Julianne Wallis ducked as a pad of paper came sailing toward her. Did he just throw that at me? The pad smacked the door behind her, and Julianne watched Kane Bannerman carefully as he eyed her from across the room. There were several more items on his desk, all of them larger than that tiny pad of paper. Who the hell still uses actual paper to take notes on?
“No!” Kane stood, hazel eyes blazing behind his sexy-as-fuck black-rimmed glasses. “No way. Tell me you did not lie your way in here for another interview.”
His face held an expression of utter contempt, and she understood why. Julianne squared her shoulders. “I’m not here for a job interview, Kane. This time it’s for a story.”
“Last time it was for a story, or did you think I’d forgotten that?” His tone was full of disdain, but really, what had she been expecting? Open arms? She’d seduced him and then used him. He glanced toward the landline. “I’m calling security. I have no clue how you got past the front desk or my soon-to-be-fired administrative assistant, but heads will roll for this.”
She advanced toward him, keeping an eye on both hands in case he picked up the receiver or another object to toss at her head. “Please, just listen to me.”
His right hovered over the phone. “You have three seconds to tell me why I should listen to you ever again.”
Damn, this would be easier if he wasn’t so freaking good looking. In five years the man had actually grown more handsome, and he still filled out his expensive suits nicely. He must work out every day. The memories of their hot encounter right inside this office were still as fresh today as ever. “I’m not working for The Whole Truth any longer. I haven’t been for four years. I’m legit now. I’m with Underground Technology Update.”
He raised his brows. “Bullshit. You’re with UTU? Fuck that. Why would they hire you?”
“Because I’m a good reporter and I can get an exclusive story better than anyone with half my experience.”
He actually snorted. “Right. Because you lie to do so. Get out of my office.”
“I’m not lying.” She fished in her bag for her business card, nearly dropping the entire thing in the process. “Here.” She held it out in front of her, and wished her damn fingers would stop shaking. “You can call my editor and verify I’m working for them.”
She placed the card on his desk and took a step back, just in case he decided to pick up that glass paperweight. That would hurt.
He eyed her first, and she tried to tamp down her traitorous body’s reaction. Her nipples tingled, and an overwhelming urge to push him down on the floor and beg him to fuck her again washed over her. The interview flashed through her mind, in vivid detail and living color. All forty-seven minutes of it, during which she’d flirted shamelessly with him. She’d shown plenty of cleavage, had made sure he knew she wasn’t wearing panties, and then he’d fucked her, right here on the very same desk.
All for the sake of printing a story with the truth stretched out of shape like a worn-out rubber band. She couldn’t blame him for being angry and wary right now, but she wasn’t that person anymore.
Finally, he picked up the card and read it, but his expression didn’t change. He sat down and tapped on his keyboard. “Don’t move or I will call security and have you tossed out, even if this proves to be legit. Not kidding.”
She stood as still as possible while she watched and listened to him speak with Patti Zak, her editor, and cringed as he grilled Patti about her own experience. Patti was a newer editor at UTU, and didn’t have to answer to Kane, but she did anyway.
Patti knew Julianne’s history, and she knew about the seduction and subsequent story from five years ago. She also had seen the letter Julianne wrote Kane, apologizing, and she knew about the retraction Julianne had convinced The Whole Truth to print. The retraction had pointed out which parts of Julianne’s story were false. Despite all that, Julianne had warned Patti that Kane might not be receptive this morning, and to expect a call.
When he finally ended the call, he glanced up at her with a cold expression in his beautiful eyes. “It seems you’re legit, but why didn’t Patti call me and set up an interview? Why did she send you here under false pretenses?”
“I’m not here under false pretenses. I set up a meeting under my name and credentials. If you were told this was a job interview, someone on your end messed up.”
The quick flash of annoyance on his face told her he knew that was true. He stood again. “Sit. I’ll be right back.”
“Are you going to let me interview you?”
He turned his back on her and strolled toward the double doors to his office. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“This is for UTU, Kane. It’s a prestigious magazine.”
Kane glanced over his shoulder and regarded her like one might watch an insect they were about to crush. “No shit. I’ve been interviewed for it eight times since we all moved underground six years ago. You should know that, if you had done your research. I can’t imagine what else I have to contribute.”
“I did do the research. I read those articles. I’m not here to talk about your financial wizardry or the way you revolutionized the stock market in the chaos following the takeover of The Madeline Project. I’m here to talk about the new teams you and the other Weathermen have put together to track IP addresses and machine IDs of suspected hackers into the program.”
He stared at her with nothing short of shock, and she smiled. Before he could speak, she pulled out her digital recorder, placed it on his desk, and turned it on. His gaze drifted from the gadget to her face, and back again, several times, and it was all Julianne could do not to pump her fist in the air.
No one else had this inside information, at least not from him. She’d be the first one to break this story, and her career would take off because of it. All her dreams were about to come true, and sexy Kane Bannerman was the reason for her guaranteed success.
How was that for a weird twist of fate?
Kane couldn’t believe his perfectly shitty Monday morning had just been made worse by the reappearance of a woman he had both hoped never to see again, and hadn’t stopped thinking about for five years. She looked more mature than the last time he’d seen her, and also seemed far prettier that he remembered.
It was her hair. She’d stopped dying it bright blonde and instead had allowed the natural copper to grow out. Her sapphire blue eyes now shone with confidence instead of mania, and her voice had the soothing quality of a trained professional who had seen camera time.
