The Drafter Page 6

Peri looked at Jack, his expression tight. He was frustrated and angry, but at the CEO, not her. As an anchor, he knew they were rewriting the last thirty seconds, unlike everyone else, who would never even notice the small blip apart from perhaps a faint sense of déjà vu. Until time meshed, she’d remember everything. Afterward, she’d remember nothing until Jack returned the final timeline to her—and now, she had a doubt.

“Jack?” she whispered, terrified of what her gut was telling her. He was angry, not shocked—as if he’d already known. But how could she be something she knew she wasn’t?

Jack turned away, and her fear redoubled.

“The truth is far more damning than anything I could invent,” the older man said as he bit into a chocolate, oblivious to the new timeline forming. “It’s a list, lovely woman, of corrupt Opti agents. Your name is on it.”

She was not corrupt. A fire lit in her. Screaming in anger, she pivoted to the guard crawling slowly toward the windows and his forgotten handgun.

“Peri, wait!” Jack lunged to knock the gun spinning from her.

Panicking, the guard scrambled for his weapon. Peri shoved Jack out of her way. The guard scooped up the Glock, and she kicked him into the window. Snarling, he brought his gun down on her and she snapped a front kick to his wrists. The gun went flying.

Face ugly, the guard grabbed her around the neck and slammed her to the floor. Peri’s eyes bulged as she tried to breathe. One hand clawed at his grip, the other reached for the knife in her boot. Stars spotted her vision as she jammed it into him, angling it up under the ribs. If she died in a rewrite, she’d be dead. It was him or her.

Gagging on his own blood, the guard rolled away, hands clenched to his chest.

Free, Peri sat up, hands on her neck as she rasped for air. The strong scent of whiskey wafted from the guard. She coughed, bile-tainted chocolate blooming bitter at the back of her throat.

“How am I supposed to explain this!” the CEO shouted, standing over the guard, who spilled bubbly blood from his mouth as he panicked and began to choke.

Jack stomped back to the desk and scooped up Peri’s short-job bag. “Haven’t you ever heard of the chain of command? We know who she is. We always have. You really fucked this up.”

“Me?” the man exclaimed, voice rising. “I’m not the one who killed him.”

“I don’t kill anyone who doesn’t kill me first,” Peri wheezed. Beside her, the guard gurgled, not quite suffocated in his own blood yet—but close.

The CEO spun to stare at her. “What?”

“Get out,” Jack said, and Peri jerked away when he reached to help her stand. “Go hide under your secretary’s desk. I don’t want to have to explain you when she snaps out of it.”

“Snaps out of what?” The CEO’s eyes widened. “Thenit’s true? She can change the past? Are we in a draft? Right now? But it feels real.”

“That’s because it is.” Pissed, Jack picked up the gun—the one that had killed her. “It’s the first draft that’s false—or will be, rather, after she finishes writing this one.”

“You know who she is and you still trust her?” The man hunched over with his hands on his knees as he peered at her. She hated his wonder, his amazement—but if he knew about drafters, he was dead.

“With my life.” Jack checked the pistol and snapped the cylinder closed. “In about ten seconds, she’s not going to remember anything but what I tell her. Now, will you go hide? I don’t want to have to explain you.”

Peri sat on the floor, her fingers clenched in the flat carpet as she shook. She’d thought she was capable. She’d thought she was strong. But she was vulnerable. People were the sum of their memories, and apparently hers were whatever Jack told her. They hadn’t come here to find the virus files. They were here to secure a list of corrupt Opti agents—and Jack didn’t have a problem that her name was on it. Maybe she was corrupt. How long? How long had this been going on?

“Who else has the list?” Jack said, glancing at his watch.

“No one. I assumed Bill would be … reasonable,” the CEO said, voice faltering, and Peri’s eyes flicked up with knowledge of what was going to happen. He knew about drafters, and that was unacceptable. Jack would contain the information—whatever the cost.

The CEO’s eyes widened as Jack aimed the guard’s pistol at him. Peri watched, numb, as the older man lurched for the door, almost making it. The sound of the gun firing jerked through her. She gasped, the burst of air clearing her thoughts and sending her hand to her middle. Legs askew, she leaned against the desk as her lungs ached. She’d been shot in the original timeline, but that’s not why her chest hurt. They thought she was corrupt? She’d given Opti everything!

Jack vanished into the outer office. She could hear him dragging the suited man away, and still she sat. “Stupid deserves to die,” Jack said in anger, and then he was back, avoiding her eyes in the dim light as he wiped her print from the top of the lintel. The gun was next, set carefully in the guard’s outstretched hand after he wiped it clean.

She looked up as Jack extended a hand for her to rise. Scared, she recoiled. She’d know if she was a dirty agent—wouldn’t she? “Jack,” she whispered, wanting to believe there was another explanation. “I’m not corrupt. He’s lying.”

Jack dropped to kneel beside her, his arms enfolding her like a warm promise. “Of course you aren’t, babe. That’s why I killed him. You’re safe. No one will know. I can fix this.”

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