Page 69 of Coercion

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I have time for a few more chapters at least.Maybe a bath.I didn’t think baths were worth it before.It turns out that having a really nice, deep bathtub is key.

And now I have one.

Three, if you count the tubs in the other bathrooms.

It’ssonice out.If Daphne’s not painting, I could invite her to sit with me.We spent a couple hours out here the other day with the best tea I’ve ever had in my life.Being friends and next-door neighbors with Daphne Morelli is the most surreal part of all of this.Will doing high-powered crisis management for Hughes Industries just makes sense.Me being friends with someone as rich and talented as Daphne?That makes more sense in a dream.

“And yet.”I wave a hand at the ocean.“Real.”

My phone, tucked down in the cushions near my thigh, buzzes.Maybe Daphne sensed an invitation in the air.

It buzzes again while I’m reaching for it, then again in my palm.My pulse speeds out of reading-on-the-beach mode and into way-too-many-notifications mode.

“Oh, no.”

They’re from the twins’ school.Two text messages and email.

BES PARENT/GUARDIANALERT.All classes have been placed on lockdown due to the presence of an armed individual on campus.No students are in danger at this time.Law enforcement is responding to the situation.Parents and guardians will be notified when the situation is resolved.

I don’t know that I’m out of my chair until my book hits the sand.“Evan!Evan!”

He comes sprinting from the direction of the house at the same time I run toward it.Four other people come across the yard.One of them stops several feet away and turns in a full circle, hand on his gun.

Evan puts his hands out and I collide with him in the middle of the backyard.

“The twins.”I shove the phone in his face.“The twins.There’s somebody with a gun at the school.”

His phone buzzes next.He takes mine and holds them both.“Heather and Drew are there.”


“Drew’s inside.Heather’s outside.She tried to go in when the alert came, but they’d already locked down.”

“I’m not just leaving them there.I’m not just going to sit here and wait for somebody to text me.”Panic feels like choking on ocean water.“The twins can’t think I’m just on thebeachwhile—”

Evan puts my phone back in my hands.“We’re going.Right now.Chris?”

One of the other agents perks up.“Sir?”

They’ve been hanging back in a loose circle.They’re here for me.Waiting to make sure that I’m okay.This is a dream, too.When things went wrong before, it was usually because of my dad.Who was I supposed to call for?

“I’m taking Bristol into the city.Get a couple more people on both properties.”

“It’s a school lockdown.”I sound frantic, but there’s nothing I can do about it.“That shouldn’t have anything to do with our houses.”

Evan’s dark eyes meet mine.“No.A lockdown at the school shouldn’t have any effect on the houses.It’s a precaution.And when you get back here with the twins, you can tell them there are extra people protecting them tonight.”

WhenI bring them home.When.Because I’m going to pick them up at school and bring them home, and that’s that.

Evan drives fifteen over all the way to our old neighborhood.We pass the street where my bus would’ve turned to drop me off at the complex, where I’d cross the courtyard and go home to Building C.

By car, it’s only a few minutes to the school.For the millionth time, I think about texting Will.He’s in meetings all day, though, and I’m not rushing off to the school by myself.I’ll let him know once I pick up the twins.

“Shit.”Evan brakes hard, pulling my seat belt tight over my chest, then cuts to the right.The front wheel of the SUV bumps into the curb.“We’ll have to get out here.Can’t get any closer.Let’s go.”He checks his gun, gets out, and opens my door.


It’s complete pandemonium around the school.Six cop cars.Two more pull up on the other end of the block.There’s Heather in her dark suit, three men gathered around her.

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