Chapter 1

Elle Driver's long blonde hair streamed out behind her as her 1980 Pontiac Trans-Am roared down the long road into San Juan, Puerto Rico.

She looked immaculate despite the oppressive heat in designer jeans, a crisp black blouse, black boots and dark Gucci shades.

She slowed down as she entered the city limits, the sea air refreshing as she got closer to the coast. The sun was setting over the sprawling metropolis. She barely noticed the old fashioned buildings and classical charm as she sped by... too busy trying to remember where she was going.

Her tyres squealed as the pulled up in front of the large, elegant apartment building that was her boss's main residence. Though Bill had other residences… one in New York, one in Los Angeles and one in Okinawa, Japan… he lived and spent most of his time in San Juan.

She guessed his preference for South Amercia was due to the fact he'd grown up in Acuna, Mexico. As for her she didn't really have a preference. Particularly not for California… where she had grown up. An alcoholic mother and abusive father hadn't exactly made for a happy childhood.

After killing the engine she jumped out of the car, strolled to up the door and pushed the button for the the Penthouse that took up the whole of the top floor. It rung several times before she heard the crackly sound of someone pressing the intercom.

"Hello?" said an indistinct masculine voice. "Bill?" she asked, taking off her shades and button them in her pocket. "Wrong brother Elle darling" said the voice amusedly. "Budd" she said with a grin. "The one and only…" he said, "Letting you up now…" he said. A second later the buzzer went and she was able to go in.

When she got to the top floor she found that the whole gang had beat her there.

O-Ren Ishii, the half Chinese half Japanese/American who at 25 was already one of the deadliest women in the world (and probably the deadliest with a samurai sword) was lounging in a chair by the window, sipping sake.

In the chair opposite O-Ren… glass of red wine in her hand… was Vernita Green. She was pretty, with long black hair in dreadlocks and dark skin. She used to be a parole officer in Pasadena. Now she was an assassin… one of the best Elle had ever seen with an edged weapon. Not that Elle would ever tell her that of course.

Then there was Budd… Bill's little brother… lounging against a wall, beer in hand. He grinned when he saw her and walked over to greet her with a kiss. O-Ren rolled her eyes good-naturedly and Vernita wolf-whistled as they broke apart. She'd been seeing Budd for over a year now so she would have thought they'd have had plenty of time to get used to the idea.

"Elle you've got a Budd on your face" O-Ren quipped. "Oh don't worry it's gone now" she finished… to general amusement. Vernita chuckled and Elle and Budd exchanged smiles.

Elle looked around the room. The four of them… Elle, O-Ren, Vernita and Budd made up the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. They travelled all around the world… killing people and were paid vast sums of money for it. O-Ren was Cottonmouth, Vernita was Copperhead, Budd was Sidewinder and Elle was California Mountain Snake. And Bill… he was Snake Charmer. He was also… absent… she noted with a frown as she took another look around the room.

"Where's Bill?" she asked as her and Budd took a seat on the large, comfy couch. "No idea..." Budd with a shrug. "He did he'd say he might be a bit late. That he had some business to take care of" he said casually, leaning back and draping his arm along the back of the couch.

She couldn't help thinking that although Budd didn't have the charisma, skill or air of refinement his older brother had... he was better looking... and had a certain roguish charm of his own. He always made her laugh.

The only fly in the ointment was that she more than suspected he was in love with her... and she didn't feel the same way about him. She cared about him certainly... and she found him attractive...but she didn't love him. Still... she was happy with what they had.

The door opening jolted her out of her reverie. It was Bill... and he wasn't alone. On his arm was a tall, slender, blonde about the same age as O-Ren. She was wearing a light-blue shirt the colour of her eyes, skinny-leg blue jeans, a leather jacket and cowboy boots. She was gorgeous... so much so that Elle couldn't help but stare at her for a moment. Budd gave her a curious look and she quickly looked away.

She could see Vernita and O-Ren exchange knowing looks. Clearly they thought this was his latest girlfriend. Seeing the way the blonde looked at Bill she was inclined to agree with them.

"Everyone" said Bill, sliding his arm around the newcomer... "This is newest member of the Deadly Vipers. Beatrix Kiddo."

There was silence for a moment. Everyone had expressions of surprise on their faces. Surely this sweet looking blonde girl wasn't an assassin? Then again... O-Ren was petite... and seemed sweet... until you made her mad. Then you'd better watch out! And no-one looking at Vernita would guess the woman was deadly with a blade. So maybe this girl... woman... was more than she appeared.

O-Ren stood up. "Welcome to the squad" she said warmly. "Fancy some sake?" she asked as Beatrix smiled. "I'd love some. I spent three years in Japan studying the art of the samurai sword... and I really got a taste for it" she said brightly. O-Ren grinned and beckoned her over to her table. The two of them started chatting away in Japanese as O-Ren poured her some sake.

Vernita smiled at the two of them chattering and went to talk to Bill. Soon they were drinking beer, deep in discussion about a recent job Vernita had done. From what Vernita had told Elle it had been successful... but there had been a few complications.

Budd started to tell her about a film he thought the two of them should go see... his hand stroking her arm as he talked. She listened without real interest, making the appropriate comments in the appropriate places. Suddenly she got a sense of eyes on her.

She looked up. Beatrix was looking at her. Looking at her in a way she was used to men looking at her. Elle winked slowly at her and she quickly looked away, turning her attention back to O-Ren. Elle smiled to herself as Budd continued to chatter away, blithely unaware of the exchange between his girlfriend and his brother's new squeeze.

Elle couldn't help wondering if Bill knew his new protégé was interested in women. It was rather flattering... having a beautiful and considerably younger woman look at her like that. Such a shame Beatrix was with her boss... and she was with his brother.