Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
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Nicole clapped her hands together in excitement. “We have to include the Andrades. They love stuff like this.”
“Maddy will lose her mind when she hears what we’re doing,” Lil said, a huge grin lighting her face.
“So we’ll plan for a hundred,” Abby said. The group was buzzing with excitement over possible locations and details. With everyone temporarily occupied, Abby laced her fingers with Dominic’s and gave his hand a small tug. He took the hint and bent an ear in her direction. “I will never take what we have for granted again. I’ll never complain about the security you employ. I am so grateful that everyone came home safely. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d lost you.”
His hand tightened on hers. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I know,” she whispered. Looking up into her husband’s loving eyes, Abby fell in love with him all over again. Better not to spoil him, though. “But don’t think this gets you out of midnight feedings,” she teased.
He groaned but hugged her to him with a chuckle. “As long as I can wake you when I’m done.” As he always did.
Abby winked and hugged him. Should I tell him that’s why I send him?
Nah, he’s a big boy. He’ll figure it out.
It was well past midnight when Alethea slid out from beneath Marc’s arm, wrapped a blanket around herself, and stepped out onto the deck of his small beach house. The cool night air carried the rhythmic sound of waves crashing in the distance, reminding her how she and Marc had made love their first night right there on the deck, in the glow of the moonlight.
And on the beach the next day.
Then in the shower.
Then gently the next morning when they’d woken.
Leaning against the railing, Alethea hugged the blanket tighter. Marc was more than she’d ever dared hope for. Passionate. Intelligent. Brave. Consistently better than a vibrator—and that wasn’t something she could say about every man she’d been with.
He would have laughed at that joke if she’d said it to him, and then he likely would have tackled her and made her pay for it in some delicious way. She smiled into the darkness and acknowledged to herself how well they fit—in and out of the bedroom.
She didn’t normally do long-term relationships. Friends with benefits was more her style. But Marc was different. Just the thought of him set her heart pounding and she started imagining how forever with him would be. He’d want children. A house they’d make into a home. There would be birthday parties, shared holidays. Family things.
Am I ready for that kind of life change?
I’d have to give up . . . traveling alone, eating alone, celebrating every accomplishment alone. Not that she couldn’t find male companionship whenever she wanted it, but she was discovering that if you’re not with someone who genuinely cares about you, it is possible to be with someone and still be alone.
I want a real life partner.
One who makes me feel like a valuable part of his team.
A treasured piece of his life.
Someone like Marc.
Unless I’m wrong about him.
She’d expected him to propose sometime during their last few days together, but he hadn’t. Was he regretting his declaration of love? Dangerous situations heightened emotions, and all his talk of wanting to marry her may have faded away once things calmed down.
Not something that would be easy to tell a woman.
Is that why we’re here? One hot fling before he breaks it to me that he doesn’t see how things between us could actually work?
He’s probably in there right now, rehearsing how to let me down easy on the flight home tomorrow. I should ask him to do it now while I’m still numb from the fact that I haven’t heard from Lil or anyone in the Corisi compound.
No “Glad you made it out alive” text.
No “Thank you for the heads-up” phone call.
What did I expect?
Nicole to thank me for freeing Stephan?
Lil said it’s not what I do that they find offensive but how I do it. I don’t know how I offended them this time, but I’m sure I don’t care anymore.
If I’m not good enough for them as I am, it is time to let them go.
“Hey, what are you doing out here?” Marc asked from behind, sliding his arms around her and resting his cheek against her hair.
“I needed some air,” she said, continuing to look out into the darkness.
“Are you thinking about your friends back in New York?”
“No,” she said too quickly.
He turned her in his arms and tipped her face up toward his. “I know when you’re lying.”
She refused to meet his eyes, snapping in response to feeling cornered, “What do you want me to say?”
Instead of reacting defensively to her tone, he continued to hold her, just hold her until she looked up at him. She saw love and acceptance in those deep blue eyes, and it shook her. Could he love her just the way she was? Could anyone?
“The truth. Nothing more. Nothing less. Don’t pretty it up. Don’t choose your words carefully. Not with me.”
Still pushing him away when she really wanted to hold him closer, she said, “And what if the truth is ugly? People always say they want to know, but they don’t. Not really.”
He caressed one of her cheeks with the back of his hand. “I’m not most people. I thought you knew that by now.”
Alethea turned away from him. “Why? Because we said some ridiculous things in the heat of the moment? Because the sex is good between us?”
