Between Shadows (ASSASSINS)
New Adult Thriller
A sexy new thriller about love and revenge from the author of the Capital Confessions and International School series…
X lives by three rules: Show no weakness. Trust no one. Don’t get caught. She lives by the rules they gave her.
The Academy—set in London, shrouded in secrecy—it trains spies, computer experts, and assassins. Their mission? Dispensing justice and altering the course of world politics. Or so they think. In a world where secrets are weapons and some kills are impossible to forget, everything X thought she knew about her life is about to change.
They taught her to fight. To blend into the shadows like a ghost, to operate on the fringes of society, to change her identity with ease. They taught her to kill.
She’ll need every skill they taught her, to stay alive.
"The romantic suspense genre gets a slick and sexy update in Chanel Cleeton's international spy thriller Between Shadows."
- Heroes & Heartbreakers
"If you're looking for a thrill ride, Between Shadows is the book to read."
- Fresh Fiction
"Between Shadows is fast-paced and entrancing."
- Once Upon a Book Blog
"A smart story that perfectly weaves and balances action, suspense, secrets, betrayal, and love."
- Four Chicks Flipping Pages
"If you want an action packed read that grips you from the start and does not let up...then this is a must read!"
- Beauty and the Books
"With suspense at every turn, international locales, danger and intrigue, I highly recommend adding Chanel Cleeton's Between Shadows to the top of your TBR!"
- Midnight Bloom Reads
Between Shadows Chapter One
How does the game go? Two truths and one lie?
“My name is Mandy. My favorite color is black. I’ve never killed a man.” I nibble on my lower lip, my gaze darting around. The living room is crowded as the aroma of pot and beer mixes with the scent of sweat and bad decisions. Ten of us sit in a circle playing this game. I wait to see if anyone calls me out.
“Your favorite color isn’t black. You’re wearing a pink sweater. That’s the lie,” the girl across from me shouts, her voice triumphant, her words muffled as she takes a swig from a bottle of tequila.
I peer down at the bright pink cashmere sweater, ducking my head in embarrassment. “Shit. I forgot about that. You’re totally right, that was the lie."
The girl grins, baring her teeth at me. “Told you I’m good at this game.”
If you only knew.
I turn, my face partially hidden by a curtain of hair, studying the boy whose arm is draped around my shoulders. I lean into the curve of his body, the smell of his cologne and the sickly sweet aroma of the joint they’ve been passing around filling my nostrils.
“I’m not very good at this game.”
He runs a hand through the ends of my long blonde hair, twisting the strands around his fingers like a rope, using the leverage to pull me closer to him, so close our lips nearly touch, our breath mingling. I want to pull back, even if it’s just an inch, want to breathe, but I don’t. I stay perfectly still, my lips parting as if begging for his kiss.
He leans closer, his mouth on mine, his tongue plunging inside with a wet caress. His hands drift down to my ass, cupping and squeezing, pulling me onto his lap, rearranging me so my legs straddle him. I fight the embarrassment growing inside me, giving myself over to his hands and lips until he releases me, a knowing gleam in his eye.
I look around, expecting to see curious gazes or attention cast our way. It’s best if I’m not memorable, but no one seems to have noticed or cared. It’s that kind of party.
He presses a glass into my hand, my fingers slipping against the edge. “Have another drink. You aren’t relaxed enough.”
“I’ve already drunk too much. I should be getting home soon.”
We both know my protests are half-hearted at best.
How long have I been here? An hour, maybe? Too long.
He takes a swig from his beer.
“But you haven’t seen my room yet.” His tone is husky as he leans closer, his lips teasing the curve of my ear. “Just come up for a moment.”
“We just met.”
“You can trust me.” The faintest of Scandinavian accents threads through his voice, but it’s enough to yank me out of the party and back into my head.
I lean away from him, blocking out the noise surrounding us. I study him, taking in his appearance, hoping I look more like a lovesick girl than what I really am, pretending I haven’t been watching him for months now.
He has a trustworthy face, and he knows it. His skin is pale, his hair dark, his eyes a soft shade of blue. His build is average, his smile just a touch too tempting. He’s the boy next door—every girl’s dream.
