Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
Page 3

 Ruth Cardello

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She went over to the grill station and handed the cook the printed order. “I need this ASAP.”
“Pancakes?” the frazzled cook snarled. “Breakfast is over.”
“Hey, don’t bite my head off,” Alethea said in a thicker New York accent than normal. “This is a VIP order. Nursing says they have a child up there and this is what she wants.”
“Nursing? Do they understand that my grill is prepped for lunch items? No, to them it’s one quick item. It’s a royal pain, that’s what this is.”
“Can you do it?” Alethea asked, doing her best to sound worried.
The cook shook his head in disgust but agreed. “Give me five minutes. But tell them I’m not happy. Once dinner rush starts, I don’t care who they are, they can order from the menu or they can wait.”
“Thanks.” Alethea shot him a small smile. She didn’t look him straight in the eye. Connections made interactions memorable. They opened the door for people to ask questions. She kept her eyes down and her red locks hidden beneath the dull brown wig.
Meek.
Average.
Easily forgotten.
When she had the order in hand, she carried the tray to the service elevator and went up to the maternity ward. Just outside the door she faced her first set of suited security. She explained that she was delivering food to the nurse’s station. They called downstairs to the kitchen to confirm. With a curt nod after confirming her story, they used their badges to let her through.
The nurses at the private station didn’t look past her name tag and uniform. Alethea guessed hers wasn’t the first food delivery that day. She flashed the printed order and stated what was on the tray, explaining that the order had been called down by the family. The nurse nodded impatiently and said, “You can take it in. Hard to believe they forgot anything after seeing what was already delivered.”
Alethea explained that it was for one of the young children.
The nurse nodded. “They brought their whole family with them. Unbelievable, huh? A lot of fuss over something that happens here every day.”
The other nurse leaned against her station and sighed dreamily. “Don’t even try to pretend you’re not excited that the Corisis are having their baby here. I’d ask to take a photo with them if I wasn’t sure it would get me fired.”
Alethea nodded and smiled blandly in agreement. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to question. One of the nurses walked Alethea to the outer door of the suite, where two more security men where standing. “It’s okay, she works here. Just more food being delivered.”
The nurse had her hand on the suite door and was swinging it open when the hair on Alethea’s neck rose and she turned her head to see why. Steel blue eyes clashed with hers and she knew she’d get no farther.
Marc Stone strode forward and shut the door firmly. He took the tray in one hand and grabbed her arm with the other. “You don’t belong here,” he ground out.
The nurse waved her hands nervously in the air. Her high-pitched voice carried. “What do you mean? They cleared her at the door.”
Not letting go of Alethea’s arm, Marc addressed the nurse. He handed the tray to her and said, “You’re not in trouble. I’ll handle this.”
Alethea struggled to free her arm, but his grip was ironclad. She tried not to enjoy it. There was something about Marc—perhaps his imposing height, the expansive breath of his muscular shoulders, or the cool steel in his eyes—that never failed to set her libido running. What would it be like to be with a man she wasn’t entirely certain she could control?
And why was that image so damn enticing?
He pulled her around the corner into a quieter hallway. “I should have known you would show up today.”
“Let go of my arm,” Alethea ordered between clenched teeth.
“Not likely. Not until I throw your cute little ass back out the door you came in.”
Cute little ass? She fought the bolt of pleasure that his comment sent through her. With a slight curl to her lip, she pushed back at him verbally. “You should be thanking me. I could have been anyone. Now you know that you need to cover all back entrances and issue specific photo security badges to enter this area. Take your Neanderthal hands off me and I won’t even tell anyone about the hole in your security.”
“There was no hole. You never made it into the suite.”
“Because you recognized me. But what if you hadn’t? Or what if you’d looked away for just a moment?” Her rebuttal came out huskier than she would have liked. “That’s all it takes. One opportunity.”
Something we had the night we met, before I blew it. I could have achieved my goal without testing if I could distract you from your duties that night. And, having discovered how wonderfully easy it was, I could have reaped the benefits of our mutual attraction instead of documenting your lapse in judgment in a report to Dominic.
So I may have earned the bite in your grip, but I don’t have to accept it. She glared at him and assessed the likelihood that a well-placed kick would loosen his hold long enough for her to break free.
“Oh, my God, Al.” Lil came rushing toward them. “Why are you here?”
Marc dropped Alethea’s arm and swore beneath his breath.
Alethea took off her wig, shook out her long mane, and faced her friend proudly. “I had a feeling Marc had failed to cover all access points, and I was right.”
A less observant person would have thought her barb didn’t bother him. Marc’s expression remained coldly professional, but his pupils dilated and his nostrils flared ever so slightly. Without an audience, Alethea was certain his response would not have been so well concealed.
