Two weeks from work had me insane. I wandered about the house as I heard the new baby’s coos come from the living room. Angelina and baby Daniel sat in the gliding armchair and she softly hummed a love song. My heart melted a little. She looked up at me and I smiled and tip toed away.
My laptop sat open on my desk and showed three new emails. I opened them and my heart dropped. The accounting program had crashed yesterday and fourteen transactions had backed up. I grabbed my cell phone and rang Ronan who had filled in for me while I was out.
“Loreina, hey. Everything is going fine. How are you recovering?” I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead.
“NO THEY ARE DEFINITELY NOT GOING FINE!” there was a silence on the other end of the line and I continued my rant. “The systems crashed yesterday morinig. Why the fuck haven’t you checked anything yet, it’s- TWO THIRTY!” I hung up and got dressed. I knew our online banking transfers ended at four and I needed to get to the office before then.
“Matthew, I need to go to the office now.” His eyes rose from the paper he read at the kitchen table and he shook his head.
“Loreina, you’re not allowed to-” I held up a finger and shook my head back.
“This is your job on the line too, buddy. I am going either with or without you.” He put the paper down, downed his coffee and stood.
When I stepped off the elevator I met Essie’s eyes and she beamed with joy.
“HEY! I didn’t think we’d see you for another week at least!” She scanned my frumpy sweat shirt and leggings and it occurred to her that this wasn’t a planned trip to the office.
“I’m just to check in on some things.” I faked a smile and the elevator dinged again and Matthew stepped off. I had left him behind downstairs.
I threw the door open to my office and Ronan’s eyes met mine and he went wide.
“Get up and get out. Now.” His fingers hovered over the keyboard and he hit two keys before standing. He opened his mouth to speak but Matthew joined me inside and he decided against it.
I sat and pulled up all the systems which were taking forever to load. On my ipad, I looked up when the last time it updated and it had been six days. He wasn’t even trying. I glanced back at my computer as it crashed before my eyes. I let out a loud, frustrated growl and slammed my mouse down. A knock on the door frame didn’t even pull my gaze away. I started unplugging the ether cables and the power strips. As I crouched under my desk, my staples and stitches caught me and I hissed a stinging pain away.
“Loreina…” the warm accent wrapped around my mind and made me dizzy. I shook the feeling away trying to remember which cable connected the external drive.
“You do not need to be down here like this, let me have someone from my tech department come and assist you.” His breath grazed my ear as I took a risky side glance to see him down on his knees with me under the desk.
“You have no idea what is going on. Besides, the last time one of your guys helped me my entire system was hacked. Can you please just wait and I’ll explain?” He nodded, but hesitated to stand and I knew why. Because I felt it too. I enjoyed the closeness.
I used the desk to pull myself up and his hands hooked under my arm helping me. I gave him a small smile and sat back down.
“Your moron employee Ronan hasn’t updated these systems in a week and now were fourteen- yes that’s FOURTEEN transactions backed up. Big money. Big hitters are going to be furious. I am going to need your help talking to them. Especially the Hudsons, six of theirs were backed up.” My eyes met his and his eyes grew darker and the charcoal color had me lost for a moment.
The systems came up and I remotely updated it all from my ipad as Neil placed a coffee in front of me. I gave him an apologetic smile and he stood behind me as I feverishly typed out an antivirus program to support the new data.
Tired eyes filtered through all the transactions and a few names stood out so I jotted them down to cross check them with our client list to be sure they all received payment. As I wrote one Neil’s eyebrows furrowed and he took the pad from me.
“I don’t recognize this name.” He pointed to the name Altera LLC. I pulled up my list and saw there had been three payments sent recently but no invoices of shipments received. I frowned and picked up my phone and rang Alex. The sinking feeling of him being angry that I’m in the office rose as he answered.
“You better be with Howie and Matthew.” I rolled my eyes and glanced at Matthew, who was sitting with another paper in his hands. It made me miss Gray saving the comics for me in the morings to make me laugh the stressful days away.
“I’m in the office with Neil and Matthew, how’s that instead?” He sighed. I shrugged it away mentally and grabbed the list of names from Neil and read it off to Alex.
“Altera LLC. Who is that?” Silence met me. “Alex?” He cleared his throat and told me to hang on to what I found and he would meet me up at the office soon. I was confused. I sat the phone down and Neil pulled out a chair opposite me and grabbed my office phone and began to ring clients as I processed the payments manually, one by one. Agonizingly slow when this is usually an automatic process.
“Well the Hudsons are upset but they understood and they thanked you for taking care of them first. The rest will take a few more days.” I sighed and leaned back in my seat. Tired hitting my eyes from behind. I hadn’t done this much work in weeks and it showed. Neil’s hand reached over the desk and reached for me. I placed mine in his and I smiled as he rubbed his thumb over my knuckles and it sent sparks up my arm and goosebumps back down.
