Chapter 1

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"You scammed me, you little wretch."

Allyson's head slammed into the brick wall as the burly man pinned her shoulders against it. "I didn't scam you," she said through gritted teeth. "I told you, your contact lied to you. You thought you were getting an antique, you got a fake. I'm just the messenger."

"Liar," he hissed, bring his hairy face too close to hers for comfort. Against her will, she cringed from his proximity. "You took it and gave me a fake. Now I want it back, or I'll have to take something else to fulfill it." His eyes roved across her body and Allyson shuddered. It wasn't the first time a customer was pissed at her because their contact had tricked them, but this guy was one of the angrier ones.

He picked up a lock of her hair, twisting the ebony waves in the dim light. "Not too bad a catch," he mused. "In fact, if I tried to put you up, I've got no doubt you'd be a quick sale. Might even make me more money than what this rubbish cost." He kicked the painting across the ground, joining the trash scattered across the pavement. He reached up and ran his finger along the firm leather masking the top half of Allyson's face. "I'd like to see what's going on down here." He tugged at the mask, frowning when it didn't budge. "What's this?" he growled. "What'd you do here? Take it off."

The flickering alley lamps provided little glow to combat the night's darkness and Allyson couldn't make out her surroundings too well, but the man's blazing eyes were clear. He braced his arm across her shoulders and reached around to his back pocket. Before he could turn back, Allyson brought up her knee right between his legs. A strangled cry came from the man as he bent over, wheezing in pain. Allyson slipped out from between him and the wall and came up behind him. She grabbed the neck of his shirt and rammed his head into the wall.

Allyson stepped over his crumpled body and rummaged through his pockets, grimacing when her fingers brushed against something soft and wet. She felt cool metal wrapped her hand around the barrel of a pistol. She held it up, inspecting it in the faint light. Good condition, fairly decent equipment, small enough to be easily concealed. It was a good catch. She bent over and searched through his pockets once more until she found a thick wad of cash: the second half of her payment.

She straightened and tucked her findings into her coat pocket, keeping her hand clenched around the money. Bastard had refused to give it to her, claiming the first half that had been payed up front when she was tasked was more than enough, despite the two halves having been Allyson's set price.

She exited the dank alley and tried to put as much space between her and her most recent customer. It wasn't the first time she'd had to leave someone behind in a similar state and such people were part of the reason she never met up in the same place twice. Luckily, New York City had no shortage of sketchy locations where even the cops partook in business that was best done beneath the shadows.

As Allyson made her way through the darker parts of the city, in terms of lighting and people, she kept her head high and gait confident. Anyone who would recognize her in this area would only know her by the mask and knew not to try and mess with Heart. Her former clients knew firsthand her zero tolerance for those who tried to cheat her or blame her for something gone wrong on the other end of the deal. She was only responsible for the most dangerous part of the deal: the shipment. Allyson was in charge of taking the goods from one person to another, whether it be stolen merchandise, bags of money, drugs, Allyson was the one who brought it from point A to point B. Anything else had absolutely nothing to do with her.

Once Allyson reached the part of the area where sketchy melded into the city, she stopped. Releasing her grip on the cash, Allyson reached up to her temples and wedged her fingers behind the edges of the mask. She ran the tip of her finger around the small circle of metal that sealed the leather to her skin. Upon reading her fingerprint, there was a soft click and the metal released its hold on her face. Allyson pulled it off a bit too early though and hissed as a drop of blood ran down her cheek. Wiping it away, she undid her ponytail and shook the long waves over face, tucking the mask into her pocket.

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