DEVON DONALDSON stood outside the Four Seasons in downtown Philadelphia, glancing up at the imposing edifice.
“What are you waiting for?” Karen asked as she got out of the taxi, straightening the hem of her ankle-length royal blue gown. “Come on. We’re supposed to be here.” She took Devon’s arm and led him inside. “You look very nice in your tuxedo.”
“It’s a rental,” he blurted out, then instantly wished he hadn’t. No one needed to know that. He should learn to keep his mouth shut.
“I won’t tell anyone.” She patted his arm, and they continued their way inside, crossing the imposing lobby, with its large crystal chandeliers and polished marble floors, following the discreet signage to the ballroom, where music wafted out into the hall. Devon fished his invitation out of his pocket and handed it to the attendant. Karen did the same.
“Have a good time,” said the tall man, who probably also served as security, motioning them inside.
The ballroom was already filling with people, all dressed to the nines. Devon still wasn’t able to figure out how he had ended up with an invitation. Coopers, Littman, and Mauer sponsored the event to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society each year, and tickets were expensive. Devon certainly didn’t have that kind of money lying around.
“There’s the rest of the team.” Karen waved and let go of Devon’s arm to walk over to the others.
Devon followed her and took a place at the table in the center of the room. At least he knew his fellow team members: Mark Calvinson, Susan Malton, and Lee Kwan. He greeted each of them with a handshake, while Karen hugged them, and then they both sat down.
“You aren’t going to end up dancing on a table like last year, are you, Mark?” Karen asked.
“I did not,” he replied indignantly. “I merely ended up sitting on the edge of one.”
“You nearly toppled the entire thing over,” Susan clarified, and everyone chuckled. “Maybe that’s why we have these drink tickets instead of the open bar like last year.” She shot Mark a glare that didn’t last very long.
Devon settled in his seat, reached for a glass, and filled it from the crystal pitcher of water on the table, wondering how long he could just sit here without having to say anything. Not too long, apparently.
“Guys, this is Devon’s first foray into the world of rubber chicken and schmoozing for dollars.” Karen grinned at him.
“Just wait until the auction.” Lee leaned over. “That’s when the big boys all pull out their wallets and fight over who can buy the biggest… equipment.” He winked, and everyone else groaned.
The recorded music up until then had been largely background. As a small live orchestra began playing, a few couples shifted out of their seats to dance, while at the same time a line formed at the bar. Devon turned slightly so he could watch the musicians and listen to the music while the others talked. It was mostly gossip about who was doing whom, and Devon wasn’t really interested.
“Yeah, apparently the designs were copies and…”
Devon turned, suddenly tuned in to what Susan was saying.
“…they are still tracing how it could have happened.”
“I hear she’s interested in you,” Lee told Mark, who stood right away and sauntered over to Gloria from marketing, the subject of their interest, only to be shot down faster than he could say “supply chain integration.” Mark returned to the table, smacked Lee on the back of the head, and vowed to get even with him.
“Do any of you dance?” Karen asked. The other guys all shook their heads, but Devon nodded slowly. Karen got to her feet, grabbing his arm once again. “Then why don’t you show me the floor?”
Devon stood and properly took her arm to lead her through the tables to the floor. “I haven’t danced in a while.”
“I’m sure you remember how,” Karen said with amusement.
Devon cocked his lips slightly, whirled her into his arms, and spun her into a waltz in elegant style. “Of course. Four years of lessons with my mother, because Dad refused to go and she was determined.” He glided Karen through the steps, making her smile, until the number ended.
She stepped away, clapping politely along with the others. “Who is that?” she whispered, and Devon followed her gaze to a stunning, darkly intense man who half frowned as he watched the dance floor, his arms crossed over his chest. “Man… he’s got the whole ‘tall, dark, and broody’ thing going on.”
“If you like that sort of thing,” Devon said, swallowing hard, because while he wasn’t into the brooding thing, he wouldn’t kick him out of bed if he got the chance. His tuxedo was cut beautifully—that was no rental. Even in the jacket, his wide shoulders and trim waist were evident. That was a man who knew how to take care of himself, even if he seemed about two seconds from shouting orders at everyone in the room.
“Oh, me likey,” she whispered.
The music started again, and Devon pulled his attention away from the sight against the wall. The tempo changed, and Devon broke into the fox-trot, taking Karen right along with him.
