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Killer spirit, p.1
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       Killer Spirit, p.1

           Jennifer Lynn Barnes
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Killer Spirit




  CHAPTER 1 Code Word: Body Glitter

  CHAPTER 2 Code Word: Interesting

  CHAPTER 3 Code Word: Rumor Mill

  CHAPTER 4 Code Word: Detention

  CHAPTER 5 Code Word: Pep Rally

  CHAPTER 6 Code Word: Hottie

  CHAPTER 7 Code Word: Smile

  CHAPTER 8 Code Word: Come Hither

  CHAPTER 9 Code Word: Naked

  CHAPTER 10 Code Word: Prezzies

  CHAPTER 11 Code Word: The Fam

  CHAPTER 12 Code Word: Hair Products

  CHAPTER 13 Code Word: Practice

  CHAPTER 14 Code Word: Luscious

  CHAPTER 15 Code Word: Boyfriend

  CHAPTER 16 Code Word: Flirt

  CHAPTER 17 Code Word: Blend

  CHAPTER 18 Code Word: Girl Talk

  CHAPTER 19 Code Word: Fun, Fun, Fun

  CHAPTER 20 Code Word: Flat

  CHAPTER 21 Code Word: Envy

  CHAPTER 22 Code Word: Crazy!

  CHAPTER 23 Code Word: Cookies

  CHAPTER 24 Code Word: Mommy Dearest

  CHAPTER 25 Code Word: Kisses

  CHAPTER 26 Code Word: Rebel

  CHAPTER 27 Code Word: Girly

  CHAPTER 28 Code Word: Liberty

  CHAPTER 29 Code Word: Itchy

  CHAPTER 30 Code Word: Issues

  CHAPTER 31 Code Word: Betrayal

  CHAPTER 32 Code Word: Girl Talk

  CHAPTER 33 Code Word: Answers

  CHAPTER 34 Code Word: Teamwork

  CHAPTER 35 Code Word: Catfight

  CHAPTER 36 Code Word: Homecoming





  For my biggest cheerleader, who’s been there through every step of everything I’ve ever done, and who would have loved me just as much if I’d never done any of it at all. A girl couldn’t ask for a better friend or a better mom, and I hope I grow up to have a daughter half as lucky as I’ve been to be yours.


  Code Word: Body Glitter

  Once upon a time, I thought that the cheerleaders at my high school were no more capable of intelligent thought or true athleticism than the average dachshund. Suffice to say that unless the wiener dogs of the world have been holding out on me—big-time—I was very, very wrong.

  “Amelia Juarez. Jacob Kann. Anthony Connors-Wright. Hector Hassan.” Brooke set the files down one by one, careful to avoid any undue wear and tear on her French manicure. “That’s four TCIs arriving in Bayport in the past two days. The question is why.”

  Personally, I could think of a few other questions, starting with “What’s a TCI and why are cheerleading spies so fond of acronyms?” and running straight through to “Do you have any idea how incredibly uncomfortable this godforsaken polyester uniform is?”

  To my credit, though, I somehow managed to remain remarkably quiet. Experience had taught me that if I waited long enough, someone would answer at least one of my unasked questions. Experience had also taught me that the fashionistas among us got, for lack of a better word, cranky when you criticized their fabric choices.

  “What level threat are we talking about here?” Tara asked from my right. It wasn’t exactly one of my questions, but close enough.

  “Nothing higher than third or fourth tier,” Brooke said. She arched an eyebrow at Zee in silent command, and our resident profiler obligingly picked up where Brooke had left off.

  “According to our data, their connections to known terrorists and/or terrorist organizations are weak, but the links are there, and in each case, there have been enough person-to-person interactions with suspected terrorists to warrant full profiling and a place on the watch list.” Zee tucked a strand of jet-black hair behind her ear, a gesture I associated more with her ability to dispense gossip than her skills as a profiler. “All four are ambitious, and they all feel that they have something to prove. Amelia Juarez and Jacob Kann are terrorist-connected through their parents—lots of money, lots of power, long, drawn-out history of high-level crimes in both families. Hector Hassan is a businessman—again, young, smooth, very ambitious. And Anthony’s father is an independent operative working primarily for the U.S. and U.K. governments.”

