“Get out of here,” she whispered. “If I ever see you again, I will kill you. Then draft so I can do it again.”
But his smile grew wider. “Not without you. Come on. You want this.”
Oh God. He was right. Jack would fill her up, infuse her with feelings of warmth and strength. She couldn’t move when he pushed himself off from the car. Her heart thudded as he got closer, and she backed up a step, but only a step. Eyes closed, she felt the wind off the bay shift her hair when he tucked it behind her ear. He was real. She hadn’t killed him. And … she knew him. He knew her past.
“That’s right,” he whispered as he leaned in, kissing her so softly it sent a shiver through her. “You remember us. Maybe not everything, but enough. Remember the hotel? The last time we made love?”
Her shoulders eased as his arms went around her, familiar and right. He smelled of his aftershave, and she knew exactly how his stubble would feel. Her rising hand shook, and her chest clenched when she touched his jaw. He was home. It made everything else, the guilt, the shame, and her longing, pale under its force. She had nothing, and he held it all, a return to when she was strong.
“I gave you everything, treated you like the deadly princess you are,” he whispered, his fingers easing her tension away as they ran under her ear to the base of her neck, reminding her body of the feel of him. “You’ll never find that from anyone else. Come with me. I can bring everything back. Everything. You won’t need talismans—I’ll be your talisman.”
She ached for the feeling of being cared for, loved. It would be so easy.
Stop! a tiny part of her screamed, flickering under the wave of contentment Jack breathed into her. It had been so long. So long. So tired …
“Peri!” a distant voice called, and Jack stiffened.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered, pushing back from Peri and turning to look.
Peri’s heart pounded as guilt and self-loathing poured over her, making her knees go weak. What am I doing? Silas. He was running, but so far away.
Peri’s resolve to leave him returned in a cold wash of reality. “I can’t do this.”
His hand ran across her cheekbone, slipping down to hold her shoulder. “I know,” he whispered, and then she gasped when the gun in his hand went off, the slug thumping into her with the force of a kick.
She gasped, her fall arrested by Jack as he held her to him. Her chest exploded into pain, and she couldn’t breathe as he eased her down. She blinked, looking at the gun in his hand and seeing the smoke drift idly from the muzzle. Faint on the wind, she heard Silas screaming her name, but she couldn’t look away from Jack. “You shot me,” she choked out.
“Sorry, babe,” he said, gentling her to the cold pavement like a lover. His eyes were trained on her, and she saw not the cold calculation of a murderer she had expected to see, but something resembling heartache. “It will be our secret, okay? I’ll just tell Bill you said yes and that you got shot by accident afterward.”
“Why?” she said, staring at the sky. “Why!”
He stood, handgun ready as he watched Silas, not her. “It doesn’t look like it, but I just saved your life. You need me. You need the way Opti makes you feel. Draft. I’ll take you home.”
She couldn’t believe this, and her hand felt her chest as she choked on the pain. Son of a bitch … He’d shot her, shot her so that she’d draft and save herself, and forget everything that had been made clear to her today so she could be a pawn of Opti once more. He was counting on it. “I can’t believe you shot me.” The pain redoubled, but she blinked, her searching fingers coming away in the startling realization that though she felt as if she’d been kicked by a mule … there was … no blood. Instead, a page from her diary peeked from between her fingers—her past had saved her after all. You have got to be kidding me.
Oblivious, Jack stood above her, the wind shifting the hair into his eyes as he frowned at Silas. She felt something within her war with itself as he swiftly brought the gun up, sighting it at Silas. She could do nothing and Jack would take her home. No one would blame her, and she would be everything she wanted to be. Her soul cried out for it.
But that wasn’t who she wanted to be.
Groaning, she rolled, knocking into Jack as the gun went off.
“Peri!” Jack shouted in anger as his shot went wild.
A low, guttural snarl rumbled through her. Grit pinching her palms, she rose. Jack turned at the sound of her boots scraping on the pavement, but it was too late as she launched herself at him.
They crashed into the car and went down; Jack’s face was awash with surprise. “You didn’t draft! How!”
“I didn’t have to,” she snarled, then head-butted him to get him to let go of her.
He cried out and her hands were free.
Grabbing her head, he slammed it into the concrete dock.
Stars blotted her sight. Gasping for breath, she hit his face with her elbow, and he shoved her away as his nose gushed bright red blood.
She rolled, cursing herself. She’d lost the advantage of surprise, and with it, her chance at the handgun. Pages from her diary were slipping from her, and Jack’s expression became ugly as he realized why his shot hadn’t done anything. “That is so clichéd,” he said as he staggered to his feet and brought up his handgun.
“It goes with the joke you made of my life,” she said, then dove to the pavement when he pulled the trigger.