Nathalie blew out a shaky breath. Some of the tension left her body. “Okay. She stared at her hands. “You know, they’re the ones who found me,” she began softly. “I wouldn’t be alive today if not for Carson and Matt.”
Sterling shifted to the chair beside hers.
“I fought as hard as I could, and it still wasn’t enough.” She stared at the vacant leather chair. “There are still things I can’t do. You know how some people can just pig out at a buffet? I can’t do that or I’ll get sick. I don’t think I’ve had a steak or poultry in years.” She managed a self-deprecating smile. “Every now and then I’ll try a small piece of steak, but it stays on my stomach.”
“You are strong and you have overcome many obstacles to be where you are today,” Sterling praised. “You have the love and devotion of not one, but two very eligible men. You know how very proud of you I am.”
A soft smile creased her lips. “Thank you,” she
He stood. “You call me”—he held her gaze—“anytime. Anywhere.”
Nodding, she stood. “I better get back to work or they really will know something is up.” She strode across the room . Her hand was on the knob before she stopped and looked over her shoulder. “ Have you noticed anything strange with the computers?”
He furrowed his brow. “Strange how?” He settled behind his desk again.
She opened the door. “Random letters and numbers.”
He shook his head. “Can’t say I have.” He glanced at a planner on his desk. “We’re due to upgrade the hardware in a couple of months. Carson updated the servers last week, and I made sure the weekly updates were done last night.”
She nodded. “Thanks, Sterling. Now I need to type up my report, since my computer is on the fritz.” She made sure her voice carried to the other office.
“User error,” came the pithy retort.
Sterling chuckled and she smiled.
“Remember that tonight when we’re at the party,” she warned, walking toward Carson’s open door. She leaned on the jamb. Matt sat on a corner of the desk, while Carson typed away.
“Reboot your terminal,” Carson said without looking up.
She crossed the room, kissed Matt , then walked behind the desk and kissed Carson.
Carson stopped typing and caught her wrist. He looked her over. “What’s wrong?”
Matt shifted and studied her.
“Do I need a reason to show the men I love some affection?” She tugged at her wrist and Carson released her. Quickly, she moved out of reach.
The men exchanged a quick glance.
Nathalie tucked a tiny braid behind her ear. She willed her rapid pulse to slow. They could be unnaturally perceptive when they wanted. Now was not the time for that. “I’m really looking forward to tonight,” she deflected. “It’s not often I get to spank two delectable asses at one time.”
“I think she’s going to derive just a tad too much pleasure in this party,” Matt said.
Carson held Nathalie’s gaze. She refused to look away.
“Did you pack the toy bags?” he wanted to know.
Carson nodded, then resumed typing.
Nathalie pivoted on her heel and made her escape. If she glanced back, she would know she hadn’t fooled either one of them.
Quiet sobbing bounced off the cinderblocks, before a creak overhead cut through the sound.
“Shh,” Ruth hissed. “He’s coming.”
Thump-thump-thump. Agatha stared at the exposed floor joists and followed the dull creaks and thumps with her eyes. If she leaned far to the left she could just make out a set of rickety steps at the far end of the room.
Were they in a basement or cellar? It had to be a cellar since the floor was solid packed dirt and not concrete. She touched the wall. Cool, but not damp. She squinted at the mortar. New. She swung her attention to the bars and wood at the front of the cell.
The iron held a faint sheen or newness, same as the door. No warping or dullness to give it that old and neglected feel. She sniffed the air. The faint scent of fresh cut wood filled her nostrils. She sniffed again. Was that varnish she smelled?
Clomp-clomp squeak. Tension rose. Agatha tightened her hands into fists at her side. She held her breath as the footsteps came closer. His scent, a subtle woodsy pine, hit her first.
“Good evenings, ladies,” he greeted. His voice was low and gravelly, like he’d been a chain smoking hardcore drunkard all his life. “I trust you’re giving our new edition the rules?”
“Why did you bring me here?” Agatha demanded.
He moved closer, but his face remained in shadows. “To keep you safe?”
“Safe from what?”