Lil turned to Marc and said, “Can you give us a moment?”
He nodded abruptly and moved a few yards away but kept his eyes on them. He’d moved out of respect for Lil’s request, but his nearness declared that the reprieve was only temporary.
Lil threw up both hands and paced in front of Alethea, her tone high from emotion. “I can’t do this right now. I can’t deal with you and your crazy need to test everything. The nurses are upset. We heard someone tried to break in.” She shot her friend a furious look. “Do you know what that did to the mood in the waiting room? Thank God Dominic is back with Abby. Jake calmed everyone down. He didn’t have to come out here with me—you know why? Because we both knew as soon as we heard what happened that it was you. Only you would do this.”
Contrition was slow in coming. No, she didn’t like upsetting Lil, but how upset would everyone have been if something had happened to Abby or the baby? Lil’s anger was acceptable collateral damage. “Be grateful it was only me. Anyone could have come in that back door. Anyone.”
Lil covered her face with her hands. “I know you mean well, Al, but you took it too far today. I don’t know what to do with you anymore. I thought it would get better as we got older. I thought you would calm down once you knew Jake and Dominic. I keep putting off my damn wedding waiting for you and Abby to make up. It’s never going to happen unless you change.”
Alethea folded her arms in frustration. “So, you’d prefer to have your family in danger than be annoyed by me?”
With a frustrated sigh, Lil said, “No. Of course not. But was there danger today? Really? Or did you need an excuse to come here?”
Arms falling to her side, Alethea rocked back on her heels beneath the accusation. “That’s what you think?”
Hugging herself around the waist, Lil said, “I don’t know what I think, Al. But I know you can’t stay here. Go home. Wait for me to call you and tell you how everything went. Just like I asked you to do. Like any other friend would.”
Suddenly torn between believing she was right and regretting the pain she was causing her friend, Alethea offered what was close to an apology. “I didn’t mean to upset anyone.”
Lil’s bottom lip quivered, a sure sign that she was holding back tears. “I know, Al.” She shook her head and walked away. “Please, just go home.”
As Lil departed, Marc started toward Alethea, but halted when Jake called to him from the suite door. “Marc, we need to talk.”
Alethea was about to take advantage of the distraction when Marc pinned her with an angry glare from across the hall. There was heat as well as anger in his gaze, and her breath caught in her chest as she reeled beneath the intensity of their attraction. The desire to cross the distance between them was almost irresistible. What would he do if she boldly walked over, not stopping until her breasts were pressed against the solid wall of his chest? She imagined winding her arms around his neck, pulling his stern mouth down, and kissing him until he groaned and lost control.
All that anger would only flame his hunger for her.
Just as it had the first night they’d met.
She was saved from herself when Marc spoke into his earpiece and two of his men instantly flanked her. Yet he held her eyes, and she held her breath. Was he also remembering their first encounter?
“Please come with us, ma’am,” one guard said. “We’re to escort you out.”
“Of course,” Alethea said with forced politeness, but she didn’t look away from Marc. He was listening to Jake and nodding. Unable to stop herself, she winked at him.
A red flush spread up his face and he turned away, but not before she saw the truth in his eyes. No matter how cool he tried to appear, he was just as drawn to her as she was to him.
Not that either of us can act on it. Alethea lectured herself the whole way to the elevator. It doesn’t matter if he’s attracted to me. It doesn’t matter that his kiss shook me as none had before. He’s off limits. Focus on why you came here today. As she rode down the service elevator with the two security men, Alethea said, “Check that someone is watching the morgue. People hesitate to question a person who is wheeling a corpse.” She looked at the other operative and said, “It wouldn’t hurt to have one of you in the laundry room either.”
One of the men wordlessly put her out the back door, ironically the same one she’d used earlier. The other followed her out and stationed himself outside the door, acting as a physical barrier to her reentry.
Walking away, head held high, Alethea glanced back with satisfaction. I wouldn’t win a popularity contest, but the kitchen entrance is now secure. Going home alone is a small price to pay for achieving that objective.
Marc walked with Jake down a side corridor until they were out of everyone’s earshot. Normally composed, Marc was more than a little frustrated with Alethea’s invasion and how it had left him wanting what he’d successfully denied himself thus far.
“She shouldn’t have been able to get as close as she did,” Jake said.
Pulling himself out of a fantasy—in which Alethea writhed beneath him and called his name as he pounded a year of pent-up frustration into her sweet wetness—Marc met Jake Walton’s eyes. “No, sir.”
“Don’t go all formal on me, Marc. I didn’t pull you aside to chastise you. Alethea’s good at what she does. She may be the best I’ve ever seen. That’s why she’s in high demand. She always gets in. But seeing her made me think I can’t wait any longer to make you aware of something that’s been going on.”