“When you’re feeling up to it, I haven’t forgotten about our date.” His smile met his eyes and melted my insides.
Alex cleared his throat and laid eyes on our hands, I pulled away and Neil sat back, confused by my shiness. I assumed by now he made the connection that Alex knew nothing about our attraction to each other.
“Lo, hey.” I smiled and stood to hug him and Neil offered him his seat. He shook his hand as they greeted each other and took the seat.
I lowered myself back down to my chair and my arm shook, suddenly feeling my weak muscles ache a little. Both men stood and rushed to my side. I rolled my eyes and brushed them off. Neil’s hands lingered on my shoulder a little longer than Alex liked and I saw the darts in the air his eyes threw Neil’s way. Knowing my brother, I sighed and knew it was better to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
“Yes Alex, Neil and I are dating. Now that that’s out in the open I can get on with this bigger issue. Altera LLC?” his jaw clenched and he cracked a knuckle.
“That company is also a shell. It’s a shell for…” I raised an eyebrow egging him on. “The company left from Johnathan’s family’s estate.” My heart skipped a beat and I looked at our account again. Rage filled me and my breathing quickened. Nearly one hundred thousand dollars sent over three days from our profits to his company.
“Neil, I’m going to send this all to you.” He nodded. Alex tried to get my eyes to meet his as a few tears filled them. I blinked them away as I removed the account from our client list and his hand rested on mine that controlled the mouse. The gesture ignited the fire in me and I threw the mouse on the floor before I could finish. The black plastic shattered and littered my office. Matthew stood to help clean it up but I stood to do it myself.
“Lo, we can do this-” He started picking up the pieces. Neil closed the office door for privacy and gilded back to my side.
I flashed back to a time that Johnathan slammed a glass on the floor in anger and I was the one on my hands and knees cleaning it up.
“You are actual garbage. You are disgusting.” Garbage. Garbage. I repeated the words in my head until I heard it in real life as I came back.
“Loreina. Can you pass me the garbage bin?” Neil’s hand rested on my back and I blinked as all three men looked at my face. My cheeks filled with heat and I nodded, like a robot and handed over my small bin.
“Why don’t we go home?” I shook my head. I needed to finish this. I needed to remove Ronan’s login access and change passwords to protect our programs. Alex sighed and rubbed his stubble with one hand, the other on his hip. He gave Neil a glance and he seemed to read the message loud and clear.
Neil nodded and shook his hand again. Alex walked over and hugged me tight. I stiffened when his hand brushed over my bandages.
“I just want you to be safe. Please call me next time.” I nodded and brushed away a stray tear. I sat back down and finished the password changes as Neil let me use a mouse from another office.
“You know, it’s nice to have you back in here. The office is dry without you here. I missed you.” And just like that I was knocked back to the prison cell in the basement. The cold water, the taunting. Tears filled my eyes again except this time there was no blinking them away. My gaze wandered far off. His hand rubbing my back and arm trying to bring me out of my thoughts.
“You know it wasn’t always like this… I used to be stronger, you know.” He sighed and tilted his head, not playing into my pity party. I knew he wasn’t asking but he searched my eyes for answers. His kindness was almost suffocating. I let out a long sigh and unloaded. Every detail. Every time he hit me, yelled at me, humiliated me, the cell, his disgust at me being a woman every month.
“We will find him. Your brothers and I. I will not let that happen again.” I stared off into the city line that grew dark behind him. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. “We need to get you home, Loreina.” I slowly shook my head. I didn’t want to leave this office. I couldn’t trust where he was, that he would know where I was. I heard Matthew behind us on the phone with Alex explaining my frozen feet.
“I’m not just going to leave you here. Tell me where you feel safe.” I swallowed and immediately my tired eyes met his. He shook his head and sighed over a chuckle.
“No, last time you stayed with me you were shot. Your brothers will have my head.” I reached out for his hand and he sighed, bringing my fingers to his lips.
“Alex has more men to handle things if they get bad.” I considered his words and nodded. It seemed to please him as a genuine smile unfolded over his face.
It was nearly eleven o’clock before I walked in the door with Neil behind me. Alex was up talking with someone on the couch but couldn’t place a name to the silhouette facing away from me.
“Hey, you’re home.” I smiled a fake smile for Alex and took a seat in the gliding armchair across from them. As my legs hit the cushion I popped back up in tears all over again.
“GRAY!!” I rushed to his side and forced my lap between him and Alex. I gently hugged him around the neck and he slipped a kiss on the cheek before embracing me.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you little chick. You gave us a real scare. All that’s behind us now?” I looked at the floor not knowing how to tell him that Johnathan and his men got away that day. A yawn took over my thoughts before I could share with everyone. Alex sat back and made eye contact with Neil. They seemed to read each other’s minds once again as he held out his hand and motioned to the stairs. “Well, what’s the plan then boss?” Gray’s words were heavy with revenge as we ascended the stairs.