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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19. Truths

"Oh dearie, I'm not going to hurt you!" the voice said several agonising seconds later. She had sounded sincere, but still my feet stayed rooted to the spot. Why? Because I recognised her voice. She was the woman in Ms Morgan's office.

"Stevens is alive?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Is he here?" I asked.

"No," she said.

I sighed, already tired of these tedious quick-fire questions. I turned to face her. 

"Tell me what's going on, or I'll call for back-up and have you arrested by a CIA ten-man swat team," I said solidly, relieved that my voice sounded convincing despite the fact I was lying. Help was a long way away - I could hear the crackle of the comms in my ear and could barely see the figure in front of me, let alone the Estate which I could attempt to hide in.

"Charlotte, there's really no need to threaten me," she tutted, taking a step forward confidently. Almost as if she knew me, and knew what I was capable of. She tugged her cardigan from her wiry arms and placed it around my shoulders. The gesture was so motherly that questions started spinning in my head. She had seemed familiar. Her hair and face and everything about her.

"I'm not your mother," she almost laughed, as if she had read my mind. "But I was a close friend of hers."

That definitely means she's bad news, I thought, taking a careful step away from her.

"Leave me alone," I said, frustrated at the tremble in my voice.

"As you wish," she said. "Close your eyes," she instructed.

"What?" I stammered.

"Do it or die," she chanted in a sing-song tone. I let my eyes flutter shut. I could hear steps coming towards me. I felt her warm breath against my face as she spoke.

"Count to twenty. Don't open your eyes until you have finished," she said.

I tried to control my rugged breathing, counting carefully, adding a few extra numbers just to be sure. I opened my eyes wearily to face her. But I was alone. She had left in silence.

How?! I thought, spinning around, noting the twigs scattered everywhere, sure to protest underfoot. I didn't leave time to ponder though, as I pulled my hair from my face and ran, in hope that I would find the Estate and go back home and fall into a dreamless sleep where I couldn't be harmed or questioned or judged by anyone.

I saw the looming silhouette of the Rochester Estate and my feet pulled me faster across the ground. I sneaked in through a side door with peeling green paint and caught my breath, smoothing my hair around my face. The room I was in was considerably smaller than other rooms here, but it was comfortable. A fire roared timidly behind an iron grate, warming the air to a comforting temperature. Plush cushions were scattered across the assorted armchairs and a woollen rug scraped beneath my feet as I walked slowly, admiring a photograph of a beaming couple on the mantelpiece. 

And then I heard the click of a door locking. I spun round, squinting at the figure in the shadier side of the room, engulfed in shadows. Blocking the exit. Rick walked towards me slowly. I couldn't quite read his expression, but I was certain of what I felt. This boy terrified me. He had held a weapon in one hand whilst stroking my hair with the other. He had flirted with me and then put my life in danger. But all I could think to do was take a feeble step back and plead.

"Please don't," I whispered, just as he had stopped in front of me.

"Don't what?" he replied, his gaze locking with mine.

"I know you want me dead, but I don't know why," I said quickly, a mixture of frustration and terror coursing through me.

"What?" he whispered, staring into my eyes with an intensity that made me uncomfortable.

"You said so yourself, and you have a gun," I said helplessly, dragging a hand through my fringe.

"I wouldn't hurt you," he insisted, his voice so certain that I wanted to believe him, but knew I had to shake my head.

"You said in the Library that someone has got to finish the job. Of killing me. And you go to Blackthorne, a school for assassins. So don't lie to me, Rick," I said, my voice rising, "because I know who you are and what you want. So save us both the trouble and do it quickly." 

"The person who wants to finish the job was here tonight. And I have a gun to stop them. To protect you." Rick closed his hands around mine.

"And how do I know this isn't just another lie?" I spat, shifting away from him. And the look he gave me at that moment was one of utter hurt.

"If you really think I'm lying, you might as well get in there first," he said simply, quietly, handing me his gun.

I traced the cold weapon with my fingers, horrified to be holding it.

Did I trust him? No.

Did I want to kill him? No.

I locked my eyes with his as I placed the gun on the floor and kicked it fiercely, sending it flailing towards a gap in the floorboards where it fell, never to resurface. Silence dragged across the room, the only sound the ancient clock ticking contently on the wall behind me.

Rick's gaze didn't make me flinch anymore. He took a step closer, but this time I didn't recoil. And when he placed his hands on my face and brushed my lips with his, I felt anything but afraid. For a moment, I allowed myself to ignore the fact that he seemed like a stranger, carrying so many secrets. He was here, and didn't want to hurt me. That was enough for me.

"The guys who broke in," I whispered, his face inches from mine. "Did they want to..." I couldn't finish the sentence.

Rick nodded. "Zach got to you before I could."

"Zach?" I gasped, thinking of the deft movements and strong stance of the man with the glasses who had pulled us from the chaos before disappearing soundlessly.

"Rick, there was this woman-" I started, before realising I had no idea what to say next. She hadn't even given me her name.

"Who was she?" he asked, running his fingers along my face gently.

"She's... trouble," I shuddered, causing Rick to pull me closer. We stood there for a few moments, before he took my hand and pulled me towards the door.

"Party's over," he said, leading me through a once wondrous setting that now looked like it would be suffering a severe hangover. The thieves had long since been carted off to prison cells, but the damage they did was still evident. Muddy footprints stained the expensive carpets and many of the paintings had obviously been tampered with. The Rochester Estate had fresh wounds to tend to, so our trip was cut short. The van idled outside, containing my classmates, most of whom had made it out unscathed (although Tina claimed she took out one of the assailants).

The Estate was beautiful, but kind of haunting, and I was glad to see the back of it as the van pulled away. But then I felt myself flinch, heard my voice yell, "Stop the van!"

Every head turned as I said two words that made an indescribable fear hurtle through me.

"Where's Bex?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

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