The Drafter Page 102

And then everything went blessedly away.



Waking up to a cat purring on your chest isn’t the worst way to start the day. Peri had been drowsing the last half hour, listening to her upstairs neighbors move from the bathroom to the kitchen and finally to the parking lot six feet from the patio of her new Opti-issued apartment. When the doors of the couple’s car had finally slammed and the battery-powered vehicle hummed away, she’d thought she might get a few more minutes of sleep.

But when a cat wants you up, you have no choice.

“Carnac!” Peri yelped when sharp nails made it through the covers, and the orange cat leapt from her, clawing her stomach even deeper. “Bossy cat!” she exclaimed, sitting up and pushing aside the covers, and then her nightshirt, to see the little red marks. Carnac stood by the open bedroom door, his tail switching and ears slantwise.

Immediately Peri relented, trilling to coax him back. The fickle cat jumped onto the bed, bumping his head under her hand in the hopes of some breakfast. “How’s my old tom?” Peri said, breathing in his sweet-smelling kitty fur and fingering the ornate collar embroidered with red Xs and the name that she’d found him with.

The cat was the only thing that felt real to her, which was odd, since he was a stray she’d found hiding in the bushes outside her building, walking up to her and into her apartment as if he belonged. She loved him for it, all the while harboring hope that his real owners would never claim him. It felt good that the found-cat fliers she’d reluctantly put up last month were slowly being buried beneath band fliers and car-for-sale ads.

“Hungry?” Peri asked as she held him up to look him in the eye. The cat refused to make eye contact, but the purrs never ceased. She’d gotten a clean bill of health weeks ago from Opti’s physical guys. Her psych review was this morning, and she wasn’t sure how she felt. Excited, yes, but despite everyone’s positive words, she still felt the cracks in her threatening to split wide open, even after six weeks.

Staring at the bathroom mirror, she fingered the tips of her shoulder-length hair, wondering why she’d ever cut it. It was taking forever to grow back out. But Allen liked it long. A smile flitted across her face as she thought of her anchor. His Flexicast was coming off today, timed perfectly with the psych eval. Allen had come out of their last task with a torn ACL, broken fingers, and a shot foot. It had been a bad task—everything had gone wrong.

Peri’s jaw clenched as she started the shower, her hatred for the alliance operative who’d tried to kill them making her motions sharp as she stepped into the hot water and scrubbed her scalp. Silas Orion Denier. He’d tried to kill Allen. Saving him had taken every last scrap of memory of their three years together, and seeing Allen’s hesitancy toward her, even now, hurt.

She lingered under the hot water, carefully feeling the odd burn on her shoulder. It was the onlyphysical mark she had of the ordeal, and even that was fading. Opti hadn’t found a lead on Silas yet, or at least, they hadn’t told her of one. It rankled Peri that Silas was free, and she and Allen were struggling to put their lives back together.

Peri turned the water off and got out. The towel was rough, and after a token scrub at her hair, she wrapped it around herself and padded barefoot into the bedroom. Her life was coming together at the pace of a glacier thawing, but some of that might be her fault, since she’d insisted on moving from Opti’s rehab to her own new apartment instead of sharing one with Allen. Bill hadn’t been pleased, but when Allen had agreed she needed time, their handler had okayed her own place. Trouble was, now that she had it, she was reluctant to let it go.

Her frown deepened as she finger-combed her hair. Allen had defragmented what he could of the task, and the memory of Silas’s smug smile when he pushed Allen through the window and then over the balcony of her old apartment still haunted her. There was a gap after that since Allen hadn’t seen what happened, but the short of it was that Silas had escaped. That Opti wasn’t doing anything to find him made her more than angry.

“Give me a sec, Carnac,” she said, grabbing a pair of jeans and a black sweater, as the cat complained over his empty bowl. It was the only thing in her closet she liked. She dearly wanted to go shopping, but every time she set aside an afternoon, something came up. “What was I thinking?” she said as she held up a blue blouse with red flowers on it. Maybe she’d been channeling her mother when she’d bought all the stripes and patterns.

My boots are nice, though, she thought as she sat on the edge of the bed and pulled them to her knees. The dull ping of the doorbell sounded, and Carnac ran out, tail up straight. “Coming!” she shouted, looping her pendant pen around her neck before going into the living room. The blinds were closed at the patio door, and spotlights glowed on her shelf of talismans. None of them called to her. Even the picture of Allen and her standing before a sunrise over a beach last New Year’s didn’t reach her soul. It was depressing, but she couldn’t let go of the hope that someday one of them would do its job and help her remember.

On the tips of her toes, Peri looked through the peephole to see Allen fidgeting, his dress shoes scuffing the carpet. She always wondered how many of the scars he had were because of her, but he wouldn’t tell. Maybe I should have dressed up, she thought as she saw his black slacks and tie, but they were meeting at Overdraft. Why would she get dressed up to go to a bar at nine in the morning?

“Hi, Allen. You look sharp. Give me a sec and I’ll put on some slacks,” she said as she opened the door. His hair was tousled from the spring gusts, and the safety glasses reminded her of Clark Kent. She harbored a belief he wore them for the same reason: to hide his strength.

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