From Forbidden Mind, Chapter 4: Sam 

Forbidden-Mind-NEWSomething cool and soft tickled my forehead. My eyes pried themselves open as my head attempted to clear itself of the drug-induced fuzziness.

Lollie had her small hand pressed against my skin. “Time to wake up. We’ll be at our destination in thirty minutes.”

She handed me a cup of orange juice and a turkey sandwich and helped me get my seat into an upright position. The rush of sweet sugary fruit gave me clarity and a burst of energy. I tackled the sandwich like a man who hadn’t eaten in a week—a common side effect of the drug.

With a few minutes to spare, I used the bathroom and brushed my teeth, then pulled my long brown hair into a bun. A quick touch-up to my lip gloss and a bit of mascara to accent my blue eyes, and I was ready to roll.

I went back to my seat and reviewed my file on the client one last time, though I knew the whole thing by heart. New last name, new identity. Each assignment we got a new name, but I didn’t actually have a last name of my own. Didn’t need one, really. The target had a son, Tommy. I hated assignments that involved kids, but what could I do? I pushed away my reservations and rehearsed my cover story in my head.

We landed at another private airstrip, where a middle-aged driver in a tux waited for us. “Sam Tinsley? Mr. Dollinger is waiting for you. Please come with me.”

I climbed into the back and Gar sat in the front with the driver. The driver told us we were in Utah. This didn’t register as anything terribly exciting for me. Once the limo hit the highway, I pulled out my new sketchbook and began drawing what I saw, which was mostly flatlands and farms, until we pulled into a wealthy neighborhood with big, lumbering mansions that looked out of place in their environment. Naturally, we beelined for the biggest, gaudiest one of them all.

A great cast iron gate with a lion’s head crest blocked our entrance into the palatial estates. Gar took a moment to confirm with the guard, and, after a grating buzz and a few groans, the lion gate opened to allow us in. All around us, bushes trimmed into lion sentries stood guard as we passed. Someone had read too much C.S. Lewis.

My breath hitched in my throat when we arrived at the front door and a tall, lean man in a suit came out to greet us. He smiled at me through the tinted windows, but the smile looked painted on, like a clown’s.

The driver opened the car door and I stepped out, straightened my spine and forced myself to meet my client’s eyes.

He played his part well and held out his arms for me. Did he want a hug? Not happening. I shifted back, slightly, but enough to get my point across. His eyes flickered a flame of anger before he smothered it with false sincerity.

“You must be Sam. I haven’t seen you since you were a baby, but your father says such great things about you. I’m sorry for everything you’re going through, but rest assured, no harm will come to you while you’re here.”

Before I could reply, a small boy of about six ran out the front door with all the enthusiasm of youth. “Is she here? Is she here yet, Uncle Henry?”

“This must be Tommy.” I raised an eyebrow. “Your nephew?”

He mussed the boy’s hair while maintaining eye contact with me. “The Beaumont’s son. We’ve been partners so long we’re practically family.”

I choked on his words. Right, family that’s ready to throw each other under the bus for a buck. I shoved the judgment deep down and played my part in this farce—this family that wasn’t a family—with as much enthusiasm as I could.

“Daddy says to say hi, and that he still remembers the night you drank too much and threw up on his date.” I giggled like a rich, ditzy teenage girl and then smiled down at the boy, who hadn’t stopped staring at me. For a moment, I let my real self come through. “Hi there. I’m Sam, what’s your name?”

All boyish boldness fled as he dropped his big brown eyes and shyly muttered, “Tommy.”

“Well, Tommy, did you know that I can draw any animal you can think of? Even animals that don’t exist?”

His cherub face lit up in the happiest smile I’d ever seen, and I instantly fell in love with the little kid. A pang of guilt hit my heart.

Tommy belonged to the Beaumonts—the family I had been hired to ruin.

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