Provocation (18+)

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24. Dis(h)onesty

Nate sat behind the desk his father had occupied for years up until a few weeks ago. The room still smelled of him vaguely and it both rankled and comforted him. Taking a deep whiff, he placed the citrus air freshener on the top of a shelf and hoped it would bring the scent of orange to his nostrils quite soon.

He had made the purchase the weekend prior when heading to the grocery store to stock up on food. Apple, rose or cherry all could have been had, but he had gone with citrus like it was a deeply ingrained habit. Citrus. The smell of Leila. He didn’t know whether the scent would comfort or distract him, but he was willing to take that chance.

He opened up his laptop for the first time that day at 10 AM, the previous hour of Monday morning being spent talking with his- once his father’s- secretary, Lil. It had taken him a moment to get used to the mewling sound of her voice and had had to school his features so he didn’t wear a scowl for the 45 minutes they had chatted about schedules and meetings for the week. She had also checked her cell phone, probably for text messages, throughout the conversation when she should have been paying attention or taking notes. It had taken every molecule of self-control not to snatch the glittery pink iPhone and toss it out the office window. When he had finally buckled under and asked her if he was keeping her from something more important, she had paled and finally put away the piece of technology so she couldn’t be tempted to check it every ten seconds.

With Carl, Kintech’s COO, on honeymoon for the remainder of the week, they were down a man and Aiden had split Carl’s duties between the two of them. It would be a good introduction of how hairy the corporate world could get, a sort of corporate hazing that had Nate sifting his fingers through his hair more often than not, he was so frustrated.

Thinking back to the previous weekend, he smirked to himself a little. As he would have guessed, his mother had begged for Leila to watch little Mason on Saturday too, and, of course, Leila had caved. She couldn’t say no to her favorite little man. Nate had stayed the weekend as well, helping with the baby and learning the intricacies of how to tell when a baby did a number two or not. Though he had to admit Mason’s little ‘poop-face’ looked a lot like the face Carl gave when he was faced with the prospect of a week without sex. Or at least he imagined it would. Utter frustration with a hint of determination pretty much summed it up.

Checking his emails, he sent the majority of them to Lil, telling her to respond with a form letter expressing ‘thanks but no thanks’. The others he decided to look into deeper and discuss with Aiden at a later time. A few had potential, but most would probably fall by the wayside. For every 100 offers or ideas, maybe 2-3 would be good enough to look further into, 1 actually worth the time and money spent on it.

By the time lunch rolled around, only one of the emails remained and he ruminated on whether or not to send it along to Aiden. Finally saying fuck it, he forwarded it to his boss and pushed back from his desk.

Nate preferred going to the second-floor break room to eat his lunch. There were fewer secretaries gossiping over salads and giving him bedrooms eyes. It put him off his food when his thoughts had to compete with a few pairs of lasers focused in on him while he tried to munch of his lunchtime fare. He felt he could partially blame Carl’s off-the-market status on the amount of attention he got from the females at work.

By the time he had finished his chicken salad sandwich, a cup of fruit salad and a yogurt, he was almost through the Monday paper on his tablet and onto the wedding announcements.

Smirking, he saw the surprise engagement of Felix Anderson, a competitor to Kintech, and a woman who appeared to be half his age. Nate wondered if the woman had trapped him somehow. The man was smiling in the photo, but his eyes looked wide and terrified.

Hmm... that little woman is most definitely pregnant or got him to pop the question by other nefarious means. There was a story there, he just knew it.

Nate was at his desk by 1 PM and ready to rock and roll into his first meeting of the week by 1:45. It was all projections and schematics on a new application that Aiden had come up with after the language app from a few years ago became so popular.

Money had been made hand over fist and now the company wanted to branch out a bit into making their own brand of app that would take the written word being typed into it from one language, and immediately flip it into another language. A person could type in English, say, and have it come up in Chinese or Swedish within a matter of moments. No need to click a button to translate, the app could do it by itself.

Now they were trying to get the app to do this and send it across to all the other tablets and laptops in a room without having to send an email. If they could accomplish that, meetings would be shorter, less dull, and time would be saved. And everyone knew the old adage. Time was money. This was the app to prove it.

The U.S. government was already trying their own version of the app, but they didn’t have the tech support that the private sector did because they weren’t able to pay as much. Plus many of the truly gifted techies didn’t trust ‘The Man’ and kept themselves from being scooped up by a myriad of benefits the good old US of A couldn’t provide them with.

