Recoiling, she staggered back. “Who are you?”

His mouth flattened to a stern line. “I guess I’m a better actor than I thought. At first it was a game, you know, like the ones you want to develop? I created my own character, with an entire made up history. I worked at it for months before I was hired and finally had a chance to get close to you.”

Those expectant gray eyes haunted her memory, but she struggled to match the eyes with a face.

With an irritated huff, he reached for a black bag on the floor. He let go and it hit the glass desk with a thunk. From it, he withdrew a gross set of crooked teeth, a scruffy light brown wig and a pair of glasses. She knew that mop of scraggly hair…those glasses…

“Zander.” The room swayed and her vision clouded at the edges. She blinked, breathing deep to keep from passing out.

“Alexander.” Then he withdrew a gun and the sack went limp along with her bones. Was he going to threaten her with physical harm? She clenched her hands to stop them from trembling.

“For our interview tonight, I took the names of your favorite science fiction authors and combined them. Carl, for Carl Sagan, and Wells, for H.G. Wells.” His smile turned shy for a moment, and she questioned whether he was a psychopath or suffered from an extreme case of bipolar disorder. Or both. “I knew you’d appreciate my attention to detail.”

“Your attention to… God, Zander, what’s going on?”

“Alexander. Call me by my real name,” he demanded.

“Okay, Alexander.” Hot and cold flashes of anxiety distracted her from fully grasping what was happening. “But I looked up Developer’s Muse website. It seemed legit.”

“Sure it did,” he said smugly. “Aside from creating apps, I’ve been making websites on the side for years.” His eyes glistened with pleasure. “Was it the mission statement that sold you? I worked for a week on it, revising until it was just right for you.”

She staved off the bile rising in her throat. “Why would you do this?”

He straightened as if preparing to defend an argument in court. “At DEFCON, we were equals. And on the forums you praised my work. You get me. You’re the only one who does. I wasn’t about to give that up because your new job stole all your time.”

Betrayal sank its teeth into her chest. “I trusted you. I was training you to be my replacement.”

“I know.” In the eerie light of the monitors, a wild-eyed expression took over his face. “You think I didn’t see what was going on? The job in Phoenix, your unhappiness, Trey. You needed someone who appreciated you, who saw your genius and respected your dreams. But you didn’t see me.”

She trembled. “Zander, whatever you think you saw, you don’t know me. You don’t know my dreams or my past.”

“Yes, I do.” An offended growl sloughed from his chest. “I’ve known you for years.”

“Years? How could you—” As a terrible realization took hold, her knees threatened to buckle. “Captain Jack.”

A sadistic smile twisted his lips, and he nodded. “It’s about time.” His glance slid up and down her with a look of ownership. “I expected more from you, Devon. But I guess I’m more impressive than I thought.”

Her mind still struggled to connect the pieces of his distorted identity. “Allen Guthrey interviewed you. He looked into your background and confirmed your sources.”

“Allen Guthrey’s an idiot. He doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.” He removed four nondescript cell phones from his sack of freak show aliases. “Easy to verify yourself and give glowing reviews of your work when you’re pretending to be your own former bosses.”

Marveling in horror, she said, “You really thought this through.” Determined to understand his motives, she tried to root the situation in some semblance of reality. “Zander, if you needed a job that badly, I would’ve hired you. In a heartbeat. Your logic and programming skills are extraordinary.”

An unnerving chuckle escaped his lips. “I don’t need your pity, or your job, or your boy toy’s money. I created an app that made me a millionaire. ‘Course, my parents aren’t hard up, either. I live in a wing of their mansion in California. Not that they even noticed I’ve been gone.” He scowled. “It was never about the money.”

“Then, what?”

“Working for you has been fun. Eye-opening, really.” His expression intensified until his eyes became a ghostly pale-gray drill demanding access to her most intimate life. “I got to swim through the rivers of your mind and appreciate your brilliance. It took me three months of working under you before I hacked your code, Devon. You are one of a kind. Truly remarkable. Trey, the oaf, should’ve seen that, before he used you and threw you away like a cheap whore.”

“Stop it,” she insisted. “He’s a good man.”

“I don’t care about him anymore. From now on, I’m going to take care of you and show you the respect you deserve.”

Immediately defensive, she gestured to the laptop. “If you don’t care, then why are you planning to destroy his company by leaking his clients’ personal information?”

“For you. Don’t you see? That’s the perfect way to get back at him. He gave you false hope, but I want to give you everything you’ve ever dreamed of.”

His bizarre rationalizations struck alarm into her veins. “If you hacked into our network and stole private company information, you’ll go to prison.”

He spread his arms and then slapped his thighs. “My parents own a goddamn island off the coast of Australia. We’ll go there. I have a plane chartered at a private airstrip twenty miles from here. No one ever has to know. We can disappear.” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that.”

Clearly, he was high on delusions of grandeur. She shot him a severe look. “The authorities will figure it out, Zander. Even put together, our hacking skills are not indestructible, or untraceable.”

“Alexander,” he thundered. “And you’re wrong. Don’t you see all the things we could do together?” He crossed his arms tightly like a petulant child. “Maybe not. I knew you were a match for me years ago, but when I started working with you, everything became so clear. We’ll create programs and develop code the tech sphere never dreamed of making.” A deep and internal pain surfaced, crumpling his features. “Don’t you want the world to bow to your genius?”

Tags: Vanessa Waltz Billionaire Bodyguard Suspense