Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
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“He’s the one who needs the help this time, Dad, and it’s because of what I did last year. I caused this problem and I’m going to eradicate it. I appreciate your offer, but I’ll never be free from the past unless I face it myself. Don’t worry, I have my own resources. I’m not alone.”
“I can be back in New York by tonight.”
“It’ll be over by then, Dad. I’ll call you this afternoon and hopefully have good news for you.”
“And if you don’t call?”
Stephan knew that if he met up with Sliver one of them wasn’t coming back alive, and there would be consequences for the one who lived. “Just know that I love you.”
Stephan hung up the receiver. He opened the bottom drawer of his desk, took out a loaded gun, and tucked it into the belt of his suit pants. He walked to the changing room where he kept extra suits and took out a Christmas gift from Lil’s paranoid friend Alethea. A bullet-resistant suit jacket. After the fiasco at Abby’s baby shower, Alethea had reached out to all of them in one way or another. He remembered laughing when he’d received it and wondering what sort of person would actually wear it.
He wasn’t laughing anymore.
Alethea called Jeremy’s office phone. It rang four times, then went to voice mail. Alethea called back. Pick up. Pick up, Jeremy.
“Jeremy, it’s Alethea. Don’t hang up. Dominic asked me to call you for an update.”
“Really? Do you think I don’t know when you’re lying?”
With a loud sigh, Alethea said, “Fine. I’ve just had a blowout fight with all of them. None of them will probably ever talk to me again, but that doesn’t change what I need to do. I’m going to take this guy Sliver down, and you’re going to help me.”
Jeremy was not that easily convinced. “Jake told me to report whatever I found directly to him and only him.”
Come on, Jeremy. I know you. I know you want to do this. “Jake handled it last time and look what happened. He didn’t finish it. He has a family now and it’s made him overly cautious. Something Sliver took advantage of.”
“I want to say, yes, but I told Jeisa . . .”
“One more time, Jeremy. Just one more time. I’ll never ask you for anything again. This isn’t about me, it’s about saving people who are also very important to you. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how angry people get, what matters is that you do what has to be done. We can beat this guy, Jeremy. You know we can.”
After a slight pause, Jeremy said, “I don’t have anything more than Sliver’s real name.”
“Then hack into Stephan’s server. He’s had his men working on this. Maybe they have a lead.”
“He has sewn his server up—it’s airtight now.”
Really, Jeremy? You forget how well I know you. “You went in with full access. Don’t tell me you didn’t create a back door just in case he ended up being involved after all. I won’t believe it. No one changes that much.”
With a guttural sound of frustration, Jeremy admitted, “Don’t tell anyone. I wasn’t planning to, but I couldn’t trust him completely. Not with all that is at stake.”
That’s the man I know. “Your secret is safe with me. Now, what did they discover?”
Jeremy typed furiously for a moment, then said, “They went old-school and offline. Looks like one of his guys found something in the city records about a purchase of a loft in the Meat Packing District made under his real name a year ago. I should have thought of that. That’s so simple I can’t believe I missed it.”
“Why would a man who doesn’t want to be found buy property under his own name?”
“Either he’s stupid or . . .”
“Or he wants us to find it.”
“Like a trap?”
“Maybe. When was that file last opened?”
“About half an hour ago.”
“That gives Stephan enough time to hear about it and head over there.”
“Al, Sliver will be ready for him. If that’s his lair, it’s going to be well protected.”
Alethea cornered her car decisively. “Send me every bit of information you can about the building his apartment is in. I want the layout, recent and old. Everything.”
Marc stormed into Jeremy’s office a short time later. “Have you heard from Alethea?”
Jeremy didn’t say anything, but he wouldn’t meet Marc’s eyes.
Marc walked over, laid both of his hands flat on Jeremy’s desk, and leaned down so he was eye to eye with Jeremy. “I need to know what you told her.”
Jeremy stood and met Marc’s aggressive stance with his own. “To stop her? You can’t, you know. I’ve never seen her as dead set on something as she is on this. You’d be better off staying out of the cross fire.”
With a growl, Marc grabbed Jeremy by his shirt collar and hauled him halfway across the desk. “She is not going in alone.” He let Jeremy go just as roughly.
Jeremy adjusted his shirt and stood tall. He’d need a good reason to betray his friend.
Marc played his last card. “I love her. We’re a team, even if she can’t see that yet. I will not let her get herself killed today.”
With a slowly expelled breath, Jeremy said, “We found an apartment Sliver bought under his real name about a year ago. Stephan is headed there. Alethea is trying to get there before him, but he had a head start.”
“How do you know where Stephan went?”
