Suspiciously Obedient

Page 5

Naked, vulnerable, and now nearly broken as he stood in her room, bare and on the edge of disintegrating, he pulled his enormous will into place and began to dress quietly. Robotic hands forced his legs into his pants, his shirt to cover his chest, and muscle memory was all he really had until he was fully dressed. Resolve flooded through him. Maybe he could soften the blow of the inevitable.

Jonah Moore was a snake, and he would use the tape to extract whatever he could from Mike. Before that happened, he might be able to get Lydia out from under the worst of the media scrutiny. If he acted fast enough.

Starting for the bedroom door, he stopped, peering down at Lydia as she slept. Ah, God, why did he have to leave? A quick look at his phone told him it was nearly 1 a.m. Seven hours to do a life’s work of saving the woman he…loved?

Damn close. Closer than any other woman.

“Save” was an overestimate. “Soften,” too. At best, Mike could get her away from the worst. One phone call and he could wake his human resource emergency contact and get the ball rolling.

But first things first.

Reaching down, he brushed Lydia's thick hair away from her gorgeous jaw, the moonlight washing her hair a bluish black, like wet onyx poured over creamy skin. Her nostrils flared with each delicate breath, face relaxed, a twitch of a smile on her lips. I hope she's dreaming of me, Mike thought, and then stopped.

Of Matt? Of Mike?

Damn it.

Pressing his lips on her cheekbone, he lingered, inhaling her scent. Tomorrow all hope was lost. She would learn the truth—all of it—and the sheer volume of lies he’d dealt her would be too large to overcome.

He wasn’t Matt Jones.

He was Michael Bournham.

He was part of a reality television show.

She’d been video taped without knowing.

And they’d had sex on camera.

Which of those lies should she wave away? Were any of them small enough to forgive? In the aggregate they were too much. He’d be lucky if she didn’t stab him to death at work with a letter opener, or bludgeon him unconscious with a stapler.

A wholly unfamiliar, raw feeling flayed him emotionally, throat tight and forehead pounding. Michael Bournham hadn’t cried since his father had died, years ago—and he damn well wasn’t about to let a tear fall on Lydia’s face and wake her up. Not like this. Never like this.

Pulling back, he fought for control as he watched her, one hand gripping the door's threshold so hard that in the morning he would find paint chips under his fingernails and know exactly how they got there, his forearm aching. From porcelain skin so delicate he could see her neck’s pulse through it to the full ass that made him want to undress and slide against it once more, making her cry out his real name, Mike felt like he was watching a death. His own.

Matt Jones would die tomorrow.

Michael Bournham would wish he had.

He texted Lydia, a quick single line:

Sorry. Not feeling well. See you soon.

And now, a text to human resources to start a process rolling that would need the next seven hours to put in place, if luck were on Mike’s side.

And if not, he’d strong-arm his way through it.

Chapter Two

Jonah marched in to Mike’s office—no, marched was the wrong word. Swaggered. Absolutely ate the floor like he owned the place. Something deep had shifted in Jonah and Mike knew at that moment that his entire world was about to shatter. His breath became something other than air that went in and out of his body, breaking down into the distinct molecules, atoms, everything whirling about and in slow motion, going into his body, and then with great effort being pushed out. The light shining in from the window seemed particularly acute, brighter than he’d ever noticed, the way it streamed in, glinting off the lamp, turning the papers from a utilitarian, functional set of flat objects into little works of art. His brain was keenly aware of the beauty in even the everyday norm of a cheap corporate office that smelled, still, like Pledge and mildew.

Jonah stood. Mike didn’t even bother. “Jonah,” he said simply, squinting slightly, biting his lower lip and practically admitting defeat before the slaughter had even commenced.

Jonah’s smile didn't even come close to touching his eyes, which burned with malevolent mischief that made Mike’s balls crawl up into his groin, practically touching his Adam’s apple, so tight and so creepy was the look on Jonah’s face.

“We need to do some renegotiating,” Jonah announced, one hand smacking the top of the desk hard enough to make Mike flinch in spite of himself, in spite of his attempts to stay relaxed and to stay limber mentally, ready to play judo against whatever Jonah threw at him.

The frantic scrabbling in the back of his mind he had to compartmentalize and keep away, because that was the sound of a rat in a cage, trying to escape. Escape the fact that he had just made love with Lydia in full view of a Hollywood producer’s cameras and without her knowledge. And there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to stop this from going as crazy viral as he thought—no, as he knew it would, if it hadn’t already.

But that rat…that rat, he had to go somewhere else. Mike had to ignore him, because if he let it take over then he would become the rat. He would become a useless creature driven by baser instincts, and right now he needed every single brain cell in his logical, analytical mind if there was any hope of escaping this. Not for him—that hope was long gone—but for Lydia.

