Friday, August 14, 2015

Entire First Chapter of THE PRICE OF SECRECY - The Weathermen 3


CHAPTER ONE

Angela Davidson stood outside the imposing whitewashed stucco building that housed Greco Communications in the underground city known as CentralWest. Her knees were knocking. How freaking embarrassing was that? It wasn’t like this was her first job interview. She’d earned her IT degree six months ago and had gone on five interviews so far. In the job market of the day, that was considered exceptional.

She swiped her tablet and glanced over the job description one more time, making additional mental notes about why she was perfect for it. They wanted members of a new team who were familiar with firewalls and knew their way around them. Not much to go on, but if rumors were to be believed, this company was searching for people who could trace individual IP addresses down to specific machines. Piece of cake. Unfortunately, it was also that easy for anyone with her skills and her degree. That’s why she needed to stand out this morning.

She watched people enter the building and glanced down at her pant suit. Too casual. Maybe she should have worn a skirt? Business clothing had gone out of fashion in some of the cities, including this one, so she was actually overdressed for most places, but not this company, apparently. Everyone looked sharp and professional. There was no time to return home and change, so this would have to do.

The receptionist smiled warmly at her and asked her to key in her name, and then she escorted her to a private elevator behind the desk. “This goes straight to the top floor. One of Mr. Greco’s administrative assistants will meet you there.”

“Thank you.” One of them? How many did one man need? Then again, Dominic Greco was a legend in the communications industry. He and Arturo Charles Easton, or “Ace” as he was called, had divided up the businesses that used their services once everyone had been forced underground by the storms. They now controlled ninety-five percent of them between the two, and their customers were loyal. Landing this job would be a huge feather in her cap.

Not dressed like this you won’t.

She could unbutton the top button on her tunic, but then her cleavage would show. Well, he is a man, after all. And not a married man if his bio was true, but she’d rather land this job because of her skills.

The doors opened, and she had no more time to worry about her clothing, or the fact that she’d actually considered enticing a potential boss with a boob flash. A man dressed as impeccably as the receptionist gave her an appraising look. “Miss Davidson, I’m Pete. This way, please.”

She followed him down a series of twisting corridors that bore prints of storm-ravaged plains and cities. How sick was that? Surely the man had lived above ground for some time since he was forty-one years old . The cities had been built before he was born, but as far as she knew, no one occupied them until 2117 at the earliest. Why have prints like this on his walls? No one needed to be reminded what was going on at the surface.

They stopped before a set of drab gray doors that she swore were made of metal. Was he expecting an invasion? Pete knocked, a voice called to come in, and then he pushed open the doors and stepped aside. Pete closed the doors behind her almost immediately.

The room was flooded with light from the artificial outdoors. Floor-to-ceiling windows dominated three walls, and she whistled before she could stop it. “Wow. That’s some view of the city.”

“Thank you. I’m pleased you like it.” Dominic Greco rose from behind a huge desk the same color as the doors to his office. He wasn’t as tall as some men she knew, but his aura made him appear larger than life. At her five-foot-three, everyone looked tall to her anyway.

Dark, wavy hair framed his chiseled face, and a five o’clock shadow made her nipples tingle. There was something so damn sexy about a man who needed to shave a bit closer. He wore a dark gray suit with a bright purple tie that screamed power. The cut of the suit was perfect for his body, and couldn’t hide the obvious muscles under the clothes. She wondered what he looked like naked, and had to blink a few times to clear the images forming in her mind.

Dark, piercing eyes regarded her with both amusement and appreciation. She smoothed down her top, more to wipe the dampness from her palms than anything, and then stuck out her hand. “Mr. Greco, I’m Angela Davidson.”

“I know you are.” Up close, his eyes twinkled, and as he shook her hand she wanted to fall to her knees and beg him to take her.

Where the hell did that come from?

“Welcome to Greco Communications.” He pointed toward a large gray table in front of the eastern expanse of windows. “Have a seat.”

She took a seat and he sat across from her, then picked up a tablet and swiped it. “Let’s see … here you are. Angela Marie Davidson…” He glanced up with a slight smile. “That’s two saints’ names. Catholic family?”

Angela’s pulse raced. She had once asked her mother why they’d only changed their last name when they’d had to go into hiding, and she’d said because “Angela” and “Marie” were common names. It was at times like these that Angela wished she’d been old enough to insist on an entirely new name.

Had he also discovered her former surname? Or the names of the men who could lead him to her family’s true past? Dominic had unlimited resources. What if he’d uncovered her secret?

Or was he merely being polite because he thought he’d found a common connection between them? He was watching her closely. Too closely. She had to say something. “Yes. Yes my family is Catholic.”

“Me, too. Dominic Paul John Matthew Greco.”

She smiled slightly, hoping he hadn’t noticed how tense she’d been a second ago. “If you’d said Dominic Matthew Mark Luke John Greco I’d have laughed.”

“Don’t even put that out there in the universe. My family is already weird enough. And it’s good to laugh.” His voice was smooth and melodic, and she hadn’t expected that. She’d always pictured him as a brusque man with a voice to match. “It means you’re happy inside.”

