CHAPTER ONE

I awoke to lights and the sound of a closing door. Last night's events came rushing back to me. My burning house, my parents murder, the CIA rushing in to save me. I vaguely remember arriving at a secret headquarters and being introduced to Chase. The CIA had informed me that the same thing had happened to him. The Skorpian's had hit two undercover homes in one night. That was a huge deal. They have grown in size and strength in the past couple of years. Ten buildings had been burned last night. Eight to throw everyone off guard so that they could destroy the other two: the under-covered.

The agent who had accompanied me to the headquarters passed me along to a man I did not know. He then passed Chase and I on to yet another man, who would drive us to the Bariscene's house. Under normal circumstances, I would have been pissed at the idea of someone treating me like baggage. But this? This wasn't exactly what I'd call a normal circumstance.

I looked over at Chase and noticed he had slept the whole way also, and looked every bit as confused as I felt. The man who had driven us opened my door and helped me out. I walked over and stood next to Chase. "This must be the Bariscene's," I declared. He nodded. The house was at least three stories high, with tons of trees on their huge lawn. I wondered how far back their property went. We started up the driveway and reached the door right as Mrs. Bariscene opened it.

"Why hello there! I assume you are Chase and Elise?" We nodded. "Well, don't you guys look awful! Come, come, get yourselves a nice hot bath. I will put on some cocoa. Amanda, dear, would you show them each to their rooms?" A woman, Amanda, I assumed, nodded, smiled at each of us, and showed us to our rooms. They were large rooms, each with their own bathrooms, and they were on the second story, right next to one another.

"There you are. The cocoa shouldn't take long to make, so whenever you're ready you can come have some. Mrs. Bariscene makes the best." She smiled at us again and left us to shower.

Once I was safe in my bathroom, I dared a glance in the mirror. I gasped. My hair was in tangled clumps, black and brown debris of who knows what scattered about it. My natural red hair was nowhere to be found. My face was utterly black, I had blood on my left cheek, and my clothes were still damp and ripped. I stripped down and started the water. The hot feel of it shocked me at first, but I had started to relax. Looking down I watched all of the dirt and dust swirl down the drain. The steam from the shower was calming, and I was starting to see the color in my hair.

I stepped out of the shower, fully cleansed and relaxed, and noticed that Amanda had laid out clean clothes on my bed. I changed into the sweatpants and hoodie, and headed downstairs. Chase was already there. He didn't even look the same. Blonde hair replaced the once black hair, his gorgeous blue eyes looked brighter than they had, and he looked...well I don't know...calm. Relaxed. Happy even.

"Holy crud," he said when he saw me.

"What," I demanded, sitting across from him. I sipped at my hot cocoa.

"Your hair is red."

"And yours is blonde."

"Indeed it is," he grinned.

Mrs. Bariscene walked in. "I apologize for asking a favor of you, but an old woman like myself does need a helping hand every so often and poor Amanda already has a load of things to do... Would you guys mind sorting through all of these pictures? Just put them all in the years they were taken."

"Of course," I said. I swallowed the last of my hot chocolate and headed to the dining room with Chase. Without a word, we started sorting out the pictures. All of them were of Mrs. Bariscene and, I assumed, Mr. Bariscene. "I wonder if he died," I muttered.

"I think so," Chase said. "This picture over here is the latest date of the two of them together, and then the rest are just her." I came over to look. In the picture, Mrs. Bariscene was wearing a light blue summer dress, while Mr. Bariscene was wearing tan plaid shorts and a yellow striped shirt.

"Looks to me like he was quite a character," I giggled, and returned to my pile of pictures.

"Looks to me like they were in love," Chase said quietly. "You know, I don't think my parents were in love. I think they only stuck around to raise another undercover agent for the CIA. They never looked anything like this." He gestured towards the picture.

"Mine weren't either," I murmured. "Mine were the same as yours. I'm not really even sure I believe love exists. I think some people are just overly happy people."

"I agree actually," Chase said. I looked at him, really looked at him this time. He had straight blonde hair that gently swooshed across his forehead, just above his eyes. His eyes were bluer than the sky, placed perfectly on his face. He looked like an angel, really, even in the dim lighting. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

I snapped back into reality. "Just shocked that someone agrees with me on something, that's all," I said. He smirked at me, a cute, kind of sexy side grin. Sure, I was attracted to hot boys. Heck, I'd dated more than I could count. I just didn't believe in love. The phrase, "I love you" is thrown around way to lightly these days. I promised myself long ago that I would never tell a boy I loved him unless I truly meant it, and as far as I was concerned, that would never happen.

