P R O L O G U E 

The blood underneath her nails bothered her.

Cheap, stupid, useless gloves, the girl thought in annoyance. She had even worn two layers of them tonight, but a rare errant slash from the knife had sliced through both layers, and now the blood had gotten on her hands. Stupid. On any other night, she would have stopped and—carefully, methodically—scraped the scarlet flakes out from under her nails, one line after another. But she had no time right now.

No time, no time.

Moonlight cut across the floor of the mansion, illuminating part of the man’s naked body. He bled strangely, the girl thought, compared with the others. The blood just pooled beneath him in a perfect circle, like a disk of smooth frosting on a cake.

She sighed again and stuffed her canister of red spray paint into her backpack, then grabbed a few of the rags strewn on the floor. On the wall beside her was the symbol she had just hurriedly finished drawing.

They had mistimed everything tonight, from the unexpected


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complications of Sir Robert Grant’s security system at the entrance of the mansion to the surprise of him seeing them first instead of being sound asleep. They were running late. She hated running late. She hurried around the bedroom chamber, gathering their tools and stuffing them all into her backpack. The moonlight illuminated her features in regular intervals as she moved past the row of win- dows. Her mother used to tell her that she had doll-like features, had been doll-like since birth—large, liquid-dark eyes; long, long lashes; a slender nose and a rosebud of a mouth; porcelain skin.

Her eyebrows cut straight and soft across her brow, giving her an expression that looked permanently vulnerable.

That was the thing about her. No one ever saw what mattered until it was too late. Until their blood stained her fingernails.

Her hair had come undone in all the rush, tumbling in a river of black over her shoulders, and she paused to whip it back up into a knot. No doubt a strand or two had come loose and were now ly- ing somewhere on the floor, leaving a clue for the police to follow. But no matter—if she could just escape from here in time. What a messy getaway, so uncharacteristic of her.

I’m going to kill them, she thought bitterly. Leaving me to clean this up—

Somewhere in the night came the wail of sirens.

She froze, listening intently. Her hand flew instinctively to rest on one of the knives strapped around her thigh. Then she started to run. Her boots made no sound—she moved like a shadow, the only noise being the faint bump of her bag against her back. As she went, she pulled her black scarf up across the bottom half of her face, hiding her nose and mouth from view, and fitted her pair of dark visors over her eyes. Through the visors, the mansion trans- formed into a grid of heat signals and green lines.

The sirens were closing in rapidly.

She paused again for a breath, listening. They came from differ- ent directions—they were going to surround her. No time, no time.


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She darted down the mansion’s staircase, her figure lost entirely in the shadows, then made a sharp turn at the bottom to head not for the front door but for the cellar. The security system had been rewired to seal the front door’s lock from the inside, but the cellar was their getaway route, all alarms cleared and window locks ready for her command.

As she reached the cellar, the sirens outside turned deafening.

The police had arrived.

“Window A open,” she muttered into her mouthpiece. At the other end of the room, the rewired window unlocked with a soft, obedient click. The police would gather at the front and back doors, but they wouldn’t think to look on the side of such a huge house yet, not without knowing there was a tiny window at ground level. She ran faster.

She reached the window and started pulling herself up and through it, snaking her way out in the span of a second. On the front lawn, she could hear a police officer shouting into a mega- phone, could see the heat signals of at least a dozen guards in heavy body armor crouched around the mansion’s perimeter, their faces hidden behind helmets and their assault rifles all pointed toward the door.

She leaped to her feet in the darkness, pulled her visor up, and prepared to dart away.

A blinding light flooded over her.

“Hands in the air!” Several voices were shouting at her at the same time. She heard the clicks of loaded weapons, then the furi- ous barking of police dogs barely restrained by their partners. “On your knees! Now!”

They had found her. She wanted to spit out a curse. No time, no time. And now it was too late. At least the others on the mission had already fled. For a fraction of a second, she thought about pull- ing out her knives and throwing herself at the closest officer, using him as a hostage.


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But there were far too many here, and the light had blinded her enough to make her vision inaccurate. She didn’t have the time to make such a move without the police unleashing the dogs, and she had no desire to be mauled to death.

So instead, she put her hands up.

Officers shoved her hard to the ground; her face scraped against dirt and grass. She saw a glimpse of herself reflected in the police’s opaque helmets, and the barrels of guns pointed directly in her face.

“We got her!” one shouted into his radio, his voice hoarse with excitement and fear. “She’s in custody! Stand by—”

You got me, she echoed to herself as she felt cold cuffs snap onto her wrists. But with her cheek pressed against the ground, she still allowed herself a small, mocking smile behind her scarf.

You got me . . . for now.

C H A P T E R 1

If Bruce Wayne belonged in any car, it was this one: a brand-new, custom Aston Martin, mean and sleek and charcoal black, embel- lished with a stripe of metallic shine along its roof and hood.

Now he pushed the car to its limits, indulging in the roar of its engines, the way it responded to his slightest touch as it hugged the sunset streets right outside Gotham City. The vehicle was a gift from WayneTech, fitted with the latest WayneTech security features—a historic collaboration between the legendary carmaker and the Wayne empire.

