He found he didn’t care.
But he wasn’t done yet, and he closed his eyes and slipped into her mind again. He had to hobble her intuition in such a way that it would give her freedom as well as safety.
That his fix was going to involve Jack, the man she’d grown to love and then hate, was probably a fitting punishment for his own sins.
The sound of a hushed argument pulled Peri from a deep, dreamless sleep. She stretched, eyes closed and luxuriating in a pleasant ache and the sensation of clean sheets on her bare skin. It was like skinny-dipping, and she sighed, not wanting to wake up.
“If you aren’t out of my house in five minutes, I’m calling Opti and I’ll have them here in ten!” a woman was saying, her voice familiar, but there was no face swimming up from Peri’s memory to go with it. She was comfortable, and her mind was as clear as if she’d just finished a task. To get up was too much work for too little payoff.
“Touch that phone, and I’ll shoot you,” a higher voice whispered, and Peri frowned at Taf’s anger. “Peri isn’t hurting you.”
There was a soft thump, and then Howard said, “Ma’am. Don’t make me tie you up.”
Peri’s eyes opened. The room was bright with sun and richly decorated in colors she liked. It was morning, and she didn’t have a stitch of clothing on. Someone must have taken her clothes off, because she never slept that freely. Maybe I drafted? But there was no recall itch in her mind, none of the unease that an unfragmented draft usually left her with. Frowning, she tried to remember how she’d gotten naked in a nice room like this.
The sound of an unseen door opening pulled Peri upright, and she tugged the sheet to cover herself. There was a glass of water on the nightstand, and she gulped it down in one go, then wiped a drop from her chin.
“You’re going to wake her. Can you do this downstairs?” Silas said in a hushed whisper.
Peri took a breath to call out, choking on it when a movement in the corner drew her eyes. Heart pounding, she tightened her grip on her empty glass and stared at Jack, sitting in the corner in a pressed suit and tie, just the right amount of stubble, a heat-filled glint in his eyes. It didn’t work. She was still hallucinating.
“Hi, babe,” he said, and Peri closed her eyes, willing the vision to leave.
“Go away,” she whispered, eyes flashing open when he cleared his throat. “You aren’t real,” she said, glancing at the door and the hushed argument beyond it in the hall.
Jack put an ankle on his knee and loosened his tie to look indescribably attractive. “At least you can think again,” he said, and a sliver of panic slid through her. Fudge on a stick, they’re starting to interact with me.
“She’s going to call Opti,” Taf said from the hall, her exclamation a whisper.
Silas sighed. “Karley isn’t going to call Opti. All of you get away from Peri’s door before you wake her up.”
“She will wake up, right?” the unknown woman said, but at least now Peri had a name.
Taf gasped, and Howard shushed her. “Of course she will,” Silas said. “I was able to do a few things last night.”
Do a few things? Peri’s gaze flicked from the door back to Jack. Her shoulders slumped as he wiggled his fingers at her, grinning madly. “Go away,” she whispered, setting the glass down so she wouldn’t throw it at him. “You’re not real. You’re not real. I killed you. You’re dead!” She didn’t remember a thing from Overdraft, but that’s what everyone had said she’d done. Every time she tried to remember it, it sort of … slipped away. The anger, though, the sense of outright betrayal at something she couldn’t recall—that was real. And if she felt that much betrayal, then she had probably loved him. For God’s sake, why can’t I ever find a nice man?
“You’re right. I’m not real,” Jack said, and her eyes narrowed.
From the hallway, Howard said, “Jeez, Silas. You look like hell. You want a coffee?”
“Yeah. Thanks,” he said, and Jack rolled his eyes and made a blah, blah, blah gesture.
“Did it work?” Karley asked, halfway down the stairs from the sound of it.
“I won’t know until she wakes up. Mental scaffolds are not magic pills.”
Peri stiffened when Jack found her underwear laid out on a chair and held it up, eyebrows waggling. “Put that down,” she whispered. “Go away. You’re a hallucination.”
Jack obediently set it down. “True. But I’m going to keep you sane if it kills you.”
“You call this sane!” Peri shouted, then covered her mouth and looked at the door.
The thumping on the stairs halted. “I think she’s up,” Silas said, and Peri winced when the muted thunder of multiple ascending footsteps turned into silence, and then a hesitant knock. “Peri?”
Sheet held tight, Peri looked at Jack to keep his mouth shut, then the door. “Come in.”
Silas poked his head in, disheveled and stubbly. His hair was even worse, but somehow it made him charmingly accessible. “Um,” he started, clearly not seeing Jack in the corner. “How do you feel? You look better.”
Jack wrinkled his nose at Peri, and her heart pounded. “I look better?” she exclaimed. She was crazy. She’d trusted him, and now she was crazy. “I’m blue-lined insane!”
“Not if you’re yelling at me, you’re not.” Silas came all the way in, and Taf and Howard looked in around the door. It was only his relieved expression that kept her quiet when a woman she didn’t recognize pushed in past Taf and Howard. That, and she was still naked. The woman was dressed for the office, and she looked irate. Karley? Peri guessed.