My thoughts reeled at a million miles an hour. Erica’s first instinct to go to Michael had been right. She just didn’t know it. Still, I couldn’t believe Michael would go to the effort of hiring Trevor. Michael had been a great mentor, but I had no idea he was looking for new recruits.

“The things you did for M89 a decade ago were remarkable,” he continued, clasping his hands in front of him. “Cutting edge, really. If you hadn’t gotten caught, banking software wouldn’t be what it is today. You identified the shortcomings in what was out on the market. Maybe you didn’t realize it at the time because you were still so young—not quite the capitalist you are today—but because of what you did, everyone with money to protect had an interest in solving this problem. Bankers’ phones were ringing off the hook. People wanted to know how their money was going to be protected. You created fear. And people respond to fear.”

“Banksoft was an easy sell for you.”

“Absolutely. In a way, it was priceless. Banksoft was the most expensive software acquisition in history up to that point. That wasn’t a fluke. Because how much would you pay to protect your wealth?”

He glanced my way, but I was silent and still, sensing there was more that he wasn’t telling me.

“Let me ask you another question. Can you put a price on the integrity of the vote that determines the men and women who will run our country, at any level of government?”

And there it was. A bitter smile twisted at my lips.

“By your math, the price goes up considerably after someone compromises a faulty system. Is that your new business model?”

He nodded slowly. “It was. I figured the same principal would apply to the voting software I wanted Trevor to build out for me. And when the time came, I’d have the solution ready to sell to the highest bidder. But instead of waiting for demand, I created it. I wanted scandal. Some news.”

“Glad I could help you out.” I ground my teeth, already seething from what Michael had revealed. The way he perceived Trevor made me question everything I’d ever respected about Michael. How could he see promise in a person who’d done nothing but vandalize my efforts?

He sighed. “Blake, I didn’t want to send you to prison.” I let out a caustic laugh and shoved a hand through my already messed-up hair. “He used my fucking code. That didn’t concern you?”

“I didn’t know the first thing about encryption routines until the FBI came calling. I’d given Trevor access to whatever he needed. Whether that was code or money. I brought him into the fold, the same way I did you. People like you respond to trust when no one else believes you deserve it.”

I worked my jaw. “People like me, huh?”

“Don’t be so sensitive, Blake. That’s how I won you over all those years ago. I trusted you . . . implicitly.”

“I trusted you too.”

A flicker of emotion passed behind his eyes. “I know, and perhaps I failed you there. But I needed your trust to teach you all the other things first.”

“Why the governor’s election? Why Fitzgerald?”

“That was an easy choice. His attorneys turned their backs on Max when we went to them for representation. Do you have any idea how many hundreds of thousands I’ve dumped into Fitzgerald’s firm?”

“So this was about vengeance.”

“Not at all. This was about creating an opportunity first. Vengeance was an unexpected benefit. A bonus, if you will.”

“And when I was implicated and the FBI came to you, you still wouldn’t give him up?”

“If it had been simply a matter of protecting you, I would have. But I was concerned Trevor might turn and try to implicate Max to get back at me. The last thing I want is my only son doing more jail time. He’s a goddamn fool, but he’s my son. It was easier to keep Trevor in the shadows than expose him for what he’d done.”

I shook my head and stared listlessly out the window. “Unbelievable.”

“You know as well as I do that when you start letting emotions get in the way, you lose control of the situation. It’s a weakness and a vulnerability that will catch up to you, sooner or later.”

Michael had taught me that, and at the time, it was a principle that made sense. I was all emotion when he’d met me. I needed hard lines. He’d simplified everything with the laws of business and showed me how to use my talents within a framework that was both legal and lucrative. Don’t fight the problem from the bottom, he’d say. That’s a waste of time, not to mention dangerous. Find their weaknesses and root out the solution from the inside.