Now the tires screeched in protest as Bruce hit another sharp turn.

“I heard that,” said Alfred Pennyworth from the car’s live video touch screen. He gave Bruce a withering look. “A bit slower on the turns, Master Wayne.”

“Aston Martins weren’t made for slow turns, Alfred.” “They weren’t made to be wrecked, either.”

Bruce smiled sidelong at his guardian. The setting sun glinted off his aviator sunglasses as he turned the car back in the direction


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of Gotham City’s skyscrapers. “No faith in me at all, Alfred,” he said lightly. “You’re the one who taught me how to drive in the first place.”

“And did I teach you to drive like a demon possessed?”

“A demon possessed with skills,” Bruce clarified. He spun the steering wheel in a smooth motion. “Besides, it’s a gift from Aston Martin, and it’s armed to the teeth with WayneTech security. The only reason I’m driving it at all is to show off its safety capabilities at the benefit tonight.”

Alfred sighed. “Yes. I remember.”

“And how can I do that properly without testing what this masterpiece  can do?”

“Displaying WayneTech security at a benefit isn’t the same thing as using it to tempt death,” Alfred replied, his tone drier than ever. “Lucius Fox asked you to take the car to the party so that the press can do a proper write-up about it.”

Bruce made another hairpin turn. The car calculated the road ahead instantly, and on the windshield, he saw a series of transpar- ent numbers appear and fade. Responding with uncanny precision, the car was in perfect sync with the road as it mapped out the sur- rounding terrain down to the last detail.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” Bruce insisted. “Trying to get it there on time.”

Alfred shook his head tragically as he dusted a windowsill at Wayne Manor, the sunlight casting his pale skin in shades of gold. “I’m going to kill Lucius for thinking this was a good idea.”

An affectionate smile lingered on Bruce’s lips. Sometimes he thought his guardian bore a remarkable resemblance to a timber wolf, with his attentive, world-weary, winter-blue gaze. A few strands of white had started to streak Alfred’s hair over the past few years, and the crow’s-feet lining the corners of his eyes had deep- ened. Bruce wondered if he was the reason for it. At the thought, he slowed down just a little.


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It was that time of evening when people could catch a glimpse of bats heading out into the night to hunt. As Bruce reached the inner city, he spotted a cloud of them silhouetted against the dim- ming sky, circling out of the city’s dark corners to join the rest of their colony.

Bruce felt the familiar tug of nostalgia. His father had once designated land near the Wayne mansion as one of the largest bat havens in the city. Bruce still had childhood memories of crouching there in awe on the front lawn, his toy gadgets forgotten as Dad pointed out the creatures streaming into the dusk by the thou- sands, sweeping across the sky in an undulating stripe. They were individuals, Dad had said, and yet they still knew, somehow, to move as one.

At the memory, Bruce’s hand tightened against the steering wheel. His father should be here, sitting in the passenger seat and observing the bats with him. But that, of course, was impossible.

The streets turned grungier as Bruce got closer to downtown, until the skyscrapers blocked out the lowering sun and shrouded alleyways in shadows. He streaked past Wayne Tower and the Seco Financial Building, where a few tents were pitched in its alleys—a stark contrast, poverty right next to a rich financial beacon. Nearby was the Gotham City Bridge, its repainting half finished. A col- lection of dilapidated, low-income homes sat haphazardly under- neath it.

Bruce didn’t remember the city looking this way when he was younger—he had a memory of Gotham City as an impressive jun- gle of concrete and steel, filled with a rotation of expensive cars and doormen in black coats, the scent of new leather and men’s co- logne and women’s perfume, the gleaming lobbies of fancy hotels, the deck of a yacht facing the city lights illuminating the harbor.

With his parents at his side, he’d only seen the good—not the graffiti, or the trash in the gutters, or the abandoned carts and peo- ple huddled in shadowed corners, jingling coins in paper cups. As a


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sheltered child, he’d seen only what Gotham City could give you for the right price, and none of what it did to you for the wrong one.

That had all changed on one fateful night.

Bruce had known he would be lingering on thoughts of his parents today, the day his trust funds opened. But as much as he braced himself for it, the memories still cut at his heart.

He pulled onto the road curving toward Bellingham Hall. A red carpet spanned the front sidewalk and went up the steps, and a bevy of paparazzi had gathered beside the road, their cameras already flashing at his car.

“Master Wayne.”

Bruce realized that Alfred was still talking to him about safety. “I’m listening,” he said.

“I doubt that. Did you hear me tell you to schedule a meeting with Lucius Fox tomorrow? You’re going to be working with him all summer—you should at least start putting together a detailed plan.”

“Yes, sir.”

Alfred paused to fix him with a stern look. “And behave your- self  tonight. Understood?”

“My plan is to stand still in a corner and not make a sound.” “Very funny, Master Wayne. I’ll hold you to your word.” “No birthday wishes for me, Alfred?”

At that, a smile finally slipped onto Alfred’s face, softening his stern features. “And happy eighteenth, Master Wayne.” He nod- ded once. “You are Martha’s boy, hosting this event. She would be proud of you.”

