What do you do when you learn your entire childhood was a lie?
Reeling from the truths uncovered while searching for her sister in Italy, Anastasia Phoenix is ready to call it quits with spies. The only way to stop being a pawn in their game is to remove herself from the board. But before she can leave her parents' crimes behind her, tragedy strikes. No one is safe, not while Department D still exists.
Now, with help from her friends, Anastasia embarks on a dangerous plan to bring down an entire criminal empire. From a fire-filled festival in England to a lavish wedding in Rio de Janeiro, Anastasia is determined to confront the enemies who want to destroy her family. But even Marcus, the handsome bad boy who's been there for her at every step, is connected to the deadly spy network. And the more she learns about Department D, the more she realizes the true danger might be coming from someone closer than she expects…
The Anastasia Phoenix series is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 Proof of Lies
Book #2 Lies That Bind
Book #3 End of the Lie
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I expected the fire, but not the noise.
The constant irregular popping of firecrackers boomed in every direction, reverberating off the aging stones and mixing with the rattling drums and honking tubas. Drunks had to shout to be heard, their slurred cheers freezing in visible puffs warmed only by the countless torches. Marchers filled the street, each holding a flaming stick that when too sizzling to hold was simply dropped and abandoned at their feet. There were unattended torches littering the cobblestones, which led me to believe the UK was in serious need of a public service announcement on the value of not playing with matches. I'd already burned the rubber of one sneaker, but at least that foot was warm. Even with long johns under my jeans and wheelbarrows full of fire rolling past, my teeth were chattering and my nose was running.
I guess this is one way to celebrate a holiday.
Not that we were in England for fun. These days, I strove for ordinary. I actually dreamt I was walking through the halls of Brookline Academy the other night, laughing with Tyson and Regina, my former best friends. We were talking about going to karate then binge watching a new TV show. Honestly, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or a memory. It was so normal. But when I woke up, the dark of night still cloaking my room, there were tears trailing down my cheeks as if my subconscious had just lowered the old me into the Earth. I couldn't fall back asleep, sniffling and wiping at my eyes as I realized Tyson and Regina were probably visiting colleges right now; they were sending out applications and writing essays about how tutoring saved their lives. Their entire worlds were going on without me, while I stayed immersed in a toxic realm my parents created. It was a life I didn't want.
But I also couldn't ignore it. Marcus's brother was in danger. At least, we thought he was in danger. That was why we were at this festival, searching for Antonio. I owed Marcus for helping me find my sister in Venice, but more than that, I wanted to help him. I needed to help him. He was sort of my boyfriend (we never actually talked about it). So officially, he was more like my adventure junkie companion, or the guy who saved my life, or a fellow Dresden Kid whose family might be as twisted as my own. He was also the reason I stayed entangled in this world of spies and Department D and didn't run away with Keira. But once Antonio was found safe (he had to be safe), Keira and I had a decision to make. Only I wasn't sure I was ready to admit what that decision might need to be.
I breathed into my wool scarf, warming my face as we cut through the dense crowds clogging High Street, fast food wrappers crunching under my sneakers. Surprisingly, even across the pond, parade-goers still relied on hamburgers and pizza to absorb the fountain of alcohol pouring down their throats. The air smelled almost as strongly of ale as it did of smoke, and oddly pubs were open, but their windows were boarded shut. In fact, every storefront within walking distance of the main parade route had nailed plywood to its windows — not to protect from fire, given that cheap wood made for excellent kindling, but to protect from the attendees. There were drunks swaying atop the iconic red phone booths, hanging out of windows, and hovering in doorways, all with pints dripping down their frozen hands.
I tightened my grip on Marcus's black leather jacket.
"Don't worry. I won't lose you," he said, wrapping his hand on top of my mine and squeezing it tight as he pulled me through the hordes of people glowing in a red fiery light that flickered as if the parade were being held on Mars, not in England. But what else could you expect on Bonfire Night? Every November fifth, towns throughout the United Kingdom celebrated the demise of one of the country's most infamous villains — Guy Fawkes.
Being an American, this name, and holiday, meant absolutely nothing to me. I imagined it would be like celebrating the Fourth of July in Germany or Cinco de Mayo in Boston. Wait, we do celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Boston. I had a picture of my sister, Keira, with Craig Bernard and Luis Basso at a pub to prove it — that was a week before the two criminal spies kidnapped her from our home. Still, I had never heard of Guy Fawkes until Charlotte, my best friend and complete tech genius, explained the unusual celebration as I booked my train ticket.
Turns out, Guy tried to blow up Parliament more than four hundred years ago, but he sucked at his job. He got caught, in the bowels of the historic seat of government, holding a match about to light enough barrelfuls of gunpowder that it would have been seen from the New World. He was branded a terrorist and mutilated in the town square. (It was standard procedure back then, though Guy somehow managed to hang himself before they got to the really gory bits.) Afterward, the country began to annually mark the day of his screwup with open flames that screamed, "Yay! We saved Parliament! Long live the King!"
