Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
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Marie made the sign of the cross and appealed to the heavens. When Abby and Nicole looked at her, she said, “We’re going to need all the help we can get.”
Outside Jake’s office, Marc offered Stephan a short reprieve. “I can go in first, update him on what we know, and then tell him you’re here.”
Stephan won Marc’s respect by shaking his head and saying, “If this problem is a ripple effect of what I did last year, I’m not going to dance around whose fault it is. It rests firmly on my shoulders. I appreciate your support, but I don’t need it. Jake will listen to reason. And Dominic . . .” Stephan sighed. “I’ll figure out something.”
Marc spoke briefly to the secretary and then Jake opened the door himself. “Stephan, come in.”
When Alethea stepped forward to go inside, Marc held her arm and led her to the couch in the waiting area. Most men would have let go of her arm when she shot them the how-dare-you glare she sent him, but Marc only tightened his grip. She didn’t belong in there, not yet. If she’s right, they’ll come for her.
Neither sat as they waited.
Between gritted teeth, Alethea said, “Get your hand off me.”
“Can’t do that. They need time to sort this out before they involve us.”
“So, what do you expect me to do—wait here until they bestow an invitation on us?”
She said something rude under her breath.
Marc hid a smile. Patience was one quality his little warrior lacked. There were worse faults a person could have. Patience could be learned; loyalty couldn’t. The more time he spent with Alethea, the more he respected what drove her decisions. Even though she approached problems with a battle-axe when others would have used a more delicate tool, she was driven—almost obsessively so—to protect the ones she cared about.
A strong, loving woman whose worst enemy was herself. He didn’t know how he was going to do it, but he wanted to help her find the kind of family she sought. Here with the Corisis, if possible; elsewhere, if necessary.
The secretary addressed them. “Mr. Walton will see you now.”
Still holding her arm, Marc looked down at Alethea and said, “This time, let me do the talking.”
Her lips pressed into a straight line of displeasure.
“Do you trust me?” he asked softly.
She glared at him and then looked down. “Yes.”
“Then follow my lead here. This is a tricky situation. Jake knows what you think is going on. Stephan may. Don’t ram your theory down their throat. Let them come to it naturally. I’ve already increased security. The situation is being dealt with.”
“I can’t just—”
Marc turned her to face him. “Yes, you can. The goal of a good security team is to protect without scaring the shit out of the people you work for. We’ll watch, Alethea. If you’re right and this is a small piece of something bigger, we’ll find the proof and we’ll stop the bastard responsible. But Jake deals with facts, and all we have right now is server breach.”
Dressed in a dark suit and looking every bit like he belonged, Jeremy Kater walked into Jake’s outer office. He stopped when he saw Alethea, then continued toward them.
He shook Marc’s hand and then Alethea’s. “Jake called and said Stephan is here. I should have guessed you’d be here, too.” He nodded at Alethea.
Marc let go of Alethea’s arm and placed his hand on her lower back. Did she have feelings for him? They’d been friends for a long time.
Oh, my God. I’m jealous. I’m never jealous.
That’s because Alethea is the first woman who actually matters.
Alethea asked, “Did you bring Jeisa back with you?”
Jeremy’s expression became guarded. “No, she stayed in California. She is in the middle of a big fundraiser.”
Alethea nodded and gave a small smile. “You look happy, Jeremy. I know I haven’t always appeared to be happy for you, but I am.”
Relaxing a bit, Jeremy said, “Thank you. For the first time I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I was meant to do.” He looked from her to Marc and back. “I hope you find the same, Al.”
Marc was tempted to proclaim she had, but he held his silence. This was not the time or the place.
Alethea tensed beneath Marc’s hand, but she didn’t look back at him. She asked, “Did you find anything to help Stephan?”
Jeremy shook his head in frustration. “Not yet. You think he did it?”
Alethea stood straighter. “No, he’s innocent. I know he is. The proof is there if you dig deep enough. If I were you, I’d ask myself how Sliver would set him up.”
“Sliver?” Jeremy frowned. “Why would he go after Stephan? If Sliver wanted to hurt Dominic, wouldn’t he choose someone closer to him?”
The secretary behind them said, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but Mr. Walton is losing patience.”
As the three of them headed toward the door, Jeremy’s tone revealed he was beginning to see the merit of Alethea’s idea. “Sliver would know how to cover his tracks, but why waste his time with easily fixable coding errors?” He stopped before opening the door. “You think the errors are a decoy, don’t you? Something to keep us chasing our tails.”
It was apparent that through years of working together Jeremy knew Alethea well, and it gave Marc a twinge of jealousy. But he knew Jeremy’s chance, if he’d ever had one, was in the past. Still, there was a bite to Marc’s tone when he said, “Enough. Let’s go in.”