Mrs. Bariscene walked into the room and stood behind Chase. Silence filled the room. I was trying to figure out a way to break it when she spoke, so quietly that it was hardly above a whisper.

"Nathan and I, our dream was to travel the world together. This particular picture was when we were in Paris." She gestured towards the picture of them together where he was wearing the plaid and the stripes. "We returned home early from Paris because Nate had gotten quite sick. Turned out he had lung cancer. It was strange, though. He'd never smoked a day in his life." She paused.

"What happened?" I asked.

"He died, then and there without warning. Just before he passed, though, he made me promise him something."

"What did he make you promise?" Chase asked.

"He made me promise I would continue to travel the world. I said I wouldn't do it without him and he told me he'd be with me always."

"Do you believe he will?" I whispered.

"Of course," she said. "He will forever be in my heart." I shot a look at Chase. He looked as surprised by the story as I felt. "Well, enough of my stories. You children have done enough for tonight. Run along, off to bed you two. I'll see you in the morning."

Chase and I made our way up the stairs, said our goodnights, and disappeared into our own rooms. I don't remember falling asleep, bit I sure as hell remember the dreams. The debris raining from the sky and into the pool, the night sky turning from navy to a glowing red, flames consuming the only home I had ever known, swallowing the life I used to live.

I awoke, gasping for air, not sure if I had screamed or not. I stood up and walked to the hallway, suddenly in need of comfort. I gently know key on Chase's door and it opened immediately to my touch.

"I was just about to come to your room," he said.

"Bad dreams?" I asked.

"Yup," he muttered. "Care to join me for a few?"

"I'd be delighted," I giggled. There was something calming about Chase. We sat on his bed talking for what seemed like hours. We were both almost asleep when I finally got up.

"Where are you going?" He murmured.

"Back to my room. It's got to be morning by now." I started to the door, secretly dreading being alone.

"Elise?"

I hesitated. "Yes?"

"Will you stay with me tonight?" He looked slightly embarrassed at the question.

"I'd be delighted," I said, and fell asleep warm and safe in his arms.

*CHASE*

She was asleep in a heartbeat. As he held her in his arms, he thought back to the conversation they'd had earlier about their parents.

"Love doesn't exist," he whispered. "No, but happiness can't be far from it." He noticed a tingling sensation starting up in his right arm. He considered moving his arm, but one look at her beautiful face made him change his mind. His arm would soon go numb, but he didn't want to wake her up. She looked so calm. The moonlight caused her porcelain-like skin to glow a gorgeous white, and her hair to appear like fire. She looked like an angel, an angel trapped in a swallowing darkness, waiting to be free. And someday maybe they would be free. But first he had to rid himself of the task at hand. Those people would not get away with killing his parents. No way. He would go after them, yes. And if he succeeded, by some small chance, he would return and look for a girl named Elise. Elise Lockhardt. And if he succeeded in that, well, then they would decide together what would happen next. But right then he would just live in the moment. Even if the odds where in his favor, this would probably be the last time he'd ever hold her close. And with that as his last thought, sleep took him.

*ELISE*

I rolled over and opened my eyes. Squinting against the light, I peered at the clock. Eleven thirty. "Good grief," I thought. Chase, I assumed, was already downstairs. How he had managed to climb over me and leave the room without me waking up, I had no idea. Rolling out of bed, I rushed to my room to get dressed. Once I was in my T-shirt and leggings, I headed down to the kitchen. Just as I was about to round the corner, a hand slapped over my mouth and pulled me back. I ripped his hand off of my mouth. "Are you CRAZY?!" Are you AWARE that I've been trained all my life to attack people who pull that move on me? I know how to break your nose, knee, foot, AND decapitate you without turning around." He leaned forward whispered in my ear as if he hadn't heard a word I said.

"Stay quiet, and don't go in the kitchen yet. One of the CIA members who brought us here is in the kitchen talking to Mrs. Bariscene. There was another raid last night, only this one was the only one. It was another safe house. They were sloppy this time though, so no one was killed. All of them but one managed to escape. They have the one man locked up in some underground prison. I'm trying to figure out about where the raid was, and which direction the Skorpians ran." We crept toward the wall and pressed our ears up against it.

"...headed west, down the line of safe houses. That information we cannot reveal to you. In fact, even I'm not sure where all the safe houses are. The documents containing that information is locked up in a concrete vault, enclosed in an iron crate, twenty feet underground. Not to mention all the security it's under. Anyways, if you would keep this information to yourself, Mrs, Bariscene, that would be very helpful. We don't want those two getting any ideas as to go after them. They are not ready for that yet, and they are to remain here until further notice."

