Detroit 2030. Double-crossed by the person she loved and betrayed by the covert government organization that trained her to use her body as a weapon, Peri Reed is a renegade on the run. Don’t forgive and never forget has always been Peri’s creed. But her day job makes it difficult: she is a drafter, possessed of a rare, invaluable skill for altering time, yet destined to forget both the history she changed and the history she rewrote. When Peri discovers her name is on a list of corrupt operatives, she realizes that her own life has been manipulated by the agency. Her memory of the previous three years erased, she joins forces with a mysterious rogue soldier in a deadly race to piece together the truth about her fateful final task. Her motto has always been only to kill those who kill her first. But with nothing but intuition to guide her, will she have to break her own rule to survive?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
FIVE YEARS LATER
Peri 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.
The app finished its scan and vibrated for her attention. No movement, she thought as she looked at the blank screen, not trusting it. “I can’t do my job from here,” she whispered, tensing when the elevator hummed to a halt and a beam of light lit the ceiling. Keys jingled. The translucent screen in her palm lit up with a bright dot. Shit.
“I can’t do mine if you leave my sight,” Jack said. “Stay put, Peri. I mean it.”
Arcs of harsh light played over the ceiling—closer, coming closer. Adrenaline coursed through Peri once more, and the soles of her feet began to ache. “Catch,” she said, rolling the phone into a tube and tossing it at him. He scrambled for it, his silhouette tight with anger against the city lights.
“Let me know if we get more than one,” she said as she yanked on her pendant, jerking the tiny felt marker from its cap. “Otherwise, keep working.”
“Don’t go out there without me,” he said, his sudden alarm at the click of the pen uncapping jerking through her.
“Just find the files. I’ll be right back.” J IN OFFICE she wrote on her palm, avoiding him as she blew it dry, recapped the pen, and tucked it behind her top.
“Peri . . .”
“I wrote a note,” she said, nervous at his angst, and she slipped out, easing the door nearly closed behind her. Dropping to the flat carpet, she wiggled across the receptionist’s office and peered around the end of the desk, propping herself up on the flats of her arms to wait for a visual on the guard. Jack was right to be concerned. He had to witness a draft to anchor her. But to fail meant the deadly virus might reach an already decimated Asia.
That’s why they were here, to find and remove the files concerning the virus before a second wave of death washed through what had once been nearly two-thirds of the world’s population. Opti had commissioned the first wave three years ago, when Asia’s political hierarchy thumbed their noses at the new CO2 levels set by the United Nations and therefore threatened the entire world with continued rising global temperatures. But this second wave of tactical bioengineered population reduction was illegal, funded by the Billion by Thirty club with the sole intent of broadening their financial interests in Europe. Peri thought it amusing that she and Jack had helped almost half of its members gain their admission.
The light on the ceiling became focused. Warning prickled her skin as the jingling keys grew louder and a uniformed man came around the desks. Peri’s brow furrowed.
It wasn’t the guard that Bill, their handler, had told them would be here. This man was younger and thinner, and wasn’t singing along with his phone. As Peri watched, he tucked his flashlight under his arm and used a card reader to go into one of the private offices ringing the floor. Lips pressed, she waited until the guard came out with a square bottle of something sloshy.
Damn. He was a lifter: familiar with every office and comfortable with treating the building as his personal, no-card-required shopping mall. The best case would have him on the alert for anything out of the ordinary as he strove not to get caught. The worst case would have him in the CEO’s office sampling the chocolate.
Breath held, Peri crept back to Jack. He looked up from her phone as she eased the door shut, frowning when the lock clicked on and a red light from the door pad glowed in the dark. “Don’t leave my sight!” he whispered, yelling at her in a soft hush.
“We got a lifter,” she said, and Jack’s fingers hesitated.
“He coming in here?”
“Give me a second, I’ll go ask him.”