  Tara rolled her eyes. “Teenage rebellion?” she inferred, as if the children of operatives often rebelled by going over to the dark side and becoming wannabe evil masterminds.

  “Try midtwenties rebellion,” Zee said, “but, yeah, more or less. Anthony’s driven by his father’s career choices as much as Amelia and Jacob are by theirs, but in a different direction.”

  So far, we had a crime prince, a crime princess, an intelligence brat, and a young businessman, all with some kind of vague-ish connections to terrorist groups. The part of my brain that’s tuned in to patterns and codes played back everything that had been said in the debriefing so far, and zeroed in on the combination of words most likely to fit the acronym.

  “Terrorist-Connected Individuals,” I guessed out loud. “TCIs.”

  At the head of the table, Brooke rolled her eyes. “Very good, Toby,” she said, her voice syrupy sweet. “Do you want a cookie?”

  As a matter of fact, I would have loved one, but somehow, I didn’t think Brooke’s offer was anywhere near the ballpark of sincere. She was our Squad captain. In operative terms, that meant she was technically my commanding officer. In cheerleading terms, it meant she was a bitch.

  Either way, I wasn’t getting a cookie.

  “No offense, Brooke, but it doesn’t seem that complicated to me.” I was completely unwilling to back down from the challenge in Brooke’s eyes or the condescension in her voice. “An influx of TCIs to Bayport can’t be a good thing, even if they’re only fourth tier. We need to know why they’re here.”

  Before Brooke could roll her eyes again, I plowed on.

  “It sounds like we’re looking at some pretty basic surveillance maneuvers—minimal interaction, bugs in their hotel rooms…”

  “Trackers on their rental cars,” Tara volunteered.

  Brooke didn’t acknowledge the fact that I’d actually come up with a decent (albeit obvious) plan. Instead, she turned to Chloe, the original “gadget girl in Gucci.” “Can you get the necessaries by this afternoon?”

  Chloe nodded. “I’ll have the bugs and tracking chips in the guidepost by the time the pep rally’s over this afternoon.”

  Tracking chips and pep rallies—par for the course.

  Without a word, Brooke picked the folders up off the table, and began handing them out. “Chloe, you and April take Amelia Juarez, Zee and I will tail Connors-Wright, Lucy and Bubbles, you’ve got Hassan.”

  There was only one folder left and two teams. In the split second before Brooke made her decision, I swore to myself that if she put the twins on active duty and left Tara and me at the school to clean up after the pep rally, someone was going to die. Painfully, and without so much as a single “Go Lions!”

  “Jacob Kann is all yours, Tare.” Brooke handed the last folder to Tara, and by the transitive property, she handed it to me.

  “We’ll tag the TCIs tonight and report back here afterward to debrief,” Brooke said. “No matter what, with the bugs up and running, we should have some major intel by this time tomorrow afternoon.” She smiled then, a tight, broad smile that took up most of her face, and with that relatively small change, el capitan went from Squad mode to squad mode, from agent to cheerleader. “Next order of business: What color body glitter should we wear today? Blue or gold? Thoughts?”

  From TCIs to body glitter in less than three seconds. Confused? Join the club.

  I’d been a member
of the Squad for less than a month, and I still woke up most mornings thinking it was all just some crazy Twinkie-induced dream. Then I looked in the mirror, noted my perfectly sculpted eyebrows and artificially tanned face, and the truth sank in.

  This wasn’t a dream. I, Toby “Antisocial” Klein, had really been recruited to the varsity cheerleading squad, only to discover that said squad was actually a cover for an elite team of government operatives. The most popular girls at my high school were actually secret agents affiliated with a top-secret branch of the government somehow related to the CIA.

  Yeah. Try to wrap your mind around that one.

