“Why are you helping me?” she asked as she shrugged into her coat, that ugly, man’s hat already on her head.
Silas’s teeth clenched. “I’m not helping you. I’m getting the job done.”
Together they wove through the busy tables, and he fought with himself not to clear the way for her. He wasn’t her damned anchor, and this association would last only until he got what he wanted. She paused at the door to drop her mug in the wash bin, and he leaned over her as he set his mug beside hers, breathing in her scent, almost hidden under stale fear and worry, to whisper, “That, and I’m impressed at how you continue to function with minimal drafts. Not bad, Peri. Not bad at all.”
Blinking, she looked up at him, the slight praise clearly meaning more than it should. “It’s patently obvious you don’t like me, Silas, but I’m not corrupt. And I’m the only way you’re ever going to find out what really happened, so how about lightening up a little.”
He smiled bitterly as he pushed open the door. “I could say the same thing.”
Her head was up as she went out before him, and he belatedly realized he’d opened the door for her, a common enough courtesy, but one he’d vowed he wouldn’t do. The cold wind blew up from the street, and she hunched deeper into that coat she’d stolen. “This is very bad for my asthma,” she whispered.
“Excuse me?” he blurted, the phrase from their past shaking him to his core. She still uses it? Maybe there is something left after all.
But her eyes held only confusion. “Um. I just say that … sometimes,” she muttered, her melancholy deepening.
Hunching into his coat, he pointed up the street. Silent, she fell into step beside him, clearly not realizing that she’d lengthened her steps into matching his suddenly slower pace so they would strike the same beat even if she was a good eight inches shorter.
God almighty, he thought, trying to shift his pace back to his normal length and failing. She was beside him, and yet not, missing a man she didn’t remember, one who had lied to her for three years, mourning him even if she had killed him.
And he was going to try to bring that back?
Silas’s hotel room was in one of Charlotte’s high-rises, twenty-fourth floor, corner suite. The elegance of the elevator alone had made Peri feel like a homeless woman, still dressed in her traveling black slacks and that woman’s borrowed, no, stolen coat, and a hat that smelled of its previous owner. She knew she wasn’t smelling that great either after sixteen hours on a bus. The couple in the elevator with them hadn’t said a word, with their perfume, cologne, and expensive jewelry. No one could make you feel inferior without your permission, but she was usually the one in the upscale fashions, and the knockoff coat wasn’t doing it for her—not when Silas had the real thing, reminding her of black cars and laughter over sparkling wine.
Getting to his room and finding that it had all the niceties did almost as much to relax her as the shower she’d insisted on taking before letting him near her again. She was still hungry, but at least the caked eyeliner was gone and she didn’t stink. Even better, the steam had gotten most of the wrinkles out of her clothes. A real anchor would have gone downstairs to the boutique and purchased something else for her to wear, but washing her underwear and socks in the sink would do—for now.
Clean and dressed, her feet in hotel-supplied slippers, and her wet hair bumping about her ears, Peri sat in a cushy chair away from the window and tried not to think about the thin sandwich she’d gotten out of a vending machine eight hours ago. She was confident that damp clothes weren’t her usual attire when defragmenting memories, but sitting in a strange man’s hotel room wearing nothing but a robe wasn’t going to happen. The blinds were angled to block most of the light bouncing in off the neighboring tower and her head rested on a pillow smelling of new fabric. Silas’s fingers pushed at her temples with firm, professional strength. Clearly his claim to be an anchor was valid.
His comment yesterday about blind trust bothered her. She’d been a fool, not just for walking away with Allen, but for working with Jack for three years and never suspecting they were doing non-Opti-sanctioned jobs, ignorant of enough that she fell in love with the man. Because even though she couldn’t remember him, there was an ache.
“This would go faster if you unclenched your jaw,” Silas said drily, and Peri forced her shoulders down. His touch on her temples was not invasive, but her mind was too full.
“How long has it been since you’ve done this?” she countered.
“None of your business.”
Peri exhaled in a long, slow sound. That he smelled like leather and his fingers felt like a cool ribbon of water somehow wasn’t helping. “I don’t think you were ever in Opti.”
“I was there,” he growled. “How can I be expected to work when you won’t relax?”
“How can I relax when I’m starving!” she exclaimed.
His fingers pulled away and she opened her eyes to see him stomping across the blind-darkened room to the bed. Shoulders hunched in anger, he picked up the bedside phone. “I swore I wasn’t going to do this,” he said, punching a number with savage ferocity. “I was not going to do this!” he added, glaring at her as he brandished the receiver.
Sitting up, Peri finger-combed her damp hair, more peeved than curious.
“Hi,” he said flatly as someone on the other end picked up. “This is Silas Denier in Twenty-four thirty-five. Can I have two strawberry milkshakes and a plate of fries sent up? If you can get them here in ten minutes, there’s a twenty in it for you.” Setting the phone back in the cradle with a dull crack, he sat on the bed and stared at the wall.