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Home > Last Hit (Hitman #1)

Last Hit (Hitman #1)
Author: Jessica Clare

Chapter One

DAISY

I have planned for this day in secret for six long years, I think as I wake up and stretch, a giddy burn in my stomach that might be nerves.

Today, I will escape.

The day starts as any other. It's like the world can't see how excited I am inside, but I'm practically vibrating with anticipation. Freedom is so close I can taste it. I get out of bed and dress in a dark, floor-length skirt and matching blouse. I throw a sweater on over it, so every inch of my body is covered. Then I go to my mattress and pull out the disposable cellphone and the small wad of cash I have saved up.

Seven hundred dollars from six years of saving. It has to be enough. I tuck them both into my bra to hide them.

I go to the bathroom and pull my dark hair into a ponytail and then splash water on my face to cleanse it. I stare at my reflection. My face is bleach pale, but there's a flush on my cheeks that betrays me. I don't like it, and I wet a cloth and press it to my cheeks, hoping the color will fade. When I can't delay any longer, I leave the safety of my bathroom.

My father is seated in the living room. The room is a dark cave. No light comes in. There's a chair and a sofa, and a TV. The TV is off, and I know it's only programmed to broadcast happy, chaste channels like religious TV or children's shows. If I'm lucky, I get to watch PBS. I long for something edgier, but my father has removed everything else from the channel list, and I'm not allowed the remote.

As usual, the only light in the room is a small lamp beside his chair. It halos his recliner, and my father is seated in an island of light in the oppressive darkness. He reads a thick hardback—Dickens—and closes it when I enter the room. He's dressed in a button-up shirt and slacks, his hair neatly combed. It is ironic that my father dresses so well, considering he doesn't leave the house and no one will see him but me. If I ask, he will simply say that appearances are important.

Our entire house is like the living room: dark, oppressive, thick with shadow. It's sucking the life out of me, day by day, which is why I must do what I can to escape.

"Sir." I greet my father, and wait. My hands are clasped behind my back, and I'm the picture of a dutiful daughter.

He eyes my clothing, my sweater. "Are you going out today?"

"If the weather is nice today." I don't look at the windows in the living room. Not a shred of light comes through them. It's not possible. Despite my father's pristine appearance, the house looks like a construction zone. The arching windows that once filled the living room with light are boarded up with plywood, the edges smoothed down with yards of duct-tape. Father has made the living room into a fortress to protect himself, but I have grown to hate the oppressive feel of it. I feel like a bat trapped in a cave, never to see sunlight.

I can't wait to escape.

He grunts at my words and hands over a small key. I take it from him with a whispered 'thank you' and go to the computer desk. It has a roll-down top that my father locks every night. He doesn't trust the Internet, of course. It's full of bad things that can corrupt young minds. He has a filter set up on the websites so I can't browse explicit websites, not that I would. Not when the only computer in the house is ten feet from his chair.

I calmly go to the computer and type in the address for the weather website. Today's forecast? Perfect. Of course it is. "The weather looks good."

"Then you will run errands today." He pulls on a pair of glasses and picks up a notepad, flipping through it. After a moment, he rips off a piece of paper and hands it to me. "This is the grocery list. Go to the post office and get stamps as well."

I take the list with trembling fingers. Two places today. "Can I go to the library, too?"

He frowns at my request.

I hold my breath. I need to go to the library. But I can't look too anxious.

"I'm already sending you to two places, Daisy."

"I know," I tell him. "But I'd like a new book to read."

"What topic?"

"Astronomy," I blurt. I'm only allowed to read non-fiction around my father. It's a harmless topic, outer space. And if he presses, I can say I'm continuing my education despite finishing my homeschooling years ago. Father won't relax his grip enough for me to go to college, so I have to continue my learning as best I can.

He stares at me for a long moment, and I worry he can see right through me, into my plans. "Fine," he says after an eternity. He checks his watch. "It's eight thirty now. You'll be back by ten thirty?"

It's not much time to go to the grocery store, the post office, and the library. I frown. "Can I have until eleven?"

His eyes narrow. "You can have until ten thirty, Daisy. You are to go to those places and nowhere else. It's not safe. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir." I close the computer, lock the desk, and hand the key back to him.

As I do, he grabs my arm and frowns. "Daisy, look at me."

Oh, no. I force my guilty eyes to his gaze. He knows what I'm doing, doesn't he? Even though I've been so careful, he's figured it out.

"Are you wearing make-up?"

Is that all? "No, Father—"

His hand slaps my cheek in reproach.

We both stare at each other in shock. He's never hit me before. Never.

My father recovers first. "No, sir," he says, to correct me. I stare at him for so long that my eyes feel dry with the need to blink. Resentment burns inside of me, and for a long moment, I wonder what my father would do if I slapped back. Or if I marched down to the basement and shot off a few rounds into the wall of phonebooks that acted as the backstop for father's makeshift (and probably illegal) indoor shooting range.