“Damn, son, you weren’t kidding. Your mother must be so proud.”
“She was, yes.” That was all the acknowledgment he gave, but Karen missed a step. Devon picked it up, guiding her through until the number ended. Then he applauded and escorted her properly from the floor. “I think I’m going to have a drink. Would you like anything?” he asked.
“No thanks. I’ll see you back at the table.” She glided off across the room.
Devon made his way through the increasing crowd to the bar. He got in line and slowly moved forward, glancing at where Tall, Dark, and Broody seemed to be watching him in return. Devon turned away and paid attention to what was in front of him.
As he neared the bar, the hair on the back of his neck stood up, and he knew Tall, Dark, and Broody was right behind him. He didn’t dare look around even as sweat broke out under his shirt collar. Granted, he had no reason to be nervous—he hadn’t done anything wrong—but the man’s presence sent his pulse racing.
“Can I help you?” the bartender in a white shirt and black vest asked.
“Whiskey and soda,” Devon ordered, handing over the ticket. A few moments later, he took the drink, thanked the bartender, and purposefully walked back to the table. Only once he sat down did he chance to look back. Tall, Dark, and Broody was nowhere to be seen, and Devon silently chastised himself for being so stupid.
“You looked great, Devon,” Susan said. “Maybe we could dance later.”
“Did you grow a right foot?” Mark chirped, and turned to Devon. “Last year she wheedled me onto the dance floor, and I ended up with two broken toes and enough bruises that it hurt to walk for a week. Don’t do it, my friend. It’s not worth the agony.” He dashed away as Susan lunged for him.
“Are you all having a good time?” the supervisor, Judy Spalding, asked from next to Mark. “No table dancing this year.” She looked right down at Mark. “Remember, everyone is here, including all of the partners. This is definitely a time to impress. Don’t just sit here and talk to each other. Get up, mingle, meet people. This is the one night of the year that most of the hierarchy barriers are down. So it’s a chance to make an impression.”
“Thanks, Judy,” Devon said, then finished his drink for courage and pushed back his chair. Before he’d left the house, he had determined that he needed to meet and talk with at least ten people he didn’t know tonight. Devon was usually quiet—his dad said he was shy. He knew it was something he needed to work on if he was to get noticed and have the chance to go anywhere in the company.
Girding himself, he walked up to a group of people he had never met before, all standing in a circle, and took the only empty place, next to a woman in a cream-colored gown that glittered with sequins. “Your dress is stunning,” he told her as the others talked.
She turned to him, a smile lighting her face. “Thank you, young man.”
“You’re very welcome. It really is beautiful, and you are gorgeous in it.”
She smiled again.
“I’m Devon Donaldson.” He extended his hand, and she took it, shaking it gently.
“Marie Mauer. It’s very nice to meet you. Is this your first one of these?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m new at the firm, just six months ago, and I’m sort of learning my way. It’s a wonderful evening.”
“I saw you on the dance floor. Was that your wife you were dancing with?”
“No. She’s a coworker.” Now Devon thought maybe he should have gotten another drink, but no. The last thing he wanted to do was dull his wits, even as his belly roiled in fear.
“Lionel,” Marie said. “I’d like to introduce you to Devon Donaldson.” And just like that, Devon shook hands with her husband, one of the three founders of the firm.
“It’s good to meet you, sir,” Devon said, meeting the man’s steely gaze. His dad always told him to meet strength with strength.
“Likewise.” Lionel released Devon’s hand, and another man who Devon didn’t know put his hand on Lionel’s shoulder and drew him away from the group.
Marie sighed and shook her head. Her smile slipped away for a few seconds and then returned. Devon was about to excuse himself when the music changed and Marie turned to him. “Would you mind?” She motioned to the dance floor.
Devon nodded, guiding her out and politely taking her hand. He gently put his other hand to her waist, and they stepped into the dance.
“It’s always work,” she whispered, her attention half on her husband.
“You dance beautifully,” Devon said.
“Don’t kid a kidder, young man. You are the one making me look good.” She smiled nonetheless as Devon glided her in a wide circle around the floor. Tall, Dark, and Broody stood just off the floor, and Devon felt Marie shiver in his arms. “I hate that man and told Lionel not to hire him for any reason, but he doesn’t listen to me about anything.” She scowled as the man moved away from the crowd. Once he was out of sight, her movements became fluid again, and Devon put the incident out of his head, intent on showing Marie off to everyone in the room.
