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Bad Boy Alphas Series

MINE TO PROTECT. MINE TO PUNISH. MINE.

I’m a lone wolf, and I like it that way. Banished from my birth pack after a bloodbath, I never wanted a mate.

Then I meet Kylie. My temptation. We’re trapped in an elevator together, and her panic almost makes her pass out in my arms. She’s strong, but broken. And she’s hiding something.

My wolf wants to claim her. But she’s human, and her delicate flesh won’t survive a wolf’s mark.

I’m too dangerous. I should stay away. But when I discover she’s the hacker who nearly took down my company, I demand she submit to my punishment. And she will.

Kylie belongs to me.

 

Bad Boy Alphas Series by Renee Rose is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

SUMMARY

MINE TO PROTECT. MINE TO PUNISH. MINE.

I’m a lone wolf, and I like it that way. Banished from my birth pack after a bloodbath, I never wanted a mate.

Then I meet Kylie. My temptation. We’re trapped in an elevator together, and her panic almost makes her pass out in my arms. She’s strong, but broken. And she’s hiding something.

My wolf wants to claim her. But she’s human, and her delicate flesh won’t survive a wolf’s mark.

I’m too dangerous. I should stay away. But when I discover she’s the hacker who nearly took down my company, I demand she submit to my punishment. And she will.

Kylie belongs to me.

Age Rating: 18+

Alpha Bad Boys: Alpha’s Temptation

Book 1

A Billionaire Werewolf Romance

by Renee Rose and Lee Savino

From the Author

This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book contains descriptions of many BDSM and sexual practices, but this is a work of fiction and, as such, should not be used in any way as a guide. The author and publisher will not be responsible for any loss, harm, injury, or death resulting from use of the information contained within. In other words, don’t try this at home, folks!

CG: Catgirl was here.

King1: I see you.

CG: Nice code.

King1: You’re going down. No pity for the kitty.

CG: Oooh, talk tough to me, baby.

Conversation between hacker and Jackson King, CEO and founder of SeCure, 2009

Kylie

Holy irony, Batman.

As a teen, I hacked into a company and waved a virtual victory flag in the founder and CEO’s face. Nine years later, I’m interviewing for a job there. And not just any job—one in infosec. Information systems security, that is. If I get the job, I’ll be defending the company against hackers. Like Catgirl—my old DefCon identity.

So here I sit, in the opulent lobby of SeCure’s international headquarters, wondering if they’ll somehow recognize me and send me out in handcuffs.

A group of employees stroll past me, laughing and talking. They look relaxed and happy, like they’re headed into a resort, not their nine-to-five grind.

Damn, I want this job.

I changed my outfit approximately ninety-seven times this morning—and I usually don’t care what I wear. But this is the interview of a lifetime, and I’ve obsessed over getting every detail right. In the end, I chose a sleek black suit, the kind with a fitted jacket and short, tight skirt. I opted for no hose, going bare-legged, but stuffed my feet in a pair of sexy heels. Underneath the suit jacket went my favorite Batgirl shirt. It fits tight around my breasts, and the hot pink glittery bat nestles perfectly between the lapels of my jacket.

The outfit screams “young and hip” IT genius, while the suit flips a nod to the conservative corporate thing. I debated over heels or Chucks, but, in the end, the heels won out. Which is too bad, because when Stu, my contact, comes down for me, I’ll have to stand up in them. And walk.

If my teenage hacker self saw me now, she would laugh in my face and call me a sellout. But even she shared my obsession with SeCure’s billionaire founder/owner, Jackson King. An obsession that’s morphed into admiration with a heavy dose of sexual attraction.

Okay, it’s a crush. But Jackson is totally crush worthy. Billionaire philanthropist, he’s endlessly impressive. Not to mention smoking hot. Especially for a geek.

And the one moment we shared—the moment when I made it past all his security measures and found myself face-to-face with him—well, cursor to cursor—is branded in my memory as the hottest encounter of my youth. I didn’t steal anything from him. I simply wanted to see if I could get in—crack the genius code. I backed out after he found me, and never risked going back.

Now, I might have another shot at cyber sparring with King, and the thought thrills me.

Especially since, this time, my actions wouldn’t be illegal.

“Ms. McDaniel?”

I shoot to my feet, hand already extended, ready to shake. I only wobble a little on the heels. “Hi.” Damn, I sound breathless. I force my shoulders down and smile as I grip the offered palm.

“Hi, I’m Stu Daniel, infosec manager here at SeCure.” He looks like a proper nerd, glasses, collared shirt, slacks. Thirty or so. His eyes flick to the pink bat in the middle of my boobs and then away. Maybe the T-shirt was a mistake.

I keep pumping his hand, probably for too long. I read five business books to prep for today, but can’t remember what Interviewing For Dummiessaid about the proper length of time to shake a hand. “Nice to meet you.”

Fortunately, Stu is just as awkward as I am. His eyes keep detouring downward. Not like he’s trying to perv, but like he’s too shy to maintain eye contact. “If you’ll follow me, we’ll head to the sixth floor for the interview.”

