While Caleb, Jet and Isla were away on their trip in China, Aurora had some exciting news. She got a promotion from her position as an Evil Sidekick.
They weren’t ready to explain their relationship to their family while they were still working out their feelings for each other. So the only time they could be together as a couple was late at night after everyone had gone to bed. Most nights Isla would sneak out of the room she shared with Ebony and go downstairs to spend the night with Jet.
For the time being though they had both agreed not to go any further than kissing. For two future criminals, they both had an honest streak, and neither of them thought it would be right for them to take things any further while their family was still oblivious to their relationship.
They did often fall asleep together though, cuddling on Jet’s bed after talking late into the night, making plans about their future together.
Isla was always careful not to oversleep, and made sure she returned to her own bed each morning. Ebony was a light-sleeper, and Isla often wondered if Ebony had noticed her creeping in and out of their bedroom, but if she did she never mentioned it.
It was a momentous day for Esmerelda. It was her babies’ birthday, and it was an important one. Esmerelda’s youngest children were growing up from Young Adults to Adults. It was hard for her to believe that all her children were now middle-aged, it made her feel very old!
But there was no point dwelling on that, and no matter how old her children were she decided they were never too old for cupcakes.
She insisted it was okay for her to have a cupcake for breakfast become some old lady who said she was Great-Grandma Estelle said it was okay… It seemed like an odd excuse considering Ebony had never met her great-grandmother, but Aurora decided to let her get away with such an outlandish lie just this once – at least it was inventive!
It was the early hours of the morning, not long after Ebony’s birthday, when Aurora and Esmerelda slipped through the darkened house and roused the three teens from bed. They told them to get dressed and come into the dining room. It was sheer luck that Isla was sleeping in her own bed that night rather than being found in Jet’s room where she spent most nights. Jet, Isla and Ebony, though confused, quickly complied and soon they were seated at the dining table with Tristan, Aurora, Esmerelda and Caleb.
“But why do we have to discuss it 3am Uncle Tristan?” Ebony complained at her great-uncle.
“Shut up Ebony,” Aurora said sharply to her daughter, “You’re lucky you’re being included in this meeting at all.”
“It’s not like Dad and Grandpa don’t know what the family business is…” Ebony muttered, referring to Derek and Israel who were both fast asleep in their beds, but everyone ignored her.
Tristan picked up again as though Ebony hadn’t interrupted. “Jet, as the family heir you will be training under your mother and myself to become the future leader. And Ebony will be following in Esmerelda and Caleb’s footsteps in the thief branch of the company.”
“Normally I would have liked you to go to university as I did,” Aurora said to her son, “But the truth is that we desperately need every loyal recruit we can get and we want you working in the business right away. You and Isla proved yourselves in Shang Simla and we think you will be ready to start working immediately after your birthday.”
“That’s what I want too,” Jet said eagerly, “I don’t want to go to University, I want to start my training.”
“Good,” said Tristan. Now he did turn to Isla, “We have chosen a different path for you Isla, and we feel you will be up for the challenge. You will not be joining the family business.”
Jet and Isla both stared dumbfounded at Tristan. Not join the family business? Not be a criminal like her father? She was the granddaughter of Dennis Racket and Estelle Maldini, two infamous criminal masterminds, and she wasn’t to follow in their footsteps? Even her long dead mother had been a criminal in the family business.
“The truth is, our contact in the secret service is retiring,” Esmerelda explained, “Soon we will be blind as to what’s happening within the intelligence agencies and the police force. It is absolutely vital that we have someone working undercover for us. We need to keep track of what they know about us and our business dealings and to potentially plant false information and tamper with evidence to keep this family safe.”
“You will have to start at the very bottom and work your way up,” Tristan told his daughter, “You will have to work hard to build the trust of your colleagues.”
“But… but I…” Isla stuttered. “You want me to join the police force?”
“Yes, “ Tristan said, “Our old contact has secured a position for you. You’ll start out as a snitch, going to them with what they will believe to be a valuable piece of information about our organization.”
“They’d never trust me!” Isla protested, “How could they? I’m a Maldini!”
“You’ll be telling them that you are estranged from your family. You hate your crooked history and now that you are an adult you want to break free from that,” Esmerelda explained, “To that end, we have purchased a small house for you in town. They must believe that you are no longer a part of our family, and that means not living here.”
Isla stared at them horrified. Move out of home? Not be able to live with Jet?
“Not live here anymore? Are you kicking me out?” she asked.
“Well of course you can still live here,” Aurora told her, “But you’ll just have to give the appearance of living elsewhere. If you’re being followed or feel you’re under suspicion, you can go to your house in town. It will just be your address and place to can use should you need it, of course this will still be your home.”
