From the age of ten, she knew that she was different than all the other kids

she knew. But of course, she’s known since before she was ten, but now, she felt it more than ever. Some could say that it was just a gut feeling, but she knew it was more than that Listening to the sound of nature around her, Jessamine lay on her back in the carpet of velvet grass that covered the whole of her father’s estate. Well, it was hers now because her parents had been mysteriously killed in a freak train accident along with almost a hundred other people after she was born. The caretaker of the mansion she lived in was a friendly and fatherly man who was as close to a father as she could possibly imagine. Her uncle lived with them too, and the two of them were very close, most possibly because of their affection for each other. He was, after all, her father’s brother. And despite that he was fifteen or so years older than she was, he was more like an older brother to her than anything else. Her long golden hair pillowed her head as she turned her sunbronzed face to the sun, her deep sapphire-blue eyes searching the puffy cotton clouds that drifted slowly across the sky. One of her legs were propped up to form a triangle with her other leg which was still limp on the grass. She wore a dark grey halter top, its bottom coming only up far enough to show that her middle was well toned, both in the suntan and muscled way. In fact, Jessamine was the figure of a perfect athlete, though she didn’t play sports. It was just her training in martial arts that gave those that saw her this impression. She had been a black belt at twelve and was working her way up to becoming a master at fifteen. Her eyes closed as the sun warmed up her skin. And then she heard footsteps approaching from above her head. They sounded familiar. She listened for a few more seconds and with a smile, she relaxed as she recognized those footsteps. “Daniel,” she murmured as soon as he was close enough to hear her. She opened her eyes and smiled into the eyes of her uncle. He returned her smile with a look of consternation. “When did you get so good at recognizing footsteps?” he asked her, losing the look after a moment and returning her smile. He eased himself down onto the grass next to her. Jessamine sat up, brushing bits of grass off of her back. “Well, when living around an empty old mansion that creaks with every step you take, it’s good to know when the sound behind you is a footstep, not a creak,” she pointed out. “And besides, you taught me. We used to play games, remember?” He smiled and let Jessamine lean against him. He put an arm around the sun-warmed shoulder of his niece. “Of course,” he replied. Daniel Hastings was an agent for a contracting company and he was seldom home to spend any time with his niece. But when they did have

time, the both of them savored it because it would probably be another month or so before they could have another one of these moments. Jessamine was home-schooled by Logan the caretaker, who apparently used to be a college professor before he retired to work for the Hastings’ family, so she was always home and had lots of free time when Logan allowed it. “Let’s go out for lunch. I feel like spending the day today at the pier,” Daniel suggested. He looked down at his niece and saw that she was half-dozing against his shoulder and gave her a little shake. Her eyes flickered opened and she blinked to clear the fog in her mind. “Yeah, sure,” she replied, without knowing what she was saying at first. Then she blinked again. “Wait, what?” Daniel laughed. This was just like Jessamine. When she was little, he used to call her Kitten because when she dozed, it was usually in the sun and that’s how he got her to take most of her naps when she was younger. “I said that we should go out for lunch. It’s a nice day today and we should probably spend it outside on the pier,” he repeated. “Only if you want to,” he added, seeing the expression on her face. Jessamine blinked for a moment. “Surfing?” she asked, getting up. He followed her example with a smile. She smiled. “I get to drive,” she told him before racing off across the grass with her bare feet. To Daniel, she looked like as if she was flying across the grass rather than running because she moved so fast. Her feet seemed to be barely touching the grass as she ran. Then, in a moment, she was gone. Shaking his head, he followed her inside. No one could have probably knew what Jessamine meant by “I get to drive” until they had seen the vehicle they were driving. In fact, it wasn’t even a land vehicle, but rather, it was a boat. The Hastings family has owned a rather large island for generations, in fact, they’ve owned it ever since the colonial periods. Now, the island was currently in United States control but the Hastings have always been loyal enough to the Americans that they were left well alone save for the occasional Marine that turned up for refuge on their way back from a mission. Of course, the Hastings would never know that it was a Marine, only that he was a man in need. They were, after all, a good people. And the United States were grateful to their loyalty because their large island served as a good refuge and shelter for the men they sent out. But in all Jessamine’s life in the mansion, she had never met one Marine yet, though her father and his brother had. Daniel Hastings knew about how the United States regarded their island and he was fine with it – just as long as the occasional visits didn’t disrupt things at the house. “Hey, easy on the throttle!” he called out to Jessamine. He always grew nervous when Jessamine

