Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
Page 20

 Ruth Cardello

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Alethea shook her head and conceded, “No.”
Marc stepped closer to Alethea and asked, “Then what makes you think you’re right?”
He wasn’t being sarcastic; he was interested, so Alethea answered honestly. “It’s a hunch I have. Just a gut feeling.”
Marc looked down at her and nodded slowly. “If you’re right, this security breach goes beyond what Jeremy can patch. I’ll increase my men around Dominic and his family, but the players in this game may already be planted deeply.”
He believes me.
What if . . .
No, don’t read more into this than there is.
Jake went to stand beside his large office window and said, “Dominic gave me twenty-four hours to handle this. You have much less than that. He’s meeting me here in”—he glanced at his watch—“seven hours. Bring me something before then.”
Without another word, Alethea and Marc headed out of the office together. “Come on, I know where we need to start.”
Alethea fell into step beside him. “Where?”
“We need to talk to Stephan.”
Oh really? As they headed down in the elevator to the parking garage, Alethea asked, “What happened to that idea being explosive and there being other, better ways, to deal with this?”
“This is different.”
“Really? How?” Because now it’s your idea?
“We’ll be talking to him together.”
A word that was every bit as terrifying as it was meant to be reassuring.
As the elevator stopped and opened out onto the parking garage, Mark held his arm in front of the door and motioned for her to step out. “Ask him what you had planned to. Let’s see what his answers reveal.”
Somewhat bemused, Alethea stepped into the garage. Marc fell into step beside her. “And what are you going to do?” she asked as they reached his car.
He opened the passenger door for her. “Make sure he doesn’t kill you.”
See what sex gains you? No threatened truck ride for me today.
Alethea shook her head. Now is not the time for quirky inner dialogue. Focus. She slid into the passenger seat and watched Marc quickly cross in front of the car, open the door, and join her. They were out of the bunker and still together.
Well, sort of together.
Once again, an outside force postponed what she knew was coming: the awkward promise to call that neither of them would follow through with. Last night hadn’t changed the fact that they had no business being together.
Her phone rang. It was Abby.
Had Lil tried to call her all night because something had happened to her? Oh, God, my best friend is dead and I was too busy screwing Mr. “I’m Back in My Suit So I’m All Business” to answer my phone.
No, wait. If Lil was dead, Jake would know.
She swiped her phone to answer. Marc looked at her for confirmation that they could pull out. Alethea waved for him to go and mouthed, “It’s probably nothing.”
“Abby,” Alethea said in a tone she hoped sounded welcoming.
“Alethea, I wasn’t sure you’d answer a call from me.”
I live my life on the edge. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Lil said you’re not answering hers.”
Alethea looked across at Marc and said, “I lost my phone for part of yesterday, but I have it now.”
“I’ve been there. There’s nothing worse than losing your phone.”
As they left the garage, the bright daylight blinded Alethea momentarily. If you only knew where I’m headed. “Yeah, nothing.”
They were awkwardly, uncomfortably silent for a few minutes, and then Abby said, “I’m calling to invite you to my house for tea tomorrow afternoon.”
“Tea?” Alethea choked on the word in surprise.
“Yes. Listen, I’m just going to be blunt here. Lil told me about the fight the two of you had and even about your latest—let’s call it—concerns with someone we both know would never do what you think he did.”
With an impatient sigh, Alethea was instantly defensive. “I never said he did it. In fact—”
Marc laid a hand on hers. She met his eyes. With a shake of his head and a slicing motion of his hand near his neck, he told her to keep her next words to herself.
Maybe he’s right. Involving Abby could blow their chance to confront Stephan alone. Gritting her teeth, Alethea said, “I don’t see how tea with you would help this particular situation, Abby.”
“It won’t be just me, Alethea. I’ve invited Marie, Nicole, and Lil. Let’s talk this out and put it behind us.”
Oh, hell no.
“Wow, tempting,” Alethea said slowly. “Still, I have to decline. My schedule right now is . . . hectic.”
“This is important, Alethea. You’re the one who always says that your friendship with Lil is a priority to you. Show her you mean it. Come for tea tomorrow. I promised her I would be in your corner, and I will be. But you have to want to make this work, too. I can’t fix this for you. And unless we all find a way to get along, I can’t see things getting better. I, for one, am ready to forgive and start fresh.”
Alethea held up the phone and, with her hands wrapped around it, made a motion like she was strangling it. Saint Abby is ready to start fresh? And what? Forgive me—for which crimes exactly?
“So, will you come tomorrow around two?”
