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L.A. TRIPP

WOE TO THE

RICH! L.A. TRIPP


L.A. TRIPP

Page Turners, Evansville, IN If you purchased this book without a cover, be aware you are using stolen property. Neither the author nor the publisher have been paid for this.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents, and all likenesses are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

WOE TO THE RICH! A Page Turners Book / published by arrangement with the author PRINTING HISTORY Page Turners Edition / June 2010 All rights reserved Copyright 2010 by L.A. Tripp This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. For information address: The Page Turners Publishing Company Page Turners on the web: www.webstarts.com/PageTurnersPublishing ISBN: 978-0-9790172-0-9 0-9790172-0-3 Trademarks belong to Page Turners Publishing Company and author L.A. Tripp

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

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COUNTDOWN . . . 128 “What do you mean it’s frozen?! I should have enough cash to buy this city! I’m not like the other billionaires on the Forbes list, 80% of mine is completely liquid!” Royce Garrison wanted to slam the phone down. His scowl intensified and his hand shook while it held the phone, white knuckles about to break the receiver right in his hand. “I’m sorry Mr. Garrison. Every dollar is frozen. But don’t worry, you’re not the only one this has happened to. It seems that all of your colleagues are having the


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same problem. Derrick Plum even had to ride the public bus into the company this morning. His credit card wouldn’t work to put gas into his car and he had almost no cash on him.” Troy didn’t understand what was going on. As a glorified account manager that handled the top accounts in the company, he had never seen anything like this before. Every single partner in the company had all their assets frozen. It’s like one of those times the government smells a scandal, swoops in to investigate, then saves the day. “Like that’s supposed to make ME feel better! I don’t care what he had to do! He’s a minor partner anyway. I, on the other hand, have to fly to Europe to close a major deal! How am I going to be able to do that if my accounts are all frozen?!” Troy sighed. What was he supposed to say to the man that founded this company 10 years ago and can make a split second decision about Troy’s job, whether to keep him or fire him? “What would you like me to do, Mr. Garrison?”


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“You’re supposed to know about computers. Figure out where the glitch is!” Garrison’s voice roared through the phone. “I’ll do my best, sir.” “You better do more than your best Troy Estrada, or else!” Royce slammed the phone down into the cradle and heard a loud crack when it made contact. “Great, all the money is frozen and now my phone is broke!” His face went red with fury. Troy gently sat the phone down in its cradle and studied the computer screen. He had no idea of even where to start looking. He had never seen this happen to so many accounts all at once. As he scanned the screen he started noticing that not only was it the partners, but everyone who had at least a million dollars in assets was frozen. The names jumped right out at him and he recognized them immediately. Everyone that he personally handled accounts for. That wasn’t good. Damn, this makes it look like I’m extorting their money! I don’t need this shit right now. That means bye-bye job, which is the last thing he needed, considering he was 6 months behind on the house


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payment. The only reason they hadn’t foreclosed is because one of his clients is the bank manager that financed him. He was 3 months behind on both car payments, and the payments weren’t cheap, at $500 a pop each month. One day he would own luxmobiles, as he called them. You know, the Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s that wealthy people own. But not now. On top of all that, his wife was ready to leave him because she knew he was messing with his secretary, never mind the fact that she is messing with her own boss. “Hey Troy, have you seen this stuff this morning? Is this crazy or what?” Jim King, his sidekick, life long friend, and colleague just walks right into his office. He handles all of the accounts that ranged between $100,000 and 1 million dollars. Jim was the next notch down on the totem pole, or as is politically correct, the company hierarchy, under Troy. “You mean your clients accounts are messed up too?” “Messed up? That’s not even close to describing this. Every single penny is frozen.” He laughed and had a cocky smile on his face. “Now my clients get to see what it’s like to work for a living, like we have to. I’m


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glad now that I never invested my cash into the company like they want us to. I’d be in the same boat as them.” “Yeah, good for you,” Troy said halfheartedly, wondering how Jim managed to have the money he always seemed to have, when Troy’s commissions were always bigger because he had wealthier clients. He didn’t even look at Jim’s face, already knowing what his expression would be. They played sports and hung out together. Carefree times. A part of Troy wished he could have those carefree times back right now. “So how bad is it with your clients?” Jim’s voice crackled with too much excitement for Troy’s ears to handle at the moment. “Same.” “I heard Garrison is ready to go on a firing spree because of this. He wants to hang somebody for this mess up, and quick.” “Really.” How did they manage to remain friends all these years, Troy wondered.


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“Yeah, Troy. He can’t get me, I’m sure, because there is no trace of me linked to this. For once, something I didn’t have a part of!” “That’s good to hear.” Troy tried sounding interested, but the half-heartedness just wouldn’t go away. He had too much else on his mind to worry about what Jim was saying.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 127 Royce couldn’t calm his heart rate down. He already had heart problems and his doctor had him popping pills like candy and this wasn’t helping. He dialed another number. “Olivia,” he said as soon as the other end picked up. “Yes, Royce,” she responded as cheerful and eager as ever. By the sound of her voice, you’d never know anything was wrong. However Olivia Swanson was so good at knowing what was going on that she probably knew about this before anybody in the building did. That’s one reason Royce had her as his secretary. He wouldn’t let anybody benefit from her skills if he could help it.


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“How much cash do we have in the box out there?” Royce kept his emergency cash in a safe box in his secretary’s office. He figured if someone wanted to rob him, they would look in his office, not hers. “There is half a million, Royce.” Be prepared for every emergency, that’s what I always say. Olivia has learned that well. Too bad my partners never did. Course, I never expected an emergency like this . . . “Well, that should get us through a few days anyway.” He breathed a slight sigh of relief. “Hopefully by then our computer geeks will have this mess straightened out. I don’t know why I pay them if they can’t stop this kind of thing.” “Royce, before you go on a firing spree, I think you should know something…” “Don’t have time right now Olivia. We’ll talk later today.”


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She knew she couldn’t push him, because he was bullheaded. It would be his way regardless of how much she tried, but at least he was giving her his word to talk later. “OK, but make sure we do talk today. And please, to save yourself some embarrassment, don’t fire anyone until you talk to me.” “OK, whatever you say Olivia.” He disconnected without another word. She loved it when he did that. It made her feel like she was his boss, which would never happen, but she loved feeling that anyway. At least she had some kind of say in what he did. Royce did want to fire some people. He wanted to fire every computer guy in the building, but he knew that was his temper and it wouldn’t solve anything. He walked to his window and took in the view to calm himself down a little. The view always did the trick. Looking out over the city from the 90th floor, he could see the entire city. It gave him the feeling that the city was all under his control. Of course, it was, but most


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people didn’t know that. His building, which was a personal asset of his, also housed the offices for 35 other companies. With his money and power, the government always gave him priority and usually did what he wanted. Now, he took a deep breath in as he looked out his massive imported windows that covered the entire wall facing the city. The opposite side of the building, and his office, looked out over the river the city was built on. His office looked like an out of shape barbell, with two big pockets at each end of the building, with a sort of walkway connecting them. The other side of the wall in the walkway housed the hallway where Olivia and any clients and all of the staff came through. It also contained an elevator. Not bad for a 45 year old guy with a wife and 3 kids. Now, if he could just get his assets unfrozen, his heart could start beating normally again.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 126 Troy sat there, his face buried in his hands, mind racing. He looked at the screen again. From everything he pulled up, this just seemed to “happen”. No explanation, nothing making sense. Yesterday everything was fine, but today everything is haywire. At least my account isn’t frozen, but that’s probably because there’s nothing in it . . . For a man in his position, he was not doing well financially. He should have at least $500,000 in savings and have his bills caught up and be ok. At least, according to all of the ‘statistics’. But none of that mattered right now. At this moment, he had to somehow figure out what was going on with Garrison’s money and assets. RING.


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Troy looked at his phone, scared to answer. He didn’t want to talk to Garrison right now, but he didn’t think Royce would already be calling back. If it is him, he’s probably calling to fire me. In which case I’d rather get it over with. He answered. “Hello,” Troy said, slightly hesitating, his voice downcast. “Baby, our electric just got cut off. Thought I’d let you know. I won’t be home tonight. I’ll be spending the night with Brad. Again, just thought I’d let you know.” He heard the click on the other end. Brad Templeton, boss and wife stealer. Talk about shoving the knife in and twisting it. He knew he still loved her, and that’s what made this hurt even more. Maybe that was one reason he turned to his secretary for comfort, since he couldn’t turn to his wife. Hmmm, my secretary, maybe she’s heard something about this mess with the company. He pushed the page button on his phone. She picked up.


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“Jessica, do you know anything new about the accounts here?” “No, sorry, I don’t.” Jessica Worthwood’s voice was slightly downcast for not being able to give an answer. “Ok, that’s fine. Hey Jess…” “Yes, Troy?” “Do you mind if I come over tonight? I have the whole night free and I’d like to spend it with you.” “Sure. We’ll have some fun.” He hung up. He could hear an edge of excitement in her voice. It was obvious she really did love spending time with him, although he didn’t completely understand why. She is a beautiful woman, 25 years old, with a bright future, and single. I don’t know for the life of me why she’s still single. He’d worked with her now for 2 years and she seemed perfect. Wonderful personality, hard worker, the sweetest woman he had ever met, including his wife. Not to mention the best


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sex he had ever had too. So why wasn’t she married? Or at least have a boyfriend? Well, anyway, she was obviously excited to have him stay with her for the night. That only happened once before, when he had a business trip planned and she went with him. They stayed in the same room, of course. He never stayed at her house before, although he had been there several times before or after work.

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COUNTDOWN . . . 125 Olivia hit the intercom button. “Royce, the rest of the partners are on their way here. They have called an emergency meeting.” She chuckled. “I’m sorry, but this is funny, 8 of the 9 have to use public transportation today to get here. Needless to say they are not in a good mood. Do you need me to get anything for the meeting?” “No Olivia, thank you. Just don’t say anything about the cash that we have in there.” “No problem.”


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Troy scanned his computer screen again, hoping to find something, even a tiny piece, that would jump out at him and let him link that mentally to what’s going on. I have to . . . find this problem . . . now. Damnit brain, think. As he scanned, his mind raced between his problems at home, his new problems here at work, and wondering how much time Garrison would give him to solve this problem before he took extreme measures. It was probably a good thing that Garrison was the one to personally hire Troy, so at least Royce knew him a little better than if Troy had gone through the normal hiring process. He had met Garrison 3 years earlier while Troy was a between jobs salesman and Royce was looking for a special gift for his wife, to make up for all the time he wasn’t with her. Troy didn’t have to ask what he did with all his time away from his wife. Guys in Garrison’s position that held all that power, to Troy it was pretty obvious. He imagined that power would be intoxicating. So Troy had known Royce for about a month before Garrison approached him about this job. He said he had wanted someone that could keep a low profile at the company and take care of things for him. He told Troy he gave him the offer


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because he liked his attitude when he had done business with him before. He could see himself in Troy when he was younger. As Troy scanned and scanned, the frustration seemed to cling to his fingers. It wouldn’t shake off, no matter how many keys he pounded. There was nothing obvious there to catch his eye. This didn’t seem to be some small mistake that just happened, because he wasn’t seeing any obvious signs of that. No one had entered any wrong information by accident. He didn’t see any computer malfunction. It just didn’t appear to be anything that happened within the company.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 124 Jim practically ran back into Troy’s office. “Troy! You’ve got to see this. Turn on your TV over there.” “What Jim? What’s up?” Troy’s voice was almost a growl. He tried to hide it, but hanging on the edges of irritation didn’t make it easy. “Just trust me, buddy.” He sighed, then reluctantly turned to his TV and clicked it on. Better do it or Jim won’t back off. It was on the news station, as usual. He tried to keep current on


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things as much as possible. It helped with his job with Garrison. A glass panel that was invisible and would be mistaken for the wall suddenly came to life with images from around the world and a news anchor dressed in the typical navy blue blazer. Troy’s eyes quickly became glued to the monitor. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing. Companies from all over America, and the world, were reporting the same type of problem that his company is having. “This is unbelievable.” Jim said after letting him soak it in. Troy sighed with relief. “Actually, it’s very believable to me. It explains why I couldn’t see anything on the screen when I was scanning the files. It also brings me a little relief. At least Garrison won’t hold me accountable for all of this.” “I’d love to know how it’s all happening.”


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“Well, I’m sure we will all find out soon. With the entire world now linked together, none of the governments are going to sit back and let this go on. They will stop it fast. At least it’s out of my hands.” He sat back in his chair, glad to have the load off of him. “Are you going to tell Garrison now?” “He probably already knows by now. That’s probably why he hasn’t been breathing down my neck about this.” “Well, you’re the computer whiz here. How do you explain this?” He looked up at Jim, barely holding the irritation back. “I don’t explain it, Jim. I don’t need to, so I’m not worried about it. I’ve got too many other things to worry about.” Jim walked out of the office without saying another word. Troy wondered if Jim could feel the tension radiating from him. He felt like the air in the room was heavy.


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As he sat there, trying to let the tension drain from him, which wasn’t working anyway, his phone rang again. He looked at it with caution. He let it ring twice before he even attempted to answer. “This is Troy.” “After my partners and I have a meeting, me and you need to talk.” Troy stiffened up even more. Apparently he wasn’t out of the woods with Garrison yet. “Understand, Troy?” Garrison’s voice radiated authority, as always. “Yes, sir.” “Our meeting shouldn’t last long, and we’re about to start. I’ll call you when we’re done.” He heard the click on Garrison’s end. Then hung up . . . and put his head in his hands again.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 123 After work Troy went straight to Jess’s house. I need to refocus my mind on something other than work. She met him at the door wearing a long Mickey shirt that she wore to bed sometimes. It was long enough to be a very short dress, and she probably didn’t have anything on under it, knowing her anticipation. That’s ok. He was just as excited. “Hey baby. I’m glad you could stay with me tonight, and at my house too.” She reached out and wrapped her arms around him, pulled him close, and laid the biggest kiss on his lips that she could muster. “I’m hungry, let’s go eat.”


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“Trying to tease me already, eh?” “Nah, just getting ready for later.” One eye shut, while the other watched him, and a smile formed on her lips. He tapped her rear as she walked in front of him. “Let’s save the food on the table . . . for dessert,” he said as he pushed her against the wall, pinning her back to it . . . covering her inviting lips with his . . . squeezing the swollen mounds on her chest with his hands . . . Troy lay in bed with Jess. She was already sound asleep, snuggled up against him after a fantastic night spent enjoying each other. Troy just couldn’t sleep right now. His mind wandered off to his wife, wondering how much she was screaming tonight with pleasure from the guy she was with. He would probably never know. As much as he felt at home with Jess, he really missed his wife. He was sure she didn’t share the sentiment. The short meeting with Garrison was also on his mind. Fix it or you’re gone. And while I’m at it, I’ll take your


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first born as well. You’re supposed to be competent on the computer. Work your damn magic, boy. Troy knew it was impossible to meet the man’s standards, but that didn’t take any of the pressure off. Troy’s career was in Garrison’s hands, but he felt his life was too, at this moment. That’s how heavy the load weighed him down. How am I supposed to cure or solve or fix anything anyway? This ain’t just a problem in our local system. Yesterday’s news showed it’s a world wide problem. And I have enough personal problems anyway. I can’t be expected to focus on this global dilemma. Of course Garrison would expect it, I’m watching all of his billions. If I just had one percent of that man’s wealth. Just one measly percent. His financial struggles would be over then. One percent of 85 billion. Nice thought. Of course, all of it is frozen right now and Garrison can’t get to it. Except for the stash he kept in Olivia’s office. He wasn’t supposed to know about that stash, but what Garrison doesn’t know, as they say. Regardless, he knew the old man didn’t have to worry about anything financially, unless of course this freeze thing kept on for a week or more. But the power players


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of the world wouldn’t allow that to happen, of which the old man was one of the biggest. Well, he just needed to keep Garrison happy in order to keep his job so he could at least keep his current cash flow coming. Not that it would save his present finances, but maybe he could figure a way to dig out . . . maybe.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 122 Jess met him in the kitchen with a huge smile, breakfast on the table, and a bear hug. “Baby, last night was fantastic. I feel so good this morning. We should do this more often.” Her smile was electric. He hadn’t seen her this upbeat in a while. Not since he had first started seeing her and having sex with her. “I haven’t slept that good in a long time.” “Yeah, mind-blowing sex usually does that.” “Oh yes. And I want more.” She let him go and they sat at the table. “Looks good. Thank you for the breakfast.”


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“Eat up baby. You used a lot of energy last night. I want to refill you this morning.” He surveyed the table and his mouth started watering. A plate full of crisp bacon, another plate full of homemade biscuits, a bowl of homemade gravy, a pitcher of fresh juiced orange juice. “You want me to stay here all morning, just eating breakfast?” He smiled at her. “Looks delicious.” “Yes you do, but I want you to eat.” She returned his smile. His cell phone rang. His wife’s number popped up. He considered for a second not answering, but decided he better. “Hey babe,” the sultry, obviously sexually satisfied voice on the other end of the line said. There was a very content sigh. He didn’t speak.


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“I thought I should let you know, I’ll be staying here again tonight, so don’t wait up for me. I just can’t get enough of a good thing. By the way, you should check the voice mail at home, when you get home, and make sure we’re not missing anybody important. Then be sure to let me know if someone has called for me, ok babe? Thanks.” The line went dead. He hung up the phone without ever saying a word. Jess looked at him with a worried look on her face. “Are you ok baby?” “Yeah, fine. Just my wife, who I didn’t want to talk to anyway. She hung up. No big deal.” He started to dig back into the food. She reached her hands over to his face, cupped his face, and lifted his eyes to hers. “Are you sure you’re ok? Something seems to be bothering you. Did she say something?” He leaned forward and kissed her gently.


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“I’m fine baby. I’m here with you now, right where I want to be. We need to eat and get to work, you know.” He quickly changed the subject, not wanting to think about his longing for his wife. “I know. I just want to make sure you’re alright though.” “I’m good.” He smiled at her, gave her another peck, leaned back and started eating again. His phone rang again. He didn’t even want to look at the caller id this time. He let it ring twice, then checked it, getting annoyed by the ringing. His boss. This one he definitely didn’t want to answer, but knew he had to. “Hello Mr. Garrison.” “Get in here. NOW.” The line went dead. Still holding the phone up to his ear, he looked up at Jessica. She had a puzzled look on her face.


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“I got to go. Sorry.” “Don’t be. I heard that myself. What’s going on?” “I don’t know. I’ve got too much stuff of my own to worry about.” He stopped and looked at her, realizing she would probably take that as saying she was a pest. “Ok. You know, if I’m making you’re life hard, we can just call this quits now. I’m not trying to burden you.” She was about to cry. Tears were filling her eyes. Shit. “No baby. It’s not you at all. It’s just me. I promise. Let me give you a ride to work.” He thought that might help to smooth things over. “No. You go on. I’ll be in there in a little bit. Don’t worry, I’ll be in there.” She wouldn’t look at him. “Jess…” “GO.”


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He didn’t argue anymore. He knew it wouldn’t get anywhere. He tried to kiss her, but she turned away. He grabbed his stuff and left.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 121 Troy sat at his desk, reeling from the way he left Jessica this morning, what his wife was doing . . . throwing Brad in his face, and from Garrison this morning. At least he doesn’t flaunt Jess in his wife’s face. Garrison chewed him up and spit him out. If he didn’t figure out some way to unfreeze all of his cash in one week, Troy was fired. He guessed that half a mil that was in Olivia’s office wouldn’t last past a week for the old man. His thoughts were torn back to the meeting with Garrison. His body stiffened as he remembered walking into Royce’s office. The north wing, where he’s usually his calmest. Overlooking the river. Boy, that position


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sure didn’t help Troy this morning. Garrison’s hand was actually slightly shaking. So unlike him. His face red, his lips white where they were pursed together. The sharp order from Royce to sit down. The overwhelming anger and frustration in Garrison’s voice. The growl that came from his lungs as the words spilled out . . . “Boy, have you not yet found the God damn problem? What the hell are you doing with your day? Why am I paying you? You want to keep bringing in the bread to give your old lady her candy? I suggest you get your lazy ass in gear and find the solution!!!” The meeting droned on like that. Troy shrank more and more into Garrison’s chair. He felt so low at one point that he couldn’t even look out Royce’s windows, which extended to the floor . . . to see the calming river. By the time Troy left that office, he felt lower than an ant crawling on the plush carpet that covered Garrison’s home away from home. Or maybe it was his main home now . . . “Hey Troy!” Jim practically ran into Troy’s office, as usual. “Have you seen the news this morning? The best computer minds in the world are working on this glitch


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and they can’t find the answer! They don’t know what to do about all this money that’s frozen! The power players can’t have their way! They can’t get anything done!” He looked at Troy in amazement. He was not amused. “Well, I guess that means that we’re all going to lose our jobs. They won’t have enough money to pay us.” He looked at Jim with a sober look. “I hadn’t thought about that.” “You better. You better start planning what you’re going to do.” “Well, we’ll be alright. We’ve got some savings, and ours isn’t frozen.” “Good for you.” Troy had already had enough of Jim for the day. Jessica paged him. “Just thought I’d let you know I’m in, boss.”

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“Boss. You know you don’t have to call me boss. You’re not coming in here to let me know you’re here this morning and bring my messages to me?” “I’ll bring your messages in when I can.” She broke the connection. Damn. “What did you do to her Troy?” He sighed. “Can we talk later, Jim?” “Sure. I got some stuff I have to take care of anyway.” He walked out. His phone rang again. He was at work, so he was sure it wasn’t Garrison. His wife should be at work. Who could be calling? He checked the number. It didn’t show. He answered. “Oh my God.” Heavy panting. Moaning. “Yes, that’s it.” An obvious climax. “Oh, Brad, thank you baby.” The phone went dead. So she was having sex at work with Brad and rubbing it in. What else is new?