Bruce closed his eyes for a moment at the mention of his mother. Instead of celebrating her birthday every year, she would throw a benefit, and the money raised went straight into the Gotham City Legal Protection Fund, a group that defended those who couldn’t afford to defend themselves in court. Bruce would carry on her


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tradition tonight, now that the responsibility for his family’s for- tune had officially fallen on his shoulders.

You are Martha’s boy. But Bruce just shrugged off the praise, unsure how to accept it. “Thanks, Alfred,” he replied. “Don’t wait up for me.”

The two ended the call. Bruce pulled to a stop in front of the hall, and for a heartbeat he let himself sit there, stilling his emo- tions while the paparazzi shouted at him from outside the car.

He had grown up under the spotlight, had endured years of headlines about him and his parents. eight–year–old bruce wayne sole  witness  to  parents’ murders!  bruce  wayne  set  to  inherit fortune!   eighteen–year–old   bruce   wayne   now   the   world’s

wealthiest teen! On and on and on.

Alfred had filed restraining orders against photographers for pointing their long lenses at Wayne Manor’s windows, and Bruce had once run home from elementary school in tears, terrified of the eager paparazzi who had nearly hit him with their cars. He’d spent the first few years trying to hide from them—as if holing away in his room at the manor somehow meant that the tabloids wouldn’t make up new rumors.

But either you hid from reality or you dealt with it. And over time, Bruce had built up a shield, had negotiated an unspoken truce with the press.

He would show up with his carefully cultivated public de- meanor, let them take the photos they wanted. In return, they’d shine the spotlight on the issue of his choice. And right now   that issue was WayneTech’s work to make Gotham City safer— everything from new security technology for the city’s bank ac- counts to drones that aided the Gotham City Police Department to auto safety features that WayneTech would release for free, open- source technology to all carmakers.

Over the years, Bruce had spent countless nights hunched


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at his bedroom desk, listening obsessively to police scanners and following cold cases on his own. He had burned out dozens of lightbulbs while deconstructing WayneTech prototypes under his desk lamp in the darkness before dawn, holding up glittering micro- chips and artificial joints, studying the technology his corporation was making to improve the city’s safety.

If forwarding that agenda meant being in the news, well then, so be it.

As a valet rushed over to open his car door, Bruce veiled his discomfort, stepped out with a single, graceful move, and gave the reporters a flawless smile. The cameras went into overdrive. A pair of bodyguards in black suits and dark shades shoved people back, clearing a path for him, but the reporters still crowded in, their microphones  extended,  shouting questions.

“Are you looking forward to your graduation?” “Are you enjoy- ing your new wealth?” “How do you feel about being the world’s youngest billionaire?” “Who are you dating, Bruce?” “Hey, Bruce, look this way! Give us a smile!”

Bruce obliged, offering them an easy grin. He knew he photo- graphed well—long and lean, his blue eyes dark as sapphire against his white complexion, his black hair perfectly smoothed back, his suit tailored and oxfords polished. “Good evening,” he said as he stood for a moment in front of the car.

“Bruce!” one paparazzo shouted. “Is that car your first pur- chase?” He winked. “Enjoying your trust fund already?”

Bruce just looked at him steadily, refusing to take the bait. “This is the newest Aston Martin on the market, fully equipped with WayneTech safety technology. You are welcome to explore its interior tonight for an exclusive first look.” He held his hand out toward the car, where one of his suited guards had opened the door for the press to peek in. “Thank you all for covering my mother’s benefit tonight. It means a lot to me.”

He continued talking for a bit about the charity that the event


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would support, but everyone shouted right over him, ignoring his words. Bruce faced them wearily, and for an instant, he felt alone and outnumbered. His gaze scanned past the tabloid paparazzi, searching for the journalists from official papers. He could already see  the  headlines  tomorrow: Bruce  Wayne  blows  new  money  on million–dollar  car! trust  fund  baby  wastes  no  time! But inter– spersed with those would hopefully be a few true headlines, detail- ing the work being done at WayneTech. That was what mattered. So he lingered, enduring the photos.

After letting the cameras flash wildly for a few moments, Bruce made his way up toward the hall’s entrance. Other guests min- gled at the top of the stairs—members of Gotham City’s upper class, the occasional council member, clusters of admirers. Bruce found himself categorizing everyone in the crowd. It was a survival skill he’d learned since his parents’ deaths. There were the people who’d invite him to dinner only in an attempt to get gossip out of him. The people willing to betray friends in order to become his. The occasional wealthy classmate who’d spread lies about him out of bitter envy. The ones who’d do anything to get a date with him and then share the details with the rags the next morning.

But on the surface, he kept his cool, greeting everyone politely. Only a few more steps until he’d reach the entrance. All he had to do was make it inside, and then he could find—


A familiar voice cut above the chaos. Bruce looked up to where a girl was standing on tiptoe and waving at him from the top of the stairs. Dark hair skimmed her shoulders, and the hall’s floor lights highlighted her brown skin and the round curve of her hips. There was glitter woven into the fabric of her dress, shimmering silver as she moved. “Hey!” she called. “Over here!”

Bruce’s careful demeanor dissolved in relief. Dianne Garcia.

Category: genuine.

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