Only hindsight had a way of shedding new bonfire light on the situation.
Today, Guy has been twisted into a bit of a folk hero, at least to hackers like Charlotte. That creepy mask with the curled mustache that's the face of the hacktivist group Anonymous? That's Guy. He's the poster child for anarchy — Fight the power! And all that. Because ultimately, Guy's stance against the British government's treatment of Catholics has been given validity. Priests were being killed, Catholics were being forced into hiding, and senseless laws were being passed. There were now as many people who viewed Guy as a freedom fighter as there were those who viewed him as a terrorist.
"I think that's the inn." Marcus pointed to a tiny ceramic sign adhered to the rounded gray bricks of a home so adorably British it deserved its own postcard. Windows, glowing with reflected torchlight, were rung with red bricks that contrasted with the gray stones that made up the rest of the structure. There was a burnt orange shingle roof with dormer windows, bushes still blooming with pastel flowers from an unusually warm October, and trees dripping overhead with emerald and golden leaves. In the background, high above the parade, stood an imposing castle. Because what self-respecting European town didn't have a castle? They're like McDonald's restaurants in the United States — old, plentiful, and often overlooked.
Honestly, the bed and breakfast seemed much more fitting for a honeymoon than a single guy, alone, running for his life. Unless none of that were true.
Not long after we rescued Keira from Department D in Italy, Antonio stopped returning Marcus's phone calls. Their parents hadn't seen or heard from him in weeks, nor had he shown up to work — for his job at the Dresden Chemical Corporation. Antonio worked in sales for the engineering firm my parents created and used as a cover for their espionage underbelly, Department D. We didn't know if Antonio was aware of his link to a criminal organization that specialized in "fake news," but we worried that even if he were oblivious, he might be targeted by those lethal spies because of Marcus's assistance in saving my sister.
Allen Cross, my parents' old friend and our lone Dresden ally, even called Antonio to warn him of the danger, but he got his voicemail. So it was possible Antonio got the message and took off in time, or it was possible the voicemail was too late and Marcus's brother was shackled to a sink somewhere just like my sister had been. Then there was the third possibility that I tried not to say aloud (too much) — maybe Antonio was a bad guy working for the enemy.
I knew Marcus wasn't considering this possibility, and I couldn't push the idea, not after he traveled with me from Boston to Italy when we were practically strangers. He never told me to give up on my sister, and he refused to leave my side even when Luis Basso pointed a gun at our heads in Cortona. In fact, Marcus rode a motorcycle down that mountain in Tuscany and saved our lives. I couldn't abandon him now, and I couldn't question his faith in his brother — even if every step I took in this quaint English village raised my anxiety level to that of a gazelle galloping past a lion's den.
There was something too convenient about this lead. After weeks with no activity on Antonio's credit cards, bank accounts, and passports, Charlotte suddenly uncovered a registration for a B&B at the Guy Fawkes festival in Lewes, England — only an hour and a half from where we were staying in London. And it was in Antonio's real name. This didn't sound like a guy hiding from super spies. We all debated the lead being a setup — it was practically wrapped in caution tape — but in the end, Marcus was willing to walk into the trap gagged and blindfolded if it meant saving his sibling. I knew how that felt, and I couldn't let him take that walk alone.
I squeezed past a young couple with a toddler, all three dressed in black and white striped shirts and red neckerchiefs to show the family's allegiance to one of the bonfire clubs. Unlike the giant cartoon balloons and celebrity performances that filled American parades, this celebration consisted of locals dressed in costumes that ranged from early Michael Jackson chic to inexplicably offensive. First, there was a group that looked like convicts who'd escaped from a nineteenth-century prison, hence the black and white striped shirts and cherry knit hats. Then there was a troop wearing what could only be described as train conductor uniforms bedazzled for a moonwalk; they were only missing a sequin glove. There were Victorian women in silk hoop skirts and bonnets. There was a guy dressed like Captain Hook.
Then groups shifted toward political incorrectness, like that troop dressed as American Indians in flowing feathered headdresses with war paint on their cheeks. There was a club holding burning crosses, and another hoisting antiCatholic "No Popery" signs. But all of that paled in comparison to the spectacle before me now.
I yanked Marcus to a halt and gawked at the famously pale British men and women sporting a Zulu African theme with their faces painted completely black. My jaw fell, the taste of smoke souring my tongue. This would cause a riot in America. There were actual babies in blackface being pushed in strollers and a guy pulling a long string of firecrackers that popped like gunshots as they walked. My wide eyes darted around, expecting to see another horrified expression, only I noticed all of the faces in the crowd were white. And not just Caucasian, they were British. I hadn't heard another American voice since I'd arrived, let alone any other accents.
"What is it?" Marcus asked, noticing the tight wrinkles on my forehead.
"They're in blackface." Isn't that obvious?
"Oh." He cringed at the scene. "Things are a little different in Europe."