In addition to unbreakable cyber security, SeCure’s physical fortress is also well-protected. When I walked in across the gleaming marble floors and checked in at main reception desk, they told me to wait in the lobby for an “escort” to my interview.

I trail after my escort. “Beautiful building you have here.”

Okay, that was lame. I suck at small talk. Like, really suck. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent the last eight years hiding from all social interaction. IT geeks shouldn’t have to interview like normal people. They should just have to take a test or hack something. But, presumably, SeCure already knows about my code-cracking abilities, or so the headhunter said. I nearly choked on my coffee when she called me up out of the blue. I thought it was a prank by one of my old online compatriots—the Clean Clan. But, no, it was legit.

Besides, the chances of anyone from my old life finding me now are nil. At least, I hope so.

Stu leads me to the elevator bank and hits the up arrow. The doors of one elevator swing open to reveal a man in an elegant suit, his head bent over his phone. Tall and broad-shouldered, he takes up more than his fair share of the elevator. Without looking up, he moves to the side to make room for us.

Stu lets me step on first, and I push down panic. It’s a small elevator, but not too small. I can handle it. If I get the job, I’ll find out where the stairwells are.

I focus on the bright buttons and hope it’s a fast ride.

Before my escort can board, someone calls his name.

“One sec,” Stu says as a young woman bustles over, followed by two other people. “Stu, the Galileo server shut down this morning…”

Great. Just what I need—extra time in an elevator. I swallow, ignoring the prickling on my skin. A panic attack will not make a good impression.

Stu takes his foot out of the door as the young woman opens her laptop to show him something.

The door snicks closed, and the elevator ascends. Just like that, I’ve lost my escort. So much for tight security.

I punch the number six button. I know where I’m going. The sooner I’m off this tiny box of death, the better.

We’re halfway up when the lights flicker. Once, twice, then off.

“What the…” I trail off to focus on breathing. I have about a ten second window before full on freak out.

The suit next to me mutters something. The light from his phone casts an eerie blue light on the walls.

The elevator car grinds to a stop.

Oh no. Here it comes.My heart slams in my chest; my lungs grab for breath.

Stop,I tell my panic. It’s nothing. The elevator will start up again in a second. You’re not stuck here.

My body doesn’t believe me. My stomach clutches, skin grows clammy. Everything goes dark. Either my vision has dimmed or the guy has just put his phone to his ear. I sway on my feet.

The big guy curses. “No reception in here.”

My heel twists under me, and I grab the rail, breath coming in quick gasps.

“Hey.” The guy has a voice to match his giant size, deep and resonant. I’d find it sexy under different circumstances. “Are you freaking out?” Slight disdain in his tone.

Not my fault, buddy.“Yeah.” I barely get the word out on a pant. My death grip on the handrail tightens.

Stay on your feet. Don’t faint—not now. Not here.

“I don’t like small spaces.” Understatement of the year.

Did the elevator just move? Or is my body reeling out of control? Old panic grips me. I’ll die in here. I’m never going to get out.

Two large hands push me back against the elevator wall, pinning me with pressure on my sternum. “Wh-what are you doing?” I gasp.

“Triggering your calm reflex.” He sounds calm, as if he shoves hyperventilating girls up against a wall on a daily basis. “Is it working?”

“Yeah. Having a strange guy grope me always calms me down.” I swore I’d hide my sarcasm until I landed the job, but here it comes, spewing out. Being seconds away from passing out will do that to a girl.

“I’m not groping you,” he says.

“That’s what all the guys say,” I mumble.

His short chuckle cuts off as soon as it starts. Almost like he didn’t mean to let it out.

Who is this guy?

My heart rate slows, but my head still spins. I’ve never had a man stand so close to me before. Not to mention touch me. A few inches over, and he’d be cupping my breasts.

Now, there’s a thought.Sensations I haven’t felt before outside the privacy of my bedroom thrill through me.

“Not that I mind you groping me,” I babble. “I just think you should buy me dinner first—”

His hands leave my sternum so fast, I lurch forward. Before I can fall, he catches my shoulders and flips me around. He locks his arms around me from behind, applying pressure to my breastbone again.

“How’s this?” He sounds amused. “Better? I don’t want my good deed to get me written up on charges of sexual harassment.”

God, his voice.His lips are right next to my ear. He’s not trying to seduce me, but, man oh man, just the words “sexual harassment” light my body up.

“Sorry.” My voice strangles a bit. “I didn’t mean to accuse you. What I meant was…thank you.”

For a moment, he doesn’t move, and I breathe into his firm hands, surrounding me, protecting me, keeping me safe. And all I can think is…damn. I thought a panic attack would be bad. Now I’m stuck in an elevator, wrapped in a total stranger’s arms. So. Very. Turned. On. It’s like my pussy is disconnected from my body. The rest of me is running around wringing my hands with worry, but my hooha thinks being manhandled by a stranger in a dark elevator is a good reason to get all excited.

“You should sit down.”

