Read Dream Girl Online

Authors: Kelly Jamieson

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

Dream Girl (5 page)

BOOK: Dream Girl
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

"I don't know,” Ashlyn sighed. “He seemed so nice."

"Apart from the fact that he cheats on his wife.” Ben rolled his eyes and pushed his glasses up.

"Yeah,” Ashlyn agreed sadly.

"He's probably not married anymore,” Doug said. “Well, you know what I mean. If you're interested in him, go for it. He may be a cheater but if all you want is some hot sex, who cares?"

"I think that's kind of unethical,” Ashlyn said. “It's like deliberately breaking a couple up so you can have the guy."

"You didn't break them up,” Ben pointed out. “We've had this discussion a million times. You're the one who always says the guy doesn't
to put the moves on you."

"And their marriage must have had problems,” Doug added. “Or he wouldn't have wanted to cheat."

"I don't buy that,” Ashlyn said. “It seems like even guys with happy marriages cheat."

"Well, can you blame them? Look at you!” Ben said, and Ashlyn scowled at him.

But she was thinking about what her friends had said. What if Connor
separated from his wife? He'd seemed to be interested in her. Would it be that bad to sleep with him?

Unlike him, she had all his personal info, so she could track him down if she wanted to. If she had the nerve. But it did feel vaguely sleazy.

Aaargh! How could she even think such a thing?

On Monday, Ashlyn got a call from her dad. “What's up?” she asked. “More work for me?"

"Sort of,” he replied. “I've got a meeting with a new corporate client. They've got some problems. John, Ralph and I are meeting with them on Friday to talk about it. Part of it may be computer related, so I was wondering if you'd come and sit in. You're such a tech expert now."

"Sure,” she said with interest.

"I know you're not a licensed PI, but we could use your expertise. As a consultant to the team,” he added.

John was Farrell Investigations’ expert in physical and electronic surveillance, and Ralph their white-collar crime expert. A complicated corporate case could easily involve the whole team of people with their own specialties.

"The meeting is here at four o'clock. Can you make it?"

She'd miss her Linux Forensics class, but that was okay. She rarely skipped class.

This wasn't the first time her dad had asked her to help out, but she still wondered about his motives. Did he really think she could contribute to the investigation, or was he just trying to suck up to her? Her relationship with her father was so complicated. She despised him for what he'd done to her mother, but she loved him ... because he was her dad. He didn't like her working as a sex decoy, and in some ways that almost added to the appeal of the job. Which was crazy.

Time to play dress-up again.

This time she needed to look businesslike and professional. Ashlyn hated suits, but she'd bought this one for job interviews. At least it was a little sexy, with a short flippy skirt and fitted jacket.

"Hi, honey,” Brenda greeted her. “Go on in to the meeting room. The client should be here any minute."

Ashlyn strode into the meeting room and found her father, John and Ralph sitting at the long table reviewing some papers. She tossed her portfolio down on the table and pulled out a chair as the men greeted her.

"So what's up, Dad?"

He was about to speak when Brenda appeared in the doorway, showing people in. Ashlyn had her back to the door, so she pushed back her chair and stood, along with the men, to greet the client. When she turned, she was face to face with...


No, she was face to face with someone who looked exactly like him.

But Connor was standing right beside him. Her stunned gaze moved from one man to the other.

They were both tall, broad-shouldered and bronze, with streaky golden hair, but Connor's was longer and more tousled, while the other man's was short and neatly brushed back from his face. The other man's face was a little different—same eyes, slightly bigger nose, lips a little thinner—but they could almost have been twins. The unknown man looked more comfortable in his suit, his tie perfectly knotted, while the man she knew had pulled his tie loose and undone the top button of his shirt. And in fact, his pants were jeans, not suit trousers.

Ashlyn's head whirled and there was a roaring in her ears as she tried to make sense of this. She couldn't even hear what her father was saying.

"Holy shit,” Connor muttered. His double shot him a frown and held his hand out.

"Connor Montgomery,” he said, shaking hands with Dave Farrell.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.
was Connor Montgomery? Then who the hell...

"Dave Farrell. This is Ralph Butler and John Massey. And I've invited my daughter Ashlyn to sit in on our meeting. She's just finishing her degree in computer forensics at UC Rocky Harbor, and she may have some expertise that will help us."

Connor said, “This is my brother and business partner, Zach."

Zach shook hands with the men, and then took Ashlyn's hand. “We've met,” he murmured, eyes fastened to her face.

Ashlyn's face felt so scorching hot she was sure everyone could see heat waves coming from her glowing cheeks. She could also sense the glances being exchanged by everyone else in the room and felt Connor's disapproval as he elbowed Zach in the ribs.

"You two have met?” Dave asked with a frown. Ashlyn flashed a sharp warning glance at him, which he quickly picked up on. Thank God for twenty-five years of experience as a PI and good instincts.

"Well, great,” Dave said, all business. “Please, Connor and Zach, have a seat, and we'll get started."

Ashlyn sank into her chair as her knees turned to putty. Shit, shit, shit. Why did this keep happening?

If he was really Zach and that was his brother Connor ... oh my God.

She had made the wrong guy.

She looked from Zach to Connor and back again.

Did he know who she was? If Jessica had shown Connor the tape, she was totally busted.

Double shit. She tried to keep from groaning aloud. Every muscle in her body tightened and quivered, and her stomach hurt.

"I spoke to Connor briefly on the phone, so I have an idea of what their problems are,” Dave began. “Ashlyn, just to bring you up to speed, Connor and Zach own a microbrewery here in Rocky Harbor, which I gather is pretty successful.” Ashlyn saw Zach smile. “They've had a few problems lately that lead them to believe someone inside their company may be leaking information to one of their competitors. Connor, Zach, why don't you give us the whole story."