“Sounds wonderful,” Alethea said. And highly unlikely to ever happen since by then, there was a chance that Dominic and Abby would be frantically trying to bury a body. “See you then.”
When she hung up, Alethea directed some heated expletives at the dark screen. “Who the hell does she think she is? ‘Come for tea.’ ‘Let’s fix this.’ I don’t need her approval or her help. I’m not even sure I need Lil anymore.”
Marc pulled the car over to the sidewalk. “Then walk away. Get out, call a taxi, and fly off to some international job. Why meet with Stephan and remain involved if you have no investment in the outcome of the situation?”
Alethea spun in her seat and snarled, “I should. They never thank me. They treat me like I’ve wronged them in some way when all I’ve ever tried to do was be a good friend to Lil.”
“And keep her safe.” Marc said softly.
“Exactly,” Alethea said.
“And to be safe, she shouldn’t trust anyone you don’t. She shouldn’t let others close enough to hurt her.”
“You’re twisting this around.” She reached to unbuckle her seat belt, but he blocked the move by grabbing her hand. “The last thing I need is for you starting to judge me.”
“Hey,” he said, “I’m on your side.”
“Really?” she growled. “It doesn’t sound that way.”
“You love Lil. For whatever reason, she has become your family. You’re close to losing her over this and it scares you. If you want to be alone, really alone, then go. I won’t try to stop you. But it’s a choice you’re making, not something Abby is doing to you. If you can walk away and watch this family implode from a distance, then Abby is right—you don’t deserve to be part of it.”
Alethea glared at him. “You’re probably the only person in the world who could make staying involved and risking my life sound like the right thing to do.”
“Because it is. They need you.”
“And if I’m wrong? If this all blows up in my face and we discover that Stephan is a sociopath who wasn’t smart enough to take Dominic down when he had his best opportunity?”
“Then you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go have some fucking tea, because your friend Lil is going to need you even more when her sister loses control of the husband she thinks she has tamed.”
“I really do hate you,” Alethea said, but a corner of her mouth curled in a suggestion of a smile.
He pulled back into traffic. “I don’t mind that,” he said. “It makes me imagine all the ways I could win you over again, slowly—all night, if that’s what it takes.” He shifted in his seat and smiled at her. “Don’t distract me. We have to stay focused.” He put his hand on her thigh and gave it a sensual caress. “At least until tonight.”
Tonight? One last booty call for the road? She put her hand on his to stop its progress. “I’m going with you to talk to Stephan and then I’m going home, alone. As in, not with you. Last night was great, but it’s over. Now get your hand off me before I break it.”
With a quick move that took her by surprise, he turned his hand and laced his fingers with hers. “I love it when you talk tough, but save it for tonight. We really do have to focus.”
She looked down at their linked hands in confusion. It was over, wasn’t it? He didn’t mean what he said about not going anywhere, did he? “What are we doing?”
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. “Who the hell knows, but it feels good, doesn’t it?”
She had to agree he was right.
Well, agree silently, in her head.
She wasn’t ready to give him that.
Not yet.
Chapter Thirteen
Walking into Stephan’s office building was an entirely different experience for Alethea with Marc at her side. He called up to Stephan and was waved on by the security at the entrance. Alethea didn’t bother to hide her irritation as they rode up in the elevator. “Of course he has time for you.”
With a flash of a smile, Marc said, “Temper, temper. When all this is done, we’ll see about getting you off the naughty list.” A teasing light danced in his eyes.
She was about to tell him where he could shove his offer, but the elevator door opened and then all that mattered was confronting Stephan. Without looking at Marc, Alethea said, “Let me do the talking.”
Marc put a hand on her lower back and spoke softly into her ear. “I had every intention of doing just that.”
She looked up at him quickly in surprise. “Really?”
A hint of a smile pulled at one side of his otherwise firmly set mouth. “Absolutely. There is no one better than you when it comes to pushing someone’s buttons, and the angrier he gets the more likely he is to have an honest response.”
We’ll have to talk about your backhanded compliments later. Alethea frowned. “Not funny.”
“Because it’s true,” Marc answered, his expression purposefully blank, but she saw the hint of humor in the line that appeared near one of his eyes as he fought back what she would have bet her life was a smile.
They didn’t need to announce their arrival to the secretary since Stephan was standing at his office door. “Come on in.” His eyebrows shot up when he recognized Alethea. “I have about fifteen minutes before my next meeting. What brings you two here?”
Marc stepped forward and shook Stephan’s hand. “Thank you for seeing us with so little notice.”
“Anytime, Marc. You know that.” He looked at Alethea with a less friendly expression. “You’re keeping interesting company lately, though.”