Noah pushed the button for the elevator. "They expect trouble," he told them. "There's a guard at the double doors. He doesn't work for the hotel. Brett must have hired him."

Allison was shocked, but Liam wasn't surprised. "There's a lot of money at stake."


"He's going to extremes," Allison said. "What must his guests think?"

"Brett's hoping they'll think he's important," Noah suggested. 

"You can watch the presentation from the security room," Liam said to her.

She shook her head. "No, I want to walk into the ballroom. I want him to see me."

The doors opened and they stepped inside. Allison assumed they had agreed with her plan to confront Brett, and it wasn't until Noah pressed the UP button that she realized they were ignoring her wishes.

"The ballrooms are on the lower level," she reminded him.

"Security is just above reception," Noah explained. As they ascended, he remarked, "We have to be cautious. We don't yet know who's involved with his scheme. I understand your wanting to be there to stop him from profiting from your work-"

She interrupted. "Oh, he won't be successful."

"You said the program wasn't complete, but couldn't he have finished it on his own?" Liam asked.

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"No," she replied. She thought for a second to come up with an analogy that was simple to understand. "Think of it like a giant jigsaw puzzle made up of thousands of tiny pieces," she said. "When you put the puzzle together you have a picture of a beautiful flower garden. Anyone who looks at it sees the entire picture, but you know one of the many pieces that make up a petal on a rose has no backing underneath it. Since you're the one who removed the backing, only you know where it is and how to replace it. Even if someone studies the puzzle with a magnifying glass, the garden will look complete and perfect, but that weak piece will disintegrate very quickly."

"Couldn't someone with enough time and knowledge figure out how to add what's missing?" Noah wondered.

She shook her head. "Not likely," she answered. "They won't be able to find it."

"Why not?"

"Because it isn't on the computer." She smiled and tapped her finger on her head. "It's here." The doors parted, and she stepped into the hallway. "Besides, it won't get to that point."

"How do you know?" Liam asked.

"Let's just say it's possible that my computer recently made a visit to his computer."

"How recently?" he asked as he followed close behind.

She shrugged and increased her pace.

"Then you did in fact hack into-," he began.

"You should have more faith in me. Don't you know me at all?"

Liam caught up with her at the door to the security room. "Yeah, that's the problem. I do know you."

Ordinarily guests wouldn't have access to the security center, but Noah had notified the manager. He hadn't asked for clearance. He'd simply told him they were coming.

Allison felt as though she had just walked into one of the rooms at the cyber unit. There were monitors along two walls with security personnel watching each area of the hotel.

"I want to confront Brett," she reiterated. "I want him to see me."

"That's not a good idea," Noah said.

Liam wasn't as diplomatic. "You're not going in there. Don't even think about it."

"I am thinking about it," she insisted.

She saw Noah smile, and that irritated her almost as much as Liam's high-handed tactics. Don't even think about it? She let Liam know she wasn't happy they were ignoring her plan. Her frown was hot enough to scorch him. He didn't seem bothered. He winked at her.

Standing between the two tall and powerful men, Allison had to concede she was grateful for their support. She had always thought of herself as someone who was strong and independent, who never relied on anyone else. Now, with Liam at her side, she understood how it felt to be protected. She had come to rely on him, and that was galling to admit. Very nice, though.

Noah pointed to two monitors that covered the small ballroom where Brett was to make his pitch. Allison moved closer to get a good look. The audience of twenty to thirty people sat in the folding chairs facing the stage as they waited for the presentation to begin. She recognized a few of them. They were millionaires and billionaires, yet no one would guess that fact based on their attire. Some were dressed in business suits, but the majority wore the uniform of most of the tech people she knew: jeans or khakis with T-shirts or sweaters. Several appeared to be acquainted and chatted amiably. At the side of the room a long table draped with a white tablecloth was loaded with a lavish spread of food on silver trays, everything from shrimp cocktail to caviar. Next to it stood a bartender behind a counter. He was ready to offer any drink the guests could want, but no one seemed interested. Allison noticed several of the guests glancing impatiently at their phones or watches as though there were more important uses of their time than listening to one more pie-in-the-sky dreamer who was convinced he had developed the next revolution for the computer world.

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