Bedding the Billionaire
Page 14

 Ruth Cardello

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“Do you want me to lie? Say something we both don’t mean yet?” His hand tightened on her arm.
Lil pulled her arm free. “Been there, done that.”
She stepped away, but he followed her, putting a hand beneath her chin and forcing her to meet his eyes. “I’m not your ex, Lil.”
Feeling cornered, she snapped, “No, you’re not. You’re not even my present. We’re nothing to each other except a bad decision. I’d like you to go now.”
Like removing a band aide, Lil wanted the pain to come in one swift rip at a time of her choosing. She pushed against him with her words. “I mean it, Jake. We’re not good for each other. We’re too different. This…this attraction between us is something that is better just denied.”
“That’s what you really want?” He sounded almost sad.
“Yes, that’s what I want.”
“I’m not sorry I came back up here.”
Don’t be so damned sweet, Jake! It would be too easy to accept what little he was offering her and confuse his kindness with what she really craved from him. “I’m not either, but from now on we have to keep a distance from each other.”
He looked down at her like he wanted to kiss her again, but instead, he said, “This isn’t over.”
A question leapt out of her, as unplanned as it was quickly regretted. “Will you be at Abby and Dominic’s party this weekend?”
“Yes,” he said simply.
She bit her bottom lip to stop herself from saying more. She didn’t want to be happy to hear that they would see each other again.
I’m such an idiot.
She walked to the door and opened it.
He followed her, but stopped in front of her. He leaned in and gave her a deep kiss, the kind that made her want to retract everything she’d just said and find a babysitter for the night. She sagged against him.
He put her back gently. “I’ll see you at the party.”
“Yes,” she croaked.
“Call me if you change your mind,” he said and she hated that she wasn’t able to hide her surge of attraction from him.
“I won’t,” she said with determination.
After one final, light kiss to her cheek, he smiled, walked through the door and said, “You might.”
She closed the door behind him and stood there for a moment, just holding the handle to steady herself.
I can’t.
Chapter Nine
In the middle of the night, Lil’s fitful sleep was interrupted by her cell phone vibrating on the bed stand. She groaned and rolled over, pulling a pillow over her head. Midnight had once been a time for late night discussions and a cue to order the last round of drinks for her and her friends, but motherhood had a way of changing a person’s inner clock. Five of midnight might as well be called five of this-had-better-be-important-because-if-Colby-wakes-up-I’m-going-to-kill-you.
Her phone vibrated again, Lil pushed back the comforter, grabbed her phone and padded to the living room to answer it. Alethea’s name showed on the caller ID. She wouldn’t call at this hour unless it was important.
Lil plopped onto the couch. “What do you need?”
“Did I wake you? Sorry, but this can’t wait,” Alethea said. “We have a problem. I’ve been looking into this party you say your sister has planned for Saturday and something isn’t right about it.”
Rubbing a tired hand over her still half-closed eyes, Lil asked, “What are you talking about?”
Alethea continued on at what felt like breakneck speed to Lil. “There is a buzz in the hacker community that something big is going down and the party is a cover.”
Lil turned onto her side on the couch with a yawn, her eyes closing even as she spoke. “You always think something suspicious is going on.”
“I’m usually right,” her friend said impatiently. “I know your sister is in love, but you two don’t really know who you are dealing with. Dominic didn’t make his fortune by playing nice and Jake hasn’t been crisscrossing the country for the past week looking for the perfect engagement present. Everything leads back to that party and anyone he has spoken to has received some form of hush money. Not enough, is my guess, since there is chatter.”
“Maybe they are planning a surprise for Abby,” Lil mumbled.
“Or maybe your sister is in danger.”
That woke Lil up. Her eyes flew open and she sat straight up.
Alethea continued, “What if Dominic is using your sister as a cover for something he doesn’t want people to know about? Their whole engagement could be a sham. And worse, what if your sister stumbles onto what is going on? She’d be a danger to them.”
Hugging her knees to her on the couch, Lil said, “That’s a lot of ifs. Do you have any proof?”
“Jeremy does.”
“Jeremy Kater? I haven’t heard from him in years.”
“No one has. I don’t think he leaves his basement. He doesn’t see anyone, either. It’s really a bit creepy.”
“But he saw you?”
“He used to have a crush on me. We’ve kept in touch. Remember how he used to play video games for 10 hours a day back in school? He’s taken it to a whole new level. It’s an obsession now. But he is the best hacker I know. It’s how he gets all the games before they come out. Sometimes I slide him a little cash to get the plans for a building or to check out something for me. He prefers to stay below the radar, though, so I had to promise him more than money to get him to hack other hackers.
Lil shuddered. “You didn’t…”
Her friend laughed. “No, get your mind out of the gutter. I promised him that I’d help him find a date.”
“That’s it?”
“Oh, you haven’t seen him recently. It’s not going to be easy. Anyway, Dominic and Jake are definitely hiding something. You should warn your sister.”
“And say what? That you have a bad feeling about the party?” Lil’s stomach clenched and churned. That would go over well. “She’s going to think that I’m stirring up trouble.”
“Well you can’t say nothing.”
“We have no proof. You could be wrong.” Lil stood and began to pace nervously. “I can’t get involved in this.”
Lil’s back stiffened at her friend’s tone. “Don’t say it like that.”
“Like what?”
“Like you’re disappointed in me. Do you know how bad this could go if you’re wrong? I can’t do this.”
“When did you become so terrified of being wrong?”
When I realized that my actions don’t only affect me and my future. “Considering the consequences of your actions does not make you a coward. If we had proof, nothing could stop me from telling Abby. But, Al, we don’t know any of this for sure. I’m not going to Abby without something definite. Can Jeremy get that?”
“He might be able to remote access Jake’s personal computer and see if he left an email trail. Maybe he got sloppy and mentioned what the payoffs were about.”
“That sounds illegal,” Lil said.
Aletha’s tone turned droll. “Well, you could always go up to Jake and ask him if he and Dominic are using your sister and if they intend to dispose of her when they’re done.”
“Now you’re just trying to scare me.” Lil shuddered.
Alethea sighed impatiently. “No, I’m trying to get you to see how serious this could be. We need to know what Dominic is hiding and the only way to do that is to find out what he has Jake looking for.”
“And we can do that without Jake knowing we did it?”
“Jeremy is good. He can get in and out without being detected.”
Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.
This was exactly the kind of thing Lil had told herself she would never do again. But what if Abby really was in danger? She’d never forgive herself if she could have prevented it but had let her fear stop her from getting involved. “Okay, do it.”
Instantly, Alethea was all business. “Is Jake still up in the Boston area? We need to find a way to keep him off his computer for a few hours.”
“I have no idea where he is,” Lil said definitively and perhaps too quickly.
“So you haven’t from him at all?” Alethea asked slowly with growing suspicion. It’s not easy to get anything by a best friend.
Lil covered her face with a hand and reluctantly admitted, “He was here earlier tonight.”
Sounding disgustingly happy about being right again, Alethea said, “Oh, he has it bad. This will be a breeze. Call him up first thing in the morning and make a date for Thursday.”
Lil shook her head at her friend even though she knew she couldn’t see her. “I can’t. I told him it’s over.”
“Well, tell him you changed your mind”
A wave of emotion washed over Lil. “It’s not that simple.” I told myself it was over, too.
“Do you want to know if your sister is safe or not?”
“I do.”
“Then call Jake. Take him somewhere public if you’re that worried about sleeping with him again.”
She was more worried about getting her heart broken. “Fine. I’ll call him, but he might already be back in New York.”
Alethea chuckled. “I highly doubt that.”
“Text me when you have a set time.”
“Be careful, Al.”
“Always, Lil. Always.”
Mid-morning, Lil hung up at the first ring of Jake’s phone as she continued to debate her present course of action. None of this was a good idea. Hacking someone’s computer was definitely illegal, probably prison kind of illegal.
Dominic and Jake might not be breaking any laws and that would make the only criminals in the scenario–her and her friends.
Or Alethea was right and Abby had gotten mixed up in something dangerous.
Please,Universe, please don’t let me be wrong here.
Or, if I’m wrong, please don’t let it screw everything up for Abby.
Just this once, give me an outcome I don’t regret.
She dialed Jake’s cell again.
“Lil?” Jake asked, sounding a mixture of surprised and concerned.
“Hi, Jake.” Don’t overthink this, just jump. “I was wondering if you were still in Boston.”
She heard him catch his breath.
“I’m still here.”
Just do it. Just ask. “Would you want to spend an hour…three hours tops….” Oh, hell, how long did it take to hack into someone’s computer? “Maybe the whole morning with me and Colby tomorrow? If you’re not busy. I mean, I know you’re busy, but it doesn’t have to be the whole day. Maybe we could go to breakfast or lunch or something…” She tapered off lamely. “I think we should make it a public place, though.” When he didn’t say anything at first she added, “Could we try to be…friends?” She groaned inwardly.