Evening walks, concerts and late night dinners at his place blurred the days into weeks. Braiden enjoyed her company.

Tonight, he’d been unable to sleep, and walked outside on the porch for fresh air, just as she drove by slowly and stopped. He paused, a knot formed in his stomach as he hurried down the path to her car, opened the door and held out his hand.

“Everything alright?”

“Too keyed up to sleep. Took a drive and wound up here. Saw your light on, and you stepped out.”

“Working late. Huh?”

Megan nodded.

With his hand at her lower back, he guided her up the steps to the carved wooden porch swing, picked up the blanket off the seat and tossed it over her shoulders. In the Rocky Mountains, the night air always had a chill, even in summer. The porch light’s soft glow washed over her and he noticed the dark circles under her eyes.

“What can I get you? I was about to fix a cup of tea for myself. Want one?”

“Sounds good.”

A shrill whistle caught his attention. The screen door banged as he ambled inside the cabin and took the kettle off the stove. He rummaged around in the kitchen cupboard for bags of chamomile tea, poured the steaming water into mugs, added a couple spoons of honey. Braiden eyed the whisky bottle, but left it sitting on the shelf, instead carried the cups outside.

“It looks like the long hours have caught up with you. No luck finding any help?”

“No, and if I spend any more time searching for someone, I’ll be that much further behind.” She wrapped her hands around the mug, took a sip and closed her eyes. “This is really good. Thank you.”

He settled into the chair opposite her. “So how close to done are you?”

“I’ve completed the updates, but the security protocol is another story. I tweaked the algorithm and it helped. But now the Transport Layer Security has an authentication problem.” She shook her head and sighed.

“A good night’s sleep might help.” Braiden suggested.

“Yeah.” She finished the tea and pushed up from the swing. “I’m going home, shut off the alarm and get up when I wake up. Thanks for the tea.”

“Anytime.” He walked her to the car then turned her to face him. She tilted her face up and he leaned into her, soft curves molded to the contours of his body. Lust shot straight to his groin, he went hard. His arms encircled her, sliding his hand to the small of her back, he pressed tighter against her. Megan wrapped her arms around his neck. His mouth covered hers, his tongue teased her lips open, slipped inside, exploring, and entwining sinuously with hers. Slowly he raised his mouth from hers, and gazed into her smoldering emerald eyes.

“Stay with me tonight,” he whispered, leaning over his lips brushing her ear, he felt the crush of her breasts as her heart thundered against his chest.

“You know I can’t but—can I get a rain check?” she said breathlessly.

“Sure.” Braiden hesitated then shifted away to open her car door, waited until she settled in and closed the door.

He watched her vehicle’s red tail lights fade into the darkness. As he walked into the house, he considered the situation. Megan was in dire need of help. But mixing business and a personal relationship was a recipe for disaster.
The next day, he attended various business meetings all day. He was involved with a program that gave hackers, who’d ran afoul of the law, a second chance to use their talents for the greater good. Understanding the hacker mentality of always searching for a challenge was part of him, and the reason he’d found success in mentoring these individuals.

Finally, Braiden arrived home for the evening, checked the yard and let Onyx out. Neither he nor Onyx wanted a repeat of the skunk incident from last year. Braiden carried his laptop outside on the porch and he settled into a chair.

Intrigued by Megan and her company, he flipped open the laptop, took out her business card and stared at it. The black and silver card only listed a PO Box as her business address. He accessed a government search program, typed in Megan O’Mera. His eyes scanned the information on the screen. She had ties to Homeland Security, headed their cyber team for a while before turning to the private sector. Interesting. It took a couple tries but he located her business address and jotted the information on the back of her card. Onyx sauntered up the stairs and stretched out next to Braiden’s chair. Absently, he scratched the dog’s ears and gave him a firm pat.

“Ready to go in?”

Early the next morning he snagged a mug of steaming coffee, stirred in a hot chocolate packet, took a sip and savored the mocha flavor as he strode out the door to his truck. The address listed as her business turned out to be an office building with rented office space, phone and secretarial services for the tenants.
He stepped into the lobby. The receptionist at the front desk, said Ms. O’Mera wasn’t in and refused to provide any further information.

The black and silver card in hand, Braiden pulled out his phone and dialed Megan’s cell phone. She answered on the first ring.

“Owl Security,” she said, her voice professional.

“Megan, its Braiden. Any luck with your employee search?”

“None,” she said, frustration seeped into her weary voice. “Every hour I spend… Never mind. It’s good to hear your voice.”

“Yours too. I have a business proposition for you. Want to meet at your office in say fifteen minutes?”

“I guess I could.”

“Don’t sound so excited.”

She laughed. “I gotta get dressed, I spent most the night at the office.”

He could hear her stifle a yawn over the phone. “If you need more sleep, it can wait.”

“That’s all right…I gotta get back to work… should have turned down this job. Do you need the address?”
“No, I’m already here.”

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