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"Don’t underrate yourself," he argued. "This was not a job just anyone with computer skills could have done."

"What happens now?"

"Alec and I take it from here." He pushed his chair back and hurried out of the room, saying, "Sit tight while I talk to Phillips. Then I’ll take you home."

Allison foolishly thought Phillips would want to wait until Monday to question her, but Phillips, being Phillips, felt compelled to get some answers now. He called her into his office, pointed to the chair, and proceeded to question her for two full hours. Liam was there the entire time, leaning against the wall with his arms folded, watching her.

Phillips didn’t care how late the hour was. He wanted to know some of the searches she’d done, and he was having difficulty understanding how she had arrived at what he called point zero so quickly. She gave Liam the "get me out of here" look several times, which he completely ignored. Phillips didn’t stop his inquisition until eight o’clock. By then she was ready to pull out her hair . . . and his. Six months working under his thumb was going to be an eternity.

THIRTEEN

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By the time they left the office, neither Liam nor Allison was in the mood to talk. He offered to take her to dinner, but she declined. She was too tired to eat and only wanted a hot shower and ten hours of sleep.

What she didn’t want was to say good-bye to Liam for the last time.

Just a couple of blocks away from her apartment, Liam finally broke the silence. "What are you thinking about? You look so . . . worried."

She wasn’t about to tell him the truth, that she was going to miss him. Instead she turned to him and said, "You completely ignored my signals."

"What signals?"

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"I was giving you the look, letting you know I wanted to get out of there."

He flashed a smile. "Ah, you mean the glares."

"Okay, the glares," she conceded.

"You shouldn’t be frowning now. You should be happy and damn proud of yourself. You found the proof Alec and I needed."

"I am happy," she insisted, sounding ridiculously defensive. "Maybe now you and Alec won’t think I’m such a horrible person."

"No one thinks you’re horrible," he said, his exasperation apparent in his tone. "And why do you care what anyone thinks?"

If she was to give him an honest answer, she would sound pitiful, though at times that was exactly how she felt. The truth was, she had never had a close relationship with anyone but her sister. She had kept most people at a safe distance, and that was the way she liked it. She was an intensely private person. At least, that was her excuse for being so introverted. She didn’t want anyone to look too closely into her background, because she was embarrassed and a little ashamed. The less others knew about her, the safer she felt. Every time she stepped outside her comfort zone, she felt vulnerable.

Odd, she was so cautious about her private life and yet she was able to set aside her inhibitions when she modeled for Giovanni. She couldn’t really explain the contradiction, but when Giovanni and his team transformed her with their makeup and clothes, it was almost as though she became another person wearing a mask no one could see behind.

She loved and trusted Giovanni with all her heart, and although it had taken time, she had grown to care for and trust her housemate Dan. And yet neither one knew what she could do with a computer. During Phillips’s long interrogation, he had actually referred to her as a master criminal. She wondered what Giovanni or Dan would think about that. They probably wouldn’t believe him, and if they did, they would have been shocked.

Her friendship with Jordan was different. She knew that Allison was a hacker and had broken several laws, yet she still remained her friend. She also knew a little about how dysfunctional Allison’s home life had been and wasn’t deterred. If Allison was ever sent to prison, she wasn’t positive Jordan would bring her a cake with a file in it, but she had a strong feeling Jordan might try.

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"I asked you a question," Liam reminded her, bringing her back from her musings.

"I don’t like people thinking I’m a criminal."

Before he could comment she rushed on. "Oh, I know what you’re going to say. ‘You are a criminal.’ Okay, yes, I guess you could look at it that way. That’s all in the past, though. Haven’t you ever heard of second chances, for Pete’s sake?"

"Allison-"

She interrupted to finish her thought. "And that’s why I insisted that, along with immunity, you and Alec both give me your word that only a select few would know what I’ve done."

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