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Sneak Peak at Chapter One of ALIAS RAVEN!

Sam Blackbird is about the toughest character I’ve ever written. Broken but strong, loyal to a fault, and super smart, Sam came to me by way of an idea I’d been formulating for years — what if teens were trained at a super-secret facility to work undercover for the government? They’d assimilate easily into any normal family situation and provide surveillance and protection. No one would ever suspect them.

But of course, in fiction something has to go wrong — and the story of a nanny whose kids are kidnapped seemed to be the perfect jumping off point for a story of secrets and lies.

Please enjoy Chapter One of ALIAS RAVEN — you can find the book online here.

***

DAY ONE: 1245 HOURS

I’ve been locked in this small, cinder-block room at the police station for hours and the FBI still doesn’t know who I am. I should take comfort in that, but all I can think about is escaping so I can do my job.

“Natalie, we need to go through this again.” The woman who identified herself as Agent Woods leans across the table toward me, the fabric of her button-down shirt straining across her midsection. Based on the lame questions she’s been firing at me, I’m guessing she graduated at the bottom of her class at Quantico. I’m sure I could run circles around her in a field trial, too. Then again, I’m only seventeen. I place her at forty, forty-one.

“Just so you understand, this is a missing persons case—potentially an Amber Alert,” she says, her voice a little monotone and a lot condescending. “We need to know everything that happened today with Hannah and Miles.”

I need to demonstrate my worry physically, give them some body language that goes beyond words. I hug my arms across my chest, feeling too warm in my track jacket but not willing to take it off. “Again … I don’t know where the kids are. I wish I did, but I haven’t seen them since I dropped them off at their mom’s house this morning.”

What I can’t tell her is back at the Paulsen house, before the Feds brought me in, I’d been working my own angles, trying to figure out who’d scooped the kids up, waiting anxiously for the ransom note, the contact—everything I knew should could come next. I need to get back to that. To finding them.

Woods shifts in her chair, casting a glance toward the mirrored wall behind us. “You really have no idea where they might be?” She pauses, assessing me. “Or you don’t want to help us find them?”

“I would do anything to protect those kids.” My throat is dry and the quaver in my voice surprises me a little. I’ve come to care a lot about Hannah and Miles in the last few months. A weakness I didn’t expect from myself. I hope it doesn’t cost me now.

The agent dismisses my words with a huff and goes back to the manila folder lying open between us on the table. “So, Natalie Richards. Age nineteen. Originally from Portland, Oregon. Establishing residency so you can attend the University of Washington next year?”

“No, I’m nannying to save money so I can travel in Europe before I start college,” I say, sticking to the legend that’s been drilled into me.

“And what brought you to the Paulsen family?”

“I was placed by a domestic agency,” I say, giving a half-truth, which is always more believable than a pure lie. The agency I come from doesn’t place nannies with high-end clients; it’s a shadow op in the intelligence community. I can’t tell the FBI agent this. I can’t tell anyone.

I’m completely on my own.

A smirk flickers across Agent Woods’s face. “Good gig, nannying for a tech millionaire.”
I force a smile. Actually, it hasn’t been a great assignment. Seattle wasn’t my first choice, and I hadn’t expected to be relegated to the role of nanny. And then, this morning happened, sending the whole mission sideways.

There’s a knock on the windowless door. A middle-aged man in a black suit and red tie opens the door and leans in. “Woods.”

“I’m not done here.” The agent stands up, her polyester pants retaining the sad wrinkles from hours of sitting.

The man casts a glance my way. “Got a call from Washington. The girl needs to be escorted back to the Paulsen house.”

Woods gives me an incredulous look. “Who do you know?”

“I was a legislative page a couple summers ago.” That biographical tidbit is recorded in my false identity’s official file. It’s easy to check and I know Woods will, as soon as I’m out the door. She’s a hunch-follower. I knew her type in training at The Ranch. They were much better suited to guarding borders than working investigations.

Relief washes over me at the prospect of release. Someone’s made a call on my behalf. Maybe someone from the program. Though I don’t know for sure where this saving grace has come from, I’ll take it.

Woods escorts me to the front of the building, where a gray sedan is idling.

“I hope you find them,” I say when she opens the door for me. I climb into the car, and before I can fasten my seat belt, we zoom away. I lean forward in my seat. It’s not standard protocol to peel away leaving tire marks on the pavement. Calling attention to yourself isn’t something anyone in covert service strives for.

“Are we in a rush?” I ask.

The driver doesn’t turn his head or acknowledge my question. He’s probably another agency lackey only there for the paycheck. Without looking, he hands me a bottle of cold water. After hours in that warm room with Woods, I’m parched. I take a swig and buckle up for the ride back to the fanciest house in Medina.

But then, I notice a tattoo on the back of the driver’s neck: a black pitchfork, like a trident, rising upward from a swirl of blue sea, partially hidden under his collar. Ink’s frowned upon by the bureau. Why would a field agent want anything so clearly identifiable?

I move my hand to the door handle and quietly try it. Locked.

My eyes catch his in the rearview mirror and there’s something icy in his blue-gray eyes, something colder than I’d seen in any field agent’s stare.

I slide my hand away from the door and his gaze flicks back to the road. Now I’m certain that he’s not working for the Feds. For the first time since I joined the program, I’m scared. The FBI doesn’t scare me, but terrorists do.

The familiar suburbs melt away into concrete and steel. My captor says nothing as we speed toward some unknown destination where I might be tortured or killed, and never achieve my mission. The roads transform into highways and then interstates.

In between watching the signage, I note the blue cars on the freeway in front of us. Four. Five. Six. Seven. My breathing deepens.

The counting fails to completely soothe me, but I keep it rolling. Nine. Ten. Eleven. The numbers are my blanket, my salve, my shelter. The constant that has accompanied me since I was small and learned to count. It’s the one thing I remember my father teaching me.

Ten. Eleven. Twelve.

I am abducted. This is my current reality. This is not a drill. I have to save Hannah and Miles. I have to save myself.

***

excerpted with permission from ALIAS RAVEN by A.M. Null.

Published by The Studio, a Paper Lantern Lit imprint. Copyright 2016.

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