By: Evangeline Anderson

But he’d delayed—stilling the itchy trigger finger on his sonic rifle for two reasons. The first was he preferred a fair fight. Unlike some of the other Verrak, he didn’t usually take targets at a distance. He took them somewhere safe and secure and let them choose their weapon and fight him face to face—let them die with honor. No matter what heinous crimes they had committed, everyone deserved dignity in death. That was Tragar’s belief, anyway.

The second reason he didn’t shoot was that he saw the way Emily interacted with the younglings. During his first observation one of them had fallen, scraping a chubby knee on the hard walkway that ran between the school buildings. The young one had run crying to Emily, her knee seeping blood, her eyes awash with tears.

Here we go… Tragar’s finger had tightened on the trigger. Surely the sight of blood would bring out the ravening monster Two had sworn lurked in the innocent looking girl’s breast. He was ready to shoot her down the moment she went for the youngling’s throat.

But instead of going feral—becoming a thing of teeth and claws and appetite—the girl he had been sent to kill gathered the youngling into her arms. She dried the little female’s tears and said some words of consolation—too low for Tragar to understand though he had been studying her language for days now.

The little female had quieted, obviously feeling safe and comforted in the arms of Tragar’s target, who still showed no signs of attacking. Gradually, his finger had loosened on the trigger and then he had put down the rifle altogether and just watched.

Gods, it reminded him of Landra…the way she was with Jalex when he hurt himself…

No! Tragar had pushed the memory away. He took a deep breath. I do not allow my past to dictate my present or my future. There is no then. There is only here and now. There is only the target.

It was a Verrak saying—a necessary reminder since most of those in his elite brotherhood came from a background of loss and sorrow. But though he repeated it to himself over and over, he still hadn’t been able to kill Emily Brooks. Not then and not now, ten days later.

He studied her—watching her wipe at her eyes with a hand that trembled. Why was she crying? What had agitated her so? For a moment he imagined holding her against him and asking her what was wrong. It was foolish of course—a fantasy that could never come true. But there was no denying she would be pleasant to hold.

She had a lush body hidden beneath her shapeless garments—he could tell. It was a shame she didn’t wear clothing that showed her shape, but just the outline of her curves was tantalizing. Not that he was supposed to be looking at her that way—she was only another target, after all. Still, those full breasts and rounded hips…

A burning sensation in his left arm brought him back to reality. It was the narsh—the mark of the Verrak—given to him when he first passed the trials and took the oath. Tragar looked down at the thick black lines criss-crossing his muscular arm from shoulder to wrist. The narsh burned to remind him that he had a job outstanding—a commission as yet undone.

Tragar ignored it. He was used to doing so. He almost never took jobs with time limits on them, preferring to take his time and get every detail exactly right.

I just need to know her, he argued with himself. Need to find out what’s so special—what makes her dangerous before I pull the trigger.

And so he watched…and waited. Soon, he would kill her soon.

But not…just…yet.

Chapter Two

“You’re late—where have you been?” Mrs. Peltz’s narrow face was a mask of rigid disapproval.

“I’m so sorry! I…I got sick,” Emily said, grasping for the first explanation she could think of. Really, it was true—seeing herself morph into a stranger in the mirror could certainly be considered an illness, though not of the physical variety.

“Well if you’re that ill maybe you’d better take a sick day.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Emily muttered. “I’m certainly, uh…ill.” For the first time she wondered if she ought to seek medical attention—was it safe for her to be around her class if she was having delusions? But it wasn’t like she was having violent urges or anything. And she’d been through this before, in college and hadn’t hurt anyone. No, you were the one who got hurt, whispered a little voice in her head. You were the one who got—

“Shut up!”

“Excuse me?” Mrs. Peltz’s iron-gray eyebrows were raised nearly to her hairline. “What did you just say to me?”

Oh God, had she said that out loud?