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Jessica walked in wearing a thick, long sleeve shirt and black pants. Covering all of her skin. Not making herself up sexy. She dropped his messages on his desk and quickly turned on her heel back to the door to leave, without saying a word. Damn. What have I done? My wife is gone, my mistress is pissed and may be done with me, my job is gone within a week . . . what am I gonna do? He went back to his computer and started messing around with it. The one thing he actually could control right now was finding some way to appease his boss, at least for a little while.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 120 “Olivia, you’re going on that business trip with me. Book us a hotel room. I’ll need you there to help me relieve some stress.” “Ok. Already done.” Garrison studied her eyes for a long minute before he turned and walked back into his office. He was pacing and he needed an outlet, now. The financial pressures were mounting. He had clients to answer to, partners that were worried sick, and a firm that had a reputation. Hell, he had a reputation to watch. He called Olivia on the office phone. She answered quickly, as always.


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“Come in here. We need a moment.” “It will have to be for just a moment. My husband is coming to see me for lunch.” He sighed. He wished he had more control over Olivia. “Fine.” He hung up. Meanwhile, downstairs, the man punched the up button on the elevator. A task he didn’t do all too often with this particular elevator. After a minute it chimed, signaling to him that it was at his service. The doors moved open. He stepped through. As his feet stood on the moving platform, he turned on his heels and punched yet another button, taking him to the top floor. The ride was long and quiet. But then, what would you expect when ascending 80 plus floors. He thought they could at least play some decent elevator music in here, with all the money the company had. Oh well, management has to go cheap in certain areas, he figured.


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After what seemed like forever of his mind wandering, the box that he rode in came to a soft, yet sudden stop. Another chime letting him know it’s service duty was done. The doors moved aside to let him out. He walked down the hall just in time to see his wife walking out of her boss’s doors and sitting down at her desk, greeting him with a smile. “Ready to eat, honey?” He leaned his elbows on her desk. “Of course. I’ve missed you.”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 119 As Troy scanned the screen, his mind was racing. He started noticing a lot of patterns. His mind kept comparing the information from the news, telling how this is a worldwide travesty, with what he was seeing in front of him. Troy had accessed the mainframe of city hall. If what he was noticing here had any similarities to what was going on everywhere else, he was actually starting to see some light. His intrigue was building. It was true that he did have the computer knowledge to work wonders with them, and with the internet. Now, if I could just wade through all the shit in my life and somehow focus on this for Royce . . . maybe that would buy me a little time. I hope.


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The first oddity that popped out at him was the fact that the minimum balance of every frozen account was the same throughout the whole city. Every one who had at least $50,000 in the bank couldn’t touch their money. That would surely spell trouble for all the high officials. There would be major waves made from this and heads would roll. Of course, if it’s this way across the world, considering this is a global thing… Troy had to find out. His fingers started flying across the keyboard. Troy’s cell rang and rang, but he was so focused on the computer and the figures burning across the screen that he didn’t even notice. His mind was processing things faster than he had been in the last 6 months. Electricity started flowing through him again. He was feeling more alive than he had felt in what seemed an eternity. Jessica gently opened the door to Troy’s office. Troy hadn’t contacted her for the last 3 hours. Very unlike him. She stood in the doorway, silhouetted in it, and watched. Fingers kept pounding at the keys, flying across them at lightning speed, with no obvious regard to time.


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“Troy.” She spoke softly at first. No response. She cleared her throat. “Troy.” Fingers continued to fly. Eyes focused completely on the computer screen, never leaving it. Eyebrows formed a frown, focusing on the data. She stepped inside the office and closed the door. Still no response. She walked toward his desk, slowly. She hadn’t seen him concentrate like this since she had been working with him. He was completely unaware of anything other than the computer.


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Jessica rested her hands on his desk, squatted down so she was across from him, facing him, and tried to pry his eyes from the screen by looking straight into them. His eyes never even flinched from the ocean of numbers. They darted back and forth, racing across the screen, scanning it. She raised back up, walked around the desk, and stood beside him. “Troy.” Still nothing. She laid her hand on his shoulder as she repeated his name one more time. He jumped. “Don’t do that!” “Don’t do what?” “Sneak up on me like that! Can’t you see I’m working?”


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“Troy, I’ve been calling your name and trying to get your attention.” “Sorry, can’t you see I’m busy? What do you need?” “I just wanted to let you know it’s lunch time. Are you taking your lunch?” “Would you mind having something delivered here for me? Please? I’m finally onto something and I need to see it through.” “What would you like?” “You know what I like. Just pick something.” He focused back on the screen. Thoughts floated around in her head, looking for lodging. I’m surprised that he’s not focused on me. Facing her conscience, the truth was there shouldn’t be any surprise. She had been so cold to him today, because of the remark he made to her this morning. She knew it hurt him that she was giving him the cold shoulder. After that, she hoped he would be groveling for her. Instead, he had moved on to something else.


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Something, dare she say, more important than her. Well, it was good that he was getting his work done anyway. That’s something he had been falling behind on. She didn’t like not having all of his attention, but she would deal with it. After all, if it weren’t for Troy, she wouldn’t have this job. He’s the one that interviewed and hired her. Jess walked back to the door, to leave the office. She decided instead of calling for something to be delivered, she would go and pick up some lunch for both of them and bring it back. They would eat together. Jess knew she was being selfish this morning, that he hadn’t meant any harm by it. But it did still hurt to hear it. She just had to grow up and get over it.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 118 The more patterns Troy noticed, the more curious he got. He knew the food should be here anytime, so it was urgent to get in every last minute he could before it arrived. The door opened, Jessica walked back in carrying a brown bag of food in each hand. “Usually you call me when the delivery gets here. You didn’t have to go out of your way.” Troy looked between her hands and her eyes as he spoke, not attempting to hide the surprise in his voice . . . or the raised eyebrows. “That’s ok. It wasn’t delivered.”


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“What? Who did you call? I’ll call them myself and file a complaint.” His hand reached for his phone. His eyes and ears sharpened. “No. That’s ok. I didn’t call anyone.” She gave him a calm look while setting the food down on his desk. Troy studied her face. He knew he was missing something, but he was so focused on the computer problem that he didn’t catch it. “I went myself and bought something for us and brought it back here.” He continued to study her face, trying to focus his mind on reading it. He squinted . . . as if that would help him concentrate. “Well, that was nice of you, but you didn’t have to.” She laughed. “I know that, but I wanted to. I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I joined you to eat.”


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“Well, you can, but to be honest, I’m really focused on this computer glitch and I’m finding a lot of things about it that are interesting.” “That’s ok. Maybe I can help you catch something you might miss.” He grinned. “You think so?” He knew she didn’t know much about computers, except the basic programs she used as his secretary. She grinned back, slightly, acting shy. “Well, do you at least mind if I join you in here so we can eat together?” “No. I don’t mind. Maybe I can bounce some ideas off of you anyway.” “That’s what I’m here for.” She pushed a chair around his desk and sat down beside him. “Well, that’s one thing you’re here for.” He gave her a quick peck on the cheek, afraid to push it any further right now.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 117 Royce sat back in his chair, relaxed now. Olivia was out to lunch with her husband, hopefully enjoying her lunch hour. He never wanted to split those two up. Her husband was a good man. Olivia just helped Royce when he needed it. At the moment, he had bigger problems to worry about. If Troy didn’t get something done with this computer mess up, and get his assets unfrozen . . . At least he knew he wouldn’t lose any of his personal possessions. He was much smarter than the other billionaires. He didn’t owe a payment on anything he owned personally.


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The only items with payments were deals with other partners. Some business transactions were done with associates. Primarily the biggest ones. Not because he couldn’t afford it without them, but that he wanted to spread himself out more, take on less risk on any individual investment. So instead he worked with some trusted investors. But even that, at this point, was shaky. All the investors he worked with also had their assets frozen, and payments would be coming due on those investments. Those partners didn’t have their assets liquid like Royce did. In fact, those partners were either already without cash in their pockets, or would be within the next two days. None of them were as smart as him. I tried to tell them, but they wouldn’t listen, and now they are paying the price. The problem with that is, they’re making me pay a small price too . . . and that will have to change. If Troy didn’t get this glitch fixed, Garrison would not only fire Troy, but he would be forced to abandon his partners. Royce couldn’t be left holding the bag for these investments, and he damn sure wasn’t going to be stuck paying all the payments himself. He would have to force his partners to buy him out. And considering he


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held the majority stake in every deal, those buy outs would be considerable. This is how the big boys play. And Garrison forged the path the other big boys followed.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 116 Troy’s eyes were still focused on the screen as he shoveled food into his mouth. Jessica’s eyes were mostly focused on Troy’s. She hadn’t seen him this focused on his work in too long. It was good to see. “Thanks for the food, Jess. I really appreciate it.” He talked the best he could while his mouth was full and he was concentrating on the computer. “No problem, baby.” She wanted to throw that last word in to see if he would respond to it. Considering their incident this morning, and the way she had treated


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him so far today. She had already finished her food, and just continued to sit there and study him. He grinned. The first grin that cracked his face since he started concentrating on the glitch. Troy caught the word ‘baby’, but he didn’t respond. He at least knew that she was willing to put this morning behind them. That was a small comfort amidst all the turmoil in his life at the moment. As they heard the knock on the door, they both jumped. “There shouldn’t be anybody here, or coming in right now. You don’t have any appointments, the staff is gone, and the office is closed for lunch.” Jess had a confused look on her face. “I don’t know. But we need to see who it is. Go let them in.” He broke his concentration from the screen to watch the door, and watch Jess walk to it. At least he could still appreciate the eye candy. He saw the two men in black suits walk through the door. One of them pulled out his identification tag.


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“Hi. I’m Bob. We’re from Liberty Bank. We’ve left messages on your machine at home, with no response. It’s been 90 days since the first message. We haven’t heard from you, so we’re here to pick up your car. I need the keys sir.” He held out his hand. Troy looked into Bob’s eyes. He knew he meant business. Troy also knew he didn’t have any position or ability to cross him, so he reached into his pocket and took out his keys. As he handed them over, he thought about Monica. It was obvious she knew how long they had been calling, yet never said anything to him. She apparently never contacted them herself either. She basically set him to fall like this. Another strike against her. Like she didn’t have enough against her as it is. Jessica looked at Troy as the men left, with the car keys. She studied his eyes, his face, worried about him, and his pride. “I’m ok,” he said, as if he knew what she was thinking. “I’ll be having a talk with Monica though, you can bet on that.”


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“I guess you will need a ride after work?” That was obvious enough, but she wanted to offer, hoping he would blatantly accept the ride from her. “Please. If you don’t mind.” She smiled, pleased with herself for asserting. “Nope, don’t mind at all.” She sat back down, feeling a little better inside now, knowing he was still ok with her. Also feeling sorry for him because of the stuff going on in his life. She put her hand on his leg.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 115 Olivia paged Royce as she sat back down, getting back from her lunch break with her darling husband, Jake. He was so understanding of her work load and hours. Jake didn’t mind her working late hours on top of early hours, and skipping a lot of lunches too. She figured he would never know exactly why she did all of that. It never showed up on her paycheck, although she did get ‘bonuses’ as rewards. Often coming home with a brand new outfit that, unknown to her husband, she bought while out with her boss. Actually, she didn’t buy it because the money never left her hands, or purse for that matter. It was always Royce’s money that bought her new clothes. Jake never questioned anything, so she never felt the need to explain.


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“Did you enjoy your lunch, Olivia?” “Yes. Thank you.” She knew there was an underlying thought there. “Not half as much as our lunches, I’m sure.” “Right. Not half as much.” There it was. He smiled and released the button. Sexual antics at work aside, he had to figure out fast what he was going to do about business. If he didn’t hear something from Troy today about some kind of resolution, he was going to have to fire him. Someone had to take the fall for this, and it damn sure wasn’t going to be himself. No matter what those con-artists said in their deal with him. This glitch wasn’t supposed to affect him, just everyone else.

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car was repossessed. He sat back in his chair, trying to let the stress drain out of him. Jessica saw the stress on his face, saw it was taking a toll, and decided to get behind him and start massaging his shoulders to bring him some relief. His shoulders were so tight. Jess knew Troy had muscles, but they were harder than normal. She could actually feel the tension, like electricity, as her hands moved over his skin. Rubbing, squeezing, pressing on his shoulders, neck, and back. Troy was amazed. Jess’s hands running over his body, giving him a quick massage. He could actually feel some of the stress just disappear. He sat there and let her work on him for about 15 minutes. Then he was finally able to relax. He took her hands, pulled her around to face him, and sat her down, gently, in his lap. He searched her eyes. “Thanks. That felt so good.” He pulled her head toward him to gently give her a kiss on the mouth. Just a quick thank you. “You’re welcome. I know you’re stressed. I felt it.”


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Troy noticed that little red light on his phone. The dreaded light, as far as he was concerned. At least right now. It meant that Royce wanted to talk to him. He didn’t have any news for him, and he was feeling pretty fried right now mentally, so this was the last thing he wanted. He picked up the phone anyway, figuring he had no choice. “Hello, Mr. Garrison.” His voice obviously fatigued. “Troy. Do you have any answers for me yet?” “No, sir. Sorry, I don’t. I am working on it though, and I have noticed some…” “I don’t want to hear that! I hired you for answers! At least partly! This is not good enough for someone that works at my firm. I thought you were better than this.” “I am sir. I really am, and I think you know that. I think I’ve proven that to you before, many times.” Troy felt things slipping away from him, and he desperately tried to get Royce to think about how valuable he had been to the firm in the past.


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Jess noticed how tight Troy’s shoulders got again. She could tell by the way the conversation sounded this wasn’t looking good, which meant trouble for her too. If Troy lost his job, what would she do? After all, she was his secretary. “Clean out your office immediately! This is completely unacceptable! Tell Jessica I need to see her now!” Troy sighed. There it went. What did he have left? “Yes, sir.” He couldn’t keep his voice from being downcast. “No, I mean right now, while you’re on the phone. I want to KNOW you’ve told her. I know she’s in there with you.” Troy stiffened even more. He turned and looked at Jessica. His voice started to slightly shake. “Jessica, Mr. Garrison needs to see you in his office, immediately.”


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She didn’t speak. She just stared at Troy’s eyes, trying to read them. His eyes were slitted. Like there was no life in them. “Right now Troy! She is to leave your office immediately!” “Ok, sir, bye.” “Don’t you hang…!” Troy put the phone down. “I don’t know what’s going on, but he wants to see you in his office now. Oh, by the way, I’m fired.” “Ok. I’ll go in a minute.” “You better not wait.” “What’s he going to do? Fire you if I don’t?” “No, but maybe fire you.”


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“He probably will anyway. What else will I be needed for?” “I don’t know. One thing I do know is I don’t have a job, a car, or a home. I don’t know where I’m going to go or what I’m going to do.” “Well, I know where you’ll go. You’re coming home with me, and staying there.” “I can’t do that.” “I don’t think you have a choice, now do you.” He couldn’t argue with that. What leverage did he have? She gave him a hug, a small kiss on the mouth, and walked out of the office. He stood there, still stunned. He was just starting to figure something out with the computer glitch too. Royce wouldn’t even listen. Why was that? He still wanted to figure out the problem. It had grabbed his attention. And besides, what else was he going to do at

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this point? At least that would be productive use of his time, until he found another job. He would just have to use Jess’s computer at her home. She wouldn’t mind. That much he knew.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 114 On the way to Royce’s office, Jessica started to tremble. I need this job more than ever now. Especially since I just strong armed Troy into staying with me, and he’s lost his job. Of course, that was her desire, to have Troy with her. That made her happy. But now she didn’t know what to expect from Royce. Obviously there was no reason for her to stay, yet she needed to. What did he want to talk to her about? As she walked in, he was sitting in his chair with his back to the door. “Close it.” Simple command, but direct, and with authority.


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She did as told. “We need to talk.” Again with authority. She tried to keep her body from shaking. Just the tone of his voice was frightening. She walked slowly toward his desk, reaching out for the chair in front of it. The intent was to take a seat and hopefully keep her legs from shaking noticeably. He turned in his chair and looked straight into her eyes. Before she could reach the chair, she froze from his direct stare. “You don’t have to worry about your job. You are staying with us.” “I . . . I . . . I am?” Trying to compose her self was proving impossible. “Yes. I need you to do something for me.” A partial relief washed over her. She was still working. That was a big plus. “Ok.”


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“You will remain in my employment if you will keep an eye on Troy for me. I want to know what he’s doing, when he’s doing it, and why he’s doing it. You report directly to me from now on.” He let that sink in. She was stunned. She didn’t understand. “Is there something specific you’re wanting to know?” She thought that was as good a question as any. “You just report everything to me. I know he’s going to be staying with you. I know you will know everything he’s doing. So that’s the deal. I know you still need your job.” The look he gave her was both confident and cocky. He knew he had her pinned, at least for the moment. “If you decide you want to find employment elsewhere, I understand, but just know that I won’t give you a good reference until you’ve done this task for me. And don’t think you can use Troy as a reference . . . since he’s just been fired for mishandling vital information . . . he’s not likely to be finding another job anytime soon.” A smug smile rested on his face. Her blood was boiling. She had no idea that Royce was such a tremendous jerk. He had power, and he knew it.


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He got what he wanted, no matter who he had to run over to get it. She turned quickly on her heels, trying to control her temper so she didn’t say something or do something she’d regret. She started walking, as calmly as possible, which wasn’t easy, back to his door. She heard the chair move, not squeak, but slightly move. Heard the hard rubber soles of the fancy dress shoes on the floor, barely, and before she knew it, a hand had grabbed her arm. Forcefully, almost brutally, yanked back to spin her around. She was face to face with him. She saw the fury in his eyes, along with the control keeping it at bay. “You answer me when I’m talking to you or giving you orders. You NEVER walk out on me. Got that?” “Yes, sir.” Controlling her own breathing, she barely whispered the words out of her mouth. She was caught between terror, not knowing what to expect from him, and fury, realizing what kind of person he really is. “Good. Don’t let it happen again.” The fury all but vanished from his eyes, just like that.


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He opened the door for her and smiled pleasantly as she walked out. The door closed softly behind her. She didn’t even look at Olivia, but walked straight away from their offices. She had to find Troy and calm herself down, quickly.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 113 “Get off me Brad. I’m serious.” She pushed him away like he disgusted her. “I was just trying to hold you. You said that’s what you want. God, is it that time of month or something?” She huffed. “Just don’t touch me right now. Wait till later. I’m busy.” “Uh, yeah. Busy looking at a magazine telling you how to be high maintenance, like you need to learn that. Fine, I won’t touch you again.” He turned away from her. She didn’t respond to the threat.


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“Ok, so you want me to screw you when you want it, but otherwise don’t touch you.” “Yeah, something like that. Glad you understand.” She got up and walked away. Brad stood there, speechless, mouth hanging on the floor.

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COUNTDOWN . . . 112 Jessica felt the pounding in her chest when she finally saw Troy again. She ran to him and threw her arms around him. He was still packing his stuff in his office. He only had a few items left. “Well, not that I’m complaining, but what’s this all about?” As bad as I want to tell him everything that just happened, I can’t take a chance on it right now. I don’t know if Royce’s watching, and Troy doesn’t need the extra stress. “Why don’t we just get out of here? Let’s get home, ok?” Jessica felt the tsunami rising up inside her. Desperately working to keep her face straight, even comforting for Troy. This was not the time for him to


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ask pointed questions in the moment. Jess hoped he was still too blinded by his own trauma to catch on to hers. “I’m assuming that you mean your home, right?” “Well, I consider it our home, at least right now.” She looked into his eyes. “Considering you can’t stay at your home right now.” She gave him a quick peck. “And I don’t mind one bit having you stay with me.” He sighed. “Well, you’re the only positive thing I have in my life right now, you know that don’t you?” She knew she needed to help pick him up, somehow. She needed a boost herself. She pulled him close and squeezed him tight. “Yes, baby. I know. And I hope you will let me be here for you and continue to be that positive thing in your life.” He didn’t know what to say to her right now. Everything was falling apart, he was confused about what to do next, and didn’t know where to turn. The only solid thing he had at the moment was a place to stay with Jessica, at least until she got tired of him. Which seemed to be a recurring theme lately in his life.


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Without looking at her, he said, “Ok, let’s get out of here then.”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 111 Royce hung up the phone, blood pressure boiling once again. He could feel his heart ripping through his chest. This couldn’t be happening. The idiots screwed up on the computer glitch and caused his assets to be frozen too, and now they tell him that they lost control of it. They can’t unfreeze anything. Royce had planned for this to be a short-term thing. Maybe a week at the most. But now, Garrison had no idea how long it would last, and no control over it. He despised not having control. The entire city was under his thumb, but now he couldn’t control his own money. Royce sat back in his chair, disgusted with incompetent people. Olivia was watching carefully through the door. She knew it was bad news by the way he acted after hanging up the phone. She gently pushed herself through the door and walked over quietly to him.


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Royce sensed her watching, knew she was moving toward him. “Olivia, we need a vacation.” “Yes, we do.” “We’ve got this business trip coming up. Let’s turn it into a vacation for us. We can stay longer and relax.” Releasing pent up emotions and frustrations would do him some good. Would do both of them good, truth be told. A meeting taking place with the two biggest power players in the world. Would be a good place to have some great stress relief accompany the travelers. “Whatever you say.” She carried a smile on her face. “Make the arrangements then.” Delegating tasks. If only he could delegate stress . . . “Will we have enough cash to cover it?” Seemed logical to ask. “Don’t worry about that. Just make the arrangements.” When Garrison spoke, you acted.


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“Ok.” And like a dutiful employee, she went back to her phone.

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COUNTDOWN . . . 110 Jessica pulled in and parked at her home, Troy sitting quietly in the passenger seat. “Everything ok, baby?” Troy didn’t say anything. He seemed to be lost in his own world. She leaned toward him, tapped him gently on the shoulder. “Baby, are you ok?” He turned his face toward her and touched his lips to hers quickly. Her mouth opened instinctively and he gave her a loving kiss.


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“Thanks for helping me out and putting up with me.” He drew back, looking into her eyes. “Just so you know, this isn’t to help you out, and there’s nothing to put up with from you. You know I want you here. Otherwise I wouldn’t have offered this to you. The only thing that’s being ‘put up with’ right now is this crap that was just pulled on you at the office. You know what Garrison did to you isn’t right, not at all.” “Yeah, but he’s the boss, so what can I do?” “Come on. Let’s go in and get settled a little. Try to relax.” As good as that sounded to him, he doubted he would be able to relax for quite a while. “You know, when Garrison did this, I was just noticing some patterns in this whole computer mess. I think I’m picking up on something strange, but I haven’t had a chance to figure out what it is yet.”