  I’d joined the Squad as a computer hacker with a third-degree black belt, and they’d turned me into a cheerleader. After a series of more-than-intense makeovers, fashion interventions, and instructions on the finer points of the toe touch, I looked like a cheerleader, cheered like a cheerleader, sat at the popular table for lunch, and spent my afternoons training for and going on missions that would blow most people’s minds. That last part, I loved. The rest of it was pretty much Toby torture.

  I checked my watch. It was only seven-thirty in the morning, and between the Great Body Glitter Debate of 2008 and Brooke’s refusal to give me any actual cookies, I was already up to two woe-is-me moments today. Considering there was a pep rally in my near future, I could only conclude that things were going to get much, much worse.

  “Blue’s got better contrast.”

  “But gold accents our tans!”

  Apparently, the debate was getting pretty intense. How messed up was it that we could unanimously agree on how to handle potential terrorists, but nearly came to blows over body glitter? After a few more minutes, Brooke decided to put the “issue” to a vote, and as the others weighed in, I looked at each girl in turn. I had to actively remind myself that, sparkly cosmetics aside, these girls were a force to be reckoned with, and pretty much no one knew it but me.

  Zee Kim, in addition to being a first-class gossipmonger/ party queen, was a former child prodigy. She’d gotten her PhD in forensic psychology at the age of fifteen, and soon thereafter transferred to Bayport High for the sole purpose of joining the Squad. The fact that she got a second chance at living the high school high life was just an added bonus—one that Zee took full advantage of, one A-list affair at a time.

  Brooke I-Am-Captain-Hear-Me-Roar Camden was the very definition of A-list. She decided who or what was in, and behind closed doors, she was the one who ran our decisions by the Big Guys Upstairs, our vague and anonymous contacts in Washington. Brooke was a legacy, raised by a mother who’d been part of the Squad pilot program back in the day. As a result, Brooke had been taught from the cradle to do two things: to cheer and to lead our team like the little diva/dictator she was. Of all the girls, Brooke was the only one who could match me in hand-to-hand, which meant that when it came to combat, she was (as much as I hated to admit it) darn near amazing.

  To Brooke’s left, the twins were adamantly voting for their body glitter of choice—gold. Brittany and Tiffany were absolutely identical and shared matching aptitudes for fashion and the manipulation of the so-called stronger sex. All things male melted into a pile of XY chromosomal goo in the twins’ presence. When they weren’t playing the seduction card, the twins designed our outfits for missions. They’d also appointed themselves the masters of my personal wardrobe, which was why I now owned more pairs of shoes than most of Young Hollywood combined.

  Tara Leery—the most down-to-earth and therefore least Hollywoodesque of the girls—was a British exchange student whose parents were operatives overseas. She’d moved to Bayport to become part of the Squad, and as far as I’d been able to tell, she lived with an “aunt” who may or may not have been CIA. Tara spoke somewhere in the neighborhood of eight zillion languages, and could read and write more than that. She was my Squad partner, and from the beginning, she was the one I counted on to have my back.

  Since I’d joined the Squad, my back had needed a lot of covering, due in part to the great deal of enmity that Brooke’s second in command, Chloe Larson, seemed to have for computer geeks in general and me in specific. A former child inventor, Chloe was now one hundred percent high school power player, and despite the amount of brain cells she reserved for playing the popularity game, Chloe’s grasp of microtechnology put mine to shame. Needless to say, she could also without question outsnob, outsnark, and outcheer me any day of the week.

  That just left our peppy-to-a-fault weapons expert, Lucy Wheeler; our contortionist and resident space cadet (figuratively speaking), Bubbles (yes, Bubbles) Lane; and April Manning—the only other new recruit this season besides yours truly.

  Looking at the girls, split 5–4 on the body glitter issue, I thought about everything that I knew they were capable of doing. They were smart. They were athletic. They were beautiful, and they were continually and severely underestimated.

  They were, in other words, perfect spies.

  “Toby? Earth to Toby?”

  I registered Brooke’s tone and sent her a look that some people might have described as surly. “What?”

  “Blue or gold?”

  Apparently, they were still waiting for my vote. Let’s see, I thought, what color body glitter do I want to wear?


