Trouble In Tampa (Page 3)

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

I already knew where his story was going. That’s how well I knew Henry. That’s how well I wished with whatever was left of my heart that I didn’t know Henry.

“Bills piled up, from the restaurant and the hospital, and no money was coming in. Tom was going to have to close the place. A business he’d opened forty years ago, all because of one terrible, unforeseeable curve life threw him. His whole life was going to be pulled out from beneath him all because of one moment, one instant.” Henry’s eyes were still in that far off place, but I couldn’t help wonder if the story had shifted from Tom to someone else whose life had changed in one moment from one accident.

“So you stepped in with your deep pockets and saved the day,” I said.

He shook his head. Adamantly. “I didn’t save the day, Eve. All I did was even the scales a bit. Life is a fickle bitch and wants to give you a hand up just as much as she wants to shove you back down. If I’m in a position to help those who have fallen on her sword like I have, I’ll damn well do it.”

His eyes weren’t somewhere else anymore. No, they were right there, blazing before me. Henry rarely did impassioned, but what he’d just said and how he’d said it clearly indicated that when he did do impassioned, he did it exceptionally well.

“When did you fall on fate’s sword, Henry Callahan?” I leaned forward. He’d lived, by all definitions of the concept, a charmed life. He grew up with wealth and privilege. He had a mind geniuses before him would envy, a body that girls wanted to run their hands all over, and one of the top IT companies in the nation. As far as victims of fate’s sword, Henry was somewhere at the end of the line.

Henry tilted his head, studying my face for long enough I wanted to shift in my seat. Of course I didn’t—shifting under a man’s penetrating stare was for amateurs—but I wanted to.

After clearing his throat, he answered. “The day you walked out of my life.” My mouth snapped open to utter, accuse, or holler something, but Henry cut me off. “Correction—the day you sprinted out of my life.”

I wanted to glare at him, but I couldn’t. I wanted to splash a glass of water in his face, call him a vile name, and march out, but I couldn’t. I wanted to slap his face before turning around and sprinting out of his life again, but I couldn’t.

The Eve I’d been born wanted one thing, but the Eve I’d become had to do the opposite.

Whatever it felt like to live in harmony with myself, I was on the planet farthest away from that happy little place.

“Paperwork.” I eyed the stack beneath Henry’s arm. Apparently I was on the planet pretty damn far away from a land of smooth transitions, too.

Henry watched me for a few seconds—waiting for me to say something—before sighing. “Yeah, paperwork.” His gaze shifted from me to the stack, and he thumbed through it. “Most of it is already filled out so we won’t be here until next week. I just mainly need some signatures.”

It looked like just about everything had been filled out except for the signatures. When I thought about who had filled out something as mundane and tedious as my paperwork, my stomach coiled. Part of my plan was to surprise the shit out of Ms. Gatekeeper, aka the competition. No doubt filling out pages and pages of an application for some young woman who the boss had taken an interest in had alerted her.

“From the looks of it, your secretary’s hand must be ready to fall off.” The silver lining? She’d only have one set of claws to come at me with.

“I don’t know about her, but mine’s one page away.” Henry gave his hand a dramatic shake.

“You filled out my paperwork?” My eyebrows came together.

“Yeah, who else would have?” Henry shrugged as though it was obvious. “Besides, Eve, who knows you better than I do?”

Myself. But that was a lie. Other than being consumed by revenge and an illicit career, I’d lost my bearing a while ago. I was still moving ahead and not necessarily aimlessly, but somewhere along the way, I’d misplaced my compass. The only thing worse than losing it was having no clue where to search for it.

So instead of answering with a blatant lie or arguing that he didn’t have a clue who I was, I ignored his comment altogether. When in doubt, playing ignorant, avoidance, or ignoring worked well. “You might need a Social Security Number along with those signatures, right?” Take that, Henry Callahan. You don’t know everything about me. Insert tongue sticking out here.

“Well, actually . . .” Henry flashed the first page in front of me.

I would have choked on the Guinness Tom had just slid in front of me if I’d taken a sip. “How the hell do you know my Social Security Number?” I almost yelped before catching myself. My emotion had flared, and I’d fallen out of character. I couldn’t fall out of character with Henry, not if I was going to get the Errand done. “I mean . . . how did you know it?”

Henry took a sip of his beer and didn’t seem eager to meet my stare. “You told me it one night. Back when we were together. Do you remember?”

I searched my memories of my time with Henry. Since I’d tried to set fire to each one of them, I had a difficult time finding the one he was talking about. I shook my head.

“It was late. We’d spent half the night working on a school project and the other half of the night—”

My glare stopped him mid-sentence.

