It was January 9, a lovely day in Seattle with a 50 percent chance of rain and sleet until midnight, and he was on the run for his life. Again.

There had been nine attempts on his life that day, three of them before breakfast, which had been half a stale bagel he’d eaten while hiding under a parked Jeep.

The sun was finally gone, and he could move under the cover of darkness. Cold, cramped, and running on adrenaline, he emerged from his hiding spot under some cardboard in an alleyway dumpster. He decided the coast was clear, vaulted over the side of the dumpster, and started moving quickly toward the pier. He ducked between shadows, dodging street lamps, brightly lit shop windows, people. He fingered the bent monkey wrench he’d found under the Jeep in his coat pocket, his only weapon.

The pier was lit up, the Ferris wheel and restaurant windows glowing. There were a few people on the boardwalk itself, but it was mostly empty, since it was almost closing time. Leaning on the railing, looking out to sea, was the one person he could possibly trust.

He waited a few minutes for the boardwalk to clear and approached her casually, leaning on the railing beside her. She glanced sideways but didn’t react. She recognized him after those four long years.

“It’s raining in San Francisco,” he said. She nodded, on high alert now, discreetly slipping a hand inside her coat and scanning the shoreline.

“But not in L.A.,” she finished.

“I need a place.”

“I know a place.” She pulled her parka’s hood over her head and gripped the handle of the hidden knife he knew was sheathed in her pocket; probably a tanto blade, if he knew her as well as he thought. If she hadn’t changed in the four years since they were last on the run together.

“Give me to the end of the boardwalk. Two blocks.” She started walking. He waited the distance she had asked and followed.

She led him to a café on an empty street. It had started sleeting again, the sidewalk slick with half-frozen slush, store windows dark. The icy rain slapped his face, making his eyes water.

She unlocked the cafe door and, with a last glance around the empty street, slipped inside. He followed.

They crept through the dark maze of tables to the storage room in the back. There was one small window, near the ceiling, blacked out with several coats of peeling paint. Shelves of boxes and plastic tubes of foam cups lined the walls. She shut the door and switched on the bare, dusty bulb hanging from the ceiling.

“Who’s after you?” she asked, pulling out a box of packaged pastries from the bottom shelf. She tossed one to him.

“No idea.” He tore off the plastic and shoved the whole thing in his mouth, not sure exactly what he was eating, not caring. She waited until he swallowed.

“How many attacks? What was their style?”

“Nine today.” He wiped the crumbs from his mouth. “Ambush style, but I think just the same three guys in masks. All at knifepoint, no guns or other weapons. Not like the ones who were after us in Turkey.”

“Full face masks?”

“Yeah, blue ones.”

“Did they wrap the handles of their knives with blue leather?” He looked up, startled.

“How did you know?”

She locked eyes with him, searching his expression for something. Truth? His mind spun. Why wouldn’t she trust him? She found what she was looking for, stiffened and dropped her gaze abruptly.

“You need to leave, now. I can’t help you.”


“Because if they’re after you, you’re dead. The only reason you’ve survived this long is because they’ve underestimated you. They will not make that mistake tomorrow.”

“Who are they?” he persisted. She avoided his gaze, picking at the tape on the edge of a cardboard box, fingering the weapon in her pocket with her other hand. She spoke quickly, impatiently.

“They’re a…trio…of professional assassins who call themselves the Blue Daggers, and if they have been hired to kill you, then there is nowhere you can hide, nothing you can do. They haven’t attacked in a while because they’re planning it carefully this time. By noon tomorrow, you’ll be dead. I can’t help you.”

“But you’ve survived them.”


“Then how do you know all this for sure?” he demanded.

“Trust me.”


She looked up, startled, then quickly dropped her gaze.


“No.” He crossed his arms, his expression hard and blank. She sighed and met his eyes, fiercely this time.

“I used to be one of them.”

He sat in shocked silence. She pulled the knife out of her pocket, showed him the blue leather handle.

“We were family. They took me in, after…after you left. They would have died for me.” Her voice wavered with uncertainty. So much had happened since then. All the lies, and now this impossible decision they had given her. How long would she refuse to believe the truth? She swallowed.

“I can’t help you.”

After another moment of silence, without meeting her gaze, he turned to leave, and stopped.

