Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
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Angrily folding her arms across her chest, Alethea said, “I’m not a criminal. In fact, you stopped me from doing something that could very well have helped the people you work for. I can’t tell you the details, but it’s big.”
He turned a tight corner and, with his eyes still on the road, said, “I know why you were there. I had Whitman escorted out of the Corisi building this morning, and he won’t be back.”
“Why would that have anything to do with me?” she asked innocently, hoping her voice didn’t betray how disappointed she was to have lost her informant. Now, if Stephan wasn’t behind the glitches, she’d lost her chance to find out who was.
When Marc raised a mocking eyebrow, Alethea snapped, “If you know everything, then you know why I have to see Stephan. He’s the only one who knows if he’s guilty or not.”
Shaking his head, Marc asked softly, “And what did you think—that he would just tell you?”
Alethea looked out the window. “I’d have known the truth as soon as I accused him. It would have been in his eyes.” Marc didn’t say anything. “No pithy put-downs? I’m surprised you’re not telling me why that was a ridiculous plan.”
“Not ridiculous. Dangerous and possibly explosive. You would have gotten your information, but at what cost?”
“The truth is worth any price.”
“Is it? It’s worth your life?”
“When it comes to protecting the ones I love, yes.”
She expected him to argue with her, but he didn’t.
“I understand why you planted Whitman. The sister of your best friend had run off with a rogue billionaire and you thought the scenario was too good to be true. You wanted to protect Abby.”
With a shaky, slowly released breath, Alethea said, “Yes.”
“But things have changed. Dominic and Jake are not a danger to the women you love. You could work with them instead of against them.” He reached out and put a hand on her tense thigh. “But you won’t let yourself trust them.”
She looked down at his hand on her leg and said, “I don’t trust anyone.”
Alethea turned her face away.
Very softly, Marc said, “When you’re under fire, and I’m talking about the real deal, men are dying around you, and all your survival instincts are screaming for you to run—that’s when you have to trust your unit. You have to believe that you are stronger together than you are individually. That kind of faith doesn’t come easily. It starts with trusting one of them and builds.”
“This isn’t a war, Marc,” Alethea said dismissively.
“Yes, it is, Alethea. It’s your war. And you’ve been fighting it alone for too long.”
What the hell did I tell him when I was drunk? “You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ve been through.”
He looked at her quickly before returning his eyes to the road. “I know something hurt you—and scared you. You deal with that fear by trying to control every situation. But control is also an illusion. This level of hypervigilance you’re living at isn’t healthy. If you continue down the road you’re on, you’ll lose everything—do you see that? Or you’ll get yourself killed.”
Tears sprung to her eyes, blurring the buildings they passed. “I’m not the one that matters.”
He took one of her hands in his and held it on his leg. “Yes, you are. I’m not telling you to stop fighting for what you care about—I’m telling you that you’re not alone. I care about the same people you do. Protecting them is just as important to me.”
She met his eyes, her breath caught in her throat. Her eyes were focused on his profile as he parked the car. “Trust me,” he said, unbuckling his seat belt and getting out of the car.
He opened her door and held out his hand. She stepped out and froze when she saw where they were. The Corisi Enterprises building loomed above them.
“What are we doing here?” she asked.
“Meeting with Jake.”
Alethea stepped back and shook her head. Memories of her recent meeting with Marie and Nicole still held too much sting. “Maybe you’re right—I shouldn’t have gone to see Stephan. But I shouldn’t be here either. Jake will never believe anything I say. He’ll tell Lil that I came here and she won’t forgive me for this.”
He put a hand on her lower back and looked into her eyes. “I’ll be standing right next to you the whole time.” He dipped his head and whispered against her lips, “You can do this. Or walk if you’re too scared. Your choice.”
He didn’t move. He just held her eyes and waited.
Alethea wasn’t easily intimidated, but she was shaking in her five-hundred-dollar shoes. She’d grown used to risking her life, but it had been a long time since she’d opened herself to being hurt the way she’d feel if this was all just a ruse to get her into Jake’s office.
Marc stood there, looking down at her with those piercing blue eyes.
She ran through a mental checklist of all the ways his plan could fail, but she couldn’t bring herself to turn and walk way. If there was the slimmest chance he was right, this could very well be the crossroad everyone faced at least once in their lives. If you take one road, you find your happy ending. If you take the other, you spend the rest of your life wishing you’d been braver.
“Okay,” she said, as they began their walk to the elevator together.
When they stepped inside, Marc pulled her into his arms and hugged her. She breathed in his scent and closed her eyes. It was a moment that ended too quickly. He set her back just before they reached their floor. His hand was firmly placed on her lower back again, giving her no opportunity to change her mind.
They stepped through Jake’s outer office and Marc asked the assistant to announce their arrival. Alethea tensed instinctively while they followed her to Jake’s door.
Marc leaned down and said, “It’ll be fine.”
She nodded and stood taller. She didn’t fear Jake, but she was afraid to say or do something during their meeting that would end her friendship with Lil forever. Lil loved him and his approval mattered, even if Alethea had tried to pretend it didn’t.
Jake stood when they entered. He looked disappointed at her arrival. “I was hoping it wasn’t you.”
Marc guided Alethea to a seat in front of Jake’s desk and said, “She’s not the source of the problem, but you won’t like what she has to tell you either. Hear her out.” He took the seat beside Alethea.
Jake sat back down and leaned forward on his desk.
Alethea thought back to how she’d given the news to Lil and the women. They hadn’t believed her. Why would Jake be different? Trust. “I’ve traced the problems at your company back to a specific IP address. That doesn’t mean that I know who is responsible for the code errors, but I do know how they are accessing your server.”
“You’re wise to not assume things are always as they appear. IP addresses can be compromised. I won’t even ask yet how you know what’s going on inside our server. I’m guessing that knowing would only serve to infuriate and distract me. Has that leak been dealt with, Marc?”
“Yes, sir, it has been.”
“Good,” Jake said, “we’ll talk more about that later. For now, which IP did you trace it back to?”
Jake sat back and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “Fuck.”
Marc said, “It doesn’t make sense for it to be him, though. He could have taken Dominic down with much less trouble. What would he gain from doing it now that he wouldn’t have gained before?”
Sitting forward again, Jake rapped his desk with his knuckles as he spoke. “His thirst for revenge might have been too hard to put aside. He changed his tune fast. Maybe too fast.”
Alethea said, “I could dig deeper, but I wish I had someone like Jeremy in on this.”
Jake’s eyebrows shot up.
With a slight flush of anger, Alethea said, “Not so I can see him again.” She looked over at Marc and said, “We were never a couple. We were friends. Not even good friends. I used him. Yes, I know, I’m an awful person. But that doesn’t mean he’s not our best option when it comes to something like this. If someone is setting Stephan up, Jeremy could find the proof my sources couldn’t.”
“Already done. He’s on it.” Marc didn’t look bothered by her statement. “And I’m not worried about your past.”
Jake coughed. “Okay, let’s focus on the problem at hand and not whatever you two are up to that I don’t want to know about. It won’t take Jeremy long to figure this out, but I’ll call him and see what he needs. I was hoping not to bother Dominic with any of this. He’s not going to be happy.”
Oh, what the hell. “Could you mention something to Marie, also?” Alethea added.
Jake and Marc looked at her in confusion.
Alethea shrugged defensively. “She thinks I’m a liar.”
Jake stood abruptly. “Marie knows? How did she find out?” Alethea didn’t respond. Jake crossed to stand in front of his desk and said, “You told Lil.”
Alethea stood and nodded. “Nicole, too.”
Marc moved protectively closer to her side, sending a shiver of pleasure down her spine. She couldn’t look up at him because she didn’t want him to see how much his support meant to her.
Jake, on the other hand, was not as sure of her choices. “Is there anyone you didn’t tell? I’m surprised you didn’t go to Stephan yourself.”
It was easier to face Jake’s aggression than whatever was building between Marc and her. Easier, and infinitely less scary. She didn’t need anyone to defend her. She always had, and always would, handle her own problems. Chin high, Alethea said, “I almost did, but I came here instead. Was that a mistake?”
Running his hand through his hair, Jake sighed. “No. I’m not your enemy, Alethea. You’re practically my fiancée’s second sister. I know how much you’ve done for her over the years. But you’ve also hurt her. Your involvement in this is done. Are we clear on that?”
Alethea didn’t like to lie so she said nothing.
Jake was too intelligent to miss the meaning of her silence. He also knew that arguing with her would be a waste of time. Instead, he directed his next command to Marc. “I don’t care what it takes, but keep her out of this. I’ll be occupied with damage control here and at home. I don’t want any more surprises, understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Marc said, and then looked at Alethea. “What if I took her downstairs?”
A sudden look of amusement flashed across Jake’s face. “Normally I would consider that a bit extreme, but in this situation I think it’s a viable option.”
I don’t get the joke. What’s downstairs that has them looking so pleased with themselves?
Marc forcefully guided her out of the office. “Come on.” They walked past the main elevator to what appeared to be one reserved for maintenance only.