“You were expecting someone else?”

“No, I…um…well…” I stammer a moment trying to think of something to say other than I woke up in a fog and didn’t remember the love we made last night, even though it was one of the deepest experiences of my sexual life. “I’m just surprised you’re still in bed. I expected you to be making breakfast or something.”

“Actually,” he replies with a tone of good humor to his voice. “I did get up to make us some breakfast but unless you want a meal made of half-opened expired yogurt, a cracked egg, some cabbage and teriyaki sauce we’re out of luck. Don’t you eat?”

“Not lately,” I confess. “I’ve been a little busy, you know, saving my magazine, supporting my father, being a sex slave, getting my car washed—”

“Speaking of the sex slave thing. We should talk.”

“I thought we cleared that up last night.”

“We did. But I wanted to make sure it was your brain and heart talking and not just the waves of orgasmic bliss. We’re progressing farther into the deal and things are going to get more challenging, more serious, and I need to know you’re fully up to the tasks.”

“Yes.” I take a deep breath, trying to imagine just what we could do that would challenge me more than he already has. “I’m ready for whatever’s next.”

“Good.” He nods as we endure an awkward silence so painful I start yammering to fill the room with something besides static.

“It’s been tough, you know. Submitting. I’m so used to being in charge of everything. To be told, and to do what you’re told—hasn’t been in my world for a long time. In fact, it wasn’t really a part of my world even when I was young. My dad always encouraged me to challenge the system. My mom always wanted me to beat it.”

“That’s part of the problem. It’s good to know when to take, but it’s crucial to know how to give. Pushing people around isn’t the same as relating to them.”

“In college they drill it into you that reporters have to be aggressive. You have to take what you want, you have to rip the story out of the shadows, and you have to control your environment. I thought I was doing my job. I actually thought it was a compliment when I found out the staff secretly called me Miss Shark.”

“Miss Shark?” He laughs at the nickname.

“Yes.” I blush. “But lately I’ve realized it’s not who I want to be. When Kenneth Allen referred to that name in my office I actually cringed. Hearing it come out of his mouth just showed me what an ugly image it could be.”

“The line between aggressive and assertive is blurry.” He leans back against the headboard to wax philosophic.

“I suppose so, maybe it was too blurry for me and I crossed the line a long time ago. I was just afraid, I think. Afraid of being seen as weak, being walked over, so I did anything I could to appear strong.”

He is silent. I’m not sure if he heard me or if his mind is somewhere else. He sits straight up and looks at me. “Wait a minute. When did Kenneth Allen call you Miss Shark?”

I blink, unsure of where he’s going with this question. “The day he fired me. He sat right behind my desk and mentioned how the staff refers to me as Miss Shark.”

“But how did he know that?” Mark grows urgent in his questioning, his eyes lighting up. “He’s Blake’s lawyer. He never worked with you after the acquisition until recently. How would he know what they call you?”

His tone with this line of questioning sets me on edge and I prop my back against the headboard, “Blake probably told him, I assumed.”

“And how would Blake know?” Mark says in a stern, direct fashion. He isn’t accusing me but it was clear he senses something is wrong.

“I don’t know,” I say, climbing out of bed and putting a robe on. My body feels delicious after the night together but this line of questioning is dramatically increasing my tension. “I don’t know how Blake knows my nickname, how he stole from my company or how he knows what stories we ran. All I know is he took my world away!”

“I think those questions all have the same answer. How did you find out they called you Miss Shark? I mean, I’m sure they didn’t call you that to your face.”

“Janice told me over tea one day. At first it was just a few employees. But when I started reviewing their inter-office communication I noticed it all over. I’d see things that said, ‘Miss Shark is going to yell when she sees my word count’ or ‘Meeting with Miss Shark, scary!’ and I would smile. They don’t know I can see their inter-office IM’s so I just pretend I don’t know what’s happening.”

“How do you see the messages?”

“Through the software from you guys. About a year or so ago the IT guy from Sandstone Ventures came by and put software on my computer. He said the company had a policy that all properties have to use it and monitor the online activities of staff. So, I can actually open up anyone’s computer from my office and see what they’re doing, or what they’re writing. When I started seeing ‘MS’ and realizing what it meant, it made me laugh.”

“We don’t have any software like that! And we don’t set policy for our properties. We just handle the capital.” Mark jumps out of bed and starts frantically looking for his clothes. “That’s it! That’s how he did it.”

He gets dressed and heads toward the door mumbling about techs and codes and backdoors. I jump in front of him to stop him from leaving without saying goodbye.

“Breakfast will have to wait.” He pats my shoulder, attempting to push me to the side. “I need to get to the office. Better yet, I need to get to your office.”

“What are you talking about?” I block the door until I get some kind of reasonable response.

“That’s how Blake’s been embezzling money. He’s using your system, your software. The program that lets you see into your staff’s computers is letting him into yours. It’s got a backdoor that links him to you. He got more money than Lynx has, but I’m sure with the right records, we could track his transactions through your office.”

“Let’s call the cops, now!” I say knowing I’ll lose this argument for the three-hundredth time.

“It’s not enough to know it Julia, we have to prove it. I need to get inside your office.”

Tags: Priscilla West Billionaire Romance
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