Hello there! It’s the last Monday in August! Sure, that means the summer is almost over, but it also means it’s time for fall books! One title we’re super excited about is releasing tomorrow, Kim Harrison‘s new trilogy starter, The Drafter. Set in a futuristic Detroit, the book stars Peri, who has the ability to rewrite 40-second snippets of time. Sounds intriguing — and dangerous, right? We’ve got an exclusive peek at chapter three so you can experience the excitement before the book releases tomorrow! Ready? Let’s do it!
The stairway was cramped, lit with tiny flashing lights and glittery with the hearts-and-roses banner someone had put up for next week’s Valentine’s Day party. Peri had to go up almost sideways in her heels, the music thumping through the walls seeming to push her up to the loft where the pool tables were. Jack was still downstairs talking on his phone to their handler, Bill, under the guise of arranging payment, and Peri stifled a surge of jealousy. Couldn’t they have even one moment of relaxation without Bill interfering?
But her frown shifted to a blank nothing as the memory of the guard surfaced, a hole in him the size of her knife. Quashing it, she continued upstairs, eager to push out the faint—and admittedly ridiculous— feeling that something was wrong.
This will help, she thought, pleased as she emerged onto the second floor and took in the six tables of masculinity replete with beer, wings, and camaraderie, liking the wide range of attire from jeans and plaid to suits and ties. It was the love of the game that brought them here and wiped out their differences like blue chalk in the wind, and she breathed in the faint scent of smoke that lingered in the green felt and relaxed.
But someone noticed her and jostled an elbow. Another cleared his throat, and soon everyone looked up, their gazes traveling over her in appreciation and lingering in question on her black eye and TSA-approved cue case instead of her curves. Three tables were open, but it was the one in the back corner that caught her eye. Sashaying to the supply rack, she took a finger towel and an old chalk. Jack was just coming up when she turned, his smile wide as he noticed every eye on her. “I can’t leave you alone for even a second,” he said, tugging her to him for a welcome kiss.
His lips met hers, and she leaned into him as the spark dove deep, kindling a desire that the coming evening would only fan higher. The music thumped with a suggestive rhythm, and the post-adrenaline crash made her feel flirty. Their lips parted, and she sighed, happy to have him in her life.
“It’s the clothes, believe me,” she said, and he shook his head.
“It’s what they’re wrapped around,” he said, one arm lingering around her as his gaze lifted to the room. “Which one looks good? Corner table?”
Nodding, she headed that way, shivering when his hand slipped from her. Eyes were still on them as she crossed to the shadowed corner, wincing at the electronic whine coming from an out-of-phase holo table and glad the place had only the one. No one was playing it, probably because it was out of synch and the graphix were jumping.
Music thumped up from the floor through Peri’s feet as she set her handbag on the small drinks table and slid up onto the high stool. A heartbeat of electronic dance music seemed to carry the colored lights to the corners of the two-story, upscale club, but the spinning flashes were mere hints under the strong glow of the nearby low-hanging pool table lights. The atmosphere, even on a Thursday night, was alive and electrifying, a heady mix of angles and vectors surrounded by chaotic movement and life.
Just what I need right now, she thought as Jack ran the play card to free the balls. Smiling, she idly spun through the club’s at-table menu system, ordering a basket of wings and two red wines as usual. Tradition dictated that dessert would be determined by the winner—which would be her if she had her way.
“My break?” she asked when Jack lifted the rack up and away, not liking that she didn’t remember how they’d left their last game.
“As I recall,” he said as he handed Peri her cue stick.
Slipping from the stool, she leaned to rest the flat of her arm on the smooth finish of the pool table. Her swollen eye throbbed as she held her breath and lined up the shot. The cue slid between her fingers like silk, once, twice, and then away . . . and she straightened at the familiar thump and crack.
Smiling, she watched the balls scatter as the nine dropped in. With the noise below, it was more a feeling than a sound, but satisfying nevertheless.
Around them, the men’s interest waned, her excellent break telling them she belonged.
Jack sighed. “This might be a while,” he said with mock glumness.
“I might miss,” she promised as she exhaled and lined up another shot.
“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.
“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?”
He turned her in his arms and kissed her forehead. “Not if you were with me. I’d get you chocolate cake every day.”
Quit? She couldn’t do it. “Jack,” she protested, biting back her argument when the pattern of lights shifted from rosy colors to a stark white, bathing Jack’s face, and she stared at his pasty complexion, her gut twisting. Don’t leave my sight drifted up from nowhere, an image of his anger superimposed on his content face. It was his voice in her mind.
I left him, she thought, breath held as she looked at her open hand and the faint J IN OFFICE that hadn’t washed off completely.
“Jack,” she whispered, the taste of the chocolate and whiskey strong on her lips.
Blinking fast, she leaned into him as a sensation of vertigo swept her. Her breath caught, and it felt as if she’d stepped out of time and was just watching.
It’s a list, lovely woman echoed in her thoughts, and an image of a suited man eating chocolate, smug and confident, surfaced. She licked her lips, tasting it. The bitterness kindled more, and anger flashed through her, its source unknown. “Jack,” she whispered, unheard over the music, but the anger vanished, smothered by a feeling of desperation and loss. No, betrayal. Eyes wide, she looked up at Jack, squeezing his hand until he looked down at her.
“What?” Jack’s content expression vanished in concern.
She blinked, gaping at him through a flood of questions. She tried to speak, shocked to silence when he leaned close and the scent of chocolate and whiskey suffocated her. Panic unfolded. Her hand hurt, and she looked at it, cramped and tight as if holding a knife.
“Peri!” Jack gripped her arms. “What is it?”
Her head dropped. The light on his face made it worse. Unable to look at him, she was alone in her terror as she relived shoving the guard off her. He’d smelled of whiskey, and the taste of chocolate was with her still. He’d choked her, and she’d killed him to save her own life. But she shouldn’t be able to remember anything! Not until Jack brought it back and made it real.
“Peri, look at me.” Jack yanked a chair closer, sitting so he was inches away, his blue eyes worried as he gripped her arms tightly, keeping her upright. “I’m here. Look at me.”
“I’m . . . okay,” she rasped, but she wasn’t. “Memory knot,” she whispered, and Jack’s eyes widened in fear. One hand still supporting her, he turned to the stairway. Swallowing hard, she silently agreed.
When things go wrong, you minimize, and things had gone wrong.
Memory knots were nasty little snags of unremembered thought triggered by scent and images. On its own, a memory knot was frightening enough, but if it was attached to a rewrite and left unattended, it
could lead to a MEP, memory-eclipsed paranoia, as the twin timelines lurking in her subconscious fought to be remembered. Anchors didn’t have a problem remembering twin timelines, but drafters . . . Drafters would quickly lose their mind. It was an anchor’s job—apart from doing half of everything else—to bring back one clean memory for a drafter to find closure with.
That a memory knot had snarled up before Jack had even had a chance to defrag her memory didn’t bode well. Something had happened, something so bad that her mind was fighting to remember it.
Killing a guard to save her life wasn’t enough. It was something else.
It’s a list, lovely woman, she recalled, and the taste of chocolate and whiskey rose anew. “We need to go,” she said, light-headed as she slid from the stool. “Jack, I want to go home.”
Home was eight hundred miles to the north, but anywhere would be better than this.
“Right. Okay.” Jack’s arm slid around her, holding her upright without looking obvious about it. His eyes went to their cue sticks, and she made a small sound.
“Don’t you dare leave them. Hand me my purse,” she said, and he nodded, steadying her as she found her chancy balance and pushed through the dizzying sensation of memory trying to beat its way to the
She hardly recognized the stairway, Jack almost carrying her down.
“Going out for a smoke!” Jack said loudly to the doorman, and he opened the door for them. “Don’t give our table away.”
But Peri knew they weren’t coming back.
The door to the club shut behind them, and Peri looked up in the muffled thump of music and the damp February night. She flushed, embarrassed. She hadn’t passed out, but it was like being afraid of ghosts. “I’m okay,” she said softly, and Jack shook his head, his expression in the streetlight hard as they made their way to the car.
“Memory knots are dangerous,” he said, pace slow. “We head back now. I’m driving.”
“I said I’m okay,” she protested, not liking the fuss.
“I never said you weren’t,” Jack said. “But we’re still going back.”
“Fine,” she grumbled as she found her balance and pulled away.
The fresh air had revived her, but she still felt foolish, and Jack refused to leave her side, even when they found her Mantis right where they’d left it.
“In you go,” he said as he opened the passenger-side door for her, the biometric lock recognizing him and releasing. The car chimed a happy greeting as she sighed, fingers shaking as she slid into the leather cushions. The door thumped shut with the sound of money well spent, and with her purse on her lap, she reached to start the car with a push of a button. The warming engine rumbled to life with a satisfying growl and, ignoring the onboard computer’s cheerful greeting and question whether it should prepare to register a new driver since she was in the passenger seat, she hit the button for the heated seats and turned off the music as Jack broke their cues down and dropped them in the trunk.
She didn’t like leaving her car on the street. Not that anyone could steal it, but the Mantis was illegal outside Detroit because of the solargathering, color-changing paint that charged the batteries. Though, to be honest, most cops would only ogle the sleek lines instead of impounding the two-seater. It sort of looked like a Porsche Boxter, only sexier.
Jack jogged around the front, giving her an encouraging smile as he got in and waited for the car to recognize him and release the controls.
“Home by dawn, Peri. You’ll be fine.”
“I’m fine now,” she protested, but she’d be glad to get home.
Damn memory knot had ruined everything. She had saved Jack’s life more times than she could count, and he had saved hers more than she could remember, but as he flicked the warming engine off and found his way to the interstate, a little niggling of warning bit deep and burrowed deeper.
She was only going to remember one past, and Jack . . . he’d remember both.
The Drafter will be available in stores and online tomorrow. You can get your copy on Amazon, Barnes Noble, Kobo, iBooks, or find it at your neighborhood bookstore on IndieBound. And for more Urban Fantasy reads, be sure to visit our Everything Paranormal page.