Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
Page 24

 Ruth Cardello

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Jake said, “There has to be a piece we’re missing.” He put a line connecting Dominic to Stephan. He drew another line connecting Dominic to Jeremy and then to Sliver. An additional line connected Sliver to Stephan. “What is the pattern?”
Alethea asked, “Jeremy, when did you first notice Sliver online?”
“About two years ago, I guess.”
She asked, “When did Jack leave your company, Stephan?”
“About that time.”
“It has to be him,” Marc added. “But why connect with Jeremy?”
Alethea studied the board. “I don’t think he meant to. I believe that’s the only mistake he made. Jeremy challenged his ego online. If this is the same guy, he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. We used that successfully against him last year. We can use it again.”
Jeremy looked across at Marc and said, “Alethea excels at shit like this.”
Marc watched Alethea study the web on the dry-erase board and couldn’t agree more. Alethea continued, “You know this guy. His name isn’t Stanley or Jack, but you know him. He’s someone who feels wronged by you. Who has a reason to hate you, Dom?”
With marker poised, Jake said, “We’re going to need a larger board.”
Marc added, “It wouldn’t be anything recent. This guy has a festering hate.”
As Jake and Dominic brainstormed for people involved in deals where the other side might have felt cheated, the list did indeed overflow onto sheets of paper.
Alethea suggested, “What if we broke it down by year? Work backward from when he started working for Stephan.”
Jeremy watched the growing list and whistled, “Dom, you’re lucky you’re still alive.” He looked at Jake. “Is your list as long?”
Jake held up two fingers. “Two, maybe three shady deals.”
Dominic’s eyebrows rose. “Really? And here I thought you believed in doing everything above board.”
Jake shrugged. “I’m only human.”
Alethea pointed to the list. “Add those deals, too.”
When they had an exhaustive list, Alethea paced the room and said, “Is there anyone on this list who would have the skills to pull this off? Maybe someone isolated from society by their awkward level of intelligence?”
“Hey, hey,” Jeremy said, “not all geniuses lack social skills.”
Jake opened his mouth to agree, then closed it with a snap. “She’s right. That type of personality profile fits this scenario.”
Eyes collectively went to Jeremy, who bristled a bit under the sudden scrutiny. “Don’t look at me. I didn’t know any of you before Alethea asked me to hack into your system.”
Alethea instantly stiffened, apparently preparing for them to adapt her theory to include her.
Before things got more heated, Marc said, “The likelihood that it’s someone in this room is slim, and doubting each other is just what this guy wants. That’s why he used Stephan. We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t trust each other.” He picked up the stack of papers and said, “I suggest we start here. I’ll track down what everyone on this list is doing now. Location. Financial standing. Everything.”
Dominic rubbed his forehead roughly. “That’s going to take you awhile.”
“Yes, sir.”
Dominic nodded in approval.
Jeremy started toward the door. “I’ll go back with Stephan and see what I can find on his side.”
Jake walked over to a briefcase and took out a laptop. “I’ll pour over our records to see if we forgot anyone.”
Dominic checked his watch. “I’m going home.” Then he strode out of the office.
Alethea said, “I—”
“You should stay close to Abby and the baby,” Marc said, not giving her a chance to finish her sentence. “Give Dominic tonight with them, but you have the perfect excuse to spend the day with them tomorrow.”
“The tea? Are you kidding me? You want me to sit there having scones while the rest of you figure this out?” She looked ready to stomp her foot like a petulant child.
He wisely suppressed his amusement. There would be time later to kiss that pout off her lips. “That’s where we need you. Close. Watching without alarming them.”
Jake inserted, “I agree. They don’t need to know about this yet. So far all we have is a theory based on coding errors and one photo. There is no need to scare them. We have all angles covered.” He took in Alethea’s obvious displeasure with the idea and said, “Why don’t you help Marc with research tonight? I’m sure he could use your help.”
Alethea shook her head in disgust and turned to leave.
Jake stopped Marc when Alethea was through the door. “Marc, you need to keep this contained until we can figure it out. Alethea is as potentially volatile as she is an asset. If it gets out that we’re onto this guy, he could disappear before we can nab him. And I want him.”
“Then I’d better catch up with her fast,” Marc said, and strode to the door. “I’ll do my best, but she’s not going to fall for the bunker thing twice.”
Seated beside Marc in his Lexus, Alethea closed her eyes for a moment to clear her head of the jumbled emotions surging through her. Stephan was where he needed to be. Dominic and Jake were aware of the gravity of the situation and would remain on high alert until whoever was doing this was caught. With Jeremy and Jake’s famous computer-geek parents working on the IP address that led back to Stephan, it wouldn’t be long before they could trace it back to the true origin, and with Marc working the other end they should be able to flush out even the best alias. Whoever was doing this was close and he was getting cocky.
