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by Kimberly Zant
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: Marlee has a secret she dare not divulge, and it isn't something that will withstand the scrutiny of a criminal investigation. When the computer system at the law firm where she works is hacked and critical information filched, she discovers she could be looking at jail time and begs them for the chance to repay them in whatever manner they see fit. The sentence is six months hard time-with six young lawyers. Rating: Contains explicit sex, graphic language, and some scenes of sex with mulitple partners.
eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: June 2005
1429 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [89 KB]
Reading time: 60-85 min.
I knew the moment I entered the conference room that I was in deep do do. There were six partners in the law firm I worked for--two were brothers, the others their buddies from college--and all six were waiting for me, their expressions eloquent of condemnation--accusation.
Guilt immediately assailed me. It was a strange quirk of my nature that I always felt guilty whenever anyone looked at me accusingly, even if I couldn't remember having done anything I should feel guilty about.
What the hell had I done? Or not done?
I looked at them wide eyed, trying to swallow the knot of abject terror that was slowly working its way up my throat. My life was flashing before my eyes, however, job hunting, and eviction--sleeping in my car--and to save my life I couldn't begin to guess what I'd done.
I'd been working at the firm for a grand total of three weeks. Thus far, I'd had a crush on three of the hunks that practiced law in between rounds of racquetball, tennis--and dating scary beautiful, painfully (for me) young women.
Not that any of them actually knew I existed as a woman. Fresh out of a ten year, going no where relationship, my self-confidence was at an all time low, partly because of my ex, and partly because I was a realist at heart--or maybe a pessimist? Some people argued that there was a difference between the two. To me, they were like conjoined twins--virtually the same in every way that counted.
In a world that idolized youth and anorexia, I was staring hard at that dreaded mid-thirty mark, and my size twelve/fourteen figure wasn't considered a 'classic' hourglass. It was bordering on elephantitis.
I still wasn't sure why they'd given me the job. I was fresh out of tech school. I didn't have experience, looks, or youth to recommend me. The only thing I could figure out was that it was because I came cheap--or maybe because they didn't want a distraction.
It was certainly a lowering thought, but probably close to the mark, pessimism not withstanding. The front desk girl was their 'type'--a size one, fresh faced because she hadn't even turned twenty yet, and from an upper scale family with upper scale money. She was working on her internship and was clearly going somewhere in life. She had looks, youth, money, and no compunction about using every weapon at her disposal to get where she was going. She generally treated me the same way the partners did, as if I was transparent. Occasionally, I would catch her giving me speculative looks, as if she was sizing me up--there wasn't a doubt in my mind that she was planning on having a wedding ring on her finger before she graduated and she didn't particularly care which of the partners it was--but there was far more contempt or plain old disgust in her expression than anything I could interpret as 'sizing up the competition'.
I imagined that she was thinking she wasn't going to be a loser like me and find herself alone, staring at middle age, fat, and barely making minimum wage.
I shifted uneasily when none of the partners said a word, merely studying me, their handsome faces hard, uncompromising--sort of like they must look when they were standing in a courtroom.
"You wanted me, Mr. Justice?" I squeaked in a voice I hardly recognized, unable to bear the continued silence.
At thirty five, Lyle Justice was the 'senior' partner. His brother, Colin, was the youngest at twenty nine. I'd gone into rapture mode the moment I set eyes on Lyle for the first time but it hadn't taken me more than two days to figure out I was way out of my depth with that one. Not that I thought that there was any danger of getting too familiar with him, but he was way too sharp even to consider it. Besides, he scared me almost as much as he turned me on.
Lyle's eyes narrowed. "Someone has compromised a very important case we're working on, Marlee," he responded coolly. "We stand to lose a substantial amount of money if we lose the case."
I blinked--several times--rapidly. Case? I knew next to nothing about the law and I didn't know diddly squat about their cases. Except for catching a word here and there that Perry Mason couldn't have put together, I didn't even have a clue of what they were doing for whom. My duties included filing, typing, watering the plants and keeping the reception area tidy. "Someone?" I asked in a strangled voice. I was no rocket scientist, but it didn't take one to figure out the 'someone' they suspected was me.
It hit me right between the eyes then that this wasn't actually an inquisition. The truth was, I'd already been tried and convicted and was facing the penalty faze.
"We tracked your activities on the net," Stuart Kendall said coldly.
I turned to stare at the gorgeous blond that I'd imagined looked like a young Redford. My mind was so busy scurrying around in circles I couldn't imagine what kind of net he was talking about at first. "Net? You mean the internet?"
His lips tightened. "The chat rooms."