Apparently, I have no choice, because he lowers me to the ground with steady, inexorable pressure. Once there, he eases me against the wall, his firm, yet gentle hands maneuvering me like a doll. Sharp words dance on the tip of my tongue—I’m a grown ass woman, not Barbie—but sitting feels good. Despite his blunt caveman act, he’s taking care of me. I almost miss his hands on my sternum.

“Where’d you learn that?” I ask to distract myself from the fact I’m trapped in a tight rectangle of space with a guy who has no qualms about running his hands all over me. I am totally qualm-less about it, too, though I wish I could remember what he looks like. All I have is a vague impression of a rugged jaw and air of impatience. I was too focused on psyching myself up to ride the elevator to check him out.

“Years and years of terrifying women in dark places.”

Ah. A kindred spirit in dry wit. I like him even more. “Thanks,” I say after a moment.

He sits down next to me, his suit jacket brushing mine. “You’re still freaking out.”

“Yeah, but it’s better. Talking would help. Can we talk?”

“Okay.” He adopts a German accent to sound like Freud, “Ven did you first notice zee problem?”

***

Jackson

The beautiful human female’s laugh comes so hard, she almost chokes on it. She continues to giggle for a moment—somewhat hysterically. Little bubbles of laughter keep rising to the surface every time she tries to speak. Finally, she chokes out, “I meant talk to distract me—about something else.”

I never joke—especially at work—but the leggy brunette in a short, tight skirt puts my body on alert in an all-too pleasurable way. It’s better now that I’m not touching her. When I did, the electricity between us set my skin on fire. The itch and burn of the change came upon me as fast as it does a pubescent teen just learning how to shift. I nearly shoved her legs apart, pulled that miniscule skirt up around her waist, and claimed her right there.

Actually, my wolf senses went haywire the moment she stepped onto the elevator. It was all I could do to keep quiet and study her. Her scent intoxicates me—like some exotic flower begging to be plucked, except decidedly human. None of it makes sense. There’s no reason I should be attracted to her, apart from the fact she’s gorgeous. I’ve never been attracted to a human before—hell, I’ve hardly ever been attracted to a she-wolf, even at the full moon.

To make it worse, she became aroused when I touched her—the scent of her nectar fills the confined space. For the first time in my life, my fangs sharpened, slick with serum, ready to sink into her flesh and forever mark her as mine.

But that is insane. I can’t mark a human—she wouldn’t survive it. This human—beautiful though she may be—can’t be my mate.

I look her over, at a distinct advantage because I can see in the dark and she can’t. She’s stunning in every way—long, shapely legs, an ass that fills her short skirt, and Batgirl tits. That is, she has a hot pink bat on the front of her shirt, right over a pair of perky tits. And something about that bat just throws me over the edge. Spunky little superhero, begging to be bested.

Guess that makes me the villain.

“What’s your name?” she asks.

I hesitate. “J.T.”

“I’m Kylie. I’m here for an interview, so I was nerved up to begin with.”

I don’t do friendly. I discourage my employees from engaging with me except to give me information in its most distilled format. But, for some reason, I don’t mind her feeble attempt at conversation. Which doesn’t mean I’ll bother answering.

I’m too busy convincing my wolf not to jump her.

She tries again. “What department are you in?”

I’m not going to admit I’m the CEO. “Marketing.” I infuse the word with the disgust marketinginspires in me. It’s true that the majority of my time is now spent on marketing or management, when I’d much prefer programming and never interacting face-to-face with another soul.

She laughs, a husky, sweet sound. Despite the fact she can’t see me, she peers up in my direction with a look of fascination on her face. Her hair, a thick shiny chestnut, hangs in loose waves over her shoulders. It’s too dark to tell the color of her eyes, but her full lips are glossed, and the way they part now makes me want to claim that lush mouth.

“One of those guys, huh? That is sad.”

I smile—a rare occurrence for me. She’s already made me laugh, something I haven’t done in twenty years.

“What position are you interviewing for?”

“infosec.”

Hot and nerdy. Interesting. She must have mad skills to rate an interview. My company is the best in the world for information security. “You have much experience in the field?”

“Some.” She sounds noncommittal in that way that makes me think she actually knows her stuff.

The power has been out for a long time—at least ten minutes. I fish my phone from my pocket and try to dial my secretary again but still can’t get a signal.

“How long do you think we’ll be stuck in here?” Her voice wavers on the word stuck.

Fates, I’ve never had the urge to pick up a woman’s hand before. My shirt collar’s too tight. I wish to hell I hadn’t worn a suit and tie. Of course, I wish that every day, but rarely have a choice, even though it’s my damn company. Once we reached a certain level, I had to conform to the dress code of corporate America when I had outside meetings—even in Tucson, which is notoriously relaxed in its dress code.

My little programmer, however, nailed the outfit—just the right mix of hipster with the bat tits and bare legs, and corporate with the suit and heels. I don’t know when I started thinking of her as my little anything, but I have. The second she walked on the elevator and I inhaled her scent, my wolf screamed mine.

“I mean, do you think it will be hours? It won’t be hours, right?” She’s losing her breath again. It’s all I can do not to pull her onto my lap and hold her until all that trembling stops.

