Page 45 of Hardline (Hacker 3)

His eyes narrowed slightly. I didn’t care. I wanted him to feel any dig I sent his way.

“We didn’t exchange a non-disclosure. I was well within my rights.”

“You were well within your rights to be a deceitful, unethical bastard. Unfortunately there’s no law against that.”

He laughed quietly. “Thank goodness. Lucky for you, there’s no law for fucking your way to the top either.”

I closed my eyes. I set my glass down, suddenly too exhausted to want the relief of a drink.

“Get out.” My voice lacked the force I’d meant to deliver with the demand.

When I opened my eyes, he’d come closer, facing me.

“I’m just saying, if you wanted to fuck someone for your funding, I was right there. You know that’s what everyone thinks, right? You don’t need me to ruin your reputation. You did that all by yourself, sweetheart.”

I winced. “You’re lying.”

“Am I? People love to talk. A little bit of industry gossip can spread quickly if started in the right circles. Pretty girl like you, taken under the wing of someone like Landon. He’s got a reputation of his own, you know. You’re the last in a long line, so don’t go feeling special just because he’s going to marry you.”

“You don’t know anything about who he really is. He loves me—” I stopped myself, confused by how slow the words were leaving me. How tired my body suddenly felt. I shook my head, but the movement only made me dizzier. I was drunk, suddenly more drunk than I could remember being in a long time. Shit.

I stared down at my glass, and amidst the rising bubbles, barely visible granules floated near the well of the glass. I looked up, my vision blurring. When Max came into focus, his perfect white teeth gleamed through a deviant smile. He was a demon in disguise, if I’d ever met one.

“We’ll see if he loves you after tonight.”

A surge of panic powered my legs to carry me toward the door, but he blocked my passage catching me by the upper arms.

“Going so soon? Stay a while.”

He shuffled me backwards and shoved me back onto the couch. A new wave of fatigue hit me with the impact. I struggled to hold myself upright. Every muscle sagged, weighted with this new and sudden weakness. I’d underestimated him before, and now again. Confusion swirled through me as I tried to think my way through what was happening. My mind was moving too slow, my attention scattering until he was beside me, catching my jaw painfully so I faced him.

“Best case scenario, I thought you’d look like a fall down drunk in front of Blake’s family. But this is so much better. Now I’ll get a little taste and maybe…just maybe we can ruin Blake’s happily ever after when he sees you this way. Drunk, just fucked, like the cunt that you are.”

“Max, no.” My head felt like a drum barrel, buzzing with a never-ending soundless vibration. I told my limbs to move, but when they did, it was Max pushing me down sideways on the couch.

Then his mouth was on me, forcing his tongue past my lips. Feebly I pushed at him. He answered the weak effort with a snicker, his breath hot on my face.

“That’s right, MacLeod said you were a fighter. You get around, don’t you? Does Blake know what a little slut you are?”

The mention of Mark’s name conjured a memory deep and violent. “Please, no,” I slurred. The words melted into the space between us, along with my fading consciousness.

He muffled my weak cries.

“Don’t worry. I’ll make it quick. I’ve had a hard on for you for months, Erica. Going to show you what it feels like to get fucked by a real man, not some two-bit hacker riding on my family’s success. If we’re lucky, you’ll remember it too.”

I grasped desperately for control, to fight the paralysis that slid like cold molasses through my veins, making everything slow. My lungs struggled for air, the effort to breathe taxed amidst the rising panic and whatever invisible enemy my body was fighting.

“That’s a good girl.”

Losing my grip, I was vaguely aware of him pressing me roughly through my panties.

No, no, no. God, no.

No one would hear me, but my mind screamed it until my vision went black.


My eyes fluttered open, and then fell shut. Every time I reached for consciousness, something knocked me back down. I’d never been this tired in my life. Even as my conscious mind began to grasp details from what happened, my body demanded sleep. I gave in yet fought the unsettling urge. Something wasn’t right about it. The weariness weakened my muscles, sank into my tired bones.

As I drifted in and out of sleep, my stomach twisted, sickness brewing in my gut. The potent nausea and the real threat that I’d be sick right where I lay was what finally propelled me out of bed. On my feet, I shoved the bathroom door open and barely made it to the toilet.

Several exhausting minutes later, I sat unmoving on the floor. My head rested on my arm as I caught my breath.


Blake’s pained voice came up behind me. Then his arms were cradled around me. He palmed my back, the heat of his touch penetrating the thin nightshirt I wore. The fatigue took root again, weakening me in the security of his arms. I sat back against him and wiped my mouth, determined not to make a bed out of the bathroom floor.

He kissed my shoulder. “Are you okay?”

I nodded. “Better now.” Thankfully, being ill had quelled the sick feeling for the time being. I wanted to move, to shake this weight that settled over me. “Help me up? I feel so weak.”

“Sure. Just go slow.”

I nodded again, the task of lifting to my feet impossible at the moment. He circled my shoulders and then my waist until I was upright. He tucked a loose lock of hair behind my ear, and I caught his reflection in the mirror. His normally expressive eyes hid behind the dark rimmed glasses that he rarely wore.

I let go of the security of his solid body and held myself up at the sink, gathering enough of my strength to wash my face and brush my teeth. He brushed my hair back from my face and neck, allowing the cold sweat to evaporate off my skin.

“Do you want some tea? Can I get you anything?”

“Tea would be good, I think.” My voice was so small. I couldn’t be sure he’d heard me until he stepped away, kissing me gently on the cheek before he went.

I could have been sleeping on my feet, but I managed to make my way back to our bed. In the whirlwind of this physical onslaught, my mind kept asking what had happened. What had brought this on? This wasn’t a hangover. This wasn’t any kind of sick I’d ever been, and my brain was too murky to make sense of it. I sank into the bed and the second the blanket covered me, the welcome warmth was just enough to pull me back into the same deep sleep.