Only I know what he really is. Only I know his dark hair used to be blond, his blue eyes the work of contacts. Only I see what Lauren Armstrong once saw.
In spite of that, no, because of that, I walk upstairs with him, leaving the safety of the party behind me, his fingers curled around mine in a move that is more possession than affection. My feet stumble over the steps, my head bent, mind racing.
A familiar feeling comes over me, crashing like a wave. It’s been months. Months studying his pictures, learning his likes and dislikes, reading old articles and examining footage from the murder.
Months planning for one night.
Michael Duncan, formerly Jay Reinholdt, stops in front of a door at the end of the hallway. “Here it is.”
It’s silly, really, that I still get a little bit nervous. But I do.
I walk in first, the quiet click of the door shutting behind me and the turn of the lock music to my ears. The hardest part is pretending I don’t know what’s going to happen next, the fight to maintain my composure and control as instinct and training kick in. I’m like a racehorse at the starting gate, chaffing at the bit, ready to push through and get to work.
This is what I was born to do, who I am, and as much as I should hate it, these are the moments when the darkness bleeds through and who I am becomes what I am.
I move away from the door, taking a minute to explore the space around us, running through the clock in my mind. The room is small, but well decorated, filled with modern furniture. An impressive stereo system stands tall against the wall, a large flat-screen TV next to it. I try not to focus on the bed with its pale gray sheets or imposing headboard. Instead, my gaze falls on a framed picture sitting atop a desk. I walk toward it, my stride weaving slightly, struggling in my pink fuck-me heels.
“I think I had too much to drink,” I admit, my words slurring together slightly.
His lips curve, eyes flashing, two dimples exposed. But before the smile settles on his too-trustworthy face, there’s a moment, so quick that if I’d blinked I’d have missed it, when the emotion behind the smile cracks through, and I know exactly how it feels to be prey.
No one can keep a mask on forever; there are always moments when it slips, moments when the darkness demands its time in the sun. I beat mine back, waiting…
His lips brush against my mouth, this kiss even sloppier than the one downstairs. Disgust fills me, but I fight it back, a running countdown in my mind.
His smile widens. “You’re good, babe. You just needed to loosen up. You were too tense earlier. Now we can really have some fun.”
In the privacy of his room, his accent has become even more pronounced. He’s playing with me like I’m a fly trapped in his web and he can’t wait for his next meal.
Let him play.
I stop in front of the photo on his dresser, turning my back to him as my finger reaches out to trace the cold metal frame. The girl is standing on a beach, her blonde hair billowing around her. Clad in a blue dress, she is stunning, her smile lighting up the image.
“Pretty girl.” It’s a struggle to keep the emotion from my voice, one I almost lose.
Michael walks behind me, wrapping his arms around my chest, pulling me back against a body that feels firmer than expected. “Don’t get jealous, babe. She’s just my sister.”
I stiffen. “Really? Your sister is gorgeous. Although she looks a little familiar,” I muse, turning to face him, unable to keep the slight bite from my voice.
Michael shrugs, nudging me closer to the bed. “Lots of blondes do.”
The insult doesn’t fully register until I allow him to maneuver me onto the mattress. He tucks a stray strand of blonde hair behind my ear, the touch of his fingertips against my bare skin sending a shiver through me that has nothing to do with desire. My gaze turns to the clock on his desk. It’s eleven twenty-five. My heartbeat kicks up.
He joins me on the bed, his gaze darting to my sweater’s neckline. I know what the view looks like; I spent an hour painstakingly dressing for this one night. Most days I could give a shit about my appearance, but there are moments when it is so very useful. Tonight I am beautiful. Feminine.
Perfectly tailored for him.
They call it aggressive mimicry. Predators pretending to be something they’re not in order to avoid detection by their prey—such a simple concept, and yet, such a useful one.
It hasn’t been easy to catch his attention, to get close to him. For a twenty-two-year-old university student, Michael Duncan is surprisingly guarded. Of course he has to be, given his past. He should be in jail, awaiting death, and yet here he is, another girl, another blonde.
And so the scales tip.
His lips find mine, the kiss firm, slightly punishing. It’s an act of dominance, his attempt at topping me. His hands caress my curves in a move that has nothing do with my pleasure and everything to do with his need to destroy. His hands move up to grip my arms. He squeezes, his fingers biting into my flesh, his nails scraping the skin.