But I can't think like that. Not right now. I'm not yet strong enough. So I swallow my anger.

"No, sir," I echo. Calling him "sir” is a new rule. Now that I'm twenty-one, I'm not allowed to call him "Father" anymore. Just "sir." My heart aches at how much he's changed—as if every year the terror in him grows stronger and if I stay here, it will overtake me too.

He grabs my face with his other hand and examines it closely, though I know it's dark enough that he can't see me all that well. The festering resentment continues to bubble in my stomach, but I permit this. It won't be much longer. After today, I won't have to deal with this ever again.

After a moment, he licks his thumb and rubs it on my flushed cheek, inspecting it under the light. No makeup. He makes a "hmmph” sound. "Fine. You can go."

"Thank you, sir," I tell him. I take the list he hands me, and the cash, and rush to the front door.

There are six locks and four deadbolts on the door, and it takes a moment for my trembling fingers to undo all of them. I get to go out.

I get to leave.

I'm never entering this house again.

Once the door is unbolted, I carefully shut it again and then wait a moment. The sound of my father locking and turning all the bolts again reaches my ears. Good. I stand on the covered porch for a moment and stare out at our yard. Our small house has a rickety fence in the front that is falling down, but we don't repair it. The grass is knee high because Father won't let me mow it but once a month. Surrounding our house are acres and acres of farmland that we let out to neighboring farmers. We don't grow anything ourselves, since that would entail being outside.

And the Millers don't go outside unless they can't help it. I know that when I was eight, he witnessed my mother's murder while shopping. I was too young to remember much about her, just a smiling, happy face with warm brown hair and even warmer eyes that disappeared one day. And I know that my father reported her murder to the police but that the killer was underage. A fluke, a random shooting at a grocery store, and my mother had been the victim. Two years later, the murderer was back out on the streets, and he'd commented in court that he was coming after my father for locking him away.

I think it was bravado, nothing but the bragging of a young boy full of rage. My father took it to heart. He refuses to go outside, believing himself safe and protected in his home.

I can't hate him for it. I want to, but I can't. I know what it's like to live every day in fear.

I head down the road, practically running to the bus stop so I'll have time to do everything. The bus arrives a few minutes later, and I go to the local grocery store. I get my cart as if it's just another day. I shop for the items on the list, taking great care with my selections. When I get to the checkout, they frown at me. They recognize my face. They hate me at this grocery store, but I don't care.

As soon as I have my purchases bagged, I immediately head to the customer service counter. I place two of the items I've bought—vitamins and ibuprofen—on the counter. "I need to exchange these."

The clerk there knows my routine. I'm sure she thinks I'm crazy, but she simply waves a hand. "Get what you need and bring it back."

I do, and five minutes later I have exchanged the expensive, pricey brands for two cheap generics. After years of receipt scanning, I know which ones don't print brand names on the receipt and I always, always switch them out and pocket the change. It's the only way I can save money and not have Father notice it missing.

Now I have seven hundred and fifteen dollars.

I take the groceries with me to the post office, get the stamps, and then head to the library. I should have gone to the library first so the groceries would stay colder, but today, I don't care.

I head to the romance shelf, looking for the book I was reading. It's there, tucked safely behind other books so no one will borrow it until I'm done reading it. I fish it out and read chapter seven while standing up. I wish I could take the book home with me, but Father would never let me keep it. I'm only allowed to read classics. So I come to the library as often as I can and read a chapter at a time.

I close my book with a dreamy sigh a few minutes later. The hero has just kissed the her**ne and is sliding his hand into her panties. I want to read on, but I mustn't. There's still so much to do. I will dream about how he touches her, I'm sure. I want to be touched, too.

I want a hero. A big strong, handsome prince to come rescue me from my miserable life. But since one has not arrived, I must rescue myself.

I soar through the non-fiction and grab a book on astronomy. Then I pause, and I put the book back. I don't know why I'm keeping up the pretense. I'm not going home to Father. Not today. I head back to the romance section and grab my novel.

Then, I move to the computers and pull up the Gmail address I have created for myself. If Father only knew that the library had computers to use that could access the Internet, he'd never let me come here.

There's a response in my email. I dance in my chair, so excited I can barely stand it.

Daisy,

I'm so glad you found my ad! You sure you don't want to see the place before you come here? It's not the greatest, but it's a roof over the head, and the rent is cheap enough. Come by and say hello before you decide anything. We'll have lunch.

XOXO

Regan

There's a phone number at the bottom of the email. I print it out, along with the original Craigslist listing for the apartment in Minneapolis. Will she get upset if I meet her for lunch and then just never leave? I hope not.

There is a second email as well. This one is a confirmation of an appointment. Today, at ten thirty. The timing is perfect.

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