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Willow Anastasia Stephens
I stood on my lean, bronzed legs, staring at my reflection in the oversized vanity mirror inside my bathroom. My fingertips skated through my head full of bouncy, chestnut brown curls that stopped right below my C-cup breasts. With the help of a brush and some styling gel, I slicked my hair back into a low bun before securing a black wig cap on top. I stroked a soft powder brush across my caramel-colored cheeks before giving myself one last look. I crossed one ankle over the other while staring at the Gemini zodiac symbol tattooed on the inside of my left ankle. Although I grew up as an only child, I was born a part of a set of premature twins. After fighting for our lives for two weeks in the intensive care unit, I was the only one who survived. Being that my mother had one child to take home to raise as a single parent and another to bury, she named the baby who passed away Winter so that our names would still match even in death.
Mama always said everybody had two sides, even if they didn’t always show them immediately. The older I got, the more I believed it to be true because there were two sides to me. Most days, I was level-headed and calm. While others, I could be as fickle as the wind. There were times when I wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in someone if pushed in the wrong direction or even slightly rubbed the wrong way. I was the walking definition of zero to a hunnid, real quick.
My train of thought was interrupted when my phone vibrated against the bathroom counter. By the familiar vibration pattern, I instantly knew who the caller was.
“Hey, baby,” I answered with a wide grin across my face.
“What’s up? You miss me?” my boyfriend, Shea, asked.
I chuckled. “Of course, I miss you.”
“Dad just finished his bible study lesson, and I was wondering if you’d like to join me for a late dinner.”
I pulled the phone away from my ear long enough to check the time. It was fifteen minutes until nine. I knew if I agreed to meet him, I wouldn’t be able to stay long, and Shea Dixon was the one person I was never in a rush to leave. I was already working the late shift and had to be at my cover job at eight-thirty the next morning. As much as it pained me to do it, I had to decline.
“No. Not tonight, baby. I’ve got to work tonight and then again early in the morning. Can I get a rain check?”
“I swear you’re one of the hardest-working females I know,” he stated. I could hear the disappointment in his voice before he continued, “But I can’t do nothin’ but respect your hustle, so a rain check it is. Don’t work too hard, baby.”
“Trust me, I won’t,” I responded as the right side of my mouth lifted in a smirk.
Shea managed to turn my frown back into a smile with ease. He always made me smile at the drop of a dime. It had been like that since the first time we’d met.
It was the early hours of a Sunday morning in mid-spring. I’d finished cleaning up at work, and although I was dead tired, I was itching to repent for my latest sins. It’d been so long since I stepped foot into a church, I was sure I’d get struck by lightning the minute I walked through the door. After a quick internet search for the closest Black church, I set my GPS to the nearest one and headed to the house of the Lord.
When I arrived at the large brick church with over two hundred online reviews, I trekked upstairs to the balcony of the crowded church and took a seat in the pew furthest back. I spotted Shea sitting beside his mother in the front on the second pew among the sea of oversized church hats and loud five-piece suits. His fine ass was looking up at his father in admiration as he preached the word of God. I’ll never forget what he wore. He was decked out in a midnight black designer suit with matching Italian leather shoes and a lilac handkerchief in his breast pocket, which made me smile. Lilacs were my favorite flower and shade of purple. In my mind, he was a keeper, and suddenly, the lord’s forgiveness was the last thing on my mind. After the sermon, everyone in the congregation began to greet one another. Many hands were extended my way, and many eyes fell upon me as a newcomer, but the only person’s attention I wanted was Shea’s, and I wouldn’t be satisfied until I had it.
Knowing that I made my way over to him, smile leading the way. “Hi. I’m Willow,” I introduced myself, extending my hand with freshly manicured nails. I glanced at my nails and smiled at their sparkle in the light. I was proud of myself for cleaning the dried blood from underneath them before showing up in God’s house.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Shea Dixon, the pastor’s son,” he stated while reaching out to shake my hand.
“Nice to meet you, too. I couldn’t help but notice you from where I was sitting, so I decided to introduce myself,” I announced, eyes soaking him in like a sponge.
He was half a shade darker than me with a lean body, but I could tell he was in excellent shape. He had a thin mustache that draped over the sides of his full, kissable lips down to a well-groomed goatee. His light-brown eyes glistened whenever they hit the church’s stained-glass windows.
A soft chuckle burst past his lips. “Oh, word? So, you’re one of those women who knows what she wants and goes after it, huh?”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Something like that.”
He dipped his chin in a nod. “I like that. I don’t think I’ve seen you here before. Is this your first time here at Mount Zion Baptist?”
“Yes, but I’m sure you’ll be seeing much more of me,” I insisted with a slight nod.
