Page 9

His lip twitched at the thinly veiled reference to the Hulk. “It’s Dr. Denier, actually. I have to retake my exam, thanks to you.” The music changed, and his shoulders relaxed as the electronic country shifted to something a little more sophisticated, with brass and complicated rhythm.

“Yeah?” she said tartly. “I spent last night in the dark with a washcloth over my eyes.”

His shoulders regained their belligerent hunch. “There were three drafters on site amplifying it, but if it makes you feel better, I’ll let my best friend die next time.”

Her eyes flicked behind him to the table. He could feel Summer watching, sense Allen’s amusement. “Sorry,” she said, and he could tell she didn’t say it often, but when she did, she meant it. “It wasn’t you who double-drafted anyway. It was her.”

Silas turned at her caustic tone, wincing at Summer’s pointed, inquiring look.

The small woman leaned casually against the jukebox, effectively preventing anyone from changing the music. “But no one gets mad at tall, blond, and beautiful,” she finished dryly.

Silas’s attention came back to her, the way she looked against the jukebox with the light accenting her curves. “And you’re tiny and deadly,” he said. “What’s your beef?”

The woman’s eyes flicked to his, her surprise that he thought her competent obvious. Slowly she pushed herself up. “None of them deserve to pass,” she said frankly. “I heard what happened. No one blocked the 911 calls, and local authority was on the scene in eleven minutes. Everyone was focused on get in, get the tag, get out. Everyone had a cell phone, and no one did a search on who might have a gun, who carried a concealed, how many times the bar had been hit by armed thieves, and the chances they had an SOP for gunplay. No one even bothered to see if the back door was open.”

Silas abruptly lost his need to protest.

“There were six of them there,” the woman said, eyes tracking someone behind him, “and they caused a panic that made local and state news. My God, you got the proctor shot.”

“He’s not a proctor, he’s a prophylactic,” Allen said as he came up to them. “What would you have done?”

“Not what you did,” the woman said, sticking her hand out. “Peri Reed.”

“Allen Swift,” he said, taking it as Summer eased up beside Silas and Silas curved a hand around her waist. “You’re in the freshman class?” he asked quizzically.

“No, incoming senior,” she said brightly, and Silas exhaled, glad she wasn’t looking at him anymore. At his side, Summer gave him an askance look. “I did my military on the East Coast, but I can’t get the upper drafter classes there, so here I am.”

Silas’s brow rose. “I didn’t know Opti did that.”

She leaned back against the jukebox, giving the approaching man a look to turn around and wait to put in his music request. “They don’t, but Opti found me at like ten, so they just let me hang with my retired agent/child psychologist for the drafter studies, and I got the military stuff through the Marines.”

She’d gone through Marine training? Gutsy.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Allen said, making Silas wonder at the light in his eye.

“Ah, this is Summer, my girlfriend,” Silas said, and the two women shook hands, looking so different they complemented each other.

“Peri Reed. Pleasure,” the woman said again, her confidence telling Silas she was used to meeting people with a lot of personal clout and could hold her own.

“I think you met Silas yesterday?” Summer guessed.

“Met? She hit me with a stolen drone and got my exam thrown out,” he said, and Summer grinned.

“Sorry about the migraine last night,” Summer said brightly.

Peri shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. You do what you need to do to save your anchor, the hell with the rest. If nothing else, I’ve got a big list of what not to do next year.”

Allen cleared his throat, clearly not sure if she was being sarcastic or not. Silas was betting she wasn’t.

“And what would you have done?” Allen asked as he took his glasses off and dropped them in his shirt pocket. “There were six agents on site and one goal.”

Peri beamed. “There was one retired agent on site,” she said, and Allen froze when she reached out and tightened his tie. “Watching six students and one lab rat trying to play pin the tail on the box of chocolates.”

Lab rat?

“If it had been me,” Peri said as she dropped back from Allen, his ears now a flustered red, “I would have gone into Professor Milo’s office the night before and replaced the chocolates in the box with fuzzy troll babies.”

Silas chuckled, smile fading when three couples took their table, pushing their used glasses to the front, where a waitress whisked them away.

“Yeah?” Allen said antagonistically as Summer began casting around for another table, but the place was full.

“Yeah.” Peri cocked her head coyly. “It’s a win-win either way. If I got the box on task, I win. If I didn’t get the box on task, it’s still a win because I already have the chocolate.”

It made sense in a warped and twisted way. Just the thing a retired, bored Opti-agent-turned-schoolteacher would find amusing. “And if you got caught in Milo’s office?” he asked.

Peri smiled as she turned to him. “I’d still call that a win. I’d probably be put on suspension, but I’d have the kudos for trying.”

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