He ignores me, his mouth moving hungrily against mine, his weight pushing me into the mattress. Fuck. His body, the one that seemed so slight, is now heavy against my chest. His fingers press deeper into my skin, kneading me like dough.
“You’re hurting me.” He doesn’t stop. “Michael—”
His hand slams down over my mouth. “Shut up, you little bitch.”
Gone is the boy next door. The mask is torn off, never to return again. The look in his eyes—
There are many forms of darkness in this world. His feeds off of my weakness, making him stronger, filling him with an intense purpose that wants only one thing—my body naked and destroyed. I recognize the death in his eyes and in that moment I wonder if it were a fair fight, which one of us Death would choose, his apprentice or this pretender who kills for sport? Or am I wrong to think there’s a difference between us? Is it wrong that I have to hold my body back from doing what it was born to do?
I want to fight back. Kick him. Claw at his face. Hurt him like he’s hurting me. Instead I just lie there, fighting my body’s natural urge.
I can’t leave any marks.
I wait for a moment, knowing it’s coming. Suddenly Michael sags against me, the mattress buckling under his weight.
“Are you okay?” My shy voice is gone. So is my British accent.
“Maybe I had too much beer,” Michael mumbles, his words slightly slurred.
A smile forms on my pastel pink lips, the only real smile I’ve had all night. I’m not supposed to feel, this isn’t supposed to be emotional, but fuck if it didn’t feel pretty personal when his weight pressed me into the mattress.
I do the job I was born to do. But sometimes it’s not just the job, sometimes the scales call to me like a siren’s song, winding their way through my fucked-up head and dark heart. Sometimes it’s not the darkness that calls to me, sometimes it’s more. It’s justice, and vengeance, and the urge to bring balance to a world that doesn’t give a shit about fair, or right and wrong.
And sometimes I’m just a girl, wanting to kick some ass.
I break away, easily slipping from his grasp. I move gracefully, like a cat—and not some tame house cat either, but a feral beast—any traces of drunkenness fully erased. I may be wearing pink and I may be a few inches over five feet, but the power has completely shifted.
Aggressive mimicry is a beautiful fucking thing.
I stare down at my prey, an orgy of justice and vengeance ripping through my body.
“It could have been the beer,” I agree. “Or maybe the drug I slipped into your drink an hour ago.”
Confusion flickers in those cold, dead eyes. “What did you say?”
“I drugged you, Jay.” The emphasis I place on his name, his real name, hangs between us like an ax about to fall.
Fear fills his voice and clouds his gaze. “Who are you?”
“It depends on who you ask. If you ask your friends, I’m the British university student you brought up to your flat to have some fun with. The one who looks like she just might be underage. To you? I’m Vengeance.
“Did you really think you could run from your sins? That you could simply change your identity and escape what you did to that girl? What you did to all those girls?”
Seven girls, their lives buried under the weight and power of the Reinholdt fortune, a judicial system that failed them, and Jay’s evil.
“Did you think there wouldn’t be a price on your head when all was said and done? That they didn’t have families who deserved justice? That you would just get away with it?”
I laugh, the sound nothing like before. This is my real laugh, the shadows creeping in.
“Your father isn’t the only one with money, Jay. Your father isn’t the only one willing to skirt the law. You killed Lauren Armstrong. You murdered countless other girls you lured to your room. Then you ran and hid from your crimes. And now you’re done.” I struggle to keep the emotion from my voice. This isn’t personal. It’s business.
But now I know what it was like for them in the final moments of their lives. And I know he would have killed again. And even as I hate myself a bit, I’m not sorry.
“Please.” His breath comes out in harsh pants. “I have money. Lots of money. I’ll pay you; whatever they’re paying you, I’ll top it.”
“It isn’t about the money. Besides, I already slipped the drug in your beer. It’s done.”
A flash of outrage crosses his face before it flickers out, replaced again by the look I’ve seen staring back at me countless times—the flickering of fear, followed by resignation, and lastly, my old faithful friend and lover, Death.
