The Drafter

Page 9

“Doubt it,” he grumbled, the slim wafer of glass glowing in his palm as he checked his messages.

“Ten in the corner, off the bank,” she whispered, feeling better already. The thump of the cue against the ball pulled her upright, and she stood as the ball dropped in. She missed her next shot, but their wine had shown up, and she decided to order dessert when Jack wasn’t looking. He wasn’t going to win, even if it required cheating.

“Your go,” she said as she came back to the table and touched his face just to feel the faint stubble. I love seeing him this relaxed, she thought, wishing she could remember more nights like this. “I sank two.”

“You’re off your game,” he said as he took his cue. “Looks like it’s apple pie tonight.”

“Doubt it,” she said, sighing as he moved forward to study the table. From below, the music shifted to something slower, the lights lowering to spin at the floor in lazy circles. Jack settled on his shot, and she scrolled through the menu, ordering chocolate cake as she waited for the exact … moment … to distract him.

“How’s Bill?” she asked suddenly, and Jack jumped, miscuing. The cue ball spun in an awkward spiral to hit nothing, and he frowned, knowing she’d done it on purpose. “I’ve seen you check your messages twice now,” she added as he straightened.

“As antsy as always,” he said. “I know this is our time, but I was tired of avoiding his texts. They found the body already, and he wanted to make sure we’re okay.”

Peri grimaced. Sloppy. Leaving bodies was sloppy. “You told him I drafted?” she asked, not yet ready to think about the additional debriefing that a draft engendered.

Jack wouldn’t look at her, and she disliked the unusual avoidance. “He wants us to check in when we hit Detroit,” he said. “No rush, but no … what did he say … lollygagging?”

Peri rolled her eyes, imagining the heavy, somewhat prissy man saying just that. Blowing the dust from the tip, she smiled, forgiving him for bringing up work. The lights had risen again, playing on the ceiling of the open floor below the loft. “You didn’t leave me much,” she said as she sashayed forward. “I think you missed on purpose.”

“I like watching you shoot,” he said as he stood behind her to look over the layout.

“You just like seeing my ass in the air,” she quipped back.

He grinned, tucking her short hair behind an ear. “It’s a very nice ass, Peri.”

Laughing, she shied away from him. “Maybe if I bank it off there …,” she said, losing herself in the math. Stretching over the table, she tested the angle. It would be tight.

“You’re a little off,” Jack said, and she felt him lean in, hanging over her to see her shot setup. “I think you need to angle it more. This might be a little hard for you,” he said, pressing into her.

“It’s not how hard it is that worries me.” She liked his nearness, the way she could feel his warmth against her. “It’s how long it is.”

“Mmmm.” He grinned, inches away.

“Is this better?” she said, not looking away from him.

He licked his lips. “Better. Nice and smooth now, and I think it will go right … in.”

He was far too close for an easy play, but he was trying to make her miss, among other things, and she focused on the shot, exhaling when she tapped it and knowing before it moved a foot that it hadn’t been enough.

“Well, darn,” she complained as she pushed herself up. “Your go,” she said, returning to their table and levering herself up on the stool. Her cake had arrived. She couldn’t help but wonder how she’d found this place. Maybe Bill suggested it. He knew their after-task tradition of pool and dessert.

Her smile faded at the reminder of what lay ahead. Six weeks. Jack could never bring that all back. But then, what does anyone really remember, anyway?

There was a thump of a ball. “That’s two,” Jack said. “You’re not eating that if I win.”

Feeling good, Peri ran a finger across the top of the cake. “Just keep dreaming,” she said, making sure he was watching as she licked off the whiskey-infused frosting. The shock of it burned in a pleasant surprise, and as Jack focused on his game, she breathed deep, feeling it add to her slight buzz.

The balls cracked, and she cheered when the eight went in too early, making it her win. Clearly not caring, Jack set his cue on the table and came to stand behind her. “You win,” he said, his arms going around her and rocking her slowly. “You always win.”

She sighed, feeling the love as the music shifted, becoming even slower as the evening lengthened. Together they looked out over the dance floor below them. She could dance to this, black eye or not. Hell, they were almost dancing now, Jack slowly swaying with her as she sat on the stool, him standing behind her where he always was.

“Peri, have you ever given any thought to retiring?”

She stopped his motion, looking up and behind at him in surprise. “Quit Opti?”

“Why not?” he said, rushing to talk before she said anything else. “I can’t think of a better way to live out my life than with you, doing nothing more than this. Maybe on a beach.”

They had talked about this before, but never when she was feeling this relaxed, this … vulnerable to his idea. She couldn’t quit. This was who she was. “Sand in your shorts would get a little tiring after a while, don’t you think?”

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