At any turn, p.3
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       At Any Turn, p.3

         Part #2 of Gaming the System series by Brenna Aubrey
 

  She had that well-pleasured, just-fucked look. Her skin was still flushed, her hair slightly askew, her nipples still erect and rubbing against her dress. I licked my lips. Right now, I was hungry as hell for dinner. Later, I’d be hungry for more of her.

  Chapter Two

  After we returned home from the national park, we had a wonderful lazy ten days to enjoy each other before I was due to return to work. And we made every second of our time count. Until that very last day.

  But our time off ended on a dark Monday morning in late September. Sometime around 6 a. m. , I heard her rustling around in the bed, turning over as if to get up. She reached for the alarm clock and fumbled with it, presumably to turn it off before it woke me up. When she grabbed the sheets to get up, I rolled over and hooked my arm around her waist, staying her. She froze.

  “Sorry. Did I wake you?”

  “Nope,” I said, pulling her back fast against me and pressing my morning wood to her pert ass. “I’m up. ”

  She laughed. “In more ways than one, I see. ”

  My lips grazed the soft, fragrant skin at her neck just at the juncture where it met her shoulder. “I didn’t hear any complaints last night. Or yesterday afternoon in the pool…”

  Page 9

  She shivered under my touch, but heaved a weary sigh. “You’re definitely going to wear me out with all this extra endurance you built up from the trail. ”

  “Oh, I don’t think there’s a danger of that. But it doesn’t mean I won’t have fun trying—to wear you out, that is. ” I chuckled against her neck and reached up to cup her breast. We were both still naked from the sex last night. It sure was good to be home.

  “Hmm,” she said and I could tell she was going to try to play hard to get. I always loved the challenge of figuring out how to convince her. “I was going to go running. ”

  My tongue caressed her between her shoulder blades. “Go after. ”

  “But we have work today…” she said, her voice going breathy from the effect of my hands stroking her nipples.

  I slid one hand from her breast, across her belly and down between her thighs. She let out a long gasp that ignited my blood. Sometimes it took an entire subroutine, and sometimes it was just as easy as going for the on button. I put my mouth to her ear. “I can pretty much guarantee your boss is okay with you being late. ”

  She rolled onto her back to face me. “You’re insatiable. ” She hooked her hands behind my neck as I kissed her.

  “Mmm hmm,” I agreed. “Because you’re irresistible. ”

  “Oh, so it’s my fault?” she said, eyes rounding, a long, slow smile crossing her lush lips.

  She pushed against my shoulder, rolling me onto my back. Just as quickly she slipped on top, straddling me. Oh, hell yeah.

  “Well, let’s make it quick, then. ” She laughed.

  It wasn’t quick. But she didn’t mind.

  ***

  This was my first morning back to work after three months. And, for the first time ever, we were driving to work together. Oddly, it felt comforting and domestic.

  The me from five years ago was rolling in his grave. But current-me couldn’t have been happier. Before I’d met Emilia, life was like an old-school video game played on a battered handheld. Small, requiring lots of imagination to spice it up and leaving lots of room for improvement. With her, it was like being engrossed in a full-immersion virtual reality, an experience unique to itself. There was no life before Emilia.

  I glanced at her. She had her head down, focusing on her hands, which worked in her lap. At her request, I’d kept the top up on the car so it wouldn’t mess up her hair. After I reached out and downshifted, I took one of her hands in mine.

  “What’s wrong?”

  She sent me a worried look. “Nothing. Except that we’re late. And everyone’s going to see us walk in together. ”

  I raised a brow. “Is that a problem?”

  She sighed. I pulled my hand from hers to shift again, then replaced it. “No one knows about our relationship. They’re going to know why I got the job. ”

  “You were hired to fill in for Cathleen’s maternity leave. Everyone thinks you’re doing an awesome job. Mac’s thrilled to have your help for DracoCon. Does it matter how you got the job?”

