Holy irony, Batman.
As a teen, I hacked into a company and waved a virtual victory flag in the founder
and CEO’s face. Nine years later, I’m interviewing for a job there. And not just any job—one in infosec. Information systems security, that is. If I get the job, I’ll be defending the company against hackers. Like Catgirl—my old
So here I sit, in the opulent lobby of SeCure’s international headquarters, wondering if they’ll somehow recognize me and send me out in handcuffs.
A group of employees stroll past me, laughing and talking. They look relaxed and happy, like they’re headed into a resort, not their nine-to-five grind.
I want this job.
I changed my outfit approximately ninety-seven times this morning—and I usually
don’t care what I wear. But this is the interview of a lifetime, and I’ve obsessed over getting every detail right. In the end, I chose a sleek black suit, the kind with a fitted jacket and short, tight skirt. I opted for no hose, going bare-legged, but stuffed my feet in a pair of high heels. Underneath the suit jacket went my favorite Batgirl shirt. It fits tight around my chest, and the hot pink glittery bat nestles perfectly between the lapels of my jacket.
The outfit screams “young and hip” IT genius, while the suit flips a nod to the conservative corporate thing. I debated over heels or Chucks, but, in the end, the heels won out. Which is too bad, because when Stu, my contact, comes down for me, I’ll have to stand up in them. And walk.
If my teenage hacker self saw me now, she would laugh in my face and call me a sellout. But even she shared my obsession with SeCure’s billionaire founder/ owner, Jackson King. An obsession that’s morphed into admiration with a heavy dose of attraction.
Okay, it’s a crush. But Jackson is totally crush worthy. Billionaire philanthropist, he’s endlessly impressive. Not to mention smoking hot. Especially for a geek.
And the one moment we shared—the moment when I made it past all his security measures and found myself face-to-face with him—well, cursor to cursor—is branded in my memory as the hottest encounter of my youth. I didn’t steal anything from him. I simply wanted to see if I could get in—crack the genius code. I backed out after he found me, and never risked going back.
Now, I might have another shot at cyber sparring with King, and the thought thrills me.
Especially since, this time, my actions wouldn’t be illegal.
I shoot to my feet, hand already extended, ready to shake. I only wobble a little on the heels. “Hi.” I sound breathless. I force my shoulders down and smile as I grip the offered palm.
“Hi, I’m Stu Daniel, infosec manager here at SeCure.” He looks like a proper nerd, glasses, collared shirt, slacks. Thirty or so. His eyes flick to the pink bat in the middle of my boobs and then away. Maybe the T-shirt was a mistake.
I keep pumping his hand, probably for too long. I read five business books to prep for today, but can’t remember what Interviewing For Dummies said about the proper length of time to shake a hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Fortunately, Stu is just as awkward as I am. His eyes keep detouring downward. Not like he’s trying to perv, but like he’s too shy to maintain eye contact. “If you’ll follow me, we’ll head to the sixth floor for the interview.”
In addition to unbreakable cyber security, SeCure’s physical fortress is also well-protected. When I walked in across the gleaming marble floors and checked in at main reception desk, they told me to wait in the lobby for an “escort” to my interview.
I trail after my escort. “Beautiful building you have here.”
Okay, that was lame. I suck at small talk. Like, really suck. Maybe I shouldn’t have
spent the last eight years hiding from all social interaction. IT geeks shouldn’t have to interview like normal people. They should just have to take a test or hack something. But, presumably, SeCure already knows about my code-cracking abilities, or so the headhunter said. I nearly choked on my coffee when she called me up out of the blue. I thought it was a prank by one of my old online compatriots—the Clean Clan. But, no, it was legit.
Besides, the chances of anyone from my old life finding me now are nil. At least, I hope so.
Stu leads me to the elevator bank and hits the up arrow. The doors of one elevator swing open to reveal a man in an elegant suit, his head bent over his phone. Tall and broad-shouldered, he takes up more than his fair share of the elevator. Without looking up, he moves to the side to make room for us.
Stu lets me step on first, and I push down panic. It’s a small elevator, but not too small. I can handle it. If I get the job, I’ll find out where the stairwells are.
I focus on the bright buttons and hope it’s a fast ride.
Before my escort can board, someone calls his name.
“One sec,” Stu says as a young woman bustles over, followed by two other people.
“Stu, the Galileo server shut down this morning…”
Great. Just what I need—extra time in an elevator. I swallow, ignoring the prickling on my skin. A panic attack will not make a good impression.