“Where did you learn to dance like this?” Marie asked. “Young people only seem to know that bump-and-grind stuff.” There was no heat in her voice, just a statement of fact as she saw it.
“I took lessons with my mother. She and I used to enter dance competitions, and we won a few times. Mom was so pleased, and she used to hand me off to all the daughters of her friends whenever she got the chance. Mom thought that dancing would be a way for me to meet girls and eventually find a girlfriend and wife.” Devon smiled and leaned into the movement. “Didn’t work, though.” He smirked slightly, not fully at ease with her. She was one of the founders’ wives, after all.
“Whyever not?” She truly didn’t seem to understand his little joke.
“Because I’m attracted to the boys,” Devon answered, and Marie smiled and chuckled right along with him. “And guys are much more interested in bump-and-grind than they are the waltz, quickstep, or fox-trot.” He smiled and led Marie into a flourish as the music ended. He released her and applauded lightly, sharing a smile as her husband approached and guided her away.
Devon melted back into the crowd of people and returned to the table, where only Lee waited now. “The others went to get drinks,” he explained.
Tall, Dark, and Broody passed near them, sending his own particular dark shadow over them. Lee sat up straighter, and Devon slipped his hands under the table, fidgeting nervously like he was a third grader who had just been naughty and was worried about being caught.
“What’s his deal?” Lee asked as he moved away. “This is supposed to be a party, but he’s casting a pall over everything he looks at.” Lee sipped his drink.
Devon didn’t dare turn to look at the man, though he was well aware of his continued presence. The others returned and the mood lightened, even as Tall, Dark, and Broody continued standing nearby.
“Ladies and gentlemen….” A man in a bright tuxedo stood onstage with a microphone. “I’m Gary Phillips from marketing. Welcome. Our live auction is about to begin for the really good items. Don’t forget the silent auction tables off to my right. They close in an hour. All proceeds go to charity, so bid early and bid often.” He continued warming up the crowd and then brought up the first item, a fifty-five-inch television.
Devon didn’t pay much attention, since none of these items were anything he could hope to afford. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled once again, and Devon stood, getting a little tired of whatever game the man was playing. Without turning around, even knowing he was there, Devon approached the bar, got another drink, and returned to the table.
Applause broke out as an item was sold and another put up for bid. Devon sat and sipped his drink before figuring that was doing nothing but making him more nervous. Picking up his drink, he walked right past Tall, Dark, and Broody, girding himself as he joined another circle of people. Thankfully, this one didn’t include the firm’s founders, and he recognized James Abramson, the head of one of the other development teams.
“Are you having a good time?” James asked. “This is your first year, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I joined the firm this year,” Devon explained, his nerves rising once again. “It’s a good place to work, and everyone has been very welcoming.”
“I’m glad,” James said absently as his attention was drawn elsewhere. Another item was brought up for auction, and James bid but dropped out rather quickly as the price escalated.
Devon turned to watch the auction along with the others. He caught Tall, Dark, and Broody watching him, and Devon met his gaze, meeting those almost-black eyes for nearly a full minute before he looked away under their intensity.
Most of the group drifted away as the auction continued, and Devon returned to the table once more. He’d joined two conversation groups, actually talked to people he didn’t know, and hadn’t made a fool of himself. He’d count that as a successful evening. Devon took his seat at the table and spent the next hour talking to his coworkers. They shared gossip, and Karen even leaned over the table, wildly speculating that Tall, Dark, and Broody was some sort of secret agent.
“Maybe there’s something going on, and he’s here to foil whatever’s happening.”
Lee rolled his eyes. “You have way too much imagination for a computer programmer,” he teased.
“Please,” Karen said. “I swear he could take me as one of his Bond girls any time he wanted.” She fanned herself, and Susan did the same. Clearly the ladies had a thing for guys like that. Not that Devon could blame them. The guy was gorgeous, in a “come to the dark side” kind of way.
He drew closer to their table. Devon wondered what he wanted. He was standing right next to Devon, near enough that he could smell the muskiness that rolled off him in heart-lightening ways. He didn’t dare move, focusing on his drink. It was like this ominous, yet hot presence loomed over him. Devon wished he could simply stand and extricate himself from the situation, but if he stood, the entire table would get one hell of a show. So he sat still, like an embarrassed teenager, concentrating on his drink, willing the guy to move on.