He ran his fingers through his hair before continuing with a story that hopefully wouldn’t remind me of those nights we’d shared hitting the books before moving to the bed. Or whatever was close by. “We were laying there—I thought you were almost asleep—when you listed off nine numbers. You repeated them and told me if I ever lost you or if you ever lost me, I could find you no matter what. I knew your ‘code,’ so I could never lose you.”

I had to take a full two breaths before I could reply. “I said that?” After grabbing my Guinness, I took a long sip. Henry’d been right; I did want and need that beer. “Because it doesn’t sound like something I’d say. ‘You know my code?‘ Come on, that’s lame.”

Henry’s face formed a small smirk. “We’re computer nerds. We speak, dream, and code in lame.”

“Wow, so some girls bake their boyfriends a nice dinner, or give them half of some girly locket, or . . . give them a bl*w j*b, and I gave you my Social Security Number?” I gave my head a shake. Just because I couldn’t remember that night didn’t mean I didn’t believe Henry. I wouldn’t remember those more intimate memories—they had been the first to go.

Henry clasped his hands on the table and leaned forward. “I liked knowing your ‘code’ way better than some homemade dinner or locket. And if it’s any consolation, you gave me plenty of—”

Warning glare number two. That one was twice as potent as the first one, though.

“Sorry. The memory train kind of got away from me.”

Henry shifted in his seat. I wished I could be certain it was because of the glare I was still aiming his way rather than what he was replaying in his mind. Given that his cheeks were coloring, I guessed the latter was more likely.

“Speaking of your memory”—I raised my eyebrows—“you’re telling me that after this many years, you still remember those nine numbers? You remember ‘my code’?” No, I didn’t try to keep the sarcasm from my voice, and no, I didn’t feel badly for it.

Henry’s head tilted. “And you’re telling me that you’d expect me to forget something like that?”

“It’s not like I’m your wife—just the almost one—so yeah, I wouldn’t expect you to remember my Social Security Number after five years.” At least I withheld my wince. That was about the only thing I did right in that bitter, wrong-on-every-level answer. How many times did I have to remind myself that I was with Henry as an Eve, not as the other one?

Let’s see, I suppose I was at close to two thousand reminders, so maybe a couple thousand more times?

Henry flattened his palms on the tabletop and looked up at me. His expression gave away that he was as conflicted as I was angry. “Do you want to splash your beer in my face? Do you want to slap me or take a swing or get on the table and scream about what kind of a sorry excuse for a man I am?” A flash of pain crossed his face—one that didn’t flash away quickly. “Do you want to do and say all of the things you didn’t get a chance to before running out of that room that morning? Because”—he spread his arms wide—“I’m right here. I won’t stop you. I won’t hold a grudge. In fact, it might be something of a relief because I’m certain you can’t do anything worse to me than I’ve already done to myself.”

I highly doubt that. His tune would change when his entire empire crumbled down after I’d ripped apart the foundation. One day soon, Henry Callahan would realize he could do nothing worse to himself than what I’d already put into action.

Folding my hands in my lap, I gave him a conventional smile. “If I wanted to throw my beer in your face, or slap you, or scream at you, or have you castrated, I would have done so already.” Henry didn’t flinch. No, he kept his eyes locked on mine. “If I was here for payback, I wouldn’t have worn silk and stockings. I’m here for paperwork and paperwork only.”

Okay, so that was a lie. As far as payback went, I worked best in silk and stockings. Made the Errand quicker if I showed up in them instead of boxing gloves and a mouth guard. I just took my jabs and victories in other ways.

Henry handed me the pen then slid the stack of paperwork in front of me. “Paperwork and paperwork only. Got it.”

My proverbial eyebrow rose. We’ll see.

As I worked my way through the stack, signing this page and that page and five hundred other ones, I scanned each box. Henry really had filled them all in. His blocky, slightly slanted writing was impossible to mistake. He’d filled in my school history and personal information. For prior job experience, he’d only filled in one: Private Contractor. My breath caught in my throat for a moment when I saw that. I had to remind myself Henry meant private contracting in the tech industry, not in the illicit one I really was a part of.

“I know what you’ve been up to in your professional life . . .” I said, “but what about the rest of your life? If you even have time for a personal life.”

I kept my eyes focused on the paperwork and waited. Normally I didn’t ask Targets that kind of question because I already knew their personal life. My own morbid curiosity had just asked Henry that, not my better judgment. I wanted to hear him lie; I wanted to be reminded of the man I was sitting across from . . . more like I needed to be reminded of it. When he hmmm’d and hawww’d, conveniently forgetting to mention his wife, my resolve would be renewed and I’d forget all about the man who still remembered my Social Security Number and could look into my eyes with a sincerity that made me want to squirm.