Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

I blinked at him. Who was this boy? He was young but older than I was. And while he wasn’t big and muscled like the tattooed guy, he was tall and could probably put up a fight.

“Did you hear me?” he asked when I didn’t reply. “When I say go, you stay low and head behind the counter at the Pizza Crust. Okay?”

“He…he’ll shoot us,” I stammered out.

“That’s why we have to be fast.” He lifted his head and glanced around. “Shit,” he muttered, putting his cheek back to the tile and closing his eyes.

I stared at his long, fluttering lashes for several seconds, debating if I was seriously going to trust this kid. I didn’t know him any better than I knew the shooter. But he was all I had. Help in any form, even that of a lanky teenage boy, was better than nothing.

His eyes were still closed, his breathing shallow and his body completely still, when he suddenly reached out and used two fingers to close my lids.

“It’s going to be okay,” he whispered so quietly that, had he not been mere inches away, I wouldn’t have heard him.

And for the first time since I’d seen my father collapse, I felt a spark of hope that maybe it would be okay.

Flattening my palm against the cool tile, I slid my hand over until I found the tips of his fingers. The footsteps were getting closer, but that boy didn’t delay in moving his index finger to rest on top of mine.

It was such a small gesture, but it brought tears to my eyes.

For a terrified little girl, playing dead to hide from a madman, it was sweetest thing he could have done.

With nothing more than the pad of his finger resting on mine, I wasn’t alone anymore.

I didn’t know who he was or where he’d come from, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that when he said go, I was going with him.





CAVEN



Fourteen years later…



“I wish I had more words. Well, honestly, I wish Ian had words. But, somehow, he always finds the back of the room.”

“It’s not by accident!” he yelled, causing everyone to laugh.

“I guess the only thing left to say is thank you. To all of you who helped us get here. And especially to all of those who doubted we ever would.” Smiling, I lifted the bottle in the air. “To Kaleidoscope!”

The cork on the champagne sprang free, spilling bubbles all over my hardwood floors. A dozen of my friends, their dates, and a few assholes I pretended to like cheered as I tipped the seven-hundred-dollar bottle up for a sip before wiping my mouth on the sleeve of my blue button-down.

“Easy there, or you’ll be worthless tonight,” Veronica purred as she sidled up beside me, pressing her thin body and huge breasts against my side. Her golden-blond hair fell like silk over her bare shoulders, and her tight, strapless, red dress left little to the imagination.

However, after the way she’d been eye-fucking me all night, I didn’t suspect she wanted me to use my imagination at all.

Smirking, I slid my free arm around her waist. We’d been playing the forbidden cat-and-mouse game for months. Her throwing herself at me. Me pretending that I didn’t want to fuck her senseless. But, with the deal closed and the money in the bank, I was officially a free man. Well, not that I hadn’t been a free man before. I’d been blissfully single for the majority of my life. But since we’d met three months earlier, Veronica had been off-limits. She was the personal assistant to Stan Gotham—billionaire owner of tech giant Copper Wire. Which happened to be the computer company that had just purchased my college start-up for six-hundred-eighty-six million dollars.

Hold on. Let me repeat that.

Six hundred.

Eighty-six.

Million.

Dollars.

No woman in the world was worth screwing up that kind of deal.

Eight years earlier, when I’d started Kaleidoscope with my best friend, Ian Villa, we couldn’t even get his parents to invest in our facial recognition software. Companies like Google and Facebook had been lightyears ahead of us, but never underestimate two college kids with a fierce determination to avoid a nine-to-five. Turns out, not getting a job was the hardest job of all. I wasn’t sure either of us had slept in years. But becoming multimillionaires at the age of twenty-nine had made it all worth it.

Kaleidoscope was revolutionary and had been used by federal and local authorities as well as hundreds of private businesses. Twenty-five pixels—that was all our system needed to identify a person. If an image or video existed on the internet or on a computer connected to the internet, our search engines would find it. This sucked for people applying for a job when they had a history in the porn industry. But for the hundreds of victims whose rapists, murderers, and abductors had not only been identified but also convicted, it was a miracle tool.

