Theirs to cherish, p.41
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.41

         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 41


  Given all that, if the money remained invested as it had been that October, it should still be a very sizeable fortune—somewhere north of five billion dollars a year ago. The market had been fairly stable since then. Holy shit.


  He’d had a billionaire’s daughter kneeling on the floor at his feet—the son of an unwed teenage mother and a philandering soldier with a girl in every military town. Instantly, Sean had a knee-jerk reaction to apologize to Callie, but he checked it. They weren’t defined by their pasts or their bank accounts. They’d chosen one another because they clicked. They stayed together because they were in love. He didn’t give a shit if her bank balance had ten zeroes or none.

  “You didn’t know that?” Thorpe looked at him as if Callie’s inheritance was obvious. Because it was. For a moment, he felt like an idiot.

  “Yeah, I did. It’s not relevant. I guess that means we’ll be doing whatever we have to in order to pry the blasted thing open. ”

  “Hammer and chisel it is,” Thorpe quipped and prowled through the bag on the table until he came up with the right tools.

  “Try not to break it. It really is sentimental for me. ”

  “I’ll do my best,” Thorpe said grimly.

  With that, he set the chisel against the faint line that bisected the egg and tapped on it as gently as he could. The sound filled the little room to overflowing. Sean winced, not wanting to think about what sort of damage they were doing to the artifact. Metal scraped metal in a high-pitched squeak that made him wince.

  After the next tap of the hammer, Callie hissed. Thorpe swore softly. Sean peered between them and saw a little dent in the gold of the rim—along with a small gap. With another tap, this one gentler, the two halves eased apart a bit.

  His heart jumped, and Callie gripped his hand with such sweet hope. With her free hand, she brushed Thorpe’s shoulder with a gentle touch that was equal parts adoration and thanks.

  Both he and Thorpe had fingers too thick to work into the little wedge. Besides, it was her egg, her life on the line. Sean prodded her forward. “Go on. See if there’s anything inside. ”

  A more tentative girl would have perhaps shaken the delicate piece to see if something spilled out or tried to take a closer peek at the innards to see if anything lurked within. Not Callie. She plunged her thumb and finger right into the little open space. There was no way her vision could help with this task, so she closed her eyes as she rooted around.

  Tension gripped the room, so pervasive it was a menacing presence all its own. Whatever they found here could make, break, or crush her. Then again, finding nothing wasn’t a palatable option either.

  A moment later, she gasped.

  “What?” Thorpe barked.

  “There’s something stuck here and it wouldn’t have been made with the egg. It’s thin and plastic. I’m trying to get my fingers on it. ” She fumbled a moment more, twisting and turning her wrist for a better grip.

  “Does it feel like anything familiar?” Sean asked her.

  She shook her head, getting more frustrated by the moment. “I can’t quite get it. ”

  “Do we need to just break the damn thing open?” Thorpe scowled. “Because I will if it helps you. ”

  Callie glanced at him with a face full of confidence. “No. I’ll manage. You know how determined I can be. ”

  Thorpe snorted. “Do I ever . . . ”

  Sean gritted his teeth. Damn it, they needed to stop bantering and hurry this along. What she found inside the egg could determine the sort of future he had with Callie. Would they be riding off into the sunset or living underground and on the run for the rest of their lives?

  “Got it!” she shouted triumphantly, twisting and turning her hand a few more times.

  Finally, she emerged with a flat little plastic square. It was blue and thin, and he hoped like hell they’d hit the jackpot.

  “It’s an SD card. ” Sean stated what was probably the obvious, then he blew out a breath. “Could your father have saved data on this, then hidden it in the egg?

  “Maybe. ” She shrugged. “No clue. ”

  “Then again, we didn’t have a computer among the inventory of his possessions at your house. How would he have saved the data?”

  “He had a laptop. He kept it mostly at his office, but brought it home occasionally. Why would he put data on this card instead of just keeping it on the computer?”

  “Maybe this was a backup?” Thorpe surmised. “We need to read what’s on this card ASAP. ”

  “Where the hell are we going to find a computer that reads SD cards?” Sean tried not to lose his cool.

  “Last night when I thought I’d be crashing in the spare room, I peeked in there. I saw an old desktop machine. Werner said he and his family occasionally take the boat out themselves, right? Maybe this is his floating office when he does. ”

  “Let’s go. ” Sean took Callie by the hand, making sure she still held the little blue card, and hustled her out of the galley behind Thorpe, falling in after her as the hall narrowed.

  They caravanned together past the bedroom they had all shared last night. Sean wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel about the sex. He’d never imagined sharing the woman he loved with another man. But he had to admit their romp on that lumpy bed had been one of the most pleasurable of his life. Seeing Callie’s fulfillment only added to the enjoyment. He itched to give that to her again.

  A few steps later, they entered the second bedroom. It was smaller and darker. The head of a double bed, with a faded white comforter covered in little flowers, butted up to the paneled wall. It looked soft and worn and ready for a Dumpster. A window to the left with a desk in the corner made up the rest of the room. An old CRT monitor crowded most of the desk. The tower sat on the faintly musty carpet.

  Thorpe yanked out the spindle-back chair and hunkered over the keyboard in front of the monitor that, from a technological prospective, had come from the Jurassic period. He bent and examined the computer, looking all along the sides and front for an SD card slot.

  “Found it! If everything still works, we’ll know whatever information was hidden in that egg soon. Give me the card, pet. ” Thorpe pressed the power button on the computer tower, and it flickered to life.

  Anxiety skittered through Sean’s system.

  As they waited for the old machine to croak its way through the boot-up process, Callie nibbled on her lip and fidgeted. “Why would my father have put anything on an SD card and hidden it in the egg, then given it to me?”

