Covert, p.1
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       Covert, p.1

           Natasha Preston
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  By Natasha Preston

  Copyright 2013 Natasha Preston

  The right Natasha Preston to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  All characters in this publication are fictional and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.


  Thank you to Mollie Wilson from MJWilson Design for creating the perfect cover for this book, to my editor, Debz and Eileen, and beta readers Adelaine, Whairigail and Kerry.


  For my oldest little brother, Jamie. AKA, the most annoying person on the planet!

  Chapter One

  "I'm only agreeing to this because there will be alcohol," I said and handed my heavy holdall bag to Aaron to put in the car. Lots of alcohol and because Courtney begged.

  Joshua - even his name made my stomach turn - had invited us all to his parents' log cabin for the weekend. He was trying to make amends for the past, for how he reacted after the accident, but we weren't going to forgive him so easily. Courtney had forgiven him already, of course, but she never could see what a waster her boyfriend was.

  "Mackenzie, please," Courtney said, pushing her fading red hair behind her ears and widening her big green eyes. Her puppy dog look. "He's trying, and it will mean so much to me if you'll try, too. Please?" She pouted, adding to the effect.

  I sighed. "Fine. Okay. I'll play nice." Two nights, that's it!

  "We all will," Megan added. "Right, guys?" Aaron and Kyle nodded along, agreeing to put their differences to one side - for the weekend at least. "Where is Josh anyway?"

  "Picking up his brother." Courtney rolled her eyes. "Blake wants to see him again, so Josh invited him along this morning. Although technically the cabin belongs to Blake too, so there's not much anyone can do to stop him coming with."

  I arched my eyebrow. We didn't know Blake, and if he was anything like Josh the weekend was going to be a nightmare. "The estranged brother?" I asked. I had seen him a grand total of two times, and that was years ago and only in the car while his parents did the kid swap.

  Blake had moved away with his dad after their parents' divorced. Josh stayed with their mum, so they didn't get to spend much time together growing up, which was probably a good thing for Blake.

  Courtney pushed her hair behind her ear again. It never stayed there, so I didn't know why she bothered. "They're hardly estranged." They'd spent little time growing up and rarely saw each other; I'd call that estranged.

  "Why is he crashing his brother's party?" I asked.

  "He's lonely?" Kyle offered, making a sad face.

  Courtney leant against the car. "No, he just wants to spend time with his brother. They both want to."

  Great! If Blake was like Josh then I would be coming home for sure. I didn't even want to breathe the same air as Josh, so I sort of hoped Blake was a dick too, and I could leave. My list of reasons to hate Josh extended past the car accident and how he behaved afterwards. My list went back years.

  The wind blew my lightweight, long chestnut hair in my face. I brushed the strands from my eyes just in time to see a metallic black Mitsubishi Warrior - the only car I knew without reading the back because it was Kyle's favourite subject - pull up beside me. Here we go.

  Josh sat in the passenger seat, nearest to me. Beside him was his brother. They didn't look much alike. They both had the same dark brown hair and blue eyes, but apart from that they looked totally different. Luckily for Blake.

  I looked away and walked around the side of Aaron's car, wanting to put as much distance between me and Josh as possible. Even just seeing his face made me want to punch him. Courtney was smart, but when it came to him she was as thick as a post.

  Josh got out of the car and said, "Hey guys. You remember my brother, Blake?"

  Megan shook her head. "Nope, but hi."

  Blake walked to the front of his truck and casually leant against the bonnet as if he was bored. "Hey," he said, nodding.

  He wore chunky black boots, dark jeans and a black jacket, making him look almost mysterious and maybe a little dangerous. His dark brown hair stuck out in all directions like he didn't give a crap - which I assumed he didn't anyway - and flopped down his forehead. Bright blue eyes scanned the group, checking us out one by one. He had something about him that made me feel almost uncomfortable.

  His eyes looked like they saw everything and I didn't want him to see everything.