Mood sour, he returned his attention to the crystalline projection. Peri padded over for her phone, breathing in the light scent of his sweat as she tucked it away. Her mind drifted to the sensation of his touch on her skin as his quick fingers searched folders and files. “Maybe the files have a biometric lock?” she suggested.
“No. I simply think it’s not here. We might need to hit the labs downstairs,” Jack grumbled, doing a double take when he realized her lips were inches from his ear. “Peri, back up. I can’t work when you’re that close.”
“The labs? Good God. I hope not.” Peri leaned to put her arms across his shoulders. Her bag—filled with all sorts of interesting things that needed an artist’s touch to get past TSA—rested on the desk, and she wondered if she should get something out of it, but everything was noisy. “Why don’t you shut it down. He’s just shopping, and we’ve got all night.”
“It’s not here,” he muttered, and she pushed off his shoulders and went to listen at the door. Hearing a sliding clatter, she roughly gestured for Jack to cut the light. Grim, Jack stood, fingers still flicking files about the screen. “I thought wave technology had a sleep corner,” he whispered.
Peri tensed. Footsteps. Coming closer. “Shut it off. Now!”
Jack’s face was creased in the dim glow. “I’m trying.”
The guard was in the secretary’s outer office, and she settled into a balanced readiness beside the door. He was coming through it—she knew by the prickling of her thumb and the itch in her feet. “Damn it, Jack. I haven’t drafted in six months. Don’t make me do it now.”
“Got it!” he whispered, fingers waving across the monitor as he found the off switch.
“Got it” wasn’t good enough, and with a tiny beep from the locking pad, the door clicked open and the security guard came in, flashlight searching.
He was a cool customer, she’d give him that. Silent, he took in Jack, standing behind the desk like a guilty teen found looking at his dad’s porn. Expression twisting, the man dropped the bottle and reached for the pistol on his belt.
Peri moved as the bottle clunked on the carpet. The man yelped, shocked when her crescent kick slammed out of the dark and into his wrist, knocking his handgun into the secretary’s office. Hand to his middle, the security guard dropped back. His shock turned to anger when he saw Peri’s slim figure cloaked in chic black. True, it looked suspicious, her in the dark and in an upper office where she had no right to be, but add some jewelry and Louboutins, and she was ready for a five-star restaurant. “You’re nothing but a little bitty girl,” he said, reaching for her.
“I prefer the term fun-size.”
Grinning, Peri let him grab her, spinning around and levering him up and over her shoulder. He’d either go where she sent him or he’d dislocate his arm. He went, hitting the carpet with a muffled thump.
“Ahhhhoow!” the guard groaned as he pulled the unbroken whiskey bottle out from under him. The flashlight rolled, sending shiny glints across the black panes of glass.
Jack frantically worked at the computer, his head low and blond hair hiding his eyes.
Enjoying the chance to take the big man down, Peri gathered herself to fall on him. Eyes wide, the guard jerked away, and she changed her motion into a heel jab that never landed, then fell into a ready stance between him and the handgun. We have to get out of here, like now.
The guard spun upright, fumbling for the radio on his belt. “Put a wiggle in it, Jack!” she exclaimed, lashing out with a crescent kick, a front kick, then a low strike to his knee as she drove the guard back—anything to keep him from his radio. She loved the adrenaline, the excitement, the knowledge that she had what it took to beat the odds and walk away without reprisal.
The man shook it off, and she lashed at his ear, lurching when she hit his jaw instead. A solid thump on her right shoulder sent her reeling. Peri stumbled, feeling the coming bruise. Anger fueled her smile. He was good and liked to cause pain. If he landed a clean strike, she’d be out—but beating those odds would only make her win more satisfying.
“Quit playing with him!” Jack shouted.
“I need to burn off some calories if I want cake tonight,” she said as the guard felt his lip, thoughts shifting behind his eyes when his fingers came away shiny with blood. Suddenly he ran for the door and his handgun.
“We’re having pie, not cake, and stay where I can see you,” Jack called.
She jumped the guard, snagging a foot before he reached the door. He went down, dragging her across the carpet. Chin burning and eyes shut, she let go when he kicked. Peri jerked away, gasping when the guard turned, looming over her with his fist pulled back.
“No!” Jack shouted as the guard struck her full in the face and her head snapped backward. Dazed, Peri wavered where she sat.
“Don’t move! Or I fucking shoot her!” the guard shouted.
She couldn’t see straight. The gun pointed at her held no meaning as she tried to figure out what had happened. Dizzy, she felt her face, jerking when the pain exploded under her fingers. But it focused her, and she looked at Jack behind the desk. Eyes meeting, they silently weighed their options. Jack had a handgun and she had a blade in her boot. They’d never needed extraction from local authorities in their entire three years together. She wasn’t planning on starting now, and certainly not getting fingered by a dirty rent-a-cop.
“You at the desk!” the guard barked, and Peri’s gaze on his handgun narrowed as she estimated the distance. “Come here where I can see you,” he said, one hand fumbling behind his back for his cuffs. “Hands up. You make a move to lower them, and I shoot her.”
Hands in the air, Jack edged out from behind the desk. He coughed, and the barrel of the guard’s gun shifted to track him.
“Bravo!” a clear, masculine voice exclaimed from the doorway.
The guard turned, shocked. Peri lashed out in a spinning kick. Impact against the guard’s hand vibrated through her even as she followed through and rose into a crouch and from there to a stand, the flat of her still-swinging foot slamming into the guard’s head.
Spittle and blood sprayed and the guard crashed into the coffee table. His handgun fell, and she kicked it to the far windows. Jack went for the man in the doorway. Knowing he had her back, Peri followed the guard down, fist clenched to hit him somewhere painful.
But the guard was out, his face bloody and his eyes closed. Resisting the urge to hit him anyway, she looked up as Jack shoved an older man in a suit into the office at gunpoint.
“Impressive,” the man said, nodding to the guard. “Is he dead?”
“No.” Peri stood. What the hell? she thought, unable to read Jack’s tight expression. This couldn’t be a test. They’d already had their yearly “surprise” evaluation job.
“Good. Keep it that way,” the man said as if he was in control, regardless of having no weapon, if Jack’s hasty but thorough pat-down was any indication. “I’ve been meaning to take him off the payroll, but I’d prefer unemployment over a death benefit to his wife.”
This isn’t how we do things, Peri thought as Jack shoved the man into one of the cushy chairs, where he fixed his tie, affronted. Peri looked from the slightly overweight man to his photograph on the desk, posing with a stiff-looking woman in too much makeup. This was his office. Bloody toothpicks, Bill will have a cow if I off a CEO.
“I have what you came for,” the manicured, graying man said, his soft fingers reaching behind his coat to an inner pocket.
Peri lunged. Her knee landed between his legs and he gasped at the near miss. One hand forced his head back; the other pinned his reaching hand to the arm of the chair. “Don’t move,” she whispered, and irritation replaced his shocked pain.
He wiggled, wincing when she shifted her knee a little tighter. “If I wanted you dead, I wouldn’t be here myself,” the man said, his voice strained but angry. “Get off me.”
“Nah-uh,” she said, fingers digging into his neck in warning, then louder, “Jack?”
Jack eased close, the scent of his aftershave familiar as he reached behind the man’s coat to slip free an envelope. It had Jack’s name on it, and Peri went cold. He knew we’d be here?
“Get off,” the older man said again, and this time, Peri eased back in uncertainty.
Jack passed his handgun to her, and she retreated to where she could see both the CEO and the downed guard. The crackle of the envelope was loud, and the older man readjusted himself, giving Peri a dark look. “What is it?” she asked, and Jack unfolded the paper inside and shook a pinky-nail-size memory chip into his hand. “Is it the files?”