“Are you warm?” Karen leaned to him and asked. “You look flushed.” She poured him a glass of water, and Devon drank most of it.
“Thanks.” He breathed evenly through his mouth, in and out, purposely keeping his control. A panic attack niggled at the edge of his consciousness, and he knew that was the worst idea on earth. He had to keep it together. He didn’t need to make a spectacle of himself. This guy wasn’t interested in him, and whatever was going on had nothing to do with him. The most handsome man he had ever seen in his life was just standing nearby, watching. It had nothing to do with him—Devon kept repeating that to himself. The tightness in his chest loosened, and his head throbbed less. He drank some more water to give himself something to do. Finally, he felt the tension wane, and his vision became less tunneled.
He turned to find the man farther away. Devon inhaled deeply, then released his breath once more. He poured himself another glass, drank it, and glanced around to see if he was the center of attention. Thankfully, no one seemed to have noticed. But Devon had had enough for one evening. He checked his watch and used the excuse that he was going to look over the silent auction items to get away from the table and give himself something to do until he could leave.
THE TALK in the office all day Monday was about everything that happened at the gala, which included the fact that Judy had bid on one of the vacation packages in the auction but didn’t win, as well as that James had won an item in the silent auction that one of the partners had had his eye on. James, it seemed, was faster. Gossip ran rampant through the office.
Devon did his best to keep his head down, getting his work done and trying not to listen to any of it, even when the subject turned to him dancing with Marie. He poked his head over the half-wall partition to where Karen sat, shooting her a nasty look, and she grew quiet and suddenly had work to do herself.
People would talk, and he had better things to do, Devon reminded himself as he packed his messenger bag to go home and said good night to the others. He used the bathroom and then returned to grab his bag and head toward the door. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to go home for some peace and quiet.
He left the building, walked through the heat to the subway station, and descended into the stale air. He scanned his pass and went through the turnstile, joining the flow of human traffic toward the subway platform. He held his bag close and continued the familiar trek, waiting in the line until the train whooshed to a stop and the doors opened. Unlike others, Devon let people exit the train before getting on. It was full to the gills, so he stood, placing his bag between his feet and holding one of the handholds as the doors shut once again.
The ride was so familiar, Devon didn’t need to pay much attention to the stops. His internal body clock told him where he was as they rode south. People jostled in and out along the way, and Devon made sure he had a good grip on his bag with his feet, holding on as the train started and stopped so he didn’t end up on the muddy section of the floor.
At the stop before his, a large group of people got off, pressing all around him. A seat opened up, and Devon let go of the handhold as people hurried forward. He nearly fell and only managed to grab his bag and plop into the seat to prevent himself from falling. He sighed and set his bag on his lap as the train zipped on to his stop.
Devon was grateful to get off the train and climb the steps out of the station, up into the fresh air. He inhaled and took a second to breathe before striding through the relatively quiet sidewalks of the residential neighborhood to his home above a drugstore.
His apartment wasn’t large, but it was plenty big enough for him, with a small bedroom off a decent-sized living room. He had a tiny kitchen, but it worked for his life. Most of the furniture he got at secondhand stores and the Salvation Army, carrying it back piece by piece. It made for an eclectic mix of things, but it was all his and this was home. He loved it… mostly because no one was going to take it away from him. No one would come in from work and tell him that tomorrow they were moving to yet another town, and that he’d have to attend another school with another group of kids that he was just going to start to get to know before he had to move again. This was stable; this was his.
Devon set his bag on the coffee table and went right to his refrigerator. After pulling out a bottle of cold water, he drank half of it and placed the remainder back inside to keep cold, before wandering into the bedroom to change out of his work clothes.
He put his shirt in the dirty clothes and hung up his pants and suit coat, along with the tie. He hoped he could get one more wear out of them before he had to have them dry-cleaned. Instead of hanging them in the closet, he put them in the bathroom near the open window, where a steady breeze could air them out for him. He tried to get a second wear out of his clothes in order to save some expenses, but it wasn’t always possible.
A pounding at his door made him jump. Devon hurried to pull on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, rushed to the front door, and peered through the peephole. Tall, Dark, and Broody stood in his hallway, glaring back at him. “What do you want?” He wished he’d grabbed his cell phone off the dresser before coming out.
