Home > Do or Die (Fight or Flight #4)

Do or Die (Fight or Flight #4)
Author: Jamie Canosa

Chapter One





Girls dressed in long, shimmering gowns floated and spun around the room on the arms of dashing men in fitted tuxes. Soft music floated on the air care of the string quartet perched on the stage in the corner. Laughter rang like the tinkling of bells.

It was the stuff nightmares were made of.

Ashlyn sat back in her seat at the banquet table, trying hard not to let on that this was her own personal brand of hell. If she was going to have to live a freaking Disney movie couldn’t there at least be a fire-breathing dragon? Maybe an eight-legged sea witch?

“Smile, Ashlyn. They can see you.”

Straightening, Ash cast a glance at the woman in the midnight blue gown seated beside her. Golden hair curled and pinned in an elegant up-do. The magical eraser called makeup—expensive makeup, expertly applied— easily removing ten years from her face, highlighting her high cheek bones, slim nose, narrow chin. The fairest of them all.

“It’s bad enough that your father couldn’t make it this evening.” AKA Minion Numero Uno was off doing her bidding elsewhere tonight. Probably pressing the flesh—and why did that sound disturbingly awkward?—or schmoozing those who liked to grease campaign funds. “At least my daughter could pretend to be happy for me.”

Long, dark lashes accentuated her stormy gray eyes. Eyes that could make you feel like the most important person in the room. Eyes that have been known to make grown men cower. Eyes that currently crackled with warning.

“Sorry, Mom. I’m just tired, I guess.”

“Well, maybe if you stopped sitting there like a lump on a log and actually mingled a bit, you’d find some more energy.”

Despite her wording, it wasn’t a suggestion. “Yes, ma’am.”

Round tables draped in crisp white linens surrounded the dance floor, the remnants of the three course dinner all but evaporated into thin air thanks to the magic of the catering staff. Her mother would be pleased with the venue, The Old Governor’s Mansion. It was likely they’d use it again in the future.

Slowly, Ashlyn edged along the wall. Familiar faces filled the room. Judges, politicians, elected officials . . . The high-and-mighty of the community rubbing elbows with the up-and-comers. The same people always attended these events. She knew them all—their families, their hobbies, their schedules—and yet Ashlyn felt utterly alone at every single one. The odd man out.

Fingering the ruby necklace her mother had supplied, which matched her red dress to a tee and added just the right amount of ‘pizazz’, she reminded herself how lucky she was. A lot of people would give anything to be in her shoes—painful as they may be—but she couldn’t help feel as through the jewels around her neck were little more than a fancy collar. Something to which her mother could attach the invisible leash she held and use to parade her around like the show pet she was.

“Ah, Ashlyn, lovely to see you this evening.” An older gentleman with silver hair approached from the throng and offered her his hand.

“Congressman Harding. It’s nice to see you.” She ran through the mental notes she’d successfully filed away on each big name in attendance. “How’s your wife, Nancy?”

“Oh dear, she has a bit of a cold this week, I’m afraid. Couldn’t make it tonight.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Wish her well for me and my mother, would you?”

“Of course. Of course. But I couldn’t let my second ticket go to waste, now could I? I’d like you to meet my grandson.”

Ah, hell. Ashlyn bit her tongue and forced a perfectly gracious smile.

“Preston, come here. I’d like to introduce you to someone.” The congressman waved over a young man around her age, maybe a year or two older. Golden blonde hair with more styling product than an entire season of America’s Next Top Model framed caramel-colored eyes and an equally fake smile. “This is Ashlyn Mills. Senator Mills’ daughter.”

“Pleasure to meet you.”

“And you.” Preston extended a manicured hand and Ashlyn placed hers in it, but when she tried to pull away he failed to release her. “Care for a dance?”

“What a wonderful idea.” The congressman’s eyes lit up and Ashlyn choked back a groan.

Preston led her out onto the dance floor and around it with no small amount of confidence.

“Where’d you learn to dance?” Pain flared in her shins as she twirled. Dancing had never been something Ash enjoyed, but years of lessons at least ensured she was good at it.

“Ballroom dancing. My grandfather insisted.” Preston grimaced and for the first time all evening, Ashlyn smiled.

“I wasn’t a big fan, either.”

“Well . . .” Preston twirled her one last time and when she came to a stop in front of him, it felt as though the room just kept on spinning. “If neither one of us wants to be out here, why don’t we go find something . . . more interesting to do?”

“Like what?”

“Come on, I’ve got an idea.” He all but hauled her off the dance floor and Ashlyn grinned. Finally she’d met someone like her at one of these stuffy events. Maybe the night wasn’t a complete waste after all.

“Where are we going?” Leaving the ballroom hadn’t bothered her in the least, but sneaking up the main staircase—past the ‘No Guests’ sign in plain view—caused the ever-present knot in her gut to tighten.

“Relax. I was up here earlier. No one’s around.”

Ashlyn was no stranger to delinquent behavior. In high school she’d been a regular teenage rebel—cutting school, smoking pot, shop lifting, the whole nine-yards. She even had a sealed juvie record no one knew about to prove it, but that was before. For years she’d kept her head down and her nose clean.

The staircase opened into a wide corridor with doors lining either side, all dark, all quiet. The stillness of abandonment permeated the entire floor. Eerie. The governor and his family didn’t actually live there anymore, but they used to, right up until they completed construction of the brand-spanking-new, state of the art mansion three years ago. Now all of these extravagant rooms just sat there empty, collecting dust. Tax dollars at work.

At the far end stood a set of double doors. Preston’s eyes glinted with mischief as he pushed them open. Moonlight trickled in through a tall window, casting shadows over the otherwise darkened room. Ashlyn had to squint to make out an oversized desk and a fireplace, both empty. No pictures or papers, not even a stray pen. Nothing to give the room life. Goosebumps crept over her bare arms as Preston led her toward a series of indistinct blobs.

“Check it out.” With all the flare of an amateur magician, he whipped the drop cloth off of an ornate sofa, clogging the air with a burst of dust that made Ashlyn cough. “Isn’t it neat? The governor’s personal office. And I hear the new one’s even better.” Flopping onto the stiff cushions, he kicked out his feet and folded his hands behind his head. “Someday it will all be mine.”

Oh great, another politician in her life. Exactly what Ashlyn did not need. “You sound awfully sure of yourself.”

“I am.” Grinning up at her, Preston grasped her wrist and tugged her down beside him before she could think to resist.

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