viii. kisses as tactics

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viii

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viii. KISSES AS TACTICS

"Care to explain what's going on?" I seethe. Ace's arms are wrapped tightly around waist. I try to push him off of me, feeling hard muscle underneath his shirt in the process, but it's futile. Ace refuses to let me go.

My heart starts to race, partly because of the mission and partly because of the little distance between us. What's more disturbing—I liked the kiss.

Ace's signature golden eyes are glazed; they rake over me in infatuation.

What the hell is going on?

Instinctively, I slap him to try to get answers. Ace, always being one step ahead, stops my wrist before I can hit him. His eyes darken slightly.

"Don't say anything, Cupcake," he whispers gravely into my ear. The sound is so soft that it borders inaudible. Ace's breath leaves a trail of warmth down my neck. When he's sure I'm going to shut up, he fumbles through his pocket for a pen and piece of paper.

Ace scribbles something down then passes me the note.

"Miyazaki is wearing earbuds. Those aren't just any earbuds—they allow her to listen to any noise in a fifty feet radius. Don't say anything that will give us away. Just observe.

...And for fuck's sake, stop hitting me."

My eyes go wide. Then Ace's sudden ahem, intimate, behavior suddenly made sense. To any onlooker, we seemed like normal couple. After all, PDA naturally makes other people look away from you. It was the perfect guise.

I take the pen from him to write. "Was it really necessary to pull me into your lap though?"

"It was the only thing that would make you shut up. Besides, don't pretend like you didn't like it."

When I read the note, my face goes absolutely red. Judging by the smirk on his face, Ace wholeheartedly knew the effects of his actions.

"Stop finding excuses to touch me, Banana Bread. You're starting to seem more desperate than a telemarketer for shitty insurance."

He winks. "I can feel your every physiological reaction, you're literally in my lap. Save some of that sass for the bedroom."

Fuming and flushed, I quickly jump from his arms. Thirty feet away, the man that was sitting next to Eve Miyazaki suddenly gets up to leave. He wore a baseball cap, a dark hoodie, and jeans. Ace and I couldn't hear any of their conversation since we didn't have any gadgets.

Nor could we see any of the man's features; he was clearly skilled in avoiding all civilians. The whole interaction appeared innocent enough. It was just a regular conversation between two people.

Though I couldn't help but shiver when the man walked away.

Eve Miyazaki sat motionlessly still at the bench overlooking the serene water. She undoes her bun, letting her raven hair cover her neck once again.

A cold feeling seeped further into my veins with every passing second.

It's probably just anxiety, Octavia. Eve's got this under control. Besides, if she needs help the CIA will get her. Ace's tap shakes me from my nervousness. He shows me his watch, now reading 00:00—we successfully finished our test.

I, Octavia Snow, was officially a CIA agent.

~

Gold glistened when I held my badge up to the sun, and when it turned slightly, it would catch more shine. Parts of the etched writing were raised as I ran my hands across the text. "Special Agent Snow," it read.

The badge in my hand signified I was finally a spy. Though more importantly for me, it signified that I had successfully evaded prison.

"Congratulations recruits," the Director smiles. "All of you have passed. Get ready. Rest up. Tomorrow, you will be given your first debriefing."

"Our first debriefing tomorrow? Can't we take a break?" Chase groans.

The Director throws Chase major side eye. "You're here to work for the government on a special ops team, not to attend Summer Camp."

By the expressions engraved on everyone's faces, we all wanted to celebrate tonight. I flash my best smile to the Director. "You're right." My agreement surprises everyone. I continue, "Can't we go to a nice restaurant tonight?"

Ace and I make eye contact. "Come on," he says, catching on. "Let me take the recruits downtown tonight to reward them. I'll keep an eye on them."

The Director sighs, indicating compliance. "Fine. But don't try anything, Snow." The Director then beckons Ace to speak with him individually. The two exchange whispered words, and the Director eventually nods.

Leave it to Ace to convince anyone of anything.

The Director was right not to trust me; I was intent on celebrating the only correct way—with alcohol. But alas, the Director wouldn't be overly amenable to our request of being let loose in a club.

Such a little white lie isn't a bad thing, right? Especially if the reward is a nice Martini. And I know what you're thinking, I drink enough booze to suffice an alcoholics anonymous intervention.

Maybe I do have a problem. Though I'll deal with that problem after I leave the CIA.

After the Director and his SWAT team had left, Ace told us that the Director was pleasantly surprised with how well we were adjusting to one another. The entire agency apparently thought that at least one of us would murder a teammate out of sheer boredom.

Because that's what criminals do for fun.

Okay, maybe Xavier.

That night, we go to a club five blocks away from our building. Smoke rushes in from the corners of the room while the smell of alcohol hits us like a truck once we enter.

The dimly lit space is filled with other patrons who are grinding against each other on the dance floor. Tying it all together like a poorly wrapped gift were the blinding strobe lights hanging from the ceiling. We are lucky enough to get a table where we can almost hear each other in the chaos.

Everything here is expensive. All the drinks cost more than $30. For a poor college student, $30 would provide enough alcohol for a week.

"Wait," I say. "Who's paying today?"

"This entire project is paid for the CIA. We don't want your cards to have any activity that can be tracked," Ace responds.

I was suddenly glad I got kidnapped by Ace. "Well in that case, let's make a wager."

Skye raises an intrigued eyebrow. "What were you thinking?"

"Let's play Tap out. You basically drink until... until you have to tap-out."

Xavier deadpans me. "That doesn't really sound like a game."

I groan. "If we're being completely honest, I just wanted an excuse to drink."

Ace grins. "Atta girl."

"I'll be designated driver to make sure you guys don't die. I don't drink," Skye smirks. "Plus it would be fun to take videos of you guys making stupid decisions."

Chase grumbles. "I hate drinking games. I'm a lightweight when it comes to drinking and only drinking."

This comes as a surprise to me. "Since you are a gang leader, I kinda just assumed you'd be able to hold your alcohol."

"Oh please. That's only the case with characters created by authors in books."

Xavier nonchalantly downs a shot of clear liquid. "Shut up and drink."

Ace: "For every vote, I'll drink a shot."

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