He flashed a wide, spotless smile, which contagiously crept over to me, causing me to flash one right back. “I’m glad to hear that. Was my father’s sermon that moving, or did you like admiring me from afar?”
I laughed at his subtle attempt to make a cocky joke while in church. “Mmm, a little of both,” I confessed.
“Well, Willow, it was nice meeting you. Maybe the next time you come, you can sit next to me and admire me from up close,” he stated before belting out another quick laugh. “Nah. I’m joking. Seriously, I do hope I get to see you again.”
“In that case, you should take my number,” I suggested, eye contact centered on him.
He cleared his throat before pinging his eyes to his designer shoes and then my hazel eyes. “Say less.”
I watched him pull out his cell phone and hand it to me. After typing in my number, I saved my name and returned the phone to him. “Here you go.”
“Bet. I’ll hit you up soon.”
I swiveled on my heels, smiling all the way back to the car. Although it wasn’t the revival I went to church looking for, it was precisely what I needed. All I had to do was sit back and wait for the sexy ass preacher’s kid to hit my line.
Shea reached out via text a couple of days later, and we met for dinner and a movie date. After our first encounter, I realized he was far from my type. He was too polished for my liking, and I knew he wouldn’t fit in well with my hectic lifestyle. So, I politely blew him off the next few times he called, asking for a second date. No matter what excuse I hit him with, he never gave up. I admired his persistence and had to give his fine ass credit for his commitment. He never seemed to take no for an answer.
After twisting my arm every which way, I finally gave him a second chance to win me over. Soon after our second outing, we started dating each other exclusively and had been a couple for almost a year. As deeply as I cared for Shea, he still had no idea what I did for a living that allowed me to push the nice car I did or live in my expensive condo in the Sky Towers right on the Las Vegas strip. I figured the longer I kept my other side private; the longer things would remain good between us. As far as I was concerned, all he needed to do was keep laying that good pipe on me every Sunday after his Bible-toting daddy’s sermons, and things between us would remain just fine. It wasn’t a secret that he planned to propose and make me Mrs. Shea Dixon one day, but I also knew there was a strong chance he’d change his mind and go running for the hills if he ever found out I was a bank consultant by day and one of Vegas’s most skilled assassins by night. It was the one job I would never be late for and would always be more than happy to show up to.
The human body fascinated me in more ways than one. I loved how the heart ticked faster when a blade severed warm flesh. I loved how a person’s eyes watered and bulged out of their custom-fitted sockets when strong hands were wrapped tightly around the throat, sealing off the air supply. Most of all, I loved the way you could smell fear radiating off the human body when the presence of death was a breath away.
My phone vibrated again, snapping me out of my trance. This time, it was my boss and mentor, Victor.
“Yes?” I answered with a slight ring in my voice.
“Address coming your way soon,” he announced through the receiver.
A smile crept across my half-painted red lips. “Got it,” I responded before hanging up.
I went back to putting the finishing touches on my makeup and making sure my lips were the exact shade of red I wanted: crimson. When I knew someone’s blood would spill, red was my go-to color outside of purple. I secretly called myself the Angel of Death. Growing up, my mama was a hospice nurse, so she saw a lot of death. She told me stories about the Angel of Death and how he was known as “God’s helper.” Because of that, a part of me didn’t look at what I did as kills for hire but more like helping God rid the earth of unnecessary beings.
Once my makeup was complete, I slid on a black lace wig with a curl pattern that mimicked my natural hair. When I first started, I made the mistake of letting a victim get a good grip on my hair, causing me to spend more time cleaning to ensure no hair follicles were left under his nails or anywhere in the hotel suite for the investigators to find. I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. I didn’t have time for a lot of things, and rotting in a jail cell was at the top of that list. Seconds later, my phone dinged with a text from Victor.
Vic: 3570 South Las Vegas Blvd. Suite 3341. The door will be unlocked.
Exiting the bathroom, I walked over to my bedside, where my outfit for the night was already laid out. I shimmied my hips into the skin-tight black jeans with a red stripe down the left side and slid on my black tank top. Upon stepping into my six-inch black designer heels, I recalled my brief phone call with Victor. Once upon a time, we used to do hits together. He’d taken me under his wing and showed me the ins and outs of the assassin game and what it meant to be a “member” of his motorcycle club, The Underground.
Victor Alvarez was of Dominican and Columbian descent and twenty years my senior. He had budding salt and pepper hair, piercing emerald green eyes, and a deep voice with a thick accent. To be in his mid-forties, he didn’t resemble his age at all. He needed to keep his body in tip-top shape in his line of work. I’d never admit it, but he still looked almost as good as he did the night we met.
Coming Saturday, December 2!