It took an hour to put everything back for Cyclone’s files. Thirty minutes for Matt’s. Forty-two minutes for Seraphina’s. Forty-one minutes for Quinn’s. I hated it, but it was another full hour to return everything for Marie.
I never hacked him.
What they wanted from me was done. I restored everything and I could’ve pulled away from the computer, shut it down, and returned to Kash’s villa.
My fingers were already typing before I thought about it, but I did other stuff. I reinforced their firewalls. I put in a new surprise security program. It would be there if someone got through again. And then I started writing code that would close the holes I had used in the first place.
I secured Cyclone’s IP address.
I put in a double lock on the whole system, and I even put in a small system that would sniff out anyone like me and send a preliminary alert to the entire security system.
During all of this, he stood behind me. I knew it because I could feel him. There were moments I forgot he was there, but a sixth sense kept pricking at me, and I knew that was his scrutiny. He never wavered the whole time, so I just worked through it.
I went through four cups of coffee and two energy drinks.
When I was done, I shoved away from the computer and had to dash to the bathroom. My bladder was bursting to be released. In the stall, I did the math. I’d been working to repair and then make his system better for six hours. I had started after seven. It was almost two in the afternoon.
Why did I do that? Why did I help to better what he did for a living?
I didn’t want to know the answer or think about it, but I couldn’t help myself. Approval. I wanted his approval. And I tasted my own shame at realizing that.
He had cast me out.
I shouldn’t want his approval or anything. His acceptance. Nothing. He obviously wasn’t going to give it or he would’ve said something before we walked here, or on the walk.
He was quiet the whole time, but still … A thought was pricking me again. He was behind me for six hours and watched everything. Who would do that?
He never drank anything. He never ate anything. I would’ve noticed, because while I hated it, I was still keenly aware of him. He never left the room to use the bathroom, phone. Nothing. There’d been no sounds of him texting.
That was something. Right?
Had to be.
Had to mean something that he stood and watched me work and never left, not once.
Or maybe my hope was starting again, and I needed to squash it. Yes. That was it. I had to eviscerate that. It was his job. My job. He wanted to see what I could do.
That’s why he watched me.
Bitterness spread through me. Pain tore at me. But that made the most sense.
Business. His business. That’s the only reason he never moved while I worked.
Leaving the stall, washing my hands, my feet were moving like I was walking in slightly dry cement. It was hard to trudge through it. Then I was in the hallway and he wasn’t there.
I was right.
But I was done, so I could go back to the villa. Heading for the exit, I heard their voices as I neared the door.
“Fuck, Dad. This is what you were doing today?”
I reached for the door handle.
“Settle down, Matthew. I wanted to see her skill level in person.”
I paused and waited, my breath held.
Both were irritated. Both were snapping at each other. But Matt’s voice held an extra edge while Peter’s held something else … maybe confusion?
He kept going. “She’s got a gift. It’s unbelievable. I wish you had that gift.”
Matt snorted. “Of course. You get your system blown to pieces and you’re already reveling in how great she did it. You’re standing here telling me what a fuckup I am at the same time. Nice, Dad. Nice. Super loving father you are.”
“You’re putting words in my mouth, but you’re right. I don’t need a son that parties all hours of the day and night, has one job to do and still can’t get his life together. Kashton does your job for you half the time—”
A harsh laugh from Matt ripped through the air, ripped through me even.
“God. Jesus. You think Kash only does my job?” His tone was mocking now. Biting too. “We both know he runs half your businesses.”
I jumped back from Peter’s sudden bellow.
“One job! One goddamn hotel to manage. You’re not even managing it. You have managers to do that. They are supposed to report to you, but I’ve sat next to Kashton while he gets the reports from them. One hotel to overlook and even that you’ve fucked up. Whose son are you?”
The cold chill in that last question. It pierced me.
I wasn’t the only one. Matt was silent. I almost started forward, then I heard him. He sounded beaten down.
“You’re right, Dad. I’m the fuckup here. And yet, of the two of us, I’m pretty certain I’m the one waiting for her because I share blood with her.”
He didn’t say anything else.
Neither did Peter.
He was just silent.
* * *
Kash: How’d it go?
Me: It went.
The next night, I was lying in bed. Not sleeping. Trying to sleep.
Trying not to think about the day before, how when I pushed open the door and stepped out, I saw both of their backs, leaving. A guard was there waiting instead, and he showed me back to Kash’s villa.
I stayed there the day, not thinking, not feeling, not admitting how crushed I was. The afternoon passed. I ate some dinner, but that’s all I was hungry for. Drank a hot cup of tea, then settled into bed.
The alarm pierced the air.
A red light flashed in the house.
Fear catapulted me upright, and then I stopped. I was paralyzed, my heart and chest in my throat.
Someone had broken in.
The door burst open and I was freed from my paralysis.
I launched myself out of bed.
I didn’t go at the person. My fight-or-flight instinct was fully functioning. I was running, and it didn’t matter where, because that’s all I was focused on. I must’ve looked straight out of The Matrix, because I jumped straight up in bed, and before I came back down to where my feet made contact with the covers, I was already trying to run. My feet circled in the air for a split second, then I hit the mattress again and I was off, like Speedy Gonzalez.