I stepped inside his mansion and immediately drew in a sharp breath. This mansion may not be the biggest, but it was beautiful.

The mahogany wood floors glistened under the light from the numerous crystal chandeliers lighting the foyer. A grand staircase was located at the end of the hall, with hallways on either side, no doubt leading to the kitchen and the dining room.

I may not live in a mansion anymore, but I still knew the basic layout of one. I had decided to downgrade to a modest living arrangement in Africa. Even though it wasn't that big, it was comfortable and close to the research facility, which were my two biggest requirements. I was hit by a sudden stab of homesickness, even though Africa wasn't my native home, it still felt like home after two years of complete isolation there.

I was too busy gawking at the luxury, that I didn't notice the rest of the people waiting near the door. They all looked at me with varying expressions.

Hale stepped in behind me and nudged me forward. I remembered enough of my mother to recall the manners she drilled into me at a young age. So I stepped forward and took another deep breath, about to introduce myself.

"Save it, we know who you are," a bored looking girl said, filing her nails. She was drop-dead gorgeous, to say the least. Her lustrous hair tumbled down her back in loose curls. Her full red lips formed a perfect pout as she examined a non-existent error in her perfectly manicured hands. "I'm Gabrielle."

"Simon," a nerdy looking guy with glasses stepped forward. He shyly raised his hand in an awkward wave and dropped it to his side.

"Nice to meet you both," I smiled, using my instinctive good graces.

A girl I didn't notice at first stepped out of the shadows. Her close cropped dark hair framed her face, bringing out her piercing sapphire eyes. She stepped forward, and everything about her screamed angry.

But, her anger wasn't directed toward me. Her gaze was fixed on the boy standing next to me.

"You actually brought her! You brought us a girl that we barely know and trust her not to go squealing at the first opportunity," the girl said quietly, but full of concentrated intensity.

Hale replied coldly, "The girl has a name, and I would appreciate you using it."

I was startled at his reaction. The way they handled each other reflected comfortable familiarity, but now they acted as if they were enemies. I assumed that they had a fight, and with a sinking feeling, I realized the topic had been me.

"We could have handled this job perfectly fine without her," she snarled.

I took a step back, stung by her brutal remark. I bumped into Hale, who moved to stand behind me.

"Kat, we both know that we need someone. Give me one reason why we can't use her," he demanded.

"Nick," the name was more of a whisper, "We also both know that we can use Nick."

Hale made a disgusted sound at the back of his throat. Obviously, they've had this argument before, many times.

Kat rolled her eyes and blew out a breath of exasperation. Without one look at me, she turned on her heel and retreated to the shadows, effortlessly blending in. I could tell she was a master thief. And one of the reasons my life fell apart.

"I've always been more of a dog person anyway," I muttered under my breath, not intending anyone to hear. But, with my luck, Hale heard me just fine, and gave me a sharp jab with his elbow. I glared at him and rubbed the sore spot on my side.

"Okay, a lot of tension here. I'm just gonna… you know…" Simon muttered, before trying to inconspicuously leave the room, and successfully tripping on his way out.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and started to follow, turning back to give me a little half-wave before stepping out.

"Nice people," I said to Hale.

Hale gave me a look and grabbed my suitcase. He started toward the grand staircase, but I stopped him and grabbed my bag from him.

"I can handle my own bag, thank you very much," I said, brushing past him.

"Still as stubborn as an ox," I heard him mutter as he trailed after me.

"Well, then that makes two of us," I tossed back over my shoulder.

"You don't even know where your room is," Hale informed me, as I stopped and glared at him.

"Then lead the way, dummy."

Hale grinned and walked past me, climbing up the stairs and turning to the right. He started down a long narrow hallway, carpeted by a thick, rich rug. Opening the second door on the left, he beckoned me in.

I stepped inside and gasped. The luxury of my hometown never ceased to amaze me after my two modest years.

