Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 1

Casey swung into the Thomas and Jane LLC building a little after eight and sauntered into her new office. The unexpected perks of the Wallace Corporation joining forces with her best friends’ company lent wonderfully to her schedule. She could enjoy an early cup of coffee with Grace at the Bistro, work on her own ventures while cozied up at their corner table, then climb the stairs to her consulting assignment–integrating the two companies’ different technologies.

Who would have thought all these years later Grace would be running her own company and Casey would be in the perfect position to help her out?

The project was massive, but so was the paycheck. And after some great negotiating, she had the authority to build her own teams to handle the workload. Casey only had to plead her case once when she wanted to hire a former hacker to handle security. In the end, she won out with the expectation that she keep a watchful eye on the frightfully brilliant teenager.

Casey stood outside her glass-paneled door and stared at her reflection.

Well, she thought, there was one downfall.

Her tailored dress pants and crisp oxford shirt were a little too preppy and a little too far away from her usual jeans or sweatpants. But, she had to admit, her butt looked good in the fitted forest green trousers. And the velvet chunky heels did give her a nice lift. Her red hair was twisted securely in its signature bun–some things weren’t worth the effort. She nodded once in approval, figuring she looked professional enough.

Pulling the door open, she walked into the office filled with screens, cords, boxes of routers, laptops, and empty diet Mountain Dew bottles overflowing from her recycling bin.

Hmm. Either she was going to have to cut back on her intake or talk Maggie into scheduling an extra pick up.

“Some people eat real food for their meals, but I suppose, to each their own.”

Casey didn’t have to turn around; she was able to match the smooth voice to the tall, well-dressed man.

“Travis, good morning. I didn’t realize you were so interested in my eating habits.” Casey turned as she responded and presented a sweet, forced smile that matched the sound of her words.

Travis smiled and welcomed the sarcasm he knew he’d find, and took in the firecracker of a woman he’d been unable to resist since she first walked into Wallace Corporation for her interview. She hadn’t given an inch when asked to compromise on the technology they should use to upgrade all of their systems, and she had given even less when Travis eluded to the two of them sharing dinner, a coffee, or even small talk in the break room.

The former made her perfect for the job. The latter was what sealed the deal with his buddy, Luke Wallace, who gave final approval when it came time to hire for the position. Travis was certain Luke made the decision to approve not only based on Casey’s skills, but also in knowing she would drive Travis crazy while she was there.

“I’m interested in a lot of your habits.” Travis paused only for a second, but long enough for Casey to scowl. “The main one being the integration. How are you managing?”

Casey dropped her green canvas satchel on the corner of her desk–the only free space she could find–and looked up, irritated at Travis’ response. She didn’t want him to be interested in her habits–work or otherwise. She was doing her job and doing it pretty damn well. As for her personal life, things were easier at a distance.

Besides, with some space between them, she wouldn’t have to smell his spiced cologne, see the smile lines crease at the edges of his lips and eyes, or listen to his voice as it coolly delivered compliments or witty remarks. And he was smart. Smart enough to keep up with her.

He was, Casey realized, herself–but in an extremely handsome and manly package. That was even more irritating.

“Everything is going according to schedule,” Casey clipped. “Andy and his team have the new environment secure and it’s been tested. It can handle more load than we would ever need from it. Theresa and her team are ready to make the switch to the new platform. All of the backups have been done, we have a final backup scheduled for Friday evening. All of the announcements have gone out letting everybody know they won’t be able to log in beginning at nine Friday night. They will be able to get in again Monday morning beginning at six. We’ll send out additional daily reminders, and a final right before cutover.”

“That’s actually ahead of schedule.” Travis’ tone was serious.

“Is that a bad thing?”

This time, Travis grinned at her irritation. “No, just pleasantly surprised at your efficiency.”

Casey began to speak to defend her work, but he went on, catching her off guard.

“I knew you were the best, but I’m beginning to think you’re priceless.”

Casey’s mouth hung open at the compliment and forced herself to close it.

Really? she thought, what was she supposed to say to that?

“Thank you.” Casey let the stale words fall out. She intended them to be a little more combative, but Travis left her no choice but to be nice. The ass.

“You’re welcome. Have a good day, Casey.”

Travis knocked twice on her door frame and smiled on his way out.

“For the love of sanity,” Casey whispered angrily as she threw an empty green bottle toward the door.

“Yikes!” Grace squealed, stopping in time to let the bottle fly in front of her face and into the hall.

“Shit! Sorry.” Casey plopped in her chair and sank.

“Rough morning?” Graced asked as she slid into a chair across from Casey after placing the stack of boxes that were using it carefully on the floor.

“Travis was just here.”

Casey watched Grace’s eyes grow wide with amusement. “Ah yes, Travis. He’s just so terrible, isn’t he?”

Casey scowled her response.

Grace gave a teasing smile. “You do realize you have to work with him for another three years?”

“Yes.” Casey rolled her eyes and went on looking for something solid to build her case on. “He’s just so…nice.”

“I like to think that’s a description that fits nearly everybody that works here. You don’t seem to have a problem with the rest of them.”

Grace was leading her on and she knew it.

“Yes, but not all of them look like him. The stupid model-looking, good-smelling, nice-shoed jerk.”

Grace pinched her lips together trying to hide her smile. She had accomplished what she set out to do this morning so she figured she could move on.

“Want to grab lunch today?” Grace asked, changing the subject.

“I like lunch,” Casey admitted begrudgingly, not wanting to leave her anger behind so quickly.

“Great, what time?”

“Ten minutes?” Casey responded, wanting that precious distance from Travis and his allure as soon as possible.

“I tend to eat later than eight-thirty in the morning, but if I could I would make an exception for you. Unfortunately, I have meetings until noon. Want me to swing by when they’re over?”

Casey sighed and accepted. She should probably do some work and earn the generous paycheck she was receiving for the job.

“Yes.”

“Perfect! See you in a few.” Grace chirped her reply, not thinking twice about the one-word, bland answer she received from Casey. They’d been friends too long to read into the delivery.

Casey huffed out a breath then pulled her laptop out of her bag, clicked it into its stand, powered it on, and smiled.

Now this she could do.

She could tune out the world around her and build an infrastructure that would make even the geniuses in the Silicon Valley jealous. She slid her earpieces in, selected her favorite Zeppelin playlist, and got to work.

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