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“Well, you know you can work on my computer here and figure it out.” “Yeah, and I appreciate it.” She chuckled. “You don’t have to appreciate that. It’s no problem. I don’t use it much anyway, and if it keeps you here longer, you can use it all you want.” She planted a kiss on his mouth. “That tasted good.” He smiled. “Come on. Let’s go in. There’s more where that came from, later.” “Now, that sounds good.” He patted her leg as they both started getting out.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 109 Brad and Monica walked inside Brad’s second story apartment. “I hate having to go up and down these stairs everyday. Couldn’t you have found a better place?” “What is up with you today, Monica? You’ve been bitchy all day. You’re off limits to my touch now, and you’re finding any little thing to bitch about. What’s going on?” She huffed and walked out of the room. “Fine, be a bitchy, spoiled little brat. See if I care.” He yanked the ice cream container out of his freezer, grabbed a spoon, a big one, and threw himself on the


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couch. Picked up the remote, flicked the TV on, and started surfing. Starting to relax, remote in one hand, spoon in the ice cream box in the other hand, he stretched out on the couch, legs sprawled across the floor. “Well, if she wants to bitch, I’ll just find another woman to take care of my needs until she gets over this attitude of hers,” he mumbled to himself, very much under his breath, afraid she would hear. Suddenly the ice cream box, and spoon, was yanked out of his hand. He turned just in time to see her shutting the door to his bedroom with the box in hand. The doorknob clicked as she locked it. Oh, this was just too much. She was already taking over his home, his food, locking his bedroom door to keep him out. “Oh, I see. Fuck me to make your husband jealous, move into my home, take it over, and run all over me.” He yelled loud enough to make sure she heard it.


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“Something like that,” she fired right back, loud enough for him to hear. “And you better think about fucking around with another woman since I’m cutting you off, before you take that action. You just may regret it.” “And what exactly are you going to do to me, Monica. It’s not like we’re married. Your name is not on anything. You can’t take anything from me.” He laughed to himself, thinking he had her on that one, and walked out the front door, to do just that, find another woman. She realized he was right, partly. Monica figured the way she could get him would be to just take his stuff right out from his apartment. He couldn’t get her for that, surely. Oh, he could take her to court and sue, but he wouldn’t do that . . . she didn’t think.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 108 Garrison walked into his home, where his beautiful wife was setting up the table for her and the kids. The home wasn’t extraordinarily fancy on the outside. Had a columned entrance. However, the inside showed great care. Persian rugs, tinted glass, fine china, hardwood floors. “You want to add a plate?” “Oh, you’re home early. I’m sorry, I didn’t expect you.” “That’s ok. This computer foul up has cut some things short, so I thought I’d come home a little early today, since I had a chance to.” “Sure, just give me a minute.”


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Before she could walk away, he took her hand, pulled her close, and gave her a quick, but deep kiss on the mouth that sent a shock to her toes. She didn’t get those very often anymore. She stood there, slightly stunned. “You ok?” Her breath hitched, then she breathed deeply, smiled. “Yes, yes. I’m fine. Thank you.” She went to get his plate with a smile on her face. She thought tonight would be a good night.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 107 Troy’s fork clinked the plate as he picked up his phone and dialed. “Jim, I’m sorry I slammed you earlier. I was wondering if you’d mind slipping over here to be a sounding board for me?” “Slip? You make it sound like this is some sort of tryst between two guys. Sorry bud, I don’t swing that way.” The humor in his voice was obvious. “Uh, yeah. You’re my secret . . . affair.” Troy tried to hold the contents of his stomach back as the thought of another man . . . and him . . . turned his face blue. “Alright buddy. I’ll be right over. Don’t puke on me when I get there.”


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“You know, Jim, I’ve been at this a couple of hours now.” “Yep, I know.” He always considered patience a good thing, especially when it came to dealing with Troy. ‘Well, I’ve been noticing several patterns. One, I started with hacking into our city hall and checking the heart of our system and noticed that anyone with over $50,000 in the bank or assets was frozen. Then I checked the state level for the same thing. It was confirmed. Next I looked at the national level and the pattern repeated. Now, I’m checking the World’s Central CPU and again the pattern is the same. Whoever or whatever did this started at the Central CPU and let it work it’s way out to everybody everywhere.” “So, who or what did it and how do you stop it?” “I have no idea, on either question.” “So then, what exactly is it? What has spread through the computers to cause this?”


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“I’m working on that now. There seems to be a code imbedded deep. It has to be some code, obviously, but it’s not close to the surface where it’s easily spotted.” “Yeah, obviously,” Jim thought he’d add, even though it wasn’t in the slightest bit obvious to him. “Boys,” Jessica called, “I’ve got to head out for a little bit. I’ll be back later.” “Ok, thanks for letting me use your computer for this Jess.” “How many times do I have to tell you not to thank me?” He smiled, even though she was in the other room and didn’t see it. He heard the door close and she was gone. “I always knew you two would be good together,” Jim added. “What? What gives you that idea?”


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“Just look at you two. You’re like a married couple already. And by the way, Jessica is MUCH better than your wife, too. Her attitude and personality. You got you a good one now, Troy.” “So what are you saying I should do with my old one then, eh?” He hadn’t even looked at Jim through this conversation, focusing instead on the computer. “I’d say you won’t have to worry about it. Seems to me she’s already taken care of that herself, considering you’re not at your home anymore.” Now, he turned and looked at Jim. “Have you always been this observant about my life, Jim?” “Pretty much. It’s helped me to learn a lot about how girls, or women, act. Watching your successes and failures.” He smiled. “Thanks for letting me be your unknowing teacher, student Jim.”


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“You’re welcome.” Jim’s smile grew slightly. “Alright, if you’re done learning at my expense, we have some more work to do.” “Sure, glad I could help. Consider it payback for the help you’ve given me through the years.” “Yeah, yeah.” Troy blew it off.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 106 Jessica tried to figure out what details she would spoon feed Garrison about Troy’s activities. She didn’t want to tell Royce that Troy was working on this coveted computer problem. That would spill the beans and void Troy’s efforts. She also knew if she didn’t call him soon tonight, Garrison would somehow get a hold of her, and it probably wouldn’t be good timing then. Jess had to call him now, that’s why she left by herself. The problem was figuring out what to say. She opened her cell and dialed. ****************** Monica was getting bored now, being at Brad’s place without him around. It was quiet. There was no one to argue with. The ice cream didn’t even appeal to her. There was no longer a reason to want it. It was just


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something to rip away from Brad. She opened her cell and called Troy.

Troy looked at his phone as he heard the second ring. He frowned and didn’t touch it. “You want me to answer it?” “I really don’t care one way or the other. It’s just my wife.” Suddenly Jim’s face lit up. He wasn’t doing much being a soundboard for Troy. He figured this would give him a little injection of excitement, being able to mess with Monica’s head a little bit. He quickly grabbed it and answered. “Hello. Troy’s phone. Jim speaking.” A slight pause on the other end. “Umm…hello? Is Troy there?” “No. Actually, yes, but he’s busy.”


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“Well, this is his wife.” She figured that was all she needed to say. “Yes. Like I said, he’s busy.” “This is his WIFE.” “I heard you the first time Monica. I’m sorry. He’s extremely busy right now.” “Look Jim. I know he’s not at work, because his workday is over. I know he’s not at home, because there’s no power on there, so I’m assuming he’s with you at your home. He CAN’T be that busy there, so PUT him on.” “Actually, no, I’m visiting him right now at Jessica’s place. He’s extremely busy here working on something very important. I’ve agreed to handle his calls for him while he’s in the middle of this.” Troy gave a sly smile to Jim. He was beginning to like listening to Jim’s side of this call.


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Jim couldn’t keep the smile from glowing on his own face. “JESSICA’S place! What the HELL is he doing there!?” “As I said, he’s extremely busy and I’m handling his calls.” Jim was having a hard time keeping his voice under control. The excitement was almost overwhelming, and still building. “What’s he busy doing, SCREWING her!?” “I’m not at liberty to give that information. Whether or not he is screwing Jessica is none of my business.” His smile could have lit up Jessica’s entire house at this point. Troy had stopped his work on the computer and was just awestruck at Jim’s conversation with his wife.


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“You give me her address right now. He’s still my husband and I’m paying him a visit.” “I can’t do that. I’m under orders of strict confidentiality.” It took everything Jim had to keep from busting his gut laughing, but Troy couldn’t quite control his laughter so well. In fact, he got up and ran out of earshot from Jim because he couldn’t hold the laughter in. After a couple of minutes, when he was sure he had calmed down, he returned to the computer, still grinning at Jim. “I’m sorry Monica. I must go now, to keep the line open for important calls. That’s all the information I can give you.” “Fine, I’ll just call his boss and find out what is going on!” “You can try that, dear, but I doubt you’ll get very far.” Monica slammed her phone shut and threw it across the room. Luckily it hit some folded up blankets, or it would have been toast.


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Troy uncorked himself and released a thunder of laughter, holding his stomach as it rolled. Jim joined the wonderful chorus.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 105 Jessica closed her phone, relieved the call was over with. Her nerves were so on edge from Garrison’s line of questions. She had to calm herself down before she went back home. She drove around a little while, trying to clear her head, but instead did a lot of thinking. How am I ever gonna get out of this? How can I keep Troy’s actions and Royce’s knowledge of them separate? Royce just HAS to put me in the middle. Fucking asshole. Instead of calming down, she found herself getting more and more irritated. She had to be getting back home soon, or Troy would start wondering what she was doing, and now was not the time for that kind of drama. Jess picked up some food to take home, getting enough for three. She assumed, hoped actually, that Jim was still there. She really didn’t want Troy to be left alone right now.


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Suddenly something showed on the computer screen while also clicking in Troy’s head. His mouth dropped open, his eyes once again became glued to the screen. “What is it Troy? What have you found?” “Oh my God. I’ve dug pretty deep so far, although not all the way in, and I’m starting to see what looks like the tip of a very complex bug buried in the Central system. I don’t know yet how big it is or anything about it, but I know this code isn’t right.” “Well, keep digging. Dig this up and figure it out, and put things back the way they’re supposed to be.” “You know Jim, I really doubt this will give me my job back, if that’s what you’re getting at.” “You never know, but no, I didn’t mean it that way. I just meant, I know you of all people can straighten out the computer systems in this world, if you just set your mind to it. Now, keep at it, and do the job.”


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“Thanks for your belief in me. It seems like it’s been forever since someone believed in me.” “Nope. Hasn’t been forever. You’re current live in girlfriend believes in you, a hundred percent.” “And you know this, how?” “Troy, it’s obvious to everyone but you.” “Isn’t that the way things usually work, Jim? But I still don’t see it, and don’t agree with you.” “You don’t have to. That doesn’t make it any less true. Trust me. She not only doesn’t mind you staying here, living here, and using her stuff, she welcomes it. She doesn’t want you to move back out. You should go and get your stuff from your home and just move in here. She won’t mind at all, trust me.” “How you’re seeing all of that, I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ll push things here either. I don’t want to overstay my welcome.” “Suit yourself.”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 104 Monica’s fury was burning her up. She thought it was time to collect from Garrison. All those offers he threw at her over the past 3 and 1/2 years. Monica had met him that long ago, when he started doing business with the company she worked for. He paid a visit one day, she caught his eye, wearing something professional, yet very flirty. Royce talked to her a little, they swapped numbers on the spot, and he tried to get her to go to dinner with him. She turned him down that night, but Royce continued pursuing. Monica had always liked making a guy chase, especially one like Garrison, with position, money, and power. She turned him down, every time . . . but one. That chance meeting in the office, that’s how Garrison actually met Troy. Monica told him, the one time she met with him, where he was working and when. After all, she wanted Troy to get this high paying job, to provide a better lifestyle for them. So, Monica did what she considered her wifely duties and helped the situation out, without him ever knowing anything about it, even to this day.


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Now it’s time to give Royce another call. I need to know where Ms Priss Jessica lives. She resigned herself to the idea that she may have to agree to another date with Garrison. It’ll be worth putting up with him if I can pop in and surprise Jessica and my man. Of course, I’ll have to time my visit . . . just right . . . She dialed his number, which was saved in her phone . . . on speed dial. “Royce here.” “Hey Royce. I need a favor from you.” “Really? And what favor would that be?” “I need to know where an employee of yours lives. Jessica.” “And what makes you think I would know?” “Because you’re Royce Garrison. You know everything and everybody in this town. If you need to know something, you’re the man to come to.” She didn’t


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figure it would hurt to over inflate his already gigantic ego. “I like the flattery, but you don’t need flattery to deal with me. Just give me a deal I can’t refuse.” “Well, I guess that deal would involve dating me, wouldn’t it?” “For a start.” “A start? That’s what you’ve been trying to get me to do for the past three and a half years.” “Well, the stakes are higher now.” “Really? How so?” “Go on the date with me, I’ll give you Jessica’s address, and don’t worry about the stakes.” He assumed she didn’t yet know that Troy wasn’t working for him, and he wouldn’t let the cat out of the bag . . . for now. “Fine. You can have your date with me, but I need Jessica’s address now.”


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“Is there a reason for the urgency?” “A personal reason. That’s all I can tell you.” “Ah. You want to pop in and surprise them two, eh?” She was quiet. “Yes, I know he is at her house. As you said, I know what goes on in this town.” “Alright. Can you please give me her address now?” “Yes, but not over the phone. You meet me in person and I’ll give it to you. In 30 minutes. My office building. Front door.” “Fine. I’ll be there.” She closed her phone.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 103 Jessica closed the door to her car lightly, listening, wondering if Jim was still there. She carried the bags of food for the three of them and started walking toward the house. Jess heard the guys talking, mentally checking both voices. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Hey, Jess,” Troy said as she walked through the door. “What did you get us? Something good? Too bad it won’t measure up to your own cooking.” She blushed slightly, considering Jim was listening. Jess was never one to brag openly about herself. Jim gave her a pleasant smile as she handed him a bag. “I hope you like what I got you. I wasn’t sure exactly what you’d want.” “I’m sure it will be fine. I’m not that picky, as long as it fills my stomach.”


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“Have you boys been enjoying yourself?” “Well, your man Troy is making progress, that’s a plus.” She smiled at the small comment slipped in by Jim. “That’s good to hear. I figured he would if he just focused on it.” Jim looked at Troy and grinned. “Yeah, that’s what I told him too.” Troy returned Jim’s look with one of his own, as if saying ok, I got your point. “Anything very promising yet? Are you gonna be able to solve the world’s problem?” Troy laughed. “You two give me much more credit than you should.” He looked at the computer screen, not able to look at either of them directly, being slightly embarrassed now.


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“Nope, we just know what you can do,” Jim said as he tore into his food. Jessica nodded in agreement and came over to rub Troy’s shoulders. “Can you take a break from there and eat? Or do you need some more time on it? Are you getting to a breakthrough?” “Slowly, slowly, I’m seeing things. But I don’t think I will find much more on it tonight. It’s so complex, it won’t all come together at once.” “Then why don’t you take a break right now and the three of us sit at the table and eat.” “Sounds good to me,” Jim said as he quickly got up and made way for her table. He picked a chair on one side, leaving two chairs close together for the other two. Troy and Jess sat at the table, getting into their food. He tried to let the stress go, looking Jess over, up and down, sort of surveying this beautiful woman sitting next to him.


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BANG! BANG! BANG! “Who could that be?” Jim said in the middle of a bite. “I have no idea.” Jess’s brows furrowed and her mouth puckered in curiosity as she got up from the table to check. Jim finished his bite. Jess ran back to the table, looking at Troy with wide eyes. “It’s your wife,” she said in a somewhat hushed voice. She tried to keep quiet enough to possibly lure Monica away. Troy sat there, closed his eyes, and wondered if he really wanted to deal with this tonight. “I’ll handle this,” Jim said, smiling, getting ready for a verbal fight that he expected to enjoy. He got up from the table, calmly walked toward the door, not showing any anxiety at all. Jim opened the door, saw the fury in the woman’s eyes, and had to suppress his own pleasure at her expense. “Can I help you?”


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“You know damn well what you can do for me! Where is he!? Where is the bastard!?” “I’m sorry. I don’t know of any bastard that is supposed to be at this house.” Troy and Jess heard the conversation, about to explode into a verbal war. They both covered their own snickers at Jim’s apparent calmness and lack of concern for the witch exploding her verbal vomit onto him. “You will let me in this damn house, NOW!” “I’m sorry ma’am. I don’t own this house and it’s not my place to let a stranger in.” “You know damn well I’m no stranger, JIM! You know damn well who I am and why I’m here!” “Yes, I suppose I do, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have no authority to let you enter this residence, considering it’s not mine.”


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“Well then, where is the bitch that lives here and is fucking my husband!?” Troy was still trying hard as he could to cover his laughter, while his face turned red. Jess was still laughing, but she almost got up and said something herself when that witch called her a bitch. But she got a little delighted, she had to admit, when she heard the witch admit that she was fucking her husband. And you will never have the benefit of the awesome sex from him again, Jess thought to herself. “I’m sorry now. I must shut the door. If you have any further complaints, please bring the police with you next time.” Jim closed the door in her red face, while she looked like she was ready to literally explode all over him. She gave a frustrated howl at the closed door. Monica knew she couldn’t be so stupid as to just push her way in. “You better believe I’ll be back with the fucking cops! You jerks! You bastards! You BITCH!”


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Jim walked back to the other two. “Don’t worry, Troy, my boy, she can’t do anything by bringing the cops back. This is Jess’s house, and she can let whoever in that she wants or keep out who ever that she wants. The cops can’t change that. And, you’re a grown man and able to make your own decisions about who you want to see. The cops likely won’t even come out here with her.” “I know buddy. Thanks for the intercept.” “No problem.” Jim laughed. “I rather enjoyed it.” He smiled from ear to ear. “We could tell,” Jess added.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 102 The next morning, Olivia opened the safe, preparing to get out the money that Royce had stored there. He told her to get things ready for them to leave immediately. She gasped in horror, trying to keep anyone, especially Royce, from hearing her. How am I gonna break this to Royce? Blood pressure would explode, even more than it already had been. This would bring on that heart attack he’d been trying to avoid. Olivia stepped back, looked around. No one was there. Thank God I’m alone right now. She turned again and stared into an empty safe. Royce had absolutely no money. How is he gonna pay for our trip now? He had credibility, but that alone wouldn’t always let him through. She hopped on the phone right away, calling the airport and the hotel. The same answer came from everyone.


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“I’m sorry. With the state of the world right now, we simply can’t let him slide through. We know he is good for it, but even our assets are frozen and without cash to pay, we can’t accommodate.” Olivia placed the phone gently on the receiver. She did NOT want to be here when Royce arrived. Nor did she want to tell him about this mess. She walked to Jessica’s office, wanting to stay away from her own for awhile. Olivia saw Jessica come in, smiled pleasantly, and said good morning. Why is Olivia in MY office? Obviously Royce is sending her after me since she’s his watchdog. She already felt uncomfortable about Garrison’s set up; now add this on top of it. She didn’t want to be here at all. “Look,” Olivia said, peering right into Jessica’s scared eyes, “I know what Royce is doing through you. I know he is having you be his spy.” She stopped, watching Jessica’s reaction. Jessica was stunned. I don’t know what’s safe to do, think, or say anymore. She stood frozen.


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“It’s ok. I know you don’t think it is, but trust me, it is. He has to cover his own tracks somehow.” Jessica didn’t move, didn’t flinch, didn’t even breathe for fear. Why am I telling Jessica all of this? Ugh. I’m telling her because I desperately need someone on my side. By some miracle, I need help. I simply can’t face Royce alone on this one. Jessica’s mind was racing while her body was frozen. Part of me wants, hell maybe I need, to trust someone in this office. Another part of me can’t believe I’d even consider trusting Olivia. “Look, believe it or not, our boss, Royce, is into a lot of things. He’s manipulating people and needs to constantly cover his tracks. How do you think he got to where he is now? Wielding a lot of power over a lot of people, that’s how he got here. He has stepped on a lot of people, and he’ll keep doing just that until someone stops him. We need to stop him.” She paused, studying


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Jessica’s face. At least now she noticed that Jessica had taken a breath. Jess realized that it would have to be Troy that stopped Royce. He was the only one that had the right thing at the right time that could actually jump in and stop Garrison in his tracks. Troy just had to figure out the answer to the computer problem. But, right now, how could Jess cover him and protect herself too? With Olivia right here in her office, about to question her on everything? “Olivia!!!!!!” Garrison’s voice roared. “Oh God. He’s here.” Olivia’s face contorted with fear. She looked at Jess, right into her eyes. Olivia pleaded with her own eyes to Jess for help. I just can’t Olivia. I just can’t . . . “Please, Jessica, please! I need your help!” She stepped closer to Jessica, put her hands on Jess’s arms, and squeezed tight.


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Jess saw the anguish and terror in Olivia’s eyes. It made her heart melt for the woman. She started to unfreeze now, more from sympathy than from wanting to help. “What do you need?” Regret hit as fast as the words left her mouth. Olivia’s face brightened with a huge smile. “Oh, thank you. Thank you!” She pulled Jessica’s hands to her mouth and kissed them. Jess’s skin crawled from Olivia’s lips touching it. Her stomach churned. She mentally pushed all that aside. “What do you need me to do?” Olivia looked at her, tears swimming in her eyes, lips trembling. “Tell him you did it.” “Did what?” “Just tell him you did it. Don’t worry about what it is right now. I’ll explain later. There’s no time to explain right now. He’s coming.” They heard his footsteps falling hard onto the floor, rushing into the office.