Which meant he’d probably slip up.
And we’ll catch him.
Tea with Abby and Lil? Bullshit.
I wish they’d say what they think.
They don’t want me involved.
Does Marc seriously think I didn’t hear the exchange between Jake and him as he left?
Marc’s main job is to contain me, by whatever means necessary.
She thought back to the night before and a wave of nausea rose within her. It’s still all about keeping me occupied and out of the way. I knew it wasn’t real, but there is a difference between knowing it and hearing it said aloud.
With a slow, calming breath, Alethea opened her eyes and said coldly, “My car is still at Stephan’s building. I’d appreciate it if you took me there.”
Marc started the car and drove toward the exit of the garage. “I need your help with the research tonight.”
Gripping the clasp of her seat belt, Alethea kept the ice in her tone. “We both know you don’t. I heard what Jake said as we left.”
Marc’s jaw clenched, but he pulled out into the street traffic without hesitation. “That’s a shame, but it doesn’t change anything. You’re coming home with me tonight.”
“Really? So, we’re back to manhandling to get me where you want me to be?”
The hot look he gave her sent a flash of responding desire through her. The business-first Marc was gone, replaced by the man she’d woken next to in the bunker, who was looking at her like he wanted to pull the car over and take her right there. Job or no job, he wants me.
A sexy smile stretched across his lips, and there was a glint in his eye that said he was enjoying their exchange. “Too late to pretend you don’t want this as much as I do. You will spend the night at my place. I’ll leave how you get there up to you.”
Alethea looked out the passenger window to give herself some distance. “Last night was fun, but not necessary to repeat. It’s been a long day. Drop me off at my place, and I’ll pick up my car myself tomorrow.”
He didn’t answer, just kept driving. Since he was headed toward neither Stephan’s office nor her apartment, she could only conclude that he was stubbornly driving to his place. She turned back toward him and snapped, “I don’t want to spend the night with you. Not even the evening. I’m not sure I can stand five more minutes in this car before I snap and grab the wheel.” When he looked at her quickly, she warned, “Don’t think I won’t do it. The risk of injury is worth it to get the hell away from you.”
However Alethea expected Marc to respond, she didn’t expect him to take one of her hands in his and chuckle as if she’d made a sweet joke. He raised her hand to his mouth and kissed it. “Now all I can picture is how you looked in that jujitsu stance when I took your clothes. You were so angry. I’ve never met a woman who could be that fierce while naked.”
Alethea tried to pull her hand free. “I’m extremely serious.”
He laid her hand on his thigh beneath his. “I know. That’s what makes it so hot.”
Alethea would have pulled away, but the heat from his thigh burned up her hand and through her. Memories of how that thigh had felt bare and rubbing against hers the night before sent a blush up her chest and warmed her cheeks. She wanted to be angry with him, but all she could picture was how he’d looked naked: confident and teasing. And how it had felt to wake in his arms, knowing that he was watching over her.
She wanted him as she’d never wanted anyone before.
And he knew it.
He also knew she would never hurt him.
No wonder he was laughing at her. She’d given him all the power.
She decided to try another method. Turning toward him, she deliberately looked down, then up at him from beneath her lashes, rubbing her hand ever so slightly up and down his thigh. “Take me to my place, Marc. Please.”
He studied her expression briefly as he drove. “You’re good. I wish I could say yes, but you know I can’t.”
“Because Jake told you to watch me.”
He didn’t look comfortable with answering, but he did. “Yes.”
She whipped her hand off him and clenched them in her lap. “And none of you think I should be part of this, do you? People pay me big money to test their security systems. My skills are in high demand internationally.”
With a slight frown, Marc said, “Next you’ll say we hurt your feelings today.”
She folded her arms over her chest and looked away.
“Seriously?” He chuckled again, patting her thigh. He spoke with the sweet tone one would use with a child when they find their actions adorable. “Oh, I didn’t know you were so sensitive.”
She looked out the window. “You’re such an asshole.”
He pulled up to valet parking in front of an uptown apartment building. “I can carry you upstairs. I doubt the valet will say anything—I already tip him outrageously well. I’ll tell him that we love to role-play. It won’t be the strangest thing he’s seen if he’s lived in New York for long. Or you can maintain your dignity and walk. Up to you. I’m easy.”
A young valet opened her passenger door. She stepped out. Marc was beside her in a flash. She said, “I could get away if I wanted to.”
He smiled. “Maybe.”