  "Let's just leave already!" I said, opening the car door and climbing inside. The sooner we get there the sooner we get back. I sounded like my parents on Christmas Eve when they would try getting me to go to sleep as the clock ticked dangerously close to midnight.

  "Err, Mackenzie," Courtney said. "You're in the car with me."

  My face fell. I knew what that meant. "What?"

  She stepped forwards and leant in the car so we could talk privately. "You're coming in the car with me, Josh and Blake."

  "Yeah, I'm not," I replied, folding my arms over my chest like a spoilt teenager being told no.

  "Please? Look, I know you're mad at him, and I understand why, but will you try? I really think you two need to spend the car trip together."

  "We really don't, Court."

  "This weekend is going to suck if you're being pissed at Josh the whole time."

  I frowned. I wasn't the only one who didn't like him though, so why was I the only one being forced to make the extra effort? "His brother's weird," I whispered as if that was going to change Courtney's mind.

  "Blake is harmless."

  I was quickly running out of excuses. Sighing in defeat, I replied, "Alright! But if he pisses me off I'm switching cars."

  Courtney held her hands up. "Okay, okay. Thank you."

  "We're taking Blake's car then."

  "Yeah, they must have decided to bring Blake's instead. I can see why." Courtney was a car person; she knew all the different types and models by sight. I couldn't even tell if something was wrong with one - unless the engine actually fell out.

  "Blake's driving?"

  "His car, so I guess." She shrugged, watching Josh with a look that made me want to shake some sense into her.

  "I call shotgun then," I replied. If I have to be in the same car as him, it certainly won't be next to him. I was aware that I was behaving like a child, but I didn't care. Josh had crossed a line, and I wasn't going to forgive him. Actually, Josh had crossed about a million lines.

  I got in the passenger seat before Josh had a chance to say or do anything. He could shove it if he thought I was moving. Blake smiled a little awkwardly and started the car. He didn't ooze confidence when it came to the female race, which I found ridiculous from looking at him.

  We didn't know each other at all, so we quickly fell into an awkward silence. I bit the inside of my cheek and twiddled my fingers. Say something! We had never actually spoken to each other before. That was about to change though; we had a two-hour car ride to the Lake District ahead of us.

  "So why do you hate Josh?" he asked.

  I was a little surprised by his bluntness. It was no secret that I didn't like him, but I didn't expect his brother to come straight out and ask it. "Um, because he's a dick."

  Blake raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, thinking. Finally, he nodded once. "Okay then."

  "You don't see him much, do y

  "Not really. Growing up my parents couldn't get on long enough to sort out proper visits for us. Most of the time, when they finally got around to it, they did a kid swap for a day or weekend. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen my mum in the last twelve years."

  "That's really sad."

  He shrugged as if it was nothing and it didn't hurt him. "That's how it goes sometimes."

  "Yeah but still..." I shook my head. I couldn't imagine not seeing my mum every day, as crazy as she drove me sometimes. Blake must feel abandoned by her if she never made the effort, and maybe that was how Josh felt about his dad? Wow, Josh and feelings, that was odd to think about and probably untrue.

  Josh and Courtney got in the car, and I fell silent. There was a tense atmosphere; like there always was when Josh was around. He knew I wished he wasn't with Courtney, and I think he liked that I did. He loved things like that. Bastard.

  "I don't mind you sitting in the front, Mackenzie," he said sarcastically. I clenched my fist.

  "My car, bro, and I'd rather sit near a pretty face than your ugly mug," Blake responded.

  Smiling to myself, I grabbed my bag of Chupa Chups lollies and offered Blake one. I should probably have been annoyed at the 'pretty face' comment, but that was overshadowed by him calling Josh ugly. Blake took an orange one - my favourite - and gave me a wink.

  "Not sharing, Mackenzie?" Josh said.

  I took a deep breath, resisting the urge to jam the plastic stick into his eye. "Sure," I replied, holding the bag out. He took two but only did it to annoy me, so I said nothing.