“You said were; you were family. You said would have.” The desperate hope in his voice almost broke her. She didn’t answer.

“Angela,” he said quietly, slowly, making absolutely certain she understood him. If he was walking to his death, he needed to say this just once. “Always, in a second I would have died for you.”

Tears burned her eyes, morphing the storage room into a blur of grays and browns, and she fought to keep them from spilling over. She wanted to say his name, to say goodbye, to say something, anything, but all that came out was a little strangled sound between a gasp and a sob. She stared at the floor and blinked and waited for the world to right itself. When she could finally see again, he had already gone.

She got up and ran to the front of the cafe, only to watch him slip out the door into the night. He ducked his head in the sleet-turned-hail and started to hurry carefully across the slick black street to the alley opposite the cafe. Exactly where she had expected him to run. Exactly where three men in blue masks were waiting for him.

24 hours earlier, she had sold them his life for her own.

The Blue Daggers had presented her with a deal: if she wanted to remain under their protection permanently, she had to kill her one remaining tie of loyalty to someone on the outside. That meant assassinating Benjamin Milo Stone.

“No,” she refused. “Never.” They laughed.

“Come on, little sister. Do it for us?”

“No. I will not kill Ben Stone.”

“Then it will be your life or his, chica.”

She refused again, bargained, begged. They persisted, finally proposing another deal no better than the first.

“Tell you what, little sister. Tell us where to find him, and we’ll do the job. You won’t get our protection, but we’ll let you walk free, and that’s the best deal you’re gonna get.”

“You touch a hair on Ben’s head and I’ll kill you.” Her voice cracked with fear and rage. They laughed again.

“Big talk from a little girl. You take him out, then,” they sneered.

“I won’t.”

“Make a choice, chica, or we kill you both.”

The truth taunted her, like the blue-handled dagger in her own pocket. They never would have died for her. She knew that now.

Faced with an impossible choice, she had chosen wrongly, because the only right choice was not a choice at all, but another impossibility.

But now she chose it.

She pulled up her hood and ran silently out into the street, crossing, ducked down the next alley over and ran around the back of the building. Her boots slipped on the slick ice and she struggled to keep her balance, praying she wouldn’t fall. Any delay, any sound, meant death.

On the storefront side of the alley, her partner hesitated. A fierce wind whistled down the street and shards of frozen sleet bit into the side of his face, but he didn’t care. He was numb with adrenaline and cold. He cast a glance around at the buildings, checking the shadows in the windows, pulse racing. Every shadow was a sniper, every crack of ice like the cocking of a gun. The dark alley down that abandoned street was the perfect place for an assassin to wait for his mark. He knew that it was highly likely that if he entered that alley, he would die.

He looked back over his shoulder, half-hoping to see her one last time, watching him from the window. She wasn’t. He didn’t blame her.

He should have said goodbye.

With a resigned sigh, he faced the alley and squared his jaw. Dead by noon tomorrow, she had said. With any luck, it would all be over tonight.

He entered the alley. After a few cautious steps, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he stopped.

She stood over their bodies, each of them fatally stabbed from behind. Steam rose in clouds off the pools of blood as it was chilled and began to congeal, dark and purple in the January air. She dropped the bloody weapon in her hand. In the darkness, he could just make out the sheen of blood and tears on her cheeks. She stepped over their bodies, stumbling in shock, and he caught her.

“Are you alright?” he asked, scared. She had never been like this after a kill. She wouldn’t look him in the eye and he realized she was sobbing. Terrified, he gripped her by the shoulders, forcing her to face him.

“Are you alright!” he demanded desperately.

“Yes. I’m free, Ben…”

He understood, laughed with relief, and pulled her close, ignoring the blood on her coat and the cold wetness of her tears on his neck.

“It’s okay,” he said, and he meant it.

“I’m sorry…”

“It’s okay.”

When the sleet turned into snow, they left, walking through the streets hand-in-hand like regular people, neither tailing someone nor being tailed, unarmed for the first time in seven years.

A few hours later, police were called to the bodies of three men, found by a cafe owner in an alley a few blocks from the boardwalk. Four daggers were lying next to the bodies in a puddle of blood watered down with snow, their handles each wrapped in blue leather.

Only the fourth was stained to the hilt.