- Pages: 384 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Nancy Paulsen Books
- ISBN: 9780593625378
An Excerpt From
I scrolled through links like Clients, Contacts, Numbers, and Master List. I found myself opening the phone number one, and up popped a spreadsheet with a whopping five thousand entries. Only a hundred lines down, I was finding names with addenda like (vice president) and (CEO) behind them. Using the search box, I typed in Quest. My name and cell number, along with Mom’s and Auntie’s, were there. Thankfully, there wasn’t anything like (thief) behind ours. They were incriminatingly italicized, though, so maybe it was implied.
I tapped my chin for a few seconds before typing in another number. All of Count’s texts about penalty games had made me forcibly memorize it. Lo and behold, there was a result. Aurélie Dubois.
So she did have a real name, a very French real name. Interesting.
I exported it all into my fam’s black box. Surely Count was going to pop up and tell me to stop?
She didn’t. I deleted the original file from my home screen undetected.
With the actual flash drive done loading, I returned the laptop to its safe and got ready to make the jump down to 2210. No lights came on when I dropped the marble again, so after tossing my heels, I bit down on my clutch for a third time and made the last swing onto the balcony.
Landing in a crouch, I flipped my braids back. My updo was a mess by now. Ten minutes left on the countdown. This was going to be tight.
I scooped up my shoes, about to slip them back on and hightail it out, but the curtain by the balcony door rustled, as if there were a breeze.
Only the curtains were behind the glass, and the door was shut. Someone was inside, waiting with the lights off. I had a feeling I knew who it was.
I rushed to throw my heels down to the next floor and slip over the railing as the door flew open. Taiyō was like lightning. I unsnapped the weight on my meteor bracelet, but with a twenty-story drop right behind me, I had no space to maneuver. I landed one blow to his jaw before he grabbed my arm, twisted it behind my back, and slammed me to the ground.
I kicked against his hold, but he twisted my arm tighter and dug his knee into my back.
With my face pressed against the cold concrete, I did my best to glare up at him. “Payback for scratching your specs? You wouldn’t, like, let me Venmo you the difference and forget about all this, would you?”
He might have smiled, but it was gone before I could be sure. “Don’t worry about it. I think this makes us even.”
“Taiyō’s actually pretty petty, who’d have guessed.” Noelia’s silver heels halted a few inches from my face. I strained to look up at her. She fished the flash drive out of my clutch.
“How did you know I’d be in here?” I asked. “Tailing me this whole time?”
“No need. I know you better than you think. Eight years later, and you’re still swinging in through windows.”
My breath caught. She remembered that? Nine-year-old me had been overly eager to show off to Noelia about how I could scale the walls into any room at the school. Well, any room up to the second floor, at the time. She’d told me it was the coolest thing she’d ever seen.
How much else did she remember about me?
Whatever. It didn’t matter now anyway.
Switching to Japanese, Noelia said something and tossed Taiyō a pair of cuffs from her own purselet.
I chuckled, but maybe that was my own frustration bubbling out of me. “You know I can get out of those in twenty seconds, right?”
“We’ll see about that.”
Taiyō jerked me up. I tried to use the opportunity to step on his foot, hook his leg, or something. But he was prepared, twisting my arm into a painful lock the second I was on my feet.
I swallowed an agonized groan, not wanting to give them the satisfaction of a full scream. Taiyō calmly started walking me the handful of steps toward the ledge.
My heart was thundering in my chest. “Hold up—” I tried to plant my feet. With my hands twisted behind my back, I grasped as tight as I could at the fabric of Taiyō’s shirt. If he thought he was throwing me over the edge without getting pulled off himself, he was in for a hell of a last-minute surprise.
He shoved me against the railing. I nearly tripped from that force alone. This time, I couldn’t hold back my scream.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Oh god, they were really going to do it. They were going to kill me.
I was over the railing. My heels scrambled to balance on the sliver of balcony between the railing bars. But it wasn’t enough. I was facing a free fall.
“Calm down.” At the last second before my collision course began, a pair of pale arms wrapped under mine, pulling me back. The ground, a merciless drop, was all I could see as my heart pounded in my throat.
Until I felt the cuffs. They clicked around my wrists, locking my hands behind me to one of the railing bars.
I was stuck, facing the plummet, and despite my skill as a contortionist, there was no way I was getting the bobby pins nestled in my braids anywhere near my hands without risking losing my balance. Falling with my wrists pinned behind me would mean dislocating both shoulders and likely snapping both of my wrists too.
Maybe the force would crush all the bones in my hand. They’d slip right through the cuffs and . . .
Fingers brushed my wrist. I thought Noelia was going for my weapon, but instead she unclipped Devroe’s diamond bracelet.
I tried to jerk my wrist away, but the motion only threatened my balance. I had to keep still, doing my best to hold on to the railing behind me with my cuffed hands.
“What, you’ve gotta take my jewelry too?” I twisted my neck to get a look behind me.
Noelia clipped the bracelet onto her own wrist, admiring its shimmer under the night lights. “I’m much more interested in what’s inside.” She patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep our museum bidder company for you, all right?”
How did she know about that in the first place? How did she know about the dose in my bracelet?
Straining to look past her, I realized Taiyō wasn’t wearing proper black tie. In fact, that vest. Was he dressed as a waiter?