drove the boat – she liked to go fast, and he had made a mistake of buying her a speedboat for her birthday after making her promise that they would both share it as transport from and to the mainland. Jessamine, as usual, pretended not to hear. Instead, she leaned back on the seat and propped her still-bare feet onto the wheel. “Show off,” Daniel muttered. Suddenly, Jessamine sat up and pulled the wheel the left so suddenly that Daniel was almost thrown out of his chair. “What?” he asked, sitting up. She reached out and pulled the throttle back until the boat slowed in the water. Gently, she maneuvered the boat around until it was next to something that only she could see. Then she stopped the engine. “There’s something down there, I think it’s a person,” she commented, leaning over the side. Then without hesitation, she pulled her halter top off over her head, revealing a black bikini top and dove into the water. “Jess-” Daniel began but then sighed as he was too late. The boat rocked gently from when Jessamine had dove into the water but even before it had stopped rocking, she was back again and she was dragging something. “Here, help me, I was right, it was a person,” she gasped. Daniel reached over the side and helped Jessamine pull the body onto the boat. She climbed into the boat after the body and they both bent over the young man. “Not breathing,” Daniel murmured, holding his hand over the man’s nose and mouth. Jessamine watched curiously as Daniel ran his hands down the man’s torso. He lifted his hands away and the palms came up with something red smeared on it. “Blood,” Daniel confirmed. “Hand me the knife from the first aid box.” Jessamine did as he was told but she wondered – how did Daniel know so much about medical things? How did he know to check the man’s body for injuries before trying to make him breathe? He was just a contractor….wasn’t he? “Jessamine, the knife,” Daniel called out. Jessamine realized she had paused as she had thought about this for a moment and her hand reached out to grab the knife. She handed it back to Daniel who took it from her and promptly began to cut open the young man’s shirt. “Jessamine,” Daniel said as he worked. “Go to his head and check for his pulse by touching the place on the neck where I showed you once.” She did as she was told. “He’s still got a pulse,” she told him after a moment. He nodded. “Good,” he said through gritted teeth as he gave up cutting the sturdy material that made up the man’s shirt and began to rip it apart with his hands. The cloth at first didn’t surrender but with a squeaking sound, it ripped the rest of the way down. Jessamine admired the young man’s flawless but muscular chest as her uncle began to pound on it to try to get him to spit the water out through a shock of pain, but apparently it wasn’t working. “Get on his

stomach and whack between his shoulders?” she suggested. Her uncle stopped and looked at her and she just shrugged. “I just saw it on a cartoon show.” He laughed. “You watch too much television,” he pointed out and got to his feet. He took hold of the man’s waist. “Steady his head and make sure it doesn’t hit anything.” Jessamine nodded and steadied the young man’s head as her uncle flipped him over onto his stomach. Without stopping even once from flipping the man, he stepped over and promptly whacked the young man hard between the shoulder blades. Water spewed from the young man’s mouth and nose as he did so and he rolled away from Jessamine onto his side, coughing hard. After his coughing died down, Jessamine scooted forward on her knees until she was behind the young man. She reached out and gently touched the young man on the shoulder. “Are you all right?” He rolled back onto his back and his head ended up in her lap. She looked down into his eyes and found that they were a soft green. As her eyes met his, she felt her heart melt twice over. He was handsome, that was for sure. “I will be in a moment,” he whispered hoarsely. Daniel cleared his throat and Jessamine looked up with a smile. “I guess that we won’t be surfing today after all,” she commented. Daniel smiled, knowing what she meant. They couldn’t possibly to into town now, especially with this man in tow. He was injured and he probably would get hurt again if he came anyway so their only choice was to go back to the mansion, since it was the closest inhabited island. “Jessamine, take the wheel. I’ll tend to his injuries.” Almost reluctantly, she grabbed over her disposed halter top and wadded it up with the ruined shirt and put it under the young man’s head to serve as a temporary pillow. She got back into the driver seat and started up the engine of the speedboat again. “Not too fast, we have a passenger on board. Wouldn’t want him sliding off the back,” Daniel called up, almost shouting to make himself heard. Jessamine returned his command with a thumb up and turned the boat back towards the direction of the mansion and it sped off. As soon as he made sure that the engine was too loud for Jessamine to hear anything, the young man sat up a little. “Daniel, good timing,” the young man whispered, pulling Daniel’s head down so he could hear. “And who is that?” “My niece,” Daniel replied. “Lie down, Jacobs!” he pushed the younger man back down onto the deck of the boat. He pulled over the medical kit he always kept on the speedboat and picked out the bandages and the needle and thread, just in case. “And I really didn’t expect to see you here. I thought you were on recon.” Ian Jacobs was Daniel’s coworker. Their conversations never made sense to anyone, unless you knew exactly what they were talking about. In this case, no one probably would. “Got dropped off a little

early on the way to Jamaica,” he said wryly in reply to Daniel’s unspoken question. Unnoticed by the two men, Jessamine was slowly easing the speedboat into a faster speed. She was impatient to get back to the mansion as she saw the waves rising higher and higher. At this time of day, the mansion island had pretty good waves for surfing. Though not as good as the ones at a beach, it would serve as a replacement for the original surfing and snorkeling trip she had been planning. They eventually reached the mansion and Logan was there at the dock waiting for them. Or rather it looked like it, but he had actually been out for a stroll in the sun and a breath of fresh air and had seen them coming in. “Welcome back,” he greeted the two of them, a slightly puzzled look on his face. His puzzled look became even more solid as he saw the third person climb gracefully out of the boat, despite his injuries that Daniel had to put stitches to. But Logan wasn’t one who asked a lot of questions and from serving the Hastings, he knew that it wasn’t a good idea to ask too many questions – you might get an answer you wouldn’t like. As soon as Jessamine’s bare feet had touched the sun-warmed planks of the dock, she had no sooner been on it for more than ten seconds when there was a splash. The two men, who’d had their backs turned, whirled around with alarm but then seeing the younger girl’s tan back racing away from them in the water, they relaxed. Logan, older than all of them, only shook his head and proceeded to climb into the boat to pick up any stray things that they had left behind. For the first time that day, Daniel turned to examine his younger friend. The young man, who was about eighteen or nineteen, seemed to be happier and warmer than usual. Daniel guessed that it must have been his encounter with his attractive niece, especially since her face was the first that he had seen when he had finally come to. But then all men that had seen Jessamine’s attractive face and figure had fallen half in love with her the moment they set eyes on her. “I’ll leave you here. I have some business to attend to first – you know, the usual; people to call, reports to be sent,” Daniel told him. Ian nodded and as Daniel left for the mansion after the caretaker, Ian lowered himself gingerly onto the edge of the dock, allowing his feet to dangle off. His jeans were already drying in the tropical sun and it warmed his skin. Quite unexpectedly, a slender hand reached out of the water in a fist followed by a pair of bronze shoulders and the smiling face of Jessamine. As she bobbed on the surface of the water, she pushed the water out of her face and smoothed her hair out with one hand. Then she opened her fist and showed him what she held in her fist. It was a piece of limestone that was shaped like a disk but it was kind of twisted on the top where it formed a loop where a piece of

string or a chain could be passed through it to form a necklace. Taking a closer look at it, Ian realized the center had a stone that was colored an odd blue. It must have been there when the limestone piece was forming and probably had broken off with the piece too. “Take it,” Jessamine insisted, opening one of his hands and placing the piece inside it. She closed his hand around it and before he could refuse, she was gone again. Ian counted the seconds from when she disappeared into the water and after three or so minutes, he was getting a little worried and considered going in after her but then there was a stream of bubbles off to his left and she came up coughing and choking, almost sinking back into the water again in the process had Ian not reached out and pulled her up onto the dock. “What happened?” he asked, tucking the limestone piece safely into a pocket. “My foot….got caught….on….” she managed before she coughed some more. After she caught her breath, she swallowed and started again. “My foot got caught on something. Well, at least I thought that’s what it was but it dragged me down first and then I got stuck.” Ian was suddenly aware of what she said. “What did the thing dragging you down feel like?” he asked, half standing up. “Hands, maybe? But there isn’t anyone out here but us.” He shook his head. She was wrong. There was someone here, but they were after him. But she was still oblivious as to what his real profession – and her uncle’s real profession – was and he had to get her somewhere safe. “Listen, someone’s after me –” he started but then she snorted. “I can see why.” He actually flushed. “No, not because of anything I did, mostly because of my job,” he told her. She looked at him curiously and he realized then that they hadn’t been introduced and she had no idea who he really was and that he actually worked with her uncle. But she couldn’t know that. “What is your job?” He had to make something up quick. “Uh, let’s talk about this inside. I feel we’ll be safer there,” he suggested, helping her to her feet. Under his hands, he could feel that she was reluctant to leave. “But the waves….” “They’ll be back tomorrow,” he pointed out with a smile as he realized that she was only staying because she wanted to surf. Years ago, her uncle had told him that his niece had a passion for sports that had anything to do with the water – probably the only reason why the family still lived in the Caribbean still. But Ian knew that Daniel Hastings wanted his niece – who was more like a sister to him than anything else – to grow up in a place where it was untouched by the world; somewhere where they could just be themselves and where

Jessamine could discover the beauty of nature and learn from it instead of in the harshness of a large city. “All right then,” she said reluctantly. Then she looked up as they started towards the mansion. “What’s your name?” “Ian.” She said nothing and kept walking beside him. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye and saw that she had shown no reaction to hearing his name. Either she really didn’t know who he was or she was a really good actor. “Do you like diving?” she asked him after a moment. He shrugged. “Sure.” He felt her turn slightly to face him. “Do you want to dive with me tomorrow?” “Scuba diving?” “Yeah.” He nodded. He would go along to keep her safe. “All right,” he replied with a smile. He would also go along because he was starting to like this girl. She was just so innocent and new to his life. Because of his line of work, he rarely got to spend some leisure time with anyone and right now was as good as a time as any. Nothing happened in the night. As the sun set, throwing flames across the ocean’s surface, the three of them had dinner on the balcony overlooking the sea. Jessamine was as charming as before but by the end of the dinner, she was already on her feet again, looking out at sea. Daniel had excused himself early because he had to get back to work, leaving Ian alone with Jessamine again. He watched the girl for a moment. “What are you thinking about?” he asked her softly. The attractive young woman had a white satin sarong wrapped around her waist and another halter top on. This time, it was white to match the sarong. As the breeze came off of the ocean to her, it swept back her golden curtain of hair, tugging on her skirt. She didn’t reply for a while and he just assumed that she hadn’t heard him and instead of repeating the question, he went to stand beside her. Sometime during the silence between them, she shifted so that she was sitting on the balcony railing. It was a dangerous place to sit, seeing as they were almost three floors up from the ground but by the way she sat, Ian knew that she had done it dozens of times. Despite that, he put an arm around her shoulders, ready to catch her more than anything. Daniel had let him borrow some clothes so he felt less vulnerable now and more at ease. “It’s pretty obvious that you know my uncle,” she suddenly said to him. He turned to her and she met his eyes calmly. “It’s the way the two of you are so familiar with each other that makes it so obvious. Tell me, what is everyone trying to hide from me?”

What could he say? He didn’t want to lie but yet, he had to, unless he wanted to draw her deeper into the danger that she was already knee-deep in without knowing. “We’ve met before,” he said, a little lamely he thought. “Through work,” he added. She snorted. “I don’t believe that any more. I’ve realized it two years ago when Daniel came home with a bullet wound in his shoulder and said that he was shot by someone that didn’t like his work,” she said quietly, turning away to look out at the sea again. “What kind of contractors gets shot at during their job? I would quit the first time it happened. No, I don’t think you’re contractors.” Ian sighed. Never before had he been put in this situation. Most of the times when he was off work, everyone would believe the story that he and Daniel were contractors, but this girl, she’d figured it out that the story wasn’t true. But still, it was a matter of national security and however strong the urge he felt to tell her, he had to respect the contract he had signed when he first signed onto the job. But he had to get her to stop thinking about this topic. “Even working with Daniel, I’ve never known he had a niece,” he commented after allowing a moment’s pause. He glanced at her and saw that she was smiling quietly, looking down at her hands. “No one knows I exist, actually. I live alone on an island with an uncle that is rarely home, supposedly out contracting land for the government and a caretaker that doesn’t make up for a good companion but only someone like a father. We have the occasional guest or two but most of them had been my uncle’s friends so I stayed away from them. It’s been like this my whole life and I still wonder why my uncle’s keeping me here. The mansion is great, but it’s nothing compared to what’s probably out there,” she finished, waving her hand out towards the sea. “I plan on going out there one day on my boat. I bet there are some great places.” Ian smiled at Jessamine’s words. She made sense, especially for a child who had grown up in an odd family with no woman as her companion and no friends except for her uncle who doted on her and a caretaker who was more fatherly than a friend at all. But Daniel Hastings did not do things without reason. “He just wants you to be safe,” Ian assured her. “For the same reason why no one knows you exist. You’re right, he isn’t a contractor, but his job is dangerous and he has done all he can to protect you.” Jessamine smiled, but it was a tired smile, one that told him that she was going to bed pretty soon. “Maybe,” was all she said in reply. Then she turned to him. “I usually go on a walk at night before I go to bed. Do you want to come?” He was tired too, and he had been about to refuse but he remembered the danger that could possibly be here on this supposedly secret sanctuary. “Sure,” he told her with a smile. Besides, a night stroll with this girl wouldn’t hurt.

Together they left the balcony and made their way down to the beach. And together, they started down the beach. Jessamine walked with her arms folded across her belly, her toes digging into the soft sand. Beside her, Ian had tucked his thumbs into two belt loops and let the ocean breeze muse his dirty-blonde hair. Ian was still curious about the girl. His own thoughts rang in his mind still, even after he had said them – Daniel Hastings did not do things without a reason. Trying not to draw attention to himself, he allowed himself to lag behind a little as if he was mesmerized by the view of the black sky with its thousands of stars. In a way he really was, but he wasn’t really lagging behind because of that. As soon as he was far back enough, he examined Jessamine. Her figure was, as he knew it, athletic. It was revealed by the tight muscles that were unveiled as the curtains of her hair and skirt were gently tugged away from her by the breeze. She probably didn’t have an ounce of fat anywhere on her body. Only one type of person would have a body like that – a trained fighter. “Do you do any combat fighting?” he called out, taking two long strides to catch up so she wouldn’t notice he had lagged behind. Surprised, she turned to him. “Yes, martial arts. An instructor comes every week to train me. He’s also my linguist teacher, but he’s from Japan,” she replied. “Why?” He smiled. It was a genuine smile. “I know some martial arts. What level are you?” “Black, working on master,” she replied. “You want to spar?” “No, not tonight. I’m not up to it, and besides, you might undo one of the stitches,” he told her with a smile, smiling because he had sensed the eagerness in her voice. She returned it and they continued walking again. “How many languages do you speak?” She looked thoughtfully at him as if she were calculating something, which he guessed she probably was. “Chinese, Japanese, German, French, English, Spanish, and Korean – so I guess that’s seven languages. He had me learn these because these languages are major languages and if I’m ever in trouble, I could probably talk my way out,” she said wryly. “Smart of him,” he agreed. She nodded. “But why would I need to talk myself out of trouble? I live on an island with no one on it but me, my uncle, and the caretaker and the occasional visitor,” she murmured, almost to herself. Ian knew the answer to her question immediately. Daniel Hastings was planning something. By what Jessamine had told him, he could deduce that it was The Sensei that was teaching Jessamine what she thought were probably just self-defense and something to pass the time. The Sensei was one of the few master shinobi, or ninja, assassins in the world and by hiring him, Daniel Hastings had implied that he

intended to one day tell Jessamine everything she wanted to know about his job – and then incorporate her into it. He was going to tell her pretty soon that he worked with the CIA and that he was one of the most effective agents that the agency had ever known in all of their years of operation. Ian was his newest trainee, but probably his last – Daniel Hastings was at least thirty years old, and most agents after thirty or so didn’t go back into the field after their last assignment at thirty years old. If they’d lasted so long, they were valuable and were needed elsewhere. Which would mean that if Jessamine really did become part of the CIA, she would be either trained by Ian himself, once he was experienced enough, or another field agent. Daniel would have no part in her training, but he had done what he could by hiring one of the most sought-after legal assassins in the world to teach her all that the assassin had known. But how could he tell her to prepare her for the future that had been planned for her, almost from the cradle? “This is a good spot,” Jessamine’s voice brought him out of his thoughts. He turned just in time to watch her lower herself onto the sand and lay down on her back to look up at the night sky. She glanced at him, almost expectantly before turning her gaze to the stars. He sat down beside her and lay down, following her example. “Does Daniel actually allow you to do this on your own?” he asked her curiously. She shrugged, as if saying that what she did on her own didn’t concern her uncle at all. But what she really said was, “He just tells me to be careful and to always keep my senses sharp.” In the dark, Ian could see her roll her eyes. “It’s kind of ridiculous, really. I mean, there’s no one on the island that could harm me. We’re perfectly safe here and any boat approaching the island would be noticed miles away. Apparently someone had set up sensors years ago around the island that pick up any signs of boats so if we have a visitor, we’re usually there to greet them.” She came so close to hitting the real truth about the large island that the Hastings owned. It was under the illusion that the Hastings owned it that the CIA was able to function so well in the Caribbean. There was actually an underground base that ran throughout the extent of the whole island and even deeper down below it. There were even several underwater exits that went unnoticed and led out farther from the island, away from the sensors. Ian knew this, because he had been told, along with many other agents, about this particular base in the Caribbean. Many of the visitors that Jessamine either had seen or not seen were agents entering the base or relaying information to the base. It was an ingenious idea and he knew that not even British Intelligence knew that they were there.

“He might some day be right, you know,” Ian pointed out. He propped himself up on one elbow to watch her face in the moonlight as he spoke. “He’s trying to protect you. He loves you very much.” Jessamine’s eyes were closed and Ian thought she had fallen asleep but suddenly, her eyes opened, almost flaring with a flash of blue. “Someone’s coming, no one I can recognize,” she breathed. “Where?” he asked, lowering himself casually down onto the ground in case anyone really was watching. “The grass. It’s always the grass.” “And how do you know this?” She raised herself into a low crouch. “I know the footsteps of anyone who had come to this island before. I even know yours. And I know Daniel’s and Logan’s. This one, I don’t know. It makes me worried because it sounds like he’s trying to move closer to us without being heard or seen,” she replied with a soft voice. “Where is he now?” Ian breathed, turning onto his stomach, his eyes scanning the darkness for the enemy that Jessamine said was there. “Ten feet in front of us,” she replied. They both heard an audible click and Ian recognized it almost immediately. It was the sound of a gun being loaded. “He’s doing something….” “It’s a gun,” he whispered. Then he lunged up from his position for the spot Jessamine had said. There was someone there. The girl was good, Ian thought grimly as he easily wrestled the man to the ground. He had a huge advantage over the man – he was stronger, taller, faster, and he had used the element of surprise. But the man was more slippery than he had predicted. He slid out of his grasp and came up behind him. The other man still had his gun. Now, he pointed its muzzle at Ian, who put his hands up. Hatred and loathe burned in the man’s eyes, and even Ian couldn’t resist but shudder at the intensity of the feelings there. Ian closed his eyes, knowing he was going to die. “You are going to die,” the other man hissed unnecessarily. And right before he squeezed the trigger, there was a whisper of grass, a flash of gold and the gun discharged into the air. Ian couldn’t see. It was too dark, but he could make out two shapes fighting each other furiously in the darkness. The one with the long hair had to be Jessamine. He itched to join the fight but he knew that if he joined now, Jessamine would be just as blinded as he was and assume him as another attacker so he would have to wait. Jessamine fought like a wildcat. Her hands were a blur as she landed blow after blow. She was fast too, first appearing behind the man, and then in front of him and then off to the side. Ian saw that she was smaller, but she was faster and she was winning.

In no time at all, she had the man’s gun in her own hands and Ian approached her as she kept her eyes on the man. Ian reached out and gently touched her arm and found that she was trembling. “It’s all right,” he told her, reaching out to take the gun from her. She let go after he had tugged at the horrible thing a few times. Working efficiently, he bound up the man and dismantled the gun, dropping the pieces to the ground. He pulled out the firing pin and threw it as far as he could, rendering the gun useless if it could be put back together.

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