  “We may never know, lovely. ” Sean squeezed her hand in reassurance.

  She squeezed back. “Did anyone break into his office and take his computer there?”

  “Off the record? Yes. The authorities have kept that out of the press. But they ransacked his office—and nothing else in the building. As far as I know, everything else in the suite was destroyed, but nothing more was taken. ”

  “How is that possible? The security was pretty tight. And if I were guilty of murdering my father, why would I kill him, then run to his office to tear the place apart?”

  “Actually, we think the office was hit first, about eight p. m. that night. When whoever broke in didn’t find what they wanted there or on the laptop, they came to your house a couple of hours later and . . . you know the rest. ”

  “I was having dinner with my family before the murders, so I couldn’t have been breaking into his office. ”

  But the only people who could have corroborated that story were dead. She’d arrived at the table after the meal had been served and left before Teresita had come to clear the dishes.

  “Let’s see what the SD card holds,” Sean said. Because if it held nothing of value, then this whole discussion was pointless.

  A few tense minutes later, the computer finally finished its sequence and the desktop appeared. Thankfully, the operating system hadn’t been set up to require a password. S
o as soon as Thorpe shoved the card in the slot and navigated to the drive, only one folder appeared, named Aslanov. Inside that were files with purely numeric names that Sean guessed were dates. After fairly consistent entries for months, they stopped abruptly fifteen years ago, then resumed again about six weeks before Daniel Howe’s murder.

  “Aslanov. I guess that’s as in Dr. Aslanov. ” Callie frowned.

  Deep in his gut, Sean knew where this was going and he didn’t like it. “I suspect so. ”

  “My father gave him a huge grant, a new lab . . . the works. ” She frowned. “But something happened. I don’t know if they had a falling out or what. Suddenly, he just disappeared. ”

  Now Sean really didn’t like where this was going. “What’s in that folder, Thorpe?”

  He clicked on the little icon, and inside were dozens of documents with the same naming convention, looking as if they were based on dates.

  “Now what?” Callie asked beside him. “With one computer, how do we tackle this? I have to know what this says or I’ll go insane. ”

  Sean caught the concern on Thorpe’s face and nodded almost imperceptibly. Whatever was here might upset the hell out of her. It would likely be dangerous, too. Yes, Callie was an adult and had every right to know what they found. He had no intention of keeping facts from her, and her life really couldn’t get much more perilous. He simply wanted a chance to prepare her in the event the card held something shocking.

  “Lovely, there’s only one screen and three of us. How about you throw together a little snack for us while Thorpe and I wade through the information. Then we’ll share it. ”

  “You two can’t protect me from what I need to know,” she protested.

  “We won’t hide anything from you or delete information,” Thorpe vowed. “Just let us get an idea for what’s here. ”

  “You think I can’t handle whatever this says. ” If her tone hadn’t been an accusation, her pursed bow of a mouth definitely was.

  “I’ll admit to wanting to know what’s here before I spring it on you. ” Thorpe turned in his chair to regard her directly. “Is that so terrible?”

  Callie crossed her arms over her chest. “It is if you keep me in the dark. ”

  “I won’t. ”

  “And I won’t let him,” Sean promised. “Let us just read it first, all right?”

  She sighed. “Fine, but I want to know every word on that disc before I go to bed tonight. I need to know. ”

  “We’ll make sure you do as soon as we know something. ”

  “You’re still trying to shield me,” she said glumly.

  “Yes, I am, pet. ” He gave her a wry smile.

  “And you’re helping him. ” Callie pointed at Sean.

  “Yes, because I agree, and no amount of your pouting is going to change my mind. You’re more likely to earn yourself a punishment if you don’t let up. ” He sent her a hard stare.

  Callie looked like she bit back a thousand sarcastic replies. Instead, she managed a long-suffering sigh. “Yes, Sir. ”

  Not the attitude he wanted, but he understood her strain. The balance of her life might hang on that card and, after nearly a decade of mystery, she wanted the chance to solve her family’s murders. If closure was at hand, she had a right to it. It would help her move forward. It might give her—them—a future.

  Sean watched her leave the bedroom and march stiff-backed down the hall.

  “I don’t like any of this,” Thorpe said to him in hushed tones.

  “I don’t, either. But we’ll have to tell her as soon as we’ve figured out what that says. ”

  Thorpe nodded reluctantly. “Do you think her father put the card in the egg?”

  “And glued it shut, yes. Who else would have done that?”

  “Then he wanted this information hidden for some reason. ”

  “Or kept safe. But I’m trying to decide why he would give it to her. ” Sean rubbed an absent thumb over his chin. “To be less conspicuous, maybe, in case someone wanted the information badly enough to break in? But why not put it in his safe or keep it securely at the bank. ”

  “Daniel Howe wasn’t a stupid man. Maybe he had some inkling that Callie planned to run off. ”

  “And planned to take the egg with her?” Sean shook his head. “Daniel Howe was regarded as a bit eccentric, but what man stands by idly and lets his sixteen-year-old daughter run off with a player? That doesn’t add up. But I can imagine him wanting to hide the information in plain sight. He could still access it if he wanted. But since he went to the trouble to conceal the card in the egg, I have to believe that whatever it says, he wanted that information buried. ”

  “There’s no other way to see it. ” Thorpe sighed. “I’m almost afraid of telling Callie what we find. It probably got her family killed. ”

  “I can’t argue, but there’s no way we can keep this from her. If we find something, it will be a bombshell, I have little doubt. It might completely turn her world upside down. We have to be prepared. ” She’ll need us both. Sean bit the words back. Thorpe wasn’t ready to hear them.

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