BOOK 1 // SEVEN: Under Fire

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            I thought I got off lightly.

As I followed my mother back into the event room, straight into the relentless gushing of Dr Watson, she didn't say a word. Sandwiched between my parents in the cab home, neither of them mentioned it. And when I stumbled in my shoes on our gravel driveway, it was my dad who put an arm out to steady me.

Things were looking positive.

Unfortunately, it didn't last forever. The moment the click of the door echoed across the hallway, I was heading for the staircase, eager to scrub the flaking black make-up from my eyes and find a plaster for my foot. I would've been three stairs up had my mother's voice not stopped me in my tracks.

"Where do you think you're going?"

I paused, slowly turning back to face her. "Uh... to bed?"

"Not happening." She gestured toward the opposite door. "Kitchen. Now."

The two of them took the lead, and I was left with little choice but to follow their footsteps. My shoes sounded far too obtrusive on the kitchen tile, and my feet ached in protest, but the extra few inches seemed like a potential advantage in a face-off with my parents. Assuming that was what this was: with only my mother's tone to go on, I wasn't quite sure what to brace myself for.

The lights in the kitchen switched on automatically, and the sudden brightness seemed like an assault on the senses. When both my parents rounded one side of the breakfast bar, I took this as my cue to take the other – it was pretty clear we were on opposing sides.

Sitting on one of the stools felt a little too vulnerable, so I stayed standing, even if it meant I had to ignore the shooting pain coming from the balls of my feet.

All I wanted was for them to say something. Apparently, though, they were big on suspenseful silence.

"What?" I said eventually. "You want to tell me what's going on here?"

Mum glanced at Dad, who sighed. Only then did I notice how tired he looked: the direct overhead light was not flattering on his dark circles, and the lines of his forehead were etched deeper than ever before. "Astrid," he said. "Did you not understand the importance of tonight? I thought we had this conversation before we left."

"Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, I think what I walked in on earlier said otherwise," my mother pointed out.

It was hard not to roll my eyes, but I had a feeling that wasn't a good move. "That? Oh, come on. That wasn't anything. There's no need to overreact about it."

"You know, I couldn't believe it when I heard," Dad said. "I thought your mother was joking. I didn't realise that you could be so stupid."

The irritation flickered inside me: a single spark that I had to stop from catching. "Stupid?" I echoed. "Really?"

"Jace Snowdon," Dad said, like I needed reminding. "Jace Snowdon. You do realise he's probably one of the most dangerous people we could associate with right now?"

"Oh, come on. Give me a little more credit than that. I didn't tell him anything."

"That's what you think," he said, which made not rolling my eyes that little bit harder to resist. "People like him are trained to weasel out information without anybody realising. Especially now he's part of BioNeutral. It's way too dangerous."

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