Her attention shifted to the CEO when he palpated his privates as if estimating the damage. “No. I printed out the highlights to justify my request. You tell Bill that what I found warrants more than a paltry three percent,” he said, shaking his arms to fix the fall of his coat. “Three percent. I just saved his ass and he thinks I’m going to take three percent?”
“Jack?” Peri whispered, disliking her uncertainty. He knows Bill? What’s going on?
Face white, Jack angled the printed page to the faint light coming in the window. Fingers fumbling, he tipped the chip onto his glass phone. It lit up as the data downloaded, and Jack compared the two, going even more pale as he verified it.
The man leaned toward the side table, his gaze lingering on the foil hat before he took a chocolate from the dish. “You’re very good, missy. Watching you . . . I’d believe you myself.” He smiled, white teeth gleaming in the ambient light.
Jack looked more angry than confused. Peri’s gut knotted. The CEO knew Bill. Was he proposing a deal?
“You made a mistake.” Jack folded the paper around the chip and tucked it away with his phone.
The man snorted and put an ankle on a raised knee. “The only mistake is Bill thinking he can get something for nothing. He can do better. I only want a fair price for what I have.”
Shit, Peri thought, her alarm mutating to anger. He was trying to buy them. They were Opti agents. Drafters and anchors had to be trustworthy to a fault or the government that trained them would literally kill them. Drafting time was too powerful a skill to hire out to the highest bidder, especially now.
Fear settled in her like old winter ice, cracked and pitted, as Jack cocked his head at the angle he always had when he was thinking hard, and a weird light was in his eye.
“Jack?” she said with sudden mistrust. “What’s that list?”
His expression cleared. “Lies,” he said blandly. “All lies.”
The CEO bit into a chocolate. “The truth is far more damning than anything I could invent. It’s a list, lovely woman, of corrupt Opti agents,” he said as he chewed. “Your name is on it.”
Kim Harrison and Charlaine Harris chat with each other about taking new fictional directions
By Joyce Lamb September 1, 2015
Wow, what a lineup we have today at HEA! Who could ask for more (and get it)? Now, we have Kim Harrison celebrating the release of The Drafter by chatting with Charlaine Harris, whose Day Shiftcame out in May, about the new directions they're taking in their new novels. The Drafter is book one in Kim's new Peri Reed Chronicles, and Day Shift is book two in Charlaine's Midnight, Texas series. (Don't miss an audio excerpt from The Drafter at the bottom of the interview.)
KH: Hi, Charlaine. It's great to have a chance to chat with a fellow author I admire. Watching your career — and applauding your successes — has given me a star to set my own sights upon.
CH: Then it's a mutual admiration society. I love the consistency and world-building you brought to your Hollows books.
Kim, you changed from paranormal adventure to thriller. Was that a conscious choice or simply the story you wanted to tell?
KH: Urban fantasy has been very good to me, and as much as I enjoyed it, I made a conscious decision to try something new. Like yourself, I've got a varied backlist that not all our readers might know about, and my earliest work was traditional fantasy. I've written YA, scripted a couple of graphic novels and gained a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction from developing a weird, like-no-other-world book. The Hollows was a chance to settle into one world and voice for a long time, affording me the opportunity to expand my skills on world building and extended character development. But even with the side projects, I was working mostly with one voice, one POV to narrate the world and put forth my ideas.
It was time to change. I wanted multiple voices to tell a story. I wanted an even faster pace. I wanted a smaller character list so I could focus on a personal struggle and use it to cast light on a larger issue. I could have done all that within the framework of urban fantasy, but I needed a shift of mind-set to cleanse my writing palette. I've always gravitated to the fast and futuristic when looking for entertainment, and now I'm writing what I'd like to see, perhaps — a woman with a stressful, satisfying career going down the toilet in a very big way.
Charlaine, I'll admit I "author watch" to see what other writers have done to move their careers forward, and I think you were smart to keep a thread of paranormal even as you wrote a more mystery-themed series. Still, it must have been hard to leave Sookie and crew.