As Nate didn’t trust the government not to try to hack into their servers, he had convinced Aiden to hire a hacker- or rather a retired hacker- to keep an eye out for any signs their technology was being looked at without Kintech’s permission. Aiden hadn’t been too keen on the idea, but Nate had made some good points. No hacker would ever want to be hired by a government agency out of pure spite. They had a rep to uphold as anti-establishment, but money talked and the private sector could pay the big bucks.

Calvin- a true tech geek name if there was one- was only 22 and had begun hacking at 12. He was barely able to legally drink, but was fucking brilliant when it came to hacking. He had already caught a few ‘amateurs’ trying to weasel their way into the system. He had announced his findings with glee, and was only upset that he hadn’t found any of the would-be hackers were CIA or FBI. It seemed like his life’s mission to out-maneuver the Feds. He’d probably piss himself or ejaculate when he finally got one over on them. Weird fucking dude.

Shaking his head, Nate grabbed his documents and headed to the board room. Lil followed silently, trying to discreetly check her cell phone as she trailed along after him.

“Do me and yourself a favor when we get into the board room, Lil,” Nate told her brusquely.

“Yes, Sir?” she asked, her voice making his spine crawl with irritation.

“Either lose or turn off the fucking cell phone,” he told her, giving her no alternative than to stutter-step and then have to hurry to catch up with him. “Your boyfriend or whoever can wait for an hour while we have an uninterrupted meeting.”

“Sorry, Sir,” Lil said, voice apologetic. “I wouldn’t be so rude if it wasn’t important. My mom’s in the hospital having bypass surgery and my brother has been sending me updates.”

Nate stopped in his tracks, surprised.

“Why didn’t you take the day off or at least tell me?” he asked. He would have given her the day off had he known.

“Well, Mom lives in SoCal, and I would’ve had to take the week off,” Lil replied. “I knew you’d need me for meetings so I didn’t bother requesting the time off.”

Nate almost wanted to yell at her. Family was family and more important than any job. He could have gotten by without her for the week so she could be there for her mother.

“Next time do yourself a favor and take the time off,” Nate told her. “I would have gotten on by myself or requested a temp from the agency so you could go see your Mom. For now, just put your phone on vibrate and be discreet about checking it. If anyone complains, I’ll make your excuses.”

Lil nodded, smiling softly.

He didn’t think Aiden would mind, though if it had been Harry attending instead of Nate, he wasn’t quite sure how he would have handled the situation. Harry was old school and probably would have told her to leave the damned phone at her desk. It was ironic to think that for someone in the tech industry, his father wasn’t a complete pushover for cell phones and tablets. He used them, understood them, but did so sparingly.

Gary, the head of the new project, was pacing nervously when the two got to the room. Aiden sitting back and watching the man like he was a one-man circus. Gary was a twitchy little ferret, but he did gangbusters on whatever he set his mind to. Type A personality, the man didn’t flinch from a job, nor take no for an answer when someone told him something couldn’t be done. By hook or by crook, Gary would castigate himself until he found a way.

When the last of the attendees had been seated, Aiden stood from his chair at the head of the large table and clapped his hands together.

“Everyone ready to begin?”

Watching everyone nod their heads, Nate did the same.

“Good. Let’s begin.”


Leila watched as a sniffling Jared plucked tissue after tissue from the dwindling supply of a box stuffed with Kleenex.

“Why didn’t you tell me over the weekend?” she asked her friend.

Jare only shrugged his shoulders and wiped another tear from his eye before blowing his nose into the Kleenex.

“I didn’t want to bother you when you had a little rugrat to be taking care of,” he told her. “Plus, my face is scary when I cry. Mason would have been traumatized seeing this.” He gestured to his face with one long, manicured finger. Some people ate their feelings. Jared buffed and polished his.

“That’s no excuse,” Leila told him with a frown. “Have you been in your apartment alone all weekend long?”

Jared could barely nod, the small gesture saying more to her than any of his words could. The man was devastated.

“I’ll fucking kill that bitch,” Leila said, earning a sad smile from her friend. “You have to attend a wedding with my ass and he’s out getting anonymous dick. You’re too good for him, I’ve always thought so.”

That caused another bout of snot and sniffles, Jared burying his head in his hands while sobbing inconsolably. Unintelligible words flew past the saliva that was leaking down his chin, mixing in with the snot. If Leila hadn’t been afraid to further upset Jared with her disgust, she would have cringed.

“What was that?” she asked, trying to get him to translate his wails into words.

“He said he was sorry, that he got drunk and it just-” He waved a snotty-tissued hand in the air. “...happened,” he completed.

