Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
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Embrace it or fight it until your last breath; change is life’s only constant.
Or more succinctly:
Pacing her uptown Manhattan apartment, Alethea paused to look out the window at the busy street below. It was one of her many homes, but since her New York-based company was doing well, it had been a natural choice for her to settle in the city. It was also where Lil Dartley, her best friend, spent most of her time. A friend whose sister was about to have a baby. Today or tomorrow, if the doctor’s predictions were correct.
A second Dartley having a baby.
The first time, I was needed.
This time, I’m not even welcome.
Still, Alethea felt she had to be nearby, in case Lil or her family needed her. No, they hadn’t forgiven her yet, for what, even she had to admit, had been poor handling of “the Jeremy situation.” Is there anything worse than someone telling you how horrible you are and realizing they’re right?
I’ve hurt people I cared about.
I’ve been selfish.
Being sorry isn’t enough to make things right. I have to remove the stain of my mistakes. If that’s even possible.
Some mistakes are unforgiveable.
Alethea scowled. Especially if Saint Abby declares them so.
Alethea gave herself a silent lecture. Shake it off. Don’t hate her. Be glad she and Lil have each other again. She’s a part of Lil’s life. Don’t give up. For Lil.
The ringing of her cell phone pulled Alethea out of her dark thoughts. She smiled when she saw the caller ID. Speak of the imp.
“Al, Abby called.” Lil’s voice vibrated with excitement. “She just went into labor. She and Dominic are heading to Mount Sinai Hospital right now. This is it.”
“Do you need someone to watch Colby?” A smile spread across her face as she mentioned the little girl she considered her niece.
“No, she’s coming with me. There is a whole suite for us. You know Dominic, only the best. I’m sorry I didn’t call you earlier. Things have been crazy the last couple of days. The press is everywhere. They really want a picture of this baby. I’ll tell you, I almost miss the calm of no one knowing me. They literally block you in sometimes. No wonder Dominic has so much security. I used to think he went overboard, but I would be worried about how they’d get to the hospital without it.”
Instinctively Alethea asked, “What’s the security plan for the hospital?”
Lil said, “I have no idea, but I’m sure it’s top-notch.”
By whose standards? Alethea frowned. “I hope so. People take advantage of chaos.”
“You worry too much, Al. There’ll probably be a swat team guarding the door. It’ll be like Fort Knox. No one is more paranoid than Dominic.” Lil laughed. “Well, maybe just you.”
Alethea cast her eyes heavenward. Vigilance isn’t a suggestion; it’s a necessity for survival. “It’s not paranoia if people are actually out to get you. You know as well as I do that something is brewing.” With an exasperated wave of her hand, she added, “I know you don’t think I have enough proof yet, but my gut tells me that trouble for Corisi Enterprises is only just beginning. The glitches in their system. The rumors that there’s someone working on the inside. Now a lull in the software issues while Abby has her baby. It doesn’t feel right. The two shouldn’t be related.”
“Because they aren’t.” Lil sighed. “Listen, Al, I love you, but I can’t talk about this right now. Everyone is heading to the hospital. Let me simply enjoy this time. I don’t want to talk about conspiracy theories or computer glitches. I want you to tell me that my sister is going to have a healthy baby and an easy birth. That’s all. Be happy for Abby. Be happy for me.”
Alethea shifted her attention to her new Jimmy Choos—stylish, with four-inch heels that could double as a weapon. “I am happy for Abby . . . and you.”
“Are you? Are you really?”
“Yes,” Alethea said defensively. I sent a shower present. A password-protected, close-range, encrypted, recording-enabled teddy bear nanny cam. I bet it’s still in the box. I wouldn’t know since I wasn’t invited to the shower, nor to Abby’s home since.
When will they give me credit for trying to save Corisi Enterprises? How long will I have to pay for losing my temper at Jeisa?
Instantly contrite, Lil gushed, “I’m sorry, Al. You know I wish I could bring you with me today. Everyone is going to be there today. Everyone, but you. If you would just tone it down a bit, they’d see the you I love. It’s your intensity they don’t understand.”
“Intensity? You mean because I won’t accept the fantasy that nothing bad could ever happen to us again? I can’t pretend everything is okay when it isn’t.” Her gut clenched painfully. Don’t you think I want to be like you? You probably still forget to lock your door at night because you think bad things only happen to other people.
“Nothing is ever okay for you, Al. That’s the problem. You always find an issue because you always look for one. Always. You never let yourself believe that things can be good. Abby found her happily ever after. I found mine. Why can’t you simply be happy for us?”
Alethea blinked back the emotion that welled within her. You have to fight for that kind of happiness. You have to protect it every day or someone will rip it away from you. “The truth is your best defense.”
“Against what, Al?” Lil took a deep breath, then said quietly, “Please, stop. You have nothing but a gut instinct and some glitches to go by. Just stop. I can’t do this right now. I have to go.”
Swallowing her frustration, Alethea looked out the window again. “Call me if you need me.”
Lil hesitated, obviously torn. “I’ll call when it’s over.”
Unable to stop herself, Alethea snapped, “Why would I care about the news if I’m not happy for either of you?”
“I didn’t mean it that way, Al. I know you care. I just . . .”
“I know. Go . . . go be with your sister. She needs you.”
After Lil hung up, Alethea laid her phone down on her glass coffee table. She flipped on the television. Every channel she checked showed live feed of the hospital where Abby and Dominic were headed. The press was indeed everywhere. Men in dark suits were scattered through the crowd, evidence that Dominic’s security was already in place.
Chaos always leaves an opening to slip in unseen. She’d tested enough event security plans to know that. All it takes is determination and a good lie. Those who would do the most harm rarely walk in the front door. They come in through crevices, like cockroaches. Does Dominic have the laundry room covered? The kitchen? How about the locker room? Is someone counting uniforms?
I’d ask Dominic or Marc Stone, his head of security, but they don’t want to hear from me. If they did, they would have asked me to look over the security plan before it was implemented.
Lil wants me to back off and give them time to get over our last encounter.
As the news continued to stream images of the crowd gathering around the hospital, one video showed the building’s back entrance. No one was stationed at the door near the trash. Maybe someone is inside.
Or maybe anyone could walk in that door. As the camera panned away, she saw a brief flash of movement that looked like a kitchen staffer exiting the door and lighting a cigarette. Smoker breaks. Did anyone consider how often people prop otherwise secure doors open?
Unable to watch the television a minute longer, Alethea strode to her bedroom, changed into casual street clothes, and brushed her long red hair up into a bun, which she concealed beneath a brunette wig. She wiped off most of her makeup. The tennis shoes she chose were necessary to her mission, regardless of how much she disliked wearing anything but heels.
Her stomach was churning—always a sign that she needed to act. Anyone could walk in that back door. She’d never be able to forgive herself if something happened to Abby or her baby.
No, they don’t want me there, but they just may need me.
Dressed in his usual black Brooks Brothers suit, Marc Stone listened to the chatter in his earpiece as his security team spread throughout the hospital. They were on the street, in the alley, in the hallways—everywhere someone might lurk. Some were dressed in suits, ready to form an impressive wall of defense when Dominic and Abby pulled up to the hospital’s emergency entrance. Some were dressed casually, to blend into the crowd and observe.
Years of working for Dominic Corisi had not only made Marc quite wealthy, but had also taught him to prepare for anything when it came to dealing with the public. The fairy-tale version of Dominic and Abby’s whirlwind romance had made them instant celebrities in a way that wealth alone wouldn’t have. As loved as he’d once been hated, Dominic was now practically American royalty, and that came with a different set of challenges. Abby’s popularity made her a sought-after photo op and attracted a fair amount of unwanted attention from overzealous admirers of both sexes. Icing on the cake? The baby. The paparazzi were locked in a wild competition to produce the first photo.
Keeping them at bay was his responsibility.
And his privilege.
“The stork is in view,” his point man, Craig, announced from the emergency entrance. Marc rolled his eyes. The young man was full of drama and flair. His training was extensive and admirable. He was intelligent and dedicated, which was why he’d been hired, even though he’d never shot his gun outside of a practice range. He was the best set of eyes Marc had, but his enthusiasm for his job was sometimes exhausting.
“I’m at the east door.”
“Roger that,” Craig said.
With a wave of his right hand, Marc sent a line of men outside to flank the couple’s walk from the limo to the hospital entrance. Presidents moved with less security than had been hired for this big day.
Dominic stepped from the limo and turned to help his wife out. A nurse rushed forward with a wheelchair. Dominic leaned down and kissed his wife on the cheek. In the distance a flash went off. Marc looked up and saw that someone had climbed into a tree across the street. He nodded his head toward it and two of his men took off after the photographer.
That picture will never see the tabloids.
Not on my watch.
How they’d erase the photo might not be entirely ethical, but, simply by working for Dominic, Marc had made enough influential friends that a complaint would never go public. If resolved correctly, the photographer would either leave happy with some extra money in his pocket, or scared that he’d never sell another photo. The choice would be his, but the result was not in question. There would be no photos of the baby until Dominic and Abby released one.
Taking his place beside Dominic as they entered the building, Marc smiled for the first time that day as he spoke to Abby. “You look ready to have this baby.”
She smiled up at him and winced. “I am. Anything you can do to help the next phase of this along?”
“Not part of my job, ma’am. Thankfully.”
He turned to Dominic. “Everything is in place upstairs. Your suite is secure. The doctor is here. Your family is gathering along with the Andrades in an adjoining private sitting area.”