Becoming aware that most people had left, Allison glanced around at the empty chairs and spotted someone standing at the back of the auditorium. He was the same man she'd noticed outside on the steps. He was occupied, texting on his phone. He obviously wasn't interested in the discussion, and yet he wasn't leaving. He looked up, and for the briefest of seconds their eyes met. She could have sworn he smiled at her. She was certain she had never seen him before. She definitely would have remembered a man as fine-looking as that.
The moderator finally stopped the question-and-answer period by stepping forward and thanking Jordan for participating in the forum. Those still in the auditorium showed their appreciation with a round of applause. As she waited in her seat for Jordan to say good-bye to the moderator, Allison noticed a message on her phone from Dan. He was at the library and wanted her to text him when she was ready to walk home. He'd walk with her. She smiled when she read it. Dan was such a worrywart, but she was secretly grateful he considered himself her protector.
Allison quickly slipped her phone back into her pocket and made her way to the stage to say hello to Jordan, who was just coming down the steps.
"Was I as boring as I thought I was?" Jordan asked.
The moderator had turned out the stage lights and was locking up the auditorium.
"No, you weren't boring at all. How come some of those computer science boys were so condescending?"
"Beats me," Jordan answered. "You put them to shame tonight," she added, grinning.
Allison texted Dan as they made their way to the exit. She looked around for the mysterious stranger who had been watching from the back of the auditorium, but he had disappeared.
The two friends didn't have much time to catch up while they waited on the steps outside, because Dan appeared almost immediately. He and Allison walked Jordan to her car and then backtracked toward their house. On their walk home she told Dan about her programming discussion with Jordan during the seminar.
"You do realize I'm an econ major, and everything you've just said sounds like gibberish to me."
She laughed. "Sorry. I guess I was getting a little technical, wasn't I?" After a minute she said, "I was showing off tonight. I shouldn't have done that."
"Why not? There's nothing wrong with letting people know how smart you are."
She disagreed. "I don't want to draw attention. It could get me into trouble."
"What kind of trouble could you get into? It's not like you broke the law or anything," he said, and then teasing her with a raised eyebrow and an exaggerated look of suspicion, he added, "Or did you?"
"No, of course not," she laughed, averting her eyes.
If he only knew.
Over spring break Allison planned to get ahead of her classwork, but her aunt and uncle demanded that she take on another modeling assignment because the attorney's bill had grown to staggering heights. She knew she could refuse. She was over eighteen, and they had no legal control over her, but saying no simply wasn't worth the barrage of calls and constant harassment. She wouldn't put it past them to follow her into class and make a scene to get what they wanted. It was always easier-and inevitable-to give in.
Keeping Will out of jail was becoming more and more difficult. He had been ordered by one judge to attend anger management classes. Allison hoped more than anything that these would help, but she had her doubts.
Fortunately Giovanni was ready to photograph the catalog for his new line and was overjoyed that Allison would be available. The photos were shot along the beautifully rugged coast of Maine, and for two weeks Allison posed, as a team of hairstylists, makeup artists, and dressers hovered around her, primping and preening. On the day she returned home to Boston, Jordan called.
"I'm so glad you're back," Jordan said.
Allison could hear the eagerness in her voice. "What's going on?"
"How would you like to visit the FBI's new office building with me this afternoon?"
Allison immediately declined. The last few weeks had been exhausting and she wanted a day to recuperate, but when Jordan mentioned they would be visiting the new cyber center, she reconsidered.
"Agent Jim Phillips is a friend of Noah's and mine," Jordan explained. "Noah's worked with him in the past, and we've known him a long time. He's head of the cyber task force in Boston. I hear the facility is state-of-the-art, and I'm dying to see it. He just called me and asked if I'd like to come and tour it today. He knew who you were and told me I could bring you along, too. What do you say?"