Peri found the packet, her mood brightening. “Thank you very much!” she said, dropping back deeper into the wine cellar and out of the guards’ sight.
“This place has twelve bathrooms, and they won’t let you into one. Barbarians.” Taf’s attention went to the guards again to make sure they kept their distance as Peri stripped to her skivvies. “I can’t bust you out this time, but I can at least help you look good for your lynching.”
The body wipe was a spot of clean, and Peri relaxed at the chill menthol scent. “It won’t be that bad,” she said as the dampness air-dried with the heat of her body. “I’ve got something they want, they’ve got something I want. Win, win.”
Slumped over her knees, Taf shrugged. “Silas said that chip wasn’t the list.”
She’s been talking to Silas? The feeling of an impending something grew, but she felt almost normal as she slipped into the tailored navy blouse and slacks and buckled the tiny belt. Taf had good taste. “I’ve got more than that,” she said, coming forward as she tapped her head. “There’s no reason we can’t work together.”
Taf’s eyes brightened, and she handed Peri a brush. “You remember?”
“No, but it’s in there. Silas can get it out.” Peri ran the brush through her hair, then checked out her distant reflection in the bar mirror. Not her best effort, but a hundred times better. “Thank you.”
Taf stood up, and the suits came forward. “I hope you’re right.”
“Me too,” she said, then jumped, outraged, when a dart buried itself in her thigh.
“What the hell is wrong with you!” Peri exclaimed as the guard with the glasses lowered a dart gun and Taf protested hotly. She immediately jerked it out, but the smooth metal against her fingertips felt fuzzy. It was too late, and the chalky taste of a jump blocker coated her tongue.
“Maybe you shouldn’t keep busting the audio blockers,” the guard said, and she threw the dart down to look at the tear in her new slacks.
“Those pants are Chanel,” Taf complained. “Brian, this is coming out of your paycheck. Open the door.”
But the other agent had his stopwatch app going on his phone, and Peri knew they wouldn’t let her out until they reached some arbitrary number that made them feel safe.
“Put them on,” Brian said, tossing in a pair of cuffs.
Peri’s jaw clenched at the metallic ping as they slid across the flagstones.
“No one said anything about cuffs.” Taf was furious, face red and lips in a tight line, but Peri put them on, glad they let her do it so her hands were in front instead of behind.
“Don’t worry about it,” Peri said as the guard with the phone nodded and tucked it away. It was irritating, and they’d slow her down, but if she wanted out, she’d get out. In fact, seeing her cuffed would make them careless.
Brian unlocked the door. Immediately Taf grabbed her arm, yanking her onto the carpet. “This way,” the young woman said, glancing back at the two men as she stalked to the elevator. The weapons of the men behind her were holstered but unsnapped. She could probably take them out with minimal risk even cuffed, but why bother when they were clearly headed upstairs?
“If you move too fast, you’ll be shot,” Brian said, then gave her a shove. “Go.”
He got a dark look instead of the foot in his face that she wanted, and eyeing him appraisingly, Peri stepped into the elevator.
One of them hit the button for the fourth floor, and the panels slid shut. She only remembered seeing three floors, but then the doors opened with a cheerful ding to the window-lined, octagonal aerie she’d noticed from outside when she’d arrived. She’d thought it was only decoration, but the enormous room was at least fifty feet in diameter and was set up for high-class entertaining, with a neon-strewn bar against one side and a circular comfort pit of white couches taking up the majority of the space.
The vista out onto the cloudy mountains was almost overwhelming, with an astounding 315-degree view, even in the light fog. It was hazy and overcast, and a line of storms threatened. A biting whiff of electronics came from the small camera on a tripod set in the middle of the circular room. Lines snaked from it to a card table, where an awkward tech guy in an off-the-rack suit fussed over two glass-technology tablets. It was clearly a teleconference, and Peri watched an aide come up a staircase, furtively crossing the camera’s line of sight to whisper in a security guard’s ear.
Howard sat glumly at the bar under the restraint of an agent, and a confident older woman, draped in jewelry and attitude, stood beside the camera in the middle of the room, her white business dress tight and her heels making her tall. Her hair was done up in a French chignon, and before her on the couch and in front of the camera was Silas.
Peri’s breath caught, and she stumbled to a halt on the thick rug as something struck through her. He didn’t know she was here, clearly angry, his neck red and his muscular shoulders pulling his shirt tight as he sat on the edge of the indulgent couch with his back to her and argued with that woman. Peri’s thoughts went to the note she’d written to herself not to trust anyone, and she wished she could take it back.
“Mother, why is Peri in cuffs?” Taf said loudly, and the tech guy had a fit, waving his hands for her to be quiet.
Silas jumped, emotion crossing his face as he turned to her. Peri moved to join him only to be pulled back. This domineering woman is Fran? The head of the alliance? Peri looked between Taf and Fran as Taf continued to argue, seeing not the resemblance, but the resentment when Fran’s cheeks reddened and she told her daughter to be quiet.