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A Perfect Darkness
By Jaime Rush
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Jaime Rush
All right reserved.
"Mr. Bromley, there's no need to fling yourself out of the window." Amy Shane covered her cockatoo's cage with his obnoxious bright orange blanket before he started squawking, like he did whenever she was on the phone. "I have a ninety-five percent retrieval rate." Her love life might be nonexistent, and her plan to eat healthier was feeble at best, but she was damned good at saving people's data.
"My presentation is on that drive," her client said. "My only copy, I know, I'm an idiot for not backing it up, and then to drop it—" He let out an agonized groan.
She returned to the second bedroom of her apartment, cracked open the laptop case and studied the damp interior. "And how did it end up in a pool— You know what, I don't want to know. Is there anything else on the drive that you need?"
"There's one folder titled 'Upcoming Issues' that's rather important. Just business documents, but of a, ah, sensitive nature."
She knew he was lying about the folder's contents. Whatever it contained held significant emotional relevance . . . and the potential to embarrass him. She didn't want to know that. She didn't want to see the green glow that told her he was hiding something.
She plugged the hard drive into her computer. "I'd betterget working on it."
"The moment I know what we've got," she assured.
"I hope so," he said, his voice and glow emanating anxiety; if she didn't retrieve his data, she might have to do some suicide counseling. Wouldn't be the first time.
It was bad enough seeing people's glows—what she later learned were called auras—when she was physically with them. That had started when she was a kid, seeing her teacher's yellow glow and knowing the woman was sad, and then doing the really dumb thing and trying to comfort her. Which freaked the woman out and taught Amy a more important lesson than math or reading: seeing colors that indicated people's moods or intentions was weird.
In the last few years they'd gotten pervasive. Everywhere she went she saw that smoky mist. Oh, how people lied and hid their pain, and how that deceit made her distrustful. That was why she worked out of her home and hardly saw anyone. Except now she was seeing glows through the frickin phone!
She uncovered Orn'ry's cage. He made happy clicking sounds, and his crown of white feathers sprang to attention when she opened his door. "Okay, you can come into my office now." She held out her arm, and Orn'ry climbed aboard. She sat down at her worktable, and he climbed up to her shoulder. She liked working to alternative rock cranked loud. For Orn'ry's sake she slipped on her headphones.
Orn'ry pecked at the earpiece. "Stop it," she growled. Then he pecked her nose. "Ow!" She shooed him off, and he fluttered to his stand. He wasn't called ornery for nothing. That's how he'd ended up at the animal shelter where she volunteered. No one could stand him, and he languished, destined to become a breeder parrot. She couldn't bear that thought, and besides, she'd come to like the little bugger. More interestingly, he'd come to like her, too. She would have adopted half of the animals at the shelter if her apartment complex allowed more than caged pets.
A quick Internet search revealed that Mr. Bromley was a U.S. congressman. She returned to the drive. "Please don't let me find anything really scuzzy on here," she said to herself. "I don't want to be known as 'the whistleblower' all over CNN and the Internet." Her policy was never to read clients' files unless something screamed, Sick and illegal. Fortunately that hadn't happened yet.
She reached for her mug of coffee amidst the clutter of computer parts. The few who saw her work space were always amazed that she could function in it. She told them she had a system, which was sort of a lie. It was more like, if everything was out in the open, she'd eventually find it.
An hour later she popped chocolate-covered cranberries into her mouth as she unearthed bits of data. "Come on, baby, oh, yes, that's it. There's the sensitive folder, but where's the presentation?"
Orn'ry always murmured when she talked to herself, which made her feel not so alone. She opened Upcoming Issues and found pictures and text documents with innocuous names. She double clicked on one, hands over her eyes, peeking through the cracks of her fingers. If it was something disturbing, she didn't want it seared into her subconscious.
"Yuck." Well, she now had an idea of how the laptop might have ended up in a pool. At least the woman draped over a diving board wearing nothing but high heels was way older than legal age. She would bet that the woman was not the senator's wife, and had no interest in confirming her suspicion.
"Immoral maybe, but not creepy or illegal."
Her body usually started craving sleep at about three in the morning, and at four her scratchy eyes said, Enough! Mr. Bromley was in California, and since she was in Annapolis, Maryland, she had a couple of hours in the morning to jump back on it before his meeting.
She was going to transfer Orn'ry to his cage, but he was asleep, his shoulders hunched, the feathers at the side of his face fanning his beak. She left him there and dragged herself off to bed.
She was never too tired to hope for one of her dreams, the ones that woke her in panting breaths and damp with perspiration. A man whose face was always in shadow, touching, kissing, loving her. The same man in every dream. She grinned. Even in her dreams she wasn't a slut.
She had seen his body, all of it, lean but muscular, olive skin, with a head full of dark, soft waves. In these dreams, she loved and was loved, there as never in her life. She was safe to let herself go. The only way he would break her heart was if she stopped dreaming about him. Four months ago she had never felt an orgasm. Now she experienced the shattering of her body and soul every night. What an amazing realization, that she could physically experience what she dreamed about.
Excerpted from A Perfect Darkness by Jaime Rush Copyright © 2009 by Jaime Rush. Excerpted by permission.
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