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“Just tell him you did it,” Olivia said again as she stared into Jess’s eyes and smiled brightly at her. Royce entered the room, face blood red, eyes blazing, nostrils shooting fire. His heart was beyond racing now. It was in overtime, pushing with every last bit of energy, trying to cross the finish line. “What happened Olivia! Where is it at?!” Royce was actually spitting as the words came out of his mouth. His voice had a ragged edge too, completely the opposite of the normally smooth voice he carried. Royce’s eyes shot right at Olivia, never leaving her, piercing her. “Tell him, Jessica. It’s ok. We’ll fix it. Just tell him the truth.” She paused, praying anxiously for the words to come out of Jessica’s mouth. Jess couldn’t say a thing. I don’t trust Olivia, but there’s something else that feels off here. Something’s going on under the surface and I don’t know what it is. I feel like I’m being set up for something . . . but what? Jess couldn’t even open her mouth. She stood there,


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frozen, watching Royce as he appeared to be losing himself. His knees buckled. He went down to the floor so fast; Olivia couldn’t even turn to him before he was flat on his back. She rushed over, bent down over him, crying, looking into his eyes. “Baby, baby, please, don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.” Her sobs were coming on stronger now, flooding her face. Her body was convulsing with whimpers as she cried over her lover. He was still breathing, but barely. Jessica picked up the phone and called 911. She couldn’t open her mouth before, but now was different, at least to try to save Royce’s life. Jess knew he was a bastard, but he didn’t deserve death, at least not yet. Not until she was done with him.

As the ambulance rolled Royce away, Olivia turned back to Jessica.


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“Why didn’t you tell him?!” Her face cringed while her fists clenched. “If you would have just told him what I asked you to, this wouldn’t have happened. He would still be standing here now!” Her body shook ferociously. That was enough to tell Jess she did the right thing. I need to just quit, right here and now. But no, not yet. She sighed. There IS that possibility that I can find some things out if I hang on. Things that maybe could help my man.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 101 Troy sat in the chair, in front of the computer, focusing his mind. This morning, Jess had given him a great start to the day. He wasn’t used to pleasant starts anymore. I think I can adjust. He continued to scan and dig. Jim had gone to work today, but before he left said, “I’ll stop in later and check on things”. Meaning he would check on Troy. It was good to know that at least a couple of people cared. Numbers and formulas and what looked like foreign languages rolled and scrolled across the computer screen as Troy’s eyes scanned it all, catching every little line. I might as well use my strengths to figure out what’s going on. At least, that was Jess’s encouragement to him. He couldn’t argue with it. Troy dug further into the hidden files of Central. He had just started really poking into the heart of the world’s computer system this morning. It would take a while, because there was a lot to go through, but he had the whole day.


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His eyes narrowed. “Wait a minute,” he said to the air. “This stuff isn’t right.” He caught several lines of data on the screen that meant big trouble for the whole network. “This stuff could crash this entire system if one wrong command is given. Why would anyone want to put that kind of code into such a delicate system? Especially into the heart of it? And, more importantly, who would want to crash the whole thing?” His cell rang. A quick look let him know it was ok to answer. “Hey babe. What’s up? Having a good day with Royce?” He tried to make a joke, although he knew it didn’t come across very well. “Actually, yes and no.” “Huh?” “Well, Royce isn’t here now. In fact, he’s gone for the rest of the day.” “Oh, another business trip?”


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“No. Not exactly. He won’t be going on those for a little while.” Troy scrunched his face up in confusion, even though no one was around to see it. “What in the…..speak English hon.” She laughed. “A computer geek that reads complex stuff all day long telling me to speak English.” “Ok, you got me on that one. Just spit it out. What’s going on?” She explained what happened to Royce this morning and what Olivia did too. “Wow. I knew about that stash too. I wonder who took it. You don’t think Olivia did, do you?” “Well, I don’t know, but from the way she acted, and the fear that was in her eyes, I really don’t think so. I


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don’t know who did, but I have a feeling it wasn’t her.” “Well, you still need to watch your back around her, anyway.” “Oh, you better believe I will, now that I know how she really is.” “She’s kept up a pretty good front for a long time apparently.” “So how are things on the home front?” “Tedious, exciting, boring, depending on who you ask.” He tried another joke. She giggled. “I’m asking you, dear. Are you making any more progress?” “Actually yeah. I’ve been digging deeper and am amazed and scared. This system is so fragile and someone is really messing with it. I don’t know all the details yet. I’m still looking.” “Keep it up. I believe in you.”


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Troy couldn’t help but feel a bit stunned by those words. Jess heard the quiet. “I’ll see you soon.” She closed her end of the line.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 100 After a good night’s sleep, Brad wondered if he should fire Monica. It would serve her right for how she’s treating me now. I never wanted a serious thing with her, but she still doesn’t have to treat me like this. He was happy to give her as much pleasure as she wanted, as long as she treated him good in return. He caught her as she walked by his office. “Monica. We need to talk.” “What Brad?” Her voice and face showed irritation. “I’m not giving you a quickie right now.” Brad’s blood began to boil already. This must be how her poor husband feels too. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t stoop to that anymore.” Her jaw dropped. He smiled smugly. It was time he turned the table on her. “Excuse me?”


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“You heard me very well, but at the moment that’s beside the point.” She just stood there, frozen. She looked shocked and at a total loss for words. Very unlike her. His smug grin grew. “Don’t forget I’m your boss.” His brows rose up as he looked directly into her eyes, his confidence coming back. She had almost succeeded in stripping his confidence away, which was probably her plan anyway. She still hadn’t moved a muscle. “You have to meet a deadline today. I’m not giving you any slack this time. Today, by 5. That’s it.” He waved his hand at her to let her know he was done. She finally gained her composure. Did I actually just hear him right? He just stood up to me? Just gave ME a deadline and said I HAVE to meet it? “Look, you know I can’t make that.” She smiled her sexy but pleading smile. The same one she had used to initially charm him into sex with her.


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He expected this from her. “You will if you want to keep your job.” She stopped in her tracks again. “You CAN’T be serious.” “I’ve never been more.” He said it as matter-of-factly as he could and meant every word. He kept his eyes level with hers, driving the point across. “You mess with me, you get burned,” he added while holding his gaze. She tried to stutter something . . . but nothing came. She turned on her heels and slowly walked out of his office. He smiled bigger now, glad to have his confidence back. He couldn’t believe she had nearly stolen it from him. She was poison. He thought seriously about meeting her husband and telling him that too. Encourage him to stay away from her.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 99

131


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Jess sat at her desk, her mind filled with questions. She knew she couldn’t get answers for most of them, like why Royce was doing what he was doing and why Olivia was involved. Even why Olivia had tried to frame her yesterday. She also had a couple of wonders about Troy, like why he stayed with his wife. It was obvious that he didn’t like her and wasn’t happy, so why did he stay and put up with her? She thought she might actually be able to get some of those answers from Jim, while he was here at work. “You doing good today Jessica?” Jim paused as he walked by her desk, genuinely concerned. “I see the questions on your face. What’s wrong?” “Is it that obvious?” “Well, to me, yes.” “There actually is something I’d like to ask you.” “OK. Anything. What’s up?”


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“Well, it’s about Troy.” Jim prepared himself mentally for this one. He wasn’t sure what she’d ask, or what he would be allowed to tell her without Troy getting upset. “Ok. What would you like to know?” He raised his brows in anticipation. “This will probably sound weird, or even strange…” He laughed. “I doubt it. Try me.” “If Troy is so unhappy with his wife, why doesn’t he just leave her?” Jim smiled. “Now there’s a complicated question, and one that deserves a good answer.” “Do you have that good answer?” “I can tell you what I see, but that’s all I can do. What I see is that part of him still loves her, who knows why,” he smiled and she laughed, “and part of him is scared.”


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Her face contorted. “Scared? Why in the world would a guy like Troy be scared?” Jim kept his smile and winked as he said, “oh, Troy is scared of lots of things.” “No way.” “Yes, he is. And one of those things he’s scared of is losing you. He just doesn’t know it.” With that he walked off, leaving her to think.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 98 Brad knew Monica was about done for the day, and he also knew she was about to finish her assignment too.

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He hated to admit it, but he wanted to reward her, sexually. He couldn’t deny that he craved her, even though he knew she was poison. Monica walked back into his office, carrying her assignment, finished. She gave him the most confident, smug smile. “I guess you think you’re good, huh?” “I know I am. And I know you think I am too.” His hands were shaking, as much as he tried to hold it in. He stared into her eyes from across the office. His nose twitched. His eyes danced. He hit the desk with his hands, making her jump, moved quickly around the desk, and rushed toward her. Her eyes grew wide watching him speed toward her. He grabbed the assignment and spun rapidly on his heels away from her.


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Troy was so involved in getting to the bottom of this computer bug that he lost track of time. He forgot to eat, go to the bathroom, and every other essential daily item. The front door opened, but Troy didn’t even notice. Jess and Jim walked in together. “Sorry I’m so late baby.” Jess put her purse down and looked at Jim when Troy didn’t answer. Jim raised his brows. They walked into her little office room, where the computer was set up. “Sorry hon. Jim and I brought home some food for the three of us. We worked a little late today, considering Royce wasn’t around. Oddly, Olivia wasn’t around either. Everybody seemed to be lost, not having pressure breathing down their necks. I must say though, the atmosphere was much looser today.” “Sure was, but we still had to get the work done, because we don’t know what’s going to happen, if and when Royce does come back.”


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“Yeah, so we wanted to make sure we were at least safe.” Jim cleared his throat. Troy still didn’t respond. His fingers flew over the keyboard. Images and numbers flew across the screen, pages flashed and were immediately replaced with other pages. Jess cut her eyes toward Jim, who was glancing between her and Troy. She bent down and gently, seductively kissed the back of Troy’s neck. He jumped out of his chair and turned around, almost falling back onto the computer. “Oh shit!” His heart almost beat out of his chest. He put his hand over his heart. Jess jumped back at his response.


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“You scared the hell out of me! Why did you sneak up on me like that?” “We didn’t. We’ve been standing back here talking to you.” “We?” He turned and looked at Jim, just realizing that he was standing there too. “Oh, Jim. Hey buddy. How are you? When did you get here?” Jim and Jess looked at each other, raised their brows and laughed. “My God, you were completely lost in that computer.” Jim chuckled again. “What? Oh, yeah. Have you two been back here long?” Jess smiled and stepped toward Troy again, wanting to calm him down.


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“Baby, we’ve been back here a couple of minutes. I was apologizing for being late. We worked a little late today because Royce and Olivia were both gone all day.” “Huh. That’s strange.” “You have really been out of it today, haven’t you?” “I don’t know. I guess so.” She turned and looked at Jim again. They both chuckled again. “Well, have you found anything?” He focused on her, on her words. “Yeah, yeah! I did! I found the problem.” He turned and started explaining the tech stuff to both of them. “Hold on buddy. Just a minute.” Jim held up his hand. “What?” Troy felt lost. “English, buddy, plain English.” Jim smiled at him.


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“Oh sorry. OK. I found the problem.” “You found the problem, as in the reason everyone’s money is frozen? The computers all over the world? You’ve already found the problem?” Jess looked into his eyes, genuinely wondering. “Yes, exactly.” Then he smiled. Jim stepped forward, toward them. “Does that mean you know how to fix it?” Troy looked at Jim, keeping his smile. “Yes.” “Then do it buddy. Get it done.” Jim and Jess were both excited, knowing now that Troy could put everything back in order, the way it’s supposed to be. “Nope.” He stood there, looking back and forth between both of them, looking for their expressions to that.


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He got confusion in return. “Why?” Jess finally spoke up. “Because, think about something. I have the solution. We are actually in the position to make the power players squirm for a while. Sure, I could fix it right now, well, it would take all night at least, but I could do it. I could put everything back the way it was. Or, we could put some pressure on the right people and actually make some changes. Get some power in our corner for once.” He took a breath, stood up straight. “So, no, I’m not fixing it right now. But I do want to call Royce and let him be the first one to open some doors for us.” “But Royce’s in the hospital,” Jim added. “I think this will bring his health back around pretty quick. It’s about his money, his wealth. To him, nothing is more important.”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 97 Back at Brad’s place, Monica couldn’t help but be distant from him. She also couldn’t believe she was

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feeling . . . heartache for Troy! Missing her husband! How could she? Ugh. I have to admit, I’m used to getting what ever I want from Troy. That’s how it was. But that’ll never happen again. He can’t afford to do that now . . . thanks to me. But Brad can, so as much as I’m getting tired of this, I have to hang on to him. I just have to. At least for now. “Monica, honey, what are you going to fix for supper? I’ve got some paperwork to finish up from the office.” Already fucking acting like we’re married! Ugh! She bit her tongue. She couldn’t push him away yet. He was too valuable financially.

Olivia stood beside Royce’s bed. Her eyes skimmed over him, studied him. His sexy body, hidden under the white sheet of the hospital bed. Her eyes swam in tears, but she didn’t let them fall. Olivia steadied her breathing. Control. Self-control woman. It wouldn’t look good if her heart ache and true feelings came through. After all, she was just his secretary.


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He didn’t move. Hooked up on oxygen, with tubes running around his cheeks and face, going up his nose, she almost couldn’t bear to look at him, but had to. Her true love lay there. Olivia’s heart had been so attached to Royce, it was a surprise no one else ever noticed. Especially her husband. Of course, I had to learn to hide it well. Now, her heart was heavy and breathing labored while waiting for him to get better. She couldn’t leave his side for long. Even the thought of spending the night at home, with her husband, was unbearable. Her mind would still be here with Royce. Olivia’s fury rose as she blamed Jessica for Royce being all wired up. Damnit. If the bitch had just done what I told her to, my love wouldn’t be laying in this bed right now! The doctors had him so drugged he was sleeping all the time. He’s so damn stressed. Fucking doc’s think the only way he can deal, or recover, is to sleep. And he won’t on his own so they have to drug him. Idiots. He needs to be awake. They don’t know him like I do. He has to fight this injustice being done to him. He thrives on pressure. He needs to feel this intense pressure right now. It’ll make him fly higher


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than ever. He’s a fighter from the start. That’s why I love him! She put her hand on his, fought to keep herself from crying as tears swam across her eyes. Looking at him, laying there, all the tubes and wires around the bed . . . on him. Makes me sick. And that made her fury even stronger. She fought the desire to rip it all off. Her eyes looked back at the door…

COUNTDOWN . . . 96 “What are you going to say to him, Troy?” Jim’s brows rose.


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"Let's just say, I'm going to get his attention.� A crooked smile formed on his lips. Jess looked at Troy. It’s amazingly sexy knowing my man has this power over our former tyrant of a boss. She didn't realize just how much dominion Troy held in his hands right now . . . control over all the power players of the world, not just their former boss. Troy dialed Garrison's personal number. ****************** Royce's phone rang and Olivia nearly jumped out of her skin . . . being jerked back to reality. It pierced her already fragile nerves. She quickly searched for it, desperate for any kind of good news that might be waiting. Picking it up, she looked to see who was calling. Disbelief and irritation grabbed her. He sure had some nerve. My soul mate is in this hospital bed . . . because of YOUR girlfriend . . . and now YOUR calling me!? Olivia shook her head. She had to realize Troy was calling Royce, not her. Reluctantly, she answered.


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"Hello," Distaste flowed through her voice. "I need to speak to Royce," he said without hesitation and with a calmness that startled her. "He's not available right now.” She pursed her lips defiantly, wrinkling them more each second. "When you're done pleasing him, I need to speak to him. It's a matter of his future." Her mouth dropped open. How dare he insinuate? Closing her mouth, she managed to speak. "I highly doubt you can affect his future.” She smiled smugly now. "His future is very secure, thank you." "Yeah. I'm sure he'll agree when he realizes I have access to his entire bank account balance, and can use it for whatever I want. Tell him to call me.” With that he hung up. Olivia sat there, mouth hanging open, looking at her lover, her boss, her soul mate, laying there sleeping, recovering. There was her hero, the one she thought


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was untouchable, and now he was more vulnerable than anyone else she had ever known. Her heart broke into a million pieces as the tears flooded down her face, gushing out of her eyes. The sobs were quiet, she couldn't bear to let anyone hear her weakness, but the river couldn't be stopped.

"That was Olivia." "Yeah, we figured," Jess said as her and Jim exchanged glances. "So, do you think he'll call back?� Jim had to ask. He figured it was a pointless question, but he had to throw it out there. The gleam in Troy's eyes was enough of an answer, but he explained himself anyway. "Yeah. He'll call. There's no doubt about that. I heard Olivia's breath catch on my last statement . . . before I hung up.� He grinned slyly. "She will make sure he does if all else fails."


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COUNTDOWN . . . 95 Monica sucked it up and put the food on the table. Her skin crawled from the domestic duties, but she had to deal with it . . . for a while anyway.


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"Honey," she said in a somewhat sarcastic tone, "dinner's ready.” She wanted to empty her stomach onto the floor. Brad knew he had Monica right where she didn't want to be, so he thought he would enjoy it as long as it lasted. "Ok, honey. I'll be there in a little while." In a little while? In a little while?! I've been in here slaving away with this damned mashed potatoes and baked chicken, and he says in A LITTLE WHILE?! She wanted to go and rip his hair out. She stood still, clenched her fists until she thought her nails would draw her own blood, and took the deepest breath she could. It didn't help.

"So what do we do now?” Jim’s excitement was beginning to show through. He could just see the rich and powerful of the world cringing in their shoes when they found out the little people had control over them. The implications brought a wide grin to Jim's face.


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"What's on your mind, Jim?” Now it was Troy's turn to question. "Oh, just thinking . . .” he had a far off look in his eyes. "Yeah, I got that much. Mind filling us in?" Jim's eyes sparkled as he started explaining. "Well, my boy, it's like this. We now have the power to bring the rich and powerful to their knees.” Jim started talking with his hands he was brimming with so much excitement. "They are so used to calling the shots and the rest of us saying ‘yes, sir' and ‘no, sir', and now we can turn the tables on them completely. And believe me, I want to do just that. I want them shaking. I want their teeth chattering. I want them sweating," he explained as his voice rose in volume. He released a breath, trying to calm down. Grinning, he said, "Sorry." They both smiled. "No need to say sorry, Jim.” Jess agreed. "We want the same thing."


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The fire ignited even hotter in Jim's eyes. "Just think. The rich and powerful can't do a thing without our consent. They can't put together these mega deals that end up hurting the little guy. They can't buy a house or car or business property without getting our, or your, approval." "We're in this together, bud," Troy cut in. "And once their cash-on-hand runs out, they won't even be able to by meals without our consent. This power is slightly intoxicating.� He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes for effect. Troy and Jess laughed. "Easy there, big boy. We don't want them to starve because of us.� Troy couldn't help but laugh more. He didn't want to admit it, but even the thought of the big boys depending completely on them was, as Jim said, intoxicating. Jim grinned thinly, then sighed.


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"Yes, Troy, you have a point. We don't want them to starve, but we do need to yank their chains and put them on the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. They need to know what it's like to be where we are. Especially guys like Garrison. To feel the need of lack. To feel the daily despair of wondering how you will feed your family or take care of vehicle repairs. To wonder how you will pay your bills. Just the basic necessities of life. They need to actually feel the other side of life. The side that 99% of them have never experienced." "You do realize that some of these people actually worked their way up to their wealth," Troy added. "Yeah, I do, and for those people, I feel sorry for them right now. But you know, as well as I do, that most of these people we have by the neck right now haven't lived like this before. They need this experience desperately." "And since we all agree on this," Jess cut in, "let's get something to eat so that Jim can get back to his wife, who's probably wondering where he is."


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"I can take a hint," Jim added in good humor. "Tell you two what, I will go ahead and get out of your way so that you can have some personal time. I'm sorry to intrude on so much of it, but this really is exciting . . . and intoxicating." "That it is. We'll be at it tomorrow too, Jim," Troy reassured him.

COUNTDOWN . . . 94 "Hey sweetheart. I've been worried about you.� A familiar voice intruded on her thoughts. Pain and regret pierced her heart. Years of hearing that voice daily let her know who it was without turning around. She gathered herself, sucking her pride up, bottling her love


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for the man lying in the bed, in order to show her façade to the man standing behind her. "I'm sorry I haven't called," was all she could manage. She couldn't even turn herself around to face him. "That's alright. I know he means a lot to you.” He walked to her, laid his hands on her shoulders, and rubbed gently. "I can feel the tension in your shoulders. You always did carry it there." She couldn't bring herself to tell him that part of the tension had just shown up when she heard his voice. She exhaled deeply. "That's it, let it out.” He squeezed her shoulders tenderly, trying to massage the tension out. She couldn't stand much more of feeling his hands on her, but she gritted her teeth. He squeezed her shoulders harder, bent down and kissed her neck.


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She shot up out of the chair, almost knocking him down. As she turned toward him, she put her game face on. "Thanks for coming to see me. I appreciate it. Don't you have some pressing business to take care of? I know you've always got something going on.� She tried to keep her eyes from pleading with him. "I wouldn't want you to get behind on anything just to come here and see me." "No, no. I took care of everything before I came in. I wanted to make sure I had some time to see you and talk to you. I want you to know that I'm here for you, although I haven't been for the last day or so, and I'm sorry about that." "That's ok. I'm fine. I know you've got stuff to take care of.� She tried fanning him away delicately with a swish of her wrist. He stepped to her, took her in his arms, pulled her close. "No, sweetheart, you're not fine. You've been through a lot lately. You don't have to hide it from me."


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Her eyes scanned the window, the chair, the door, anything she could to keep from looking at her husband. Finally her eyes locked on Royce. She moved up and down his form on the bed, daydreaming, imagining, fantasizing. "You just let me take all of these cares and stresses from you sweetheart.� He rubbed her back lovingly. "I've cleared my schedule for the next few days so that I can be here to support you." Her eyes got wide with horror.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 93 Monica woke practically on top of Brad. He was still asleep. She still steamed from the previous night and it infuriated her even more to realize she felt wet between her legs being naked on top of him.


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Quickly she jumped out of bed and walked straight to the bathroom. She hated to admit there was a powerful urge to turn and look back at him sleeping. The thought of that alone, him sleeping naked, was turning her on more. I need an aversion or I’ll be jumping on top of him. Looking in the mirror, she studied herself. Not a bad reflection for just getting out of bed less than a minute ago. Nice skin color, smooth, young looking. Sparkling eyes, if she did say so herself. Even her hair wasn't much of a mess for having slept on it all night. She looked practically immaculate. The toothbrush rested on the sink until she picked it up and ran it under water. Adding toothpaste, she started taking care of her oral hygiene. She bent over as she spit the water and toothpaste out, having rinsed her mouth. "OH MY GOD!� It escaped her lips uncontrollably when she felt something slide between her legs and pierce her where she was already sopping wet.


