“I should have gone to the library,” she muttered.
But she hadn’t run, and Silas took a sip of coffee, relieved. “I think this is what you’re looking for,” he said, hitting a few buttons on his tablet to bring up a news story. “Go on. Read it,” he said, pushing it toward her. “I’m not stalling. The alliance doesn’t know I’m here.”
“No?” Suspicious, she used her stylus to drag it over, and he swallowed hard when she flicked her bangs in a gesture so familiar that Silas felt an unwelcome flash of hurt. Eyes darting, she read the highlights about the security guard and CEO found dead two days ago. It was being called a botched robbery, but it was how the guard had died that he wanted her to see.
Her signature killing style was all over it.
Peri’s fingers were trembling by the time she got to the end. “Is there any doubt why the alliance is trying to put an end to Opti?” he said lightly.
Her eyes flicked up, and he spitefully took a bite of muffin, corralling the crumbs onto the scrap of wax paper. Her stomach growled, and he wondered why he was being so nasty—except that it had been a long, hard year when she’d left.
“He must have killed me first,” she said, her words almost lost in the surrounding conversations. “I don’t kill anyone unless they kill me first.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” he said.
Peri’s eyes narrowed. “Did you call the police? How far behind is the alliance?”
He licked his fingers, elbows on the table as he leaned in close enough that she could smell the sugar on his breath. “I already said I’m here alone. But as for Opti?” He shrugged.
“You’re not afraid I’ll draft and run?” she said, eyebrows high.
He had to get her out of here. Clearly the enticement of food wasn’t going to do it—even half starved as she was—but the lure of knowledge might. “You won’t risk forgetting this.” Confident, he took his tablet back and tucked it into an inside coat pocket.
She watched it go, and his pulse quickened as he saw her calculate the risk of making a scene in the busy café. “I could just leave and look it up later.”
He nodded as if considering it, then went cold in the sudden realization that he’d made a mistake. He shouldn’t be here. He should have let someone else do it. But no one knew her better, that she was like a wild horse: canny, indomitable—and likely to run at the clink of a stone. “Go ahead,” he said, calling her bluff. “Make both our days.”
Expression cross, she flopped back into the chair to stare at him, probably trying to figure out why he was here. There was a nasty-looking pen by her hand, and he watched as she shifted her fingers and drew it close. “I’m not a dirty agent,” she said, chin lifted.
“Then why did you run away?”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Her eyes avoided his. “They think I’m corrupt. I’m going to prove I’m not.”
He snorted, sucking muffin crumbs out of his teeth as if he had all the time in the world. “Anyone who can do what you do is dirty.”
Eyes narrowed, she leaned toward him. “I work for the government. I am a soldier.”
Silas flicked a look at her hands, carefully flat on the table. The pen was gone, hidden somewhere. She’d never come with him unless she felt in control, and he looked at the ceiling, rocking his chair back on two legs. “Sure you are.”
Even expecting it, he jumped when she reached out, grabbed him by the coat, and yanked the chair down on all fours. “I am a soldier,” she growled. “Say it.”
Her hand gripped him just under his chin, both soft and strong at the same time. “Okay, you’re a soldier.”
Satisfied, she let go.
“A corrupt soldier who hires herself out to the highest bidder,” he added, not liking that people had noticed and were watching.
“I might lose memories, but my morals don’t change,” she said. “I wouldn’t do a dirty job now, so I didn’t then.” But her eyes became crafty, worrying him. “You need my help.”
Grunting, Silas put his arms on the table. Damn, he’d forgotten how good she was. “Something happened up there,” he said, tapping his coat where the tablet lay. “I want to know what. I think you do, too.”
“I’m not helping you,” she said. “You’re trying to shut Opti down. We do a lot of good.”
“For the Billion by Thirty club, sure, but not for me,” he said with a bitter laugh. “Not for that guy at the counter. Opti is going down regardless of what I find. If you’re corrupt, you’re going down with it. If you’re not, I’m the only one who can help you clear your name. Help me, and maybe you’ll survive. Maybe walk away. Live your life.”
She didn’t move, but he could see the thoughts sift through her, and he chuckled. “You think you can use me and lose me?” he said, and she flushed. “Go ahead and try. But keep this in mind, Peri Reed. I knew where you were going. I know what you need, and I can take you wherever your intuition leads you.”
“So why are you talking to me?” she said bitingly.
Right to the point, he thought, fiddling with his coffee to make the heating circuits click on and off, until she noticed and he quit. “I, ah, need your help to get up there,” he admitted. “I don’t have your skills.”