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Authors: Kim Harrison

The Drafter

BOOK: The Drafter
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For Tim, who still reads my rough drafts—and some of the rewrites

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I'd like to thank my editor, Lauren McKenna, for her insights into making Peri's story everything it is, and my agent, Richard Curtis, for believing in Peri's story when it was raw and new.

PROLOGUE

2025

T
he room was a featureless eight-by-eight, the monotony relieved by a single chair and the door pad softly glowing in the recessed overhead lights. Pulling up from a stretch, Peri stifled a shudder as a feeling of electricity crawled over her skin, pooling where the training suit pinched.

Concerned, she passed a hand over the spiderweb of white stress lines in the otherwise black leather, frown deepening when her hand turned to pinpricks as the electric field in the fabric phased.
Seriously?
The slick-suit ran from her neck to the tops of her boots, elevating her slight form to dangerous and sexy, but a wardrobe malfunction would slow her down.

“Hey! Excuse me?” she called toward the ceiling, her high voice laced with demand. “I'm getting excessive feedback from my slick-suit.”

A soft chime fell flat in the tiny room as the audio connection opened. “I'm sorry,” a man's voice said, the hint of sarcasm telling her they knew it. “Possible suit malfunctions are acceptable under the parameters of the exercise. Begin.”

Again the chime rang. Adrenaline surged with her quick intake of breath. She didn't see the cameras, but people were watching, comparing every move to an unattainable perfection. Squandering a cocky three seconds, she stretched to show her confidence along with her lithe shape.
Challenge one: technological fence
,
she thought, glancing at the locked door pad.

In a swift motion, she grasped the back of the wooden chair, flinging it into the wall. It hit with a startling crack of wood, and she knelt before the pieces. Nimble fingers bare of the slick-suit's gloves sifted through until she found a metal pin. Rising, she padded to the locked door and used it to wedge open the door pad.

This task is mine
, she thought, then walled it off, concentrating on the maze of wires until she found the one she wanted. Hand fisted, she tensed to yank one of the wires free, then hesitated. With her “malfunctioning” suit, she might end up on her ass, blowing out smoke as she tried to remember how to focus.
Not worth the risk
, she thought, following the wire back to the circuit board and shorting the door with the pin instead. The ceiling chimed her success. Peri saluted the unseen cameras, smug as the door slid open.
Eleven seconds
.

Pin set between her fingers to gouge, she dove into the cooler air and into a spacious, spongy-floored room. The ceilings were higher, the light brighter, and at the far end, a closed door beckoned, the light on the lock already a steady green. Beyond it was everything she'd been working for, everything she'd been promised. She just had to get there.

A faint whisper of air gave her warning. Peri ducked, lashing out with a back kick to send a man pinwheeling into the wall.
Shit, he's huge!
she thought as his slick-suit flashed white. But it was fading to black even as she watched. He wasn't out of it—yet.

“Nothing personal, right?” she said, her eyes jerking from his holstered weapon to the two men sprinting toward her. Three against one wasn't fair, but when was life ever?

They attacked together. Peri dropped, rolling to take out the closest. He fell and she swarmed him, jabbing his throat with her elbow. There was the telltale thump of a pad, but she'd struck hard enough to make him gag. His slick-suit flashed white as she rolled to her feet.
One down
.

The second grabbed her, a glass knife shadowed with electronics at her throat. Screaming in defiance, she stabbed his ear with the chair
pin. He howled in real pain, and she threw him over her shoulder and into the first man, now recovered.

Following them both down, she scrambled for his blade, running the glass training knife across both their throats. The glow of the technological blade against their skin flashed, indicating a kill, and their slick-suits turned white. Gasping, they went still, paralyzed. Real blood, looking alien on the training floor, dripped from the one man's ear.

Peri straightened, keeping the pin as she turned her back on the men and walked confidently to the distant door.
No more lame excuses
, she thought, the adrenaline high still spilling through her, though shifting to a more enduring burn of anticipation. She'd been working toward this for months. How many times did she need to prove she was ready?

With a heavy thunk, the lights went up. At the door, the pad shifted to a locked red.

Peri jerked to a halt. “Excuse me?” she directed at the ceiling, and the audio connection pinged open.

“You failed to demonstrate proficiency with projection weapons,” the man said, but she could hear an argument in the background.

Peri cocked her hip, knowing the time was still running, ruining her perfect score. “You mean a
gun
?” she asked with disdain. “Handguns are noisy and can be taken away, and then I have to do more damage to fix it.”

“Your time is still running,” the man said, smug.

“How can I prove my value if you keep changing the rules?” she muttered, stomping back to the three men, still paralyzed in their white slick-suits. Jaw clenched, she snatched the nearest man's handgun. “I already killed you,” she said when the man's eyes widened, and she spun, shooting out the cameras in the corners instead: one, two, three.

“Reed!” the man shouted as his screens undoubtedly went black.