“Shit happens.” Leila shook her head. “Hell, even fashion faux pas like ‘Nipplegate’ just happen. A fart turning into a shart happens more often than people will admit. A hot fuck with a strange guy doesn’t just happen. You don’t just fall on someone’s dick and not get off until you both come.”

Wincing at her harsh words, Leila rolled her eyes at herself and the words she had spat out. They weren’t going to help Jared.

Smooth, Leila, she thought. Why don’t you just ask Mickey if he had pictures taken, get them blown up to life size, and wallpaper Jared’s apartment with them as a constant reminder of his cheating-ass boyfriend?

“Listen,” Leila sighed out as her voice took on a more nurturing tone. “Why don’t you come on over to my place tonight, watch some sappy movies and eat our weight in ice cream?”

Jared sniffled again and nodded his head, again killing her with lack of saucy retorts. A day without sass from her best male friend was a day without sunshine in Leila’s eyes.

Luckily, the day was slow and they were able to head home early. She may even be able to beat Nate home before he decided to surprise her and show up at her door. That would have been awkward with Jared there. Their relationship was still under wraps.

Fighting back the urge to send a scathing text to Mickey, Leila grabbed her stuff from her desk, leaving the building a full hour earlier than normal. It was worth it.


Nate saw that Leila’s car was already parked in the driveway to the home and was surprised. Most times she stayed later than he, and he would beat her home by at least a half an hour. Raising his brows at the change, he got his keys out and opened the front door to the common hallway before stopping and listening for sounds of her moving about upstairs. All was quiet.

Nate hesitated before using his keys to open his own door to his apartment.

Was she not feeling well? Had there otherwise been an emergency? Why was it so fucking quiet upstairs? Not even a bloody peep. Usually, when she got home, he could hear her moving about upstairs a good twenty minutes before settling down. Not that he counted the minutes.

He moved toward the bedroom, taking off his business attire before settling on putting on some sweats and a t-shirt. It was still mild enough that he could wear the sweats. In another month or so, it would be too hot.

Flipping on the TV to add some background noise to the otherwise silent building, he sat down with a glass of sweet iced tea and tried to concentrate on the actions on the TV. Some reality shit show. It was on all the time it seemed. One chaotic mess after another being aired to millions of homes for entertainment purposes. Nate didn’t know how entertaining it was, but he knew that no matter what happened in his own future, reality TV stardom was not on his list of possible list of careers. Not even on the long list. It was probably right above mucking out horse stables or selling his kidneys on the black market. So yeah- way down there on the list.

As Nate watched as some sisters with an inexplicable last name complained about their butt implants or whatever, he started to realize that the building wasn’t silent anymore.

Pressing on the mute button, he realized sounds were coming from above. Sounds he didn’t altogether know what to make of.

Not so much sounds as moans. Male moaning to be precise.

He was up on his feet and moving before he could think of what to say or do in regards to what he would find on the other side of Leila’s door. He hoped to fucking God she was watching really loud porn, because he wouldn’t be able to take it if there was a live male person in there.

Pretty soon he was taking the steps to her apartment three at a time and banging on her door like the house was on fire.

“Leila!” He banged three more times, the door rattling so much in its frame that he wasn’t so sure he didn’t crack it a little.

The door opened quickly after that and a flustered, fiery-haired Leila was standing on the other side of the door in jammies with her hair up in a messy bun.

“Geez, Nate, what the fuck?” she asked, popping her hip out and crossing her arms like he had interrupted her sleep or something.

“Who the fuck is in here with you? I heard moaning.”

Leila took in his face for a moment, the way his jaw ticked and the accusatory tone of his words.

“If by moaning you mean crying, then it’s just Jared,” she told him, eyes narrowing on him. “And I don’t like the tone of your voice or the basic accusation you just flung at me, so step back.”

Nate’s face fell, his cheeks turning crimson when he realized he had basically accused her of having been intimate with another man.

Fuck, Lorelei had really messed something up in him. He had never just assumed someone was cheating on him before that, even when his exes had broken up with him out of seemingly nowhere.

“Sorry, I-”

“So... when you said you were hanging out with Nate at the wedding, you really were hanging out. As in all out,” Jared said from the doorway of Leila’s living room.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Leila grumbled, knowing she was going to have to explain and then have Jare swear a blood oath to keep his trap hammered shut.

“Okay, you two... spill,” Jared said, his eyes glassy and red, but now twinkling with mischief even a broken-hearted man who had been cheated on could never deny for some juicy dish.

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