“I need to talk to you,” he said, pounding on the door once more. “You need to talk to me, or else you’ll talk to the police.”
Devon undid the latch, keeping the chain on, and cracked the door open. “I’m the one who’s going to call the police if you don’t go away.” He closed the door once again, glaring through the peephole. “Go away.”
“You need to talk to me, Devon,” he said, more softly but with the same urgency. “It’s important.”
“How do you know my name? Are you following me? You a stalker or something?” Devon leaned against the door, his leg shaking. Damn, he’d been looking forward to a quiet night. “Just go away.” He sounded whiny even to his own ears.
“We need to talk,” he repeated.
Devon pulled the door open slightly. “Why?” He peered out into the hall, wishing his neighbor was home, but she was away on vacation for the week visiting her kids. Mrs. Lowenski always knew what was going on and could be counted on to be nosy enough to call the police for him. As it was, he was on his own.
“I’m not a stalker, and I know you saw me at the gala. You are probably aware that Mrs. Mauer knows who I am.”
“She doesn’t like you,” Devon said.
He shrugged. “A lot of people don’t like me.”
“Let me see some identification,” Devon said, and the man pulled out a card and handed it to him. “Powers McPherson. Private security and investigations.” He turned the card over, but there was nothing else on the back. “This is really helpful.” Devon rolled his eyes. “Anyone can have business cards made up that say anything. Go away and leave me alone.”
“I’ve been hired by your company, and as I said, we need to talk. Now, we can do it like this in the hallway, or you can let me in.” He wore a suit that probably cost as much as Devon made in a week, and his shoes shone brightly. Powers didn’t look like the kind of guy who would mug someone, but Devon still wasn’t sure. Still, from what Marie had said, Powers worked for Mr. Mauer, and he didn’t want to get in trouble.
Reluctantly, he stepped back and slipped the chain off the lock. Then he opened the door and allowed Powers to enter. Devon closed the door and moved back out of his reach. “What do you want? And what kind of name is Powers anyway?”
“It’s a family name.” Powers stepped around him to the sofa and sat down. “I guess manners weren’t part of your upbringing.”
Devon went into the bedroom, grabbed his phone, and held it for easy availability, then returned to the living room, where he found Powers going through his bag. “Just as I thought.” He pulled a manila envelope out of the bag, holding it up.
“That isn’t mine,” Devon stammered. He’d never seen it in his life. “I didn’t put that in there. It’s not mine.” Shit, he’d seen enough television shows to know he was in trouble.
“Then what is it doing in your bag?” Powers asked as he opened it to pull out two sheets of paper and a small portable computer drive.
“I don’t know.” Devon clutched his phone even as he saw his stable, quiet life flying right out the window before his eyes. “I don’t know what it is because I never put it in my bag. Maybe you put it in there to try to trap me or something. Is this a test of some sort? Maybe an initiation to check my loyalty to the firm?”
“No. It certainly isn’t, and I didn’t put it in there.” Powers sat back, going through the documents.
“What is that?” Devon asked.
Powers leaned forward. “You need to sit down, and you and I have to have a very serious talk.”
Devon’s knees felt weak, and he slumped into his chair, the comfortable one he usually watched television in, but it now felt like one of those stiff wooden chairs that people get interrogated in, in the movies.
“What I want to know is who gave you this and who were you supposed to deliver it to?” Powers leaned forward, his dark eyes as serious as a heart attack.
“I don’t know. It was never given to me. I don’t know what you’re talking about… delivering it. I don’t know what it is, and I….” Damn, Devon’s hand shook and he thought he was going to be sick. “I’ve never seen that before. Honestly.” His hand shook more, and his vision began to tunnel. His heart pounded in his chest, and he breathed deeply. “I don’t know what that is. I never saw it before in my life.”
“It was in your bag,” Powers said.
“But I didn’t put it there!” Devon placed his hand over his chest, sucking in air, his head starting to spin. “I told you, I didn’t take it and I didn’t put it in my bag. I don’t know who did, and I have no idea what this is all about.” He managed to get a deep breath of air, gripping the arms of the chair as tightly as he could. “I don’t know anything about whatever this is.” His feet began to tingle, and Devon knew he had to get hold of himself or he was going to end up in the hospital like the last time, and then he wouldn’t have a chance to try to explain and he’d be out of work and….
