Chapter 1

Sitting in the white van, the smell of paint and thinner behind me in the racks mingling with all the other supplies is so thick I quickly roll down the window with the old crank to vent it before I pass out behind the wheel.

That definitely would not be in my best interest and would put a glitch in my schedule. Besides hindering my appointment book, I hold myself up to a certain standard, so being unconscious in this van wouldn't really be up there in ways I'd choose to pass the time.

My beige coveralls are scratchy, splattered with years of commercial jobs and smelling quite frankly like they haven't been washed in months. I sigh, wondering when I'll be able to call it a day and get the fuck home already. I have a goldfish that misses me, probably. I frown thinking about the only living thing I can bring myself to own. Hopefully it's not dead already, floating gut up at the top of the tank.

The tree-lined street is pleasant in a suburbia kind of way, the kind where kids can ride their bikes in the road without too much worry of traffic. A neighborhood where you have your newspaper delivered on your doorstep and not strewn haphazardly into your bushes by a kid that actually comes to collect the monthly fee. It's TV Land worthy, where Dad comes home at six o'clock every night to have his cocktail, pats his wife on the ass, and sits down to a hot meal before sticking his hand down the front of his Fruit of the Looms to watch the big game.

I sip at the coffee in my thermos, the taste bitter and somewhat unpleasant, but I keep drinking it anyway as I look at the clipboard in my hand.

I've been preparing for this job for over a week, making sure I'd be of no inconvenience to the homeowners as they go about their cookie-cutter lives. Mom leaves at eight to drop the kids off at their private school before making her daily pit stop at the local coffee shop to chat with the other carpool moms, all adorned in track suits encrusted in fake gems that are never used for jogging. They gossip behind perfectly applied lipstick-stained mouths and finger-fluffed hair that hasn't seen a shower yet, being as they've dragged their hangovers out of bed just in time to hustle off the kids.

The requisite foreign housekeeper doesn't arrive until nine, but she only comes three days a week, so I won't be in her way. And since I'll leave no mess, she'll never even realize I've been there.

Dad on the other hand is working from home a lot lately. Trying to keep up appearances to his loving family that he hasn't just become unemployed, a position he held that wasn't legal in any sort of way in the first place. The wife never guesses - or at least never questions - where the Lexus came from, the house in Belize, or the diamonds that adorn most of her fingers. She's happy to flash them at the Dunkin Donuts crew and turn the other cheek.

Right on time, Mom corrals the kiddos into her luxury SUV and drives around the corner, so I grab a paint can and roller, tucking a drop cloth under my arm and leaving the clipboard on the seat. I shift my painters hat low over my sun-filled eyes and adjust my glasses as I stand at the door, waiting. The neighborhood is quiet, empty. No one is walking a dog, there are no garbage men. Only the sound of automatic sprinklers making their jut-jut-jut sound. It's slightly eerie.

But exactly what I need.

Laying my items down on the brick step under the grandiose cupola that showcases the ornate entrance, I make quick work of the lock and open the thick wood door quietly, standing upright and gathering my supplies before letting myself in and softly shutting the door behind me. The foyer is majestic; marble floors lay under my feet as it stands at least two stories high with a crystal chandelier dangling over my head. It would take three or four days to paint just this entrance alone, but that's not really my concern. Leaving my items inside the front door on top of the drop cloth, I hold my breath and listen. Hearing the distant sound of a muffled voice, I know it's the homeowner, most likely on his phone in his study located in the back of the house, its large windows overlooking the pool. My thorough reconnaissance has told me that's where he spends most of his time.

The lightweight tennis shoes adorning my feet make no sound on the shiny floor as I pass leather couches with fringed pillows (ugly), gold gilded mirrored lamps (tacky), and some sort of metal statue (oddly perverse). I pause for a moment outside the room I'm interested in, analyzing which way his voice is directed, and once I'm confident he's facing away from the entrance, I ease my foot towards the slightly open door. Staying in the shadows of the small hallway, one push from my toe opens the door further, allowing me a view of Mr. G in all his obese glory.

"This can't last long, Marty, I'm dyin' here. You don't think someone is on their way right now? What's the fucking hold up? I don't care about my family, just get me out of here," he wheezes, his back to me as he yells at poor Marty on the phone, a lit cigar forgotten and idling in the ashtray with a long ash threatening to fall off.