“Don’t make me grope you again.” Okay, I definitely shouldn’t say that, even if she said it first. The remark has its intended effect, though.

She snorts, which changes up her breathing pattern and helps her chill out.

“So you’re nervous about the interview?” I ask. Chitchat isn’t part of my repertoire, but it seems I’d do anything to calm her down. Or maybe I just want to hear her voice again. “You don’t seem nervous.”

“Besides the whole panic attack thing you’re doing a manly job distracting me from?”

My wolf preens at the compliment.

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” she says, and the muscles of my groin seize almost painfully at the purr in her voice. She’s seducing me, and she doesn’t even know she’s doing it.

Maybe talking is a bad idea.

“Okay,” I respond.

“I’ve never worked a real job before. I mean, I have a job now, but it’s all telecommuting. I’ve never been in an office like this.”

“Think you can take it?”

“You know, five years ago I would’ve barfed at the thought. But, actually, SeCure is the one and only company I would put a suit and heels on for.”

And every male in the building thanks God she did. “Why is that?”

“SeCure represents the pinnacle of infosec. I mean, Jackson King is a genius. I’ve been following him since I was ten years old.”

I try to stop my wolf from strutting. “You sure you want to leave the pajamas at home and come into an office every day?”

“Yeah. It’d be good to have a reason to leave the house. Programming can be lonely. I mean, I do my best work alone but, it might be nice to be around people like me. Maybe find my tribe. Feel normal, you know?”

I don’t know. I haven’t had a tribe since I abandoned my birth pack with my fur soaked with my stepfather’s blood.

A company full of humans is a poor substitute.

“If you’re interviewing here for infosec, you must be talented,” I say to distract myself from bad memories.

“I have been coding since I was young,” she says dismissively, which again makes me think she’s downplaying her talent. “Being a teen geek girl definitely disqualified me from normal.”

“Normal is overrated. You just need to find your pack.”

“Pack?”

“I meant tribe.”

“No, I like pack. That makes me a lone wolf.” There’s a smile in her voice, and I bite back a sharp remark. Being a lone wolf isn’t as cool as it sounds. Even if it is all I deserve.

“So…” She has the tone of someone who’s been waiting to ask something.

“Have you ever met Jackson King?”

I hide a smile, even though she can’t see it. “Mmm. A few times, yeah.”

“What’s he like?”

I shrug in the darkness. “Hard to say.”

“Hard to say because he doesn’t reveal much?”

I keep my mouth shut.

“That’s what I’ve heard. So is he the awkward kind of geek or the creepy kind?”

I wasn’t aware of the various categories of geek. I don’t consider myself a geek, but, then, as a shifter, I don’t consider myself in any human category.

“I’m guessing the creepy kind,” she goes on. “Because no one that hot should be so anti-social. I mean, he must have some serious flaws. According to rumor, the man never dates. They say he has no social life whatsoever. Never goes out. Total recluse. He must be damaged. Or else gay. I bet he’s the type who keeps his boyfriend tied up in a closet for whipping when he comes home at night.”

Again, my face almost cracks into a smile. I’ll show you whipping, little Batgirl.“Sounds like you know a lot about him.”

“Oh…I, uh…I guess I’m interested in him. He’s kind of a celebrity to fellow geeks. I mean his original coding was pure genius, especially for the time.”

This time, I do grin. Her assessment of me, apart from the gay whipping boy part, makes my pulse pick up speed. Another anomaly. I don’t care for attention, and she’s right—I don’t give up personal information. I have too big a secret to hide. But her interest in me has my wolf pirouetting.

Mine.

“So, what kind of geek are you?” I ask.

“Apparently the kind who blathers like an idiot to strange men when she’s confined in elevators. But I’m sure you already picked that up. Sorry—I normally have a better-than-average filter. It’s a good thing we can’t see each other because I’ve thoroughly embarrassed myself this morning.”

It’s getting harder and harder to keep from kissing her senseless. I’ve never been so happy to sit and listen to a human babble. My wolf doesn’t even mind being confined for over ten minutes. Usually, it’d be growling to break free and attack the threat. Which could be deadly.

My wolf seems more interested in protecting this lovely, feisty human. It took me a moment to recognize it, but now that I do, my pulse picks up and I have to force myself not to put my arm around her. Pull her close. Especially when she leans into me.

“Maybe you could agree not to look at me when the lights come back on so we can meet later under normal circumstances.”

I don’t answer.

“Hopefully, I won’t do this blathering thing during my interview and screw it up.”

“You really want this job?”

“Yeah. I do. It’s weird because eight years ago I would’ve laughed in your face if you’d told me I’d want to work for SeCure, but I guess I’ve changed. To me, Jackson King and the company he built represent the ultimate in infosec coding, and I want to be a part of that.”

The lights flicker on, and the elevator lurches into motion. Damn.

“Oh, thank God,” she breathes, scrambling to her feet.

I follow her to stand.

When she turns to look up at me, the smile freezes on her face.

Surprise.

She blanches and stumbles back.

