She’s insidious, Pilar. Like a bad disease that lies in wait inside your body, poised to attack. Or a weed that grows in a lush garden, taking over and choking the beautiful flowers out until all that remains is the nasty, ugly weed that no one wants.
The phone on Violet’s desk rings and she goes to answer it, giving a few noncommittal replies until she ends the conversation with a clipped, “We’ll discuss it during the meeting,” before she hangs up and turns toward us. “Father asked if you were attending, Lily. He wants you there. I think it’s in your best interest that you show up. Though I must warn you, everything we discuss this afternoon is top secret. No one knows about the project and Father doesn’t want anything to leak.”
Dread consumes me and I stand, smoothing the skirt of my dress with trembling hands. “I don’t want to go to the meeting,” I blurt out, wanting them to know. Needing their support.
Rose turns to me, surprise written all over her face. “Why? It’s no big deal, Lily. We’re just offering our opinion on the scents. How hard can it be?”
“But Daddy will be there. Having to face him … makes me nervous.” Tears prick the corners of my eyes and I will them away. I refuse to fall apart. Not now, not before I see him and he can pick at my weaknesses.
I’m vulnerable enough, after what happened with Max. I’ve never felt so unloved, so unwanted, as I do at this very moment.
Which is so incredibly stupid, because I’m surrounded by love and support in the form of the two most important people in my world.
“He’ll get over it.” Violet grabs hold of my hand and squeezes it. “Just go in there and be yourself. The real you, Lily. Not the party girl who doesn’t care what anyone thinks as long as she’s having a good time.”
Her words make the air stall in my throat. Leave it to my sister to see right through me.
“You’ve got it in you,” Violet continues. “You’re smart. You know fashion and cosmetics and you’re always on trend. You’ll know exactly how to pick out the perfect scent that’ll represent your name. I believe in you. We all believe in you. You just need to learn how to believe in yourself.” She gives my hand a little shake before she lets go.
“Yeah. Don’t worry.” Rose comes to stand on the other side of me. “If Daddy gives you any trouble I’ll just tell him to fuck off.”
We all start to laugh. “Definitely don’t do that,” Violet says, pointing a stern finger at Rose.
“Thanks, you two,” I say, grabbing their hands and pulling them close to me. “I needed the pep talk. I’m not as comfortable here at Fleur as you are.”
“Fleur is as much a part of you as it is me,” Violet says. “And Rose. We’re all equals here. Don’t ever forget, Lily.”
I’ll try my best to take her advice.
“WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME.” I settle into the chair beside my friend—and computer expert—Levi Cates. He’s hunched over Lily’s laptop, his own laptop hooked up to it, endless streams of code filling the screen. “Got anything yet?”
“Quite a bit, actually. I’ve been saving it up so I can dump it on you all at once,” Levi says, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms behind his head. He’s a big motherfucker. I met him when we served in the army together and now he assists me on the complex computer jobs. I know plenty about code and getting into a system and I discovered a few things, but there were encrypted sections deep inside Lily’s laptop that were impenetrable. That’s when I called in Levi.
“Like what?” I crack open the water bottle I brought with me and take a few swallows, trying to calm my nerves. My forty-eight hours are up, as Pilar so kindly let me know via a nasty voicemail message she left a few hours ago. She plans on dropping by my office by the end of the day.
I never let her know I had the laptop, just informed her that the job was done. I wanted to find out what the hell was on that computer before I just handed it over.
“First, the owner of this laptop is an expert at infiltrating other people’s systems. As in, she’s a well-trained hacker,” Levi says as he continues to tap the keyboard, his gaze never leaving the laptop’s screen.
“I figured that out already.” And the realization shocked the hell out of me. I had no idea Lily had the skills in her. Though I’m sure I’m not the first person to underestimate the woman.
“Uh-huh.” Levi hits the enter key a few times and then turns to look at me, his dark brown eyes laser sharp behind his glasses. “She broke into multiple email accounts of one Pilar Vasquez.”
“Right. My client.” I nod, glad I didn’t give Levi any information before he started digging. That’s how it usually goes. I want him to find out the info on his own unless he asks me about it. “Wait a minute. Multiple accounts? I only saw one.”
“So Pilar Vasquez is your client? Interesting.” Levi returns his attention to the laptop. He hits a few more keys and brings up an in-box. “She works for Fleur, right? That’s the in-box you found? Not much to note on the surface—a few flirtatious emails between her and Forrest Fowler, who I looked up. He’s the CEO of Fleur.”
“Yeah, and he’s involved with Pilar,” I add.
“Got that from the tone of their correspondence. But here’s what’s interesting.” Levi skims his index finger across the track pad, opening a folder entitled Home Design. Most of the emails that pop up are older, but there are a couple of recent ones, including an email from a few weeks ago. “She’s been chatting up a Zachary Lawrence, who from what it looks like travels all over Europe for work—he’s also a Fleur employee—but his current home base is in France. And he’s engaging in rather explicit emails with Pilar.”