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Serena was pacing around her hotel room for the second time when her cell phone rang. She picked up on the third ring.
"Yes." What a stupid question. Only Jones knew where to find her. But if she didn’t answer, he might send someone to this faceless hotel to check on her.
"Not good enough," the male voice snapped. "Ms, not Miss. Remember your persona. Young, sassy, independent. Get it right every time, you hear me?"
She sighed. "Sure."
Jones continued to harass her, as he always did, treating her like a child. "You can speak freely if you wish, but only on this phone. You understand?"
"Yes." She was new to this business, not stupid. But she knew if she tried to tell him that, he’d only repeat what he’d told her a thousand times before and make her recite it back to him so she didn’t think it worth the bother of responding to him now. It would only prolong the tedium. His insistence on treating her like a child infuriated her.
This whole situation made her nervous as hell. After tomorrow, she would become someone else, going undercover for the first time. And hopefully, the last. She never imagined an academic career specializing in medieval weapons would ever lead to this. Who would?
Disgraced, and trying to earn her reputation back.
She was an academic, not a politician, although as things turned out politics wouldn’t have been a bad extracurricular course. Better than fifteenth century metal manufacturing techniques in the Low Countries, as matters had turned out.
The man she knew as John Jones-‘and there was a fake name if she ever heard one-‘ had become her immediate boss. Until further notice although if she performed this one task well, she could get out that much faster. Or so Jones had promised her.
Like she believed that any more. She snorted, but when Jones said "What?" she explained, "Just a drink going the wrong way."
"Put the drink down and listen to me. You have tomorrow to get your act together, then you’re on. From the moment you get on the plane to New York, you are Serena Chirk, and you’d better remember that. You know how important this is, so shape up and get on with it."
Her body hummed with anger, but Jones didn’t let up. "I want you in bed early, thinking hard about the assignment. This is your first, Serena. You might find you like it. We might want to keep you."
Yeah, like she’d become a regular FBI agent when this nightmare finished. If they wanted to keep her, she’d want her reputation back, and that was just for starters. "I know you’ve got me over a barrel. So fuck me and get on with it." The new, cruder language came with the job. Not that academics didn’t use their fair share, once out of the classroom.
Anger and recklessness filled her heart. The constant checking, the reinforcements, the reminders infuriated her. Her hand tightened on the receiver. "You know what, Jones, or whatever your name is? You’ve shoved national security at me, destroyed my life, threatened me every chance you’ve had. I’m tired of it, do you hear me?" For the first time in six months she felt empowered, a new resolve filling her veins with fire. "I’ll do your job and I’ll do it well, but you know what, tonight is mine. Before I start your fucking job, before I get the sword back, I’m having tonight. Don’t send anyone to look for me, don’t call me because I’m off duty." She didn’t wait to hear his answer. If he sent someone after her, she’d see just how good her self-defense lessons turned out to be. Kicking a man in the balls might alleviate some of the sheer fury she felt when she recalled how easily they’d used her.
She cut the call and immediately switched off the phone.
Jones had the ability to use her any way he wanted to, until she worked out a way to get out of this unholy mess, but tonight she’d kick back.
That crack about keeping her came as the final straw. One assignment, using her particular specialty and they would make sure she had her life back, they’d said. Now they wanted to renege on that?
Anger filled her heart. She could do nothing about this situation. They had the only proof that she hadn’t cheated, hadn’t stolen and attempted to defraud her university. The FBI held her qualifications and her life in its greasy little palm.
Well fuck them. Fuck them all. Tonight was hers, the last night before she went into servitude for God knew how long, posing as someone she wasn’t, lying and stealing in the name of justice. If she were to be someone else, she’d act like it, really get into character. Maybe get drunk, maybe find a man to flirt with.
Striding to the closet, she grabbed her jacket then went back to the table where she’d thrown her meager belongings. She found her hotel room card, her wallet, and then paused and stared at herself in the mirror.
Shoving her long, dark hair back off her face she secured it with a clip, leaving the shorter strands at the front to swing free. A quick application of lipstick and she’d done She was nobody. Just for tonight, she was nobody. A symbol, caught between one life and the next, and her slate completely blank. She could write whatever she wanted on it, and nobody would know. Neither Serena Forrester nor Serena Chirk would be responsible for her actions tonight.
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