  "Okay, everyone, please play nice," Courtney whined. "This weekend is going to be epic so will you all make up!"

  "You know I've not got a problem with any of them, babe," Josh replied.

  I wanted to punch his smug face in. Courtney would believe him, of course. She was blind to what a total idiot he was. "Whatever," I muttered, clenching my jaw.

  We reached the cabin with no blood shed, so I was rather pleased with my levels of self-control, so far. Courtney seemed to keep Josh in check by flirting with him the whole way. I couldn't wait until she saw through him and all his crap. I was going to make sure I had a front row seat when she dumped his arse.

  "This is it?" I asked, looking up at a huge, double-story cabin out of the window. It could easily house about ten people.

  Blake cut the engine and smirked. "What did you expect, the Ritz?"

  "No. This is amazing. I didn't think it would be this big."

  "Three years ago I would have made a sexual innuendo joke."

  "All grown up now, are ya?"

  "Nah, that was just when I noticed Josh trying to act the big man, and I realised how lame it actually sounds."

  I grinned and got out of the car. I liked Blake. Why did we have to get stuck with the idiot brother? Kyle and Aaron bundled bags out of the boot, and Megan stared up at the enormous house. You could tell from the overgrown plants and faded window frames that no one had been here in a while. Josh and Courtney had spent all last weekend here doing it up, but I think they just cleaned the inside.

  The cabin was set in the clearing; the woods surrounded both sides and back and a gorgeous - hopefully shit free - lake ran along the front. It was so beautiful I didn't understand why you wouldn't use it as often as you could. Why wouldn't their parents want to keep coming here?

  "You happy to be back?" I asked Blake as we walked to the front door at a snail's pace.

  He shrugged as if he didn't care again. The last time he was here was when his family was 'whole'. "Just here for the piss up."

  Of course you are.

  Josh unlocked the door and turned to us. Kyle rolled his eyes, guessing what was coming, and I tried not to laugh. We - nineteen, twenty and older than us Blake year-olds - were about to be given rules. "Courtney and I have worked hard getting the cabin ready for you all, so I would appreciate it if you would respect the place and not leave it looking like a tip."

  I bit my tongue as laughter bubbled up, racing to my mouth, desperate to get out. How pathetic and pompous. None of us were going to trash the place, and he knew that. Courtney stood beside him like the lady of the manor, eating it all up. I loved that girl, but she needed a good slap to knock some sense into her.

  Josh opened the door and walked in ahead of Courtney. Gentleman my arse! She didn't even care; she followed him like a little lap dog.

  Wow. I walked in, and my jaw dropped.

  "I'll grab the bags," Aaron said, heading back out of the door behind Blake. I looked around, and despite being in the same room as Josh; I was excited for the weekend.

  The cabin was beautiful, albeit a little dated. The view of the lake from the lounge window was to die for. The sun shone down on the water's surface making it glisten. Whatever happened, I was going to ignore Josh and enjoy myself. We all needed to let off some steam after the accident.

  "I'm going to explore. Anyone wanna come?" Megan asked, bouncing up and down like a child. Her short, spiky, over hair sprayed bob barely moved an inch. She had already dropped her bag by the bottom of the stairs, which was about as much unpacking as she did.

  I handed the box of wine to Courtney who was lugging the food and drink from the lounge to the kitchen. "Don't fancy getting lost in the forest, thanks," I replied.

  Aaron put the last bag down. "I'll come." He walked out the door before anyone could stop him and make him help. I watched them walk into the woods. The bright midday sun shone down on Aaron's white-blonde hair, making it glow.

  "Going for a walk." Kyle shook his head at them. "Crazy. Hey, Blake, where'd you put the beer, man?"

  "In the oven," he replied dryly.

  I tried not to smile but failed miserably. I wasn't sure what Blake was doing here; he didn't seem to have a good relationship with Josh at all and he didn't seem to want to make it better either. He could see through his brother's crap though, so he was cool in my book.

