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Because she was a minor, her guardians demanded to receive every dime Allison earned, and each check they received they immediately spent. When Giovanni got wind of what they were doing, he opened an account for Allison at his bank, increased her base salary without telling the guardians, and deposited the difference. Allison appreciated the modeling jobs and especially the way Giovanni watched out for her financially, but when a couple of years had passed and she was ready to enroll in college, she knew it was time for a change of direction. There was no doubt in her mind that she had been programmed for something other than modeling. Her future had been determined the minute her sister showed her how to turn on a computer. She couldn’t remember how old she had been at the time, but she could attest that it was love at first keystroke. Back then she was a shy, quiet girl, and people’s behavior didn’t always make sense to her, yet computers did. She couldn’t explain how it happened. Maybe her brain was a computer, she theorized. It all just clicked inside her. Working on the computer was also a wonderful escape from her relatives and the endless turmoil at home. When Allison put on her headphones, all the noise and chaos were blocked out.

With each year of college that passed, her knowledge and enthusiasm increased. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t do with her laptop. Reading codes was one of her favorite pastimes. After she’d solved the problem for the residents of Sunset Gardens, breaking into supposedly impossible sites became a favorite activity. She began to expand her curiosity and her exploration. The lure of a complicated program was too enticing to pass up, and the more intricate, the better. She loved looking for bugs. These small programming errors were passages into some very sophisticated systems. She entered hundreds of sites this way, and yet she made sure no one would ever detect her presence. Aware that the bugs had the potential for making organizations and companies susceptible to destructive attacks, she took great pains to hide her tracks. Allison knew she was breaking the law by visiting protected sites, but in her defense, her intentions were purely innocent. To her, these were giant puzzles, and she was simply studying them to see how the pieces fit. She wasn’t doing anything harmful. No, she was actually being helpful. If she discovered an intrusion, she would block the hacker, and many times she removed viruses that could damage or even destroy companies. She had no trouble justifying her activities to herself, but deep down inside there was always a nagging voice warning her. If the authorities ever discovered what she was doing, she could have been in a lot of trouble.

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She loved college. It allowed her to move out of her aunt and uncle’s home and into a house near the campus. Moving day was as joyful as the Christmas mornings she’d shared with Charlotte and her husband when they had lived in Boston, and it was her fervent hope that she would never have to spend another night with her aunt and uncle. Her freedom meant she could concentrate on what excited her. While most of her classmates were hanging out at local drinking establishments, she was in her room playing with code. She wasn’t completely antisocial. She had made a few friends, but most of them were interested in other pursuits and didn’t share her passion. It was nice to have a friend like Jordan who understood, and Allison was looking forward to her seminar tonight.

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When she stepped out of the library, the air was frigid and damp with flurries that would soon turn into a full-blown snowstorm if the weatherman was correct with his forecast. The temperature was unseasonably low for early November. Fortunately, the house she shared with two other students was only three blocks away from the auditorium. She could cut across campus and be there in five minutes.

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The house was empty when she arrived. She rushed upstairs to her bedroom and changed into skinny jeans and a long-sleeve T-shirt, then pulled on a thick cream-colored cable-knit sweater and reached to the back of her closet for her leather knee-high boots. They were well-worn and comfortable and would keep her toes nice and warm. Her long brown hair went up into a ponytail. Typically she wore very little makeup, the exception being when she was on a photo shoot with Giovanni. After a little mascara and lip gloss, she was ready to go. Instead of her heavy winter coat, she put on her light gray down-filled quilted vest. It had so many zipper pockets she didn’t have to carry a purse or a backpack. Her keys and pepper spray went into one pocket; her small billfold with her money and ID went into another, tissues and cell phone into a third pocket, and there were still two empty pockets for her gray leather gloves. She wrapped the matching gray scarf around her neck twice, then tied the ends the way Giovanni had shown her. She had a killer wardrobe, thanks to him. Not only had he put money aside for her, but he also insisted she take the clothes she modeled as a bonus for a job well-done. 

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