Trouble In Tampa (Page 1)

Trouble In Tampa (Great Exploitations #3)
Author: Nicole Williams

The Beginning

TWO SIMPLE WORDS. One complex problem.

Henry Callahan.

He’d messed up my life big time a few years earlier. So much that nothing was left to mess up. Or so I’d thought.

Five years later, Henry Callahan was messing up my life once again. He might not realize it, but that was beside the point. Especially beside the point after I’d just gotten an earful from G for the past fifteen minutes. My eardrums were still ringing.

Since we knew another agency already had a girl on the Callahan Errand, G told me—well, she ordered me—to do whatever it took to get inside Callahan Industries or make sure the other girl got a one-way ticket outside. G said if I went with option B, she didn’t care how I did it, so long as it worked. If I needed a more . . . permanent solution, I was supposed to give her a call because G had a handful of hit-men on speed-dial. She’d used them before and she wouldn’t hesitate to use them again, especially with an Errand this big. It was a bad case of the ends justify the means—something I wasn’t exactly on board with when it came to a human life.

Luckily for me, option A was a mere phone call away.

I didn’t bother calling his office line. If Henry’s new assistant was as adept at her job as I was, she’d never put me through to him. She’d take a message, say he was in a meeting, out of town, or the line would mysteriously go dead. That’s what I’d do and, as G and I knew, whatever phantom agency we were competing with, they’d assigned their best girl to the case, just as G had me.

A ten-figure Errand wasn’t the time to send in the second string.

No, I wouldn’t call Henry’s office. Not when I had his private number.

I walked along the beach, straddling that jagged line where the damp sand meets the dry—one foot stayed on top, one foot sunk below. Punching in the number that I may or may not have memorized, I slid a few feet over into the wet sand.

It didn’t ring twice before he answered. “Hello?”

A couple things struck me as odd. He’d answered without identifying himself—something like Henry Callahan speaking seemed more appropriate—and his voice was a couple notes high. Almost . . . expectant.

“Hey . . . Henry?” G would have shit a shotgun if she’d heard that gem of a greeting.

“Evie?” There was a clipped pause, and then, “Eve, is that you?”

My heart ached for the briefest moment when he called me Evie. I became that young and naive girl again, overwhelmingly in love with a boy I swore would turn the world upside down for me if I asked him to.

I mentioned I was naive back then, right?

“Yep, it’s me. Eve . . . that is.” I paused on the beach because I obviously wasn’t up to the task of walking and talking.

“You know, I was certain that when I gave you my business card, you’d toss it into the closest garbage can you could find. I didn’t think you’d keep it, let alone call me.” Henry’s voice was back to normal. Calm and confident. Warm and solid.

I hated how so many of the things I’d loved about him were still the same. Things like his soothing, low-timbered voice, or the way he said my name—almost like it was a prayer and a sin all at once. He hadn’t changed. But I had. I had to sell myself on those two assertions more than I should have to.

“You’re right. I did throw your card away.” It was true. I had. “But the closest garbage can happened to be the one inside of my condo, so it was easy to dig out.”

Henry laughed softly. That exact laugh I’d loved. And now I hated. I had to remind myself of that last part because hating Henry Callahan’s laugh was a difficult thing to do. Thrashing about in a small tank full of sharks without getting attacked would have been about as easy as hating his laugh.

“So what made you dig it out? Not that I really care, but I’m curious.”

“Why don’t you really care?” I asked.

“Because you called.”

I sucked in a slow breath and decided to sit in the sand. If he kept saying things like that and I kept feeling things like I just had, I wouldn’t be able to stand and talk either. I had to remind myself why I’d called him before I could speak. “The reason I called is because I was wondering if your offer still stood.”

“Which offer?” he asked. “I don’t really care because whatever offer I made you that you’re referring to you can have, but it would probably be good for me to know which one you’re talking about.”

Henry had caught me off guard yet again. He made me other offers that morning on the beach? Which ones?

“The job slash contracting offer. Would you still be interested in having me on board?” Asking a favor from Henry was about as painful as I imagined pulling out an abscessed molar with pliers might have been.

“Of course it stands,” he said. “Are you interested in coming on board?”

“Yeah, actually I am. That super secretive contracting gig might not be for me.”

“And you think Callahan Industries might be the gig for you?”

I heard his amused smile in his tone. “I think there’s only one way to find out.” If he was going to play the conversation double-meaning game, I would too.

“What position did you have in mind? Development, program management, systems analysis?”

Might as well get started. I had no time to waste when it came to seducing my ex. “I don’t know.” I lowered my voice a note and slowed it down two notes. “What position do you want me in?”