Devon took a deep breath and then another. He took the bottle of water that Powers offered him, sucked it down, and forced air into his lungs. “You have to believe me.” Devon blinked and continued his breathing exercises as the tingling subsided and his vision slowly returned to normal.
“Then how did this get in your bag?” Powers waved the envelope in the air.
“I don’t know.” Devon finished the water and set the bottle on the coffee table. “I packed my bag the way I usually do when I leave the office.” He reached for it and emptied the contents on the table. “These are my pens and my reminder book.” There was also a roll of cherry Life Savers and some paper clips. “I brought home these papers to try to work through this tonight because everyone kept talking about the gala all day and I couldn’t concentrate. The rest of this is mine, but I didn’t put that in the bag.” He half pleaded because he needed Powers to believe him.
“Let’s say that’s true. Then how did this get in your bag?”
“I don’t know. I left the office and rode home on the subway like I always do. The cars were crowded and all, but….” He paused. “Hey, how did you know that I might have this stuff? Were you following me? Did you put it in there and now want it back?” He was grasping at straws.
“No. I didn’t put it in there, but I was on that subway train. I had intelligence that a pass-off was to happen on the train, and then I recognized you from the gala and figured I was onto something. So I followed you and… look what I found.”
“So, you didn’t see anyone put this in my bag either?” Devon had to question it. Whoever had done it was good, because he hadn’t seen anyone. “It must have been during the crush. I was nearly bowled over when the car started and a lot of others pressed against me.” At least he had an idea of how the envelope could have gotten into his bag, but why it had been put there was beyond him.
“No. Because I don’t think it was. I think you either copied the information yourself or had someone give it to you.”
Devon swallowed hard. This was getting to be a circular exercise. “Then call the police. Have them check out the envelope. If I put it in there, then I must have handled it and my prints and DNA would be all over it. They aren’t, because I’ve never seen that before and I never handled it. Why someone slipped it into my bag, I have no idea, but the person you’re after isn’t me.” He glared at Powers and then held out his phone. “Go ahead, call them.” He was getting tired of this little game and just wanted it to end. “How do I know you aren’t the one after this information for yourself and this isn’t all a ruse? Marie certainly didn’t like you, so maybe you’re trying to get even somehow.”
For the first time, the confidence in Powers’s eyes wavered slightly. “You really want me to do this?”
“Yes. Go ahead. Call the police. Tell them what you found in my bag, and I’ll ask them to fingerprint the envelope. Of course, I’ll also make sure they ask you all about your business and what you’re doing here. I’m sure the Philly PD will be most grateful for civilian help.” Devon’s smirk lasted a few moments, and then he sat back when Powers didn’t take his phone.
“Let’s say I believe you,” Powers said. “I’m not saying I do. But let’s just say. Why would someone drop this into your bag?”
Devon leaned forward slightly. “I don’t know. Maybe they made a mistake, or maybe they saw you and panicked. Or maybe whoever it is knows me from work and thought I was the courier, when there was someone else they were supposed to give it to. I’m in the dark just as much as you are.” He was calming down, and his mind clicked into gear. “What I don’t understand is why anyone would do this to me. What did I do?” He leaned close, trying to get a glance at the papers. “What are those?”
Powers hesitated and then slid the papers across the table. “Specifications.”
Devon didn’t touch the pages but looked them over. “They’re the cover pages for two program specs. That’s all.” He leaned closer. “I’m not familiar with this system, but that’s all they are. There are no details or any information that could be used by anyone. I presume the meat of whatever this is, is on the drive there.” He pointed but didn’t touch it either.
“Where are you going?” Powers snapped.
He glared and waved his hand toward the door. “To the bathroom. You can come with me if you want, but we’re on the second floor. I don’t think I’m going to shimmy out the window.” He was stuck until he could somehow convince Powers that he wasn’t involved in whatever was going on. Devon used the bathroom, then returned and sat back down.
“I’m still not buying that you aren’t involved in this,” Powers said flatly, without the vehemence he’d had before.
“Have you checked the files at work? I don’t have access to any of these programs, so I can’t get them. The system controls what I can see. It isn’t like I can check out any program I want. I can’t even get to the program specifications for programs I’m not authorized to access.” Devon leaned forward.
“What if you were just supposed to deliver them?” Powers pressed.
