Authors: Chanel Cleeton
Table of Contents
An Assassins Novel
by Chanel Cleeton
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Between Shadows Copyright © 2016 by Chanel Cleeton
Cover Image © Depositphotos, tankist276
“My name is Mandy. My favorite color is black. I’ve never killed a man.” I nibble on my lower lip; my gaze darts around. The living room is crowded as the aroma of pot and beer mixes with the scent of sweat and bad decisions. Ten of us sit in a circle playing this game. I wait to see if anyone calls me out.
“Your favorite color isn’t black. You’re wearing a purple sweater. That’s the lie,” the girl across from me shouts, her voice triumphant, her words muffled as she takes a swig from a bottle of tequila.
I peer down at the bright purple sweater, ducking my head in embarrassment. “Shit. I forgot about that. You’re totally right, that was the lie.”
The girl grins, baring her teeth at me. “Told you I’m good at this game.”
If you only knew.
I turn, my face partially hidden by a curtain of hair, and study the guy whose arm is draped around my shoulders. I lean into the curve of his body; the smell of his cologne and the sickly sweet aroma of the joint they’ve been passing around fills my nostrils.
“I’m not very good at this game.”
He runs a hand through the ends of my blonde hair, twisting the strands around his fingers like a rope, using the leverage to pull me closer, so close our lips nearly touch. Our breath mingles. I want to pull back, even if it’s just an inch, want to
but I don’t. I stay perfectly still, my lips parted as if begging for his kiss.
He leans closer, his mouth on mine; his tongue plunges inside with a wet caress. His hands drift to my ass, cupping and squeezing, pulling me onto his lap, rearranging me so my legs straddle him. I fight the embarrassment growing inside me; I give myself over to his hands and lips until he releases me, a knowing gleam in his eye.
I look around, expecting to see curious gazes cast our way. It’s best if I’m not memorable, but no one seems to have noticed or cared. It’s that kind of party.
He thrusts a glass into my hand; my fingers slip against the edge. “Have another drink. You aren’t relaxed enough.”
“I’ve already drunk too much. I should be getting home soon.”
We both know my protests are half-hearted at best.
How long have I been here? An hour, maybe? Too long.
He takes a swig from his beer.
“But you haven’t seen my room yet.” His tone is husky as he leans closer; his lips tease the curve of my ear. “Just come up for a moment.”
“We just met.”
“You can trust me.” The faintest of Scandinavian accents threads through his voice, but it’s enough to yank me out of the party and back into my head.
I lean away from him, blocking out the noise surrounding us. I study him, taking in his appearance, hoping I look more like a lovesick girl than what I really am, pretending I haven’t been watching him for months now.
He has a trustworthy face, and he knows it. His skin is pale, his hair dark, his eyes a soft shade of blue. His build is average, his smile just a touch too tempting. He’s the boy next door—every girl’s dream.
But I know what he really is. I know his dark hair used to be blond; his blue eyes are the work of contacts. I see what Lauren Armstrong once saw.
In spite of that, no, because of that, I walk upstairs with him, leaving the safety of the party behind me. His fingers curl around mine in a move that is more possession than affection. My feet stumble over the steps, my head bent, mind racing.
A familiar sensation comes over me, crashing like a wave. It’s been months. Months studying his pictures, learning his likes and dislikes, reading old articles and examining footage from the murder.
Months planning for one night.
Michael Duncan, formerly Jay Reinholdt, stops in front of a door at the end of the hallway. “Here it is.”
It’s silly, really, that I still get a little bit nervous. But I do.
I walk in first, the quiet click of the door shutting behind me and the turn of the lock music to my ears. The hardest part is pretending I don’t know what’s going to happen next, the fight to maintain my composure and control as instinct and training kick in. I’m like a racehorse at the starting gate, chaffing at the bit, ready to push through and get to work.
This is what I was born to do, who I am, and as much as I should hate it, these are the moments when the darkness bleeds through and who I am becomes what I am.
I move away from the door, taking a minute to explore the space around us, running through the clock in my mind. The room is small, but well decorated, filled with modern furniture. An impressive stereo system stands tall against the wall, a large flat-screen TV next to it. I try not to focus on the bed with its pale gray sheets or imposing headboard. Instead, my gaze falls on a framed picture sitting atop a desk. I walk toward it, my stride weaving slightly, struggling in my purple fuck-me heels.
“I think I had too much to drink,” I admit, my words slurring together slightly.
His lips curve, eyes flashing, two dimples exposed. But before the smile settles on his too-trustworthy face, there’s a moment, so quick that if I’d blinked I’d have missed it, when the emotion behind the smile cracks through and I know exactly how it feels to be prey.
No one can keep a mask on forever; there are always moments when it slips, moments when the darkness demands its time in the sun. I beat mine back, waiting…
His lips brush against my mouth, this kiss even sloppier than the one downstairs. Disgust fills me; I beat it back, a running countdown in my mind.
His smile widens. “You’re good, babe. You just needed to loosen up. You were too tense earlier. Now we can really have some fun.”
In the privacy of his room, his accent has become even more pronounced. He’s playing with me like I’m a fly trapped in his web and he can’t wait for his next meal.
Let him play.
I stop in front of the photo on his dresser, turning my back to him as my finger reaches out to trace the cold metal frame. The girl is standing on a beach, her blonde hair billowing around her. Clad in a blue dress, she’s stunning; her smile lights up the image.
“Pretty girl.” It’s a struggle to keep the emotion from my voice, one I almost lose.
