The Operator Page 41

Like I have a choice? Peri thought, shuddering at the feel of steel ratcheting about her wrists. “Get off,” Peri wheezed, but Harmony had already pulled away, leaving Peri to sit up and lean against the same pillar she’d hit her head against. Her skull hurt, and she stared at Harmony as the woman got to her feet and tugged her coffee-splattered top straight. The agents ringing them had gone silent at Steiner’s disapproving presence, but money was changing hands as they began vanishing.

“Make sure she doesn’t have a concussion and put her in a cell,” Steiner said.

“Don’t touch me,” Peri demanded, knowing that “helping hands” might hurt more than assist, and she staggered to her feet. Her breath came in slow, and the world stopped spinning. Harmony was good, exceptionally good, and a deeper respect sifted through her.

The lobby was emptying with a guilty quickness. Filthy and clearly hurting, Harmony retrieved Peri’s bag before shoving Peri to the elevator.

Peri searched Harmony’s face as she got in, ran her card, and punched a button, but there was nothing: no satisfaction from having bested her, no anticipation at the beginnings of an escape—just a pained tiredness. “You’re a tough bitch,” Harmony said as the elevator doors closed. “Did you black out?”

“No.”

“Good.” Harmony dropped her head, hiding her face from the camera. “I’ll be back down in an hour to get you, and we can go. Nice and quiet out the back door. It takes that long just to free the pass codes after a lockdown.” She glanced sidelong at her. “Thanks for taking it so easy on me.”

“No problem.” That was easy? Peri wiped away the blood from her lip with her shoulder.

“I just need to know one thing.”

Pulling back, Peri eyed her. “What?”

“What did Heddles mean by ‘I won’t let you need’? Don’t lie to me. I have three younger sisters, and one dumb-ass older brother, and I can tell.”

That Harmony hadn’t asked where Michael was stuck in Peri’s mind. It wasn’t necessarily a sign of trust, but rather a signal of intent, an assurance that Harmony wouldn’t take the information and go, leaving Peri behind. Her breath quickened, and she kept her head down and away from the cameras. The voice telling her to be honest with Harmony was only a shade louder than the one telling her to stick to her old ways and trust no one. “Bill darted me with Evocane at Everblue,” she finally said, heart pounding. “Michael is bringing me a vial as a sign of goodwill. Allen is there to sanction it, but the reality is that it’s probably a trap.”

Harmony nodded, focus distant as the elevator’s numbers counted down. “And you expect me to believe that bullshit? That you’re not running back to Bill?”

Peri looked at Harmony past her sweat-clumped hair, shoulders hunched and tired. “I want out. That’s all I ever wanted.”

Harmony’s grip on her arm tightened. “Why am I believing this?” she said. But it was obvious she did.

“You do know they’re going to demote your ass if they don’t outright fire you, right?” Peri asked as the doors slid open to show a familiar hallway, with thick glass doors at the end. It was an old Opti facility. No one built their containment like Bill. Her graduate thesis had been finding the holes and patching them.

“I won’t be demoted if I come back with Michael,” Harmony muttered, hand on Peri’s shoulder as she escorted her down the hall. “Allen is your goal. Michael is mine. If you leave before Michael is in my custody, I will hunt you to the ends of the earth. If you’re screwing with me and you’re trying to get back to Bill, I’ll not only hunt you down but kill you. Deal?”

Peri glanced sidelong at her, recalled Harmony’s haggard expression and haunted eyes atop the kitchen in the ductwork. “What did Michael do to you?” she asked.

Harmony took a breath, emotion clogging her voice until she looked away, pain etching her brow. “There’s usually a reason when chickens kill one of their own,” she said when the elevator dinged.

Oka-a-a-ay. Midwestern farm trivia aside, this felt right. “Deal,” she muttered as if she weren’t in cuffs, her lip bleeding and cheek scuffed. “But I’m not paying for the gas. You’ve probably got some lard-ass SUV that eats gas stations for lunch. I’ll get the snacks and water.”

Harmony smiled, steeling her face as she ran her card and the man on the other side of the glass wall stood up. “Fine with me.”

 

 

CHAPTER


FOURTEEN


Diary propped up on her chest, Peri lay on the foam cot, her jacket wadded up under her head. The hum of 741 Hz vibrated her synapses and prevented her ability to draft, and she couldn’t decide whether she was a trusting fool or just plain stupid. Sleep had been impossible, and now, after several hours of waiting for Harmony, even her diary was failing to distract her from the possibility that she’d fallen for a ruse designed solely to get her into the cell block. The other option, that Harmony herself had been found out and was in the next wing over, wasn’t much better. Fortunately, she’d helped design the safeguards to escape; she knew the ways around them. But it rankled, having trusted someone only to have it betrayed before the sun came up.

“She’ll show, babe,” Jack said, but Peri was too pessimistic to trust even her intuition.

“One of these days, you’re going to choke on your Pollyanna sandwich,” she said, hearing her words bounce back from the pages inches from her face. A feeling of what might’ve been homesickness took her as she looked at Jack lounging on the narrow cot opposite hers. His head was thrown back and his feet were spread wide. A featureless black tie hung loosely about his neck, and the white shirt was unbuttoned at the top. She vaguely remembered seeing him like that once before . . . just not the particulars.

I can’t wait any longer, she thought, squinting at her cramped handwriting. Steiner was a bastard. He might be grilling Harmony, keeping her stuck in an office somewhere.

Peri had gotten through almost an entire year of memories, and it was odd, seeing Allen as a frustrated suitor against the fabric of platonic partner she’d draped him in. In the pages, Silas’s mood had improved, even if he still held himself at a discreet distance, enjoying her company mostly because Peri kept the other women away. Seeing her own infatuation bothered Peri, and it was infatuation. It was only love when it was returned.

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