Exactly nine silent steps into the room towards his desk and he's none the wiser as I pull a 22 Ruger out of the large cargo pocket built into my uniform. As ugly as the outfit is, it's actually quite a handy hideaway - the idea that maybe I should invest in a few of these ugly coveralls passes through my mind momentarily before getting back to work. The homemade silencer moves into my eyesight, and I take the briefest of milliseconds to check my aim before I pull the trigger. A barely-there click of the firing mechanism and a muffled pop from the silencer never alert Mr. G to the oncoming hollow point bullet that pierces the back of his head cleanly, scarcely leaving a hole and making him slump forward only slightly.

Nice work, I commend myself smiling, but my job here is done so I slink out the way I came, picking up my painting supplies on the way out. I wipe the door knob down with the drop cloth, discreetly wipe the outside as well when I pull it closed, and stroll to the van like I have nothing better to do. I load the van with the supplies, quickly wiping down the handle of the can and roller with the drop cloth before shutting the doors, rubbing those handles and the driver's side door with my coverall sleeve, and climbing in the driver's seat. I observe the local speed limits as I pull away from the curb, making sure to use my blinker, and make my way back to Len's Painting and Design.

The parking lot in the industrial area of town is starting to bustle with activity, but Len's lazy crew has yet to show up. Something I knew, of course, as their drinking habits on Thursday nights often make for a slow start on Friday. Taking the papers out of the clipboard I shove them into the duffel lying on the passenger side floor and start wiping down the wheel, turn signal, gear shift - anything I've touched inside the van I borrowed this morning.

No attention is paid to the painter carrying a dirty, paint speckled duffel into the equally dirty public restroom located in the midst of the warehouses, and once I've confirmed I'm alone, I get to work.

The first thing to go is the file on Mr. G, the photos and info Emmett gave me. They hover over the toilet as I burn them, letting the ash fall into the bowl and throwing the match in after it before flushing. I quickly dismantle the gun, it's not one I'm attached to, and break the plastic silencer. I'm a little sadder about that, as making them is time consuming and a hobby I've taken a bit of pride in and perfected. Even if it's quite annoying to have to destroy perfectly made silencers, it's a necessary step. Shoving the pieces into a generic plastic shopping bag, it goes back into the duffel along with my painter's hat and glasses. I pull some gel out of my bag and push a dollop through my hair, making the hat-flattened, non-descript hairstyle transform into a darker, slicked back look. Finally, the coveralls come off, revealing a clean pair of jeans and dark polo, nothing fancy.

The cleanup routine is fast, well-practiced and executed over many years, and without any haste to my steps, I casually step out of the restroom with my sunglasses in place and move to the boring, economy-style rental I left here in the middle of the night.

No one gives a second look at the blue car making its way out of the parking lot at a leisurely pace. No one slows to watch the guy stopping on the side of the road to pee, discreetly throwing a few gun pieces into the marshy ravine on the side of the highway. No one cares that a man just dropped a small bundle of clothes into a donation bin, unknowing that the coveralls in the group is drenched in bleach that's leaking from a Ziploc container placed in one of the pockets and cut with a small knife as it was pushed through the opening. No one pays any attention to the dude at the gas station vacuuming out the floor mats, or using the hose on the bottom of a pair of sneakers, ridding them both of any soil that would tie him to a specific geographical location and property twenty miles away.

The attendant at the budget rental car place gives 'John Miller' just a cursory glance, checking my mileage which is low, of course, so as to not add any extra fees or further discussion. He shakes my hand and takes the already wiped down keys out of my hands, not really thinking much of the cheap driving gloves I'm wearing as we are in the home of NASCAR after all. All the Joe Schmoes wear them in their souped up Chargers and broken down Camaros. I turn with a small wave and a thank you before he can make small talk, and head into the airport. Keeping the gloves on, I use the automated kiosk and check in, printing out my boarding pass and stopping at the newsstand to buy a paper, with cash, of course, and a cup of hopefully better coffee.

Settling into a seat to wait for my flight, I look like any other guy flying the friendly skies as I read my paper. And once we board, I quickly feign sleep, my head turned towards the window.

No one talks to a sleeping man, not even the flight attendants.

It has a certain loneliness, my life, but it comes with the territory. Let's not forget I am a hitman, after all.

And I'm fucking good at it.