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"Well, that's one I haven't been called before, but I'll accept." Her tongue suddenly felt dry. All the moisture in her body seemed to race to her groin. Not that she blamed it . . . she would race there too feeling what she felt right now. Eyes closed, mind focused on the pleasure of what was sliding in and out, she moaned. A couple more strokes and Brad felt himself release. Pulling her tight against him as he did, he felt her release too. Not wanting to let her think she had this power over him, he quickly released her and started brushing his own teeth. Once done, he headed to the kitchen for some food. "I figured we would fend for ourselves this morning, Monica. No hard feelings. I have an early meeting.� He grabbed a quick snack and immediately hopped into the shower, heading out the door as soon as he was dressed. She was left standing in the kitchen, steaming more and more. Who did he think he was? Getting up, taking her by surprise, eating, showering, and leaving without her?


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And on top of that, he just had to make her enjoy the morning surprise too. She gritted her teeth, clenched her fists . . . and screamed. How can I want a man so bad when he makes me so mad?! On top of that, she had to get herself to work. Work . . . yeah . . . that’ll be loads of fun too . . . The more she was around Brad, the more she couldn't keep her eyes off of him. Much less keeping her mind off of him, which may be impossible.

COUNTDOWN . . . 92 Olivia's eyes pried themselves open, knocking all of the crust off. She felt like had she slept on a rock. Well, it wasn't much better than a rock. It was something called


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a pull out couch hospital bed. She had never had a worse night's sleep in her life, not to mention that she had to sleep next to her husband. Well, at least she didn't have to fake sex last night or this morning. Here in the hospital he wouldn't do that. After years of faking the pleasure you get tired of it, even though you get very good at faking. Of course, the great sex with Royce helped her to know how to act with her husband. She turned her head and looked at him. Thank God he was still asleep. Maybe he'd stay that way for a while. She climbed out of bed and quietly moved over to Royce's bed, checking on him. Gently, Olivia bent over the bed, covering Royce's mouth with hers and gave him a tender kiss. "Wake up soon, baby." As she stared at Royce's handsome face, one of his eyes cracked open. "Ol . . . Ol . . . iv." "Yes, dear?� She was elated. He was finally awake! The smile quickly crept across her face. Her lover was back!


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"Oliv . . . " "Don't talk too much sweety.” Suddenly she remembered her husband was in the room. She would have to watch her words. Royce attempted to clear his throat. It was a feeble attempt, but at least he tried. He opened his eyes more. Focusing on Olivia, he pressed his lips together. "Water.” He barely whispered it. "Ok, honey. I'll get you some.” She hurried to the private bathroom and drew him some cold water. After he downed the whole glass, he cleared his throat again, successfully. "Olivia.” He still managed barely more than a whisper. "Yes?" "How long have you been here?" "Since you came in." He gave her a small scowl.


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"You shouldn't have done that. Someone will get suspicious." She pointed to the couch bed. He looked over. "Oh, I see.� He stared at her husband for a few minutes. His chest rose and fell, still sound asleep.

COUNTDOWN . . . 91 Jessica woke with Troy lying next to her. I could get used to this. Looking at the clock, she let her eyes adjust, and realized she was getting up later than usual. She had to be at work in less than an hour. Jess draped


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her arms around Troy’s sleeping shoulders and kissed his neck. His eyes cracked open. "Last night was fantastic," she whispered into his ear. As she gently kissed his ear, she noticed the hair on his neck stand up. "Before you get me all revved up again, you don't want to be late for work," he said reluctantly. "Yeah, I guess so. Besides, I guess you need to monitor the computer bug more. We need to let you have room for that." Troy smiled. "I’m monitoring it." He looked into her eyes. Jess saw the control in his eyes. She knew he had it and wasn't letting it go. The look in his eyes nearly sent her over the edge, even without them actually doing anything. "I better get a shower," she added as she kissed his neck gently and turned, putting her feet on the floor.


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Troy got up as well, focused on the computer. He looked over the programs, the codes, the bug itself. He had it right where he wanted it. It was now his personal play toy and he would damn sure let Garrison know that. Just then, as if on cue, his cell rang. He checked the number. Yep, Garrison. "Right on time, Mr. Power.� He picked it up. "Hi, Royce." "I was told you needed to talk to me.� His voice was still slightly rough. "Yep, sure do. I have some information I think you'll find vital . . . to your financial well being." "Unless you know how to solve this crisis, I have no interest in this conversation." "Let's just say, you can't do a damn thing with your money without my personal permission . . . and you won't have my permission, at least not until I get what I want." "And what do you want?"


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"I think we should meet face to face to discuss that." "Fine. Come here to the hospital and we can talk." "No. We'll wait until you're out. I prefer a little . . . privacy.” He waited for Garrison's heart to skip a few beats. "We'll talk after you get out. Let that be an incentive for you to get better . . . fast.” Troy hung up. Gently laying the phone down, he monitored the computer. It was all set now. The bug was in his control, Garrison's mind was surely racing, and he would definitely make sure he was out of that hospital as soon as possible. "Who was that, honey?” She called from the shower eagerly. "It was the magical man we've been waiting for." She pushed the shower curtain back and peeked out, her hair drenched. "Really? He already called?"


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"I told you it wouldn't take him long.� He turned and smiled at her, sitting lazily in the chair, composed and in complete control of life it seemed. She quickly finished and jumped out. "So should I go to work today?" "You know what would be nice today? I'd love to have you spend the day with me. Don't worry, you won't get in trouble for missing work today and very soon, you won't have to worry about that silly thing called working for somebody else anymore.� The twinkle in his eye lit brighter by the second. He pulled her soaking head down to him and kissed her passionately.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 90 "I've got to get the hell out of here.� Royce pulled the oxygen tube out of his nose.


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"But you're not ready!” Olivia rushed to his side, frantic about him leaving on his own accord and getting worse. "Please, baby, please stay until you are released." His eyes were stone cold and as rock hard as his will at the moment. A surge of anxiousness and insecurity shot through him and he hated it. "I am getting out of this bed, leaving this hospital, and meeting with Troy. If you know what's best for you, you will move your ass the hell out of my way, NOW!" "Please, sweetheart.” Tears ran down her face, her lips trembled. She knew he could have a heart attack . . . and maybe even die. "Move, Olivia, or we are over!” His voice was even more rough now, but not because of sore vocal cords. This coarseness was a direct result of his anger at Olivia for trying to keep him from getting to Troy, and at Troy for controlling his money. His eyes shot directly through her, as if stabbing her right in her heart, but it was her eyes that were hit instead. She choked as if the knife pierced her flesh, and fell back onto the bed next to her husband.


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A throat cleared. The bed moved. Feet hit the floor. "I never would have thought. I trusted you all these years. I gave everything I had . . . for you! I know I'm not a millionaire like him . . . but, how could you?! How, Olivia?! How?!" She turned and looked at him, her eyes filled with horror and fear. Her mouth opened, but she couldn't get a sound out. She lunged across the bed for him, but missed as he stepped back. "Forget it. I don't want you touching me. This is just too much. Oh, God, how long has this gone on?” He shook his head. “I don't think I even want to know.” He turned and slammed the hospital door as he stormed out. She turned and looked at Royce with an ache in her eyes that he couldn't comfort. "I'm leaving too, Olivia, and don't you DARE follow me! You'll just get in my way.” He made his way out of the room as she sat there and watched, too shocked by the last two minutes to move a muscle. After they were gone, she realized both men in her life were lost. They had been juggled for years, one knowing, the other


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oblivious. Now, in the span of two minutes or less, both were gone. She wanted to cry but was still so much in shock that no tears would come. Now it was her on the hospital bed. Olivia thought she was the one that really needed care right now. Her heart was broken . . . twice.

COUNTDOWN . . . 89 Troy's phone rang again as Jessica sat on his lap, looking deep into his eyes. "I need to get that baby."


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"Go ahead, I'm not stopping you.� She grinned, enjoying the glimmer. He reached for the phone and answered, keeping his eyes on Jessica’s. "Hi, Royce." "Troy, I believe we have business to take care of." "Yes, I believe we do. Meet me at the Starbucks on Main. We can talk in peace there." "15 minutes. I'll be there." Troy hung up, eyes still focused on Jess. "I need to go." "I'm going to." "I don't know..." "Troy," she said as she put her finger up to his lips, quieting him, "I'm going. Like it or not." He saw the determination in her eyes. "Ok. Let's go then. By the way, you should get dressed," he said as he slapped her ass.


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How am I ever gonna make it there in 15 minutes. I hurt too damn bad. I have to move slow. Right now I think Christmas is faster than I am. His legs felt stiff, his stomach churned and growled, and most importantly his chest hurt . . . bad. Royce didn't want to admit that his body was weak now, but it was dawning on him that he didn't have a choice. And worse, he didn't have money to take care of his problem. Somehow, Royce had to convince Troy to hand back control of the money. He just wasn't sure how yet. Troy seemed to have a resolve in his voice over the phone that wasn't usually there. Of course, Royce could understand that if Troy was telling the truth. At this very moment, Troy would have control over all of Royce's money, which amounts to quite a lot. We're talking billions . . . with a capital B. As Royce walked into Starbuck’s, his slower than usual eye spotted Troy. He had never seen that confident of a look on his face before. That confirmed it as good as anything could. Troy definitely has control over my


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money. Jessica was also there, sitting next to her man. Just like a good soldier. Why hadn't she reported this like she was ordered? He took a seat across from Troy at the table. Troy didn't even flinch. Royce looked directly into his eyes, trying to break him, but Troy merely sat there acting like the king of the world. If he has any idea of the true extent of the assets and wealth under his control at this moment, then yeah, he is the king. Which left Royce in the position of royal subject . . . and he detested that. "Have a seat, old man.� Troy looked Royce flat in the eyes as he spoke, not breaking the stare or moving a muscle. Royce did his best to swallow his temper that wanted to lash out at Troy for that remark. "Let's get to it," Royce said anxiously. "Straight down to business. I thought so. Good." "That's how I got to where I am, Troy. That's a lesson you could learn."


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Troy looked at him, raising an eyebrow. "I don't think you're in a position of authority, Royce. I don't think you have anything to teach me at the moment.� He gave him the coldest stare he could. "Who has the money and the power now . . . old man?" Jessica looked at Troy, wondering if this was a power trip or a maneuver to keep Royce where he wanted him. Royce sighed, swallowing his anger again. "What do you want, Troy?� His voice was gruff, trying to control his outburst. He couldn't afford to piss Troy off right now and he knew it. He looked directly into Garrison's eyes and spoke in the most serious tone he had. "I want your life, Royce." Royce's mouth went dry and his breath actually caught in his throat. He wasn't used to having the underhand. Jessica sat in awe of Troy's words. She looked at the shock on Royce's face, watched his mouth open and close several times with nothing coming out. She hoped he didn't have another heart attack right here.


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Customer's buzzed all around the three of them as they sat. Workers did their job. Everyone was oblivious to the fact that one of the biggest power players in the city, for that matter in the country, was sitting at one of their tables and was at the mercy of an ex-employee. Royce did his best to focus on the words that just spilled out of Troy's mouth. Surely I misunderstood. Troy couldn’t have said what I thought I heard. Well, he could swear he heard those words actually. Troy knew that the next words to be spoken were Royce's. That's a sales tactic as old as the sales profession itself. He definitely wasn't going to screw this moment up. Troy maintained his direct gaze on Royce. Royce scrambled to get some coherent thoughts together. I’ll assume that I heard correctly. So . . . what can I say now? He had to be extremely careful with his words. "You don't want my life, Troy. It's not as glamorous as you think." Troy let out a fairly quiet chuckle. The smile remained on his face as he picked up his glass to drink.


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"You can play it off all you want, but I want your life. Excuse me, let me correct that.” He paused, studying Royce’s eyes closely. “I have your life." Royce felt the jolt of those words all the way down to his toes. The words rocked his world and knocked him back mentally. His mind went reeling. His eyes darted around, trying to find a place to land. Royce hadn't felt this uncomfortable in years, not since he was a young man. Before he acquired his wealth. He actually felt lost. Without a friend. Lonely. Isolated. Cut off from the entire world with no one to comfort him. His body began to shiver and tremble. Jessica looked at this supposedly unstoppable man and realized he was shaking in his boots, so to speak. This fortress of steel, as he put his image across to be. Unshakable, unbreakable, force of nature. And she realized that Royce was human, just like the rest of us.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 88 I’m gonna torture him today with my clothes. I’m gonna make Brad drool over me. He’s gonna want to have me as soon as he lays eyes on me. I just hope I can keep my own strength together . . . and avoid giving in.


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Monica caught his attention the minute she walked through the door. His eyes combed slowly up and down her body. They caught first on her fire-engine red top, cut so low she couldn’t wear a bra. It exposed the entire valley between her breasts. Next, he saw how snugly the top fit her stomach, showing each curve of muscle. Then his eyes danced over her thighs, realizing how thin her skirt was. Nothing on under it, light showing her figure through it. Her shoes didn’t even matter today, only the fact that her legs were showing brilliantly also. She made sure to shave this morning, just for that much more sex appeal. She could swear he was fighting to keep from drooling. Not to mention her own internal struggle . . . “Hi Brad. Busy day today?” Brad fought to make his tongue work so he could respond. “Yes, actually. Me and you have a lot of business to discuss . . . privately . . . in my office . . . now.” She stopped, one leg slightly bent, looked directly into his eyes. “No, I’ve got tons of work on my desk I need


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to catch up with first.” She walked off, forcing herself to stay calm and not jump him. I put together this outfit to make Brad go up in flames, not me. But it’s catching me on fire too. Damnit! Not good. Especially seeing his eyes soak me up like they did . . . that’s enough! Get it out of your mind girl! ********************** “What do you want, Troy?” His eyes were fatigued and filled with pain, physical and mental. Troy chuckled. “I want what I’ve got now. You have nothing to give me.” Royce’s eyes filled with fear as he stared into Troy’s. Royce realized more every minute just how powerless he is now. Summoning up every bit of courage he had left . . . and taking one hell of a long shot, he had to pop the question to Troy. “You know this mess will get straightened out soon, and you will lose all control. What will you do then? When you need to come crawling back to me for work? How will you handle this attitude of yours then?”


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Troy leaned forward, getting right into Royce’s face. “This mess won’t get straightened up until I straighten it up, because I have the key. Your wealth won’t come back under your power, until, and if, I decide to let that happen.” Royce could see it in Troy’s eyes. He knew exactly what he was saying. Troy wasn’t in the least bit scared to make the statement he just spoke. “Ok Troy. What will it take for you to decide to straighten all of this up and put things back the way they should be?” He had to play by Troy’s rules now. Just as he would have everyone play by his own, normally. He hated having the tables turned like this. Hated it passionately. Made him sick, but he knew he had to deal with it. Troy leaned back again. “Who says things aren’t the way they should be, right now?” The gleam in his eyes burned brighter by the minute.


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“You’re willing to take on the biggest power players in the world just to fight to keep this control over my money?” “I don’t have to take on the power players in the way that you think.” Troy still held his eyes locked on Royce’s. Still not flinching, not showing any hesitation, any signs of weakness. “I also have control over their money too, don’t forget that Royce. I have the key that controls everyone’s money at this very moment. There is not a man or woman alive that has more power financially than I do.” Royce knew, if Troy was telling the truth about having the key, whatever that was, then he was right. He was, at this very minute, the most powerful person financially in the world. No one could come close to touching him. “Tell you what Royce. I’ll get you the finest limo to take you home. I’ll think over things and see if there is any reason for me to contact you again.” Troy took Jess’s hand and gently pulled her up with him to leave. He opened his cell to call the limo. “Hey


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Frank. I need you to pick up Mr. Royce ASAP at the Starbuck’s. Yeah. Thanks buddy.” He closed the phone, slipped it into his pocket. Turning to Royce, he added, “Have a good day.” With a flip of the hand, and noticing the awe on Royce’s face, they both left.

COUNTDOWN . . . 87 “Wow, what are they doing here?” Jess asked.


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Jim and Martha were waiting when Troy and Jess arrived at her place. “We’re about to see. My guess is he was too excited to wait any longer to find out more about what’s going on. He’s so anxious, apparently, that he brought his wife. He must be jumping out of his skin.” Troy chuckled. “Wait till you tell them what just happened.” “Yeah, no kidding.” As they climbed out of the car, Jim didn’t waste any time. “Well, Troy, my boy, how has your day gone so far?” He practically bounced up and down as he talked, a bright grin on his face. “You’re about to find out, buddy. And I think you might actually kinda like it.” Troy gave him an extremely confident smile. Jess held Troy’s hand as they walked in, with Jim and Martha in tow.


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“Well, have a seat and we’ll start filling you in. Need a drink?” Jess checked their eager faces for a response. “No, but thanks, Jessica. We’re ready to hear what’s going on.” Martha spoke up to hurry the results. She laughed. “Well, come on then.” She followed Troy to the sofa, while Jim and Martha sat across from them on the loveseat. As they filled them in, Jim’s mouth dropped, inch by inch, closer to the floor every minute. “Should I call you a god at this point, Troy?” Jim joked. “I don’t think anyone has EVER had the upper hand on old Royce.” Jim’s eyes flashed, then glazed over quickly, before he pulled himself together. “It just hit me. I didn’t realize, even though you said it in the recount, just how powerful . . . you are, Troy. It’s actually pretty unbelievable.” Jim sat there, trying to process it mentally, while his wife’s mind was reeling with this information.


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“So you mean, you are more powerful, financially, than the richest people in the country right now?” Martha asked. Troy looked at her solidly. “Yes.” “More than that though, Martha,” Jim added. “He’s the most powerful person in this world at this very moment, at least financially. He controls nearly ALL of the world’s wealth. Troy, our best friend, the guy we’ve known forever, sitting right here in front of us, controls nearly all of the world’s wealth. How unbelievable is that?” “What are you going to do, Troy?” she asked. He sighed deeply. “I’ve been giving that a LOT of thought. Honestly, I don’t plan to keep it all, but I do plan to balance some things out.” He paused, watching their expressions. “But I am not giving it all back either. I’m not putting us all in the same financial situation we were in before this happened. No way. Not a chance.” Their faces showed obvious relief, with an audible, collective sigh.


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Royce rode, with a sour stomach, in the limo to his home. Sure, he should go back to the hospital. Not with Olivia there. She was hysterical when I left. I don’t need that shit right now. And I can’t sit in a hospital bed with all this on my mind anyway. Health problems or not, the best answer is dealing with my wife at home. His stomach churned and turned and burned. Royce felt like he was about to pass out, but he had to push on. He watched as the driver carried him home, exerting all of his effort to keep himself together. His chest still racked him with pain too, but at least he knew the cause of that. I’ve got to keep myself calm or I’ll be in serious trouble, even trying to hang onto my own life. But how? How could he stay calm in the midst of this?

God! Why is it taking every ounce of willpower I have to stay here in my office and not run to Brad? I need that damn sexual release, but I can’t give in to him. Ugh! He HAS to know who’s REALLY boss . . . ME. I call the shots. I run things how I want them. That’s just


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the way it’s supposed to be. And it absolutely killed her that Brad wasn’t running into the office, begging her for her goods. Damn him!

COUNTDOWN . . . 86


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Jim and Martha had left earlier, leaving them to sit and enjoy a meal and movie at home. Well, at her house anyway. Troy still didn’t feel it should be considered his. As scenes flickered across the TV screen, Troy’s mind wandered. I’m sitting here with this beautiful girl. She’s in love with me. We have a great movie playing. She’s as content as she can be. And my mind is only half way here. Is that fair to her? Should I be thinking about all the problems of the world, about the money I’m controlling, about how to disperse it, when I’m supposed to be enjoying time with her? Déjà vu. What would Jess think if she knew I wasn’t in the moment with her right now . . . Monica stretched her legs out, covering his. Typical, just expecting him to rub her feet. After he’d worked his ass off all day. What gave her the right? His hands moved. No, gotta stop that. But her legs were nice. Not to mention the roundness of her ass. Where’s that damn remote? Movie needs to stop. Clothes need to come off. And . . . bills need to be paid. What a joke. She turns me on so much I think about bills while I think about being in her. Nice thought process there Troy. God, I can’t even remember how long we’ve been together. Course, she can’t remember either, I’d lay money on


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that. No doubt she’s already gotten her piece from Brad today anyway. What the hell does she want me for? Money. Typical Monica. Why do I even . . . Troy’s cell shattered his glorious memories of Monica. The number didn’t look familiar. “Hello,” he said as the phone seemed to magically flip open in his hand. Silence, then a voice cracked. “Who’s this?” The voice cracked again. “Look, whoever you are, I’m not hard to talk to.” His voice was calm, collected, just exactly as he felt right now. No worry came across. Nothing except peace. Still silence. Then a click. Troy closed the phone, looked at it for just a minute, then holstered it. “Who was it?” Jess sent him a seductive yet curious look.


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Troy puckered his lips, shot his brows up quickly, then back down. “I don’t know. They didn’t say anything. Just heard the voice break as if they were trying to talk. Oh well.” He kissed Jess softly on the mouth. “You know baby, now that we’ve got some time alone . . .” she returned his kiss with a more passionate one. Running her left hand up the back of his head, flowing her fingers through his hair, she grabbed some in her hand and seductively pulled his head to hers, crushing their lips together a little tighter. Her head leaned back as he moved gracefully down her neck, tasting her soft skin. Her mouth opened, releasing moans of pleasure, along with hot breaths. Her body temperature was rising fast, along with the wetness between her legs. His right hand flowed over her body, her curves, so fluidly that little pinpricks of electricity shot through her body following his hand. He lifted her shirt and moved her bra. His mouth closed over her right breast, gently teasing the nipple . . .


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COUNTDOWN . . . 85


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. . . Her mind raced, thinking of someone she didn’t want to think about. But her pulse beat in a sprint and heart pounded against her chest with thoughts of him. How good his hand feels flowing over her. His mouth on her breast, giving just the right touch. Making nipples rock hard, waiting for more. The juices flowing, no gushing, from the rush of adrenaline that rocketed through her body. All she needed was one moment between her legs. Just one touch from his hand, one lick from his magical tongue. As her body started to quiver with thoughts of him and what he could do to her, on the very brink of release . . . DAMN him. How the hell can I be fantasizing about Troy when I’m sitting here trying my hardest to get Brad to come in here and fall all over me? There’s no way in hell I can be wanting Troy again. I have to refocus myself mentally and apparently physically. Brad is where I need to be, at least for the moment. Until I’m done with him . . .

