End of Day (Jack & Jill #1)


by Jewel E. Ann

Chapter One

Day

Four graves.

Four caskets.

Two bodies.

A throng of family and friends mourned the loss of four innocent lives under dapple gray skies in a cemetery nestled at the bottom of a hillside just miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. A DEA agent and his wife were murdered a week earlier and their two adult children were reported dead in an apartment building the following day. Investigators reported the cause of death—self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Those same investigators collected a bag of cash at a drop location in exchange for their report which led to two empty caskets and headstones carved with the names Jessica Maeve Day and Jude Paxton Day.

“How many people live to see their own funeral?” Knox, the lead Agent for G.A.I.L, mumbled from the driver’s seat of the SUV custom built to meet presidential motorcade standards.

“I could snap your neck and not shed … One. Fucking. Tear,” Jessica Day answered.

The cocky agent chuckled, as any asshole that treated life and death like a business would do. “I taught you everything you know. I’m not too worried.”

“No, you taught me everything you know.”

“Jess,” Jude warned, grabbing her fisted hand and holding it until she relaxed.

“I’ve seen enough. Let’s go.” Jessica turned away from the window and closed her eyes as she released a slow sigh. Why couldn’t she have a normal life? A husband who worked too much but adored her, a daughter with long black hair and an ornery son that loved to pull it, and a dog that dug up the flowers planted along their white picket fence.

How could fate be so cruel?

“We’re gridlocked. We won’t be leaving early without busting up a few cars, which would make a scene. And the last thing we want to do is make a scene.”

Every word Knox spoke brought Jessica closer to the edge. She needed to hit something. She needed to hit someone. The most painful hour of her life passed with every second and felt like an eternity. Jessica didn’t want to live to see her own funeral. She fought the urge to jump out of the vehicle and race to the casket—her casket—climb inside, and let them bury her alive. At that point, no death would be as excruciating as the alternative—living.

“Look at me.” The uneasy tremble to her brother’s voice made her skin pebble, hair standing on end.

Jessica’s heart hid in her throat, sending waves of throbbing pain through her body as tears stung her eyes. She knew why Jude wanted her to look at him. On the other side of the privacy-tinted window was her everything.

How could fate be so cruel?

“Jess, don’t do it … just don’t.”

Jessica looked at her brother the way someone would before pulling a trigger pointed at their own temple—lifeless and regretful. “I have to … I have to see him one last time.”

The heartbroken shell of a woman turned toward the window and there he was, surrounded by his family. Sunglasses hid his deep navy eyes that had pieced her back together as much as his most brilliantly spoken words. His signature tailored suit he wore was black that day. She cursed him for not being more original—a splash of flare in honor of her funeral.

Her gaze drifted to his shoes. Inside she felt a blink of reprieve from the pain, a smile that didn’t reach her lips. He was wearing those argyle socks; she couldn’t see them … she just knew. Jessica knew that man. Jessica loved that man. And in that very moment, she said goodbye to that man. In another blink, the pain returned.

How could life. Be. So. Cruel?

Jude squeezed her hand. “He could come with us.”

“I know.” Her voice cracked under the weight of pain. He already thought she was dead. “I can’t take him from them. I want him … but they deserve him.”

*

The Days were transported to an undisclosed location that defined middle of nowhere, a million miles from civilization—no cell phones, no television, no computers … no alcohol. They were dropped off by plane, literally dropped from the plane with parachutes on their backs. Jessica and Jude were members of G.A.I.L. (Guardian Angels for Innocent Lives) and therefore they were experts in two areas: combat and survival.

Weekly food rations were deposited from the same plane, like aid and sustenance to soldiers. But their war was not a physical war; the enemy targeted their emotions. There were no hidden cameras, but those six months living by themselves in a tiny cabin as they moved through the stages of grief felt like a cruel psych experiment. They mourned the loss of their parents and the loss of themselves.

Cheating death more than once, Jessica had seen so much in her short life. Not once did she contemplate the worth of her own life. Not once did she think a single suicidal thought—until she said a silent goodbye to Luke at the cemetery. Jude spent months pulling her from the ledge, offering his shoulder, and sometimes beating some sense into her. How could the person she mourned the most be the only one still living?

Unfortunately, there was no room for error in their new lives. Severing emotional ties would keep them alive. Time. It would not heal them, but with each passing day it hardened their emotions, leaving them feeling numb.

Jude marked off each day on their calendar until the one with the star finally arrived. It read: fin de journée—End of Day. A knock at the door had them bodychecking each other, desperate to see a different face after six long months.

“Greetings!” Knox smiled as he stepped inside.

Jessica never imagined feeling excited to see Knox. In all respects she hated him. However, by then she would have welcomed the devil himself into their cabin. She loved her brother, but six months alone with him, living in such primitive conditions, tested her already-questionable sanity.

“So I see you haven’t killed each other.”

Jessica and Jude shared knowing smirks. On several occasions they sparred one blow shy of knocking the other one unconscious.

“Did you do your homework?”

“Homework?” Jessica looked at Jude. “You mean there was more than just not killing each other?”

Knox groaned. “God! Can’t you two just do what you’re told for once? We insisted on grief counseling and you refused it. We suggested Jude have all visible tattoos removed, and he refused that. Now you know damn well we asked you to give yourselves a past and plan out your future—think of new professions or new skills you want to acquire—and you’ve not done that either? I’m tempted to put a bullet in each of your heads myself and call it a day!”

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