  Brooke smiled. “Blue it is.”



  Code Word: Interesting

  By the time we hit the locker room, there was exactly half an hour until first period, and my only goal was to delay being glittered for as long as was humanly possible. It was bad enough that I’d actually agreed (under duress) to wear a cheerleading uniform to school. The last thing I wanted was to draw any more attention to my uncomfortably short skirt, the bright blue ribbon tied around my superhigh ponytail, and the fact that my current look was about as far from my trademarked antifashion combat boots as you could possibly imagine.

  Somehow, I didn’t think blue body glitter would do anything to de-emphasize my predicament.

  “You don’t stand a chance,” Zee whispered, patting me consolingly on the shoulder. The good thing about having a profiler on the Squad was that she was a little more sympathetic to my obvious torment than most of the others. The bad part was that she was so perceptive that she may as well have been psychic, and the very idea of psychic cheerleaders scared the crap out of me.

  “I could make a run for it,” I said under my breath.

  Zee shrugged. “You could try,” she said, “but the twins might take it personally, and then you’d wake up tomorrow with rhinestones glued to your eyelashes.”

  I stared at Zee in complete horror, knowing that there was at least a ninety-nine percent chance that she’d accurately predicted the twins’ most likely course of action. While I considered the inhumanity of having my eyelashes defiled in my sleep, one of the twins snuck up on me, and before I could dive-roll out of the way, she had a hold on my arm.

  “Hold still and close your eyes!” Brittany ordered.

  I wondered briefly if keeping my eyes open would delay the inevitable glittering, but soon found out that nothing could stand between one of the twins and adorning my face, breastbone, and arms with a substance more or less defined as powdered girliness.

  “So,” Brittany said, the edges of her lips pulling up into a devilish smile as she finished the job. “How’s your brother doing these days?”

  First glitter and now this. She was really pushing her luck. “You do realize that I could kill you, right?” I asked. “With my bare hands and very little effort.”

  “No killing members of the Squad.” Brooke issued a drive-by order in a tone so serious that it might have been amusing were it not for the fact that one of the “hottest” girls in school was asking me about my impossible, obnoxious, and supposedly endearing younger brother. Noah considered himself a ladies’ man, which basically meant that he was forever trying to charm older, unavailable girls who almost invariably had large, angry boyfr
iends who didn’t find Noah’s overtures adorkable in the least.

  I’d spent years trying to convince Noah that he wasn’t irresistible, and for some reason, the twins—heck, the entire Squad—seemed to enjoy undoing all of my hard work. As far as I’d been able to tell, none of them (with the possible exception of Lucy, and I so wasn’t ready to mentally go there) were actually interested in Noah, but they got a kick out of flirting with him, just because they knew it irritated me. As for Noah, he’d spent more time moonwalking and victory dancing in the past two weeks than he had in his entire life, which was really saying something.

  “You know, he is kind of cute, Toby.” Tiffany appeared beside her twin and gave me an impish look.

  This went beyond friendly teasing, and there was no way I could let it stand. Even if we were, by some stretch of the word, friends, I had a moral obligation to discourage their feigned interest in my brother, for the good of the world as well as my own sanity. After a moment’s consideration, I decided to go with the truth. “Yeah, well, he kind of wants you guys to have a naked pillow fight in our living room.”

  For some reason, the twins thought this was an absolute riot, which just goes to show that their mother probably dropped both of them on their heads repeatedly as small children.

  “Ha-ha,” I said dryly. “My brother likes naked girls. Yes, very funny.”

  They continued laughing and I decided it was time for a change of subject. Luckily enough, I knew exactly which direction I wanted to push this conversation. A few weeks earlier, I’d discovered something about one of our contacts in Washington that had rocked me to the core, and since then, I’d been trying to figure out which, if any, of the others knew about it. The twins were among the last on my list, and now seemed as good a time to broach the subject as any.

  “Speaking of things that don’t involve my little brother”—I gave them each a look that, had it been any more pointed, would have been capable of drawing blood—“we haven’t heard anything from the Big Guys in a while.”

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