Brett had turned his back to the room and was just about to greet a friend who wanted to congratulate him when Allison tapped on his shoulder. Brett swung around, his palm still outstretched to shake a hand, but the second he saw Allison, his smile disappeared.

"I hear you're trying to sell my work," Allison said.

Liam stood a few feet behind her. He knew she must be seething inside, yet her voice was very calm. He was impressed.

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"Hi, Allison," Brett said, his phony smile back in place as he tried to hide the fact that he had been taken off guard. "How are you?"

"I'm perfectly fine," she answered in as pleasant a tone as she could muster. "I've just heard about the program you've designed, and it sounds very much like mine."

Brett immediately glanced around at his small group of admirers before striking a pose that made him look both bewildered and offended at the same time. "I don't know what you're talking about, Allison. I've been working on this for months."

"Funny," Allison said, "I don't remember ever seeing you work on a security program-or even hearing you mention one, for that matter-when I was helping you with your classwork. I, on the other hand, have spent countless hours perfecting my program. Don't you think that's odd?"

Liam watched as Brett's body language changed. His hands were now fisted at his sides and his legs were braced apart for a fight. What did he suppose Allison was going to do? Karate-chop him? Liam's instincts told him to step forward and protect her, but Allison was so calm and seemingly unfazed by the threat that he held back.

"You can't prove anything," Brett snarled. "You may think you're the only one who knows anything about computers or software, but you're wrong. I've put my blood, sweat, and tears into this program, and it's finally going to pay off. You'll be wanting to congratulate me pretty soon, unless your pride gets in your way. I'll be in negotiations soon to sell my program," he said, stressing the word my, "to several different companies bidding for it. They're coming here for my presentation." 

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She patted his arm and sounded very sincere when she said, "Well, then, I wish you good luck and hope you get exactly what you deserve."

As she walked away she heard his final smug remark. "I will."

"You think he stole your program and is passing it off as his own?" Liam asked her when they were alone again.

"Absolutely," she responded. "I know what Brett can do, and it would have been impossible for him to have written a program in the time he's been gone. He saw me working on mine."

"You're a better person than I am. If someone stole my work, I'd want to coldcock him. You don't seem too bent out of shape over it."

She laughed. "I'm not."

"How come?"

"I always build a safeguard into my design."

"Yeah?"

"If Brett has my work, he won't be able to sell it."

"You're certain?"

"Oh yes."

He didn't know what was going on behind her mysterious smile, but he could tell she was no longer upset. In fact, she seemed almost amused.

FIFTEEN

Allison and Liam left the reception early and headed for the Four Seasons. The temperature had dropped considerably, but fortunately Liam's car was parked in the circle drive. She grabbed her coat from the backseat and put it on while Liam reached into the glove compartment to get the envelope. They were soon on their way with the heater blasting.

Allison suddenly realized how comfortable she was with him now. When she had opened the door for him tonight, her nerves went crazy and her hands actually shook. Her mind raced with questions. Was he going to say anything about last night? Or was he going to pretend having hot, sweaty, mind-blowing sex with her hadn't happened? Maybe it hadn't been like that for him. She decided to let all of that go and just enjoy the moment.

Liam was quiet as they pulled into traffic. He was picturing the look in Keaton's eyes. Finally he said what was on his mind. "You know what? Keaton's a piece of . . ." He stopped before he said the crude word he was thinking of.

"A piece of work?" she suggested.

He laughed. "Sure. That's what I was going to say."

It took all of five minutes to reach the Four Seasons Hotel. The lobby wasn't as grand in scale as the Hamilton's, but it was just as elegant with its gleaming black marble floors divided into huge squares by creamy marble bands. The furnishings, small groupings of upholstered chairs at the perimeter, were understated, yet they fit perfectly into the refined atmosphere of the hotel.

Since they were early, Allison and Liam went into the bar to wait. The wood-paneled room was softly lit, and candles in tall glass cylinders on each table added to the warm ambience. Most of the tables were occupied. Liam led her to one at the back of the room and pulled out the plush leather club chair for her before he took his seat. Within seconds a waiter appeared. Allison ordered a Diet Coke, and when Liam asked for a club soda with lime, she was surprised. She had a beer on a rare occasion, but nothing else because she'd seen over and over again how it impaired judgment. She wouldn't have known what to order anyway. The last time she had gone to dinner with Charlotte and Oliver, the waiter handed her a wine menu, and after staring at it for five minutes or so, she told Charlotte it might as well have been written in gibberish. She didn't know what wine went with what food, and she didn't really care. Liam, however, was a man of the world. He obviously had no objection to worldly pleasures. She finally concluded that he wasn't drinking alcohol because he was on duty . . . or was he?

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