“Sorry, but it’s you or me,” the girl repeated – and before I could even open my mouth, her finger tightened. She pulled the trigger.
The gun clicked.
If I had moved right then, I could have moved back, maybe dodged the next shot.
If Danni pulled the trigger a second time, the next round in her .45 would have gone through my skull.
But neither of us moved. We just held still, staring at each other in mutual disbelief.
It seemed to go on forever, but finally, the spell was broken. I let go of Danni’s ankle and scrambled back, at the same time as she kicked her foot free and clambered up to her feet. We were both back up on our feet, but thinking more of defense than attack.
Now up and standing, but still close enough to each other that either of us could reach out and touch the other, we stared at each other once again. I could maybe try and tackle her, knock the gun out of her hands before she could get off a shot, my tactical training told me. I knew that I had about a fifty-fifty shot of managing to avoid a bullet in someplace lethal.
But before I could move, Danni did. She darted forward, pushing the gun up against my ribs as she leaned into me.
And before I could react, I felt the lightest brush of her lips against my face.
Before I could grab her, the girl danced back, pushing off of me and kicking me off balance as she darted backwards. “Better luck next time, Priest!” she called after me, as she disappeared out of the hotel’s front door.
I could have lunged for my own gun, still lying on the floor. I can reload my pistol in seconds while at a dead run. By the time I was through the doors of the hotel and outside, my own weapon would be fully loaded and ready to bring the girl down. She couldn’t outrun a bullet.
Instead, I stayed frozen, standing there amid the wreckage of the lobby. Ever so slowly, one of my hands lifted up to touch where her lips had brushed against the corner of my mouth.
Finally, a thought managed to work its way through the haze and mist in my mind, yelling and shouting to make itself clear.
The Organization isn’t going to be happy about this, it whispered to me darkly.
It was true. I needed to send back a telegraph with my report. The Organization had given me a pass last time I failed to bring down the girl, but they wouldn’t accept two failures in a row. This meant an Organization-wide bounty on the girl – and every Priest in the area would perk up and think about going after her.
If I wanted to redeem myself, I’d have to beat them all out and find the girl myself, before they could do the same.
As I slowly labored over to pick up my gun from the floor, still feeling a twinge of pain pierce up from my abdomen with each step, I felt my resolve harden. I knew my skills, and I knew that I could find Danni first.
But a dark thought in my head perked up, uncoiling in my mind like a snake. “But why are you so set on finding her first?” it asked me in a soft hiss.
To prove myself, to redeem myself, I told that intruding thought. If I didn’t find Danni, I was likely to be demoted, if not fired. And the Organization had very strong views on how it terminated its employees when they were no longer capable.
“Is that truly why you want to find her?” that dark thought in my head pressed. “When you catch up to her again, will you be able to kill her?”
The black snake hissed impatiently. “Do you truly want to kill her? Or are you searching for her so you can protect her?”
Protect her? As if this girl had somehow completely shaken my core, my sense of who I was? I shook with outrage at the suggestion.
Yet somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to answer that dark thought in my head. Instead, I remained mute as it, satisfied, crawled back into the depths beneath my consciousness.