Mrs. Bariscene agreed, and they started walking our way. Chase grabbed my hand and pulled me into a nearby coat closet. We were behind coats, smashed against each other in the enclosed space. We listened as the front door opened, goodbyes were exchanged, and the door was closed again. Mrs. Bariscene headed back towards the kitchen. When her footsteps had totally faded away, Chase and I busted out of the closet, sprawling out on all fours on the floor in the hallway.

I shook the hair from my eyes and stood up. Wiping off my hands and knees, I looked up to find Amanda standing there, pink cheeked and mouth slightly open. Realizing what she thought had happened, I blushed furiously and started stammering, "Uh, no uh, this isn't, uh, what it, uh, looks like..." Chase, on the other hand, gave a sideways, "you caught me" grin, winked, threw his arm around my shoulders and started leading me up the stairs.

"Don't worry Amanda dear, we'll get a room next time," he called over his shoulder. As soon as we were out of sight, I pushed him away from me.

"What do you think you're doing?" I whispered.

"Making sure she thought we were making out in a closet. Why?"

"WHY?" I asked incredulously. "Because we weren't, that's why! Why would you do that?"

"I did that so Amanda didn't think we were spying on the two in the kitchen. That way Mrs. Bariscene doesn't think we have information that we shouldn't have. Which we do," he added. "Anyway, it was a good cover. Plus, we know it didn't happen."

I rolled my eyes. "No kidding. But Amanda doesn't. You're right though," I admitted reluctantly, "it was a good cover."

I walked to the window on the second floor and peered out at the car disappearing down the driveway. "What will happen if they know we have information that we shouldn't?"

"They'll have to kill us." He said nonchalantly.

I whipped around and stared in shock, mouth open, eyes probably a little crazed. He glanced up and started laughing so hard he fell off the windowsill and rolled on the ground.

"OH MY GOSH, YOU'RE FACE. OH MAN. OH MY GOSH THAT WAS HILARIOUS. YOU WERE ALL LIKE-" Chase spun around and dropped his mouth open as wide as he could, slapped his hands to his face in mock shock, and rolled his eyes back in his head. He then slapped his right hand over his heart, and dropped to the ground, continuing to laugh hysterically.

"Oh shut your face," I said, stalking away towards my room.

"That's not possible, actually," he said, following me.

"Sure it is. You're just to stupid to figure it out. It goes a little something like this." I had walked across my room to my bed, and reached out to grab the pillow laying at the head of it. I swung my leg around to an unsuspecting Chase, hitting him behind the knees, causing him to collapse to the ground. I dropped down on top of him, proceeding to put the pillow over his mouth and "smother" him. He grinned at the challenge and before I could think, did a backwards roll, sending me flying over his head, ripped the pillow out of my arms, and pinned me to the ground. At that exact moment Amanda decided to walk in to my room to bring clean sheets for the bed. I realized what she would think was happening. All she could see, at first glance, was Chase straddling me, half sitting on my stomach with a pillow in his arms and me pink in the face laying beneath him. She quickly chucked the clean sheets at the bed and sprinted out of the room.

"GREAT," I said. "She officially thinks we are teenagers overcome by hormones. Unbelievable." Chase just grinned, picked up the sheets, and began to fold them.

Mrs. Bariscene walked in. "So, I've decided to throw a party. We've had enough bad things happen lately, let's do something fun. It's gonna be a formal dance. Like a big ball almost. I haven't had an excuse to use the ballroom since Nathan passed away. Don't even say you don't want to throw a formal party. It would spoil my entire day. Plus, I've already sent out invitations and ordered decorations. And it's going to be tomorrow. Amanda can do your hair, Elise."

I stared at her in shock. "But I don't have a dress or anything..."

"Nonsense. We'll go shopping as soon as I get ready. Chase, you will come too since you'll need a nice tux and a tie to match Elise." She hurried out of the room mumbling something about gingers and the color yellow.

I turned to Chase. "A ball? Really? I hate getting dressed up. All dresses do is get in your way when you're trying to walk. And heels? No. Don't even get me STARTED on heels. Like seriously? No."

Chase chuckled. "Oh lighten up. Let her have her fun. She's wanted kids for forever, and she can pretend that we are her kids or something, I don't really know, but you know what I'm saying? This is what she has wanted for forever and she finally has a reason to throw a big fancy party and she has some kids to show off." I shot him a side glare.

"Whatever. But if I get attacked, I'm throwing you in front of me so they catch YOU first so I can make my getaway in my RIDICULOUS heels and the tent that I can only imagine I'll be wearing."

Chase rolled his eyes. "Oh c'mon, what's the worst that could happen?"