He turned her in his arms and kissed her forehead. “Not if you were with me. I’d get you chocolate cake every day.”
Quit? She couldn’t do it. “Jack,” she protested, biting back her argument when the pattern of lights shifted from rosy colors to a stark white, bathing Jack’s face, and she stared at his pasty complexion, her gut twisting. Don’t leave my sight drifted up from nowhere, an image of his anger superimposed on his content face. It was his voice in her mind.
I left him, she thought, breath held as she looked at her open hand and the faint J IN OFFICE that hadn’t washed off completely.
“Jack,” she whispered, the taste of the chocolate and whiskey strong on her lips.
Blinking fast, she leaned into him as a sensation of vertigo swept her. Her breath caught, and it felt as if she’d stepped out of time and was just watching.
It’s a list, lovely woman echoed in her thoughts, and an image of a suited man eating chocolate, smug and confident, surfaced. She licked her lips, tasting it. The bitterness kindled more, and anger flashed through her, its source unknown. “Jack,” she whispered, unheard over the music, but the anger vanished, smothered by a feeling of desperation and loss. No, betrayal. Eyes wide, she looked up at Jack, squeezing his hand until he looked down at her.
“What?” Jack’s content expression vanished in concern.
She blinked, gaping at him through a flood of questions. She tried to speak, shocked to silence when he leaned close and the scent of chocolate and whiskey suffocated her. Panic unfolded. Her hand hurt, and she looked at it, cramped and tight as if holding a knife.
“Peri!” Jack gripped her arms. “What is it?”
Her head dropped. The light on his face made it worse. Unable to look at him, she was alone in her terror as she relived shoving the guard off her. He’d smelled of whiskey, and the taste of chocolate was with her still. He’d choked her, and she’d killed him to save her own life. But she shouldn’t be able to remember anything! Not until Jack brought it back and made it real.
“Peri, look at me.” Jack yanked a chair closer, sitting so he was inches away, his blue eyes worried as he gripped her arms tightly, keeping her upright. “I’m here. Look at me.”
“I’m … okay,” she rasped, but she wasn’t. “Memory knot,” she whispered, and Jack’s eyes widened in fear. One hand still supporting her, he turned to the stairway. Swallowing hard, she silently agreed. When things go wrong, you minimize, and things had gone wrong.
Memory knots were nasty little snags of unremembered thought triggered by scent and images. On its own, a memory knot was frightening enough, but if it was attached to a rewrite and left unattended, it could lead to a MEP, memory-eclipsed paranoia, as the twin timelines lurking in her subconscious fought to be remembered. Anchors didn’t have a problem remembering twin timelines, but drafters … Drafters would quickly lose their mind. It was an anchor’s job—apart from doing half of everything else—to bring back one clean memory for a drafter to find closure with.
That a memory knot had snarled up before Jack had even had a chance to defrag her memory didn’t bode well. Something had happened, something so bad that her mind was fighting to remember it. Killing a guard to save her life wasn’t enough. It was something else.
It’s a list, lovely woman, she recalled, and the taste of chocolate and whiskey rose anew. “We need to go,” she said, light-headed as she slid from the stool. “Jack, I want to go home.”
Home was eight hundred miles to the north, but anywhere would be better than this.
“Right. Okay.” Jack’s arm slid around her, holding her upright without looking obvious about it. His eyes went to their cue sticks, and she made a small sound.
“Don’t you dare leave them. Hand me my purse,” she said, and he nodded, steadying her as she found her chancy balance and pushed through the dizzying sensation of memory trying to beat its way to the surface.
She hardly recognized the stairway, Jack almost carrying her down.
“Going out for a smoke!” Jack said loudly to the doorman, and he opened the door for them. “Don’t give our table away.”
But Peri knew they weren’t coming back.
The door to the club shut behind them, and Peri looked up in the muffled thump of music and the damp February night. She flushed, embarrassed. She hadn’t passed out, but it was like being afraid of ghosts. “I’m okay,” she said softly, and Jack shook his head, his expression in the streetlight hard as they made their way to the car.
“Memory knots are dangerous,” he said, pace slow. “We head back now. I’m driving.”
“I said I’m okay,” she protested, not liking the fuss.
“I never said you weren’t,” Jack said. “But we’re still going back.”
“Fine,” she grumbled as she found her balance and pulled away. The fresh air had revived her, but she still felt foolish, and Jack refused to leave her side, even when they found her Mantis right where they’d left it.
“In you go,” he said as he opened the passenger-side door for her, the biometric lock recognizing him and releasing. The car chimed a happy greeting as she sighed, fingers shaking as she slid into the leather cushions. The door thumped shut with the sound of money well spent, and with her purse on her lap, she reached to start the car with a push of a button. The warming engine rumbled to life with a satisfying growl and, ignoring the onboard computer’s cheerful greeting and question whether it should prepare to register a new driver since she was in the passenger seat, she hit the button for the heated seats and turned off the music as Jack broke their cues down and dropped them in the trunk.