The look on Jonah’s face told Mike that Jonah thought he knew everything in this situation. But what he didn’t know was that last night Mike had executed an order to offer Lydia a promotion, an extraordinarily large raise, and a transfer. Nothing he did right now, going forward, dealing with Jonah, would stop the video. He knew that. But he could lessen the impact if he got Lydia as far away as possible.

Six months ago he had opened a new European office—the only European office for Bournham Industries, but an important one. A single flight, five hours direct out of Boston, would take her to Reykjavik, Iceland, for her new position as director of communications of European operations, with a tripling of salary, should she accept it.

Those papers wouldn’t be delivered until this morning, until after this conversation with Jonah. He hoped to God it wasn’t too late. “We know why you’re here, Jonah,” Mike said, nodding slowly.

“Good,” Jonah announced. “Then it’s all down to the details. Here’s what you’re going to do, Mike. I have metaphorical fingers on the ‘enter’ button across”—he mugged, made his lips make a musing gesture, nodding his head left and right—“fifty…no, ’bout sixty sites, that can take this video and get it millions and millions, hundreds of millions of views in about an hour.”

“An hour? I’m impressed,” Mike said.

“Oh, you should be.” Jonah blinked twice. The man’s blink rate was so low that Mike wondered what he was on. “But I don’t have to do that, Mike,” Jonah said, pretending to admire a diploma on the wall. “Here’s what I want, Mike. You’re going to give us an awful lot of investment capital in a new venture that I’m starting.”

“Go on.”

“Moore Productions.”

“Original name.”

Jonah’s lips went flat. “It’s my last name.”

“No, I know and it’s…a very traditional approach. I would have expected something a bit more innovative from you.”

Jonah’s eyes went dead. “I’m doing the talking here. I need a minimum of $100 million to get started. We’ll put out two features—”

“$100 million?” Mike interrupted him. “Bah! I don’t have that kind of money,” he laughed. Watching Jonah play the alpha male was amusing. Mike knew damn well that no one had any real control here. If Jonah had the big mouth Mike assumed he had, too many people already knew about the tape. That made Jonah a bit player in this enormous mess. Which meant Mike could have some fun here.

“But I think we can come to some kind of understanding,” he added.

Jonah matched the laugh with a mocking one of his own. “Of course you have that kind of money, Mike. All you need to do is make this happen and you’re a billionaire. Your board of directors is a handful of weeks away from providing you with an enormous buyout.”

“Funny thing about that, Jonah—that only happens if your show helps boost our profits.”

Jonah’s eyes went wide for about three seconds and then went back to normal. Ahh, Mike thought, he didn’t know that.

“So, if the deal doesn’t go through, how much are you worth, Mike?”

“What I’m worth doesn’t matter, does it, Jonah? It’s about the company’s investment.”

“Yeah, I’ve thought about that.” Jonah shook his head. “That’s not going to work. Too many questions and you have a board of directors to answer to for something as big as what I deserve. This should be a private deal between you and me.”

“How much?”

“$100 million.”

“No way.” Stringing Jonah along could buy him some time. Promises meant shit right now; making Jonah think he could blackmail him would be worth a few hours of extra time to get Lydia into a safer environment, away from the media shitstorm that was about to be unleashed.

“And besides, there’s the question of Linda,” Jonah said softly.

The way the man said the name made Mike want to choke him. He could feel his hands going around that soft, pampered asshole’s neck. Could sense his thumbs digging into his trachea, crushing all avenues for air to get in to pump that sleazy heart.

“Oh, wait,” Jonah said in a sickly sweet voice. “Not Linda. Why do I do that all the time? No, no…her name is…oh, yeah.” His eyes lasered on Mike’s. “Lydia Charles.”

Mike thought back to the moment on the desk with her. “How would you know that, Jonah? I’m not confirming or denying it.”

Jonah made a face of disgust. “Of course it’s her. If you look at the video it’s the long, black hair, the…the body, the…all of it. It’s quite a video. You’ve done a fabulous job there, Mike.” There was some sort of a hesitation in his voice, though. Mike had planted a seed of doubt. Seeds like that could grow into weeds.

“You have the video?” Mike asked.

“Sure do.” By Mike’s count, they had made it into the office just for the very end. Two minutes max were on that tape, whatever he might have caught.

“How long is the video, Jonah?” he asked.

“The good part? About four or five minutes.” Oof. He took longer than he thought. Attaboy, Mike.

No, no, erase the thought. Of all the times to be skilled, this one he wished he could take back. Not really, but…

“$10 million would be a fabulous deposit,” Jonah ventured. Fail. Whoever mentioned a dollar figure first always lost. Mike knew that cold. Jonah had already led with his $100 million request. Now he'd shaved off ninety percent. Price was irrelevant. The stakes, unfortunately, were not.

“Four or five minutes, huh? Can you say for certain that it’s who you think it is?”

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