  Kyle's mouth thinned in a tight smile, and I could tell he was fighting the urge to say something back. He turned and walked away, I imagined seconds from biting his head off.

  Blake and I were left in the lounge, alone again. I didn't know what to say. The silence was awkward again, but it didn't seem to affect him at all. Nothing seemed to affect him!

  "So, did you come here much when you were a kid?" I asked, filling the silence.

  He looked over his shoulder, half-smiling. "You're asking if I come here much?"

  "No, I'm asking if you came here much."

  Blake turned his body to face me. He had this cockiness about him too, but for some reason it wasn't as off putting as Josh's. "We came here a lot before our parents separated. After the divorce the place stayed empty, until now."

  I didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry."

  "Why? People divorce all the time." Before I had the chance to say anything else, he walked outside. He was definitely more affected than he let on.

  "Beer, Kenz?" Kyle asked from behind me.

  "You know it's eleven in the morning, right?"

  "Yeah," he replied, tilting his head, waiting for me to explain.

  I smiled and took a beer from his outstretched hand. "Never mind."

  Kyle and I sat on the sofa while Josh and Courtney messed around putting things away in the kitchen. "You think we should help?" I asked.

  "I offered. You know what Josh is like!"

  Control freak. We wouldn't do it the way he wanted. How many different ways there was to put food in a cupboard, I didn't know! This was 'Josh's' place though, and we were made very aware that we were his guests.

  "I'm going to need a lot of alcohol to get through this weekend."

  Kyle nodded in agreement and raised his bottle. "Let's keep it coming then."

  I clinked the top of the bottle against his and took a swig. Alcohol was definitely the answer when dealing with Josh. I hated spending any time with him at all; he made my blood boil.

  Kyle and I had
just finished our third bottle when the rest of the guys joined us. "Wow, this looks fun," Aaron said, grinning at the bottles and bottles of alcohol spread out over the coffee table.

  "Yep, Kyle and I thought we should have it all at arm's reach. Cheers," I said, raising my half-full bottle.

  "Well, if we're doing this, we're doing it right," Aaron replied, picking up his bottle of Absolut Vodka. "Everyone's in, no pussying out. Josh, shot glasses, my man!" My smile grew.

  "Err, guys, I don't want anyone throwing up in my house," Josh said in his annoying, stuck up, I'm better than you way. I had a very sudden, very childish urge to drink until I puked at least three litres of vodka. Everything he wanted, I wanted to do the opposite. I knew that was dangerous though. I knew I couldn't - and I wasn't stupid enough to do it - but I damn well wanted to.

  "Fucking lighten up, man," Kyle replied, his alcohol-laced voice and eye roll made Josh glare and his jaw tighten. He didn't like to be challenged. Josh was right and perfect, always. To him anyway, everyone else thought he was a dick.

  Kyle lifted a freshly poured shot glass and raised it to Josh, his own little fuck you, before knocking it back. I smiled and did the same. And then I regretted it because Josh's eyebrow arched, and I knew exactly what he was thinking.

  Chapter Two

  An hour after drinking, we'd eased off a bit or we'd all be flat on our faces before it even got dark. Well, I certainly would be anyway. Josh and Courtney had gone off to their room for a bit of privacy, which just meant Josh wanted sex. Megan and Aaron were cleaning up in the kitchen and Kyle had been in the bathroom for so long that I vowed never to use that one again.

  Blake stretched his legs out, kicking his booted feet up on the coffee table. He didn't fit in. He drank with us and joined in with conversation but it was weird. There was an atmosphere with him and Josh that went beyond the usual dislike of Joshua that the rest of us had.

  They didn't get along, so why on earth would Blake invite himself?

  "What do you do back home?" I asked, trying to get to know a little more about him other than his favourite alcoholic drink.

  "Worked here and there."

  Okay, it was like getting blood out of a stone.

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