Looking out at the rain streaking the windows from my office high above Seattle, my fingers trace patterns and race the drops that fall quickly in rivers. I've not had one raindrop beat me yet.

Emmett's prattling on behind me, talking about the job and how there's no chatter leading to any sort of theory or suspect. He says something about money in my account before moving on to how the Seahawks blew their chance at the Super Bowl. Which was two months ago, but he can't let it go.

"Emmett!" I bark, my voice bouncing off the glass and reverberating around my ears. He stops talking and I know he's staring at me, waiting for me to say whatever it is I felt the need to cut him off about. "You let Spike die." Turning to face him, he looks at me with his mouth open like an imbecile.

"Edward, it was a goldfish. That's what they do. It's their only purpose in life."

"I asked you for one thing, Emmett. One. Feed my goddamn fish."

"In Emmett's defense, he did," Rosalie pipes up from the sleek leather chair across the room. Her long legs are crossed elegantly in front of her, showing the smooth, milky skin that ends in a pair of very high, black heels.

As stunning as she is, she does zilch for me. This is a good thing, I suppose, as she is my sister-in-law. Plus, I hate her.

I say nothing, just turn back to the window and observe my reflection, seeing the snarl I've perfected on my face with a feeling of satisfaction that I look so menacing. "I did, Edward. You can look at the timecodes on your alarm. I was there, the stupid thing-" he shuts up quickly as I'm suddenly in his face, the snarl right there with me.

"He wasn't stupid." Emmett's eyebrows rise and he pushes me away from him. I stumble back slightly, but only because I allow it. Resting my butt on the windowsill, I concede that perhaps, fish die no matter what you do. A laugh bubbles up in my throat, coming out in a loud spurt of sudden, derisive sound at the irony of me keeping something alive.

"You need a girlfriend, Edward. Someone that doesn't poop in their own home," Rosalie adds with a snort.

It's easy to ignore her, and it's fun since she hates it. "Maybe that's exactly what I should've expected. Hell, I can't even keep plants alive. I suppose death is my gift." I challenge Emmett with a look to make fun of my Buffy reference. He wisely chooses not to.

Pushing off the railing, I pace in front of Emmett's desk, trailing a finger over the mega-calculator, the accounting books, the metal plate that bears his name followed by the title of CPA. To the world we're an unassuming accounting office, not too big, not too small; we don't deal with high profile Fortune 500 companies or extremely well-off clients. We ride the middle - strip mall laundromats, small time design firms, middle-class families. "So what's next? Where am I off to?"

I notice the silence, and see Emmett and Rosalie exchanging a glance. "What?"

"Edward, there's no one better at what you do."

"I know that," I snap.

"And you've been doing it a long time, no breaks. Which is great for our pockets…"

"But?" I totally sense a 'but'.

"Rosalie and I think you need a break." He says it really fast; like he's afraid I'm going to take offense to this. Which of course, I do.

"I don't need a fucking break, Emmett. I'm at the top of my game. There's no reason to stop as long as we have clients." I pause, suddenly anxious. "We do have clients, do we not?" I look between him and the blonde who actually is our company accountant, as she narrows her eyes at me.

"Of course we do, Edward. People don't stop wanting others dead, it's human nature and it's one we'll always be able to rely on."

"Then what's the problem?"

Emmett clears his throat and perches on the front of his desk, his big hands squeezing the wood. "We feel it's in the best interest of the business if you take a little rest, that's all."

"Have I screwed up? Gotten made? Left anyone alive that shouldn't be? No. The answer to all three of those questions and your request for a break is no. The business is fine as long as we're all doing our jobs."

"Oh hell Emmett, if you won't tell him I will. You're turning into an asshole, Edward. You need a fucking vacation."

My eyes widen and my hand covers my heart, feigning offense. "An asshole? Me? What in God's name would a vacation do for the best part of my personality?"

"Your 'personality' as you call it is one that has become unpleasant. I'm tired of you growling at me and biting Emmett's head off. You yelled at me just last week because we ran out of coffee."

"Well how can we run out of coffee? This is Seattle for Christ's sake. Walk four feet out the door and you've run into some dirty grunge hipster's shop playing World music and charging five dollars for a latte."

"That's not the point-"

"What about the business?" I rally back, sure their greedy pockets won't truly want any break they're proposing. I'm their only employee. It's not like I have a temp that can take over.

