"We're moving." The man beside me spoke into the microphone in his sleeve, and I knew the words weren't for me.
The August air was hot and thick with the smell of sea salt and bus exhaust. The roads were packed for miles, and everywhere I looked I saw shades of red, white, and blue. Everywhere I turned, I felt the eyes of trained professionals staring, seeing, recording every word, analyzing every glance within a dozen miles.
Part of me wanted to break free of the big men in the dark suits who flanked me on either side; another part wanted to marvel at the bomb-sniffing dogs who were examining boxes twenty meters away. But most of all, I wanted to lie when another man, with a clipboard and an earpiece, asked for my name.
After all, I've spent a lot of time learning how to whip out false IDs and recite perfectly crafted cover stories in situations just like these, so it was harder than I thought
to say, "Cammie. Cammie Morgan."
It was weirder than I would have guessed as I waited for him to scan the clipboard and say, "You can go right in."
As if I were simply a sixteen-year-old girl.
As if I couldn't possibly be a threat.
As if I didn't go to a school for spies.
Walking through the hotel lobby, I couldn't help but remember the first assignment my covert operations teacher ever gave me: Notice things. Lights and cameras shone from every angle. A massive net full of red, white, and blue balloons snaked through the cavernous space like a patriotic python. Up on the mezzanine level, the Texas delegation was singing about yellow roses, while a woman walked by wearing a big foam hat shaped like a Georgia peach.
I scanned the masses of old women and young girls. Husbands and wives. College kids and senior citizens. The last time I'd been in a crowd like this was in a different season and a different city, so maybe it was the hotel's frigid air-conditioning or just a memory of a chilly day in D.C., but for some reason, I shivered and fought against a serious case of deja vu as I looked around and said the name I hadn't spoken in weeks. "Zach."
Then I blinked and wondered if a part of me would always worry that he might be on my tail.
"This way," the man beside me said, but we didn't stop at the end of the line, which twisted and turned in front of the marble-covered registration desk. We didn't even slow down as we passed between two rows of elevators. Instead we turned down a narrow hall that seemed half a world away from the bright lights and tall ceiling of the lobby. Plush carpeting gave way to chipped linoleum tiles until finally we were standing before an elevator I'm pretty sure hotel guests were never intended to see.
"So, you're a friend of peacocks?" the Secret Service agent asked while we waited for the doors to open.
"Excuse me?" I asked, because even though I'd never been in a really nice hotel, I was pretty sure they wouldn't have exotic birds on the penthouse level.
"Peacock," the agent said again as we stepped into the service car that was soon carrying us, nonstop, to the top floor. "See, we use code names," he explained as if I were … a sixteen-year-old girl, "when we talk about the protectee. So you and Peacock, you're … friends ?" he asked, and again I realized that he wasn't looking at me the way a well- trained, well-armed security professional looks at a potential threat (because I know a thing or two about well-trained and well-armed security professionals!). Nope. He was looking at me like I was … a Gallagher Girl.
Of course, if you're reading this you must already know that there are two types of people in this world—those who know the truth about what goes on inside the walls of the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, and those who don't. Something in the way the agent was trying to weigh my slightly out-of-style clothes against the snooty reputation of my school told me that he was definitely the second type—that he assumed we were all rich; that he thought we were all spoiled; and that he had no idea what it really meant to be Gallagher Girl.
And that was before I heard the screaming.
As the elevator doors slid open, a high-pitched "I am going to kill someone!" echoed from behind the double doors at the end of the hall.
And then I was one hundred percent certain that the man beside me didn't know the truth about my sisterhood, because he didn't draw his weapon; he didn't even flinch as a second Secret Service agent opened the double doors and whispered, "Peacock is angry."
Instead, he walked toward the screaming girl—even though she was a Gallagher Girl.
Even though her name was Macey McHenry.
Before that day, I'd never been to Boston. I'd never had a Secret Service escort. And I'd definitely never been a VIP (or the friend/roommate/guest of a VIP) at a national political convention. But walking into what I'm pretty sure was the hotel's second-nicest suite, I added another first to the list: I'd never seen Macey McHenry as mad as she was then.
"Really, Macey, I think it's an adorable little puff piece." Cynthia McHenry's cool, mannered tone could not have been more different from her daughter's. "He's the only son of a future president…You're the only daughter of a future vice president. … If people want to read about the possibility of a White House wedding eight years from now, I don't see any reason to stop them. Really, I don't know why you have to be so dramatic."
Right then I made a mental note that if Mrs. McHenry thought Macey was too dramatic then she should probably never be left alone with the better part of our junior class.
"If that boy—"
"That boy," her mother corrected, "is Governor Winters's son—"
"—tries to flirt with me—" Macey went on, but Mrs. McHenry talked over her.