Jake turned when they entered. “Jeremy. Good. We’re all here. Stephan has offered to give you full access to his server. I want you to take my parents over there and find out who is doing this.” He turned back to Stephan and said, “Everyone in this room wants to clear you. And we will. Hopefully before this explodes. I was hoping to have something concrete by now.” He was referring to Dominic—another person who hadn’t been blessed with the patience gene.
The door to Jake’s office flew open and Dominic’s voice boomed through the room. “Which one of you thought having this meeting without me was a good idea?”
Jake went to his side and said smoothly, “You gave me twenty-four hours, Dom. So technically, you did.”
Dominic strode to the middle of the room and faced Stephan. The air was charged with the threat of imminent violence. “If I find out you’re involved in this, that you’ve been using my sister to get to me, there won’t be any place on earth you can hide from my wrath.”
Normally sarcastic, Stephan wisely chose not to be for once. He met Dominic’s angry gaze with the steadiness of an innocent man. “I love Nicole. I don’t know how this is happening, but you have my full cooperation and access to whatever you need to figure it out.”
Letting out a breath that sounded a bit like a hiss, Dominic didn’t look away from Stephan as he asked, “Marc, you’re a good judge of character. Do you believe him?”
Without hesitation, Marc said, “I do.”
Dominic swung to look at Jeremy. “Jake must have you looking for proof. Have you found anything?”
Looking around slowly, Dominic’s attention settled on Alethea. “What do you think?”
Everyone stopped breathing . . .
“He didn’t do it. Someone must have access to his IP address.” Marc waited for her to say more, but she didn’t.
Dominic punched his leg. “Shit. I wanted it to be you.”
Stephan’s eyebrows rose. “Sorry?”
Still angry, Dominic took his phone out of his pocket and opened his messages. He held his phone up so everyone could see a photo. “I received this from Stephan this morning.”
It was a slightly blurry color photo of Judy sleeping in her crib.
Stephan said, “I didn’t send that. I haven’t been in your child’s bedroom.”
Marc moved closer. “Can I see it?” Dominic handed him the phone. “It was taken from her baby monitor. I know that feed.”
A chill settled in the room. Jake asked, “Are we sure Abby didn’t send it?”
Marc handed Jake the phone. “It’s from Stephan’s email.”
Rising to his full height, Dominic roared, “How could someone access Judy’s monitor? I thought we were using encrypted video.”
Alethea interjected, “My guess is Abby didn’t get that memo.”
Dominic turned to Marc. “Marc, I want the security at my house doubled.”
“Already done, Dom.”
Shaking with a fury that had no outlet, Dominic growled, “What did you know that you failed to tell me?”
Jake accepted the blame easily. “I told him to keep it between us until we could confirm that we were dealing with more than a simple hacking.”
Grabbing his phone back from Jake, Dominic snapped, “I’d say we’re dealing with a hell of a lot more than that. I want the bastard who thinks it’s funny to taunt me with my daughter. And I want him now. What do we know?”
Jake said, “All we have is a theory.”
Looking down at the photo on his phone as if it caused him physical pain, Dominic snarled, “A theory?”
“Alethea’s,” Jake clarified.
Dominic spun back to address Alethea. Marc kept a hand on her lower back and felt her tense beneath his aggressive approach, but she kept her expression calm. She took a breath and said, “I think it’s Sliver.”
“We dealt with him. Jeremy, you said that we sent him so far underground he wasn’t a threat worth pursuing.”
Jeremy looked uncomfortable and admitted, “I may have underestimated his obsession with you. This isn’t someone trying to make a name for himself. This is personal. Vendetta level.”
Marc said, “Alethea believes that Sliver could be the same man Stephan gave your server codes to last year. He worked for Stephan in the past. That would have given him the opportunity to access his server as well.”
“What are you basing that on?” Dominic asked forcefully.
Alethea raised her chin and said, “A gut feeling.”
“So why the photo of my daughter?”
“A taunt and a warning. He wants you to know how close he is.”
“I want this guy. I don’t care what it takes. No one threatens my family and lives. Do we understand?”
Stephan stepped forward and said, “Dom, every resource I have is yours in whatever way you can use it.”
Rage still simmering close the surface, Dominic said, “Hope you’re not holding out for a thank you. You gave this bastard access to my family.”
Stephan corrected him. “Our family.”
Rubbing his eyes in frustration, Dominic took a deep calming breath. He looked across at Marc. “I don’t want to scare Abby, but I want my home to be a Secret Service wet dream.”
Marc nodded. “Consider it done.” He stepped away to make a couple of calls to his men. When he returned, Jake had a large dry-erase board out and was making a web that had Dominic in the middle.