Major Crimes, page 4
The next morning before the sun was even up, Cain sat in the diner a few blocks away from the Bluewater Grill. Hayley was supposed to meet him here in twenty minutes.
She damn well better show up. When she’d walked away yesterday, he’d let her go. But he’d stayed, had lunch, even suffered through an hour of reminiscing with Timothy.
When Hayley had come out of the kitchen to refill the ice in the server’s station, he’d caught her glance. He’d seen her big brown eyes widen, then narrow, from all the way across the restaurant.
Eventually she’d made her way back over to him.
“Why are you still here?”
He’d leaned back in the booth like he didn’t have anywhere else in the world to be. “Because you haven’t listened to what I have to say yet.”
For just a second she’d looked at him as though she would like to push him into oncoming traffic. Cain didn’t mind. He would take that any day over how breakable she’d looked a couple of hours before. “Fine. If I listen to you, will you leave?”
“It will take more than two sentences. You’ll have to sit down. Give me a few minutes.”
Hayley had looked over her shoulder at Timothy, who’d been glaring. And just like that the anger was gone. Breakable was back.
“I can’t.” She started loading dishes off his table and putting them in the bin she’d carried out. “I don’t have any more time today.”
Damn it. Cain had wanted to punch something. And it might have been Timothy if he’d started harassing Hayley again. But that would’ve just added to her distress.
“You’re working a double tomorrow, too?” he asked.
She’d nodded and wiped down his table.
“Fine. Meet me for breakfast at the diner down the block in the morning before your shift starts.”
She grimaced. “Fine. Six thirty. You’ll have thirty minutes.”
He’d left after that. Mostly because he couldn’t bear to stay in there and watch Hayley work so hard and look so damn fragile.
Forget the mole, all he wanted to do was steal Hayley away from here, take her to a beach house somewhere and let her just sit out in the sun.
And feed her, for God’s sake. Meal after meal until she finally put enough weight on to be considered thin. And exhaustion and fear didn’t blanket her every expression.
Cain scrubbed a hand over his face. He felt like he was missing some important piece of this puzzle. He could understand why Hayley was working at the Bluewater, and even the difficulty in getting a job. But why the hell was she working herself to the bone? The cost of living in Georgia wasn’t so high that she needed to work eighty hours a week to get by.
What the hell had happened to her? Had life in prison been that bad? Or adjusting back into society that difficult? Hayley was so damn smart. He’d halfway thought she would use her time incarcerated to plan a new business or get her college degree. Maybe the no-computers decree had disrupted whatever plans she’d made.
She obviously needed money in a pretty desperate way. Omega was willing to pay her a hefty consultant’s fee for her help in catching the mole.
Of course, Cain was also going to have to carefully watch where that money was being spent. There weren’t a lot of good reasons he could think of that would have her working herself into the ground, but there were a lot of bad ones.
Buying her way back into the den of hackers was the most obvious. Maybe she had to have a certain dollar amount by the time her computer restrictions were lifted on her parole.
Cain’s hands clenched into fists. He’d be damned if he was going to let her drop back into that life again.
So maybe this mission was going to serve more than one purpose: catch the mole inside Omega and save Hayley from herself.
But first she had to show up this morning. Even if it was only so Cain could feed her.
He got a cup of coffee and put in an order for a full breakfast for both of them about ten minutes before Hayley was scheduled to arrive. He wasn’t going to let not having enough time be an excuse not to eat. Although he was hoping to talk her out of going to work altogether. The consultant’s fee would be at least five times what she would make busing tables and washing dishes.
He saw her instantly as she entered the diner, long blond hair pulled back in a braid. She had a large canvas bag over one shoulder and was already in her Bluewater T-shirt and khaki pants. Damn restaurant didn’t even open for another four hours, so why the hell did she need to go in so early?
He knew the moment she saw him, tension shooting into her small frame like someone had fused a metal pipe to her spine. He stood as she got to their booth. She at least looked a little less tired than yesterday afternoon.
“I don’t have long. I have to clock in by seven,” she said by way of greeting.
“Good morning.” He ignored her abrupt words as she slid into the booth across from him.
“This isn’t a date, Cain. Not even a breakfast between friends. Tell me what it is you have to say.”
He slid into the seat across from her. “We’ll talk with breakfast.”
“I don’t have time for breakfast.”
“Tough. I already ordered for both of us.”
She glared at him, fire burning even higher in her eyes when the waitress brought their food less than a minute later.
He just shrugged. “Everybody’s got to eat. You more than most.”
“What are you trying to say, Bennett?”
He definitely didn’t want to get into a fight with her and cause her to not eat just out of spite. “I’m saying you’re working a double today. So you need to eat.”