The light illuminates her beauty. Flawless skin. Full lips. Big eyes. High cheekbones. And, yeah…the tits and legs looked as good now as they did in the dark. She’s a ten all around. And she’s figured out who I am, which gives me the upper hand.

“Well, now you’re quiet.”

“J.T.,” she mutters, sounding bitter. She glares as if I’d been the one smack-talking about her rather than vice versa. “What’s the “T” stand for?”

“Thomas.” My mother gave me a decidedly human name.

The elevator stops on the sixth floor, and the doors open. She doesn’t move.

I hold it with my hand and gesture for her to get off. “I believe this is your floor.”

Her mouth opens then snaps closed. She squares her shoulders and marches past me, two bright-pink spots on her cheeks. Adorable.

Even though I’m late for at least twenty meetings, I follow her off. Not because my body can’t be parted from hers. Certainly not because I have to know more about her. Just to torment her a bit more with my presence, now that she knows who I am.

“Ms. McDaniel, there you are,” Stu says. He’s waiting in front of the elevators–must’ve taken the stairs. Luis, SeCure’s chief security officer, stands with him.

“We’re getting maintenance up here right away, Mr. King.” Luis signals one of his men, who takes his place at the elevator to stop anyone from boarding. “We’ll have it fixed in no time, sir. And I see you escorted Ms. McDaniel. “

Stu glances guiltily at me. “I didn’t mean to leave her unattended like that. I took the stairs up to make sure I was here when she got off.” He makes it sound like he deserves a medal for his heroics.

I don’t answer.

“I’ve got her from here. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”

“I’m going to sit in on her interview,” I say, surprising even myself.

Both Stu and Kylie’s heads whip around, and they gape at me. Kylie flushes further and blinks her big brown eyes. In the light, they are a warm chocolate-brown with a starburst of gold in the middle. Incredible.

The alpha in me doesn’t mind her discomfort. I’m used to making people squirm. But my wolf isn’t happy about the tinge of anger in her scent. An apology is on my lips—another first. Jackson King doesn’t apologize. I don’t owe her one, either. If I had my way, I’d pull her into the nearest conference room, spank her ass for the whipping boy comment, and spend the next three hours teaching her pleasure at the tip of my tongue. I’d go down on her until her screams of pleasure told everyone in the building that’s she’s mine. That would take care of her annoyance, and her nervousness. Or is it arousal?

“Oh, it’s just a routine interview—no need to take up your time,” Stu says.

I’ll be damned if I let Stu—or any other male—get her alone.

Luis clears his throat, warning Stu he’s on the verge of pissing me off.

I narrow my eyes at Stu. “I decide how to spend my time. Shall we go into the conference room, or are we interviewing her here in the hallway?”

Stu scowls as if I busted up his frat party.

 

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2

Kylie

Holy awkward, Batman.So much for acing the interview. I didn’t think it could go more wrong, but being caught in a tug of war between Stu and Jackson is another precious moment in this craptastic day. I can’t believe I just had a meltdown in front of Jackson King. And gushed like a schoolgirl about what type of nerd he was and whether he was gay, and oh God did I really insinuate that he whips his sexual partners?What the fuck is wrong with me? Not even Interviewing for Dummiescan save me now.

Of course, he let me think he wasn’t the CEO. Kind of a dick move, really. I should be glaring at him, but no, I’m still flustered from him touching me. Too bad getting felt up by Jackson King isn’t one of the perks of the job.

Damn, I really, really want this. Groping aside, SeCure is the pinnacle of cybersecurity. As a teen, it was the ultimate hack. After almost ten years of hiding, it feels like coming home. Like I’ve trained my whole life to stand here, and now that I’ve gone legit, I can step into my rightful place.

The fact that I’d be working under Jackson King has nothing to do with it. Well, maybe a teensy, tiny bit. My body would certainly like to be under him—right now. Lordy, I have to get through the interview without imagining his hands on me…

The death stare between Stu and Jackson has gone on long enough.

“Where’s the conference room?” I chirp. I take several deep gulps of breath and follow Stu into a large conference room. I can do this. I’ve handled much more difficult things—major heists at the age of twelve, losing my mom and dad, being trapped in an air duct for ten hours… This is nothing. It’s only an interview.

I sit down, and the three men position themselves across from me. The chairs are big and plushy but barely accommodate Jackson’s muscular frame. He swivels a little, eyes on me. The man can intimidate even sitting down.

I allow myself a tiny frown in his direction. He lied to me. And now he’s making me interview with him, as if this day could get any more awkward.

He meets my glower with raised eyebrows.

Why, oh, why did I say all those things in the elevator? It was like I’d swallowed truth serum.

Maybe that is one of Jackson’s superpowers: making people tell him every thought that pops into their heads. I’ve never been so real with anyone in my life. I’ve told a million lies, but a little bit of comfort after a panic attack, and all my training fell away. My dad would lecture me—if he was still alive.

Stu shuffles some papers and shoves one toward Mr. King. “Here’s her resume,” he says. “You can see her qualifications are quite impressive.”

