the gravel. There is no time left, even in the dark Jaz can tell by his breathing and his movement that he’s going to kill Taylor. On instinct she fires. The big man seems to pause before his gun arm drops. His body crashes to its knees before toppling by her feet with a thud. Dead. She killed him.
Only problem is, this isn’t some random dream. It’s reality and it’s being replayed repeatedly in her mind. Each nightmare brings back new memories, the echo of the gun, the thump as the bullet hit and tore through human flesh, the whistle of air that left his lips as he fell to the ground and the metallic tang of the blood soaking the ground. She was a killer. And Jasmine Thomas wasn’t even eighteen.
With a groan Jaz tried to sit up in bed, but pain shot down her leg. The bullet hole in her thigh throbbed. Another reminder of the truth, she only had to see the raw circle of skin where she was shot and reality slapped her wide awake.
And the worst thing? She had school today.
School seemed so tiny compared to what she’d just been though. So much for school preparing you for the rest of your life; somehow self-defence and killing someone had never been covered in Human Biology or English.
Jaz fought off the nausea that came with her dreams as she tried to get dressed. Which wasn’t easy, with one leg out of action. But each day was getting better. Day three after the shooting and she could put a little bit of pressure on it. Jaz slung her schoolbag on her shoulder and grabbed the crutches before heading downstairs.
‘Jaz, Taylor is here,’ yelled her mum. Tasha stood behind the marble benchtop in the kitchen, sculling her coffee. ‘Oh, there you are,’ she said, spotting her. ‘Do you mind taking Simon with you? I want to get to work early.’ Tasha held out a chopping board with two bits of toast.
Jaz grabbed them. ‘Thanks, Mum. Yeah, he can come with us.’
Tash came around and held Jaz’s face in her hands, studying the split lip and bruising on her face. ‘You should have put some make-up over that, sweetheart.’
Jaz pulled her faced away from her hands. ‘I forgot. It’s okay, Mum.’ They shared the same blue eyes, cheek structure and lean bodies but that’s where the similarities ended. Her mum had dyed blonde hair and fair skin, Jaz had midnight black hair with skin that looked forever tanned. Not that she was complaining in the looks department, but she did stand out from the rest of the family. As if on cue, her half-brother got up from the dining table, completely ready for school to the point of perfection. He wore glasses like his father but hid them in his bag until class. Simon was also fair but had slightly greener eyes. He was three years younger.
‘You still look like crap, sis. That will teach you for not using your safety gear,’ said Simon matter-of-factly.
‘Thanks for your input, Si, I feel so much better,’ she said with a sigh. If only it was that simple.
‘Do you regret getting a skateboard now?’ he said with a little smirk.
‘No. No pain no gain.’ Jaz tried smiling, but it probably came off as a grimace. It was hard work lying to her loved ones while suffering in pain from a bullet wound and the fact she’d probably killed two people. Oh yes, her facial injuries were not from her skateboard. Instead they were from the first man who’d caught her escaping out of the warehouse. He’d grabbed her, they’d fought, she’d knocked his gun away, more fighting, a punch to her face, she’d dug into the gravel trying to escape when she’d found a brick. Jaz grimaced as she remembered all too clearly what she’d done next. The crunching sound echoed through her mind, churning her stomach.
‘You okay, Jaz? Are you sure you’re up to school? I’m worried you might still be concussed.’ Tasha’s eyes were piercing.
Jaz shook off her memories, hiding her fear, revolution and sickness. Swallowing hard, she smiled. ‘I’m fine, just feeling ill cos I haven’t eaten breakfast yet.’ Jaz took a big bite of her toast as if to prove it. It took everything she had to gulp it down.
A horn tooted.
‘We’re late. See you, Mum. Let’s go, Si.’ With her crutches she hobbled outside as quickly as she could, throwing the rest of the toast behind a big leafy plant in the garden while no one was looking.
Simon opened the car door for her. ‘Thanks bro.’ He smiled and climbed into the back. Arriving at Saint Christian’s in the back of Taylor’s blue Mustang was a social climb for Simon. Taylor had legendary status at school, which was funny because Jaz was at the other end of the scale and yet they were best friends. How it worked, she wasn’t sure.
‘Hey, Jaz. How’s the leg?’ Taylor had his sunnies on, arm out the window and just oozed sex appeal. His hand rested on the gear stick, waiting for her reply before they moved.