There was a long silence around the table as they let the news sink in. It was hard to hear for Jet and Isla, as they had always just assumed that they would be working together in the family business. But through her shock, Isla began to feel a stirring or excitement as she thought about her new job. It would be a challenge of epic proportions. She would have to be the best actor and liar in history to pull it off, but if she did then she would be helping the family far more than she ever could working within the organization itself.
“Well, I think that’s all,” Tristan said, “You can all go back to bed now.”
Jet and Isla suddenly looked at each other as the others began to push their chairs back and stand up.
“As good a time as any,” she replied softly, her heart thudding painfully hard in her chest.
“Before you all go,” Jet said louder, “We wanted to tell you all something.”
Everyone exchanged glances and settled back into their seats.
Jet took a deep breath. Reaching out, he gripped Isla’s hand tightly under the table.
“Isla and I are in love,” he said simply.
“We’re a couple now, and after our birthdays, Isla is going to move her things into my room,” Jet continued quickly.
“You’re WHAT?” Ebony screeched, breaking the silence, “That’s disgusting! What’s wrong with you?”
“It did start then,” Jet admitted, “But it’s not Uncle Caleb’s fault. It would have happened at some point anyway.”
“I don’t understand,” Esmerelda said, “How could this happen? You’re cousins! This isn’t supposed to happen!”
“Ugh, is that why you’ve been sneaking out of bed at night?” Ebony said to Isla, as she pulled a face, “So you can go canoodle with my brother? That’s so gross, It’s like incest or something!”
“You’ve been… sleeping together?” Tristan asked, his voice dangerously low.
“There’s no point yelling at us,” Jet said, “It’s not going to change how we feel about each other. We’re sorry we didn’t tell you all earlier, but we’ve told you now.”
Jet turned to her angrily, “Oh yeah? And since when has this family cared so much about what’s right and what’s wrong?”
“Well,” said Caleb. It was the first time he’d spoken since the meeting had begun, “I guess I have a bit of an announcement to make too while you’re all here. Might help take the heat off you two,” he added, glancing at Jet and Isla.
There was another startled silence before Esmerelda turned to her youngest son, “Why did you never tell me Caleb? Did you really think I would care? Is there someone special you haven’t told us about?”
“Well if there are no more big announcements to make, I think we should all be getting back to bed,” Aurora said dryly. She pointed at Jet and Isla, “You two – no more sleepovers, do you understand? What you do once you’re adults is your own business, but while you are still children and living under our roof you will do what you are told.”
Jet and Isla nodded meekly as they jumped out of their chairs.
Once the teens had gone back to their rooms, Tristan turned to Aurora.
“You’re really going to allow this to happen?” he asked his niece angrily. “You’re letting your son sleaze onto my daughter? This is appalling – can’t he find anyone else? It’s because they don’t have any other friends! If they had other friends this wouldn’t have happened!”
“Hey, you could do worse for a son-in-law,” Aurora said defensively, “And anyway, just what do you propose we do about it? They’ll only sneak around behind our backs if we say they can’t be together. Maybe it’s just a phase and they’ll grow out of it… You’re right about one thing, they do need other friends. Maybe once they’re adults and both working in different places they’ll meet new people and drift apart and then we can all forget about this whole thing…”
“Let’s hope so,” Tristan growled, “Or there’s going to be hell to pay.”
A few days after they revealed their relationship to the family, Jet and Isla rose early before the rest of the household was awake and headed down to the swamp.
The rest of the family had been very odd since that night – odd in the way that they had completely avoided the subject ever since. Tristan hadn’t spoken a word to Jet and had mostly avoided any conversation with Isla, but he wasn’t very sociable or friendly at the best of times, so that wasn’t all that unusual. Aurora and Esmerelda both seemed absolutely determined not to bring it up, almost as if they hoped if that it would just go away if they didn’t talk about it. Only Ebony was openly hostile to them about it, and refused to talk to either of them. Caleb honestly didn’t seem to care at all, and if Israel and Derek had been told then they didn’t let on.
True to their word to Aurora, Jet and Isla had been sticking to their own beds at night and they were starved for time alone together. To escape from the awkwardness at home, they decided to go out in the boat, just like they used to when they were children.
The weather was awful, but they didn’t let that deter them.
“They’ll just have to deal with it,” Jet replied firmly, “We’re not doing anything wrong – and it’s not like we planned for this to happen. We can’t help how we feel…”
“I know. I guess they’ll get over it eventually,” Isla said with a shiver. “Aren’t you cold without a jacket? I’m freezing, let’s go get a hot drink somewhere and warm up.”
“A little,” she admitted, “Okay – a lot really. I’m worried we’re not going to be able to spend much time together. We’re going to be so busy and living such separate lives…”
“We’ll make it work,” Jet said, gripping her hand a little tighter, “Somehow.”