Michael walks behind me, wrapping his arms around my chest, pulling me back against a body that’s firmer than expected. “Don’t get jealous, babe. She’s just my sister.”
I stiffen. “Really? Your sister is gorgeous. Although she looks a little familiar,” I muse, turning to face him, unable to keep the slight bite from my voice.
Michael shrugs, nudging me closer to the bed. “Lots of blondes do.”
The insult doesn’t fully register until I allow him to maneuver me onto the mattress. He tucks a stray strand of blonde hair behind my ear; the touch of his fingertips against my bare skin sends a shiver through me that has nothing to do with desire. My gaze turns to the clock on his desk. It’s eleven twenty-five. My heartbeat kicks up.
He joins me on the bed, his gaze darting to my sweater’s neckline. I know what the view looks like; I spent an hour painstakingly dressing for this one night. Most days I could give a shit about my appearance, but there are moments when it is so very useful. Tonight I am beautiful. Feminine.
Perfectly tailored for him.
They call it aggressive mimicry. Predators pretend to be something they’re not in order to avoid detection by their prey—such a simple concept, and yet, such a useful one.
It hasn’t been easy to catch his attention, to get close to him. For a twenty-two-year-old university student, Michael Duncan is surprisingly guarded. Of course he has to be, given his past. He should be in jail, awaiting death, but here he is, another girl, another blonde.
And so the scales tip.
His lips find mine, the kiss firm, slightly punishing. It’s an act of dominance, his attempt at topping me. His hands caress my curves in a move that has nothing do with my pleasure and everything to do with his need to destroy. His hands grip my arms. He squeezes. His fingers bite into my flesh; his nails scrape the skin.
He ignores me. His mouth moves hungrily against mine; his weight pushes me into the mattress.
His body, the one that seemed so slight, is now heavy against my chest. His fingers press into my skin, kneading me like dough.
“You’re hurting me.” He doesn’t stop. “Michael—”
His hand slams down over my mouth. “Shut up, you little bitch.”
Gone is the boy next door. The mask is torn off, never to return again. The look in his eyes—
There are many forms of darkness in this world. His feeds off of my weakness, making him stronger, filling him with an intense purpose that wants only one thing—my body naked and destroyed. I recognize the death in his eyes, and in that moment I wonder if it were a fair fight, which one of us Death would choose: his apprentice or this pretender who kills for sport? Or am I wrong to think there’s a difference between us? Is it wrong that I have to hold my body back from doing what it was born to do?
I want to fight back. Kick him. Claw at his face. Hurt him like he’s hurting me. Instead I just lie there, fighting my body’s natural urge.
I can’t leave any marks.
I wait for a moment, knowing it’s coming. Suddenly, Michael sags against me; the mattress buckles under his weight.
“Are you okay?” My shy voice is gone. So is my British accent.
“Maybe I had too much beer,” Michael mumbles, his words slightly slurred.
A smile forms on my pastel pink lips, the only real smile I’ve had all night. I’m not supposed to
this isn’t supposed to be emotional, but fuck if it didn’t feel pretty personal when his weight pushed me into the mattress.
I do the job I was born to do. But sometimes it’s not just the job, sometimes the scales call to me like a siren’s song, winding their way through my fucked up head and dark heart. Sometimes it’s not the darkness that calls to me, sometimes it’s
It’s justice, and vengeance, and the urge to bring balance to a world that doesn’t give a shit about fair, or right and wrong.
And sometimes I’m just a girl, wanting to kick some ass.
I break away, easily slipping from his grasp. I move gracefully, like a cat—and not some tame house cat either, but a feral beast—any traces of drunkenness fully erased. I may be petite and I may be a few inches over five feet, but the power has completely shifted.
Aggressive mimicry is a beautiful fucking thing.
I stare down at my prey, an orgy of justice and vengeance ripping through my body.
“It could have been the beer,” I agree. “Or maybe the drug I slipped into your drink an hour ago.”
Confusion flickers in those cold, dead eyes. “What did you say?”
“I drugged you,
.” The emphasis I place on his name, his real name, hangs between us like an ax about to fall.
Fear fills his voice and clouds his gaze. “Who are you?”
“It depends on who you ask. If you ask your friends, I’m the British university student you brought up to your flat to have some fun with. To you? I’m Vengeance.
“Did you really think you could run from your sins? That you could simply change your identity and escape what you did to that girl? What you did to all those girls?”
their lives buried under the weight and power of the Reinholdt fortune, a judicial system that failed them, and Jay’s evil.
“Did you think there wouldn’t be a price on your head when all was said and done? That they didn’t have families who deserved justice? That you would just get away with it?”
I laugh, the sound nothing like before. This is my real laugh, the shadows creeping in.
“Your father isn’t the only one with money,
. Your father isn’t the only one willing to skirt the law. You killed Lauren Armstrong. You murdered countless other girls you lured to your room. Then you ran and hid from your crimes. And now you’re done.” I struggle to keep the emotion from my voice. This isn’t personal. It’s business.
But now I know what it was like for them in the final moments of their lives. And I know he would have killed again. And even as I hate myself a bit, I’m not sorry.
“Please.” His breath comes in harsh pants. “I have money. Lots of money. I’ll pay you; whatever they’re paying you, I’ll top it.”
“It isn’t about the money. Besides, I already slipped the drug in your beer. It’s done.”
A flash of outrage crosses his face before it flickers out, replaced by the look I’ve seen staring back at me countless times—the flickering of fear, followed by resignation, and lastly, my old faithful friend and lover, Death.