My room was a good size, with a queen bed placed in the middle. A bright, happy fire blazed in the corner, throwing a warming light over the room. But the thing that drew my attention was the huge window. It took up an entire wall, and gave me an outstanding view of Hale's mansion's backyard. I placed my hand on the cool glass and looked outside, promising myself that I would go out first thing tomorrow morning.

"I knew you'd like the view," Hale said, casually leaning on the wall, "Marcus is on Line 1 if you need anything."

I nodded, not taking my gaze off of the splendor of the moonlit grounds.

I felt, rather than saw, Hale smile as he crept outside, closing the door soundlessly.

I stirred myself from the position in front of the window and started toward my suitcase, pulling my sweatshirt off in the process. I quickly changed into pajamas and climbed into bed. My eyes were closed before my head hit the pillow.


Darkness closed in on me, smothering me in a suffocating blanket. I couldn't breathe, couldn't move, couldn't think.

My eyes strained to see something, anything. I tried to ignore the panic closing in on me, clogging my throat and making it hard to breathe.

I tried moving my limbs, to find that they were pinned under a heavy, unmovable force.

I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. My breathing quickened, and I knew I was having a claustrophobia attack. I thought of wide open skies, an endless expanse of trees. Anything but the darkness closing in on me.

This is how my dad died, alone and scared.

Thinking of that only made my panic swell. It was getting harder and harder to get air into my strained lungs.

Suddenly, a harsh red light filled my vision. A loud siren penetrated the silence, overpowering the sound of my thumping heart.

At the edge of my vision, I saw a dark-clad figure retreating into the outer shadows. I called out for help, but the figure didn't even spare a glance in my direction before completely disappearing.

The cloak of darkness fully descended on me, blocking out the light and muffling the siren. I felt the life drain out of me, leaving my limbs limp and lifeless. I gave up the fight, and gave in to the dizzying blackness.

My eyes flew open. Gasping, I sat bolt upright, trying to get my bearings. I struggled to get out of my bed; my sheets were tangled around me. I only succeeded in hopelessly wrapping myself tighter. In my blind panic, I rolled right off the bed, and landed in a heap on the floor.

I wrenched the sheets off of me and scrambled to my feet, wrapping my arms around myself as I tried to block out the horrible memories of my dream.

I looked around the room, now cloaked with an unfamiliar darkness. The walls started to cave-in, getting closer and closer to me. My thumping heart was the only thing I heard as I stumbled toward the door and pulled it open.

I blindly ran through multiple corridors and ended up hopelessly lost. It didn't help that the narrow hallways reminded me of a maze, with no way out. I slumped against a wall and slid to the floor. I closed my eyes and tried to ward off the nausea. I've had claustrophobia attacks like this ever since my dad died, but none of them were as bad as this one.

My hand clenched at my sides as I squeezed my eyes shut. I tried to make my breathing even, just as an old shaman in one of the African tribes had shown me.

"Macey?" I heard a quiet voice ask, sounding concerned.

I lifted my head and opened my eyes. Hale came into focus in front of me. He knelt down so he could look me in the eye. I felt something break inside of me, probably my sanity.

"Get me out of here," I whispered, my voice barely loud enough to hear.

Hale looked at me for another moment before rising to his feet, pulling me up with him. He started off through the hallways at a brisk pace, and I stumbled to keep up. He looked back and grabbed my arm, helping me keep my balance.

Many twists and turns later, Hale opened a door and I felt the cool night breeze gently brush my face. I was overcome by an intense desire, and I pushed past him and onto the deck.

I gulped in the fresh air as the cold bit my cheeks. I gripped the back of a lawn chair to hold myself upright. Giving up, I slumped down into the chair and waited for the dizziness to go away. And gradually, it did.

Meanwhile, Hale had taken a seat next to me and waited for me to speak. I was grateful to him for giving me time to calm down before he bothered me about my freak out. I pulled my knees up and wrapped my arms around myself, trying to keep the horror of my dream in.

I couldn't help but wonder if the dream meant anything. I had a strange foreboding sense about it. And the figure skirting around the edge seemed familiar, in fact, he reminded me of one of the I.G.G men. They're trained to step lightly and surely, with utmost confidence. And the shadow cloaked man had done that very thing.