He dug in to his own food, relieved a few moments later when she did the same.
“You got what I liked. Thank you,” she said softly.
Fried eggs, hash browns with all the fixings, sausage, bacon. Nothing sweet. She’d always said sweet food made her coffee—which she took with a god-awful amount of cream and sugar—not taste sweet enough. He’d never forgotten, didn’t think he ever would.
He nodded and kept eating, waiting until she had a huge bite of food in her mouth before asking his next questions.
“Why are you working so hard, Hayley? At the Bluewater. Why so many double shifts?”
She looked like she was going to light into him. He expected it, actually, thus the timing of his question when she couldn’t easily answer.
“I know it’s partially because finding a job as an ex-felon isn’t easy and you took what you could get. But you shouldn’t have to be working so hard that you’re exhausted all the time. Timothy mentioned you work as many hours as you can every week.”
The man had also said it as though he’d been doing Hayley some great favor by allowing her to work that much.
She shrugged, finally finished chewing. “That’s what you have to do when you’re not even making minimum wage.”
Cain’s eyes narrowed. “Unless you’re waiting tables or something where you’re making tips, he’s required by law to pay you at least minimum wage.”
“You stay out of it. I will handle Timothy.” That pinched look was back in her eyes. Cain wasn’t trying to add to her stress.
“Even if he isn’t paying you quite minimum wage—” and Cain would be looking into that “—you still shouldn’t need to work eighty hours a week to get by here in Gainesville. It’s not like Georgia has some ridiculously high cost of living.”
“Is that what you brought me here for? To remind me that I have a crappy job and pretty crappy future ahead of me?”
“I already made my feelings about the arrest clear yesterday. As for every other part of my life, including when or how long I work, it’s none of your business.”
He held out a
She took another bite and he relaxed a little. But he was running out of time.
And what did he expect, that she was just going to tell him everything going on in her life? Especially if it had to do with potentially illegal activities.
“I brought you here to offer you a job. With Omega Sector.”
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What kind of job could you possibly want me for?”
“We need your computer skills to catch someone providing critical information to a specific criminal.”
“Doesn’t Omega Sector have its own computer crimes division?”
Cain nodded. “Yes. But we have a mole inside Omega. A good one. I need someone who’s even better, who’s not in law enforcement. That’s you.”
“I’m not the only great hacker.”
“You’re the only one I know I can trust.”
She rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe you can even say that with a straight face.”
He set his coffee cup back down. “When it comes to this, I do trust you. Completely. You may have made some questionable decisions four years ago, for whatever reason, but I know you wouldn’t want to ever hurt anyone. The person we’re trying to find is a murderer, Hayley.”
He thought of Grace Parker’s face as Freihof’s knife slit her throat. Catching the mole inside Omega would be a direct link to putting him away for good.
“Yeah, I’m not a murderer at least.”
“Of course you’re not. I hope you know I never thought you would hurt somebody else. No matter what damage you might be able to do with a computer, you’ve always had too big a heart to hurt people.”
She stirred the last of her hash browns around on her plate.
“Look, Cain.” It was the most gentle tone he’d heard from her. “I don’t really have time for another job. The Bluewater keeps me pretty busy. Plus, I’m not allowed near computers as part of my parole agreement.”
“Actually, I’m hoping you’ll be able to find the mole’s movements by looking through files of code I’ve printed. Won’t need you near a computer.”
He took out the file that held the contract for the work Omega wanted her to do, including what she would be paid, and slid it over so she could see it. He felt better when her eyes got a little wide at the number. Although, damn it, that meant the Bluewater really was paying her below minimum wage.
“This amount is to complete the project. Find the traitor inside Omega. That might take you a day, might take you three weeks. If it takes longer than either of us are thinking, then we’ll renegotiate for a larger amount.”
Cain knew she’d already read the contract, at least the pertinent details. Hayley could read twice as fast as the average person. But she still wasn’t looking up at him, giving him any indication if she was going to say yes.
“Hays.” He used his old high school nickname for her and reached out and touched her hand where it sat on the table. “I will help you. Whatever is going on, whatever reason you’re working yourself to death, even if you’re inching yourself back toward trouble, I’ll help you. You help me catch this mole, and I’ll help you with whatever it is that’s weighing so heavily on you.”
* * *
HAYLEY LOOKED AT where Cain’s big hand rested over hers, so strong and capable.
His words, the promise behind them, were just like old times. Back when it was the two of them against the world.
God, she was so tired. She wanted to lean into his strength. She wanted to tell him about everything—about Mason, about the people she was afraid would be coming after them once she could go near a computer again, about everything.
