Kaitlyn stood on the darkening curb, framed by a box of light from a window, clinging to her ancient treasure, mammoth backpack threatening to tip her onto her backside.
Biology study group. She hated Biology. Especially the study group. How many times a week could she stand to be laughed at for mistaking chloroplast for chloroform, or mitosis with osmosis? No matter how she dedicated herself, the ideas wouldn’t stick and her private schoolchumswere ruthless.
Her focus at piano lessons earlier had been abysmal. Karate was no different, and she had the bruises to prove it—not that she didn’t always take a pounding in Karate. She’dearned“Kamikaze Kaitlyn”, or Kamikaze for short, or Kami (which really bothered her because of the political connotations, comi for communist). ‘Steer clear of the Kami!’they’d whisper when she entered the room.
The window shades dropped, leaving her in shadow. That chipper little house promised a full night’s humiliation. Unless…
She slid the invitation out of her new-old book. Decorative parchment made her fingers tingle. A special symposium, rare artistic opportunity at her favorite place on the planet…
Her phone read 8:25 pm. If she hopped back on the bus she could be there with five minutes to spare—
But then, what about Mr. Strange?
The backpack finally won, pulling her onto her rump.
“Stupid gravity.” She set the invitation aside, sliding her backpack off sore shoulders.
Instant light smacked her in the face. She raised an arm to shield herself, peering around it at the circle of radiance, a headlight. The car sat parked on the curb not ten feet away, but no one started it. It just sat there, blinding her.
Paranoia clenched her throat. A hundred stories about stalkers and kidnapping raced, unwelcomed, through her mind. Strange cars, watchers in the darkness, and an abandoned street…
Snatching up her invitation, she leapt to her feet, racing blindly for the stairs of her dreaded biology inquisition.
Smack. She landed again on her rear. Black leather boots stood over her, leading up to denim jeans, a black T, fitted leather jacket, crossed arms, and black hair with vibrant red streaks.
The woman, probably only five or six years older than herself, smirked. “Hello Kaitlyn.”
She frowned. “How does everyone know my name? Who are you?”
“You’re wanted at a convention tonight.”
She blinked out her astonishment. “Did Mr. Strange send you?”
“I’m here to escort you.”
“You mean kidnap me?”
The woman laughed. “You have the book. That’s a good thing, but don’t think it’s going to protect you. You have absolutely no idea what’s at stake tonight.”
Kaitlyn swallowed. “Who sent you?”
“Come on, get up. We have to get moving.”
She shook her head. “I-I have to go to biology-”
“There are very few things youhaveto do Kaitlyn Strom.” The woman offered a hand. “Coming with me is one of them.”
Climbing to her feet, Kaitlyn clasped the book closer.
“You have the key too?” her kidnapper inquired.
“I’m Rose.” Throwing the chevy door open, she pointed at the seat. “And this is your chariot, oh child of paper.”
What was that supposed to mean?
“I’m not the bad guy,” Rose promised.
“There’s a bad guy?”
“Or I can force you.” The mischievous smile was enough to convince her to obey. She landed on a black padded seat, clinging still to her book, door snapping shut.
Rose pulled away from the curb, examining the rear view mirrors carefully. “I work with an association of agents, talented ones like you.”
“I’m not talented.”
“Then you don’t know yet? It will happen, and soon. I’m betting tonight.” Rose turned onto a main street. “At any rate, I’m not like you, but I know what you can do. Pretty crazy stuff.”
Reaching into her pocket, Kaitlyn realized her cell phone waited back on the curb somewhere. So much for calling 911. She was at the mercy of psycho lady.
“Have you even cracked that book yet?” Rose asked.
Only to read the inscription on the inner cover. Loosening her hold, she stared at the worn cover.
Dad disappeared after reading it. This was the only clue she had to his sudden departure, and although she was dying to search for leads, half of her feared she would find one. Half of her feared she wouldn’t. Truth is, the superstitious side of her warned that danger waited in these aged pages—which was ridiculous, of course.
Her fingers brushed over the old leather, shivers running up her arms. She brushed at the goosebumps. Whispers tickled across her mind.
“Did you hear that?” she asked.
“Hear what?” Rose watched the road intently.
No. She must have imagined it.
“What are you afraid of Kaitlyn Strom? It’s just a book.” What was she afraid of? She flipped the tome open, landing on a page with a wood-engraving print. A man stood on the prow of a fishing boat, spear raised, helmet gleaming against a stormy sea. Behind him sat another man, balancing the vessel, face half enshadowed by a hat.
She squinted closer. His eyes turned to her.
“Dad!” she gasped.