Seb steered the car up to his elegant house. ‘Patch has hit a hiccup with his current girlfriend and has moved back into the second floor of the cottage.’

Oh, thank goodness. She didn’t know if she could cope with Seb and any ‘significant other’.

‘So, housekeeping in exchange for your bed and food?’

‘S’pose,’ Rowan reluctantly agreed, thinking that she was jumping from the frying pan into... Well, the third level of the hot place.

* * *

After lugging Rowan’s luggage up to Callie’s old bedroom Seb finally made it to his office—the bottom floor of the two-bedroomed cottage Patch had moved into—temporarily he hoped! His workaholic staff worked flexible hours, so he was accustomed to seeing them at work at odd times, and Carl, his assistant/admin manager, like his hackers, was still around.

Seb listened to Carl’s update and accompanied him into what they called the ‘War Room’. The huge room was windowless, and a massive plasma TV attached to the far wall was tuned to MTV at a volume level that made his ears bleed. He picked up the TV remote that stood in its cradle on the wall and muted the volume. Two male heads and one female head shot up and looked in his direction.

His hackers needed junk food, tons of coffee and music. Deprive them of one of the three and he had their immediate attention. Seb walked into the centre of the room and rapidly scanned the long row of screens where computer code rolled in an unending stream. He read it as easily as he did English, and nodded when he didn’t immediately pick up any problems.

‘Anything I should know about?’ he asked, folding his arms.

He listened while they updated him on their individual projects—testing the security of a government agency, a bank and a massive online bookseller—adding his input when he felt he needed to but mostly just listening while they ran their ideas past him. There was a reason why he’d hired all three and paid them a king’s ransom: they were ethical, super-smart and the best in the field.

Nearly, but not quite, as good as him.

Seb wrapped up the meeting, left the room and headed for his office, which was diametrically opposite to the War Room. There were computers—five of them—with a processing power that could run most Developing World countries—but his office had lots of natural light, a TV tuned to ESPN, an en-suite bathroom and a door directly linked to the gym. Although he nagged and threatened, his staff members rarely used the up-to-date equipment.

Seb tossed his car keys and mobile onto his desk, hooked his chair with his foot and pulled it over to his favourite computer. Having Rowan return with her battered backpack and her world-weary attitude made him think of his mother and had him wondering where she was laying her head these days. He checked on her once or twice a year—with his skills he could find out exactly where she was, how much money she had and pretty much what she was up to. He’d first tracked her down when he was sixteen and he’d found her passport and identity number on a supposedly coded list—ha-ha!—on his father’s computer.

His fingers flew across the screen as he pulled up the program he’d written specifically to let him track her. Within minutes he found out that she’d drifted from Peru to Brazil and then moved around a bit within that country. She was currently in Salvador and running seriously low on funds.

He experienced the usual wave of resentment and anger, wondered if he was a hundred types of a fool—after all, what had she ever done for him?—and then transferred a thousand untraceable dollars into her account. It was less than petty cash to him, and if he didn’t do it he’d lie awake at night, wondering what she’d have to do to dig herself out of that hole. She was, after all, his mother.

Rowan was in pretty much the same position, he thought, and he wondered how she’d come to the same point. He looked at his screen speculatively and thought that with a couple of clicks he could find out exactly what had happened to bring her home. He had everything he needed: her passport number, her bank details. He could, by inputting a line of code into that program, see her travel movements and everything she’d ever purchased with a credit or debit card.

It was that easy.

He’d done it before—not for five years at least, but once or twice a year before that, when her parents hadn’t heard from her for a while and her father had asked him to take a peek. He’d skim over the information, not particularly interested, and report back that she was in London or Perth and reassure them that she seemed to have enough money to cover her costs. There were big deposits and big withdrawals, but there was always a savings account with excess funds. He wondered why she hadn’t had one this time...