Okay, so I've been planning this for a while now and I was gonna wait until after the new year to start posting it, but I just can't wait anymore. I'm that excited about it, heh heh.

So this is totally AU, meant to be a sort of action/romance story, and also will NOT include any new characters from HoO. I'm keeping it strictly PJO. The gods will be in it, but they're not *gods* exactly. All you need to know diving in is in the summary, and the T rating is for language, violence, and some adult content.

(And for any of you reading my story Blood and Sand, don't worry, this doesn't mean I'm gonna update that any less frequently. I'm already done writing it, remember? Haha. It should still be all posted by Christmas)

DISCLAIMER: Of course I don't own this series. If I did, I wouldn't be working a desk job in Pittsburgh, that's for damn sure.

Prologue time? Prologue time.

Sometimes I feel like everybody's got a problem / Sometimes I feel like nobody wants to solve them

Annabeth Chase was not a romantic.

At twenty-three years old, she could count the number of real dates she'd been on with only one hand. She hated movie theaters, expensive restaurants, and dimly-lit coffee shops. She loved the beach, but would rather drown than walk hand-in-hand along the shoreline with someone at sunset. She despised romance novels and terms of endearment of any kind. She believed in love, sure—but she also believed in hard work, that a person had to fight for anything of value in life. And it wasn't love that helped someone get what she needed—a job, food, a place to live. No, Annabeth was a realist. A romantic, she was not.

But when her job called for it, she could appear convincingly otherwise.

"Ready to go?" her date asked as he dragged the pen across the signature line at the foot of their dinner bill. The arrogant flourish his left hand made as he crossed the t in his last name made her skin crawl, but she hid it expertly behind a soft-eyed smile.

"Yes, I think so," Annabeth answered, setting her napkin on the table beside her dessert plate and lifting her black satin clutch from its place near her wine glass. As her date handed the check holder to their waiter, who offered a bow and a formal greeting of thanks, she studied him carefully from across the table.

Colin Montgomery, that was his name. And everyone in the greater Los Angeles area knew it. He was in his early thirties and had thin, calculating eyes and a condescending smile that seemed to suggest he was busy wondering how much more money he had in his bank account than the person he was talking to. His pale blond hair was a fine complement to his chocolate skin and somehow matched the color of his silken suit to a shade, which Annabeth found odd. Undoubtedly, he had had it tailored specifically for such purpose. She glanced at the black fabric rose pinned to the right lapel of his jacket and fought the urge to roll her eyes. Talk about tacky.

"In that case," Colin addressed her in his flashy English accent once the waiter had strode away, "allow me to take you to your hotel. It's the least I can do after such a lovely night."

"Thank you," Annabeth replied with a convincing smile as they both rose from the table. "That would be nice of you. I'd been planning to call a taxi."

"I couldn't let you do that. The taxi service in this city isn't exactly what one would call reliable." He chuckled, his voice a low rumble, and placed a hand lightly on the small of Annabeth's back as he led her to the restaurant door. The host nodded to them and bid them goodnight as he hurried to hold the door open, and Annabeth had to tighten her shawl around her shoulders to shield her bare arms from the chilly October night wind.

Colin's driver was waiting for them by the curb, and once they'd both climbed into the back of the limousine he asked her, "What address?"

"Actually," she replied, "why don't we first go back to your place? I've never visited a penthouse apartment before, and I'd love a tour." She gave him a smile that fell into the tiny split between sweet and seductive and crossed one leg over the other, allowing the hem of her dress to slide a few inches above her knee. His dark, narrow eyes flitted toward her legs and the corner of his mouth twitched upward, and she silently applauded her practiced judge of character.

"A tour it is, then," Colin agreed with a small smirk. He knocked twice on the front window behind him and held up two fingers, and the driver took off down the city street.

The drive to Colin's apartment building seemed to go by quickly, thanks to the adrenaline rushing in Annabeth's veins, and in no time they had pulled into a side driveway and the driver had killed the engine. They met no other people on the way through Colin's private entrance and up to the lower of the top two floors, both of which were occupied by his lavish penthouse apartment.

"So," he said casually as he closed and locked the door behind them, "where would you like to start? I have an impressive wine collection in the pantry behind the kitchen, if I do say so myself."

Annabeth shrugged off her shawl and draped it over the back of a nearby chair before pulling the pin from her hair and allowing it to fall in loose blond curls over her left shoulder. "Why don't we head upstairs?" she suggested evenly. She placed a hand on her hip and used the other to tug at one of the straps of her dress, giving Colin her best sultry smile. "You look like a smart man," she added teasingly. "You don't need me to spell it out for you, do you?"

He gave a light laugh, eyes twinkling. "Follow me," he said, extending a hand toward the stairs as he led the way.

The master bedroom was just as fine and expensive-looking as the remainder of the penthouse, but Annabeth didn't pay it much mind. In her line of work, she couldn't allow herself to be distracted by things like fancy furniture and rich décor. She had to remain alert, but without appearing to be so. It wasn't exactly easy, but she was used to it.

"Bathroom?" she asked, glancing around the room and pretending that she hadn't already noticed where it was. Colin pointed toward a door along the left wall of the bedroom, and Annabeth headed toward it. "Wait here," she told him with a playful grin. "I won't be long." She turned away, aware of his hungry eyes on her back as she moved. She smirked in satisfaction before snapping the bathroom door closed behind her.

She turned both knobs on the sink and water splashed from the faucet, creating a suitable mask of sound. After taking a brief second to glance at her reflection and scowl (she'd never been one for elaborate makeup and complicated hairstyles, but work was work), she reached into her clutch and extracted a pair of black satin gloves, which she pulled on over her hands. She then lifted the skirt of her dress and took the nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol and suppressor from their holster strapped around her upper thigh. She shot a look at the door as she snapped the suppressor into place against the barrel and cocked the gun, sliding a bullet into the firing chamber. With a passive expression she reached out and turned off the sink, then reached for the doorknob, gun hanging at her side.

Colin Montgomery was seated on the bed. He'd already removed his jacket, tie, and shoes and had begun unbuttoning his shirt when Annabeth strode casually out of the bathroom.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said sweetly as he looked up at her. "But I think you've got the wrong idea about where this evening is going." With a cold smile, she raised her gun, gripping it in both hands, and barely had time to enjoy the look of shock and terror on her target's face before the bullet wedged itself between his eyebrows and he fell backward onto his expensive silk bedsheets.

Adrenaline finally fading, Annabeth leaned over the bed and observed the blank look in the man's eyes, which were fixed on the ceiling but not seeing it. She removed the suppressor from the barrel of her gun and replaced it in the holster on her leg before fitting the gun loosely into Colin's limp fingers (she was sure to use his left hand, remembering from the restaurant that he was left-handed). She leaned backward and tilted her head to the side, observing the scene, and made one final adjustment to the angle of the dead man's arm before turning away casually and collecting her things.

She left the apartment without another look back.

Just a taste for now, like prologues are meant to be. Anybody recognize the description of the target? Christmas cookies if you can get it before I reveal it next chapter :)

So how 'bout a review to let me know if you're interested? Trust me, this thing's gonna be a blast.

Later days!