"Clearly." My face continued to twist as I imagined how Tyson would feel if he saw this. It was hard enough being black in New England; I couldn't imagine what he would feel like here.
Just then a giant papier-mâché float of the American president, wearing a sombrero and riding a cactus, rolled toward us, presumably a statement against our immigration policies that would be burned in effigy at midnight. Tonight there would be dozens of sky-high fires lit throughout the tiny village, which consisted of narrow streets lined with Tudor buildings, constructed hundreds of years ago, mostly of wood, surrounded by hordes of people, many of them drunk. And there wasn't a police officer or fire truck in sight.
"This parade has taken an odd turn," I said.
"If you think this is bad, you should see Las Fallas de Valencia. Puts this little fiesta to shame."
"So Spaniards light things on fire, too?"
"Bigger than this," he said, proudly adjusting his posture. "Maybe I'll take you someday."
Then he leaned toward me, his dimples aimed like a weapon. There was smoke and literal fire encircling us, firecrackers sizzling in every direction, and hordes of bodies shoving us together. All I could see was his smile; I didn't get to enjoy it often enough. We met the day before my sister disappeared from a claw-foot tub of blood, then we fought side by side in Italy, and even when I did get Keira back, I was confronted with the fact that my parents might be alive, my dad might not really be my dad, and Marcus's brother might be in mortal danger. It was a rather extreme way to start a relationship.
Marcus reached for my waist, gently resting his hands and sending a warm tingle through my body. "Thank you for coming here, for helping me."
"Dresden Kids stick together." I repeated his infamous line. Though I wasn't the only Dresden Kid who wanted to help. Keira fought to join us. She wanted to somehow repay everyone for what they sacrificed to find her, and while I understood, I'd begged her to stay with Charlotte and Julian. I'd already lost her once, and I'd sunk into a funk so deep it left me bedridden and nearly institutionalized by Charlotte's parents.
So while I was the little sister in our tiny family, and while I realized she took care of me and protected me from social services for years, I felt our power dynamic shifted the moment I found her in Venice. It was now my job to protect us, and I needed her safe in London.
"Once we find Antonio, it'll be okay. We'll all be okay," Marcus said, his voice so monotone it was clear he didn't believe his words. Keira and I were living under assumed names. Marcus and I were taking online classes, because high school was a dream sequence we couldn't actually live out. Charlotte was hacking databases against a criminal empire. And Julian was funding the entire anarchist operation. We were all so far from okay that normal was a fantasy that kept me up at night.
"Antonio is fine," I assured him, my voice as flat as his.
He nodded, trying to force himself to believe. Then he pressed his forehead to mine and sighed, his whole weight leaning into me. I closed my eyes, my cheekbones feeling the flutter of his hair. He needed a trim. We all did. We didn't exactly have time for stuff like that anymore.
"I have to find him," he whispered.
He exhaled against me, the heat of his breath warming my chapped, red cheeks.
"This has to end eventually, no?"
We both knew there was no answer to that question, and he really wasn't looking for one. He needed something else right now. So I shifted my lips toward his, barely a flutter, and we kissed in a way so sad and desperate that the sensation was instantly familiar — only now I was on the other side. Marcus moved his fingers to my hair, and I could feel him trying to forget the world, forget his fears, forget where he was. I knew what he wanted. I had been there myself not too long ago.
I grabbed at his neck and pressed hard against his mouth, moving my tongue until I felt a change within him, the strike of a match. He pushed me against the boarded-up window of a village shop, the splintered raw wood sticking to the wool of my coat as his mouth moved with a new excitement. I moaned slightly, and he slid his hand behind my head, gripping my hair, protecting my scalp from the hard wood, and pulling me closer.
Around us, crowds continued to push past, and I could feel torches glowing brighter, hotter, closer.
I cracked open my eyes and was startled by a man standing inches away, a fiery stick in his hand and a creepy grin on his bearded face. I jolted, pushing Marcus — visions of Department D, deadly spies, and endless threats of setups flashed in my head. Panic spread across Marcus's flushed face as he noticed my reaction.
Then he turned toward the stranger.
Only then did the man move the torch closer, illuminating his face.
That was when I recognized his familiar features — the dark hair, the double dimples, and the near-black eyes that ran in their bloodline.
The beer was warm. Not that I was a beer connoisseur, but given that this was my first taste of the bitter alcoholic refreshment, I would have at least preferred it as cool as the Rockies. Don't tell me that Skittles don't taste like a rainbow, either.
I sat in an English pub at a sticky wooden table that reminded me of the bar Charlotte and I went to in Boston, when we were first searching for my sister. Lately, we'd been searching for Antonio. Now, here he sat, right in front of us. Smiling.
"I'm so glad you're okay." Marcus looked at his brother like an exhausted dad whose kid walked in three hours past curfew, his face showing a mixture of relief and annoyance. "Where have you been?"
Excerpted from "Lies that Bind"
Copyright © 2018 Diana Rodriguez Wallach.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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