With an exorbitant amount of cash rolling in from licensing deals and millions more on the horizon, Ian and I had thought it was just the beginning of Kaleidoscope.

That had all changed a few months earlier.

No, Kaleidoscope wasn’t perfect. We’d caught a lot of heat when DNA cleared a murder suspect our software had matched from a blurry security video to a Facebook profile. Definitely not our finest hour. However, we were cut some slack in the public eye when, two weeks later, a presidential candidate connected to an unsecure Wi-Fi network and our system found nude images of a missing underage girl on his hard drive. She was recovered along with three other girls from a sex-trafficking ring in Chicago.

In the wheelhouse of no good deed goes unpunished, that one image had changed the face of Kaleidoscope forever. By the end of the month, Ian and I had been called to testify in front of Congress, Zuckerberg-style. Thus beginning the greatest ethics and privacy debate our nation had ever seen.

News stations across the world were covering all things Kaleidoscope. People came out of the woodwork in support for the program, touting its successes in criminal investigations. Others wielded their pitchforks, holding protests and demanding that we be sentenced to prison time for creating such a powerful weapon. That was the week Caven Hunt and Ian Villa had become household names. That was also the week we’d decided we weren’t cut out for politics and had accepted Stan Gotham’s low-ball offer to buy the company.

I hated to sell. Kaleidoscope had once been our passion, but our hands were tied. With a Supreme Court legal battle that would more than likely shut our search engines down for good, rich and devastated seemed a lot more palatable than broke and devastated.

So there we were—celebrating the finalized sale and a nine-digit balance in our bank accounts. And I was finally free to lose myself in a beautiful woman.

I passed Veronica the champagne. “What exactly do you think I’m going to be worthless for tonight?”

“Don’t play coy with me.” Smiling around the mouth of the bottle, she tipped it up for a sip.

“Who’s playing?” I asked, absolutely being coy while sliding my hand down to her ass.

She cuddled in close. “What do you say we kick all of these people out and head back to my place?”

“Your place? That seems like a gross misuse of time what with my bed being fifteen steps down the hall.”

“Your place is a dump, Caven.”

I twisted my lips and glanced around my apartment. “Ahhh… Are we really calling this a dump nowadays?”

Her eyes twinkled as she peered up at me, her long—and more than likely fake—lashes fluttering innocently. “Yesterday? No. Now that you’re loaded? Absolutely.”

I’d been “loaded” by most people’s standards since Kaleidoscope had first taken off, but I didn’t spend enough time at home to justify forking over massive amounts of cash on an apartment that would serve as nothing more than a glorified hotel room. And I guessed when your boss was the third-richest person in America, my one-bedroom apartment, no matter how clean and spacious, probably did look like a dump.

“I’ll start apartment hunting tomorrow.”

She grinned, all pearly white and saccharin sweet. “Smart man.”

Shaking my head, I tore my blue stare away from her to find Ian making his way toward us. His tall, lean body weaved through the chattering guests, but his stoic, brown eyes were locked on mine, disapproval carved into his features.

While I’d always been the consummate bachelor, Ian was slightly…well, boring. I loved the guy, truly. But while my weekends were spent mingling with socialites, his were spent at his house in the burbs, a book in one hand and, if his lack of female companionship over the last few years was any indication, his dick in his other.

Stopping in front of us, he shoved a hand into the pocket of his navy slacks and pointedly flicked his gaze to where Veronica’s red fingernails were toying with a button on my shirt. “You two didn’t waste any time.”

“It’s been hours since the funds hit the bank and we’re both still dressed.” I shot Veronica a wink and shifted her deeper into my side. “I’d say that’s an unprecedented display of self-restraint.”

Ian rolled his eyes.

Veronica giggled.

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