Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
Page 6

 Ruth Cardello

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Although she hated seeing her friend upset, she knew she had to figure out if Stephan was behind these glitches—and that she needed inside information to do it. “This problem won’t go away just because you refuse to deal with it. Do you really want to wait and see how it plays out, hoping for the best? What if Stephan is out to hurt your fiancé’s company? Do you want to be the person who did nothing?”
“Give me a day, Al. Don’t do anything else. Just let me think this through. For once, promise to do this my way. Promise me.”
Lil put up her pinkie for a solemn vow.
Alethea didn’t like it, but what could she do? She pinkie swore to wait for Lil’s solution.
Marc was looking over video surveillance tapes from the new cameras he’d had installed systematically throughout Corisi Enterprises’ office buildings. It had taken him almost a week to install them, since the work could only be done at night once everyone had gone home. He didn’t tell the night security crew what he was doing, beyond saying that he was updating their system. The fewer who knew, the better. He’d used only his closest team to do it. If there was a mole, he was going to catch him.
Craig entered, a report in hand. “We’ve combed through the background checks of everyone who was hired in the last six months. Nothing.”
“Then go back a year. Go back two. Keep looking.”
“What are you hoping to find?”
“Nothing. I’m hoping you come back with nothing. But I have a feeling that might not be the case. I’m also demoting you.”
“What? Without even a job review? Is this about the hospital incident?”
“No,” Marc said impatiently. That one was my fault. Alethea was right about the need for specially issued IDs. I should have thought of that. “It’s not an actual demotion. You’re going undercover. Don’t worry; your pay will stay the same. Your job is to be the most laid-back mailroom messenger Corisi Enterprises has ever seen. I’ll talk to Ed in the mailroom. He may recognize you as part of my team, but I can trust him to keep it to himself. You’ll deliver the mail, and rotate where you go. Find your way to wherever people are taking breaks. Look for someone who is driving a new car who shouldn’t be able to afford to. Anything like that. One thing I know about moles is, they may be good at covering their tracks, but they can’t resist spending their extra money. Smile. Flirt. Place nice. I don’t care if you have to go out for drinks with every secretary we employ. I want the office gossip.”
“Tough assignment.” He gave a young, cocky smile. He stood taller, posed against the doorjamb, and practiced a Casanova smile.
“Focus, Craig. Don’t date them, get close enough to find out if they know anything and then move on to the next. I’d do it myself if I wouldn’t be recognized.”
“I hope I don’t break any hearts,” Craig said with feigned concern.
Marc rolled his eyes skyward. “I’m sure they’ll survive.”
“That’s cold, Marc. Really cold. What are we calling this covert operation? We need something catchy.”
“Call it job insurance. You screw this up and I won’t be able to save you from the wrath from above. Get in, get the information we need, and get out. No one can know what we’re doing.”
With a nod and a smile, Craig said, “Gotcha,” and walked out of the room. A moment later, the earpiece on Marc’s desk lit up. He picked it up and pressed a button that allowed the sender to access protected private radio communication with him.
Craig said, “The shark is entering the water. I repeat: The shark is entering the water.”
“Are you the shark?” Marc asked in resigned humor.
Speaking just above a whisper, Craig said, “Is this a test to see if I blow my own cover?”
Closing his eyes and striving for patience, Marc said, “Whatever you want to call yourself, have a report on my desk at the end of each day.” He put the earpiece down. He’d chosen Craig because the man’s quirky personality would allow him to move through the building without raising suspicion. His elite team was too seasoned, too hardened to be able to play the role of a mailroom messenger. Craig was the only viable option.
Returning to his desk, Marc turned his focus to the real wild card in the game. One that Craig would never be able to fool. He might call himself a shark, but Alethea would make a quick snack of an innocent like Craig.
His own ego was still smarting from his first encounter with her.
Alethea. As beautiful as she was cunning. Both Dominic and Jake had warned him about her, but their warning had come one day too late. His heart beat double time as he remembered their first meeting. With her long, wild auburn hair, deep emerald eyes, and athletically tight body, she had easily been the most striking and beautiful woman at Jake’s engagement party.
He should have known from the way her attention had riveted on him that she had had an ulterior motive. The smile had come to her lips too easily. The flirting looks had been too blatant. Still, he’d been unable to resist the lure.
He’d deserved every critical word she’d written about him in her report to Dominic. That night he had, indeed, been weak and easily distracted. He’d wanted her with an intensity he’d never felt before. Like an ocean siren, she’d called, and he’d followed—leaving his duties unattended, something he’d never done in all the time he’d worked for Dominic.