He was silent for so long, I checked to make sure the call hadn’t dropped.

“How about program management?” he suggested after clearing his throat. “One of my best PM’s just got promoted, and I haven’t filled the spot yet. You’d be overseeing a team of developers in Research and Development—keeping them on deadline, conducting team meetings, making sure they’re properly fed and watered, that kind of thing.”

“Fed and watered? Am I babysitting a litter of puppies or a team of employees?”

Henry’s soft chuckle rolled through my body. “These are R&D developers. They’re like a team of huskies—they’d run themselves to their deaths if someone didn’t force them to take a break.”

“And these are the kind of people you want me overseeing?” I watched the waves crashing into the shore and concentrated on the conversation, not the person I was having said conversation with.

“I can’t think of anyone better, actually. There was a reason I gave you my business card and practically begged you to come work for me.”

Yeah, there was a reason. But in the end, it wasn’t about employment and program management. “Overseeing a team of pocket-protector wearing, Mountain Dew addicted R&D developers? Where do I sign up?”

“You’ll take it?” Henry sounded as skeptical as I imagined he felt. Days ago, I’d been adamant about not working for him, and there I was, a step above begging to be brought on board.

“I’ll take it.”

Another long silence stretched between us.

“It may be none of my business, and you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, Eve”—great, this ought to be good—“but why do you want to work for Callahan Industries after . . . everything that happened between us? Quite frankly, I would have guessed my company would be the one you’d want to destroy, not come to work for.”

He was right. His company was the one I wanted to destroy. And he was wrong. His company was the one I was going to destroy. Along with the rest of his life.

“Your company was the last one I wanted to come work for. That was, until I started contracting at all the others and realized how many of the same chauvinistic dickheads I went to school with are now running those companies. You and I might have history—bad history—but I’m a firm believer in leaving the past behind and moving forward.” Yeah, that might be one of the biggest lies I’ve ever told. “I’d rather work for a person I know is more concerned that an employee has a brain instead of a dick.”

“Wait. You don’t have a dick? Because that’s a deal breaker right there. I only hire testosterone-ridden, top-of-the-food-chain, genetically superior men.”

I rolled my eyes. “Liar. You wouldn’t be at the top of the tech food chain if you actually believed that.”

“No? Why’s that?”

“Because you men work, and we women get the job done.”

I joined Henry halfway through his laugh. Until I remembered how, once upon a time, I’d lived entire days and months of sharing laughs and moments like those with Henry Callahan. The pain of what had been generated a new kind of pain—the pain of what could never be again.

It was time to end that call. If something as simple as a phone call was so painful, how would I make it through all that was to come? I didn’t have an answer, but I wouldn’t rest until I found one.

“So when do you want me to start?”

“I’ll skip the blasé act because I’m desperate. Would tomorrow be too soon?”

A smile curved into place. “Tomorrow would be perfect.” The sooner I got in there and figured out how to weed out Miss Competition, the sooner I could make sure it was my bed Henry would dive into.

“Excellent. I’ll have my receptionist get the paperwork started, and you can finish the rest with her tomorrow morning.”

Not so fast. “Paperwork? Come on, Henry, you want me to fill out an encyclopedia of paperwork? I was practically Mrs. Callahan for Christ’s sake.” My goal had been to dodge the paperwork-with-the-competition bullet, not bring up our prior almost-nuptials. I didn’t know who was more thrown, me or him. Judging by the continued silence, we were pretty even.

“Even if you did become Mrs. Callahan, you would still be required to fill out paperwork if you wanted to sharpen pencils here. Company policy,” Henry replied, but his voice was quiet. Removed.

I gave an exaggerated sigh. “Fine. But if I have to be single-handedly responsible for killing a tree, I’m not trudging through it with some over-smiley, sweater-set wearing receptionist. If you want me on board, you’re suffering through it with me, Chief Executive Officer.”

Was I bluffing? Sure. Most of my job entailed bluffing of some sort. If Henry said he didn’t have the time, desire, or energy to walk me through mind-numbing stacks of paperwork, I wouldn’t have walked away from the job. It meant too much to the outcome of the Errand. However, Henry didn’t know that.

A second went by, then another.

“You drive a hard bargain, Eve, but I need you.” He’ll need more than my nine-to-five skills when I’m through with him. “We’ll suffer through a murdered tree of paperwork together. I’ve got meetings in the morning, but how about you meet me for lunch and we’ll get after it?”

All of the pieces were falling into position. A smile moved into place. “Okay. Let’s get after it.”

After agreeing on a time and a place, Henry said he had to hop onto a conference call. “Thanks, Eve. I’m thrilled to have you on board.”