Again I blinked in surprise. This time, though, I could feel blood surging back into my cheeks and it didn't stop at relieving me of the dead, lifeless look I'd probably had when all the color left my face. It brought pulsing heat with it. "I ... uh ... I ... uh. You mean the singles thing?" I asked a little weakly, trying to figure out how me trying to get a frigging date added up to cutting my bosses' throats in court.
The partners all exchanged a look.
"I know I shouldn't have--but I only did it on my breaks. I didn't know I wasn't allowed. Vic ... Victoria showed me," I ended, feeling like a five year old who'd been caught stealing cookies out of the cookie jar and who was desperate for someone to blame--or to at least share the blame.
I couldn't quite interpret the look that announcement provoked. There were a lot of raised brows. "Victoria?" Lyle repeated. He began tapping a pen rhythmically on the conference table. "You and she are buddies, then?"
My mouth worked, but no sound emerged. I imagined I must look like a guppy out of water. The mental image didn't help my feelings at all. "Uh ... no."
"But she showed you how to get to the chat room?"
I shrugged. Again, I had the sense of being a five year old called to account. 'What did you do it for?' Shrug. 'I don't know.'
"We were just talking one day and she was telling me she met a lot of really nice guy--people on the net. And she showed me how to get to the chat rooms she visits." I looked at them a little hopefully, but they didn't seem to be mellowing a great deal. "I should've asked. It's just ... it never occurred to me that it wasn't OK ... since she showed me. And she didn't say I had to ask permission."
He studied me for several hard moments and finally turned to the others. "What do you think?"
They discussed it at length, as if I wasn't present. I could only follow part of the discussion, however, because they kept using a lot of words, computer jargon I assumed, that I wasn't familiar with.
I hadn't wanted anyone to know that I was virtually computer illiterate. I'd never owned one, never had much use for one, for that matter, but I knew that was not the sort of thing one announced when one was trying to get a job in this day and age. Now I was really, really sorry that I hadn't admitted that I didn't know much of anything about a computer, certainly not in the sense that I could surf the net with the ease everyone else seemed to. I could type--or keyboard--because I'd been taught that much in school and I figured I had a good understanding of word-processing software. Otherwise, I didn't know much more than how to turn one on.
"Did Victoria use the computer in the back room?"
I went back to blinking. "I don't know ... I mean except for the time she showed me how to 'connect'."
"She's trying to say she inadvertently gave them a backdoor to hack in?" Charles Blake demanded. "Do you buy that? I don't buy that!"
Backdoor? Somebody hacked in? I felt the blood rush from my face guiltily again. "We got hacked?"
They all turned to stare at me.
"I mean, you got hacked?"
Lyle's lips flattened with annoyance. "What do you think we've been discussing for the past twenty minutes?" he demanded irritably.
Anger surged through me. "I haven't a clue!" I snapped. "I don't even know what I'm being accused of."
"Giving information to the other side concerning the case," Colin said angrily.
"What case?" I gasped.
"We'd be well within our rights to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law," Billy Worth drawled.
"Prosecute?" I echoed, feeling a little faint as the full implications of that settled into the pit of my stomach like an ice cube the size of an infant.
"Jail time. You can bet on it. Unless you start talking...."
I turned to look at Michael Bennett as he spoke for the first time. "Jail time? Me?" I echoed, stunned enough to find my tongue. "Because someone hacked in?"
"Because you're an accessory in a computer crime at the very least ... if we take your word for it that you didn't willingly and knowingly commit the crime yourself. And don't think for one minute we couldn't make the charges stick."
I thought for several horrible moments that I was going to faint, be sick, or burst into tears. I would've been willing to try all three if I'd thought for one moment it might gain me a little pity. I didn't believe that, though, and I had no desire to humiliate myself if it wasn't for a good cause. I sucked my lower lip to keep it from trembling while I waited to see what the verdict was.
Colin and Michael leaned close and exchanged words. Michael passed it down. I watched, waiting until it reached Lyle. He studied me for several moments in silence. "We're going to keep digging. Don't even think about going anywhere in the meantime. If you run, we'll have no choice but to consider you guilty and swear out a warrant."
This was way worse than getting fired. I found it hard to accept that I could be facing criminal charges when I hadn't a clue of what I'd done to deserve it. I couldn't believe I might actually end up in jail--me--but then a goodly portion of criminals were in jail for the same thing I'd been accused of--stupidity and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It took me several moments to realize I'd been dismissed. Finally, I nodded numbly and left the conference room. The remainder of the day was a fog. I watched uneasily as Stuart and Billy shouldered up to the computer I'd allegedly used to open them up for the hacker and stared at the monitor screen for hours on end, punching keys, loading programs.
I had no idea what they were doing, but just watching them was enough to make my sphincter clench because I had an awful feeling that some of that so called 'net talk' that Victoria had taught me was the real culprit. I couldn't believe I was still so gullible I was such an easy mark to a girl that was almost young enough to be my daughter.
