The Insiders

Page 2

Could I stay in that house after what just happened?

I’d been planning to spend time with Chrissy, helping with the house and working at the local computer store to make some extra money before I left for school. But now … fuck if I knew.

Myriad curses went through my mind as I realized Chrissy would have to move.

Shivers pierced me as I went over what had happened tonight, but then we were pulling into a driveway, next to a booth. A large gate barricaded us from moving forward.

Official police business, my tech ass.

Then again, nothing seemed official. I was told that I was being taken to my mother, but I left with two detectives. Bright and Wilson. They introduced themselves, then said she couldn’t see me in the hospital. They didn’t explain why, but I was to go with them to see her.

I went.

I was in the backseat of their unmarked car a few minutes later.

Bright’s window rolled down. She flashed her badge. “We’re expected.”

The attendant nodded, hitting a button. The gate opened, showing a campus of buildings behind it. Some made of dark red brick. Some seemingly made of reflective windows, top to bottom. Some painted totally black. A large parking lot sat in the middle of the buildings. “Phoenix Tech” was on a sign in front of the first building, but we went past, heading around it and toward a smaller building on the opposite end of the lot.

My tongue was glued to the back of my throat. We were at Phoenix Tech headquarters.

I had yearned to get an internship there every year since fifth grade, and then through college. I kept applying, but they kept denying. Some might say I was being desperate. I prefer determined. It’s a quality that I feel is honorable. Plus, I wasn’t above hoping they’d take pity on me one day. It worked, because while I might not have been good enough to walk their hallways, I was good enough for them to give me charity. They awarded me the majority of my grants for undergrad, so I’d been able to go to college debt free. I’d been expecting that to change for graduate school, but it hadn’t. Or, well, it kind of had.

I was hired as a graduate assistant, starting in the fall, which gave me a stipend, but the rest was covered by another scholarship from Phoenix Tech.

Phoenix Tech was one of the world’s leading companies on cyber security. I was going into information systems, which was close enough. A job here would be a dream.

“My mom is here?” I asked, when Bright parked, and both her and Wilson got out of the vehicle.

Neither answered.

Bright opened my back door and motioned for me, slipping her sunglasses over her eyes. “It’s time for you to find out some answers.”


They took off for the door.

I trudged after. “I thought you were going to interrogate me.”

Her mouth went back to that disapproving and very firm line. “Not likely. We’re just the go-between.”

We were moving fast. We went down an empty hallway. When she got to the very last room, the door opened for us from the inside. Wilson was walking behind us, but remained in the hallway.

Bright took me in.

It was an interrogation room, or looked like one. Details were still fuzzy on what I was supposed to be expecting here. The only light was hanging directly over a table, pushed against the far wall. The corners of the room were dark, and as we walked inside, a security guard was standing behind the door. He ducked out; the door swung shut.



Chrissy Hayes was sitting in a back corner, and she stepped out from the shadows. Her hair was a mess. Ends were sticking up everywhere. Her eyes were glazed, the pupils dilated. Rings of worry fell underneath them, matching the wrinkles around her mouth.

My mother was a good-looking woman. I knew this. I’d suffered the consequences growing up, as teachers or mailmen or even restaurant owners tried to butter me up to get to her. She was a petite woman, with a usually gorgeous blond mane of hair, and they always fell for her blue eyes. It wasn’t just her looks, though.

She had a personality where she was tough as nails at times but flighty and ditzy at others. She was fun, too. Chrissy Hayes enjoyed a good bargain, a good time, and a good adventure. She was clear on that motto in life, but this version of my mom wasn’t one I’d met many times.

She was wrecked. Totally and completely. Destroyed.

My heart twisted. Pain sliced through that numb wall.

I was almost the total opposite, with honey-brown eyes and jet-black hair. My hair was so dark that it had a slight tint of blue to it at times. Sometimes it was there, sometimes not. I got asked by stylists what color I used for it, but it was all natural. I used to hate it, but like the weirdness of my brain, it had grown on me.

We had the same build.

We were both petite, though the couple extra inches I had made me feel like I towered over her.

“Oh, honey.” She rushed to me, her flannel shirt enveloping me as she pressed my head to her neck. Her hand smoothed my hair down and back and then swept up to repeat. She shuddered, holding me. “I was so worried.” Her head buried into my shoulder, and she pressed a kiss to my forehead. Pulling back, she tucked my hair strands behind my ears, framing my face. Her eyes raked over me and she shook her head, biting her lip. “I am so sorry this happened to you.”

My hands came up to rest on her arms.

I noticed her jeans, tight, with sparkles intermixed so there was a light glitter dusting over them. They were her date jeans, and that flannel shirt. It was unbuttoned, with a white shirt underneath. I said flatly, “I thought you worked last night.” No. It was the same night. I corrected, “I mean tonight. Earlier.” Christ. What time was it? “You were on a date.”

She grimaced, still biting down on her bottom lip. “Yes, but is that really important now? You were almost kidnapped, sweetie.”

Detective Bright cleared her throat, stepping closer to the table. “You two can have a talk later. There’s quite a bit we need to discuss first.”

I took one of the seats closest to the wall. “You don’t usually lie about dates.” But there was one guy she would lie about. “Was it Chad Haskell?” I did not like Chad Haskell. No one should like Chad Haskell. “He beat up Simone Ainsley’s mom. Remember?”

Chrissy flicked her eyes to the ceiling and waved at me. “Oh, come on. You were friends with that girl for four months your sophomore year in high school. She was a liar. You got mad because she was only using you to get a date with that Bobby guy from your debate team.”

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