Bile rises in my stomach as the life slips away from him. I hate this part. It’s the hardest when you have to see it, when it’s in your face, the images burned in your brain, sneaking up on you at the strangest possible moments. Sometimes I’ll be running by the Thames and suddenly an image will flash before my eyes, and it’s almost as if Death looks back at me, as if its silken voice whispers to me through the memory, claiming me, seducing me—I see you, I know you, you are mine.
This is my art, my masterpiece, and even as I welcome it, I hate the part of me that’s so good at this. Hate that it gets a little bit easier each time.
And just like that it’s done.
I reach over the body, checking for a pulse, the move more perfunctory than anything else. He’s gone. I look around the room, tidying up any trace of my presence. A team will come behind me in a few hours and make sure nothing remains. Not that it really matters. The anonymous tip sent connecting Michael Duncan with Jay Reinholdt will ensure the police do little more than a cursory investigation. It’s hard to muster sympathy over the death of a rapist and murderer of teenage girls.
Sometimes justice fails. I provide a different form, one that has nothing to do with courts of law.
I sweep the room once more, periodically checking my watch. Eleven-thirty two. I turn to leave and my gaze falls on the photo of Lauren Armstrong. I recognize the dress instantly. She wore it the night she disappeared from her hotel in Greece.
I hesitate for a moment, hearing the Director’s crisp voice in my ear. Do not tamper with the scene. It’s too risky, too obvious to take the photo. Who knows why he kept it, if anyone else saw the resemblance between the girl in the photo and the Australian girl who disappeared on vacation two years ago.
I grab the picture off of the dresser, my fingers shaking slightly as they wrap around the frame and I slip it into my bag.
By eleven thirty-four I’m walking out of the London flat Michael shares—shared—with his three roommates. I leave in a cloud of tears, claiming he passed out drunk. The girls are appropriately sympathetic, dabbing at the runny black mascara that leaves me looking like a rabid raccoon.
I play my part to perfection.
With each step away from the flat, my footsteps lengthen, my stride more confident. I may not be tall, but I know how to move, and in these moments, in the dark night, London is my city. I fade into the background with ease.
At least, I should.
Tonight, though, something feels off. I can’t put my finger on it, but something’s in the air. Something that sends a chill trickling down my spine.
I whirl around—once—twice.
The words have been drilled in me since childhood.
Don’t get caught.
To my right, I spot a couple walking hand-in-hand. To my left, a group of girls dressed for a night out clubbing pass around a tube of lip-gloss, their laughter mixing with the noise of the city. My eyes narrow as my gaze runs over them. More than anyone I know not to take appearances for granted. They pass by me without a second glance on their way to whatever party they have planned. My strides lengthen.
When I reach the park, my long, blonde hair is the first thing to go. I remove the wig, tossing it into a nearby rubbish bin. I tug at the tight bun, allowing my hair—bleached more white than blonde—to fall around my shoulders, already feeling a bit more like myself.
I pick up the pace, going through the route I’ve practiced over and over again in my head. The rubbish sweeps should be coming through in a quarter of an hour. Besides, given how crazy the party was, the odds that the body will be discovered before morning are slim to none. Still. My success depends on my ability to blend into the shadows.
I am the best. I am a ghost.
I grab the black bag I’ve stashed behind a nearby tree and pull the pink sweater over my head, shoving it inside the bag, pulling out a black leather jacket and zipping it over my black tank top. Pain fills me. I’ll have bruises from his hands. The team coming behind me will ensure he doesn’t end up with any of my DNA, and if he does, they’ll clean it up. Not that it matters, really.
I don’t exist.
I feel it again—the sense that I’m being watched. I still, scanning the park’s perimeter, my body crouched in a defensive stance. Empty.
I rise, lengthening my strides, heading toward the dark alley where I stashed my bike. I ignore the twinge of uncertainty that has me checking my surroundings again. Freedom is so close I can taste it.
Two truths and one lie?
Easy enough—for someone like me.
But why tell the truth when you could simply lie instead?
My name is X. My favorite color is black. I’ve killed more men than I’d like to count.
Big Ben rings throughout the cold London night. I don’t hesitate, my legs eating up the pavement. But the significance of those bells doesn’t escape me.
Today is my birthday; at least, it’s the one they’ve given me.
I’m now officially nineteen.