“To who? I don’t know anyone outside my own team at the firm. You saw me at the gala, I know you did.”
“Yeah, quite the social butterfly.”
Devon chuckled nervously. “I talked to Marie and was so nervous that I nearly wet myself. I danced with her when she asked, and then afterward Mr. Mauer led her away. I didn’t know what to do, so I went back to my table.” He swallowed hard. “I actually had to set a quota for myself of the number of people I’d speak to that I didn’t already know before I could leave. I’m no butterfly—more like a wallflower. So regardless of what you think, I have no reason to take anything from work or to deliver papers or whatever else is on that drive to anyone.” He closed his eyes, trying to keep his nerves at bay.
“Okay,” Powers said. “Let’s say you’re telling the truth.” He slid the papers and drive back into the envelope.
“Good, then you can go now, and I can make myself some macaroni and cheese and a salad, and go to bed. I have to be at the office before seven tomorrow, and I still have some things I need to get done.” Devon picked up his bag and went to the door. Powers didn’t move. “What now? I didn’t take anything, and I wasn’t going to deliver whatever is in that envelope. And if you get me fired….” The thought sent a ripple of fear running through him.
“I’m not going to get you fired. But there’s something you haven’t thought of.” He paused, probably for effect, and it worked, with Devon’s nerves spiking. “If this was slipped into your bag, and it wasn’t meant for you, then someone is going to want it back. And it isn’t going to take a great deal of effort for them to realize that it was given to the wrong person, and then they’re going to come looking for it.” Powers sat straighter, and Devon groaned.
“Then you handle it however you see fit and leave me out of the whole thing.” He waved his hand. At least Powers was beginning to believe him. “I didn’t do anything to get involved in this. I just want it to go away.” He went to the kitchen area and pulled out the things he needed to make his dinner. He didn’t have a great deal. Old Mother Hubbard and Devon had a lot in common right now. Devon did find the blue box of mac and cheese, and there were just enough fixings for a salad. He needed to go to the store.
“Do you think that whoever is behind this is just going to walk up to you and ask nicely for the information that was incorrectly slipped into your bag?” Powers asked. “This is part of a huge theft. Someone is after proprietary secrets from your firm, and these are worth a great deal of money… millions. Enough that people will kill to get what they want.”
Devon turned quickly enough that he knocked the box of mac and cheese on the floor. The pasta spilled everywhere, and Devon groaned before trying to scoop the wayward pieces back inside. “That’s just great. So now what? Keep the door locked and hope that someone doesn’t try to kill me in my sleep? Maybe I could turn what you found over to Mr. Mauer and tell him what happened.” Yeah, that was a good idea. He didn’t know Devon at all and would probably fire him on the spot. He felt the panic attack starting up again and plopped himself on the floor, picking up single pieces of his dinner. “What am I supposed to do now?”
Powers came over and helped Devon to his feet. “You are the first real lead I’ve had in this case. I honestly don’t think you’re involved in this.” He might just have been saying that—Devon could hear the uncertainty in his voice. Powers was probably just trying to soothe him and calm him down. “But right now, you’re all I have. And I was serious. Someone is going to try to get that information back. Until they do, I’m going to stick to you like glue.” He released Devon’s hand.
“What does that mean?” Devon swallowed hard, trying to discern the implications.
“It means that it looks like I’m staying here tonight. I’ll sleep on the sofa and won’t bother you.” Powers stared deeply into Devon’s eyes, sending a jolt of fear and heat to Devon’s core.
“Here?” he croaked. “You’re going to stay here with me?” Devon took a step back. “How do I know you aren’t the person sent to retrieve the information and aren’t going to kill me in my sleep?” Maybe he was being a little dramatic, but this was the weirdest situation he could ever have possibly imagined.
“Yes. I’m starting to believe you, but I’m not letting you out of my sight. Those papers and drive are the only link I have to whoever is behind this, and I have to follow the lead to make sure this stops as soon as possible.” Powers took a single step back. “Do you like Chinese?” he asked, staring at the bits of macaroni on the floor, slowly shaking his head. “As a show of good faith, I’ll order us some delivery. There’s a good restaurant a few blocks away.”
“Okay.” Devon was too shaken and surprised to say anything else. What the hell had just happened to him? All he wanted was his orderly, quiet life back, and every way he looked, it seemed to get farther away by the second.