Identity Unknown

"Being back here made me see how much it can get to you; the training, all of the lessons, even just the environment we are in. We aren't the same as everyone else. And everyone else can never know.'

After six months of searching for her father, Charlotte Goode returns to the Gallagher Academy. Exams and eager friends await, but something is wrong. When a phone call changes everything, Zach can offer the answer - but someone will stop at nothing to keep him silent. And when a double agent is revealed, Charlotte must choose who to trust - but time is running out, and the Academy's greatest secrets are at risk.

The stakes are higher, but is she ready?

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10. Cautious

13 hours left.

 

I decided to light a fire. The clearing was sheltered well by foliage, and the kindling would have burnt out long after I had moved on. The night brought a cold breeze that agitated the flames, but it offered some warmth to the chill that had settled in me. I rubbed my hands above the glow, waiting for Rick, desperate to know what he knew.

He showed up later than he had said (by seventeen minutes). No excuse. No explanation. He sat down beside me, offering me his hip flask. I was wary - after all, the last drink I had had was the drugged orange juice - but I gave in to my thirst and accepted.  

"Okay, I have to ask," I said, glancing at his face aglow with the fire. He nodded.

"Is there something you're not telling me?" I asked.

"Of course there are things I'm not telling you. I don't owe you anything."

"No, I know," I replied defensively, "but give me a reason why I should trust you."

Rick sighed, turned to face me. "It's probably best that you don't trust me. And not just me, anyone."

I couldn't decode what he had said, so I continued my questioning. "What do you know of the Gallagher Academy?"

"Very little. Except..." he tailed off, glancing at me cautiously.

"What?" I whispered, afraid to hear the answer.

"My dad used to work there."

"Really?" I said, surprised. I tried to think of people who shared his physical traits. Dark hair, green eyes, ruggedly handsome...

And then it hit me.

"Mr Solomon - Joe Solomon - is your father?!"

"Yeah. He's a good man."

"So what does that make you?" I asked. He wouldn't meet my eyes. I knew he was hiding something else, something big. 

I reached to take his hand in mine, but he jolted away, like he had received a shock.

"Rick?" I whispered.

A sudden gust of wind extinguished the fire. I had always been afraid of the dark as a kid, and now I could see why. I could just make out a few blurry figures surrounding us.

"Rick-" I began, but I was cut off by a hand clasped around my mouth. I tried to bite down, but stopped at the sight of a gold ring upon my attacker's finger. A ring with an emblem that I saw Stevens wearing. But what was it for? 

"That's enough," a voice cried out. A torch snapped on. I blinked rapidly, tried to make sense of the situation. The attacker gripped my waist harder, so I took a breath and bit down on his hand.

"Ouch!" he cried, loosening his grip. I jerked away from him. "She might be good looking Riccardo, but she's a feisty little bitch!"

Huh?

The fire flickered back to life. I saw Rick in front of me, with three or four boys beside him. One more was closer to me, rubbing his hand. He must have been the one I bit.

"Who are you calling little?" I asked angrily, taking in his own height which wasn't much more than average. The boy sniffed and squared his shoulders.

"Leave her," said Rick sternly, and the boy obeyed. It was clear that Rick was the leader of the pack.

"What's going on?" I asked Rick.

"These are some friends from Blackthorne," he said, a genuine smile on his face. 

I turned to face the group of boys. "And you lot were stalking us because..."

"Stalking? We were protecting you - Rick's not as manly as he lets on," said another boy. Rick playfully punched him on the arm. "And besides," he continued, "he has no idea how to treat attractive girls like yourself." The boy winked in a sleazy manner. I rolled my eyes.

"I'm flattered, really," I said sarcastically. "But haven't we got more important things to do than stand here chatting?"

The boy who I had bitten raised his head and met my gaze.

"What's that ring?" I asked. 

"It's just a family emblem," he said, holding it out to me. I took it, tracing the elaborate lettering engraved upon its golden surface.

"Who's Rosa Escuro?" I questioned.

"Dunno. Goes back generations," he replied vaguely, reaching for the ring.

"Anywaaaay," said the flirty boy, dragging out the word. "Are you two gonna sit out here all night?" Rick glanced at me.

"I've always wanted to see Blackthorne," I grinned. But I had a feeling there was something else lurking under the woodwork of this mysterious school - something that I would regret being involved in. 

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