Sniffling, she wiped a hand under her nose. It was post-fragment blues. She’d get over it.
But her heart jumped when a dark shadow sat up in the backseat.
“Hi, babe,” Jack said, and she touched the brakes, head jerking forward and back.
“Damn it!” Peri shouted, checking her mirrors to see if anyone had noticed. “I want you to leave. Leave me alone!” It hadn’t worked. He was still there in her head!
“Alone?” Jack snickered. “That’s the last thing you will ever be. Just keep driving.”
He leaned over the back of the seat, arms draped along it, and her shock turned to anger.
“Where am I going, Jack?” she said bitterly. “I have a past that I don’t remember. Not just one, but two. I have people telling me they’re my friends, but the only friends I remember are corrupt Opti agents. I am a corrupt Opti agent, but I’m also an alliance officer with a military retirement plan I don’t remember setting up! Where am I going, Jack? Where?”
He tightened his tie and fixed his hair in the rearview mirror, almost laughing at her. “Wherever you want, babe. You’re the one calling the shots. On one side you have a well-funded, poorly organized do-gooder organization destined for failure. On the other, you have massive political pull, an almost godlike authority, the ability to make real change … and me.” He smiled in a way she’d once found charming, and her stomach churned. “I’d take the latter if I were you. It’s more fun.”
Jaw clenched, she looked at him through the rearview mirror. Silas’s efforts hadn’t worked. This … thing was still with her. Allen, she remembered suddenly, had always been better at destroying memories. Good God. I can even smell him, she thought, his aftershave pinging on a hundred lost memories.
“I talked to Bill,” Jack said, his breath coming and going on her neck. “Agents are coming in, finding him, looking for answers. Opti isn’t dead, not by a long shot. I told him you might still come home. You know Opti is where you belong. It’s why you’re out here driving with no destination. If you were alliance, you wouldn’t have walked away. You would have told the alliance that you have a chemical tag in you. We can go back to the way it was, only I won’t have to lie to you anymore. We were good together, weren’t we?”
Peri’s lips parted when he touched the back of her neck to move a strand of her hair. His lips met her neck, wet and warm, and tingles spread in a wave when he pulled on her skin, sucking, promising more.
Holy shit, he’s real!
Shocked, Peri yanked the car to the left, careening into an empty parking lot where the ferry docked. Jack cried out in surprise as he was flung against the door. Heart pounding, she stomped on the brakes and he hit the back of her seat, swearing. Keys still in the ignition, Peri lurched out of the car, heart pounding.
Feeling unreal, she paced back and forth between the car and the dock. Jack was in Allen’s car. He’s in Allen’s car!
She froze when the back door opened and Jack got out. Her injured leg hurt, and she felt her empty pockets. She had no phone, no knife, nothing.
“I shot you …,” she said, then went colder yet when he stretched, rubbing the back of his neck as if embarrassed. He was alive. “What are you doing in Allen’s car?”
“I was going to kill him. A little payback between him and me. This is better.”
She began pacing again, trying to figure this out. “Damn it, Jack. How long have you been watching me?” she asked. She hadn’t killed him. He was there. Alive.
Shoulders rising and falling, he leaned against the car. His fair hair fluttered in the wind off the river when he turned to look up the road the way they’d come. “Not long. It’s amazing what you can come back from. Sandy kept me alive until the ambulance got there. Three weeks in intensive care, and then Bill had me in the hole after that, hoping I’d tell him where the chip was with the list.” He touched his chest, smiling. “I never told him, Peri, because I love you, even if you shot me. I did shoot you first, after all. It’s still in your damn knitting needle.”
Her eyes flicked to his, reading the lie about love, but the truth in where the chip was. My needles? she thought, seeing how the Opti-approved stress relief might have survived to stick with her. Her project bag was with her cat at Allen’s.
“Bill let me out after you pulled that tracker out of your ass and started complaining about Allen. It wasn’t until yesterday that he needed me, though. Needed us.” He chuckled, head shaking in mock dismay. “What an epic failure, losing most of his force and all his credibility. Not to mention his free movement.” He smiled, confident and full of himself. “It’s good to be needed. Bill says you talked to me when you were alone. That’s sweet. I knew you loved me.”
“Damn it all to hell,” she whispered, cold. She had loved him, loved the way he made her feel, but everything was tied to a past that was wrong.
“I missed you, babe, but I knew you’d come back. The alliance is a joke, and you’re better than them. Opti is power.”
He flicked the top of Allen’s car—nice, but nothing like the sleek icons of power she’d always had—the best of everything, and when it wasn’t, they got on a plane and found it. Bill might have lost a lot yesterday, but his house was now spotlessly clean and he was already setting up shop again, this time unburdened by government guidelines and the illusion of legitimacy. And he wants me to come back.