  She shook her head. “No, but—I never wanted to be that girl, you know?”

  I frowned. “What girl?”

  “The girl who’s screwing the boss. ”

  “Sounds hot to me. ”

  “Of course it does. ”

  I paused, noticed her hands working in her lap again. “It will be fine. Why don’t you just go in first and I’ll sit in the car for a few minutes. No one will see us walk in together. ”

  She smiled. “Thanks. ”

  “What about tonight, though? Everyone’s going to see us leave together. ”

  She smoothed her skirt across her lap with her free hand. “Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been looking for a place. I can’t afford to rent in Irvine, but—”

  “What? Why?” I frowned.

  “Because Irvine’s one of the most expensive places to live around here. Maybe Tustin, I looked at one place last week—”

  I refrained from looking at her. Best to play dumb and make her “explain” it to me. Sometimes if you got someone to voice their concerns, they came to understand how unfounded they really were. “No, I mean why are you looking for a place? You’ve been at my house while I was gone. Can’t you just stay?”

  “Well, we weren’t living together. I was just kind of…staying over. ”

  I kept a straight face, though I was damned tempted to crack a smile. “But now we’re living there together. ”

  Page 10

  She coughed and shifted in her seat uncomfortably, fidgeting in that way she did when she wanted to avoid talking about something.

  “Yeah…by default. ”

  I feigned puzzlement, shifted gears again. “So you’re upset that I didn’t formally ask you to move in with me?”

  She made a face. “No. ”

  I knew what that meant. Yes.

  “Emilia, will you move in with me?”

  “I’m already there. ”

  “No, I mean move your stuff in and stay and live with me. ”

  She was quiet for a long moment. “That’s kind of a huge step, isn’t it?”

  This time it was much harder to fight the smile. She was getting skittish already. “Well, we’re already doing it, by default. We don’t have to call it anything. ”

  “So we’d be like…roommates?”

  I opened my mouth and then closed it, tossed a glance her way. She was grinning like she was enjoying a great joke. “Roommates with benefits,” I corrected.

  “Hmm. Does ‘benefits’ translate to ‘morning sex that makes us both late every day’? Because that might get me in trouble with my boss. ”

  “Not a chance. As long as the morning sex is with me, you won’t get in trouble. ”

  She elbowed me. “I meant get in trouble with Mac. ”

  “But I’m Mac’s boss. ”

  “I’m serious. I mean, maybe it’s a bad idea to live together while I’m working for you. ”

  “Odds are we will hardly even see each other, for one thing. And for another, we started before you ever started working there. Plus—haven’t you ever had that fantasy of doing the boss in his office on your lunch break?”

  “No,” she said in a deadpan voice. “Never. ”

  I let the smile show, finally. We’d see about that one. Suddenly I had to fight the image of pushing her skirt up, bending her over my desk…oh yes, we’d definitely have to see about that one.

  I shifted again. “Once the convention is over and Cathleen’s back, you’ll have the time in the new year to prep for med school. I suspect by that time the multitude of offers will be rolling in, even though we both know you’re going to U
CI. ”

  She darted a glance out of the corner of her eye. “If I get accepted there. ”

  I nodded. “You will. ”

  We pulled into the company parking lot and it felt…strange. I’d been away for almost three months. During the five years before that, I’d practically lived here—and our former location. After months away, it felt bizarre to come back. It was also unsettling. And I couldn’t have named the reasons why.

  I’d left to prove something to myself—and to prove it to her, too. I’d been addicted to the work, but I’d had to break myself of it. I could defeat it. I’d used it as a crutch to keep life at a distance. I was wary of falling into that old trap again. Like an alcoholic staring at an untouched martini or a food addict with a hamburger right in front of him. The gleaming mirrored turrets of the modern castle-like structure loomed over the parking lot, almost like arms, reaching out to take me in like an old friend.

  I took a deep breath and remembered that I’d proven I could live without the company and the company could live without me—for at least one quarter of a year.