Stu definitely overstated my resume. Sure, I’d graduated summa cum laude with an IS degree from Georgetown—after convincing them to let me take all my classes online—but my work experience was writing code for the gaming company where I currently work. At least, the only work experience that was legal. There’s plenty of stuff I can’t mention. The result: I don’t look that impressive on paper.

“Her professors all gave her rave recommendations,” he goes on, seeming a little flustered.

Not half as flustered as I am, though. It doesn’t help that Jackson King gazes at me like he knows my life secrets. Now that’s a terrifying thought.

“Do you want to start?” Luis asks King.

King leans back in the chair and crosses his long, elegant legs. Damn. I’ve always drooled over his pictures online, but he’s even more handsome in person. Photos didn’t do him justice—not even the spread in Time Magazine when he was named “Man of the Year” for solving the world’s credit card fraud problems. Nothing about him says “geek” at all, actually. With thick dark hair, kept on the long, shaggy side, a square jaw, and jade-green eyes, he looks rugged. He also holds an air of danger, his power barely contained by his expensive suit.

He looks back at me, his face an inscrutable mask. “What do you know about infosec, Kylie?”

I lace my fingers together on the table. No sense being nervous. I blew any chance I had of winning this job when I called him a deviant sociopath in the elevator. He probably just wants payback, and making me sit through the most awkward interview in the history of the world is his preferred form of torture.

Fuck this. I’m not getting the job. Why stay and suffer?

I push my chair back and rise. “You know, I don’t think this is a good idea.”

Stu shoots to his feet, looking angry. “Why not? Wait just a minute.”

“I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”

Stu steps between me and the door, like he’s not going to let me go. His job must be on the line if he can’t fill this position. Not my problem, buddy. What’s he gonna do, body check me if I make a break for it?

“I think, actually, I screwed up this interview back in the elevator. So I’ll just see myself out. Thank you—”

“Sit down, Ms. McDaniel,” King commands, his deep resonant voice like steel.

I stop in my tracks. Damn, he’s even hotter when he’s stern. Like in the elevator, my body responds, nipples getting hard, pussy dampening.

His nostrils flare as if he can smell it. But that’s ridiculous. He’s still sitting, but there’s no question who holds the power in the room.

I reach for my chair, a bit wobbly. And not just because of my heels. “Yes, sir.” I sink back down.

“Thank you. I asked you a question, and I expect an answer.”

Damn the man. He’s determined to make me suffer. I rub my thumbnail with the pad of my index finger` then drop my hands to my lap to stop fidgeting.

“Mr. King, I apologize for the things I said about you in the elevator—I was very rude and…disrespectful.”

King’s expression doesn’t change. He watches me with that cool assessment. “Answer the question.”

Okaaay. Guess he’s just going to ignore my apology. I’d fight back with sarcasm, but I promised myself I’d keep a lid on it. “My knowledge of infosec is mainly practical. You won’t see it on my resume, but I do know all areas of security—how to assess weak points, how to mask code. No code is impenetrable, except maybe yours.”

“How long would it take you to hack the average guy’s Gmail?”

I allow a tiny smirk to curve my lips. “That would be illegal, Mr. King.”

“So do you, or don’t you know how to hack?”

He knows.That’s my first thought. I shift in my chair. He’s figured out I’m Catgirl. No, that’s silly. All infosec professionals probably know how to hack. Maybe it’s a prerequisite. Like the way the home security companies hire busted burglars to improve their systems.

Not that a security system—physical or virtual—has ever been able to keep me out. Although my skills might be a bit rusty. My cat burglary days died with my dad.

“If I knew how to hack, Mr. King, I certainly wouldn’t admit it here, and that’s why you won’t see it on paper. But if, in theory, I wanted to hack the average guy’s Gmail, it might take me ten to twenty minutes.”

Stu gives him a tight smile. “We do have a series of tests we’ll give Ms. McDaniel, after the interview.” He returns his attention to me. “Now, why don’t you tell us about your programming experience?”

King looks as bored as I feel as I rattle off my programming accomplishments. Luis grills with all the standard kinds of interview questions: Do I work well under pressure? On a team? Am I willing to work nights and overtime when necessary? How do I feel about relocating to Tucson from Phoenix?

I answer automatically, studying Jackson King without making it obvious. He hasn’t asked another question. What’s he thinking? Is he still mad about what I said in the elevator?

“Do you have any questions for us?” Luis asks.

“How many candidates are interviewing for the position?”

Stu shuffles his papers as the other two men look to him for the answer. “Three.”

“When do you expect I’ll hear something?” Probably a bit presumptuous, but presumption is all I have left.

“In a few days. We’re interviewing everyone today.”

“Better get that elevator fixed, then,” I quip, my voice lighter than I feel.

Stu stands. “Now, if you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to an office for the test.”

Thank God. Tests I can handle. I don’t dare look at King as I stand, my cheeks still burning. Ducking my head, I follow Stu. When I get to the door, I risk a glance.

King’s looking at me, his lips quirking at the edges.

Sadist. He enjoyed making me squirm.