But that would be the worst possible thing she could do. Might cost her all she held precious. She couldn’t lose Mason again. And if Cain found out he had a son and decided he wanted custody, what judge wouldn’t give it to him over a mother who was an ex-con with dubious future employment?
She slid her hand out from under his, the touch too painful a reminder of what was never going to be again. She really didn’t blame Cain for the arrest, but they were never going to go back to what they were.
She picked up the contract, glancing at it again. The money. This might really make a difference for her. For getting out of the hole, being ready to run with Mason if needed.
She couldn’t turn down this amount of money, even if it would be dangerous working with Cain.
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
She could see relief all across his handsome features. That black curl sliding toward his forehead as it always had. He looked so comfortable sitting there in his black T-shirt and jeans. She forced herself to look away. It wasn’t fair that she could still be attracted to him after all these years and after everything that had happened between them.
“You’ll have to quit your job at the Bluewater,” he said.
“I’m going to need that job after this project for Omega Sector is finished. It’s not great but at least it’s regular, dependable work.”
He looked like he was going to argue. But finally just said, “Fine, but you’ll have to take a leave of absence for a few weeks.”
Hayley nodded although she had no plan to do that. First of all, Timothy would never go for a “leave of absence.” He’d just fire her. Second, since she was going through papers, she could do that when she wasn’t working. Maybe she might have to cut back on a couple of shifts, but it would be worth it.
“Can you start today? Time is of the essence in catching this guy.”
“Guy?” Hayley raised an eyebrow. “You’re assuming your mole is male?”
“Actually, one of my prime suspects is female. I definitely have no assumptions of gender when it comes to crime.”
Was that an insult against Hayley personally? Or was it just that Cain was too good at his job to be fooled by someone just because of their gender? And Cain was an excellent agent, she had no doubt about that.
“I’ll have to go in to the restaurant for at least a couple hours. I can’t just leave them in a lurch. But then I’ll clear off as much of my schedule as I can.”
Cain nodded. “I thought we could work out of my parents’ house. They moved down to Florida, but still kept the place here.”
Hayley’s lips tightened. She didn’t necessarily want to go back to the place where they spent so much time in high school. But what choice did she have? She definitely didn’t want Cain coming to her apartment and seeing Mason.
“Fine. I’ll meet you there in a few hours. You know this would go much more quickly if I could scroll through a computer screen rather than have to read code on paper, right?”
Suspicion immediately shuttered his features. “Paper. That’s what we’re working with. No computers.” His tone was final.
He thought she was going to get back into trouble if she could get online. If only he knew trouble was going to find her as soon as she did. Possibly the worst kind of trouble.
She’d worry about that another day. Right now she had to worry about how she was going to work day in and day out with one of the best agents of the most prestigious law enforcement agency in the country while keeping the biggest possible secret from him.
The strands of printed code began to blur in front of her eyes and Hayley’s head jerked up as it started to fall forward in sleep.
“Whoa there, girl, you all right?” asked Mara, the Bluewater’s newest employee, setting a cup of coffee on the desk near the papers Hayley was going through.
The beautiful smell of it revived Hayley slightly, at least enough to pry her eyes open. “Coffee. You’re a goddess, Mara. Thank you so much.”
“Honey, I know we
For four days Hayley had been scouring the computer code printouts Cain had given her. The first day she’d met Cain over at his parents’ old house and, studiously forgetting that the bed in which they’d first made love was just right upstairs, they’d pored over the files together.
That afternoon he’d received a call and had to leave to go to one of the Omega Sector offices. So he’d given Hayley the printouts of the computer code, all six huge legal file boxes of them, to work on while he was gone for two or three days.
He’d expected her to be working on them every day. And she had. She’d brought them home that night and studied them deep into the night after spending time with Mason and putting him to bed.
She’d brought a box to the Bluewater with her and, like Mara pointed out, had been going over them every spare second she had. Unfortunately that hadn’t been much since she’d worked three double shifts in a row, fourteen hours a day each.
She talked to Timothy about reducing her hours, but when he’d started murmuring about hiring someone to take her place, Hayley knew she couldn’t do it. His hiring Mara had scared her enough and she was mostly just a waitress. She was not going to take Hayley’s job.
She needed to make more progress on the computer code, but she couldn’t afford to lose the livelihood she would need once Cain was gone. Of course, if she didn’t find some answers soon, Cain might fire her and try to find someone else to help.
“Honey, what is that stuff?” Mara asked as Hayley took a sip of her coffee. “I glanced at it but it didn’t seem to make a bit of sense to me.”
Hayley smiled at the older woman with big brassy blond hair. “Computer code.”
“What are you reading computer code for? Do you do that for fun?” Mara’s look placed the thought just above root canals.
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