It hit me like lightning. “Are you . . . stealing our plan?”
Oh my god, they were.
“Devroe’s not just going to let you slide in on his target. He’s going to notice when I don’t come back.”
“Are you sure?” She shifted the tennis bracelet. Did she really think they could get Devroe with his own trick?
Noelia’s clutch buzzed.
“Game’s over,” Taiyō said. “We should go back down.”
Noelia nodded. “I don’t know how you’ll explain this when the guests get back, but try not to slip until then.”
I heard her heels moving away and couldn’t help but call out one last time. “Why did you turn me in back at the ski school? Was it because your dad lost to my mom and you hate me because of it? Always been out to impress Daddy, or has the double-cross, fake-friend act always been a Noelia original?”
Her steps slowed. “You—” She was still for a second, and for some reason, I imagined that look she had staring at Yeriel in the museum, before Adra dragged her away. “I do what I’m told, and I fake for a lot of people, but I never had to fake it for you.”
With that, she left me. Again.
I twisted my wrists, groaning as the cuffs dug into my skin. Taiyō hadn’t given me much slack. The metal was starting to cut off my circulation. A thief’s nightmare.
Why didn’t I let Auntie dislocate my thumbs when I had the chance?
I scraped and scraped the cuffs against the bars behind me, testing the unlikely possibility that there was a weak spot in the links I could manipulate, but had to freeze whenever my balance got shaky. How long had it been since Noelia and Taiyō left? Probably just a few minutes. But minutes were everything right now.
I closed my eyes. You need to pick the lock, Ross. Just pretend you’re not, like, two hundred feet up. Maybe if I crouched just right, I could tilt my head between the rails and dig one of the pins out of my hair.
Taking calming breaths, as calm as breaths can be twenty stories in the air, I tried to lower myself down, but the farther my knees bent, the more my weight shifted forward. I could feel my feet sliding off the ledge.
I straightened back up. Defeated.
For all I knew, Devroe was about to be drugged, and Mylo and Kyung-soon were heading into a trap.
What were the odds this room’s guests would come back soon? Even if I had Devroe’s charisma, I didn’t think I could spin any sort of logical explanation for this.
Minutes passed. Endless, sour, agonizing minutes. The breeze was picking up, taunting me, moving freely, and snapping the hem of my dress. The sand stretching out in the distance looked more and more like the sand back home, just before it slipped under the waves. Only here, instead of meeting the water, it stretched until it met the sky. My heart darkened as I looked at it. After this, I didn’t think I’d ever get to go home. At least, it wouldn’t really be home. Mom was my home, and she was gone.
I choked back a sob. How long without contact would it take for her captors to realize that I wasn’t gonna be able to deliver? How long before they stopped answering? How long before her body was sinking away into the ocean somewhere? The last thing she’d ever know was that I failed. I got her into this, and now I’d failed this last-ditch effort to get her out of it. Auntie would know it too, the whole family I’d been so eager to get away from. The family I’d thought wasn’t enough. Maybe I wouldn’t have to go home at all. Maybe they wouldn’t want to see me anymore. I’d go down as the Quest who got another Quest killed.
My last few days had been littered with mistakes. I wished I’d been clever enough to realize what they did with the bug. I wished I’d been fast enough to keep Yeriel from being shot. I wished I hadn’t tried to run away from Mom.
I wished . . . I’d kissed Devroe.
My eyes started to sting.
“What are you doing?”
I startled but kept my footing.
The little girl from the elevator, now in polka-dot pajamas, watched me curiously from the next balcony over. A younger boy with the same dark hair peeked out from their ajar balcony door.
“I’m . . .” I fumbled, then shook the cuffs behind me. “I have mean friends.”
The little boy whispered something to her. She nodded. “We don’t think they’re your friends.”
In spite of everything, I actually laughed. “You’re telling me.”
The girl said something to her brother, but the wind carried it away. She pointed into their suite. “We’re going to call security to help you.”
“No!” I yelled. She and the boy, who hadn’t made it back inside yet, froze. I could already see the disaster of explaining to security how I’d ended up cuffed to a balcony in a room that wasn’t mine.
I cleared my throat. “That’ll take too long. You think you can toss me a bobby pin?”
They whispered again. “We can’t throw that far,” she said, tucking a few wind-whipped strands of hair behind her ear.
“But you have a dart gun.”
They lit up, rushing into their room. A minute later they were back, the boy with a bright orange gun in both hands and the girl with a little pool of foam bullets carried in her shirt. She jammed a bobby pin into each of the three darts, and her brother pressed them into the barrel. The kiddos looked like little soldiers.
The boy took aim. I stretched my palm to give him the widest target. He shot, but the wind blew the dart off course. He tried again, but it bounced off the side of the building. Another three times, and he just kept missing.
“Let me try!” The girl swiped the toy gun from her brother, who whined and crossed his arms.
Like a true expert, she dropped to a knee and closed one eye as she took her aim. Slowly, she adjusted for the wind, waited a few seconds, then shot.
The dart hit my palm dead center.
“You got lucky.” I barely heard their argument while I unclicked the cuffs. The second they were off, I rolled back over the railing onto the balcony. Safe, solid ground had never felt so nice against my feet.
I saluted my new friends, grabbed my heels and clutch, and sprinted back into the suite.