I shivered and huddled against the side of the chair, remembering my last encounter with the I.G.G.

"Cold?" Hale asked, not waiting for my answer before shrugging off his jacket and tossing it in my direction. I didn't even question the fact that he was fully dressed, although it had to be pretty late.

I barely caught it before it hit my face. I stuck my tongue out at him before slipping my arms into the sleeves. Immediately, warmth washed over me in a protective cocoon.

But, even the warmth of the jacket couldn't erase the memory of that horrible day.

The I.G.G was responsible for the death of my father. He was getting to close to discovering a cure to a certain type of cancer, and the I.G.G didn't want him to cure it. They would lose business from the millions of people who buy their panacea, or fake medicine.

So, they decided to pay him a 'visit' while he was at one of his many research stations. I was only 12 years old, but the memory is still etched clearly in my mind.

"Whatcha doing squirt?"

My dad's voice jarred me out of my stupor. I was so immersed in my novel that I hadn't heard him come in.

"Reading again huh? That's your mother's side, I don't think I can ever sit here and slog through The String Theory," he teased, absent mindedly looking at something on his lab chair.

"It's not The String Theory, Dad! It's Pride and Prejudice… I read The String Theory yesterday," I laughed at his goofy expression. My dad was a genius, to say the least, but he absolutely despised reading. He was one of those men who'd rather spend their days outdoors. My mom was a quiet woman who loved to read, and would tell me stories about Greek Mythology and Regency England. I really did miss her.

"Thank goodness you have some of me in ya! I always need a partner to go hiking with," Dad said as he slipped on his goggles. "Do you want to look at Fredrick?"

I giggled and snapped another pair of goggles on my head, abandoning my book on a chair. Fredrick was an amoeba that I discovered a couple days ago. He didn't do much, but I liked to watch him pull himself around.

I just turned the microscope on, when I heard the door bang open behind me. I gasped in shock and turned around. But, before I could see anything, Dad pushed me behind him and blocked my view.

"What do you want?" Dad's voice was cold and angry. I had never heard him sound like this, so I froze and pressed up closer against him. I grasped his lab coat with my hands, and tried to peer around him. I looked through the gap between his arm and his side.

Three guys in dark suits were standing in front of the wide open door, all standing straight and tall. Two guys were standing off to the side, creating a menacing presence. It didn't help that they had dark shades covering their eyes. The third man stood slightly in front of them, and I could tell that he was the real leader here. His posture was loose and relaxed, unlike his comrades, but everything about him screamed self-assured confidence. His eyes were a deep blue that studied the room with a calculating expression.

I gasped when his eyes landed on me, and drew back around my dad.

"Oh nothing, Mr. Highgrove. Just a reminder, and I clearly remember paying you a visit just two weeks ago. How's the cure coming along?" the man said casually. I felt my dad tense slightly at the mention of his top-secret work. How did these people know about it?

"That's none of your business, Mr. Wright," my dad's cold tone was a sharp contrast to the man's inviting one. But, I heard a subtle undertone of malice in the man, Mr. Wright's, tone.

"Oh, none of the formalities here, Charlie. Call me Samuel."

I peeked back out and looked closer at the man. In actuality, he wasn't even that irregular looking. He had dark hair cut in a military grade buzz cut, and I could barely make out a dagger sheath hanging on the belt of his slacks. Something told me that he had something to do with the military.

"And we wouldn't want anything… unfortunate to happen to your little daughter over there," Samuel said smugly, knowing that he had hit a weak point.

Dad tensed all the way and put his arms behind him, shielding me in a protective cage.

"There's absolutely no way in hell that you're going to lay a finger on my daughter!" Dad roared as he menacingly stared Samuel down. I cringed and backed away, my eyes wide in fear. I've never seen Dad raise his voice, at anyone.