CH: I know this may sound weird, but it wasn't hard. I did the best I could for Sookie (that was the way I thought of it) congruent with the tone I'd set for the books; and then I was through. It was exciting and terrifying to set out for parts unknown, but I was ready. I had ideas and goals I'd set for myself, and I would sure like to explore them.
When you ended The Hollows series, were you relieved, melancholy or dancing in your office?
KH: Yes. All three. Sometimes on the same day.
Ending a successful, long-running book series to start something completely new in a genre that's known to be difficult to break into is nothing I'd recommend — but I'd have it no other way. Or maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment as finding a way to satisfy my established readers and gain the trust of a new demographic is not an easy balance to find.
I procrastinated terribly on that last Hollows book, actually writing the first Peri novel before putting Rachel's last story on paper. I needed the assurance that I would be happy with my next project. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do, and I was indeed "dancing in my office" when I submitted it. The end of the Hollows was satisfying and full throttle, something I'm not sure I could have done if I hadn't already been comfortable with Peri Reed.
Charlaine, you've ended quite a few successful series and moved on. Please tell me this gets easier and that there might be hidden benefits to continually reinventing yourself.
CH: Nothing gets easier! But you get more accustomed to the process of reinvention. There are a hundred hidden benefits. I am easily bored, and these changes keep me constantly entertained. But putting up new wallpaper can be a real challenge.
What's been the hardest thing about creating a new world? The most fun thing?
KH: As usual, the hardest and most fun are the same thing. Though the character development always surprises me — and therefore holds a lot of personal satisfaction — one of the things I enjoyed most in writing The Drafter was being able to shed the trappings of magic entirely and give the invented and extrapolated technology my full attention.
I've talked about genetic genocide, Punnettsquares and neural nets in a fantasy setting before, and being able to bring my scientific background right to the forefront in a slightly futuristic setting has been great. The hard part comes from trying to extrapolate from what we have to what we might take for granted in a mere 15 years. Not only does technology catch up fast (especially in the automotive field), but I can't rely on transporters, interstellar travel or massive social innovations to carry the weight of world building.
"Nothing changes/everything is different" is my motto when writing what the world might look like in 15 years. I had to focus on small things: how we shop, how we communicate, how we entertain ourselves, our love affair with smaller, faster. So we have glass technology phones, shop using interactive, life-size doppelganger sims who try on clothes for us, and drones with new rules and regulations to address their evolving issues. The futuristic feel of Peri Reed's world had to come from small, interspersed world building rather than a large statement, and that works for me.
But I will admit the lure to bring in an element of fantasy is sometimes hard for me to resist, especially when the science is so accelerated that it almost seems like magic. I can't tell you how many times I see a place I can put an Easter egg from the Hollows into a Peri Reed novel — then sigh and hit that backspace.
Charlaine, that you're still working in a paranormal universe must make the temptation even harder. Have you succumbed and crossed your two worlds of Sookie and Midnight?
CH: In a limited way. I do have two crossover characters, Quinn and Barry. But neither is essential to the progress of the plot. I do have one vampire, but he's a very different and rare — kind of like a Prius of vampires. I limited the elements of the supernatural world severely. And now I'm writing a conventional mystery that has no elements of the supernatural at all. After 12 years, I'm back with Aurora Teagarden! Not a witch or a werewolf to be seen.
Do you believe you will ever return to a completely paranormal world?
KH: I don't know! If you had asked me that last month, I would have said no, but even as I work happily on Peri Reed's story, I keep having ideas that are clearly not tech-oriented, but magical. I'm either going to have to find an outlet for them or somehow twist them into a techie frame of mind. Sounds like a good mashup. I'm always happiest finding lines to cross, and then moving them just...a little...more.
CH: Whatever you decide to write next, I'll be first in line to read it.