“Shh,” Clay whispered.
Faced with the promise of tears, not knowing what else to do to calm her fears, Clay did what came naturally. He took Ilene into his arms and held her against him. She struggled for a second before giving in and letting him hold her.
A flood of feelings instantly rushed over him. Six years ago, he’d held her to him because they were wildly, unreasonably in love. Back then, he’d found himself loving—and being terrified of—the moment because she was in it.
She’d always had a special kind of power over him—until he’d taken it away from her. But now she needed comfort, and he needed to be able to give it to her.
Stroking her hair, he murmured against it, “It’s going to be okay.”
Crime and Passion
writes books distinguished by humor and natural dialogue. This RITA® Award-winning author’s goal is to make people laugh and feel good. She has written over one hundred books for Silhouette, some under the name Marie Nicole. Her romances are beloved by fans worldwide.
Brett Walker Richman.
Welcome to the world.
Ilene O’Hara frowned as she looked at the front cover of the magazine she’d just unearthed from beneath the tangled mass of toys in Alex’s toy box. Her five-year-old must have accidentally tossed the magazine into the box during one of the few times she’d gotten him to actually pick up after himself.
After taking it out, she leaned against the wall, sat crossed-legged on the floor and stared at the magazine. The cover depicted three bold, confident-looking women, all of whom had been instrumental in stirring up intense investigations into three separate institutions once thought of as towers of respectability and bastions of power.
When she’d originally bought the magazine, she’d never thought that someday she might be considering joining the ranks of an elite group of people nicknamed, not with complete fondness, whistle-blowers. Nobody really liked whistle-blowers, no matter how necessary those people might be for the well-being of the economy or society in general. To the firm on which they were blowing the whistle, they were deemed traitors. In truth, the public probably wasn’t too crazy about them, either.
Wasn’t that the edict of the playground? Nobody liked a tattletale?
With a sigh Ilene got up and tossed the magazine onto the coffee table before picking up the last armload of toys and bringing them to rest within the toy box. Upstairs, Alex was asleep, worn-out by a long day of play.
Ilene was worn-out as well, but playing had nothing to do with it. Wrestling with your conscience took a lot out of you.
She looked around, a restlessness chewing holes in her usual boundless energy. The rest of the room could wait until tomorrow. Surrendering, Ilene sank down on the tan sofa, her mind once again locked in a silent, one-woman debate over whether or not she should do what she knew in her heart was the right thing. But no one had died and left her the mantle of martyr, she insisted.
Inactivity seemed so seductive right now. Maybe she would just keep her mouth shut. Would it really be so bad to close her eyes and continue as if nothing were wrong? As if things were not out of sync? As if the corporation wasn’t playing hide-and-seek with a huge amount of money?
She didn’t feel she was on some kind of sacred mission here. Her parents hadn’t exactly given her much of a moral foundation from which to build.
She glanced at the one photograph she had of her parents that hung on the far wall. It was a studio shot, and they’d been forced to smile. She didn’t ever remember them smiling. Not on their own. They’d always been too busy sniping at each other and being covertly resentful of the daughter who had been the reason they had—in an unguarded moment of guilt—joined together legally and wound up wasting what were supposed to be “the good years.”
They’d stay married until neither one could stand the other. Until she was eighteen. Try as she might, Ilene couldn’t remember one drop of love being spilt in that house.
Nonetheless, Ilene had always had a strong sense of right and wrong. Even if she hadn’t, it didn’t take a would-be saint to know that misleading stockholders, a vast amount of stockholders, was wrong.
Especially if it was being done on purpose.
And since John Walken, her boss and the vice president in charge of the audit department of Simplicity Computers—one of the leading computer companies of the country, if not the leading company—hadn’t gotten back to her on the audit figures she’d uncovered more than a week ago, she knew the so-called discrepancy was not accidental. She had secretly hoped it would be.
After she’d brought him the news, she’d watched the handsome man pale ever so slightly beneath his perfect Maui tan before he’d flashed a brilliant, engaging smile and told her not to worry, that he’d take care of matters.
He’d all but patted her on her head as he’d ushered her out of his tastefully decorated office with its fifty-inch plasma TV on one wall. He thanked her for her keen diligence and promised her a bonus for what amounted to doing her job. Less than an hour later, he’d sent one of his assistants to press two tickets to Los Angeles into her hand, along with complimentary passes to Disneyland. Walken had expressed in the enclosed note that he had heard about her wanting to take her son there someday. The man made it a point to know his people, one of the things she’d always liked about him. Now she wondered if he just wanted to know which buttons to press when dealing with a subordinate in a challenging situation.
She’d been too stunned to speak at first, then politely had returned the tickets, saying that with the holidays coming up, this was an inconvenient time of the year to travel. It wasn’t strictly true. There was no one she spent the holidays with outside of Alex. She didn’t know where her parents were and there were no siblings, no aunts or uncles to populate her life. She and Alex could have picked up at any time and gone.
But the offer of the tickets hadn’t sat right with her. Neither had the discrepancy, even though she’d wanted to believe in Walken, to believe in the company to which she’d given almost four years of her life. Initially she’d clung to the hope of a plausible explanation as to why the expenses slated for Simplicity’s ledgers had been ascribed to one of their holding companies instead, sending that small company to the brink of bankruptcy. She passionately refused to believe that she’d made yet another mistake in placing her faith with the wrong recipient.
Just as she had with Clay.
Ilene could feel her eyes stinging and closed them defensively.