“Oh. But I do know.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“But if he mentions it, don’t act shocked about it.”
“And don’t deny it.”
“Are you sure he knows you two are having sex?”
“Shut up!” We both are laughing so hard tears are falling from our eyes. It feels so good to laugh again.
“Lovely ladies on a pretty day. Boy, am I a lucky man or what?” Mark says as he sits down beside me. He reaches under the table and puts his hand on my thigh. The feeling of his strength on my body grounds me. For the first time all day I’m not nervous, tense or giddy.
“Mark, I don’t think you’ve met Janice. She’s my assistant at Lynx and my best friend.”
“I’ve talked to you on the phone several times.” Mark smiles while Janice appears to be melting. “It’s wonderful to meet you. I want to thank you for being so brave. Staying at Lynx while my brother runs amok can’t be easy.”
“Blake’s not as nerve-wracking as Valerie James. Every time she comes in, I get the shivers.” Janice leans toward Mark as she talks, opening her body stance. My anthropology professor would have said she was “inviting the mate.” “If you ask me, you’re the brave one, Mr. Stone.”
“Oh, how so?” Mark asks. I reach my leg over and give Janice a good swift kick in the shin under the table. She blinks, but never shows her pain. Good woman.
“For taking on your brother and putting your own position at risk to defend Julia,” Janice makes up a good cover. “I’m happy someone has taken an interest in her, ah, helping her! Taken an interest in helping her.”
Mark smiles politely. He asks what I’m planning for lunch and browses the menu. We listen to Janice babble on about running the office without me, and how the tension is high when Blake or Kenneth show up to lock themselves in my office, but people actually find excuses to leave the room when Valerie is there. The waiter appears and Mark flags his attention.
“The lady will have Seabass Marichiara with house vinaigrette on the side and a glass of Sorbara Lambrusco, and I will have the shrimp scampi with Mosel Riesling,” he says and gestures to Janice for her order. She’s so shocked she stumbles through her decisions and I’m not sure she even got what she wanted.
I have to admit that I have never been ordered for since I’ve become an adult. There’s something old fashioned and quaint about it, yet I blush, thinking that Janice is probably about to pass out. Lord knows if Greg had ever tried a stunt like that I would have lectured him until his ears bled. But with Mark, it didn’t seem like a “stunt”–he genuinely likes to care for me.
“Why does Valerie keep coming to the office?” Mark asks Janice once the waiter leaves.
“Why does a lioness stalk her prey?” I answer.
“But Lynx isn’t prey anymore,” Mark responds. “She’s already got it. If we can’t file a rejoinder with the court in time, it’s a done deal.”
“Yes, you’re right.” I agree, looking at his face–so earnest and masculine. I catch Janice out of the corner of my eye still staring at me. I’m sure she’s thinking the old me would have argued with him, even though he’s right, just to make sure my voice was the dominant one. But I don’t need to argue all the time anymore. I really am happier just letting myself be me. “Janice, why is Valerie there?”
“She’s looking for something,” Janice says, ever guarded. “She spent the first week or so in your office going through every folder, every paper, and every computer file. She would spend hours in front of your computer. Then she started talking to staff, using the notes Blake and Kenneth provided from their ‘interviews’ with us. She keeps asking what we worked on in the past year, and what we’re working on now. She pretends she’s just getting info to merge us into Ladies World, but it’s clear she’s not getting the answer she wants.”
“If she was on Julia’s computer, she did more than talk to the staff. She’s been searching their files,” Mark says.
“We figured it out. Well actually, Mark figured it out. When that IT guy from Sandstone came and put that management software on my computer he was actually installing a way for my computer to see every file on staff computers, and a way Blake could interact with our network.”
“Oh my gosh,” Janice responds. I’m not sure if she’s reacting to the idea of Blake being in our system or the fact that I gave Mark credit for the idea. “If Blake can access our network, he can see everything–our emails, our contact lists, and our finances. He would have access to everything!”
“We need to shut the network down,” I say reacting to Janice’s energy and the thought of Blake Stone’s slimy finger rummaging through the files of my company.
Mark shakes his head. “We need to keep it open and get the records of what he’s done. We also need to find a way into his system.”
“You’re right,” I say to Mark. “But how do we do that? Can you get your IT guy to come back and change the program? If you can see us, why can’t we see you?”
“No, he would complain to Blake that he had to do off site work, and Blake would catch us. If he thinks we have a clue about what he’s been doing, he will destroy the evidence. And, with Valerie all over the place, she’s sure to notice a change. She’s got a good eye for things like that.”
“How do you know that?” I ask, completely distracted from the real issue for a moment. His hand squeezes my thigh teasingly.
“Because she’s one of our largest properties, remember?” he says nonchalantly. “Does Lynx have its own IT person?”
“Kevin. He’s a good kid. Runs the network and the website,” I say when I notice Janice shaking her head.
“Kevin’s gone. They fired him the same day they fired you. Kenneth said we wouldn’t need any more IT help because Ladies World had a whole department for IT.”
“They’re definitely using the computer for their scheme,” Mark confirms.
“Good news is that Kevin got a job with R&C Associates on the next floor. They were looking for a good IT guy. Maybe I can get him to come down when Blake and Company aren’t around. I’m sure he’d love to help us get back at those jerks.”