I think everyone present knew the answer to that question was a resounding no.

“In that case,” Brooke said tersely, “I have to go. First period’s getting ready to start, and I have to look my best.”

And with those words, Brooke hung up the phone. “She wouldn’t listen to a word I said, and apparently, all of their resources have been relocated to the airport. They got an anonymous tip this morning.”

I was willing to bet a lot of money the tip in question had come from Amelia herself. This was her game, and she was making damn sure that we played it her way.

“So they wouldn’t even sign off on us tailing a TCI they think is harmless?”

Brooke shook her head.

“Can’t you go over her head on this?” I asked. “I mean, we could contact the real Big Guys.”

I couldn’t bring myself to think of Brooke’s mom as the end-all-be-all of the Big Guy decision task force. She and Brooke had so many mommy-daughter issues clouding their relationship that it was practically raining passive aggression.

“I could,” Brooke said, “but if we go over her head and it turns out to be nothing…” She trailed off. “And besides, if I were to officially report in, I’d probably have to clue them in to the fact that your position has been compromised. Twice.”

Once by Amelia, once by whoever had tagged me. When she put it that way, I decided that contacting the Really Big Guys probably wasn’t a good idea. Brooke had refrained from mentioning the chip literally in my shoulder to her mother, probably as a subtle way of avenging her hair against her mother’s criticism. Eventually, she’d tell someone about it, but I knew enough about the way this system worked to know that it would be in my best interest if no one knew that I’d been tagged until after we’d isolated the person who’d seen past my cover, which was now next on my To Do list after taking down Connors-Wright and Amelia, in that order.

Otherwise, I might not have to worry about revisiting all of my homecoming issues by the time prom rolled around, because if my cover was permanently blown, I wouldn’t still be on the Squad. If there even was a Squad.

“Even if we take Amelia down, if we don’t find the person who stole the weapon in the first place, I’m screwed.” There wasn’t a person in the room who hadn’t already come to this realization, which was saying something, since Bubbles and the twins perpetually had their heads in the clouds. “And the only lead we have on that person is the bomb, the list of operatives in Bayport, and the fact that there aren’t many people in this world who can touch me and walk away in one piece.”

“We’ll deal with that later. Right now, we have to concentrate on Amelia,” Chloe said, “because if the unthinkable happens and it turns out that you actually aren’t an idiot and Amelia was being straight with you, then we really don’t have a choice. The Big Guys aren’t going to stop Connors-Wright from using the weapon, and they’re not going to stop Amelia from stealing it. Besides, if Amelia steals the weapon, who’s to say Connors-Wright won’t go ahead with his plan anyway and just shoot somebody?”

The others nodded in agreement—every single one of them. I chose to believe that they were agreeing with Chloe’s general assessment, and not the tone with which it was delivered. No one on the Squad wanted to see what would happen if Anthony worked out his Daddy Issues in a very public, very violent way. It went against the unspoken moral code of cheerleading operatives. Rumor mongering? Morally acceptable. Murder and mayhem—not so much.

“We have to do something.” Brooke said the words quietly, as if she wished she wasn’t saying them. Despite the fact that she’d tried to stand up to her mother, this was taking Brooke Independence to a completely unprecedented degree. If things went badly, it was her head on the chopping block, and I couldn’t think of anything worse than knowing that your own mother would be the executioner.

Brooke breathed out heavily, and then she seemed to realize that she was breaking her own rule and showing way more weakness (if by weakness, you meant actual feeling) than she ever had before. “New plan,” she said. “Zee and I are going after Connors-Wright. Amelia said we couldn’t take him down until three. She didn’t say anything about tailing him. Chloe, you find out whatever you can about the chip, and we’ll keep you on constant radio contact. Britt and Tiff, I want you two to get as close as you can to the politician Connors-Wright’s father is guarding. A bodyguard will never be far away from his charge, and the good senator doesn’t have any public appearances scheduled before the press conference. I’m sure he’ll make an exception for his local fan club, especially when the fan club is…” Brooke just gestured to the twins.

They weren’t the prettiest girls on the Squad. They didn’t have Lucy’s earnestness or Zee’s exotic look, or even Brooke’s flawlessly symmetrical face, but they knew how to work what they did have. They were blond, they were built, and they were (I had been told) five times hotter together than either of them was apart. There wasn’t a politician alive who could resist the Sheffield twins.

“What about the rest of us?” Tara asked.

“Chloe will keep you guys apprised of the situation,” Brooke said. “Unless you hear otherwise, plan to be at the park by no later than three. I’ll send you guys exact orders once we manage to do a little recon, but our priorities are getting the weapon and getting Amelia. After that, we’ll deal with finding out who planted the tracking chip in Toby’s shoulder—assuming it wasn’t Amelia herself.”

How many times did I have to say “she didn’t touch me” before it sank in?

“Lucy, we’re going to need every long-range paralyzing weapon you’ve got. I want Amelia unconscious the second we spot her. It’ll have to be something she’s not expecting, so get creative. Britt, Tiff, before you guys leave to find the senator, I need you to work your magic on Amelia’s picture and give us a rundown of the potential disguises you think would be most effective for her to use. We can’t underestimate her, and that means assuming she’s as good as you are. Chloe, anyone who comes with you after school needs to be in deep cover. I don’t care if you have to dress up like boys—don’t let Amelia recognize you.”

A buzzer went off then, letting us know that first period was a mere ten minutes away from starting. Without a word, Chloe headed off to her lab, and the twins went to theirs. Zee hung back with Brooke, and the others slowly drifted off toward the locker room, to get changed and get ready for class.

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