Marc sighed behind her. “I didn’t say a single thing I didn’t mean. You can second-guess every moment we’ve spent together and twist it up into God-knows-what in that pretty little head of yours, or you can believe me. Love is a leap of faith. It doesn’t come with a guarantee, and no one can convince you it’s there if you don’t want to see it.” He stepped back and away from her. “I’m going back to bed.”
Alethea didn’t move even as she heard the door open and close behind her. She wanted to turn and run after him, but she didn’t.
She gripped the railing in front of her.
Am I really this much of a coward?
I’m going to throw away an incredible man now because I’m afraid he’ll leave me later?
Firming her lips into a line of determination, Alethea turned and walked into the beach house. She didn’t stop until she was standing angrily at the end of the bed, resenting that he looked like he’d been about to fall asleep again.
Staring down at him, she put a hand on one hip and said, “I hate not knowing what’s going on between us. I’m terrified that you’re going to wake up and realize that you can’t spend the rest of your life with someone like me.”
“Come here,” he said softly.
“No, I have to say this. You want to know the truth? I can’t change who I am. I’ve tried. I don’t know how I do it, but eventually I drive everyone I love away from me. It’s only a matter of time before you decide I’m not worth the trouble. We should end this now.”
There’s your chance, Marc.
Break it to me gently or say it flat out.
Just do it.
With cat-like speed, Marc sat up, grabbed one of her arms, and dragged her down on top of him. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said and rolled her beneath him.
“Everyone says that,” Alethea said, blinking back tears that suddenly threatened. “But no one stays.”
Marc bent and kissed her lightly. “That’s not true, Alethea, and I will show you how untrue, but not tonight.” He hugged her closer. “I know you’re scared, but I need you to trust me one more time.”
She hit him angrily in the chest, then nodded. He kissed her again and she met his lips eagerly, desperately, as if this might be their last night together.
Just in case it was.
Later, Marc stared at the ceiling, long after he’d heard Alethea’s breathing deepen and felt her relax against him. He could have told her about his conversation with Lil, but it may or may not have made her feel better. She would have instantly begun to question why they’d agreed to host the party and might have even requested for it not to happen.
Knowing ahead of time would only lessen the effect.
Alethea needed to see love in the eyes of the people she’d risked so much of herself to save—and he was going to give her that. Even if it meant showboating their proposal, something he would have preferred to keep a private affair.
She’d get her proof.
It hadn’t been easy to sneak away from Alethea long enough to coordinate the details with Lil, but he’d done it. Now all he had to do was convince her that she wanted to spend their first evening back in New York double-checking the existing security system of a building he would tell her he’d been hired to upgrade.
Although this time the request was a ruse, working together in that fashion made sense. Every system needed to be tested, and no one was better at finding a weakness than Alethea. She could enjoy the excitement of a challenge without also risking her life.
She sighed in her sleep and snuggled closer. He closed his eyes and rested his head against hers.
Tomorrow she’ll see that she’s not alone.
And she never was.
“What are you wearing?” Marc asked, when he returned to Alethea’s apartment to pick her up and found her dressed from head to toe in a reflective, metallic jumpsuit with matching hood. It fit her snuggly in all the right places, sending his blood rushing downward and his thoughts toward activities that would make them very late.
“It’s the newest in Stealth Wear. Isn’t it amazing? It reduces my thermal footprint and reflects light in random patterns that blur my outline, making it harder for the naked eye to see me in a video.” She flipped the hoodie up and over her long braid. “When up, my face will be blurred to cameras by blinking LED lights. So even if someone took a picture of me, my features would be indistinguishable.” She twirled before him, giving him a brief view of how the material clung to her delicious ass. “The material looks smooth, but it actually has sections with prototype setules.”
I’m not going to be able to get her into a dress easily, am I?
“With what?” he asked and loosened the bow on his tux absently. The temptation to remove it, along with all of his clothing, was strong.
“You know, setules—the tiny triangular hairs spiders use to climb walls.” She lifted an arm to give him a closer view.
Temporarily fascinated, he ran his hand down her arm, but not because he cared about the suit’s texture. He wanted the woman inside the suit. Now. The properties she’d listed gave him some creative ideas on how to test it. His hand stopped on her elbow, where the material felt rougher than the rest. “If you can climb the walls in this thing, I can think of an immediate application for it right now.”
She swatted at his hand and lowered her hood. “The technology hasn’t advanced that far, but it does provide better grip when I’m climbing through an air duct, or anywhere else with a smooth surface.” She put her hands on her hips, looking glorious. “So keep it in your pants for now—I can’t hang from the ceiling.”