Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
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Note to self: Never pray under pressure.
She looked down at her watch again.
One last glance upward.
Let’s keep this simple.
I’ll try to be a better person, and you do whatever you can today.
We’ll figure the rest out later.
Her phone beeped softly and she took off across the street. She looked up at the window and saw Stephan. Or more importantly, he saw her. He tried to wave her away. She whipped her wig off, never so happy to have signature red hair.
The revelation of her identity didn’t stop his frantic waving. He was pounding on the window, then bringing his hands together and outward repeatedly in a mime of an explosion. She nodded that she understood, then pointed to herself, then him.
He shook his head and banged on the window again. The sound of his pounding ended only when she entered the main lobby of the building. The lights were out. A security man at the front desk was trying to make a phone call, then put down the phone in frustration and picked up his cell phone instead. Alethea leaned over the desk, gave him a flirty smile, and grabbed his phone.
“What the hell?” he said, standing aggressively.
Her expression instantly turned serious. “Something sick is about to go down. Whatever they are paying you to work here is not worth it. I’m taking your phone as a favor. They can trace shit like this. If they know where you are, you won’t get out of here alive.”
A betraying sheen of sweat on the guard’s forehead reflected the dim light coming through the entrance. “They? Is this about the guys who were here earlier? I let them upstairs, but they didn’t really give me a choice.”
“I’m not allowed to tell you more than that. This is a classified operation, but it’s going bad—and fast. You can stay and die or run now. You decide.” She held out his phone. “Want it back?”
He shook his head.
“Don’t say a word to anyone. Right now you’re off the radar. I’ll tell them that you saw nothing. But if you call the police or tell anyone about today, you won’t live to tell the story twice. They have people who clean up messes like that. You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
Reality didn’t matter. People watched enough crazy crap on TV to believe even the most far-fetched scenario. Her lie would save his life, just not the way he thought. Either way, if the building blew he’d be out of it.
“Do you have any ID?” he asked, remaining skeptical a bit longer than most.
She lifted one side of her shirt and revealed her holster and gun.
He turned and ran.
Okay, that’s one man to remember not to hire.
She used his phone to contact Jeremy. “The electricity is off, but that might not be enough. Stephan definitely thinks this place is about to blow. I’m at the security station downstairs and there’s a computer.”
He asked her for some information, then said, “I’m in. What am I looking for?”
“Work orders? Something electrical in nature? If Sliver was here installing something he had to have a cover for it.”
“Got it. Trouble with a cable box on the same floor about a month ago. It required some external wiring.”
“That’s all you have?”
“So far. I’ll keep looking.”
“I hope that’s it. Where is it?”
“Second floor. The loft is the first door on the right.”
Alethea was already sprinting up the stairs. She called to Stephan through the door.
His answer was swift and authoritative. “Alethea, get out. The door is reinforced with a steel panel and Sliver is about to remote-blow this place. Go now.”
Into the phone she said, “Jeremy, there is nothing on this side of the door. I don’t see how he wired it.”
“Is there something on the other side?” Jeremy asked.
Alethea finally answered the man she’d come to save. “Stephan, I’m not leaving without you, so forget it. How did you get locked in?”
“We came in. We didn’t find anything and were leaving when the door slammed and locked. Sliver was keeping in contact via an intercom, but he fell silent a few minutes ago.”
That means we have a chance. “Good. Look around the door. There has to be something that is concealing a control device.”
“Not good,” Stephan said roughly. “The last thing Sliver said was goodbye. He said he’d enjoy watching the fireworks.”
Although her heart was thudding painfully in her chest and adrenaline was rushing through her veins, Alethea kept her calm. All that stood between her and her goal was one measly security system. “Stephan, focus. He may or may not be neutralized by now, but you can seriously increase the likelihood of us surviving by helping me here. Do you see a box near the door? An intercom? A security pad?”
Sounding calmer, Stephan said, “There is an intercom, but it’s not what he was speaking through.”
“Good. Open it.”
There was a rustle and then Stephan said, “I had to get something to pry it with, but I opened it. There is a keypad behind it.”
Yes. Yes. Yes. “Jeremy, we found a keypad near the door. It has to open it.”
“Or it’s rigged to the bomb,” Jeremy said dryly.
She considered his warning, then dismissed it. “No, Sliver wouldn’t need it. He has everything at the other place. He’s not a self-destruct kind of guy. Rip out that panel, Stephan.”
Stephan hesitated. “Are you sure? Jeremy could be right.”
For once, just believe me. “I’m sure enough to be standing on the other side of the door while you do it. If I’m wrong, we both pay for the mistake. Rip it.”