Slowly, deliberately, Royce forced his body to get out of the car and hobbled into the house. Like an old man with a cane . . . but he had no cane. As he sat down, his dutiful wife brought him a cup of decaf tea.


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“Sorry, honey, but I don’t want you to have caffeine or anything else that will make your condition worse.” She smiled, lovingly. He looked into her eyes, just briefly. “Yes, thank you. I know how much you care. I need that right now.” “I know hon. I’m here for you.” She kissed his cheek and went to the kitchen to find a snack for him. “I’m sure you’re starving, after that hospital food you’ve had to endure. I’ll get you a little something here. Something you’ll enjoy that will stay in you.” Royce laid his head back on the couch. This is definitely what the doctor ordered. He sighed. An attentive wife to cater to my every need right now. To take care of me so I don’t have to get up myself and do it. To bring me the phone and allow me to take care of urgent business while she tends to me. Isn’t that why I married her after all?


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Olivia struggled with fear. She had been wandering the streets, looking frantically. I’ve got to find him. This is driving me crazy. I don’t know if he’s ok or not, I don’t know what’s going on with him. This is too much mental stress on top of me already struggling between the years of being the “good wife” to my husband and the years of being Royce’s lover. He’s the one I want, the one I feel like is my soul mate, the one I just can’t do without. She flopped back and forth between being sick to her stomach when thoughts of her husband invaded and feeling torn between elation and horror when thoughts of Royce flowed through her mind. Elation from the good memories, and horror from not knowing where he was right now or how he was doing.

COUNTDOWN . . . 84


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Monica got home, or to Brad’s place, before he did tonight. I’m amping up my strategy against Brad tonight. Surely he can’t keep himself from fucking me ALL night, like he did all day. I’ll spread myself out on the couch. He’ll see me as soon as he walks through the door. In all my glory. Completely naked, legs open, my treasure awaiting his penetration. Surely THAT will pull him into me. His car pulled up, the door closed, and footsteps came to the door. She let the smile grace her face that was straining to come through. He can’t fight this one. The door opened, his eyes landed on her, stopped for a minute, traveled over her body, then he shut the door and walked into the kitchen. “I’m starving, how about you, Monica?” She felt her blood start boiling, all the way down in her toes. Coursing through her veins like wildfire, she felt like she was about to explode. Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. Her pussy, which had been soaking wet in anticipation, went bone dry. Her nipples, just a second ago rock hard, were now red with fury.


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Brad brought a sandwich into the room where she was and sat down on the chair, avoiding the couch where she lay. She could hear him munching away as he picked up the remote and turned the TV on. Apparently even her sexy naked body completely sprawled out in front of him wasn’t affecting him. God! The guy must be gay!! Ugh!!

Olivia fought an internal battle to keep from visibly going crazy. Her nerves were on edge. Her mind consumed with Royce. As she walked, her eyes scanned every street corner, every nook and cranny. She saw the prostitutes, the businessmen that tried to be secretive with the girls. My Royce would have been so much slicker than these idiots. But, my Royce wouldn’t have needed these prostitutes. She caught herself thinking past tense about Royce and scolded herself like a child. A couple of blocks further and she saw the beautiful looking buildings of the city, the old architecture that drew visitors, newly built restaurants and malls offering tourists a taste of the modern. But nowhere did she see Royce. There was no sign of him at all. It’s a big city, so he could be anywhere . . . literally. Which just made


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her heart pound that much harder. She had to find out where he was. No question, she had to. Whatever that took.

Jess was amazed. I can’t believe we actually have this much time, this much privacy, to explore each other’s bodies and have a . . . sexathon. I love it. So what if it was 3 in the morning and they hadn’t slept yet. She just couldn’t get enough. As long as Troy was willing, Jess was going for more. It’s not like they had to get up and go to work. The feel of his tongue, all over her flesh, then diving inside. The feel of him plunging into her. His flesh pressed against hers. Her lips tasting every inch of his skin. She was just unquenchable tonight. It was like she was a virgin to him, and he was the lover she had always been searching for . . .


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. . . She slid her hands over his muscular chest as he plunged himself in and out of her, while her juices flowed down his body and hers. She lay there on her bed, him in position over her. Her body contracted to hold him inside her, just a little bit longer. She couldn’t let him go, not yet. She needed this, needed him. It was a need like she had never felt before. One that wouldn’t go away. As his lips crushed down on hers, as she tasted the heat, the sweetness, the passion in them . . . she looked into his eyes . . . and awoke in a hot sweat, the couch drenched with her juices. She felt so refreshed, so alive, as if the dream had really happened. Her body still throbbed from the pleasure, still aching for more. She looked around, focused. Obviously she had fallen asleep on the couch when Brad ignored her. He was apparently in bed now, or gone, she didn’t care which. What she did care about, and what still didn’t make sense to her, was the super lover in her dream, the one that brought her to an ecstasy she hadn’t known before, was Troy . . . again!


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COUNTDOWN . . . 83


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Royce woke up, still sitting on his couch. At least his chest wasn’t racked with pain now. The light streamed in through the front windows, weaving through the Venetian blinds. It actually made him want to get up, enjoy the day. He didn’t think he had the strength yet. He tried pushing himself up, realizing just how groggy he was, and plopped back down. “Dear, you don’t need to exert yourself yet. I know you shouldn’t have even left the hospital yet. I don’t know why you did, but that doesn’t matter now.” He didn’t see his wife sitting there. “I had to take care of some business. It was urgent and no one else could take care of it.” “Yes, yes, always taking care of business. That company will run you into the ground.” “It’s providing nicely for you though, now isn’t it? You’ve never complained about that before.” “It wouldn’t do me any good to complain, would it?”


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He couldn’t argue with that. He knew that she knew his company was first, above everything else, because his money was first, above everything else. Yes, even above his wife. He sat there and closed his eyes again, feeling all the strength draining even more from his body. He had pushed himself beyond too hard. God. How long will my recovery take? I need to get up, get moving, and actually put pressure on the right people to get this shit straightened out. This mess has to stop. I need my fortune back.

Troy’s eyes opened. He looked at this beautiful naked woman, uncovered, laying beside him. How could I be so stupid? All this time and I’ve missed how truly attractive Jess is. Her amazing curves, soft skin, tender heart. Complete lady outside of bed, yet wild as an animal in bed. The perfect combination. She slightly rolled over, giving him an even better view of her backside, skin almost glowing. He gently ran his fingers over her, feeling the soft skin under his touch, the goose bumps that sprang up. Her legs spread slightly, giving him more access to her body. Sliding


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himself down the bed, he lightly kissed her, running his fingers down between her legs, into her heat, feeling her lust. Her juices soaked his hand. Taking one leg in each hand, he slowly spread them open, exposing her in just the perfect way. Raising himself up, and already being rock hard, he slid himself into her. Not ramming in, not pounding, but lovingly sliding in. As he started slowly pumping in and out, she started stirring. “Oh my God, what a good way to wake up.” Her voice edgy from sleep, yet with a silkiness from being turned on. He wasn’t used to her voice sounding like that, and he loved it. How, how did I miss all of this before? How was I so damn blind? It’s like a whole new world was opening up to him, minute by minute. One that had been right in front of his face the whole time, but he never knew it was there. He felt his heart pounding, and it wasn’t because of the great sex this time. He knew he liked her, but now . . . dare he think it? Was he really falling for her? Just enjoy the moment. Don’t jump ahead. Enjoy this while it lasts, because you don’t


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know when it will end. This is too much like Paradise to last long. “Mmmm, baby, just think, we could do this kind of thing every morning if we wanted to. It all depends on how you handle Royce.” “Shhh, don’t mention Royce while I’m inside you,” he laughed. She moaned again. “Sorry babe. I just want to enjoy this all the time.” “So do I, baby. So do I.”

COUNTDOWN . . . 82


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Monica showered, got dressed and hoped that Brad would already be gone when she got ready to eat. She couldn’t handle physically being around him this morning. Not after the dream she had last night, and the way he ignored her. Something strange was happening to her and she didn’t understand it, at all. There’s no way I can be so damn attracted to and turned on by Troy right now . . . so why am I? She had convinced herself that she pretty much hated him. Monica opened the bathroom door ready to walk to the kitchen. “Well, hi, bright eyes.” Brad’s voice was not what she needed at this moment. She scrunched her face up as his voice grated her nerves. “You’re cheerful this morning,” she said in an entirely too sarcastic tone. “Why shouldn’t I be? It’s a beautiful day.” She sneered at him and walked off. She listened as his footsteps followed her.


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“Cheer up babe.” She stopped just short of the kitchen. Should she turn and say something? “You need to have a smile on your face when you hit the office today.” No. She couldn’t say anything now, for fear of blowing up at him. She still needed him financially, although at this point she considered that being on the streets might actually be better. She started walking forward again, getting some food. He grabbed her ass, squeezing tightly, as he bent down and kissed her neck, before letting her go and disappearing out the door. She felt nauseous now, from his hand and lips being on her. And to think, a couple of days ago, she was rubbing her sex life with Brad into Troy’s face. What the hell is wrong with me?

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love and longing that kept popping up from nowhere. The man she chose to be with was inside that building, but the man her body kept craving she had pushed out of her life, willingly. “Come on Monica. Get over yourself. Walk in there, take command of Brad, just like you did at the beginning of your relationship, and straighten this crap out.” The pep talk didn’t work as well as she had planned. She looked at her hands . . . shaking. Her chest . . . tight. Her breathing . . . shallow. “Come on girl. You’re stronger than this. Troy would have kicked your ass if you had been this weak with him. No wonder Brad’s kicking your ass now.” Troy. Sweet, dear, handsome Troy. Oh my God, what a lover. What a husband. What have I done? “STOP it Monica! Damnit! Get the fuck out of this car and walk inside and do your fucking job. Keep Brad at a distance and he will CRAVE you back again. You know he will.” Ok, pep talk worked, she decided, as she finally got out of the car and walked in.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 81


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Royce woke up again. He glanced at the clock. It was noon now. He still didn’t feel any better physically. His strength just wasn’t returning. “I’ve got you some food. It’s sitting right beside you.” She was still taking care of him like a good wife should. Too bad he needed to cut the ties with her. Cut her loose so that he could pursue his mistress, the company. He could easily find another woman, a younger model, to take care of his needs. He feared his wife’s usefulness was about over. “Thank you.” He reached out weakly and picked up the food. How will I break the news to her? “I got a call from Olivia this morning dear. She has some questions about some things at the office. I told her you were sick and asleep right now, that you couldn’t talk.” “Thank you,” he said again. He sure didn’t need to mess with Olivia’s shit right now either. The hysterical bitch. His heart didn’t need that and his mind didn’t either. Her usefulness was over too. He would have to cut her lose from the company. Yes, she was an asset to


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the company, but she’d never be able to do her job right again at this point. His wife laid some papers in his lap. “I know you’re not taking care of business today and that’s a wise thing, but you do need to look over these papers when you get done eating. It’s very important.” She smiled and walked out of sight. Paperwork. He didn’t want to see any of that for a long time. He couldn’t move his body, much less focus his mind. How was he supposed to handle paperwork already? Well, that’s a stupid question, Royce. You’ve got a huge company to run. You’re never going to get away from paperwork. Deal with it. He picked the papers up from his lap. Taking a break from the food, he scanned the first page. At eye level, making sure it catches the attention of the poor sucker that it’s sprung on, were the words: PETITION TO THE COURT FOR DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE


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Damn. She beat him to it. Not a good way to start the process. Bad, bad business. He suddenly didn’t have an appetite.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 80 Troy looked at the computer screen, checking all of the bank accounts of the power players. How much of their wealth should I keep? A few key strokes and it will all be done. No big deal. And it won’t be traceable. Considering I’m holding the key to unfreezing everyone’s account and I don’t plan to do that anytime soon. I can easily erase all of this electronically before I allow the systems to be unlocked. “Are you ok, honey?” The sweet, silky voice spoke softly into his ear. Shivers ran down his spine. “Yeah. I’m good. Just thinking.” “About what?” He laughed. “About how much we should keep when I release everybody’s money.” She smiled. It was such a thrill to know that her boyfriend held that much power. “Half?”


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He smiled back. “Whatever you want, baby. It’s not like they can sue us or come after us for it. After all, if it wasn’t for me, they would never get it back.” She put her lips on his and shared her intense heat at this moment. Troy’s phone rang. He wanted to ignore it, but knew he needed to check. “Hold that thought, baby.” He looked at it . . . Jim. “Yeah, buddy, what’s up?” “Troy, there was a report on the news just now. Some woman says she has found a way to unfreeze everybody’s money. I think you need to take a look at this. She says she just needs one more thing to make it happen, the main password from the President, but the government is reluctant to give it to her right now.” “Thanks Jim. I appreciate it.” Troy closed the phone and laid it down. “What’s up honey?”


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“Well, this was bound to happen, sooner or later. It’s happened sooner, though. Actually, much sooner than I expected.” “What’s up?” She has the cutest damn smile, Troy thought. He focused on her eyes, trying to talk. “Jim just said a lady has just about hacked into the system, but she doesn’t have the main password, so she can’t fully do it. Which means we’re running out of time with Royce.” “What are you going to do?” “Well, first thing is to go in and change the password. That will buy us a little more time. But if she’s figured out how to get this far, she’ll break it further, even once I do that.” “How much time do you think it gives us?” “There’s not much of a way to tell on that.” He went back into the system, while talking to her, and changed the password immediately. He looked into Jess’s beautiful eyes. “Time to meet up with Royce again.”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 79 God, half way through the day, and she still can’t get Troy off her mind! What the HELL is wrong with me? Brad, the gorgeous god in his corner office, is available. Sitting right there, taking care of paperwork, people going in and out of his office, including other attractive women, and he doesn’t even look her way. And all she can do is think about Troy. His hands roaming . . . On impulse, she sprung out of her chair and walked as confidently as possible into his office. She quickly, quietly closed his door. “Can I help you?” He looked at her with a confused expression. “We need to talk.” She swung her hips as she walked to the chair in front of his desk and sat down. She wasn’t about to go around behind his desk to hint at anything sexually. “Ok. That’s what I’m here for. What’s up?”


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She was about to pull her excruciatingly cared for hair out. He sits there, calm, smug, like nothing is going on. Like he doesn’t even feel the slightest bit of attraction toward her. She stared into his eyes, trying to see if there was a fire, or even a hint of a flame. Nothing. She flicked her hair back, in a way that slightly popped open the front of her shirt, showing some of her soft skin to him. His eyes didn’t even glance down. “I’m sorry, but I do have other things to take care of today too. But I do want to know what you need to talk about. After all, my office policy is open door, as you well know.” Yeah, she knew perfectly well how ‘open door’ his office had been to her. Up until today anyway. His voice is so smooth and silky it drove her nuts. She exhaled long. “I’ve got an . . . issue I need to deal with.” “Ok. Now we’re getting somewhere. What can I do?” She looked at the office windows. All the blinds were open. Damn.


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“Could we go somewhere for lunch and talk?” Maybe if she could get him out of the office . . . He sighed. “I’m sorry. I have plans for lunch today.” A jolt went through her body. Plans? What the hell is that all about? Her mouth dropped open. “So, can we talk about this now?” He prompted. Damning the consequences, she jumped out of her chair, flew across the desk, took his face in her hands, and planted the hottest kiss she could on his lips. She’d been dying to get this pent up sexual frustration out of her system, and he wasn’t helping with it. Now, if she could just see Brad’s face while kissing him instead of Troy’s . . . He pushed her back. “The windows are open! What are you doing!?” Panting, she sucked in a deep breathe.


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He gulped for air as he raced to the windows, closing the blinds before anything else happened, hoping nobody saw that. She turned and looked at him, hair falling gently over her shoulders, strands hovering over her eyes, making her look so damn sexy. She spread her legs apart as she climbed down off the desk, revealing her treasure, leaving moisture behind on the desk. Her sexual desires coming to a peak, she walked toward Brad like a predator closing in on it’s prey. Again, she clamped his face with her hands, this time with a grip that meant to hold on and not let go. Their lips met in a hot instant. She pressed her body against his. She thought she felt steam coming from them, she was so much on fire, needing him. Feeling his bulge against her, she moved her hands down and unzipped his pants. Pulling him out, she raised her skirt up. No time for pleasantries or foreplay . . . or any of that stuff. She needed him . . . NOW. Sliding him between her legs, over her skin, she couldn’t keep the moan from escaping her throat. She slid him further, penetrating her easily. As she moved down, taking him in, she focused her eyes on . . . Troy. Wild with animal lust,


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she hungrily tasted Troy’s lips, shoving her body down more and more on him, pinning him against the wall. She was not about to let him get away from her this time. She had screwed up before. She would not now. He shoved himself into her, grabbing her ass with his hands and squeezing, the moan escaping from him as he did. Instantaneously they both exploded, pulling each other tightly together. Her body quivered, juices running down her legs, but she didn’t care. She could barely stand, so Troy’s strong arms held her up. I could stay here all day, in his arms. His strong, protective arms, never letting me go. His hands caressed her face, turning her to kiss. As their lips met, she realized it was Brad’s lips, not the sweet taste of Troy’s. Immediately she backed off of him and pulled her skirt back down to cover up. With her hand over her mouth, she ran out of the office . . . to the bathroom.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 78 “Come on babe. We need to head over to Royce’s place. We can’t wait around for him to decide when he’s ready. I would do it that way, but with this other woman coming out of nowhere hacking in, we don’t have the luxury of time anymore.” Jess followed her man to her car and tossed him the keys. “This might get ugly. Are you sure . . .” She raised her hand up to stop him. “Don’t even think about leaving me behind. You think I’m scared of Royce anymore?” She gave him a very relaxed look and climbed in. Thirty minutes later they pulled up at Royce’s house. It actually looked lifeless. Walking to the door, they saw Royce sitting in a chair. His eyes were closed. Food and papers sitting in his lap.


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“Is he asleep?” Jess wasn’t used to seeing big, bad Royce like this. “Looks that way. Apparently he’s human like the rest of us.” Troy smirked. He knocked. No response. “I hope he’s just asleep,” Jess said. Troy knocked again. Still no response. Troy felt the knob. It turned. He slowly opened the door. “Isn’t this illegal?” Jess grabbed his arm and looked up at him. “I don’t think he’s going to mind right now. And we’ve got to talk to him.” Troy walked through the door, over to Royce, and listened to his breathing. He watched his chest too. He thought he saw his chest rise and fall as he heard shallow breathing. He gently touched Royce’s


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wrist, checking for a pulse. Good, hearts still beating. He looked up at Jess, nodded his head. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked through the door too. “He’s going to be out for a while.” A scratchy voice came from behind them. Whirling around to see who it was, they saw Olivia standing there. “I’ve given him something to knock him out for a while. Can you believe the nerve?” She walked over to him, looking at him with so much love. Or was it despair. “She just couldn’t fucking wait. She had to throw divorce papers at him while he is in this condition. That bitch. I always knew she was trouble, from the minute I first met her.” She looked up at both of them, her eyes darting from one to the other. “She won’t be giving any of us any more trouble. I’ve made sure of that.” Troy didn’t like the sound of that.


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“He needs his rest.” She looked back and forth between them. “You can see that, can’t you?” “Yes,” Troy said, reassuring her, while figuring out how to actually talk to Royce. “And what are you two doing here anyway? You’re the reason he’s like this in the first place.” She gave them an evil eye. “We have an extremely important issue we need to talk to him about.” Troy said calmly as he looked directly into her eyes. “Well, it can’t be that important. His company is the most important thing in the world to him, and right now that’s kind of going on it’s own. You two certainly aren’t a part of it anymore. Actually,” she said as the realization hit her, “I’m running it. So what do you two need?” She looked at them with a darkness in her eyes. “Well, we’ll just wait until he gets better, then talk to him. Like you said, he does need his rest. He’s been through a lot lately.” Jess grabbed Troy’s arm and started pulling him to leave with her.


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“You two aren’t going anywhere, Jessica. I’ve already taken care of one problem. Why not take care of the other two while I’m at it? Especially since they just fell into place for me.” Her voice was really getting on Troy’s nerves. It wasn’t her normal voice. It sounded like she had changed into some kind of witch. Jess pulled on his arm, gripping it with a death grip. She obviously wasn’t about to let go, which suited him just fine. The quicker he could get them out, the better. “What are you planning on doing with us, Olivia?” Troy still spoke calmly, although his pulse was actually starting to race slightly now. “I already told you. I’m taking care of my other problems. You don’t need to know details . . . yet.” Troy considered his options. There weren’t many. He had known Olivia for a while now, but had never seen this side of her. It seemed she had just gone crazy, flipped. Her eyes didn’t even look the same. Almost like she’s possessed now. He didn’t know what to expect. Watching her with eagle eyes, his mind raced looking for a strategy. He wasn’t putting together


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anything brilliant quickly either. The only available resource was Jess and he could not put her in any more danger than she was already in. Royce’s out cold, for who knows how long. This can’t be good. “Come on Olivia. We are of no use to you.” I have to think of SOMETHING, and quickly. Hopefully if I can keep her talking, I can stall for time and spark an idea. “You’re right about that. But you are vessels of my vengeance, because it’s your fault that my love is like this.” “You won’t accomplish anything by hurting . . . or killing, us.” He felt Jess stiffen as he said ‘killing’. “Yes I will. I’ll make myself feel better, while getting you out of Royce’s way too.” “If you let us go, we will get out of Royce’s way. I promise. That’s why we came to talk to him.” Olivia glared at Troy with a look of genuine curiosity. Troy picked up on that. He had an opening. “I have something that Royce needs. I can get him access to all


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of his fortune again. But I need to talk to him. I can’t work this out without me and Royce and Jess talking.” “What does she have to do with it?” Olivia snarled. “It’s that or nothing. I have the key that Royce needs. Without me, you have no chance of him ever having access to his fortune again.” Royce let that hang in the air while Olivia mentally digested it. “What do you need to do? Maybe I can help.” She eyed him cautiously. “No. We have to talk to Royce.” She turned away from them. Walked. Picked up a knife. Turned back to them. “He needs to sleep. He’s not in any condition to deal with anything right now.” She had malice in her eyes as she walked toward them. Troy felt Jess tense up more. He squeezed her hand in an effort to tell her they would be ok. He didn’t figure Olivia had gone that stupid . . . yet.


