Chapter Four

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Zoe loved Fridays. They had been pasta night in the Halsman household for as long as she could remember. Even when her mother had been alive, the day had been reserved for fusilli, fettuccine and penne, and the weekend would be spent eating whatever leftovers might have survived. The tradition had stuck mostly because pasta was the only thing that her father knew how to cook well, but Zoe wasn't complaining. She lived for those nights.

"How was school today, Angel?"

"It was fine." Zoe grabbed two sets of cutlery from the open draw before moving to the dining table, working to set it quickly while her father drained their pasta over the sink. The steam rose up in an almighty cloud as she added, "I'm pretty sure I nailed that Biology test. I might even get an A in Science for a change!"

"Good." Her father smiled at her over his shoulder, looking genuinely pleased. "Keep that up and you won't have anything to worry about when your HSC comes around."

Zoe watched as he dumped everything onto their plates in his usual manner—unceremoniously, not even caring when some of the sauce splattered onto the wall. There were still a few dried spots left over from last week that Zoe had missed in the nightly clean-up. She made a mental note to catch them later.

She grabbed their drinks from the refrigerator—a Corona for him, a can of Solo for her—and followed him back to the table, where he set down her meat-free version of his spaghetti bolognese—lovingly prepared with string-beans and broccoli in place of minced beef. He still poked fun at her for her choice to go entirely vegetarian, but she'd been unable to stand the sight of meat since she'd dreamed of a man being butchered to death when she was twelve. She could still remember waking and expecting to see her own intestines pouring onto the bed.

That had been a hell of a night for her.

It hadn't helped when her father had unwittingly traumatised her by cooking sausages the next night, either.

Her father twisted the cap off of his beer bottle, but no sooner had he risen the tip to his lips had the doorbell rung.

He frowned at her. "Are you expecting Matt or something?"

"No. He's working tonight." Zoe shrugged. "Maybe somebody really, really needs you to fix their car."

Her father snorted, swallowed a mouthful of beer anyway, and then reluctantly got up and made for the door. He glanced back over his shoulder and said, "If this is somebody for you, you're doing the washing for a month."

Zoe grinned and popped a string-bean into her mouth. "And if it's for you, you're going meat-free for a month."

He gave her the finger as he swung the door open.

The first thing Zoe saw was the gun.

It filled her vision—larger than life, utterly terrifying, and aimed directly at her father's head. The barrel gleamed as it moved under the light, everything that Zoe had learned to expect from the movies: black chrome in a steady hand. Even from an entire room away it had the power to make her freeze. Her heart thundered; she stopped breathing.

The next thing she saw was the man as he stepped foot into her house, gesturing with his pistol for her father to move back.

Zoe could make out every feature of the man's person under the brilliant lights of the living room—his dark facial hair, his thick eyebrows, the scar that cut across the top of his right eye. The arm holding up the gun sported a tattoo of a long, wicked-looking sword, and his lips were curved into a vicious smirk.

"Xavier Halsman," the man said. "I've been searching for you a long, long time."

Hands raised in the universal sign of surrender, Zoe's father did as he was ordered and stepped back further. He had paled several shades, and more than once had glanced to where Zoe was sitting entirely out in the open—no doubt more worried for her than he was for himself. Zoe gripped the table, unsure of what to do—knowing that her father wanted her to run, to hide, but unwilling to leave him alone. She stood on shaking legs and ran to him instead.

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