It had to have been her. I knew it. I just couldn't figure out how, or even why. It wasn't as if I was any sort of threat to her. It occurred to me later, toward quitting time that, maybe, she'd just needed a patsy. Apparently, all those times I'd caught her sizing me up, I'd been right, just wrong about the motivation. Whatever it was she was doing, she was doing it for money, but she obviously figured she'd need a scapegoat if they got on to her and her luck had been fabulous. The only person handy enough to pin it on just happened to be a gullible idiot.
Unfortunately, as little as I knew about law, I realized that one) it would be next to impossible to prove I just didn't realize what she was getting me to do. And, two) it didn't really matter whether I'd known or not. Under the law, ignorance and/or stupidity weren't an excuse. The only thing convincing them of 'one' might possibly do would be to lighten my sentence and I didn't want to have to face any sentence at all.
Maybe I could get off with just probation?
It took every ounce of nerve I could muster to save my life to tap on Lyle Justice's door that afternoon as I was leaving. When he summoned me, I crept into his office with my tail almost literally between my legs, ready to beg, ready to promise anything if he'd just not put me in jail, not bring charges.
I had a bad feeling my background couldn't withstand the scrutiny. I knew I didn't want to put it to the test.
I'd been running for nearly two years. My ex wasn't the sort of man that took rejection well. I'd thought, or at least hoped, that his obsession would blow over fairly quickly once the divorce was finalized. Instead, the nasty tricks had gotten progressively more hazardous to my health. When it had finally occurred to me that, yes, I too could become one of those statistics--one of the thousands of women whose boyfriend or husband made them permanently disappear because they just didn't believe they could actually be a victim--I'd started running. He found me within a month the first two times. The third time, I invented a completely new identity, played cloak and dagger, and put three states between us.
If it hadn't been for the fact that I hadn't seen a sign of the bastard in a solid year, I'd have been tempted to blame this latest threat to my pursuit of happiness on him. After all, he had tried to have me jailed for trafficking drugs before, paid a cop to plant them. It was just sheer dumb luck that I'd found the drugs first and flushed them down the toilet before the cops arrived.
"You have something to say?" he asked, his entire demeanor uncompromising.
My mouth felt as if I'd been sucking on salt cubes. I swallowed with an effort. "I just wanted to say that whatever was done, it was just plain stupidity on my part, not maliciousness. I know that isn't an excuse and I'm still liable for my actions. I will gladly offer restitution."
I'd managed to get that far without stammering too much, but I hadn't really thought the scenario through from that point onward. I shrugged, waiting for inspiration to come to me. "Weekends, holidays, extra hours. I don't have any money. I don't even have anything I could sell. But I'd be glad to furnish labor toward payment for my ... uh ... error and I'd be willing to do whatever you wanted. I could clean your apartments, wash the cars--do the lawn."
His eyes narrowed speculatively. He looked me over thoroughly from head to foot, almost as if actually seeing me for the first time. I wondered what was going through his mind at that point. When he told me, I felt very, very ill.
"If we lose this case because of the breach in security, we stand to lose our percentage--1 to 3 million. How many weekends of mowing the lawn and cleaning do you think it would take to pay that back?"
I couldn't think of an answer. I'd never been any good with math, but I figured the answer to that question was somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of my lifetimes. I had to remind myself that this was a cold blooded lawyer. Crawling around on the floor and blubbering like a baby wasn't going to help me one iota, not when he had that much money riding on the scope of my screw up. Finally, I managed to nod.
I don't even remember getting to my car, or getting from the office to my tiny apartment. It scared the hell out of me when I realized I was sitting in front of my apartment building, though, and I got out and checked the car carefully for any sign that I'd been involved in an accident. Relieved when I didn't find any new scratches, dents--or worse--blood and hair, I went into my apartment and collapsed, yielding to the hysteria I'd been fighting off all day.
Two days of abject terror followed, although they felt like weeks, months. About half way through the second day, Victoria was called into Lyle's office. I could hear his quiet, cool voice every time I passed his door. I couldn't get out of range of hearing Victoria's shrill, half hysterical denials, her weeping, her threats. Mid afternoon, she left the office, as pale as I'd no doubt been.
She arrived at her usual time the following day, however, and the tentative hope that had been trying to gain a foothold vanished. She was still there. She hadn't been arrested ... which meant I wasn't off the hook.
Three days after I was first accused, I was called into the conference room again. I knew what was coming. This time I was going to hear the verdict and receive my sentence.
Two reflections guided my feet in that direction. One) I was tired of running and, two) the idea of being hounded both by the law firm and my ex was something I just couldn't face. I was going to take my 'medicine' for being incredibly stupid and gullible and then I was going to get on with my life.