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Rogue Agent - Prologue
PROLOGUE

The relative quiet of the dim parking garage was a jarring contrast to the fight going on outside. Baroness wasn't quite sure whether the buzzing she heard was a result of the fluorescent lights overhead or just her ears trying to adjust. It was disorienting, but she didn't dare lower her weapon even for a second. She saw Bennett enter through the upper level; if they went for a car, they couldn't escape without going past her. Her eyes darted around the space as she quietly moved deeper into the garage, looking for any stairs or access points.

As the buzzing started to subside, Baroness also trained her ears to listen for any soft footsteps that might reveal where Bennett had gone. He was a good spy, she had to admit, but he'd gotten sloppy. He'd made some mistakes leading up to this point, so it wasn't unreasonable to hope that he'd clunk around in his expensive dress shoes while she very quietly slipped about in her soft-soled flats.

They should have made it to a car by now if they were going to run, she thought. Where were they?

After clearing the ground level, she stuck to the shadows, working her way up the ramp to the second, straining to hear anything that might help. There was a slow patter of water dripping down a storm pipe, the distant blare of an angry car horn elsewhere in the city. And then, as she rounded a support column, the sound of wet dirt being ground into the concrete came from the darkness.

It seemed like an eternity before the steel barrel glinted in the meager light.

"So it's come to this, then."

"So it has."

She wavered, if only for a second, as the memories of the past three years came crashing into her mind. The late night conversations. Their first real meeting at the airport. The adventures at RivalCon and defeating the agents of Arachnos. The friendly arguments about language and customs and how to make a proper cup of tea. All the tiny moments that most people took for granted that made up the essence of what a relationship comes to be. She had come to trust him completely.

And everything had come to this moment.

Baroness felt ill as she steadied her gun, praying that she hadn't miscounted the shots. One mistake now would be fatal. Her target stood ten feet away, breathing heavily as he held his own weapon on her. Neither said anything, but she could tell by the look in his eyes that his racing thoughts were mirroring her own.

"For what it's worth," her voice came out softly, "I'm sorry. I never wanted it to end like this."

Slowly, hesitantly, she drew a shaky breath and looked at her friend one last time before she closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.

She gasped when she heard the click of dry fire.

Her eyes fluttered open, deep blue pools shimmering under heavy tears. "Hax..."

Across from her, Hax's hand trembled slightly as he thumbed the safety off.

Baroness choked back a sob as she dropped her empty weapon. They stared at each other for a moment more. Off in the distance, they could hear shouting as the rest of the fight got closer.

Hax swallowed hard as he realised he was running out of time.

This was a nightmare. One of the few lights in the dark garage shone down on her like a spotlight, setting off the deep chestnut hair against the light tan of her flared trench coat. Perhaps it was the gravity of the moment, as Hax didn't normally notice such things, but as she stood there completely at his mercy, he couldn't help but think she looked like a delicate little doll.

"Don't you have anything to say to me?" her voice broke into his thoughts.

"I..." he choked, barely recognizing his own voice. Looks can be deceiving, he thought as he braced himself.

He cleared his throat and looked at her once more. "I'm sorry, too."

Hax shifted his aim slightly and pumped three rounds of lead into her chest.

She looked surprised as she staggered back from the force of the blasts, her legs buckling as she collapsed to the floor.

"'Bout bloody time," sneered Parker Bennett's voice from the shadows as Hax watched the red blood stains emerging from the holes in Baroness's coat. "I was starting to think you didn't have it in you."

"Oh, fuck off." Hax was already beside her, secretly pulling a small knife from his trouser pocket as he dropped down next to the still body. Gently, he slipped the hand underneath her and stabbed into her back as he scooped her off the floor. Blood gushed from the rip and seeped through his fingers as he shifted his hold, resting her head protectively against his shoulder as Bennett approached.

She was so still.

He was starting to feel a little queasy when he felt her suddenly take a sharp breath and start to tremble from the shock.

Bennett stopped about three paces away; Hax could feel his stare penetrating the back of his head, but he refused to look at the other man. He pressed harder on the back of Baroness's ripped coat, trying not to vomit as he felt the warm, sticky ooze coating his fingers. Apart from an occasional gasp, he could barely feel her breathing.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

"It would have been more humane to put her one in the temple," Bennett critiqued as he tapped a cigarette from its pack. "Ah, well. The bitch'll bleed out in a minute or two; enjoy your last calculus discussion or whatever it was you really talked about. Best I go try to 'apprehend her assailant' before the cavalry arrives. Oh, and Haxor..." he called over his shoulder as he sauntered off, "welcome to the club."

*****
Jen McCafferty started writing the adventures of RCM as a joke in 2014 - a joke which snowballed into an entire story universe and some real-life RCM innovations. Rogue Agent is the third book in the series.

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