“Is this a trick question?”
“Just tell me. It may matter.”
“I still have remote access to Stephan’s server.”
Marc frowned, but decided not to pursue that revelation at this time. “And?”
“And the address was in the last report his men pulled. It makes sense that he’s headed there.”
“I’ll need that address and any other information you have. Now.”
Jeremy hit a button to print out a shot of his screen. With some sarcasm he said, “I don’t mind helping you people, but would a please or a thank you now and then kill you?”
Marc took the papers from Jeremy and shook his head as he focused on more serious matters. “What I don’t get is if this guy, Sliver, is so smart, why wouldn’t he start his own company instead of targeting Dominic’s?”
Jeremy sat back down in his chair. “Intelligence doesn’t ensure success, and revenge can become an addiction. Sliver wants to be important, but he chose a negative way to go about it. He tears things down instead of building anything of his own. It’s a lifestyle that has become an obsession.”
“Creating a man who is capable of anything,” Marc said, as he built a mental profile of his target.
Stephan and his men did a second sweep of the loft apartment. It was devoid of furniture. A huge empty space filled with a disappointing amount of nothing. If he doesn’t live here, why buy the place?
Had it been easy for us to find for the simple reason that it wasn’t important?
Like the coding errors, is this place just another distraction?
He sent two of his men out. One to the roof. One to the street.
I’m here, Sliver. Just where you’d hoped someone would be. But why?
One of his men returned. “Nothing on the roof. Are we done here?”
Stephan nodded reluctantly. “I guess we are. Let’s head back. Give the security guy downstairs another tip on our way out. We may need to come back. There has to be a reason Sliver bought this place and I intend to find out what that is.”
The guard stepped through the door first. Before Stephan had time to react, it slammed shut behind the guard, trapping Stephan inside the apartment. A thick metal sheet slid across the door, locked into place, and beeped.
A man’s voice spoke through an intercom from above. “Tell your men to leave the building. You didn’t just hear an alarm arming. That was a remote-activated bomb—aka my insurance that you’ll do as I tell you.”
When his guard banged on the door, Stephan said loudly, “The door is rigged. Don’t touch it.”
“Now tell him to leave. Unless you want him to die with you. An unnecessary loss.”
“Get out of here, Steve, and evacuate everyone you can.”
“Uh, uh, uh. I wouldn’t do that. That would bring the police. Warn anyone and I push the trigger now. How noble of you to want to save strangers along with your men. And you can save them. You can save them all. All you have to do is help me.”
“Help you?” Stephan cased the loft with new motivation. There had to be another way out.
“Tell your men to go. Just your men. I’m watching every move you make so I’ll know if you try to fool me. Send them out of the area and then we’ll talk.”
“Sliver? Or, more accurately, Kurtis.”
Stephan spoke to his men through the door. “I need you to pull back from the building. Both of you.”
“Out of the area,” Sliver warned. “It’s an easy equation. I see them and you die.”
Stephan slammed a fist into the wall beside him but said loudly, “Give this place a half-mile radius.”
“What about—” Steve started to say, but Stephan cut him off.
“Yes, sir,” Steve said, then asked, “Do you want me to call anyone?”
“No,” Stephan ordered. “Wait for me to contact you. I don’t want anyone else coming here until we know what we’re dealing with.”
“Yes, sir,” Steve said and left.
Stephan paced the loft’s entryway angrily.
“How touching. So concerned for others. A good man with a bad reputation. Another Corisi casualty.” Sliver’s voice dripped with sarcasm.
Stephan began searching the loft again for anything that would turn the tables in his favor. “I know who you are now. I know everything about you. You say Dominic stole your ideas and built his fortune with them. He didn’t, you know. That’s why you’re so angry. Your contribution was a mediocre suggestion at best.”
“Mediocre? I’m the one who suggested the future lay in interfacing technologies. I saw the trend. I knew where the money would be.”
Yes, get angry. Give me something to use. “An insight they took advantage of, but they didn’t throw you out, did they? Your mistake was thinking you could do better without them.”
“And your mistake was switching sides at the last minute. I could have destroyed him last year in a cleaner fashion. No one had to die. You should have let me finish what we started. The bloodshed will be on your conscience. You pushed me to this.”
Years of hating Dominic gave Stephan a sad and unique insight into Sliver’s twisted thinking. Could he use that bond to gain Sliver’s trust? “You don’t have to do this. I know. I hated Dominic. I lost sight of who I was, and everything became about beating him. It almost cost me everything. My family. My future. Everything. You can stop before this goes any further. It’s never too late to realize that revenge is a dark monster that destroys even its master.”