"We have something lined up for a month or so from now. It's a good one, easy, big pay. Won't take much prep work at all. And Rosalie and I deserve a vacation too." Rosalie smiles that disgusting smile she gives my brother when she's in the mood, and I know they're planning on defiling each other, probably somewhere like New Orleans amidst all its debauchery. They'll fit right in. "In the meantime, use this opportunity to relax. Learn how to golf or something."

"Nothing worse than resort wear." I shudder, picturing myself in plaid pants and a kelly green shirt. Sighing, I realize I'm probably not going to win this one, and they do deserve a break, they work almost as hard as I do. Besides, it's not like I can whip up a client on my own. "Fine. I'll take a month and read some books. Pick out a new fish. Name it Xander." I stare at Emmett pointedly.

"Ah, we think it's better for you if you went away."

"Why would I do that? Where would I go?"

"Anytime you're not in this office or not on a job, you lock yourself up in that dungeon and get even more dark and moody than you normally are. We really think it would do you some good to gain a new perspective. Have fun. Mix with people. Where would you like to go? Surely there's somewhere you've always wanted to see. Bali. Tokyo, Australia. Go hang out with some kangaroos."

My mind starts flashing images, thinking of all the places I've read about, all the landmarks and grand monuments. The Great Wall. The Eiffel Tower. Christ the Redeemer. Despite my apprehension to take a break, I start toying with the idea that I could do any of those things. I could take a vacation. It had never really occurred to me before to do anything but work. I shake my head, fighting the growing appeal.

"Edward, this isn't a request." Looking at my brother as he lays a heavy hand on my shoulder, I see in his eyes the care he has for me, the love despite the combative and prickly nature of what our relationship has grown into because of the way I've chosen to live.

He's worried about me. About the man I've let myself become because I didn't know what else I could be.

And he wants to boink Rosalie's brains out without having to think about work.

Conceding, exotic locations and once-in-a-lifetime thrills flit through my head, all the choices open to me. Money is no issue, and I have plenty of time. I can go anywhere, do anything. Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. Meditation in a Buddhist Temple. Hell, I've never been anywhere in the U.S., really, maybe I'll go to Dollywood.

All the way home and the rest of that evening, I ponder the choices, weighing the pros and cons of each. What place will boost my morale, which will further educate my already high IQ, and most importantly, where on Earth will people not annoy the living shit out of me.

Sipping a scotch and thumbing through the travel catalogues Rosalie gave me, I glance at my computer. I don't go online often, but there's one place I've frequented on Google Earth, one place I've convinced myself I'll never get to. I feel the idea growing and I hesitate, fighting it, but my mind surrenders and takes me to a less exotic place, a different attraction. One not as decadent or exclusive as a Wonder of the World, but intriguing nonetheless.

Looking around my apartment, I see it through Emmett's and Rosalie's eyes, the only people to have ever been here. It is depressing. Gun and mercenary magazines line the coffee table, dark curtains block out any light coming from the street, and the only pictures on the walls are generic prints of clarinets and saxophones from Bed Bath & Beyond that Rosalie chose hoping to add some 'fun' to the room. Maybe they're right; maybe I do need a life. A slow smile forms on my face, the idea of finally visiting a place I've longed for grows on me, albeit with a touch of apprehension. Maybe it's time.

Picking up the phone, I dial Emmett so Rosalie can make the arrangements. Before he can say hello, I bark out my command. "Key West. I want to go to Key West."

Hello everyone!

I'm very happy to be back and I hope you enjoy my new story.

First things first, you all must check out LayAtHomeMom's new story, "Kush". It is truly enjoyable, and I think you'll all fall in love with this Edward as much as I have. She posts on Thursday nights!

I couldn't have done this without her keen insight, her great sense of humor, and her invaluable suggestions. She worked hard on this as my faithful pre-reader while still writing her own.

Big thanks to Lolypop82 for another awesome banner. You were right, we always get it done. Big, blue thumbs up!

And of course, no story of mine is complete without the love and attention of my beta, CarrieZM. She constantly acts as support system and muse, and never ever fails me.

I appreciate the three of them so much, as well as the girls over at TLS for letting me use them to sneak this and present my banner this past Saturday.

And I appreciate you, dear readers, for wanting more of my words.

See you every Monday and Thursday, as per usual!

xoxo, PB