Julianne Wallis was all grown up and worked for one of the most respected industry magazines of the day. She must have done something right to have impressed an editor at UTU. But how the hell had she discovered the new teams? They hadn’t told anyone. None of the Weathermen would have breathed a word of them. How the fuck could they search code for hackers’ machine IDs and IP addresses in secret if the entire fucking world knew they were doing it?
He took a deep breath. She had the damn recorder on already, and he could not allow any of this to be printed online. “Turn that off. This is not an interview.”
She stared him down, so he stormed over to the desk and reached for the recorder. She was faster and grasped it, pulling it away from his hand. “You have no right to touch that, Kane.”
“And you have no right to force your way in here and demand an interview. Turn that off, and we’ll talk.”
She narrowed her eyes. This close, he could smell her damn musky perfume, and it made his fucking dick hard. Damn this woman. Why did she still have such a strong physical effect on him? Her face and that body still haunted his damn dreams. Just touching the surface of his desk brought back that afternoon five years ago, when he’d bent her over the edge of it and fucked her into oblivion.
“I give you my word.” Although it was spoken through gritted teeth, she must have believed him, because she turned it off. “Thank you. Sit down.”
She took a seat, and this time Kane made sure to sit behind his desk so he couldn’t see her legs. Her shoulders rose and fell with the effort of breathing, and his gaze drifted to her cleavage. Not as much was exposed as he’d seen five years ago, but it was enough to make him remember what her ass had looked like naked. He also remembered what it had felt like to sink his cock into her tight, hot pussy.
Why the hell does she have to be so fucking sexy?
“Like what you see?”
Fuck. “Yes, but that’s beside the point. Where did you get the idea I have a team looking for IP addresses and machine IDs of suspected hackers?”
She smiled. “You know I can’t reveal a source.”
“Then you’ll get no information from me.” She wouldn’t anyway. He couldn’t say a word about this. Not without all twelve of them discussing it first, and then deciding what to tell the press, and what not to. It’s the way they’d done business since college, and they sure as hell weren’t going to change that policy now. Not when they had a real chance for the first time in six years of tracking down these bastards.
“Surely we can reach a compromise.”
He leaned forward. “Julianne, if we each have such a team, and I’m talking in hypothetical terms only—I’m not admitting we do or do not. Understood?”
She nodded, her beautiful eyes sharp and full of hunger.
“If we each had such a team, do you understand that if the world found out about them, we’d have no hope of doing what we’re trying to do?”
The gleam in her eyes faltered a bit. “Why don’t you back up and explain it to me in a bit more detail, so I understand it from an insider’s point of view.”
That was a tactic he recognized. “You mean so I can accidentally give you insider information? I’m not quite that naïve.”
This time she leaned forward, and it offered him a view he had no business looking at. He was only a man, so he looked for a second or two, and then forced his gaze to her eyes. She knew she had him again, and he cursed his weakness for this woman. What power did she hold?
“I know you’re not naïve. I never thought you were. I’m not going to print anything you don’t give me permission to print. I told you I’m not that person any longer.”
“If you did, you’d be out on your ear. This is a cushy job you’ve landed and I know you won’t do anything to blow it, but I need to know where you heard that rumor from.”
“Why? If it’s not true, what does it matter who spread it?”
“It matters because to catch these bastards we need to keep how we’re doing it secret. Come on, Julianne. You’re an intelligent woman. Surely you can see this. Did Patti okay this story?”
Her gaze faltered a bit more, and Kane resisted the urge to grin.
“She doesn’t know about it, does she? What BS line did you feed her for wanting to interview me?”
She fidgeted in her seat. “She knows about it, but she told me not to get my hopes up for the same reasons you just gave me.”
“Then tell me your source or this interview won’t happen, and I’ll be on the phone to the publisher of UTU as soon as you leave my office to complain about both you and Patti.”
Her eyes widened. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Why not? You tried to ruin me five years ago, and now you’re back, with information that could jeopardize our entire covert operation, and it appears your editor knows this. Doesn’t sound to me like you’ve changed at all.”
“I apologized to you publicly.”
Her letter had been sent to his PR department, and he’d had it printed on the landing page of his company’s website, as well as on the PR landing page. He also knew about the retraction The Whole Truth had printed, but what Julianne didn’t seem to understand was that the damage had already been done.
“An apology and a retraction don’t prove you’ve changed. I could have sued you for that bullshit story. Your apology and that retraction saved you from that, but that’s all they did.”
“I’m not here under false pretenses today.”
“But you are here with information that could ruin not only me this time, but all twelve of us. That doesn’t seem to even faze you. All you want is the damn story.”
“I love this job.”
“I’m sure you do. I love mine, too. That’s beside the point, isn’t it? I can’t compromise a project that might mean the end of all of us living underground. So tell me where you heard that information, and I won’t call your publisher.”
“Will you give me the story, too?”
“Only after I discuss it with the other Weathermen. I can’t divulge anything that important without the okay of the group, and assuming we do have secret teams, we likely can’t tell you about them in detail. If you think about this, you’ll understand why.”
“But that’s exactly why the world has a right to know!”
“No, the world doesn’t have a right to know. Because if the hackers get wind of it, they’ll mask themselves even more than they’ve already done.”
“So you admit they’ve done that. They’ve hidden their identity from each of you. You’ve been searching for them.”
“Julianne, everyone already knows we’ve been searching for them. Everyone has been, and no one has found them in six years. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out they’re doing something that none of us can figure out.”
“Dominic Greco just hired a woman named Angela Davidson who is said to be a firewall expert. Can you confirm that much?”
He glanced toward the bag in her lap. “If you’ve turned that recorder back on I’ll have you arrested for trespassing.” He held out his hand. “Hand it over. Now.”
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