Faster than I could think, one of the Sunglasses Men, as I now thought of them, grabbed my dad and locked both of his arms behind him. The other one grabbed my arm and pulled me into him, clamping a hand over my mouth.

I screamed as loud as I possibly could, but it was muffled through the man's hand. He twisted my arm roughly, effectively cutting my scream short. I screwed my eyes shut as white hot pain flashed through me, ebbing only when Sunglasses Man slightly loosened his grip.

I cracked my eyes open and saw my father punch the guard right in the face and start toward the guy holding me. Before he reached me, the man pulled out a knife and pressed it under my chin.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Samuel clucked his tongue disapprovingly, as Dad immediately froze. His eyes were wide and I saw a flash of fear pass through them. My heart thudded loudly in my chest, I had NEVER seen my dad scared, he wasn't scared of anything.

"Come back here and let's have a civilized conversation," Samuel said, not looking fazed at all. "I don't have any quarrel with her."

Dad backed slowly away, and returned to the table. Samuel spoke in a quiet tone to my dad, so I couldn't make out what they were saying.

I clutched the man's arm that was holding the knife and tried to pry it away, but he had the strength of an ox. I tried to crane my neck and get a look at his face, it was absolutely expressionless. How could he stand to threaten a 12 year old girl and her father? We're all each other had left!

I looked back to my father in time to see him nod submissively. He quickly looked back at me, before leaving the room. I caught my breath and tried not to cry. I didn't want my father out of my sight.

Samuel crossed the room with slow leisurely steps, slowly nearing me. I tried to back away, my eyes wide with fright.

"I'm not going to hurt you," Samuel said, noting my terror.

I swallowed my terror and glared back defiantly at him. There's no way that he's going to see me be weak.

Samuel took my chin in his hands and forced me to look at his face.

"Macey Highgrove, right?"

I jerked my chin out of his grasp, refusing to talk to him.

"Feisty little one, aren't you?" he asked, sounding unconcerned. He got to his feet just as my dad re-entered the room.

Dad handed Samuel a file and a flash drive. Samuel turned to my captor and waved his hand. Immediately, he released his hold on me and I stumbled away from him, making sure to step on his foot.

I ran to my dad. I flew into his open arms. I felt his warm, strong arms wrap tightly around me for a moment before he let go and kneeled down. He looked up at me for a moment before reaching up and lightly stroking my face.

"You have your mother's eyes squirt," he murmured.

I gulped.

"Okay, Macey, I want you to listen to me very carefully, okay?"

I nodded, unable to say anymore. He sounded suspiciously like he was saying goodbye.

"As soon as I get up, I want you to run out of here okay? I'll be right behind you. But, whatever you do, DO NOT stop, okay?" Dad said in a hushed, hurried whisper.

My breathing quickened but I nodded.

"I love you, squirt. Don't ever forget that."

"I love you too, Dad."

He kissed my forehead softly, before rising to his feet. I turned around and saw Samuel watching us with an amused expression.

I felt Dad slightly push me from behind and I knew that I had to go. I flew straight toward the door, shooting straight between the two guards. I heard footsteps behind me and I knew that Dad was right there.

I opened the door and started to run again, but I realized that I didn't hear my dad behind me anymore. I turned around and saw him fighting with the guards, holding them back. And giving me time to escape.

"Dad!"

He punched a guard and yelled, "Get out of here, Mace! GO NOW!"

I turned and fled, feeling my heart cave in on itself. I ran and ran and ran, into the woods.

Finally I stopped and doubled over, gasping for breath. I climbed a tree and waited in the highest branch. I wouldn't go anywhere until my father found me. I could see the research facility from my perch.

I didn't believe he was dead.

Not even when I saw the smoke.

Not even when the Sunglasses Men ran out, with Samuel Wright.

Not even when the facility caved in on itself.

Not even when the police found me, still clinging to the tree and looking at the collapsed building.

I couldn't grasp that I was never going to see my father again.


Hey guys! Sorry it's been a while since I updated, but I've been really busy lately. And its summer, so what's up with that? Anyway, let me know what you think!

-Courtney(: