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The Rules for Breaking
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 20, 2014. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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But just when it seems that her family has finally escaped Witness Protection, the illusion that Anna could resume a normal life comes crashing down.
The deadly man Anna knows as Thomas is still on the loose, and now he’s using her as a pawn in a dangerous game with the drug cartel determined to silence her forever. When Thomas and a mysterious masked man capture not only Anna but also her fragile younger sister and her boyfriend, Anna decides it’s time to break all the rules-even if it means teaming up with the lesser of two evils.
Anna will do whatever it takes to protect the people she loves and win her life back once and for all. But her true enemies are hidden in plain sight. Before long, Anna will learn that putting her trust in anyone may be the last mistake she ever makes.
Copyright © 2014 by Ashley Elston
Designed by Marci Senders
Cover images: Tim Robberts/Getty Images; Viorika/iStockphoto
Cover design: TEN
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York, 10023-6387.
For my boys—Miller, Ross, and Archer
you teach me how to shoot a gun?"
I've been putting off asking Ethan this question for a week. It's now or never. We're in his truck, headed to the farm, and there is a practice range there that Ethan and his dad use to sight in their guns before hunting season. If he agrees, I won't have time to back out before the turnoff.
Surprise flashes across his face. "Are you sure?"
"I'm ready," I answer, hoping it's the truth.
I can tell he doesn't believe me, and I don't blame him.
"I'm not sure I'm ready," he says in a teasing voice.
It wasn't that long ago that I blacked out when I saw him shoot a hog that was attacking his dog. That shot brought back memories so horrible that I had repressed them for months. But I remembered everything now, and I was determined not to cower behind a couch the next time I came face-to-face with a killer. Not if there was anything I could do about it.
"What brought this on?" he asks.
I shrug, not meeting his eyes. "I don't like being scared of anything." And that much is true. I'm terrified of guns, but I'm more scared of returning to the life I led just a few short weeks ago. "I'm ready and we're here. Perfect timing."
My family has only been out of the Witness Protection Program a month and I'll do anything to avoid going back. Our short time in the program nearly destroyed my family.
He reaches for something near my feet and I automatically snatch my purse from the truck floor. The last thing I want is for him to see what I'm hiding inside. He grabs the remote control that works the gate to the farm, which must have fallen out of its usual spot in the cup holder, and gives me a strange look.
Probably because I'm acting like he's a mugger.
"You're jumpy. You hiding another boyfriend in that bag?"
I return his smile with a weak one of my own. Have I been glancing over my shoulder way more than what's normal? Yes. Have I nearly jumped right out of my skin at every little noise? Yes. Do I want to tell him why? No.
Ethan turns serious. "Anna, you've been different ever since the Mardi Gras dance. You know you can tell me if something's wrong, don't you?"
"No! I mean yes, I know. Nothing is wrong. It's all good. Sorry for being weird."
I hate thinking about the Mardi Gras dance.
It was supposed to be the perfect night. I was back to using my real name—no more fake identities—and I had convinced myself it was all over. I no longer dreaded the suits showing up and pulling me away from everyone I'd grown to love, like they'd done so many times before. I no longer worried every time I said good-bye to Ethan that it might be the last time I saw him.
And it was perfect—at first. I felt like the belle of the ball dancing in Ethan's arms, and the night was getting even better when the party moved to Will's house.
But that's when everything fell apart. That's when the man I thought of as Agent Thomas re-entered my life.
"I've just been a little stressed lately," I add nervously. And that's the truth.
"And you think now is a good time to shoot a gun?"
"Yes, I do." I drop my purse back down on the floorboard.
"Okay, then. If you really think you're ready, we can try," Ethan says.
I may be good at hiding things from my dad and my little sister, Teeny, but I can't hide anything from Ethan. He knows something isn't right. Gripping my bag, feeling for the hard corners of the journal tucked inside, I think about how much to tell him.
I'm not mentioning the bizarre return of my missing journal…or the single daisy that was left in the pages. I'm not telling him about the note that Thomas, fake agent and would-be assassin, left in the pocket of my coat—the note that I tore to pieces, then taped back together hours later. I've re-read that note a hundred times looking for some clue or hidden meaning, but there's…nothing. It still freaks me out that Thomas managed to get within a few feet of me and I never knew it. I'm not telling Ethan there may still be someone out there watching me.
Ethan clicks the button on the remote and the electric gate starts to open. "How long have you been thinking about this?"
"For a while."
Ethan glances from me to the farm road, back and forth, like he's trying to solve a puzzle. Given that the majority of the time we've known each other I was lying to him about who I was, I don't blame him for being skeptical.
"I'm not buying that. I'll teach you, but you have to tell me what brought this on. Are you sure nothing's happened?"
I give him a big smile and scoot across the front bench of the truck to get closer to him. I can't tell him. He'll make me tell Dad and Dad will call the suits and I don't ever want to see them again. I fought too hard to get this wonderfully normal life and I'm not ready to give it up.
"Everything's fine. Stop overthinking this. I know I freaked last time but I'm prepared now. I want to learn. I don't want to be scared."
I hope I didn't oversell it.
He moves a hand from the steering wheel to mine, squeezing it tightly. "Just as long as you're sure. I don't know if I can handle it if you pass out. That damn near killed me, seeing you on the ground like that."
And I don't know if I'll ever get tired of hearing him talk in that slow, smooth Louisiana drawl or seeing that dimple dig deep into his cheek. This moment, in the truck with him, reinforces why I will not go back to the way things were. I want this life. I deserve this life. But I need to learn how to protect myself. I don't ever want to be a victim again.
"Does your dad know you want to do this?"
"No. But it's not like I'm hiding it from him. He wouldn't understand and I don't want to try to explain it. He won't get it."
The first twenty-four hours after Thomas returned my journal and left the creepy note, I was terrified. I stuck to Dad and Teeny like glue, not willing to let them out of my sight. And Ethan, he knew something was wrong, but I dodged his questions like the seasoned evader I am. There were a million times in that first day that I teetered on the brink of telling Dad everything, but I couldn't say the words that would surely bring the suits back into our lives. And what would they do, anyway? All they know about Thomas is that he's some sort of assassin, or killer for hire, or something horrible like that. But that's it. They would have no idea how to catch him—so they'd probably just toss us back into the program.
After that first day, when nothing else happened, I decided that maybe Thomas did mean exactly what he said in the note: He just wanted me to have my journal back. I know enough about Thomas to know that if he wanted me dead, I would be dead.
Ethan pulls through the front gate of the farm and I rub my sweaty hands down the front of my jeans.
I can do this.
I have to do this.
There are several tractors working in the distance and I spot Ethan's dad's truck parked at the barn. I was hoping we would be alone—I don't need any witnesses if I am, in fact, not ready to do this.
Ethan turns off the truck and pulls me in closer, kissing me gently on the lips.
"We'll start slow. You can hold the gun, load it, get a feel for it. If that seems all right, then maybe we'll try to fire a few rounds. If you start feeling bad, tell me and we'll stop. Don't push yourself on this. You're safe with me. You just have to put all of the other bad stuff out of your mind."
I drag him toward me, away from the steering wheel, and crawl in his lap, kissing him deeply. He knows and understands me like no one else ever has and that is a serious turn-on.
It's not long before we're totally making out in the front of his truck.
We hear a four-wheeler approach and I jump off Ethan's lap and move back to my side of the truck just before his dad stops on Ethan's side. I'm sure the slightly fogged windows give a little clue as to what was happening inside.
Ethan chuckles as he rolls down his window. "Hey, Dad."
He nods, sneaking a peek at us when he says, "Hey, son. Anna." He looks as embarrassed as I feel.
"Hi, Mr. Landry." My face is on fire.
"Dad, I'm going to teach Anna how to shoot this morning."
Mr. Landry jerks his head to me quickly. He also witnessed my meltdown the last time I was around a gun. "Are you sure?"
I nod and Ethan says, "We're going to ease into it. No rush."
No rush. I hope he's right and I won't need this skill anytime soon.
Rules for disappearing
by Witness Protection prisoner #18A7R04M:
Live on the fringe of society….
New rule by Anna Boyd:
try not to hyperventilate. Ethan's got everything lined up: the gun, the bullets, safety glasses, and even a pair of earmuffs to deaden the sound.
We're on the back part of the farm where they do target practice. There's a wooden structure that's used as a gun rest at different heights so you can either stand or sit while shooting. In front of us are targets at varying distances.
"First thing I want you to understand is this is a completely safe situation. We're far enough away that there is no chance you will hit anyone or anything other than the target or the hay bale behind the targets. It's just me and you, Anna. No one else."
I nod and stare at the gun. As much as I try to keep the memories away, my mind instantly fills with the images of dead bodies and pools of blood.
Taking a step back, Ethan sees I'm having trouble and wraps his arms around me. "Anna, we don't have to do this today. Or ever. It's okay."
I shake my head and answer, "No, I don't want to be scared anymore." He thinks I'm talking just about the gun, but it's so much more than that.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Ethan knows all about my family's time in the Witness Protection Program, but he's only heard the cold, hard facts that Agent Williams laid out. I witnessed two murders—not only was my dad's boss killed in front of me, but so was his son, Brandon, the boy I'd had a crush on for years.
It was so traumatizing I blocked that night out completely, and had no memory of it for months. But that memory returned right here on this very farm when I rode along on a hog hunt with Ethan. His dog, Bandit, was hurt and he was forced to shoot the feral hog attacking him. The sight of the gun, the crack of the blast, and the smell of the smoke flooded me with memories of that night.
Until that night on the farm, I thought the reason we were in the program was because my dad had done something horrible.
But it was me all along. I was the one the suits were protecting. I was the reason we were forced to leave our home in Scottsdale, our friends, everything we'd ever known.
I was the reason my mom turned to drinking. She couldn't handle staying in the program indefinitely while everyone waited for my missing memories to return, the suits showing up in the middle of the night because our location had been compromised. I was the reason she nearly drank herself to death and is now recovering in a treatment facility in Baton Rouge.
I drop down on the small stool next to the gun rest and bury my head in my hands. Ethan crouches down beside me, running his hand over my head in slow, calming strokes.
"Talk to me," he whispers.
"I can still see Brandon on the floor in that room. When I shut my eyes, he's there. One leg was at an odd angle and his shoe was untied. And the blood. It was everywhere. The room smelled like gun smoke and blood…. His body was just so…still."
Ethan pulls me in closer.
"And then the man who shot them, Sanchez, found me behind the couch where I was hiding and I knew I was next. He put that gun in my face and it was like everything was moving in slow motion. I thought I was dead."
A broken sob escapes my mouth and Ethan brings my face to his.
"But you survived because you are strong and smart. Don't forget that part. You are strong and smart."
"The only reason he didn't kill me was because of those ledgers. What if I hadn't seen Brandon's dad put them in that wall safe? What if Sanchez hadn't wanted them back badly enough and he shot me on the spot? If the cops hadn't shown up when they did, I would have told him the location and then he would have killed me."
Those ledgers are what kept my family and me alive for months. The suits wanted me to get my memory back so I could testify against Sanchez. But the drug cartel that Sanchez worked for had heard from him that I knew the ledgers' location. Ledgers that showed all of the ways Brandon's dad, who was the head of the accounting firm where my dad worked, had laundered their drug money. It would have completely shut down their operation.
And that's how "Agent Thomas" came into my life. He wanted the ledgers and knew I could get them for him. He drew me in, making me trust him. I thought he was the only suit who really wanted to help me.
"You're safe now. Sanchez is dead, remember? He can't hurt you."
He's dead because Thomas slit his throat from one ear to the other. Once the cartel got the ledgers back, they cut Sanchez loose. Apparently there are no second chances in the drug cartel business.
Except for Ethan and me. Thomas could have killed us in Scottsdale, but he didn't and no one knows why.
"Anna, please tell me why you want to do this."
"I want to be able to protect myself." And this is the truth, even if it's not the whole truth.
I stand up and give myself a good shake. "Please help me, Ethan."
His expression is guarded but I know him well enough to see that he is struggling with this. He wants to help me, but he doesn't think this is a good idea. At all.
"First, pick up the gun. It's not loaded. Feel it in your hand. See how you do with that."
I run a finger over the handle. It's cold even though it's been sitting in the sun, and shivers race up my arm.
Taking a deep breath, I wrap my hand around it, lifting it from the gun rest. It's heavier than I thought it would be. My fingers fit perfectly in the grooves on the handle.
"This is a Glock. It's small and there's hardly any recoil, so I thought it would be an easy gun to start with. Let's practice holding it the right way and aiming before putting any bullets in."
Ethan moves behind me. His hands move on top of mine and he brings them up, pointing the gun at the targets in front of us. He repositions my hands until the right one is holding the gun, my pointer finger on the trigger.
"You fire a gun with the same hand you write with, so for you that's your right hand. Your left hand will help support the gun like this," he says, and positions my left hand around the underside of the gun.
Ethan's body surrounds me completely. His arms line up with mine, his chest and legs mold against me. As nauseating as it feels to have this gun in my hand, I can't help but feel safe. It is a strange sensation.
"How do you feel?" Ethan asks.
"Scared but not scared. I know nothing bad will happen while you're here with me."
"Do you want me to step away? Let you hold it on your own?"
I'm terrified for him to let go of me. I'm not sure my body will support itself once his moves. But then I think of the journal—and Thomas. He took it from me—I assume for the secrets he thought might be written in it—and then inexplicably gave it back. What reason would he have to bother me once he had the ledgers? I have no idea, and that scares me more than this gun.
"Yes. Let me try it on my own." My voice sounds shaky, but I can't help it.
Ethan peels his body away from mine and it's agonizing, like slowly pulling off a Band-Aid.
I stand on my own, still aiming the gun at the target, and try to control my trembling limbs. I concentrate on that pit of fear in my belly. It churns and spins and makes me dizzy so I push it down. It will not control me. I will not live in fear. I will not lose this new life I have.
"Show me how to put the bullets in."
Rules for disappearing
by Witness Protection prisoner #18A7R04M:
Do not go to parties or any other non–school-related activity….
New rule by Anna Boyd:
When you finally get the life you want, enjoy every moment of it, or what's the point?
celebrating. Not only did I load the gun but I fired it. I could only handle pulling the trigger once, but it was a huge victory nevertheless.
It's the first time I've been back to Will's house since the night of the Mardi Gras dance after-party. Will is Ethan's best friend, who also happens to be dating my best friend, Catherine.
It's us plus another couple and we're hanging out around his pool, listening to music.
Normal. Just another normal night in this normal life.
Catherine drops down beside me. "So do I call you Annie Oakley now?"
I giggle and answer, "Yes. Consider me armed and dangerous."
Will and Catherine were also there the night I passed out, so I didn't hesitate telling them about conquering that fear this morning.
Catherine leans close and whispers, "Okay, I wasn't going to say anything but you're carrying around luggage again. You haven't let that bag out of your sight all week. Something I should know about?"
Oh, crap. She noticed, too. And just as the journal that's stashed safely in my bag pops in my head, I reach down to feel for the hard edges.
"It's just my purse. You carry yours everywhere, too."
She shakes her head. "Spill it."
The interest in my purse goes back to the go-bag. We were pulled from placements so often in the program that sometimes we didn't have time to pack. So I started carrying a bag with essential items for Teeny and me. I was never without it and it always turned up in conversation.
"It's nothing. I just got so used to carrying around my bag, it's a hard habit to break."
Thankfully, we're interrupted when Emma and Ben show up.
"I still can't believe we're all hanging out again," Catherine says to me in a low voice. "I keep waiting for her to do something to piss me off."
"I know," I reply quietly. Ethan's twin sister, Emma, was not my biggest fan when I moved to this town, especially when her brother and I started hanging out.
Emma moves near us, obviously nervous, and I nod for her to sit down in the chair beside me.
"Hey," she says quietly.
"Hey!" Catherine and I answer back, probably more enthusiastically than necessary. It's awkward at first but it doesn't take long before we're talking about school and who's hooking up and how we're all ready for high school to finally be over.
Well, I'm the only one not ready for that last part. I don't want all of us to be scattered to different colleges. Ethan and I have talked vaguely of our future plans but nothing has been decided.
The guys join us and Ethan lifts me out of my chair, and then sits me back down in his lap. If I'm acting different this week, so is he. It seems like the more nervous or distant I get, the closer and more touchy-feely he gets.
Not that I'm complaining.
Will sits on the arm of Catherine's chair. "Okay, so next weekend we head to the Gulf to hang at Pearl's cabin. I say we cut class Friday and get a head start."
Pearl is Ethan's aunt and owns the local pizzeria. Even though Dad said I didn't have to continue working for her once we got out of the program, I'm still there almost every day after school. And Teeny's usually there with me making pizzas in the back.
"Sounds good to me," Ben answers.
Catherine pokes her bottom lip out. "I can't cut any more days or I may not graduate."
Ethan leans me to one side so he can dig around in his pocket, pulling his keys out. "These are stabbing into my leg."
I realize a few seconds too late that he plans on putting his keys in my purse. The journal is on top so there is no way he won't see it.
"Wait!" I grab for my bag, snagging the strap out of his hand, but I leaned too far over and fall out of his lap.
The journal lands on the floor practically at Ethan's feet. I dive for it, but he beats me to it.
To make matters worse, the taped-up note Thomas left drifts to the ground right between us.
It's in his hands and he's reading it before I can even think about what to do. He is going to freak out. Big time.
Everyone is quiet.
Ethan's eyes find mine and he's not just freaked out. He's pissed.
"Is this what I think it is?" he asks.
Catherine moves to his side and peeks over his shoulder, reading the note.
Her eyes get big as saucers. "Is this the journal you lost? How'd you get it back? Who's 'T'?"
The rest of the group surrounds us, all wanting to see the note and journal and hear my explanation.
"Yes, it is and I don't know what the 'T' is for. That's just how the note was signed." It's a lame answer and Ethan, at least, knows it. Of course the T is for Thomas, the only name I knew him by.
"When and where did you get this?" His voice sounds a bit like a growl.
"Last weekend. Here, at the party after the dance." I finally meet Ethan's gaze. "I don't know if you remember this or not, but when we were sitting in that lounge chair," I say, pointing to the other side of the pool, "someone bumped into us. I think that's when he put it in the pocket of my coat. I found it there not long after that."
"Here?" Will yells. "That son of a bitch came to my house! Did any of y'all see him?" he asks our friends.
Everyone shakes their head.
"Did you see him, Anna?" Ethan asks.
Disappointment sets in his face. "Why didn't you tell me?"
I deflate next to him. "I knew you would make me tell my dad. And the suits."
"Well, of course you have to tell them," Catherine says and pulls me into a hug. "This guy is a nut job. Why would he give it back? I'm not buying that bullshit in the note. He wants something."
Ethan drops the journal and note back into my purse. "Anna, we have to go tell your dad. Right now."
"I'll come with you," Catherine offers. Will, Emma, and Ben offer to come along as well.
"Thanks, guys. But I don't want to ruin everyone's night." I nod at Ethan and walk toward his truck.
We don't speak to each other until we're both inside.
"I can't believe you've had this all week and didn't tell me. This is a big deal, Anna. And I guess that's what this morning was about—you think you're some match for this guy? He's a professional killer. You could barely touch that gun this morning."
He slams his hand on the steering wheel, letting out a string of curses.
I don't want to tell Dad. At all. But with everyone knowing about the journal, there's no way it won't come out now. The way this small town works, I bet it will be all over the school by Monday. Half the kids there still call me Meg—the last fake name the suits gave me. This will not help. If…when …I get back to school, no one will probably come near me.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I just don't want anything to change."
He reaches for my hand and I grab on to his. As mad as he is, I know it's mostly because he's scared about what this might mean. Does Thomas want something else from me? And will the suits try to move us away?
So much for my normal life.
Rules for disappearing
by Witness Protection prisoner #18A7R04M:
Most mistakes are made when you think no one is watching. And someone is always watching.
New rule by Anna Boyd:
- Praise for The Rules for Disappearing:
- On Sale
- May 20, 2014
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers