Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
Page 15

 Ruth Cardello

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Jake took the seat across from his friend and said, “You love it, don’t you?”
With a huge smile, Dominic nodded. “I’m happier than I ever thought I could be—definitely more than I deserve to be.” He studied Jake’s expression and some of his good mood faded. “But you didn’t ask me to come in today to hear about this, either.”
“You’re right. We have a problem, and the deeper I dig the worse it looks.”
Sitting upright, all fatigue left Dominic. “At Corisi Enterprises?”
Jake stood and walked over to his desk, picked up a folder, and threw it down on the table in front of Dominic. “It started before Judy was born. At first it was a series of simple coding errors. I looked into each of them and they seemed unrelated, but they bothered me. The glitches were too systematic. So I looked into tampering. Our server should be airtight. I didn’t have anything concrete, just a feeling, so I put Marc on it.”
“Good, what did he find?”
Jake poured Dominic a Scotch. “You need to know that we don’t have all of the information yet. Jeremy’s working on it from California. I gave him full remote access. He should have some answers soon.”
Dominic stood and flexed his shoulders. “What are you not telling me?”
“Alethea planted someone in our IT department last year. We found and removed him, but what he discovered is the real problem.”
“Worse than an internal leak of God-knows-what information?”
Jake nodded. “There was no leak. Seems Alethea planted him when you first met Abby. She was under the impression she needed someone on the inside in case you didn’t return from China with Abby. Alethea’s mole told her about the coding errors, so she had him investigate where they were coming from.”
Dominic didn’t say anything; he just stared at his friend with a stony expression of displeasure.
“Her informant traced several of the issues back to one external IP address.”
“I thought Jeremy had secured our server.”
“He did, but this person built themselves an access point that we didn’t even think to look for. Or at least that’s how it looks right now. We don’t know exactly how it happened yet.”
“What do you know?”
“I know that I hope we’re wrong about who’s involved in this.”
Dominic closed the distance between them and growled, “Who? Who the hell are you talking about?”
“Stephan. The trail leads back to your sister’s fiancé.”
A heat of fury rose up Dominic’s neck and face. He turned to leave, but Jake blocked his path. “I know that look, Dom. Don’t do anything you will regret. We don’t know if it’s him for sure yet.”
“Oh, it’s him. Give me one reason why I should let that little bastard live.”
Jake didn’t move out of Dominic’s way. He kept his voice reasonable and said, “Because your sister loves him and you could lose her over this. We’ll uncover the truth—possibly by today. The informant Alethea used wasn’t in Jeremy’s league. His conclusions may have been flawed or deliberately produced by whoever is doing this. Acting without all the facts could cause larger problems.”
Dominic stepped forward aggressively and Jake stepped back, hoping his friend would heed his warning. Just before stepping out of the office, Dominic snarled, “You’ve cleaned up the Alethea situation?”
“The leak has been dealt with effectively. He’s no longer an issue.”
“And Alethea?”
“Marc has her contained downstairs.”
“Downstairs?” Dominic pointed at the floor with emphasis and almost smiled. “I wonder if she can get out.”
Jake shrugged. “Hard to say. Marc is good.” As Dom headed toward the door, Jake asked, “Where are you going?”
“Home. You have twenty-four hours to figure this out, then I’ll deal with it my way.”
Across town, Lil held her niece and sat with Abby in the living room of her newly renovated, midtown Manhattan mansion. Once an exclusive private club, it was now filled with baby swings and strollers. Colby played at their feet with wooden slices of fake food lined with Velcro, that allowed her to stack them into sandwiches.
Abby noted the tight lines on her sister’s face and worried for her. This should be the happiest time of her life. She was living with Jake and he’d adopted her daughter. The only remaining piece of the puzzle was the formality of their wedding.
It was amazing how much had changed in a year. She’d never felt closer to her sister. “What’s wrong, Lil? Is Colby keeping you up nights again? I thought she was done teething.”
With a sad smile, Lil said, “No. Yes. I mean, yes, she’s keeping me up, but no, that’s not the problem.”
“You know you can tell me anything.”
“Can I, Abby? I’m not sure. I need advice, but I’m not sure you could help me with this one.”
Fear gripped Abby’s heart. They’d come so far. What could Lil be involved in that she’d be afraid to share? Everything was going too well not to fear that something could bring it to a sudden, crashing end. “I love you, Lil. Without knowing what this is about, I can’t promise to know what to say, but if you need me, I’m here. I’ll always be here for you. No matter what happens.”
“It’s Alethea.” Lil raised her hand to stop Abby from jumping in. “I know what you think of her, but this is more about me than her.”
Mouth pressed tight, Abby nodded and pretended to eat the wooden hamburger Colby handed her.
Lil couldn’t meet her sister’s eyes when she said, “I know she takes things too far, but she does it because she cares. She only broke into the hospital because she cares about you.”
“Some people send flowers,” Abby said sarcastically, then stopped herself. “Sorry. Go on.”
“She found an issue at Corisi Enterprises and wanted me to help her figure it out.”
“Tell me you didn’t get involved in one of her wild schemes. You promised you wouldn’t.”
“I didn’t.”
“Why is she still sniffing around our business? Isn’t there enough trouble out there in the world to occupy her?” When Lil jumped to her friend’s defense, Abby said, “I know. I know. She does it because she cares. Or so you always tell me. What did she find?”
Lil told her. She told her everything, from the coding errors to Stephan’s possible involvement. Abby remained quiet, the flush of anger on her cheeks the only indication of how she was feeling. “She wanted me to help her find out if it’s true, but I told her that I wasn’t going to do it her way this time.” She adjusted Judy’s bib. “So, I took her to see Marie and Nicole, and we told them everything.”
“How did that go?” Abby asked in an uncharacteristically unkind manner.
“Worse than I imagined. Nicole was furious.”
“Do you blame her?”
“No. But Al wasn’t saying that Stephan is guilty, she was saying that all the trails led back to him.”
“Semantics, wouldn’t you say?”
“Not to Al. She doesn’t want him to be guilty any more than we do.” Lil met her sister’s eyes and confessed the part that bothered her the most. “Marie accused Alethea of making the whole thing up because she’s jealous of how close I’ve gotten to you and everyone else.”
“I probably would have thought the same.”
Lil wiped a tear. “See, that’s the problem. You want to think the worst of her. You only see what she does wrong. You never give her credit for always being there for me. And when I’ve needed her, she’s always been there.”
Abby picked up Colby and hugged her, a tear rolling down her cheek. Her young niece laughed up at her, clapping. She’d missed too much of her first few months of life. “I would have been there for you. I wanted to be part of your life so desperately. The harder I tried to hold on, the more I lost you.”
“That wasn’t Al’s fault.” Lil said, tears of her own entering her eyes. “And you have me now. Isn’t it time to forgive her for our problems? I’ve been putting off my wedding waiting for the two of you to work things out, but I need to know. Am I waiting for the impossible?”
Colby squirmed to get down and walk around the room. Abby released her to the floor. Sometimes the tighter you hold someone to you, the more you lose them. She’d learned that lesson the hard way. Still, Alethea hadn’t made raising Lil any easier. In fact, it had often felt like a tug-of-war between them: Abby, pulling for Lil to stay safe and make good choices, and Alethea, pulling her in wild directions full of morally vague high-risk situations. Old news, I guess. “I don’t know. You just said she upset Nicole. How can I overlook that?”
“She didn’t. I did. I messed up. I thought Nicole would want to help clear Stephan’s name.”
“Oh, Lil.”
“I know. I made it worse. I’ve called Nicole about a hundred times, but she’s not answering my calls. Al isn’t either. She asked me if I believed her and I said I wasn’t sure that I did.”
“What do you want me to say, Lil?”
“I’m asking you to help me, Abby. Help me figure out what to do. I never meant to hurt anyone.”
The little devil on Abby’s shoulder whispered that this chance wouldn’t come twice. She could tell Lil that some friendships are not fixable. All she had to do was tell Lil it was time for her to let Alethea go, for the sake of the family, and there was a good chance this time she would.
Life without Alethea—the idea had appeal.
But Abby looked down at her niece and thought about what Lil had said. Alethea didn’t make the problems between Lil and me. She didn’t cause the rift. And no matter how I feel about her, she’s been a good friend to Lil.
I may not like her, but Lil loves her.
“Always better together, Lil. I believe that. Let’s get them all in the same room and we’ll hash this out.”
“That didn’t work so well the first time.”
“I’ll talk to Marie and Nicole. Families fight, Lil, but then they make up. If Alethea really does want to be part of this family, she’ll show up.”
“I don’t know if she’ll come. It got ugly last time. How do I convince her this time will be different?”
“Tell her I’m on her side.”
Lil’s eyebrows went up. “Are you serious?”
Abby walked over and put her arm around her sister. “You’re right. It’s important for me to put the past in the past. You love her, so I’ll try to. This time I’ll really try.”
Even with Judy in her arms, she hugged Abby. “That’s all I can ask for, I guess.”
I can pray for a bit more than that. “Stephan has to be innocent.”
“Don’t worry, Alethea won’t stop till she finds the truth.”