Bedding the Billionaire
Page 25

 Ruth Cardello

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He never felt sorry for himself when he was adding another figure to his income bracket.
They say that money can’t make you happy, but it had made his life a whole lot more bearable. Until quite recently he would have said there wasn’t a single thing he would change about his life.
Now there was only one.
He wanted Lil in it. Lil and Colby.
He didn’t want to wake up Monday morning in his house if neither of them were there. He wouldn’t have to, though, because he’d already decided that they would be coming home with him at the end of the weekend. Lil would accept his proposal once she thought it through.
She’d have to wait to wait, though. His parents were the more pressing matter at hand. “I’ll talk to them, Dom, but get ready to aggressively begin the search for help again on Monday.”
Jake braced himself and opened the door to the study, “Judy. Jim. What a pleasant surprise.”
His mother broke her conversation with her husband and Victor Andrade when she heard her son’s voice. At first glance, she looked much the same as she always had; except perhaps that her dark, shoulder length hair sported a bit more gray. Her signature cream knit sweater and tan loose trousers were expensive, yet understated and unadorned with jewelry. Although both of his parents had been born into wealthy families, neither had ever looked the part; preferring to spend their money on their research rather than any of the earthly possessions most people collected. His father’s gray hair was too long for the style he’d attempted to brush it into, indicating that he’d probably forgotten his last trim appointment. He was dressed in the same dark blue dinner jacket and purple, striped tie that he’d likely worn to every formal event in the past twenty years. Not much had changed in the three years since Jake had last seen them.
“Jake,” his mother said in greeting. She didn’t walk over to give him a hug.
He hadn’t expected her to, so really there was no reason for the twinge of disappointment he felt. In about thirty seconds, his parents could do what no one else could; they could make him feel insignificant. He joined the group and shook the hand his father offered.
His father studied his face for a moment then asked, “Are you okay, Jake?”
Jake touched his one of the bruises on his cheek and said, “It looks worse than it is.”
Victor slapped Jake on the back and laughed, “And better than the other guy, si?”
Jake smiled before meeting his mother’s look of disapproval. Even though she said nothing, he could hear her voice in his head. We do not condone physical violence, Jake.
He sighed.
His mother said, “Victor has been filling us in on what has been going on. I’m surprised that your company was using such a weak symmetric key encryption algorithm for your access codes.”
Jake defended their practice. “Yes, many of our protocols use symmetric encryption, but our more sensitive data transfers utilize an asymmetric, hybrid cipher. It’s perfectly acceptable to use the more secure to initiate access and not to relay the bulk of the data.”
“You wouldn’t be in this situation today if you had used quantum keys,” his mother chided.
“Your mother is right, Jake,” his father concurred.
“That wasn’t my decision. I am not a programmer.”
His mother interrupted him, “You should be. You’re wasting your talent. You are far too intelligent to be Dominic Corisi’s lackey.”
Every muscle in his body tensed and his reaction could not be contained. “I am a multi-billionaire. I employ hundreds of thousands of people all across the globe. Countries have entered the technological race because of the advances I’ve helped bring to them. I’m sorry if I don’t want to sit in a lab somewhere, tinkering with protons until I invent the perfect encryption key or, having given up on that, take up farming in some New England redneck town. I’m not you.”
“Show your parents the respect they deserve, Jake,” Victor said in a stern tone.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” Jake snarled.
Victor started to say something else, but Judy stopped him with a placating wave of her hand. “No, Victor, he’s right. I didn’t mean to belittle your accomplishments, Jake. Of course we’re proud that you’re rich. We just hoped for so much more from you.”
The verbal pat on the head did not lessen Jake’s temper, but Jake resolved to. He took a deep, calming breath. His parents would never see the value of what of what he did. It shouldn’t bother him. Inviting them this weekend had been a profound waste of time and he was about to prove it. “We have just over three weeks until our server goes online in China. Do you think you and Jim can find the cause of the compromised codes?”
His father answered, “We won’t know for sure until we’re given access to the program, but it sounds like there is something else going on. Some of your patches seemed to work initially and then were corrupted? That hints at either a Trojan virus or some back door access code. If your original hacker was good enough, those codes can be difficult to locate. Not impossible, but the process might be time consuming. There is no way to say if we’ll meet your deadline. It’d be a whole lot easier if we knew what we were dealing with.”
“Just say you can’t do it,” Jake goaded.
Judy Walton walked over to her son and raised a hand to touch her son’s check, but Jake pulled his head away from her touch. She let her hand drop to her side. “We want to help you.”
Jake ran a hand through his normally pristine hair, “But you’ve been out of the field for a long time, I know. Dominic should never have asked you.”
Jim joined his wife, putting an arm lightly around her waist in quiet support. “Do you know what we’re working on, Jake?”
“Farming techniques?” Jake said dismissively.
His father shook his head. “Far from it.” He looked over at Victor as if assessing if he could be trusted with certain information. He said, “We’re bio-engineering the next generation of encryption–organic keys–encoding information at the DNA level. Imagine having chemical access codes stored within your very own cells. Codes that remain intact even as the strands change as a result of breeding. Technology could truly be something you leave your children.”
Victor waved an excited hand in the air and said, “That’s impossible. You can’t add codes to DNA without changing their function.”
Jim countered with a humble shrug. “It’s impossible in animals so far, but we’ve proven it can work with certain plants.”
DNA encryption? His parents were wandering further from reality than he’d thought. “Another world-changing discovery? Aren’t you afraid Victor will steal the idea now that you’ve shared it?”
His mother looked over her shoulder at her husband and then back at her son. The lines of her face deepened with emotion. “Your father and I have come to an awful realization recently–we’re not going to be here forever. We’ve spent some time re-evaluating our priorities.”
Jake sighed impatiently and half-turned away from her. “Judy, don’t take this as harshly as it sounds, but I don’t have time to entertain your mid-life crisis right now.”
His father nodded, but his tone was surprisingly firm. “We probably deserve that comment, son, but give your mother a few more minutes of your time.”
It was really only Victor’s presence that held Jake’s tongue. “Fine. I’m listening.”
His mother looked uncomfortable–almost nervous–as she said, “I know we weren’t the parents you wanted, Jake. You wanted someone to rush to school when you scraped a knee or cook for some bake sale.”
Not about to sugar coat the past, Jake said, “I would have been happy if you had just attended one of my graduations.”
“It’s not an excuse, Jake, but research can be addictive. You get so close to a breakthrough – you don’t want to walk away. Time escapes you and suddenly you realize another day has gone by.”
“Well, then I suppose I should thank you for coming here at all,” Jake said unkindly.
To his surprise, his mother clasped her hands in front of her as if she found his words upsetting. “Your father and I made some mistakes. We didn’t protect ourselves or our discoveries as well as we should have and because of that we lost some of them to others. But do you know what we regret more than any of that?”
Jake shook his head and glanced at his watch.
“We didn’t protect you from our obsession.” Her voice shook and Jake felt an anger burning in his stomach. He didn’t want her words to touch him, to reawaken a yearning he’d put behind him years ago. “We missed your childhood and I know that you’d rather be anywhere but here with us, but don’t shut us out. We love you.”
“Love?” Jake recoiled from the word. “Love is for people who have nothing better to believe in. I don’t need love. I need to know if you can fix the server and then disappear back to that northern farm you think you’ll change the world from.”
A gasp from the doorway echoed through the painful silence that had followed Jake’s harsh words.
“Lil!” he said and took a few steps toward her.
She held up a hand to stop his advance. “No, don’t say anything else. I had almost convinced myself that you actually cared about me and Colby, but now I see that you’re not capable of caring for anyone, are you?”
A man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, dressed in a brown checkered dinner jacket that didn’t look like it quite fit him–too long at the sleeves a bit loose around the waist. With zero dress sense and even less survival skills, the man chose that moment to walk over to Jake’s parents and say,“Hey, aren’t you the Waltons? This is so cool.”
Jake grabbed one of Lil’s arms as she was turning to leave. “You misunderstood what you heard.”
She gave her arm a yank, but he didn’t let it go. “Oh, I understood perfectly. You really mean all that trash you say.”
“This was not about you.” Regardless of what happened between him and Lil, chances were good that she would never see his parents again, anyway.
Lil shook her head violently. “I disagree. I feel sorry for whatever happened to you that left a black hole where your heart should be, but I can’t be with a man who thinks love is something you outgrow believing in like Santa Claus.”
“Don’t do this, Lil,” he warned.
His tone seemed to enrage her. Instead of pulling away, she went nose to nose with him and spat,“Don’t do what? Don’t expect better from you? Get your hand off of me.”
Jake didn’t. He couldn’t. He had to make her see. “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
His words didn’t have the soothing effect he’d hoped for.
“That’s because I just realized that what we have is exactly that…nothing.” She closed her eyes as if the thought hurt her. “I can’t believe I was willing to put my friends in jeopardy for you. I’m such an idiot.”