***

Jackson

I watch Kylie’s long muscular calves strut out of the room, her ass a perfect heart-shape in the short, fitted skirt. My wolf is still going nuts, snarling to get out. I’ve never let him get so out of control, especially not in the office. But there’s never been a temptation like Kylie.

I force my thoughts to business. At least the parts of the business that concern her.

“I want the results of her tests sent to me.”

Luis bobs his head. “Of course. Will you be sitting in on all the interviews today?”

“No.” Luis probably wants me to elaborate, or to explain myself, but he won’t push. Everyone knows I’m a minimalist when it comes to conversation.

“May I ask…what did she say in the elevator?”

I shrug. “She insulted me. It’s fine. I’m sure most of my employees have said similar or worse things about me behind my back.”

Luis plays with his paper coffee cup on the table, too diplomatic to agree. “What did you think about her?”

“She’s bright, that’s obvious. Her resume isn’t that impressive. How did Stu say he found her?”

“Headhunter.”

“I wonder why the headhunter thought she’d be a good fit when she has no infosec experience on her resume.”

“She’s totally a hacker.”

“Obviously. But how did the headhunter know that?”

Luis taps his paper cup on the table. “Good question. Want me to find out?”

“Yeah. And get me her test results.”

“So did you like her?”

No one that hot should be so anti-social.

She thinks I’m hot. Yeah, I’ve heard it before, but never cared what humans thought about my looks. All shifters—well, all paranormals, actually—are more beautiful than humans. At least, I thought so, until I met Kylie.

“I found her… “Fuckable? Intoxicating? Adorable in a tough-girl kind of way?Right...the tough-girl thing is an alpha trait.If Kylie were a shifter, she’d lead the females of the pack.She had all the qualities of a top female.

Luis waits for my comment. What the fuck am I going to say? Her scent is addictive. My wolf wants to claim her.

“Interesting. I found her interesting.”

I stand, wanting to prowl after Kylie into whatever office Stu has set her up in just to watch her work. My wolf doesn’t want her alone with any other male. And I like a good hunt, especially if Kylie’s my prey.

***

Ginrummy

He didn’t expect Kylie to be so hot. Or poised. Brilliant, yes. But he pictured her mousy. Awkward. Socially anxious like him, perhaps with glasses and her hair pulled into an absentminded knot. Maybe with a nose-piercing. Not the cute diamond-chip in the nostril, but the bull-ring in the septum tough-rebel-chick kind.

He supposes not all computer geeks are misfits, but well, anyone who spent her entire childhood online and out of the real world shouldn’t also be a certifiable brick house with high heels and juicy tits. Shouldn’t be able to look that intimidating asshole Jackson King in the eye and run her own interview as if she was the one hiring.

She looks bored, now, as her fingers dance over the keys, solving the security problems they laid out for her.

In a way, this makes things easier. She’s more like Jackson King than him. Dammit, Kylie—Catgirl—McDaniel is way out of his league. So framing her for the demise of SeCure won’t hurt as much as he imagined. Because, in his mind, she’s always been his cyber-girlfriend of sorts. Yeah, it’s stupid, but she’s female and he’s male and they’d been accomplices in the hacker world since puberty when his raging hormones needed nothing more than the name “Catgirl” to get off.

They cut their teeth together as young hackers, sharing information and their successes, passing along tips, advising others. It was dumb luck he found her after she disappeared for the past eight years. But she re-surfaced on DefCon, the old secret hacker forum where they’d always interacted, looking for help with cracking into the FBI. Naturally, he’d assisted.

He’d been looking for her for a long time. Not just out of nostalgia, although he wondered about her. She’s perfect for what he needs. There are very few hackers capable of breaking SeCure’s code. And he happens to know Catgirl is one of them. She did it before—as a teenager, no less.

So when she resurfaced, he helped her with the FBI and then followed her through their doors to see what she was up to. She deleted files on three people—a deceased married couple and their daughter, vigilante burglars, known for stealing from the dirty. She also added evidence on another criminal, including tips on his whereabouts. By digging, he gathered enough evidence to surmise she was the daughter of the cat burglar team. It fit with the sorts of questions she’d posed years before—about security systems and safes. Based on the FBI’s limited information, the criminal she’d set up for arrest had probably murdered her father during a job.

After that, it had been difficult, but he eventually found her IP address, and then it was a matter of sending a headhunter after her for a job at SeCure. Imagine his surprise to find out she lived a mere two hours away in Phoenix.

He watches her now, her glossy hair tucked behind her ear, whizzing through the stupid tests they made up for her. Oh, they were real tests—they would’ve been a challenge to anyone else, but he knew she’d pass with flying colors.

If that damned power outage hadn’t thrown her together with Jackson King, hiring her would be a sure thing. But it sounds like she said or did something to piss the CEO off. He sure as hell hopes King won’t block them from hiring her.

***

Kylie

I push open the door to the house I share with my grandmother. My legs are stiff after the two hour drive back to Phoenix, and I’m ready to trash these heels. “Mémé, are you home?”

My grandmother appears from the kitchen, her lined face split into a grin. “Minette!” My pet name, Minette, is the French word for kitty. My parents came up with it. My momwas French—Dad met her on a crew working an art heist in Arles. It was love at first sight, the way he told the story.