Stu takes his foot out of the door as the young woman opens her laptop to show him something.
The door snicks closed, and the elevator ascends. Just like that, I’ve lost my escort. So much for tight security.
I punch the number six button. I know where I’m going. The sooner I’m off this tiny box of death, the better.
We’re halfway up when the lights flicker. Once, twice, then off.
“What the…” I trail off to focus on breathing. I have about a ten second window before full on freak out.
The suit next to me mutters something. The light from his phone casts an eerie blue
light on the walls.
The elevator car grinds to a stop.
Oh no. Here it comes. My heart slams in my chest; my lungs grab for breath.
Stop, I tell my panic. It’s nothing. The elevator will start up again in a second. You’re not stuck here.
My body doesn’t believe me. My stomach clutches, skin grows clammy. Everything goes dark. Either my vision has dimmed or the guy has just put his phone to his ear. I sway on my feet.
The big guy curses. “No reception in here.”
My heel twists under me, and I grab the rail, breath coming in quick gasps.
“Hey.” The guy has a voice to match his giant size, deep and resonant. I’d find it attractive under different circumstances. “Are you freaking out?” Slight disdain in his tone.
Not my fault, buddy. “Yeah.” I barely get the word out on a pant. My death grip on the handrail tightens.
Stay on your feet. Don’t faint—not now. Not here.
“I don’t like small spaces.” Understatement of the year.
Did the elevator just move? Or is my body reeling out of control? Old panic grips me. I’ll die in here. I’m never going to get out.
Two large hands push me back against the elevator wall, pinning me with pressure on my sternum. “Wh-what are you doing?” I gasp.
“Triggering your calm reflex.” He sounds calm, as if he shoves hyperventilating girls up against a wall on a daily basis. “Is it working?”
“Yeah. Having a strange guy grab me always calms me down.” I swore I’d hide my
sarcasm until I landed the job, but here it comes, spewing out. Being seconds away from passing out will do that to a girl.
“I’m not grabbing you,” he says.
“That’s what all the guys say,” I mumble.
His short chuckle cuts off as soon as it starts. Almost like he didn’t mean to let it out.
Who is this guy?
My heart rate slows, but my head still spins. I’ve never had a man stand so close to me before. Not to mention touch me. A few inches over, and he’d be cupping my chest.
Now, there’s a thought. Sensations I haven’t felt before outside the privacy of my bedroom thrill through me.
“Not that I mind you groping me,” I babble. “I just think you should buy me dinner first—”
His hands leave my sternum so fast, I lurch forward. Before I can fall, he catches my shoulders and flips me around. He locks his arms around me from behind, applying pressure to my breastbone again.
“How’s this?” He sounds amused. “Better? I don’t want my good deed to get me written up by HR.”
God, his voice. His lips are right next to my ear. He’s not trying to seduce me, but, man oh man...
“Sorry.” My voice strangles a bit. “I didn’t mean to accuse you. What I meant was...thank you.”
For a moment, he doesn’t move, and I breathe into his firm hands, surrounding me, protecting me, keeping me safe. And all I can think is…wow. I thought a panic attack would be bad. Now I’m stuck in an elevator, wrapped in a total stranger’s arms. So. Very. Turned. On. It’s like my pussy is disconnected from my body. The rest of me is running around wringing my hands with worry, but my hooha thinks being manhandled by a stranger in a dark elevator is a good reason to get all excited.
“You should sit down.”
Apparently, I have no choice, because he lowers me to the ground with steady, inexorable pressure. Once there, he eases me against the wall, his firm, yet gentle hands maneuvering me like a doll. Sharp words dance on the tip of my tongue—I’m a
grown woman, not Barbie—but sitting feels good. Despite his blunt caveman act, he’s taking care of me. I almost miss his hands on my sternum.
“Where’d you learn that?” I ask to distract myself from the fact I’m trapped in a tight rectangle of space with a guy who has no qualms about running his hands all over me. I am totally qualm-less about it, too, though I wish I could remember what he looks like. All I have is a vague impression of a rugged jaw and air of impatience. I was too focused on psyching myself up to ride the elevator to check him out.
“Years and years of terrifying women in dark places.”
Ah. A kindred spirit in dry wit. I like him even more. “Thanks,” I say after a moment.
He sits down next to me, his suit jacket brushing mine. “You’re still freaking out.”
“Yeah, but it’s better. Talking would help. Can we talk?”
“Okay.” He adopts a German accent to sound like Freud, “Ven did you first notice zee problem?”