Peri dropped the weapon and waited, shaking the pinpricks from her fingertips. The audio channel was still open, and a smile quirked her lips as she caught some argued phrases, “best we have” and “it's that shitty attitude of hers that makes her perfect.”

Glancing at her watch, Peri shifted her weight. “So am I going, or do you want me to try it again with feeling? I have stuff to do today.”

There was silence, and then a younger voice took the mic. “You will report to medical tomorrow at nine. Congratulations, Agent Reed. It's yours.”

Her breath caught, the quick intake lighting a fire all the way to her groin, and then she steadied herself. “Friday,” she countered, ignoring the men behind her, groaning as their slick-suits returned to a black neutrality. “I want to say good-bye to my mother.”

Again the silence, and Peri's good mood tarnished as she caught a whispered “might not remember her when she gets back.”

“Friday,” the young voice finally said, and Peri's jaw clenched at the pity in it. Her mother didn't deserve anyone's pity, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to say good-bye.

The lock shifted green, a solid thump echoing as the door opened onto an empty, white hallway. Her thoughts already on a shower and what was in her closet that her mother might actually approve of, Peri paced forward into the light.

CHAPTER
ONE

FIVE YEARS LATER

P
eri Reed reclined in the plush leather chair across from the CEO's desk, her feet up on the coffee table, enjoying the adrenaline pooling as she waited in the dark for Jack to find what they had come for. His mood was bad, but that wasn't her fault. Bored, she helped herself to a foil-wrapped, imported chocolate from a nearby dish.

“Really, Peri?” Jack said at her
mmm
of appreciation.

“So hurry up.” Licking her lips, she deftly folded the foil into a tiny hat, which she set jauntily on the statue of the naked woman holding the dish. “This guy knows his chocolate.”

“I prepped for glass. Wave technology isn't even on the shelves yet,” Jack complained, his tan face pale and distorted through the holographic monitor. The touch-screen projection hazed Jack's athletic shape and black Gucci suit, and Peri wondered whose ass the CEO of Global Genetics was kissing to get the new holographic touch-screen technology.

“My good heels are in the car. Waiting. Like me,” she prompted, and he hunched, his jabbing fingers opening and closing files faster than a texting fourteen-year-old.

Impatient, Peri stood and ran a quick hand through her short black hair. Her mother would hate its length, insisting that a woman of quality kept long hair until she was forty, and only then allowed it to be cut
shorter. Moving to the window, Peri smiled at her manicure in perverse satisfaction. Her mother would hate the color as well—which might be why Peri loved the vibrant maroon.

Shaking her hem down to cover her low-heeled boots, she exhaled her tension and focused on the hazy night. The black Diane von Furstenberg silk jumpsuit wasn't her favorite, even if it had been tailored to fit her precisely and was lined with silk to feel like ice against her skin when she moved. But add the pearls currently in the car with her heels, and it would get second and third glances at the upscale pool hall she'd picked out as a spot where she and Jack could decompress.

If we ever get out of here
, she thought, sighing dramatically to make Jack's ears redden.

The projected monitor was the only spot of light in the office suite with its heavy furniture and pictures of past CEOs. Surrounding buildings were lit by security lights dimmed to save power. Low clouds threw back the midnight haze of Charlotte, North Carolina. This high up, the stink of money had washed away the stink of the streets.
The corruption
, Peri thought, stretching to run a finger over the lintel to intentionally leave a fingerprint,
is harder to hide
.

“One of these days, that's going to bite you on the ass,” Jack said as she dropped back to her heels. Her print would come up as classified, but it would also tell Opti that they'd been successful—or at least that they'd come and gone. Success was beginning to look questionable. Five minutes in, and Jack was
still
searching for the encrypted master file of Global Genetics' latest engineered virus, the hidden one that made it race-specific.

The faint clunk and hum of the elevator iced through her. Her head tilted to the cracked door, and she shocked herself with the sweet candy still on her lips. She never would've heard it had the floor been busy, but in the silence of a quasi-legal, government-sanctioned break-in . . .

“Don't leave my sight,” Jack demanded as he hooked the rolling chair with his foot and pulled the leather throne toward him to sit. His fingers hesitated, jabbed the holomonitor, then waved the entire field to the trash. His brow was furrowed, and the glow of the projection made
his face appear gaunt and his blue eyes almost black. Feeling sassy, Peri sashayed to the door, liking being paid to do what anyone else would be jailed for. Jack looked too sexy to be good at the computer stuff, but in all fairness, he was as proficient as she in evasion and offense.
Which is why we've survived this long
, she thought as she slipped the flexible, palm-size wafer of glass out of her pocket and powered it up. Her Opti-augmented phone was glass technology, and up until seeing the CEO's wave, she'd thought it was the best out there. Hitting the app that tied into the building's security, she brought up the motion sensors.

The screen lit with a harsh glow. Dimming it, she crouched to peer into the secretary's office. One wall of the outer office was open to allow for a view of the common office area beyond. Intel said the night guard was cursory, but intel had been wrong a lot lately.

BOOK: The Drafter
3.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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