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“Go. Get the hell out of here. Go figure out how to do what you need to do without him.” Troy stood there, watching Olivia, thinking. “Go! Before I change my mind.” She raised the knife up again. This time Jess pushed Troy, trying to get him to move. Troy squeezed Jess’s hand again and led her out. “I didn’t think she would hurt us since I told her I have the key he needs, which I do,” he said after they got outside. “Yeah, she just doesn’t know that someone else is about to get that key too.” “She must not be watching the news.” As they got into the car, Troy got a call from Jim. “Yeah, buddy.” “Troy, I just wanted to let you know, the government is beginning to consider letting this woman have the


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password. They are checking into her background to see if they can trust her.” “No problem. I’ve already changed it anyway. Not even the President knows what it is right now. Just keep me posted.” Jim laughed. “I hoped you’d stay on top of it like that. Good, good. I will. Where are you guys at?” “We just paid a visit to Royce’s. He’s out of commission for the moment and Olivia’s flipped. She’s acting like she’s possessed or something.” “Sounds interesting.” “To say the least.” “How did you guys get out of that situation?” It was Troy’s turn to laugh. “Olivia can’t afford to hurt us, or she will never see Royce’s precious fortune again.” “Good point. Ok. You two be careful.”


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“See you soon.” Troy closed the phone.

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COUNTDOWN . . . 77 Brad couldn’t get his mind off Monica’s contradictory actions earlier. He sat at his desk, trying to focus on work, but getting nowhere. First, she basically attacks me. Physically, sexually. I’m not complaining. Damn it was good. In fact, some of the best sex I’ve ever had in a short couple of minutes. But then, like a switch flipped in her head somewhere, she just takes off looking like she’s gonna throw up! “What the hell happened in those couple of minutes? What did I miss? I’ve been trying to draw her toward me, getting her to crave me more and more so she can’t stand to lose me, and this just came out of nowhere. Now, I don’t know which way she’s going. I don’t know what to do next.” He looked at his clock. Thirty minutes till the end of the workday. I can’t stand waiting that long. I’ve got to get outta here now. I need some fresh air. Well, as fresh as I can get in this city anyway. He left taking a back exit so he could avoid Monica.


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Her heart ached with an intensity she never felt before. She felt like she had hot, molten lava flowing through her veins. Her mind was so inside out that she couldn’t focus on her normal daily routine. And all of this because somehow Troy had started invading her thoughts. I have no idea how, but he’s taken hold of my heart in a way he never managed to when we were together. Maybe I didn’t let him before . . . She put her head in her hands and rested her elbows on her desk. “Think, damnit, think. What can I do? How can I handle this? I cannot let Troy run my mind and ruin my life. But, right now, it feels like he is . . . I can’t . . . say it.” She felt like throwing up and her heart raced faster in anticipation of the possible revelation at the same time. “Damn . . .” she looked at herself in the glass of the computer monitor. “He’s the one, isn’t he?” A tear left her right eye and started sliding down her cheek. Her lips quivered. She sprung out of her chair and picked up her stuff to get out of the office. These crazy emotions have to be controlled.


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“Why do you even need to talk to Royce? You have control of all the money and assets anyway. What do you need from him?” Jess looked at Troy with her head slightly cocked. “I want to be the bigger man. Simple as that. I want to let him know what’s going on with what used to be his money. And give him a chance to work to get some money back.” “You already are the bigger man. More than Royce will ever be. You’re leveling the playing field. You’re giving those that haven’t had a chance, a chance. Without you he wouldn’t ever have access to his money anymore, anyway. So, I consider it payment for services.” “Services, as in my service of freeing up his money.” “Exactly.” Troy looked at Jessica, put a smirk on his face. “You know, I always did like how you think. I guess that’s why I’m so damn attracted to you.”


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She returned his smirk with a seductive smile. “What do you say we just bypass Royce and contact the other power players here in the city that he deals with? We can handle the transaction ourselves, considering you have control of all their money too.” Troy’s cell rang. He looked, Jim. “Hey buddy, what’s up?” “Update. That lady, name’s Alicia, said she took the password from the Pres and it didn’t work. By the way, the government checked her, found nothing wrong, so decided they could trust her.” Troy laughed. “Yep. I’d say it didn’t work, since I changed it. Well, I’ll need to keep changing it frequently then. Thanks for keeping me posted.” “No problem. I don’t want this opportunity to get yanked away from us either.” “It won’t. Just keep me posted.” “Ok. Be careful.”


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Troy holstered the phone.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 76 Monica went to Jake’s, the local hole in the wall. She had to drown her frustrations in something. Sitting at the bar, she tried to collect her thoughts enough to at least order a drink. “Can I help you, ma’am?” “Vodka on the rocks.” She figured that would hit her quick. The bartender put it in front of her and she started sipping it. Halfway through the glass, she downed it. With throat burning and eyes running, she ordered another. “You sure?” Barely being able to speak, she said, “Yes. Very sure.” “Ok.” He put another glass in front of her.


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She looked at it, mentally preparing herself, then started sipping it again. Halfway through it, she downed the rest, again. Loudly setting the glass back down, she ordered another. “I think you need to hold off, just a few minutes,” the bartender said. “Let it settle in your system first.” “I need another one, please.” “Sure, I’ll give you another, in just a few minutes.” She gave him a frustrated look. “Maybe you should go easy on them, sweety. Looks like you’ve had about as rough a day as I’ve had,” a female voice next to her said. Monica turned and looked, tried to focus on this person. Though the mental fog was trying to take over. “Who are you? Do I know you?” She slurred it as clear as she could. “No, but it looks like you need to know someone about as much as I do right now.”


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“What do you mean?” Monica could feel her mental state weakening further. The woman sighed. “My name is Alicia.” “Hi. I’m . . . um . . . Monica.” “Nice to meet you Monica. Don’t you wish this world would just get off our backs sometimes?” “Always,” Monica said while raising her eye brows at Alicia. She was trying to figure this woman out mentally, but the fog was descending more. “You have man problems too . . . um . . . Alika?” Alicia laughed. “You really have had too many already. No, I wish mine was man problems. Mine is government problems. Well, that’s sort of man problems. After all, it is the men running the show right now. The men that can’t get to their precious bank accounts right now. The men that put the pressure on the rest of us to get us to give them what they want.”


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“You talking about sex?” Monica’s ears popped open and her mental fog started lifting. “Yeah, I’ve got me a man that’s grrrreeattt for that. He’s called Troy. As in that horse thing, ya know? I haven’t had him in a while, and he’s great!” Alicia laughed even more. “Oh, girl, I really need you tonight. I need a good laugh after this day. I wish this was as simple as sex. I’m talking problems on a global scale honey. Computer problems. I thought I had found the answer today, talked to the President of the U.S. even, but now I’m just a laughing stock. They want me to figure out where I went wrong. Hell, I want to figure out where I went wrong. I’m not usually that fucking careless. I’m the top programmer at my company.” She looked over at Monica. Glassy eyes and out in a daze. Although Monica was at least half way looking at her. Apparently she was trying to listen. “And you’re not understanding a word I’m saying.” Alicia laughed again. “Look, honey, why don’t we get you somewhere. You need to get home and sleep this off.” “Home? Is Troy there?”


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“I don’t know who Troy is, but let me see your purse. You need to go to bed.” The bartender came over. “You ladies ok?” “Yep. I’m just gonna get my new friend here home. She needs to sleep this off.” “She does. Have a good night.” “Come on Monica,” Alicia said as she half hauled Monica off the stool. “Tell me where you live.” “1525 East Brookshire. No, 1625. No, wait a minute.” Speech more slurred, numbers barely audible. “Oh boy. Let’s do this the easy way, and don’t shoot me in the morning, honey. I’ve got to look in your purse and find your ID.” Alicia dug around and in just a minute found what she needed. “Ok, honey, you’re coming with me, in my car. I know your neighborhood. A pretty nice one, actually. I’m taking you home and we can come and pick up your car tomorrow.”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 75 Olivia looked down at Royce, sleeping on the chair. “Well, baby, I’m here now. You’re deadbeat wife is out of our hair, and my husband is too. It’s just me and you now. And, as soon as Troy fixes this problem with your money, we’ll be set. You know, we have to have your money if we’re gonna have a life together. You know that, right?” She bent down and kissed his cheek tenderly, then covered his mouth with hers. “Mmm, you taste good.” She kissed his mouth harder next time, pressing their lips together. Pushing his cheeks like you would a baby, she popped his mouth open and locked her lips with his again for a full open mouth kiss. She started trying to peel his clothes off while he sat. “Help me damnit. Don’t you want me like I want you?” Frustrated, she stood up, leaving him sitting in the chair. “Fine, I won’t fuck you then. See how long you go till you’re desperate for me.”


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Brad sat at home, quietly. I’ve gotta get my mind wrapped around this shit with Monica. He kept the TV and stereo off. The scene in his office replayed again and again in his mind. He replayed it so vividly he could feel the sensations throughout his body each time. Just unbelievable. Then, what the hell happened? Didn’t she enjoy it as much as I did? She had to. Her body told me that. For the life of him, he could not figure out the explanation. “What was she thinking? Where was her mind at? Was she thinking about someone else and it made her feel so guilty when she had sex with me that she just couldn’t take it?” He paused, letting his own words sink in. “That’s it! Of course! She couldn’t bear to stay there and look at me, because of the tremendous guilt!” Brad smiled, confident he had just cracked her mind. “Well, as much as I’ve been loving this power play, I will just have to go a little soft with her right now. She’s got to know that I won’t hold that against her. No


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way. I understand completely. After all, I do it myself. Fantasizing about other women, that is.” Completely content with himself, Brad turned on the TV, checked the latest events, and got himself some food so he could settle down for the night and relax. Sure, he needed to find her and tell her it’s ok, but there would be time for that tomorrow.

As Alicia approached Monica’s home, she wondered if this was really it. No lights. No sign of life. Hmmm. “Is your address correct, hon? Do you really live here?” Monica had her eyes closed, just as they had been for the entire ride out. She kept trying to keep from getting sick in the car. She sure couldn’t respond in this state. Alicia pulled up in the driveway. “Well, I’ll just go have a look. See if anyone is here right now. Do you have a boyfriend or a husband or a friend that lives here with you?”


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Monica’s eyebrows raised slightly. “Boy . . . friend? Oh. Troy.” Her voice barely there, she spoke in short fragments, trying to catch her breathe. “Troy, huh? Well, it doesn’t look like he’s here right now, but I’ll go see.” As she walked to the front door, she paid close attention to all the details, just in case something happened. What she noticed, strangely enough, was that there really weren’t any significant details to notice. As if this place had been abandoned and the previous tenants just left everything in it. She knocked on the door. No answer. No sounds at all. She turned the knob. Locked. “Oh well. Let’s see what else we can do now.” She said as she turned and walked back to the car. She could see Monica still sitting there with her eyes closed, lips parted just slightly.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 74 Since Troy was Royce’s right hand man, to an extent, he knew the address of those most closely associated with Royce in his business dealings. He drove to Derrick Plum’s place. Knocking on the door, he thought Derrick would be surprised to see them. Derrick, always the professional, answered in a perfectly tailored suit, as if he was about to head to the office. “I thought you might be coming to see me Troy. Come in.” He opened the door and warmly ushered them in. His hair immaculate, his teeth white as snow, shining as he smiled. His caramel colored skin soft as he shook hands with a firm handshake. “Have a seat.” He gestured toward the kitchen table, itself looking like a masterpiece with flowers set in the middle of it, place settings for each of the six chairs, and the table and chairs themselves solid oak.


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Troy and Jess sat beside each other while Derrick took a seat next to Troy at the head of the table. “I’m sure you have some news for me, Troy.” Derrick stayed calm and kept his eyes level with Troy’s. It was obvious the money, or lack of it, didn’t affect Derrick the way it did Royce. “Yes, I do.” “Well, good or bad, let’s hear it. Don’t waste our time.” “Good. We’ll get right to the point.” Troy leaned back slightly, looked Derrick in the eye, and calmly, confidently started. “I have what you need. I have the key to unlock your wealth. Royce is in very bad health. Olivia has flipped. I know you’re a mature, responsible adult. I came here freely to deal with you. I’m willing to unlock your wealth, in return for . . . a fee.” “A fee? What kind of fee?” “Yes. A fee for services rendered you could call it. I want half of the combined wealth of all the partners in


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return for unlocking your wealth so that you can once again have control over your money.” “I see. Well, I’m not worried about you crossing me or anything like that. I’ve known you long enough to know that you are trustworthy. To be honest, it also doesn’t surprise me that you were the first one to crack this thing. However, there is another woman that is hot on your trail.” Derrick looked at Troy, with a slightly more smug look on his face. “Yes, I know about this woman. Her name is Alicia. Yes, she tried to get in with the President’s password, but it didn’t work.” Troy smirked at Derrick. “So, you are keeping up with things. Good. I would have expected nothing less from you. I assume that means she won’t be able to break it, because you will keep that from happening.” “You assume right, Derrick. So, can we get down to business?” “By all means.” He cleared his throat. “Troy, half is extortion. I’ll give you one tenth.”


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Troy chuckled. “You don’t seem to understand. I have all of it at this very moment. I can do anything in this world with all of the money from all of the partners. In fact, I have access to all of the world’s money in general. No one can do anything, anything at all, without my permission, and my willingness to actually go into the computer and make it happen myself. So, you see, half is nothing, because at this very moment, it’s all mine.” Troy locked his eyes on Derrick’s. He could see Derrick’s eyes start to shake. “And you’re not afraid of us turning you over to the authorities after this mess is cleaned up?” Troy laughed again. “You guys wouldn’t dare. Again, without me, you won’t get it cleared up. Period.” “It’s just a matter of time before a third person cracks this.” “Yes. But you see, as long as I stay just one step ahead, which will be no problem, everyone will hit the same wall Alicia did.” Troy paused, watching Derrick’s eyes. “You know, I really don’t need your permission to have


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half. I just thought I’d be nice about the deal. I could just keep it all, spend it, invest it, or do whatever I want with it.” Derrick sighed deeply. “Obviously you realize that even the half, for your share, would be billions.” “Of course.” “No one gets that rich that quickly.” Troy laughed again. “Well, I got to be the richest man in the world in an instant.” Derrick looked out the window. “Yet, you’re driving your same old car.” “That would look a bit suspicious if suddenly I was the only one able to by a luxury car, wouldn’t it? That would draw a lot of attention to me. I’m not looking for the attention.” “Again, smart man.”


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“We agree that I’m smart. Now, let’s agree on this deal so that you can have half of your money back and we can get the country going again.” Troy leaned forward. “You see, I’m not greedy like some people. I would rather get the publics money back to them so they can spend it and keep the economy going. Me and Jess could never spur the economy by ourselves.” “Let me think about it. Give me 24 hours and I’ll get back to you.” “Twenty four hours. Fine. You have my number.” With that Jess and Troy got up from the table. “I’ll be hearing from you.” He shook Derrick’s hand again. He took Jess’s hand and led her outside. “What do you think he’s waiting on?” Jess asked after they got back into the car. “He’s just trying to play hardball. He knows I actually care about the people. He wants to see if I’m gonna cave in and settle for 10%.” “Sounds like he’s being a jerk then.”


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“Pretty much, yeah.” “Didn’t give me that impression face to face with him in there.” “It’s all PR. It’s his public image. He knows he can’t afford to look like an asshole to the public. Even Royce doesn’t look like an asshole to the public. Just to those closest to him.”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 73 His kisses melted her. Those lips were such a sweet treasure touching her own lips, her cheek, her neck. Gently, lovingly, moving down to her soft breasts. Lips kissing, tongue tasting. Goosebumps danced all over her body as he teased her nipples, making them hard. She could feel the geyser growing between her legs. She wanted him to ravage her all night, yet she needed to feel him inside her so bad . . . she couldn’t bear to keep going. His tongue slipped down to her belly, making soft, small circles. The path went down a little further, then took a sharp turn to the right as he tasted her inner thighs. She gasped and groaned, needing him between her legs. The heat down there was so intense; she


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fought her body’s own urges, so she could enjoy this more. She felt his tongue flick over her knee, then travel up the back of her leg. She took a deep breathe in, trying with all her will to keep from grabbing him and pulling him up, sliding him in. As he approached her sweet spot, her body started shaking with anticipation. Could she hold off any longer? The instant his tongue touched her flesh, licking her juices, her legs clamped his head, holding him there. Oh God, how much more wonderful torture could she take? He flipped her over. Oh, the frustration! Immediately his lips touched, kissed, and loved her butt. Again, bumps raced across her skin. She clenched her fists, trying to hold on. She was losing willpower, losing the fight. He moved down, kissing the back of her knees. As soon as she felt his tongue lift from her body, she flipped herself over, sprung off the bed, and shoved him back. Now, she was on top of him, in control. No more waiting. Her juices were flowing more than they ever had and she couldn’t take anymore. Immediately she positioned herself and slid down.


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“Oh, my God!” She couldn’t help but let it out. Quickly, she started pumping him, needing the release for her own body. Harder, faster, frantic. She shoved herself down on him, pushing him into her further, needing to feel him fill her up. Suddenly she felt hands grab her sides, holding tight, as he lifted her off the bed, standing straight up, her legs stretched out behind his back. She grabbed his shoulders with her own hands and let her head go back. God, she had never felt this good before. He pushed deeper into her, pumping her harder up and down on him. She started grinding more and more, until finally, simultaneously, they both exploded in pure ecstasy. Amid screams, hollers, and moans from both of them, she bolted straight up in bed, feeling the soaked bed underneath her. It was like she had just peed in bed. But, God help her, peeing never felt this good. She didn’t have him in her, but that dream was so vivid Monica had to shake her head to realize Troy wasn’t even here with her.


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Monica got out of bed, went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and splashed cold water on her face. Finding a towel, she wiped herself down as well as she could. “This can’t be happening. There’s no way. But it is. Why?” She dropped her soaked clothes on the floor. She would just have to sleep completely naked now. “What can’t be happening? Do you need some clean clothes?” Monica jumped and turned as she covered herself with the towel. She saw Alicia standing in the doorway, slightly leaning against the door face, watching her. “Um, uh, uh, yes, please. I . . . I do need some clothes. If you don’t mind.” “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just heard somebody and wanted to make sure you were ok.” “Thanks. Yes, I’m fine. I just need some clothes.” “No problem. I’ll get you some. You look about my size. Good thing.” She turned and started toward her closet. “Nice body by the way. Whoever this Troy is, I


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hope he appreciates you. I wish I had a body like that. Imagine how many men I would have crawling over me.” She returned with an outfit. “There, that should fit you. If not, feel free to look for something else.” Monica grabbed the clothes. “Thanks.” She tried not to make too much eye contact, which was strange for her. But then, she’d never had another woman see her naked, as far as she knew. It made her incredibly selfconscious, especially considering she obviously heard her dream. And my God, what a dream it was! “We’re going to need to figure out your next steps honey. I don’t mind you staying with me temporarily, but I’m sure you don’t want to stay here any longer than you have to.” With that, Alicia left the room. Was that her way of saying ‘get out’? I would love to . . . at this moment, after that dream . . . and her hearing. That’s just weird. I could easily go back to . . . Brad’s place. But, do I really want to do that? Could I bear to be around him anymore? Just the thought of him right now gave her dry heaves. Then there was her actual house, with all the electric off. Even that sounds more appealing than going back to Brad’s. What about


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Troy? Could I actually go to him? Would he still care enough about me . . . to help me out? If her dreams were any indication . . .

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COUNTDOWN . . . 72 Olivia opened her crusted eyes and looked at Royce, still sitting in his chair, eyes finally open. “Well, it’s about time you came around. How long have you been awake?” “What day is it? What time is it?” “Oh, don’t give me that. You know very well. You’re Royce Garrison after all. You’re the god of this city.” Royce looked at her, with a little fear and pain in his eyes. Emotions all over the place. Feeling sad for Olivia, scared for himself, scared for others. Yes, he strangely felt scared for other people that could be hurt by Olivia.


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“Well, why don’t you get up out of that chair and take control of things again? After all, you’re Royce Garrison. Nothing stops you! What are you being such a wimp for?” Royce looked at Olivia and a tear started running down his cheek. “Now, what are you going to do about Troy and Jessica? They are a major thorn in your side right now, and if you don’t stop them they’ll cause you even more trouble. Trust me on this. They stopped by earlier, looking for you.” Royce’s eyes widened. “No, I didn’t hurt them. Just sent them away. The no good bastard and his bitch counterpart. You’re better off without them.” With that she left the room. Royce stared at the space that she left behind. He sighed, turned his head and looked out the window. A beautiful house, a good, faithful wife, and a nice lifestyle, with a huge company. Everything I’ve worked


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my life for, gone. Just wiped away. My billions aren’t even accessible to me. My company is falling apart because I can’t get there and my key workers aren’t there. My partners will probably cross me now too. And then . . . my wife. Olivia tortured her right in front of me yesterday and I couldn’t do anything to stop it, because of this drug she has given me. It’s like it paralyzed me. Now my wife is probably dead. Well, at least I won’t have to worry about fighting through a divorce. Tears started streaming down his face and he started shaking from sobs. He had never felt so alone in his life.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 71 Alicia focused again. Sitting back at her computer, she cleared her mind. I’m cracking this code today. Whoever changed the President’s code underestimated her. She would crack it. That much she knew. How long it would take, she wasn’t so sure about. “Thanks for the clothes. I guess I need to call a cab or something so I can get out of here. I need some food.” Oh, for God sakes. Interruptions, inept people, was there no end? She sighed. “Just get what you want to eat from the kitchen. I don’t mind.” She turned and locked eyes with Monica. “Really, I don’t mind.”