“Well, how did it go?” Mémé always speaks to me in French, and I always answer in English. I speak five languages fluently, and French is one of them, but at home I’m lazy. Or maybe it’s part of trying to be normal.

I sink into a chair at the kitchen table and kick off the evil black patent leather high heels. What a poor choice they were.

Mémé sits down beside me. “I’m waiting.”

I blow a raspberry. “Not well. I screwed up, actually. Big time, Mémé. The power went out while I was in the elevator.”

“No.” Mémé gives an exaggerated gasp and covers her mouth in the animated way only people of her generation still employ. Mémé knows about my claustrophobia. She can probably guess its origin, although we never discuss my parents’ profession or my former illegal activities.

“And I got stranded in there with Jackson King—theJackson King.”

Mémé gives me a blank look.

“He’s the founder of SeCure. But I didn’t know it was him—it was dark. And I said some not-so-flattering things about him.”

Mémé looks sympathetic. “Ah. That’s too bad, ma petite fille.” She pats me on the shoulder and stands up. “I’m sorry. I’ll get you some soup.”

Of course. Because food fixes everything, doesn’t it? Mémé’s cooking is as good as therapy. She moved in after my dad died, and, for a few months, her crepes were the only reason I got out of bed.

Mémé moves to the stove and ladles the hot broth into a bowl. Today’s fare is French onion, my favorite. Mémé serves the rich brown broth with a baguette and Swiss cheese.

“Careful, it’s hot.”

I grin up at Mémé. After Maman died, I spent my entire childhood taking care of my dad—trying to keep him out of jail as he played Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to right the wrongs of the world. After all those years, it’s sweet to be coddled by Mémé. Though she’s tough when she has to be. I wouldn’t have finished college if she hadn’t convinced me. I’d always taken online courses—just for fun. But she insisted I take classes above board, from the same college and finish a degree. Get the diploma and put myself in the real world, even if it was under a false identity. So I did.

But I still barely have a social life. I’m too used to being a loner, keeping my secrets hidden. After what happened—after my father’s… Jesus. I still can’t think about it without a searing pain in my chest. His murder. His betrayal and cold-blooded fucking murder. Yeah. After that, I stopped all illegal activity. I erased our identities, not that Dad and I had ever been on the grid anyway. I went legit. With Dad’s double-crossing murderer looking for me, I hid in plain sight, as an ordinary American citizen.

The heists were my parent’s gig, anyway. They’d been a regular Bonnie and Clyde. But mom died in a car accident when I was eight, so I became Dad’s new partner. I’d refused to leave his side, even though he would have preferred I sit safely in a boarding school or with Mémé in Paris. But his vigilante Thieves for Justice thing wasn’t my calling. I just liked to hack.

That’s how Mémé talked me into taking my current job for the gaming company. But I’m barely tied to the real world. I rarely leave home. I don’t date or have any close friends. In some ways, I’m still Catgirl, lurking in the shadows.

Maybe that’s why the elevator encounter threw me so much. I’ve never been touched by a man, much less a hottie like Jackson King. Frightening, how easily he breached my walls.

My cell phone buzzes, and I grab my purse to rummage for it. A SeCure number. “Hello?”

“Hi Kylie, it’s Stu, from SeCure.”

“Hi Stu.” Brilliant K-K, really brilliant.

“I’m calling to let you know we were impressed with your skill set, and we’d like to offer you the job.”

“Really?” Part of me wants to fist-pump the air in triumph. I gave the worst impression ever, and I still got the offer. Take that,Interviewing for Dummies.

The rest of me is skeptical.

“There’s no second interview or anything?”

“Nope. You scored 100 percent on the test, and management liked you.”

“Management?” He can’t mean King.

“Yeah, Luis thought you were great. So the HR department will call you with the real offer, but I have permission to discuss salary with you. We’re offering one hundred thirty-five thousand dollars plus moving expenses. Full health and dental insurance, profit sharing, and stock options add another third to the salary package.”

Er…wow.I smile at Mémé, nodding. It’s fifty K more than I make at the moment, and I never expected them to foot the bill for moving. Probably too good to be true.But I can’t turn it down. “Thank you, that sounds great.”

“So you’ll accept the offer?” He sounds enthusiastic.

I should play hard to get, but fuck it. “Yeah. Absolutely. I’m thrilled.”

“Great. HR will send you a written offer tomorrow. How soon can you start?”

“I don’t know…a month?”

“I was hoping two weeks,” Stu says.

“Really? That’s pretty fast.”

“We are paying for relocation, so that will simplify the move for you.”

“Is two weeks a requirement?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’ll be there,” I say.

“Great. We’ll finalize the paperwork tomorrow. Welcome to the team.”

I hang up and beam at Grandmere. “I got the job!”

Mémé throws her arms around me and kisses my temple. “That’s wonderful! Congratulations.”

I accept the hug, wondering what King thinks of my hire. At least he didn’t veto it. That shouldn’t excite me as much as it does.

 

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