  Still, I was uncertain of whether I could maintain my current Zen rather than fall into those old patterns. I looked over at Emilia, watched her as she leaned over, kissed me.

  “I love you,” I said.

  “I know,” she replied with a grin and got out of the car, and moved across the parking lot. She’d keep me on the straight and narrow and out of danger of falling back into that addiction. Even if she didn’t know that’s what she was doing.

  When I entered the building a few minutes later, I was greeted by smiles and general cheer from everyone from security to secretarial staff. My intern assistant was downright ecstatic and my personal secretary, Maggie, gave me a weary look and a foot-tall stack of “only the very urgent mail” I needed to look at.

  Apparently my CFO, Jordan, hadn’t been thrilled about filling in for me. He’d been pretty hell-bent on talking me out of my leave of absence. On top of that, he and Maggie never got along. I’d hoped that after three months of being forced to work together, they’d find some way to do it. But that apparently was not the case.

  The morning started out quietly. I was holed up going through the stack of urgent paperwork, making notes on the letters for Maggie. E-mails would come later—though I’d asked the intern, Michael, to sift through those for me and prioritize them.

  Page 11

  After about an hour, Jordan walked in, giving his usually brief knuckle-rap on my door. I put down the paper I was glancing at and sat back, focusing my full attention on him. He looked—shell-shocked and a little terrified. I frowned. Jordan had been my closest friend during my brief stint in college and when I’d needed a business guy for my fledgling gaming company, I’d known he’d be perfect. He’d actually finished his degree at Caltech, whereas I’d dropped out to move to San Diego in order to work for Sony.

  “Hey,” I said. “There you are. I was wondering if you were going to come in and announce your resignation or something. ”

  He frowned, looking halfway between being pissed off and scared shitless. What the hell? Was he that upset that I was back?

  “Good to have you back. I’m really shitty at your job,” he said. He creased the paper he held—folding it in half, then into quarters, then eighths. He actually looked—nervous. I’d been joking before, but maybe he really was going to announce his resignation. Shit.

  He exhaled loudly and sank into the chair opposite me, his face set in grim lines. “I would have come over earlier, but I’ve been screwing up the courage to have to be the one to drop this on you. ”

  Uh-oh. I straightened my shoulders and braced myself, putting my hands together on the desk in front of me. “What do you need to tell me?”

  Jordan blinked and pinched the bridge of his nose. I waited, studying him. He was the Don Juan of the office—half the employees were in love with him while he failed to acknowledge them. He dated models and aspiring actresses, mostly. Whenever I had a thing at my house or we had a social function to attend, he always had a different woman on his arm. He changed women like a Hollywood starlet changed designer gowns.

  But today he was drawn, pale, his hair disheveled like he’d run his hands through it a few times. Basically he looked like shit.

  “Fuck, Adam. It’s your first day back. I don’t know how to tell you this. ”

  I took a deep breath and waited.

  “There’s a report on the news. Last night a twenty-year-old kid in New Jersey committed a murder-suicide. Drove over to his girlfriend’s house and blew her away, then shot himself. Early this morning, East Coast time, the family released a statement to the press. The parents are blaming his actions on his ‘debilitating addiction to Dragon Epoch. ’ There’re rumors buzzing of a lawsuit. ”

  I shifted in my chair and rubbed my jaw, looking out the window for a long moment, my mind racing. “We’ll need to call the lawyer—”

  “I just asked Maggie to contact Joseph’s office. We can make it a conference call if you want. We also have to get our liability insurance guys involved pretty quickly too. I’ve also pulled this kid’s log-in records and just about everything we know about access to his account. Someone—I’m guessing it was the girlfriend—used his account information to log in last weekend and destroy or sell off all of his items. Some of it was rare shit that he’d been working on for months. He petitioned customer service for a restoration, but we gave him our standard answer. ”

  Fuck. The room spun for only a moment before I shot out of my chair and started pacing. There was a standard procedure in these cases, because we’d had so much trouble with people exploiting the system by cloning items and equipment and selling them off for real money on online auction sites. We didn’t allow restoration of equipment that had been deleted using legitimate credentials to log in. Hacking was another issue entirely.