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Without a word Monica went into the kitchen for some food. “Now, to get down to business. This new password can’t be that hard to crack. It just can’t be. I’ve cracked codes for fortune 500 companies, without the help of a crack program. Come on girl, think.” Her fingers flew over the keys sounding like a powerful rainstorm dancing on a roof. One combination of letters after another flew into the brain of the computer, shooting to the main system. Each word, one after another, getting bounced back, rejected. Within 30 minutes she had gone through dozens of words, exhausting her immediate ideas. She pushed her chair back, away from the computer. In frustration she rested her chin on her hands, elbows on the desk, eyes looking straight at the screen. “Come on, damnit. What am I missing?”

Troy sat at his computer, thinking simply. He changed the password again this morning, keeping to the simple stuff. That’s what most crackers usually overlook. He


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knew he had to change the password throughout the day. Troy also knew the more he changed it, the more likely it was this Alicia would come across it. She wouldn’t remain stupid about it forever. He had to get this whole money situation resolved. There was no time to waste. Jess came up behind him and kissed his neck. “How’s it going, babe?” “Good. But we need to move, before we even hear from Derrick.” “What are you going to do?” “Well, I’ve already set up our own account with an offshore bank. I’ve already taken half of the money and put it in there. It’s untraceable, at least at this point. What I’m going to do next is go to the media and let the President know that I can get his money back to him.” “Wow. You’ve already given us billions of dollars? And it can’t be traced?” “At this point, yes.”


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“What do you mean, at this point?” “This Alicia is not someone that just popped out of nowhere and got lucky. She knows what she is doing. It’s only a matter of time before she figures out what I’ve done and goes after the rest of the money.” “I see. What can you do about that?” “I’m going to move it around some more, make it a little harder to trace. But with that volume of money, even splitting it up into smaller amounts, which I’m also doing, is still going to be fairly easy for her to track down eventually. It will take her a while, but she’ll do it.” “You must think she’s brilliant,” Jess said, with a hint of jealousy. “She is. But I’m just admitting it to myself so I don’t let myself relax right now. If I let my guard down, she’ll take all of this money herself and either keep it or give it all back.”


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“Ok, so what about the deal with the media and the President?” “Well, the purpose of that is to actually pull some of our own weight. I’ll let him know that I can straighten this mess out, but we want some changes.” “I see. Do you think that will work?” “Yes. We have what they need. Money to them is like oxygen.”

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COUNTDOWN . . . 70 Royce felt sensation in his body. He could tell it was waking up from whatever poison Olivia had given him. I wonder if she knows the effect is wearing off? She’s been out of the room all morning. It’s about lunch time. I’m sure she’ll be back in here. I hope not, since I can feel my body again, but that’s probably dreaming. Maybe he could escape . . . from his own house . . . which was now his prison. Looking down at his fingers, he started moving them around. Wiggling them back and forth, up and down. It felt good. At least I don’t feel the crushing pain in my chest or stomach anymore. I guess all the physical rest I’ve been forced to take has had some benefit after all. His toes started moving too, as he lifted them up and


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down in his shoes. Suddenly his elbows felt like they unlocked. He started to unbend his left arm, when he heard Olivia shuffling into the kitchen. Damn, why couldn’t she have stayed out a little longer? “I figured you were ready for lunch, considering it’s that time. I won’t go anywhere to get you anything, but here’s something I put in the fridge this morning so I wouldn’t have to mess with it now.” She took the plate from the fridge, walked to him, and dropped the plate in his lap. “Eat it up. Your body needs it.” Having said that, she stood there and watched him. He raised his head and looked into her eyes. He kept his mouth shut. “Oh, has the med not worked it’s way out of your system yet? Fine. It will, and when it does, you can eat. I’m not feeding you anymore.” With that, she turned her back on him and walked out of the room again. Royce was, for once, grateful that Olivia actually left him alone. He really wasn’t in the mood to eat at the moment. His physical freedom was more pressing.


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After waiting a few minutes, making sure she wasn’t coming back yet, he started moving more of his body. First, his right arm, then both legs. Finally, he scooted himself forward in the chair, preparing to push himself up. He stopped again, listening, and looking at the food. He picked up the plate and sat it beside him on the small table. As quietly as possible, he pushed himself out of the chair, with his eyes locked on the doorway Olivia would have to walk through. If there is even a hint of her coming . . . I’ll have to drop back down in this chair. She can’t know I’m moving around. It felt good to stand up, to stretch his body out. Speaking of stretch, he needed to get his body moving, and fast. First priority is to get out of the house and away from it. As far as possible. Then, he needed to find out where Troy and Jessica were, and get to them. Standing, he moved quickly and as quietly as his previously motionless body could over the carpet and out of the room. He thought about taking the car, even though the engine would alert her, but he didn’t have


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his car keys. Not even his cell phone. She had cleaned everything off him. He would have to foot it. As soon as he was out of the house, he gulped the biggest breath of fresh air he could. It felt good as it filled his lungs. His legs were stiff, but he would just have to work that out. He knew he still had to be careful, for the sake of his physical condition.

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COUNTDOWN . . . 69 Troy hacked away on his computer and found the President’s personal email. Quickly, he shot off a message to her: Mrs. President. You don’t yet know me, but I have the key you’re looking for. I can unlock the nation’s finances, the world’s finances. I know you have a woman by the name of Alicia Franklin working on it currently. She’s 34 years old and has reached the point of asking your password. However, your password is not what you thought it was, which you’ve found out. I have changed it. Contact me back here so that we can talk and work out a win-win situation. Yes, I know you’ll dig and trace this email. I want you to know who I am. We need to be talking, ASAP.


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“How long do you think it will take for the President to respond?” Jess watched Troy at work, almost in awe of the steps he was taking. She never thought she’d be having contact with the President of the United States, even if it was through a boyfriend. “It won’t take long. She probably has an alert set up, or staff watching everything for some break, which I am giving them.” Jess leaned in for a hot kiss on his mouth. As their lips touched, sighs escaped both of their throats. The heat, the passion, the lust was almost too much to push aside, even for work as vital as this. As the kiss intensified, getting deeper, hotter, and longer, each getting lost in the other’s sensation . . . suddenly Troy’s email alert went off. He glanced at it. “Yep, she got the message already. Here’s the reply.” “Wow, that was quick!”


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Troy smiled. “Yep. Well, we’re dealing with the most powerful woman, politically, in the world. She needs to know, immediately, how to unlock the world’s money. We have the answer, at least, she hopes. Of course, we know we do.” “So, what’s next?” Troy read the email. “She’s given me her private cell phone number, for me to call her right now.” He turned and looked at her. “Told you she’s needing immediate action.” Troy picked up his phone and dialed. On the first ring, the President answered. “Yes, is this Troy?” “Yes, it is Mrs. President.” “Call me Teresa Farlyn. I believe you have something I need.” “Yes, I do President Farlyn. But before I give it to you, we need to talk. Either in person, or here on the phone.


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I’m not looking for publicity, just need to get a few things taken care of.” “Ok, talk to me. I’ll do whatever I can to help you out if you have what we need.” “I guarantee I have what you need. In fact, within 30 seconds I can unlock everyone’s money, right here on my computer, but I need to get your word that some policies will change first.” Hesitation hung like a brick on the phone. “What policies?”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 68 Sitting in his office, Brad couldn’t keep his mind on his work. Damnit, where the hell has Monica gone off too? Should I call Troy and see if she went there? I don’t know. I’m not so sure that would be a wise move for me. Would she really go . . . there? He had driven by their old house, and it was obviously abandoned. Now . . . he had no idea where else to look. I hate to admit it . . . but not knowing is driving me nuts. Brad didn’t want to need Monica like that, but that’s exactly where he found himself. The knot in his gut kept getting tighter. Couldn’t focus on company work. In fact, his mind kept drifting back to that last encounter he had with her. Then, he blew her off that


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night. Now, he’s beating himself up for it. Why was I so stupid? The fact that he had screwed up with her. Didn’t know how to fix it either. I want more than anything to find her, wrap my arms around her, feel her next to me, make her realize how sorry I am and how much I truly want her. Make it all better. But one thing kept him from doing that . . . he had no clue where in the world she was. So, he sat there, staring off into space. Looking at the blank wall across from his desk. The wall right next to the door. The door with a window that at this moment had the blinds closed because he didn’t want to be disturbed. I don’t think I could put on the professional face or demeanor . . . the front . . . that the employees are entitled to, right now. He would love to lock the door, but that wouldn’t go over well. One complaint about that to his superiors . . . well, it wouldn’t be pretty. Brad stared at his phone. Damn, I wish I knew a number to call her. He had tried her cell, but got voice


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mail. He left a message, but obviously it wasn’t going to be returned. In the pit of my stomach I can feel it, she doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore. That’s my fault, for blowing her off like I did. All he could do about it now . . . is wait.

Alicia tried and tried more combinations. She went simple, complex, off the wall, ordinary. Anything she could possibly think of, but nothing worked. Racking her brain was getting her nowhere except producing a headache. Monica walked up behind her quietly, watching. The way Alicia worked the computer reminded her of Troy. The one person she couldn’t wipe from her mind. Everything seemed to remind her of him at this point, but she couldn’t deny how Alicia seemed to be Troy’s match on the computer. ***********************


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“What policies do we need to talk about?” Farlyn asked again. “Well, for starters, I need half of this fortune myself. I need to keep it. And, I need your word that the government won’t come after me for keeping it once you have the rest of it back.” Silence. More silence. “I . . . that’s a big . . . a monumental thing you’re asking for, Troy.” “I realize that. And this is a monumental event that has happened and a monumental thing that I’m doing for you, by releasing the rest of the funds to you.” “That is true, but even so, half is really out of the question.” “Ok. Wish I could have made a deal with you, but I guess I’ll keep all of it myself.”


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“How do I know that you can really unlock the money? We’ve had one sweet young woman try already, and her credentials are outstanding. She couldn’t crack it though.” “Yes, I know. Because I changed the code before she got in with your old password. You see, she’s still trying to crack it. I keep changing the code. I can do anything I want with all of this money right now. It’s completely under my control.” “I need some proof.” “Smart woman, but I don’t guess you would be the President if you weren’t.” “I like to think so.” “What kind of proof?” “Put 1 million directly into my bank account right now.”


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Troy laughed. “With that, you might take your million and run. Leave the rest of the country to fend for themselves.” “I assure you, sir, I have no intentions of doing that. My responsibility is to this country and the people in it. That includes you, because you are part of the people, Troy.” “Ok. Good answer. I’ll transfer it to your account, but then it’s coming right back out.” Farlyn sighed. “Good enough. Let’s see it.” “Do you have your account pulled up on a screen in front of you?” “I have a guy here that is pulling it up now.” Seconds later, Troy hit a few keystrokes and sent the money. “Yes, I see it.” Troy hit a few more keystrokes and took it back.


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“And now it’s gone.” “Is that proof enough?” “Yes, yes it is. But I still can’t do half.” “It’s half or nothing.” “Do you realize what you are going to do to yourself? You will have this country running you down. They will hound you for this . . . “ “Not so fast. No, they won’t. President Farlyn, I’m not looking for publicity. Just looking to right a few wrongs. As part of the policy changes, you agree not to leak my name to anyone. No one is to know who I am or that I’m the person that cleared this up.” Farlyn sighed again. “I don’t suppose I have a choice, do I?” “No, not really.”


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“This is espionage.” President Farlyn cleared her throat. “Alright. Just do you what you need to do. We need to get money flowing again.” “No, no. Sorry, but I’m not done yet.” “What else could you possibly want? You will have more money than anyone else in the world.” “Immunity, security, freedom, what ever you want to call it. There will be no backlashes, no having to look over my shoulder for government people or hit people. No nothing. Me and my . . .” he looked at Jessica, “fiancée are to be left completely alone.” Jess’s face lit up the room hearing Troy say that word in that context, knowing it was her he was talking about. President Farlyn tried to hide the irritation in her voice. “You have my word, you have whatever you need. Just let me have that code.” “It’s the word . . . poison.”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 67 Alicia kept pounding at the keyboard. Fame, fortune . . . all of it could be mine, if I could just figure out this one stupid word. Breathing shallow, sweat beading up on her brows, a scowl on her face, determination in her eyes along with fatigue. Monica watched Alicia’s frustration level rise as she thought about Troy. She could tell Alicia was working hard but getting nowhere. She wondered if Troy thought about her at all anymore. “Wait.” Alicia jumped, nearly falling out of her chair. “What? How long have you been standing there?”


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“That doesn’t matter. I think I know what you need. Try the word ‘poison’.” “Why?” “Because, Troy believes that I’m poison.” “Who? Troy? Oh, your boyfriend.” “My what? No. I wish he was. He’s actually my husband, but we split and filed for divorce. Forget about that right now. What’s important is you need to type the word ‘poison’ in there.” “What does your boyfriend, or husband, have to do with this?” “Don’t worry about it right now, just type it in.” Alicia’s hands flew over the keys and they hit ‘enter’. ****************


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President Farlyn issued a direct order to her tech. “Type in ‘poison’.” His hands flew over the keys and hit ‘enter’. ******************* Troy hit a few keystrokes quickly, while he heard President Farlyn’s man working. ******************* Alicia watched the screen change, pause, as it processed the word, hesitated. “I think it’s going to work.” A smile started spreading across her lips. Then, in big letters on her screen, the same letters that she had seen hundreds of times today: ACCESS DENIED She threw her head down on the keyboard.


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Monica almost felt relief. Maybe he doesn’t think I’m poison after all. A tear formed.

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COUNTDOWN . . . 66 “What is going on here?” Farlyn asked, irritated more and more. “Does no one know how to fix this? Are we never going to get this straightened out?” Troy laughed. “Yes, President Farlyn, you will. I changed it again at the last second while your man was typing it in.” President Farlyn tried to keep her composure. “Why!?” “Because I have to be sure I have our needs met.” ******************


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Alicia wanted to throw the damn computer out the window. Monica practically saw the fire and smoke coming out of Alicia. “It’s ok. I know how he is. The guy that you are battling against.” “What are you talking about?” Alicia whirled around, facing Monica, giving her a sarcastic look. “I doubt you know what I’m doing.” “Actually, yes I do. And, I know the guy that you are fighting against, as I said. He is keeping you from cracking this code.” Alicia looked at her, wondering if she should believe her.

“Look, President Farlyn. I just want me and my friends to be able to live the good life, like you do.” “I understand that, and you can, and you should be able to. I won’t hold you back from that.”


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“Oh, but you might. That’s what I’m afraid of. You see, if you send the Secret Service or FBI or anybody after us, to arrest us, or if you don’t let us have this money, then you are doing just that. You are keeping us from living the good life. Keeping us broke and dependant on all the rich guys.” “You have the same opportunity they’ve had, Troy.” “No, honestly we don’t. We don’t get the same breaks. We don’t have partners that are willing to invest with us. We can’t get millions of dollars in backing to do something, to start a company, like you can or they can. So, you see, we don’t all have the same opportunity.” “They’ve built that up for themselves.” “Because they either knew people or had help. Well, we’ve got help now. We’ve got the cash, and I’m not letting it all go. In fact, I’m not letting any more than half go. And if we can’t agree to that, then you guys can just start over from scratch, and we’ll keep all of the money. Let’s see how that works out. You guys can work for us from now on.”


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“Troy, let’s be reasonable.” “I’m being very reasonable.” “Troy, we don’t have time to play around like this.” “You’re absolutely right President Farlyn. We don’t. In fact, if you guys want money to start flowing, you can apply for work at my company. We could use the help, considering we’ve recently lost three of our key people.” “And what company is that?” “Garrison and company. It has changed ownership, effective immediately.” “Garrison. As in Royce Garrison?” “Yes, ma’am. That’s exactly who owned it, up until this very minute.” Teresa Farlyn’s jaw dropped in awe of what was happening. And, she was powerless to do anything


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about it. The President of the United States . . . powerless. Who would have ever thought? Farlyn heard a click and the line was dead. Troy holstered his phone. “Baby, we’ve got some hiring to do, some errands to take care of, a company and a city to run.” Jessica’s eyes widened in shock. “The President didn’t go for it?” “Not on my terms. So, she can come to work for us.” Troy grabbed her hand and led her outside, to the car. “We’ve got tons of work to do, babe.”


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COUNTDOWN . . . 65 Troy and Jess made a smashing, grand entrance at the company. They walked in the front doors with a purpose they hadn’t had before. Troy immediately starting handing out orders to line things up the way he wanted them. “Belinda, I need you to take on a couple of big assignments.” Her jaw dropped in shock. “I’ve seen you work. I know how your work is. You can handle it, and you need more responsibility.” “Whatever it is, I’m on it.”


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“That’s what I like to hear.” Troy told her what she needed to do and let her get to it. “Nadine, I need you as my new secretary. You can handle a lot more than Royce had you doing.” Nadine’s face lit up. “Now?” “Yes, right now. Give what you’re doing to Helen. All of you are more talented than you’ve been given credit for.” Helen heard and smiled, realizing that Troy actually paid attention to her. This went on for the next hour, Troy reassigning everyone, putting people where their strengths really were. Then Troy did something that shocked everyone. He moved into Royce’s old office.


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COUNTDOWN . . . 64 Royce headed to his company. It was the only sanctuary he had at the moment. At least I can be productive there. He was half way there now, making it very slowly. No money to pay a cab, no phone to call anyone, nothing except the clothes on his back. He always thought those stories the parents and grandparents told about walking to school, uphill, both ways, in the snow . . . was all made up. At this very moment, he no longer thought they were so made up. What he wouldn’t give for a quick ride.

Alicia got more frustrated by the minute. She needed a break. “Monica, why don’t we head out for a little bit.


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We need to get some good food and a break from the house.” “Sounds good to me.” She needed some fresh air anyway. They headed out the door and hopped into Alicia’s car. Monica watched Alicia closely, yet without just staring at her. She could see the incredible focus and concentration on her face, in her eyes. Her mind was racing 100 miles an hour trying to break through this wall she kept hitting on the computer, just like Troy would do. Only, in this instance, she knew that somehow Troy had the upper hand. The two most powerful people in her life intellectually were battling each other and didn’t even know it. Well, for all she knew, Troy did know it. He won’t just give in and give up the battle. He’s a fighter deep down inside. That’s why I messed around with Brad in the first place. Monica wanted to bury that part of Troy. Deep inside his mind and soul, down so far that she wouldn’t have to mess with it anymore. She wanted to control him. He wouldn’t be controlled though. She


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really screwed up with him. The realization was humbling. And now, he met his match in the woman that sat right beside her. Ironic that it turns out to be a female to match his wits and intelligence. Unfortunately, it would never be her. She briefly wondered how long Troy would mess with Jessica, considering she mentally was no match for Troy either. Monica looked out the window, trying not to sit there and stare at Alicia. “Does it matter to you where we eat?” Alicia asked suddenly. “No, not at all. Just food in general sounds good to me.” “Ok.” Monica watched the people they passed. People she normally would never pay attention to. She realized now just how much they were like her. Looking for a way to get through the day. Maybe going home to families, a spouse, or maybe just a significant other.


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How many had cheated on their partners today? How many had just left their affair? How many were out looking for their partners that they were sure were cheating? Better yet, how many were single people, wishing they just had somebody. Monica found herself in that very position right now. And she didn’t like it one bit. Her eyes caught an older man, grey hair, sort of hobbling along, yet wearing much nicer clothes than the other pedestrians. He didn’t fit. As Alicia drove past him, Monica focused more on him. He turned and looked at the car as they passed. As her eyes locked with his, it was instant recognition for both of them. “Stop the car!” “What?” “Stop the car!” Monica whipped her head around to look at Alicia. “Now! Please!” “Why?” “Just do it and I’ll explain in a minute.”


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Alicia pulled over, thoroughly aggravated. Monica jumped out and ran to the man. “Royce, what are you doing walking out here?” She grabbed his hands. “Are you ok? You shouldn’t be out here like this.” “I’ve got to get to my company, Monica, and I have no other way.” His eyes were beaten and ragged, his face sagging. His voice filled with pain and determination. “Come on. Get into the car with us.” Royce wasn’t going to argue. “What are you doing? Who is this, Monica?” “It’s ok. This is Royce Garrison, the owner of . . .” “Oh my God! Royce Garrison?” Alicia’s voice raised a couple of octaves and her eyes looked like they were about to fall out of her head. Her jaw practically swept the seat. “Why are you walking, sir?”


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“You don’t have to call me sir, thank you.” Royce leaned down and looked at the woman driving. “Would you mind letting an old man catch a ride with you?” Alicia was speechless for an instant. “You don’t have to ask, sir.” “Please,” Royce repeated, “don’t call me sir. Call me Royce. No need for formalities at this moment in time.” He sighed heavily as Monica helped him into the back seat. “What . . . where is your car . . . Royce?” Alicia couldn’t get her mind focused on food anymore. She turned around and stared in awe at this multi-billionaire sitting in her backseat. “Well, ms . . . “ “I’m sorry. My name is Alicia.” She stuck out her hand to shake his. Royce lightly took her hand and gently shook it. “I’m sorry, Alicia, I’m not in the best physical condition at


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the moment. Or the best mental condition either, but I’m pulling myself together.” Alicia soaked up every word he said, listening intently. “My car is not available to me at the moment. My home is not available to me either. There’s a . . . mad woman there.” Royce closed his eyes and sighed. “Olivia has gone berserk, eh?” Monica cut in. “You could say that.” “So, where do you need to go, Royce?” Alicia asked. “If you wouldn’t mind taking me to my company, I’d really appreciate it. Once we get this whole financial mess straightened out, I’ll give you something for it.” “A better job would be good,” Alicia threw in without making eye contact with him. Royce tried to laugh. “We’ll see what we can do, after we see what happens with all of the money that is tied up.”


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“Alicia is actually working on that, aren’t you?” Monica cut her eyes to Alicia, opening the door. Alicia wanted to bury her head. “Are you?” Royce asked, seriously curious. “I have been, but with no success.” Alicia sighed. “Don’t be discouraged. Troy is a tough guy to crack. That’s why I originally hired him.” Monica turned and looked at Royce. “So, you know Troy is involved?” “I know Troy has control over all the money right now.” Alicia turned again and looked at Royce. “You mean, this Troy is who I’m battling against to release all of the money back to society?” “Yep,” both Royce and Monica said simultaneously.


L.A. TRIPP

Alicia leaned back into her seat. “Do either of you know how I can get by him?” “Nope,” they both said again. “Damn.”

305


Woe to the Rich!