Dominic’s reaction had come in the form of a simple warning. “Stay away from Alethea. She’s trouble.”
Jake had given him similar instructions: steer clear of the wreckage that would follow any personal entanglement with Alethea. He’d done as they’d asked because, although he’d spent many nights remembering the one hot kiss he’d shared with her, his loyalty was to the men who had given him a chance when the rest of the world had turned their backs on him.
No woman, not even one who made sex with other women less tempting, would be the reason he disappointed them again.
Now Jake was asking him to watch Alethea—closely. Not something he minded doing, but something that held a risk of forgetting why nothing was possible between them. His personal feelings had to come second to his duty.
He needed to find out if she was involved in the recent coding errors. To do that, he would have to breach the defenses of a woman who had once demolished his with one sultry look.
How do you outsmart a woman who prides herself on outsmarting everyone else?
You play by her rules.
Which means there are none.
He remembered the look in her eyes when she’d seen him at the hospital. No matter how their first encounter had ended, the attraction was still mutual.
I can use that.
I may even enjoy doing so.
Calling her dominated his thoughts all day, but he forced himself to wait. To win, he’d have to choose his strategy and timing carefully. Luckily, he’d had almost a year to study his target.
And he had. He’d kept her on his radar, even when some would have said it wasn’t necessary. Although she’d attended fewer and fewer of the social events he’d worked, when she had, he hadn’t been able to look away from her. At first he’d tried to tell himself it was part of his job, but there was no denying the pleasure he found in watching her. Alethea entered a room with purpose. When she wanted to be the center of attention, her wild red mane flew loose—like the cape of a matador flaming the passions of men even as it lured them to their doom.
Doom might be a bit strong. Most of them left their encounter with her looking bemused. Her racy choice of outfits, lingering sidelong glances, and even her light flirtatious laugh was a means of distracting her target while she gained access to whatever information she sought.
She was a woman who was always in control.
A woman men fawned over, instead of challenged.
Someone who liked to win.
A devilish smile spread across his face. He knew exactly how to throw her and keep her off balance.
It rang once. Twice.
“Hello?” Alethea asked slowly, most likely because he’d blocked his ID.
Payback time.
Chapter Five
Lying in bed, Alethea rolled onto her back when she heard her cell phone ring and groaned. She’d trained most of her international contacts to call her at a reasonable hour, but there were still a few who forgot now and then. She reached for her phone, placing it instantly on speaker and flopping backward against her firm pillows. Like the rest of her apartment, the bed was functional without being overly comfortable. Too much comfort made a person soft, vulnerable.
Something Alethea refused to ever be again.
“Hello, Alethea.” A deep male voice echoed through her dark bedroom as if its owner were there with her.
Alethea sat up, instantly alert. There was only one man whose voice alone could have her body humming with anticipation. “Marc,” she said, striving for calm, glad he couldn’t see the way her cheeks warmed and her nipples strained against her cotton T-shirt, a side effect of the numerous nights she’d used his image as inspiration while she’d pleasured herself. Her voice was huskier than she aimed for when she asked sarcastically, “What did I do to merit a phone call?”
“I’ve been thinking about you all week.”
The same way I’ve been thinking about you? she wondered, but wisely kept the thought to herself.
She relaxed back into her pillows and closed her eyes. She and Captain America had nothing in common. Even if her body was sure that wouldn’t matter. “And you finally decided to thank me for my help at the hospital?” Okay, it was a jab, but she couldn’t resist.
He answered smoothly, “Let’s not talk about work. In fact, there is only one word I want to hear you say and that’s—yes.”
Don’t ask. He’s playing on your curiosity. “To what?”
His sexy chuckle resonated through her, sending warm tingles into her stomach and lower. “To everything.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Scared?” he asked huskily.
Only of hurting myself in my haste to disrobe. See, that’s why I can’t say yes, because when something feels as good as being with you does, it never ends well. “No, just smart enough to know you wouldn’t call unless you wanted something from me. What you’re suggesting could get messy and complicated. You don’t do either. What do you really want?”
“Oh, Alethea. So much smarter than the rest of us. If you can see right through me and my motives, then there is no risk in meeting me.” He chuckled again. “Unless, you don’t think you could control yourself.”
“That’s not a risk.”
“Prove me wrong. Meet me for a drink.”
Her rational side began listing all the reasons why that would be a bad idea. He worked for Dominic. Now, more than ever before, she needed to keep her head clear, if she was going to figure out what was going on. On the other hand, he might have inside information that could clear Stephan.
I told Lil I wouldn’t do anything until we spoke again.
However, she did dare me to call Marc.