There was the sound of metal being bent. “Done. What do you want me to do?”
Let it be easy. Come on. “Turn the panel over. Is there a serial number? A brand? ”
“Yes,” Stephan said in surprise.
Perfect. “I need you to read off all the information. Jeremy, you may have to hack, or you may find the information on a help page. How do I reset this thing?”
Jeremy laughed a bit sarcastically. “He used a market model?”
“His laziness is our salvation.”
Jeremy searched, then came back on the line. “There is a tiny button. Reset it with a clip or a pen. Then type in this reset code and it should work.”
There was a momentary silence from Stephan, and then he responded, “Looks like my pen will fit. Will this work if there is no electricity? The panel is dark.”
Oh, ye of little experience breaking into places. “Most security systems have a small battery installed as a backup. It gives you time in case of an outage. Often not enough juice to light the panel, but enough to surge and open the door.”
Jeremy cleared his throat. “Hey, Alethea. Before you do that. I have something I need to say.”
Alethea took a deep breath. Please don’t ask me to waste my last few moments on earth apologizing again for being bitchy to your girlfriend. I’ve said I’m sorry already. “Yes?”
“If you survive this, you will always be welcomed in the home Jeisa and I make together. I see now that I was just as much at fault for what happened as you were.”
He doesn’t think this is going to work. He may be right. “I should have been a better friend to you, Jeremy. I should have been nicer to Jeisa. From now on, I’m going to be a better person. Marc is my chance to get it right.”
Stephan cut in harshly. “Can we talk about all this after you tell me how to reset this thing? All this good-bye shit is freaking me out.”
Jeremy guided Stephan through using the reset button and typing in the reset code, then told him to activate the door.
Alethea held her breath.
The door swung open.
Stephan was through it in a flash. He grabbed Alethea’s arm and they ran together down the stairs all the way to the street. Once safe, he swung her in a grateful hug that drove all air out of her lungs. Over his shoulder, she saw Jake Walton’s helicopter land on the building Marc had entered. Dominic.
Although Marc had her phone, she didn’t contact him. She didn’t know what his situation was and she could give his location away. She grabbed Stephan and pulled him out of sight in case Sliver saw them.
She dialed Dominic’s cell number and prayed he had it on him. When he answered, she wasted no time with pleasantries. “I have Stephan. He’s out. Marc’s inside with a likely desperate Sliver.”
“Get Stephan back to Nicole,” Dominic ordered after a short pause.
“I’m not leaving Marc,” she said in a rush.
In a steely tone, Dominic said, “You did your part. Let me do mine. Now, tell me what you know about what’s going on inside.”
She knew exactly how to make him understand her stance. “Could you leave if it were Abby up there?”
Dominic countered with a good argument. “What you’re not seeing is that if Marc knows you’re there, he’ll feel he has to protect you, and that could get him killed.”
No, we’re different. We’re equals in this. “I’ll send Stephan back, but I’m not leaving. I’m in communication with Jeremy and there may be a way I can help.” She motioned for one of Marc’s security men to hand over his earpiece.
He shook his head. She waved the phone at him and pointed to the helicopter on the roof. “Trust me, your boss wants me to have it.”
Dominic’s voice boomed out of the phone. “Give it to her before she takes it from you. We need everyone we have right now.”
Alethea slid the earpiece in and said, “I’ll be your eyes down here.”
The guard looked at her as if to ask, “And what was I?”
The building was evacuated. Marc’s men had used the power outage to their advantage, claiming it was tied into a larger grid problem that could reverse-surge and potentially explode. They’d warned everyone to leave the area.
He heard the helicopter land on the roof. He and several of his men were on the floor where they suspected Sliver was. He wanted to rush forward through the door that separated him from his target, but first he needed to know who the helicopter was backup for. He fell back around the corner and pressed a button on his earpiece. “Dominic?”
Dominic said, “Stephan is out. Alethea is your eyes on the ground. She has an earpiece now. Closed channel nine three seven. Don’t let her distract you.”
Relief flooded through Marc. She did it. He hadn’t doubted that she could, but now he could breathe again. Marc thought about the strong woman he loved and said, “This guy is not getting away, Dom. We have him pinned.”
Dominic was quiet a moment, then said, “Bring him to me alive.”
“Yes, sir,” Marc said, and switched over to the channel Alethea was on. “Alethea?”
“Yes,” she answered with an emotional burst. “I’m right here, Marc.”
“Good work next door.”
“I didn’t do it alone.”
“I told you being part of a team was better.”