“I am happy. I’m also talented.” She peered at the tablet in his hand and took a deep breath. Time to sell yourself, girl. It was also time to change the subject. “I don’t know on which site you’re reading my bio, but I worked on a project for my thesis that included cracking a firewall set up to match the one protecting a certain government agency. I successfully—”

“I know you did, Angela.” He cut her off, tapping the tablet. “It’s all here. Your very impressive resume, plus the firewall that only a few in your class could get through, including you.” He leaned forward and grinned, sending shivers down her spine. The gesture lit up his entire face and made him even more handsome. “That’s why you’re here. I don’t interview people who don’t already possess the skills I need on this team.”

He put the tablet down. “What I want to know about you isn’t on your resume or in your online bio. Words are cheap. I’m more impressed by actions.”

She swallowed hard. “What would you like me to show you, Mr. Greco?”

“Dominic, please. We’re as informal here as in the rest of CentralWest, even though I do have a dress code inside this building.”

She glanced down at her suit, heat rising to her face.

“I wasn’t implying you’re not properly dressed for this company. You are.”

Score one for the outfit. “Thank you for saying so. What would you like me to show you?”

His gaze played over her face and her breasts. Well, he was a man, after all, and part of her had to admit she didn’t mind him checking her out. She should be pissed off, but he was so fucking gorgeous she wanted to leap over the table and kiss him. “That’s a loaded question.”

What? He’d said it under his breath, but she still heard it.

He held up his hands. “Forget I said that. You might not want to work for me if you think I’m sexually harassing you during the interview.”

She wasn’t sure what to say. Was this a bizarre test of some kind, or was he simply a jerk? She couldn’t get involved with her boss. Especially not a man like him. If anyone could discover her real past, it was Dominic Greco. This was a mistake. What was she doing here? Could he see the struggle on her face? If he did, would he interpret it as discomfort from his suggestive comment alone, or did he already know she was living a lie?

“I’d like you to show me how good you are.” He swiped the tablet again, clicked around a few times, and then pushed it across the table. “This is a test website my IT lead and I built for interviews. I’d like you to go into the code, and trace it back to the identification number of the machine that posted the latest article.”

She let out the breath she’d been holding. He’d only been testing her. Her past was still secret, and he knew nothing more about her than what was attached to her fake name. As for the test, it wouldn’t be difficult at all. “All right. How long do I have?”

He leaned back in his chair and crossed one ankle over the opposite knee. “As long as it takes. It’s not a timed test. I merely want to see if you can do it.”

It was too easy. What was the catch? This was the kind of stuff she’d been doing before she was in high school. She took the tablet and found the code easily enough, and then was so engrossed in her work she lost track of the time and of her surroundings. She knew Dominic had risen from his chair at one point and retrieved a glass of water for her, and one for himself, but she barely glanced up and thanked him before returning to the task at hand.

When she found the list of possible machines, she hit a brick wall. Or in this case, a firewall. She glanced up and smiled. “Very ingenious.”

He smiled, and her heart skipped a beat. What would it be like to look up into that face and see that smile as he fucked her? Stop that!

She returned to the firewall. It wasn’t easy, but she finally got through it, and then found the machine ID that had posted the article. With a smile on her face, she handed him the tablet. “There’s the original machine.”

He glanced at the clock. “Less than forty-five minutes. Merrick will be devastated.”

She wasn’t sure who Merrick was, or if forty-five minutes was good, so she said nothing.

“Merrick Anderson is my IT lead, and he’s the best there is. He designed this little test for me, and together we built the firewall. No one who has broken through it did so and found the correct machine ID in less than two hours.”

She was still smiling when Dominic stood and walked around the table. Of course her gaze went straight to his damn crotch. She had to force it to his face again, where she realized he’d noticed her staring at his erection. Oh, perfect.

He held out his hand. “Congratulations, Angela. The job is yours if you want it.”

She stood and shook his hand, which of course made her even hornier than she already was. “Really? Oh, thank you. Yes. I mean that would be great.” Oh my God, shut up! “Will I be doing that kind of work? I mean firewalls and machine IDs?”

“Close.” His amused expression made her want to babble again so she dug her nails into her palms to stay quiet. She could only hope he’d interpreted her verbal diarrhea as enthusiasm, not the sign of an immature fool. “Come with me. I’d like to introduce you to Merrick. He used to work off shifts for me, but I need him during the day now. He’ll be your immediate supervisor once the department is up and running at full staff.”

“Thank you, Mr. Greco … I mean Dominic. This is a wonderful opportunity. I won’t disappoint you.”

He stared at her for long moments, and nothing in the office moved. Not even the piped-in air. For a split second or two, she was sure he was going to kiss her, but then the spell was broken and instead he smiled again. “I know you won’t. I will be working closely with you until I hire the rest of the team, so we’ll see each other quite often. I look forward to getting to know you better, Angela. Much better.”

Those comments, coupled with the flash of lust in his dark eyes, left absolutely no doubt in Angela’s mind what Dominic meant. No doubt at all.

~~~~

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