An action-packed, edge-of-your-seat novel about a teen who, when backed into a corner, fights back, from the author of What Waits in the Woods
Kaia has been on the run her whole life. The daughter of professional assassins, she knows danger—and she’ll do anything to survive. After her parents vanished during a job gone bad, Kaia’s spent the last year in hiding, trying to blend in as an ordinary teenager, and there’s no one who makes her feel more normal, more special, than her boyfriend, Oliver.
But when she’s attacked by someone from her mother’s past and Oliver catches her fighting back, Kaia’s secret is exposed. In a split-second decision, she flees the small town, taking Oliver with her. Stalked at every turn, Oliver and Kaia must protect each other…or die trying.
Oliver was bartering with the cab driver, trying to tip him with cans of soup, when we pulled up in front of my house, and their conversation faded into the background. A lump the size of a soccer ball formed in my throat. The house was exactly the same.
Same olive-green siding, same intricate white trim, same yellow and purple flowers bursting from the flower boxes. My parents’ rocking chairs sat on the porch, angled toward each other as if waiting for them to walk out the front door with glasses of lemonade. Next to them was the wicker couch that I’d always laid out on, my knees crooked over the arm, my bare feet dangling down the side closest to my father, so he could tickle them. The door was the same burgundy color and looked freshly painted. The lawn was recently mowed.
Was someone living here?
My heart seized.
Was my mother living here?
What if I walked through the door, and she was sitting on the couch in her old, fluffy pink slippers, waiting for me? What if, all along, all I’d needed to do was come home? The idea made me queasy with excitement and dread.
The taxi’s door opened, and Oliver was there, right in front of me. I blinked up at him. I hadn’t even heard him get out of the car. He offered his hand, but I ignored it and shoved myself out, feeling silly. I walked to the end of the driveway and looked at the garage. I could see the top of my father’s silver SUV through the garage door window. I felt disoriented, as if I’d stepped into a time warp.
“What?” Oliver asked. “What is it?”
“My dad’s car. It’s still here.”
If anyone was living here, it wasn’t a new family.
My pulse raced. I bounded up the porch steps and over to the fourth shingle under the second window, jabbing my fingers up under the crease. A key fell into my hand and the lump in my throat widened.
“You okay?” Oliver asked.
All I could do was nod. Tears were threatening to spill over. I shoved the key into the lock, turned it, and pushed open the door, quaking with pent-up emotions—anticipation battling it out with hope and anger and fear.
No one was home. That was obvious the second I stepped inside. The air was stale with the scent of too many hot days with windows locked tight. A thin layer of dust had accumulated on the table next to the stairs, where my mother’s favorite, framed picture of our family sat. I ran a finger through the dust and swallowed.
Oliver squeezed my shoulders. “So,” he said lightly. “This is where you grew up.”
“Sort of. I mean, we were hardly ever here, but…we were here more than any other place. My parents called it ‘home base.’”
Oliver kissed my cheek and squeezed my shoulders again, grounding me. Reminding me that even though my parents weren’t here, he was. He headed toward the foot of the stairs.
“What’re you doing?” I asked, swiping a hand across my cheek.
His fingers curled around the top of the newel post and he grinned. “I’m going to go see your room.”
“Oliver! Oliver, no!”
But he’d gotten a lead on me. By the time I made it to the second floor he was already throwing open doors. To the bathroom, the linen closet, the spare room, and then—
“Don’t,” I said, eyeing his hand on the doorknob.
“Oh, but I have to,” he replied playfully.
He opened the door, and a shaft of pink light engulfed him.
“Oh. My. God. It’s like a My Little Pony shrine in here!”
My love of pink had come from my mother. But while she had used the color as a mere accent—a bag strap here, a beaded bracelet there, the occasional stripe on a headband—I had embraced the color with every fiber of my being. When I was four.
“You cannot judge me by this room!” I said, arriving at the door as he flung himself, face up, onto my canopy bed.
Damn. It was even pinker than I remembered. A light pink rug, pink and hot pink striped walls, a pink flowered canopy and pink plaid sheets. There were pink stuffed animals, a pink-framed mirror, pink bookshelves filled with pink and purple and white books and toys and knickknacks. There was no color in the room other than pink and white and purple. Except for Oliver. He was all gray T-shirt and tan skin and blond hair.
“I never had you pegged for a Disney Princess,” Oliver said, pushing himself up on his elbows.
I walked over and sat next to him. The bed gave a familiar squeak. “I thought about changing it when I was thirteen, but we never got around to it. We were rarely here, so it didn’t seem to matter. I never even thought about the fact that a guy might see it one day.”
“Are you saying I’m the first guy you ever invited into your Barbie Dreamhouse?”
“I didn’t exactly invite you,” I pointed out, shoving his chest. “You barreled right in.”
Oliver reached an arm around my waist. He got that look in his eye he only got when we were entirely alone. It made my heart catch.
“Just like the day we met.”
I smiled. The day we met. Probably the single best day of my life.
Now, an entire year of kisses and phone calls and texts and adventures and secrets and whispers and near-death experiences between us, we were sitting in my pink explosion of a room, and I was overwhelmed by the sheer luck I felt at finding him. I leaned down and kissed him. He pulled me to him, pressing the whole length of his body against mine, and slid his hand under my short hair, around the back of my neck. We kissed for a long time, legs intertwining, chests bumping, hands exploring. For those few spare minutes, there was only Oliver.
Then he rolled me onto my back, and I winced as one particular bruise on my spine ached. I sat up, remembering why we were here. Oliver almost fell off the bed.
“What? What’s wrong?” he said.
“Oliver,” I replied, gasping for air. “I have to show you something.”
KIERAN SCOTT is the author of several acclaimed young adult novels, including the Non-Blonde Cheerleader trilogy, the He’s So/She’s So trilogy, and Geek Magnet. She also wrote the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Private and Privilege series under the pen name Kate Brian. She is a senior editor at Disney/Hyperion and resides in New Jersey with her family. Visit kieranscott.net.