Chapter One

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It was the gap of unnatural quiet that made Terry look up from her phone, her thumb hovering over the 'send' button. She stayed crouched in the candy aisle, a bag of chocolate-covered gummi bears in one hand, her phone in the other. Maude's text was waiting for a reply.

RU???!!!

Terry slowly lowered the bag of candy to the tiled floor. Every crinkle of the plastic sounded like thunder. She paused and listened again. There was only the hum of the fluorescent lights of the convenience store. Terry carefully stood and craned her neck around the aisle. Her asp tattoo pulsed adrenaline down her arm as she peeked around a towering display of two liter pop bottles.

The young clerk behind the cash register stood like a statue, pale-faced with his mouth hanging open, staring into the face of a man in a ski mask. A pistol was pointed at the clerk's nose.

"All of it," the voice behind the mask demanded, motioning to the open satchel on the counter.

Here we go again, Terry thought. She took in a calculated breath, glancing around the area. The pop bottles were no use. Then a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. There, at the end of the opposite aisle, displayed with garbage bags and tubes of crazy glue, was the answer.

Slipping the phone into the back pocket of her denim shorts, she dashed, staying ducked down and keeping out of sight. It only took seconds to reach what she needed. And then, moving so quickly that neither the clerk nor the gunman turned her way, Terry struck the first blow.

In the two months since the asp tattoo had appeared on her arm, Terry had honed the superhuman speed and strength the Priestess of the Asp bestowed upon her. Even though it had cost Terry her right leg, the power was undeniably her destiny.

A power to fight for justice.

A power to protect.

And, as she was warned, a power few could control.

But Terry had passed the test, and as a result, the city of Devonshire was enjoying an all-new low crime rate. Putting all of her weight on her real left leg, Terry spun on the spot, whipping a high swing kick. The heel of her leather boot made a blurry arc in the air as she knocked the gunman's hand, sending the pistol across the store. Before the gun hit the floor, she had the robber pinned face-down with his hands duct-taped behind his back.

The clerk dropped to his knees, sobbing behind the counter.

"You're safe now," she called out to the clerk. The gun skidded to a stop by the Slushie machine by the door. "Can you call 911?" she prompted. "My hands are kind of full." Using her teeth, Terry ripped off a strip of tape and covered the gunman's eyes; then she secured his feet together.

A rush of heat warmed her cheeks. The skin under her sweater was damp with sweat. Terry perched on the gunman's back and glanced at a large clock on the wall. It was rimmed with neon and in the shape of a bottle of soda. "Damn," she whispered, noting the time. The party would have already started by now—she'd missed the surprise.

A lump of disappointment and regret lodged in her heart. She imagined Zach using the key to unlock his door, expecting to walk into an empty apartment. Instead, she and Maude had helped Zach's mom decorate and prepare a party to celebrate his acceptance into art college. It was hard enough for him on prom night listening to all basketball teammates talk about their plans to play in September. Zach was still good, but he wasn't good enough for a scholarship anymore. His broken arm during state championships had secured that fate.

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