‘It’s getting better.’ It was the truth, she could put pressure on it now. But it was such a relief to be beside Taylor because he knew the truth. After all, he’d been there too. You could say they jointly killed that man, both firing at the same time. Neither of them hung around long enough to deliberate over whose bullet did the job, but she had checked for a pulse. Nothing. He was dead. And the worst thing was, if he’d survived then he’d probably be able to come after them and they’d both be in danger. Still, it didn’t make Jaz feel any better or safer.
‘Good.’ Tay didn’t smile. He hadn’t smiled much since that night. Mind you, neither had Jaz.
They didn’t talk in the car, too caught up in their own thoughts and not wanting to discuss things with Simon in earshot.
‘Thanks for the ride, Tay,’ said Simon when they reached school. He ran to catch up with classmates.
They remained in the car, staring at their school and the rush of kids.
‘How are you sleeping?’ asked Tay eventually.
‘Not so good. You?’
Tay barely shook his head; Jaz nearly missed it. ‘What do we do, Jaz?’
She shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I’m just sorry I brought you into this.’
The leather seat crackled as he turned to face her. ‘Jaz, is this really what you want to do? Risk your life?’ His voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Kill people?’
She couldn’t raise a smile. The look on her best friend’s face made her clench her teeth. ‘It seemed so much more exciting and heroic when I first learned about what Ryan did,’ she eventually whispered. ‘Don’t worry, I did think it over a lot before I joined the Agency, Tay. I want to make a difference. I want a job that saves lives and prevents further deaths.’ Tay shot her a look. ‘Yes, even if it means killing others to do so. I could tell you about the loss of lives, kids with drugs, mothers killed in cold blood over poppy fields in Pakistan.’ Jaz squeezed her hands, remembering the story Ryan told. Even kids had been shot and pushed into a mass grave, all so they wouldn’t be able to tell. Her voice grew stronger as she spoke. ‘And what about that year nine kid last year who died from trying drugs? This is my chance to do something about it. I’m sick of lying in my comfy bed watching death and destruction from afar and wishing I could do something about it. Don’t you, Tay? Don’t you want to do something worthwhile?’
‘Of course,’ he said gruffly. ‘But I was thinking when I was much older, after being trained by the SAS or the army. Not while I’m still eighteen. I knew it was possible in my future that I would be firing a gun at someone, but … I just didn’t think the blood would be on my hands so soon.’ Taylor rubbed his thumb across his palm. ‘I wake up still seeing your blood all over my hands, Jaz. Do you know how raw I have scrubbed them? And yet every morning it’s back there.’
Jaz reached over, grasping his hands in hers. ‘But I’m okay and I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.’
‘I can’t believe Ryan has gotten you into this mess,’ he said angrily.
Not that long ago Ryan Fletcher had appeared in her local boxing gym, The Ring. His dark mysterious eyes had drawn her in until she was immersed into his life of lying and spying. He’d asked her to join his secret agency to fight the war against drugs, guns and bad guys. Jaz had said yes and so started her own life full of lies. From her parents to her best friend Anna, she had to lie. It still didn’t sit right. Like a tumour in the pit of her stomach, it seemed to fester and grow with each fib she had to create. The only thing that eased that pain was knowing she was fighting for the greater good, to save those unable to save themselves. Jaz had always wanted to do something important with her life, to make a difference. Well, she’d certainly got that chance alright.
Jaz pulled her hands back. ‘It’s not Ryan’s fault, Tay. I’m just supposed to be learning the ropes and watching Marcus’s father from afar. I took too many risks, which ended up involving you, and I’m sorry for that. None of this was supposed to happen.’
He lifted up his sunnies; motionless blue eyes held hers. ‘Would you have ever told me about this? If you hadn’t needed my help that night, would I ever have known?’
Her teeth were clamped so tightly her jaw began to ache. ‘I wasn’t allowed to tell you. It’s a part of the job. I really wanted to, Tay. It’s been killing me, keeping this all to myself.’
‘So that’s a no?’
Jaz nodded. ‘I did tell you little bits, what I thought I could,’ she added, but realistically she knew it wouldn’t help. If Tay had been the one going on missions and keeping her in the dark, she knew she’d feel just as disappointed and angry. ‘If you were in my shoes, would you tell me? If Ryan had recruited you and sworn you to keep it quiet, would you still have told me?’
He pulled the keys out of the ignition and squeezed them in his hand until it went white. ‘I guess not. So Marcus is your mission, not your boyfriend.’ He turned to face her. ‘How does that work?’ he said, raising his eyebrows.
It was the million dollar question Jaz was still trying to figure out herself. ‘It just does. He’s a nice guy, that’s what’s so hard.’ Jaz had questions of her own. ‘Hey, um, when you went back to Ryan’s the next day, what did he say? Anything?’