When I find the derelict-looking door, I punch a code into a cleverly hidden box and turn the knob. Once inside the cold space, I don’t blink as the red line sweeps across my eyes, reading my retinas. I hold my hand to the sensor and wait for another steel door to swing open. Then I step inside and start down the stairs, two at a time. “Ms. Morgan,” Agent Townsend yells from below. “You’re late.” “Sorry,” I tell him. I hold up my report. “Almost finished,” I say, but he doesn’t care about the paperwork. He nods toward the boy who looks like him. “We have a lead on a rogue asset outside of Kabul. CIA wants the two of you. If you have the time?” Townsend asks, almost condescendingly.
Read the first chapter of the LAST Gallagher Girls book. Right here. Right now.
The water was still as we walked beside it. A single rower sliced through the channel like an arrow shooting out to sea, and I couldn’t help but stare after him, more than a little jealous.
“It’s beautiful. Isn’t it, Cammie?” I heard my mother ask. She slipped her arm around my waist. It felt sure. Safe.
But all I could do was muster a nod and add a not-very- enthusiastic “Yeah.”
“Do you have an interest in rowing?” asked the man in the tweed cap and brown trench coat who was accompanying us. He looked like an ad for London Fog. Either that or a Sherlock Holmes impersonator. Or a bigwig British academic. And, of course, I knew that last one was right on.
“Cam, Dr. Holt asked you something.” Mom nudged me.
“Oh. Yes. Sure. Rowing looks … fun.”
“Do you row at your school now?”
He sounded interested. He looked interested. But I’ve been trained to hear what people don’t say—to see the things that are better kept hidden—so I knew that Dr. Holt was simply trying his best to be nice.
“No. We do … other things,” I told him, and reminded myself that it wasn’t a lie. I didn’t, however, feel the need to add that by other things I meant learning how to kill a man with uncooked spaghetti and disarm nuclear bombs with Tootsie Rolls. (Not that I’d done either of those things yet. But I still had one semester left at the Gallagher Academy.)
“Well”—he pushed his horn-rimmed glasses up on his nose—“Cambridge is a very well-rounded university. Whatever activities you enjoy, I’m sure we have them here.”
Oh, I highly doubt it, I thought, just as my mom said, “Oh, I’m sure you do.”
Dr. Holt turned up a path, and my mother and I followed. The long lawns were green, even in winter. But the sky over- head was gray, threatening rain. I shivered inside my down jacket. I wasn’t as thin as I had been at the start of my senior year, but I was still a little underweight. Despite the fact that Grandma Morgan had spent the better part of Christmas break force-feeding me various things covered with gravy, my coat felt too big. My shoulders felt too small. And I remembered with a pang what had happened to me the previous summer—that even Gallagher Girls aren’t always as strong as they need to be.
“Cammie?” Dr. Holt asked, pulling me back to the moment. “I said, what other schools are you—”
“Oxford, Yale, Cornell, and Stanford,” I said, rattling off the universities that Liz had put on my hypothetical short list, answering the question I’d only half heard.
“Those are all excellent schools. I’m sure that if your test scores are any indication, you will have your pick.”
He patted my back, and I tried to see what he was seeing. An average-looking, average-sounding American teenage girl. My hair was in a ponytail, and my shoes were scuffed. I had a zit coming in like gangbusters on my chin and a couple of scars at my hairline, which had forced a recent experiment with bangs that hadn’t turned out so well.
There was absolutely no way for Dr. Holt to know what I’d done over my summer vacation; but there are some scars that even bangs can’t cover, and they were still there. I could feel them. And I couldn’t tell Dr. Holt the truth—that I was a perfectly normal senior at the world’s foremost school for spies.
“And this, Cammie, is Crawley Hall. What do you think of it?”
I turned to study the big stone building. It was beautiful. Old. Regal. But I’d been living in an old, regal building since I was twelve, so I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm Dr. Holt was probably hoping for.
“Our economics department is world renowned. Do I understand correctly that you are interested in economics?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
“Can we go in?” Mom asked. “Take a look around?”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Dr. Holt pushed his glasses up again. “The university is closed for our winter break. I’m afraid we’re already making something of an exception.”
My mother reached out and touched him gently on the arm. “And I am so grateful to you for working us in like this. As you know, we’re only in the UK for a couple of days, and Cammie has so been looking forward to it.”
Dr. Holt looked at me. I tried and failed to mimic my mother’s smile as Dr. Holt walked on.
“And here we have the library. Some might say it’s the jewel in our campus crown,” Holt added. “We have the ﬁ nest collection of rare books in the world. First editions by Austen and Dickens—we even have a Gutenberg Bible.”
He puffed out his chest, but all I could say was “That’s nice.”
“Now, up this path you will ﬁ nd—”
“Excuse me, Dr. Holt?” My mom cut him off. “Do you think it would be okay if Cammie looked around on her own? I know classes aren’t in session, but maybe that would help her to get a feel for the place.”
“Well, I …”
“Please?” my mother asked.
“Oh, of course. Of course.” Dr. Holt looked at me. “What do you say, Cammie? Meet us back at the quad in an hour or so?”
Something seemed so strange about that moment. For months, there had always been someone by my side. My mother. My roommates. My (and I don’t use this word lightly) boyfriend. Someone was always there, watching out for me. Or just watch- ing me. It felt more than a little strange for my mother to nod her head and say, “It’s okay, kiddo. Go on. I’ll be here when you get back.”
So I stepped away, reminding myself that when you’re a spy, sometimes all you can do is go on. One foot in front of the other, wherever the narrow path might lead.
Before I turned the corner, I heard Dr. Holt say, “What a … charming girl.”
My mother sighed. “She’s had a hard year.”
But Mom didn’t try to explain. I mean, how do you tell someone, Oh yes, my daughter used to be a real sweetheart, but that was before all the torture? So she didn’t say a thing, which was just as well. Dr. Holt didn’t have the clearance to hear it anyway.
I walked by myself around the corner of the grand old build- ing. There was an arbor covered with ivy. A statue of someone whose name I didn’t know. The air was moist and cool around me. I felt alone as I walked between two buildings and found myself staring down at the river again. Another single rower slid across the water, looking backward, moving forward. It seemed to go against all logic, but the man kept pushing on against the cur- rent, and I wondered how he made it appear so easy.
“Fancy seeing you here.”
The voice cut through my train of thought, but I didn’t startle; I turned.
“So did you get it?” my best friend, Bex, asked. Her British accent was even thicker in her native land, and her smile was especially mischievous when she crossed her long arms. The wind blew her black hair away from her face. She looked alive and eager, so I held up the key card I had slipped out of Dr. Holt’s pocket.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
She looped her arm through mine. “Cammie, my dear, I was born ready,” she said, and then she walked up to Crawley Hall and swiped.
When the light ﬂashed green she said, “Come on.”
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Above the plains up on the hill there stood a castle bold
A gleaming palace made of white, a pillar to behold
The horsemen lived in service to the castle and crown
But the knights rose up and killed the kings
And it all burned down.