  “So when CS investigated his petition, they found no evidence of hacking? Contact the rep who spoke with him. He’ll need to make a statement. ”

  Jordan leaned forward, grabbed an empty notepad off of my desk and pulled a pen from his pocket, scribbling fiercely. He was left-handed, so he always wrote with his hand cranked around at an odd angle.

  I rubbed my forehead, thinking. Now I was prowling the edge of the office that looked out onto an interior atrium garden. My windows were completely tinted on the outside, allowing total privacy while I could stare out over the greenery and attempt to get some sense of inner calm. That wasn’t going to happen this morning.

  “We need to meet with PR. Close down the external lines. Put up an automated answering system. No one talks to anyone until they are trained on how to deal with this. ”

  “Should I try to contact an outside provider who specializes in events like this?”

  I blinked. “Do some research. Come up with a list. We can discuss it. And do it quickly. ”

  Page 12

  “Are you going to release a statement?”

  “Not until I talk to the lawyer, so let’s get with him immediately. ”

  “We’d better be prepared to be assaulted by press. The first vans are probably on the way here. ”

  I closed my eyes, rubbed them with my thumb and forefinger. “Get all the off-shift security in here for overtime and warn the whole department that there will probably be a fleet of vans out there soon. I’ll need to meet with department heads. No one is allowed out of the building until we instruct them on how to handle press questions. ”

  “Yeah, I’ll set that up. Be prepared for a long-ass day today. ”

  I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach. “Tell me everything you can about this kid—and about the incident. ”

  And he did. And after he left, I sat back and stared out that window for what seemed an endless quarter of an hour before all hell broke loose.

  Chapter Three

  For the next seventy-two hours I slept very little, spent
most of the time at the office and was on the phone, it seemed, for about three hours out of every four. Emilia was wonderful, brought me stuff from home, meals which we ate together in the lunchroom, and she never admonished me once about staying overnight at the office.

  I was on a conference call with our insurance guys days later when Emilia brought me dinner, specially prepared and packed by my chef. I paid little attention as I paced the floor of the office. The insurance reps in New York dictated to me what I needed to do in order to comply with the terms of their coverage for the liability insurance. They had me by the short hairs and they knew it and I was going to have to jump through hoops. I fought the urge to lose my temper.

  “Assholes,” I breathed when I set the phone down.

  I turned to her. She had completely cleared the round table in the sitting area of my office, set it with chairs and covered it with a tablecloth and now was laying out two covered plates that had been kept in insulated containers. The smell of food immediately made me salivate and I realized how hungry I was. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast despite her repeated texts—most of which I hadn’t even been able to answer—nagging me to grab lunch.

  “Hmm. Your best buddies are staying up late in New York City just to torment you. It’s like what, 9 p. m. there?”

  I rubbed the back of my neck and watched her pour ice water into drinking glasses. “Thanks for bringing this. Not sure how much time I’m going to have to actually eat it. I have to write up a statement tonight and send it off to legal and the publicity people for approval. And after that—”

  She walked up to me, grasped my upper arm with both of her hands and tugged me toward the table. “Then eat, instead of wasting time telling me everything you have to do instead of eating. I even brought a little wine if you want. And I baked chocolate chip cookies myself. Chef tried not to laugh at me when I burned the first batch. But the rest turned out pretty awesome. ”

  I sat down and immediately dug in, cutting off a piece of steak gorgonzola and gnawing on it. I forced myself to chew so I wouldn’t swallow too large a chunk. It had been very thoughtful of Chef to prepare one of my favorite comfort meals. I suspected that Emilia had suggested it.

  I shook my head. “No wine. Still got hours of work left. ”

  She fixed me with a long, concerned look. “You okay?”

 
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