Home > A Sense of Danger (Section 47 #1)

A Sense of Danger (Section 47 #1)
Author: Jennifer Estep








Jennifer Estep



A Section 47 Book



To my mom and my grandma—for everything.



To myself—because I always wanted to write a spy book.



Chapter One






You could always tell the assassins by their suits.

Jackets, shirts, ties. The garments were all extremely expensive and finely made, but also unrelentingly dark and depressingly monochromatic. Black on black, navy on navy, perhaps a dark gray on an even darker gray if someone was feeling particularly cheerful. It was as though the men and women who served as assassins for Section 47 had decided to kill the color from their wardrobes as easily as they dispatched the paramortal terrorists, criminals, and other dangerous magic wielders who wished to wreak chaos and calamity on the unsuspecting mortal world.

I eyed a couple of black-suited male assassins as they grabbed plastic trays and got in the cafeteria line. Of course, we didn’t actually call them assassins at Section 47. At least, not to their faces. Not if you wanted to keep breathing. No, my secret government agency referred to those men and women as cleaners, as if that somehow masked their true, deadly purpose. They didn’t clean up anything. They just created more bloody messes, in every sense of the word.

Just like my father had.

“Penny for your thoughts, Charlotte?” a light, feminine voice drawled, and a hand waved, drawing my attention away from the assassins.

I looked at the gorgeous woman with long, sleek red hair, hazel eyes, and rosy skin, sitting across the table. Miriam Lancaster, my office friend and lunch buddy, stared back at me, clearly expecting an answer. I wasn’t about to confess how much the black-suited cleaners reminded me of my father, so I gestured at my laptop instead.

“Just thinking about how much work I still need to finish.”

Sympathy filled her face. “Trying to get that big report done before you leave to work your diner shift?”

My fingers curled around the edges of the laptop keys at the mention of my second, unwanted job. I never should have told Miriam that I moonlighted as a waitress at a diner near the main Section building, but she had pried it out of me during one of our lunchtime chats after spotting the cheesy uniform sticking up out of my shoulder bag. Then again, Miriam was a charmer—someone who cozied up to and subtly extracted information from foreign spies, diplomats, and businesspeople—instead of just a lowly analyst like me.

In addition to her stunning good looks, Miriam was also gifted with charisma. Even though she wasn’t currently using her power, wasn’t trying to charm or beguile me, I could still sense the magic emanating from her body. The warm, soothing sensation always reminded me of a soft, fuzzy blanket straight out of the dryer. Miriam knew how to use that comforting feeling to its fullest extent, knew how to smile, nod, and draw people in until they confessed their deepest, darkest secrets. She might not kill people, as the cleaners did, but Section 47 had trained and molded her into a weapon as well, one who wielded friendly grins and smooth words instead of guns and knives.

“Yeah,” I replied in a neutral tone, finally answering her question. “Something like that.”

Miriam nodded, then leaned back in her chair, her gaze sweeping over every nook and cranny of the cafeteria, as if the area were fascinating instead of functional.

The cafeteria was like any other in the Washington, D.C., area—a large, cavernous space filled with gray plastic tables and chairs with cheap, framed black-and-white prints of D.C. landmarks covering the walls. One side of the cafeteria featured floor-to-ceiling windows that showed the hustle and bustle of the busy sidewalk and street outside, although the foot and motor traffic had died down a bit from the earlier frantic lunchtime rush. Even though it was creeping up on two o’clock, people still came in off the street, walked through the open archway, and headed for the food line along the back wall.

The cafeteria—also uninspiringly named Section 47—served decent food, and the menu included everything from typical burgers, fries, and pizzas to vegan deli salads, cold-pressed juices, and gluten-free cookies. Since it was open to the public, the cafeteria did a brisk breakfast and lunchtime business, although the regular mortals who strolled inside didn’t realize they were sitting and eating next to dangerous people with magical abilities and deadly training.

Then again, that was true of most restaurants in D.C. You never knew if the woman in the boring beige pantsuit throwing back shots of celery juice was a personal assistant or the head of some black-ops department, or if the guy in the wrinkled shirt and stained tie stuffing his face with mac-and-cheese was a taxi driver on his lunch break or some foreign diplomat spying on American soil. Washington, D.C., purportedly had more spies—both mortal and paramortal—per capita than any other city in the world.

Miriam took a sip of her iced tea, somehow not smearing her perfect red lipstick. It wasn’t a magical talent, but I envied her the ability all the same. My own plum lipstick had evaporated seconds after I had arrived at work this morning.

“What about Jensen’s funeral?” she asked. “You going to that tonight?”

My fingers flexed and then curled around the laptop keys again. Gregory Jensen had been my direct supervisor and a passionate environmentalist who was always railing about Section’s carbon footprint and how the cafeteria was killing the planet with plastic straws. Jensen had also been a devoted cyclist who thought he owned the road, instead of the cars and trucks whizzing by, and he had biked to and from work every day—until he’d been killed by a hit-and-run driver last week. Jensen had fought the traffic, and the traffic had finally won.

I felt sorry for his wife and daughter, but Gregory Jensen had been a royal pain in my ass, always barking orders and pointing out perceived flaws in my work. The day before his accident, he’d said that the staple in my latest report was crooked, before ordering me to yank it out and re-staple the papers together to his satisfaction.

He also had a nasty, infuriating habit of taking credit for my work. More than once, I’d been in an interdepartmental meeting where Jensen had presented my reports as his own, glossing over the fact that I had compiled the information, and laying out the conclusions I’d drawn as if he’d come up with them all by himself. I might just be an analyst, but I worked three times as hard as Jensen, who had been too lazy to do his own damn work, to take my reports and confirm and expound on them the way he should have, the way he was supposed to. Instead, he had been perfectly happy to coast along on my insights.

Jensen was always riding my ass, the way that so many unhappy, middle-management bosses did with their underlings. Miriam was the only person in our office who Jensen had liked, and only because she had occasionally stroked his ego about what important work we analysts and charmers were doing.

Like many other spy organizations, Section 47’s main mission was to gather intelligence and then use that information to prevent terror attacks, mass-casualty events, and other serious, life-threatening catastrophes. Only instead of tracking and chasing regular mortal bad guys, Section went after those who used magic and enhanced weapons to commit their crimes. In the unfortunate event that an attack did happen, and some paramortals unleashed their powers to rain down death and destruction, Section then covered up and explained away the magical calamity as best it could before hunting down the perpetrators—and eliminating them. And so, there was truth and justice for all. At least, that was the idea, although the execution was far from perfect.

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