The Insiders

Page 9

“Okay.” Her head bobbed up and down. “Okay, Bailey. I’m all yours. What would you like to know?”




I never went to sleep.

My mom nodded off around three in the morning; she broke her eleven o’clock rule for me. I stayed up and watched her sleep. I didn’t tell her I was leaving. It was all left in a note, and a part of me felt like a coward. The other part of me knew that if I told her, she wouldn’t let me go. She might have moments where she acted young and carefree, but I knew Chrissy. She would’ve pulled all the mom tricks she had and somehow we’d be going into witness protection later. But I knew her. She would miss Brookley, so I outlined in my letter that, during this time, I would be safe. So would she.

And the other factor: I was going to meet my father.

A shiver of anticipation went through me as I dressed in a set of clothes from that overnight bag they had given me, and bent to kiss my mom on her cheek. She was breathing so steadily, deeply. I brushed some of her hair back from her forehead, whispering, “Love you, Mom.” My voice caught on a sob, and before I could lose my will to do this, I turned and left.

Two different guards were there.

“What? You guys aren’t superhuman? No twenty-four-hour shifts?”

Jokes. Me. My way of distracting from the complete suckage happening.

I was here all day, folks.

I grunted. I missed the other guards.

The ride down in the elevator was silent. It was eerie to walk across the just-as-silent lobby. The front desk staff had one person, the same clerk as last night, and he stared at me the entire time. No facial expression. None. A shiver went up my spine, raising the hairs on the back of my neck.

Why did I feel like I was walking to my death?

But then the front doors were opening. A black Denali SUV was parked, waiting for me. Two guards detached from the wall and moved ahead of me. One opened the back door. I approached, peeking in and not seeing anyone. A part of me sagged in relief; the other was … disappointed?

What was wrong with me? But it was what it was. I’d be taking this ride to meet my father alone after all.

Sliding in, I discovered I was wrong.

In a seat that had been converted so it was facing me sat Kashton Colello.

I ignored the spike in my pulse. That was still unwanted.

His eyes were hooded.

God. Why’d that make him look even better?

We stared at each other a moment.

“Team manager.”

He grunted back, his eyes steady on me. “Outlier.”

I deflated. Outlier. An academic word for “outcast.”

Scooting to the far end, I hugged my bag on my lap and turned to watch out the window as the Denali pulled away from the hotel.

“Did you say your good-byes to your mother?”

“Was that my half brother last night?”

He didn’t get to ask me about her. She was the last thing that would be taken from me, even if I was being taken from her. For those reasons, I clamped my mouth shut and pointedly turned to look out the windows.

“Yes, that was him.”

I was brimming with questions, but not at the same time. Everything was overwhelming.

“He didn’t know who you were.”

I looked back. “Huh?”

“He asked who that ‘hot chick’ was last night.”

“Oh.” That was … awkward. And gross.

“I told him he’d meet you later.”

“You did?”

And just like that, any dark amusement that might’ve been in his eyes was gone. “All teasing aside, there’s a reason I’m riding with you today.” He pulled out a folder and a phone that were on the seat next to him and tossed them to me. Opening the folder, my father’s face stared back at me. It was the same photo that was used in a lot of the newspaper articles and outlets. Shifting to the next page, I skimmed, reading over a list of facts about him. The second sheet was an image of his wife, my—my heart squeezed—stepmother. The page after her was the same thing. A bulleted list of information that made no sense.

“What is this?” I held up the phone.

“You cannot use your old one. You can keep it, or just keep the SIM card, but it must remain off at all times.” He nodded to the one in my hand. “That’s your new one to use, and you will not be calling your mother on it. Flip to my page.”

“Your page?” But there he was, right after my stepmother.

I pulled out his picture. It wasn’t a professional head shot like the others. Kashton’s image had been taken with a long zoom lens, showed him leaving a building with a phone to his head.

He looked hard and mean.

COVER: family friend of Kashton Colello (called Kash by friends & family)

Reason for visit: “Hard breakup.” If further questioned: emotionally and mentally abusive, relocation needed, “a new healthier environment.”

When/how did they meet?: Knows Kash through his father’s family side. Neighbor to Aunt Judith. Were friends when Kash would visit 4–8 years old. Kept in contact.

Names she should use: Aunt Judith, Cousin Stephanie, Uncle Martin.

List of other names to memorize. Page 4

List of events/dates to memorize. Page 5


I was seething. “What is this?”

“You are not going to be introduced to the Francis family as Peter’s bastard child.”

Bastard child.

I flinched, feeling slapped in the face by that one.

“This is your cover while you stay at the Chesapeake estates.”

“The Chesapeake.” I grinned at hearing it again. The Yorktown estate would be the name of Chrissy’s house.

“Mr. Francis—”

Another wince. Mr. Francis was no longer referred to as my father, not even Peter. Mr. Francis. Like he was—the cover clicked in place—like he was my family friend’s employer.

Like I was beneath him.

Like I was nothing to him.

Kash was saying, “… named each of his estates, and you are going to be staying at his most secured estate.”

If this was my cover, if I was going to be a lie, then I’d need to learn my part. “So I’m a family friend of yours?”

I was reading through the list of events and dates I needed to memorize.

I was expecting a response.

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