I grabbed the old, worn file folder sitting on my coffee table, flipping through the pages I practically knew from memory. A year ago, the first packet had arrived in the mail addressed to me with a preprinted label and an Arlington postmark. Every few months or so, more came. Each packet came from a different city in the metro area. Each packet had a little more information about the security firm Intech’s operations in Afghanistan.
The first packet had contained two important pieces of information:
My father’s name and Matt’s father’s name. And then came the documents with Matt’s name, surrounded by a whole lot of blacked-out bits.
Matt’s father, James Ryan, owned Intech, one of the world’s largest private security firms. He was also one of my father’s largest campaign contributors.
I didn’t even know what I had exactly—a lot of it was redacted—but the fact that someone had sent me this was enough to make me think there was more there. The conversation I’d accidentally overheard days after Matt’s funeral filled in the other missing piece, shattering any ties I had to my parents.
Blair had accused me of being obsessed with what happened to Matt, and she was probably right. She’d told me I needed to move on, needed to find a life for myself. I just didn’t know how. We’d been a couple ever since my sixteenth birthday; before that we’d grown up together as best friends. I’d loved him forever. I hadn’t just lost my fiancé; Matt’s death created a hole in my life that I couldn’t fill. And more than that, it created a hole inside of me.
You didn’t bounce back from that.
I jerked up in bed, a loud crash coming from the direction of my living room.
My heart pounded, my gaze darting to the nightstand and the alarm clock next to my bed. Instead of the neon numbers I expected to see staring back at me, the screen was dark. I fumbled with the lamp, reaching for the switch. I flicked it on. Nothing happened.
A chill slid down my spine, my limbs filling with ice. Maybe there’d been a storm. Maybe it was just a normal power outage. Maybe someone had come to kill me.
Another crash—the sound of breaking glass—the noise once again in the direction of the living room.
It wasn’t a dream; someone was definitely in my apartment.
I reached for my cell, only to come up empty.
I’d left it in my purse, which was not-so-conveniently sitting on the coffee table in the living room.
I got out of bed, heading to the closet. I fumbled around in the dark for a moment, until finally my hand connected with the wooden handle of a baseball bat. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. If I were lucky, maybe I could catch the intruder off guard. I definitely wasn’t going to stay here like a sitting duck, waiting to be killed. If I could get a good swing in, then maybe I could make it to the front door. I had a few neighbors—surely someone would hear me. Hopefully, they weren’t all gone for the holiday. Not to mention, since this wasn’t the best area, fights weren’t exactly something new. The hope that someone would overhear and call the cops was probably in vain.
My hands tightened around the bat, sliding over to the bedroom door, cursing the old construction and the fact that none of the interior doors had locks on them.
Adrenaline slammed through me, my body tense and poised for a fight as I waited, my gaze locked on the handle of the door, waiting to see it turn.
A shout came from the other side of the door.
My breath caught.
Oh god, there’s more than one of them.
A loud thud, followed by a series of grunts, filled the night air. Then another thud—like the sound of bone connecting with bone. More grunts. A shout. Popping sounds.
Someone was fighting in my living room. The realization surprised me enough that the bat slipped through my fingers and dropped to the ground. Judging from when I’d gone to bed and the sliver of moonlight in the inky sky shining through my sixth-floor window, it was two or three a.m. And there were strange men fighting in my apartment.
All it’s going to do is get you killed.
Maybe I should have listened to Blair. Maybe I should have just let everything with Matt go. He was dead; why did I need to go dredging up old ghosts? What would it accomplish, really? And after a year of trying to research what had really happened to him, all I had to show for my efforts were a few cryptic pieces of paper, men fighting in my living room, and my imminent death.
But why were they fighting? If my father—or someone connected to him—had sent someone to kill me, why hadn’t they done it already? Why were they fighting each other? Assassin’s quarrel?
I picked up the baseball bat, my knuckles white. Silence filled the apartment.
I stayed in the corner, directly behind the bedroom door, my gaze trained on the doorknob, struggling to control my breathing, trying so hard not to make a sound. My limbs felt frozen, pulled down by fifty-pound weights. I was afraid to move, afraid to breathe too loudly, afraid to do anything except grip the baseball bat as though it were an extension of my body.
No one came to kill me.
Were they gone?
Indecision filled me as I struggled with what to do next. Part of me wanted to go into the living room and try to grab my phone so I could call the police. It was so quiet—maybe they really were gone. At the same time, it seemed crazy to run toward danger. And part of me couldn’t have moved if I wanted to—my body plastered against the wall, my legs frozen with fear.
And then the doorknob made the decision for me.
Horror filled me as I watched the knob turn, heard the creak of the hinges as it opened, and then I swung with all of my might, the bat connecting with muscle and bone with a sickening thwack.
The intruder crumpled to the ground with an oath and I leapt over the body, the bat dangling from my hand, running toward the living room, panic clawing at my throat. I grabbed my bag off of the coffee table, running toward the front door, my heart pounding as I prayed that I’d hit him hard enough to keep him down for a while.
I gripped the front door, pulling it open, when all of a sudden—
I froze, my hand slipping from the doorknob, the sound of my name hitting my body like a blow.
Oh my god.
Oh my god.
I knew that voice. Had heard it say my name hundreds of times. Thousands of times.
I told myself it was the stress of the night catching up with me, that it couldn’t be what I thought it was, hoped it was. I told myself to keep running, to call the police, told myself not to turn and face the intruder in my apartment.
It can’t be.
I struggled to calm my breathing, to keep it together, when suddenly I felt like I was falling apart.
My hand left the knob, the baseball bat falling from my other hand, my body turning as the power of memory beat out any fight-or-flight response I might have had.
It was dark in the apartment—too dark to see anything but a shape looming in my open bedroom doorway. A strangled gasp escaped my mouth.
He was tall. Just like Matt had been.
Broader than Matt, though.
It can’t be.
And then I heard that voice again. “It’s me. I’m not going to hurt you.”
My body sagged against the front door. This had to be a dream. All of this. Maybe I was still sleeping.
He began walking toward me, slowly, nothing menacing in his stride. He approached me without a sound, gliding through my living room like a ghost. With each step, he sucked the air out of the room.