As they started talking business, Ashlyn tried to focus, but her mind still zipped all over the place. She realized Connor could not have seen the tape. He gave no sign whatsoever that he recognized her. In fact, he seemed to be leading the discussion as Zach sat across from her, his eyes burning into her.

She offered a tiny, tentative smile in his direction, but he just scowled. She sighed.

She was dying to ask if they were twins but forced down the question that bubbled up inside her.

Play it cool, she thought frantically. Concentrate.

Connor glanced sideways at Zach sitting beside him and then leaned forward, hands clasped on the table in front of him. “Well,” he said, “jump in any time, Zach. A few months ago we decided we needed to expand our production, especially our Gold Coast Pale Ale.” He paused.

"That's our best-selling product,” Zach added. “It's where most of our profit comes from, which allows me ... us ... to experiment and be creative with other specialty beers. Some of those are pretty popular too, and we could increase production of those as well."

"Right,” Connor said. “Anyway, we needed financing, so we went to our bank and started talking. We have a few different ways we could go. Since then, we've been working on business plans for different scenarios to take to the bank or to approach other potential investors."

Ashlyn had heard some of this from Zach two weeks ago, but not in as much detail. She tried to concentrate. As the meeting progressed, she realized neither man knew what had happened. Zach must just think she was some slutty disappearing tease. She could deal with that. Maybe.

But then she realized she had a bigger problem. Horror crawled over her skin, seeped into her bones.

She had totally screwed up a case. She'd given a client wrong information. And if Jessica Montgomery had acted on it, that made matters even worse.

Maybe Jessica hadn't done anything. Although Ashlyn did recall Zach saying his brother had personal problems right now.

Had Jessica Montgomery even looked at the video? If she had, she certainly would have realized that was not her husband. The brothers looked alike, and could be confused if all you were going on was a still photo, but there were definitely differences.

This was a major screw up, and she had no idea what to do. Her stomach cramped painfully.

"Then, kind of out of the blue,” Connor continued, “we got a call from Steinbrau Breweries. They wanted to meet with us about a proposal they had. So we met a few months ago. They were willing to invest in the company. Basically they'd have thirty percent ownership, which would more than finance what we want to do, even if we went with our ‘Cadillac’ scenario. In exchange, we would have full access to their distribution network."

Again he glanced at Zach. “We gave the offer a lot of consideration. It was a very sweet deal. But we were both resistant to the idea of selling out to Big Beer."

Seeing the puzzled faces of the others at the table, Ashlyn put in, “That's what they call the big three breweries.” She looked around as everyone's eyes turned to her. “They control ninety percent of the beer market...” she added, her voice trailing off. She slid down a little in her seat.

Zach grinned.

Connor continued slowly. “Uh ... yes. There's a bit of tension between ‘Big Beer’ and us smaller craft breweries. We don't need to go into all that right now."

"Maybe we do,” Dave said. “But for now, go on."

"So, we turned down their offer. Now we're back to the bank or other venture capitalists who might be interested in investing. Actually, we have a lot of interest, so that's not the problem."

"The problem,” Zach said, “is that we just heard a rumor through the ‘yeast grapevine’ that Steinbrau is putting out a new so-called ‘craft beer’ supposedly much like our California Blonde Ale. And, they reportedly got hold of our yeast and our recipe to make it."

"Yeast?” Ashlyn looked at him with raised brows.

Zach nodded, frowning. “Yeast is very important for brewing. In fact, it's crucial. It's what gives individual flavor to different beers. One strain of yeast makes lagers; another makes ales. The big breweries have their own strain of yeast they use over and over to make their beer. And we have our strains of yeast.” He paused. “Yeast is proprietary ... it's a trade secret."

"Okay,” Dave said slowly. “Yeast. Well."

"We don't know if they actually have our yeast,” Zach continued. “It's just a rumor. But from a pretty reliable source."

"You're going to have to tell us who that was,” Dave told him.

Zach paused. “Jack Briggs. He owns a yeast lab in San Diego. He propagates and stores our yeast for us."

There was silence around the table. “I know you're thinking he's the obvious one who would have given away the yeast, but I'm sure it wasn't him,” Zach said stiffly. “His lab has incredible security. We've been doing business with him for years, and I believe he's totally trustworthy. I know he does business with lots of other breweries and he's never had any hint of trouble. And he's the one who told us about this ... why would he do that if he'd given them the stuff?"

"Could be a deflection technique,” Dave remarked thoughtfully. “But we'll check it out. What's the name of the lab?"

"Briggs Laboratory,” Connor answered. “But we figure if someone gave away our yeast, it had to be someone inside our company. We just don't know who."

"No breakins?” Ralph asked. They shook their heads.

"So, we want to find out if someone inside is leaking info.” Zach looked at Dave Farrell; the expression on his face was a puzzling mix of hope and regret.

"Not just information,” Ashlyn put in. “You're saying they may actually have taken yeast?"

"That's right."

She pictured little envelopes of granules for baking bread, and a muffled giggle escaped her. “That just sounds so weird."

She saw reluctant amusement in Zach's eyes.

"You have to understand yeast,” he said.

Ashlyn gave a little shrug, dragged her eyes away from Zach, and jotted down some notes.

"Do you suspect anyone?” John asked.

"No,” Connor said slowly. “We've thought about it, and we trust everyone who works for us. Why would someone do that?"

"That,” Dave said, “is a very good question. And one we need the answer to. Generally, these things come down to money. Now, we need to ask you some questions."

The investigators started asking about all the staff who worked for Surf Coast Brewery, the facility and their existing security. Ashlyn asked about computers and software and hardware. They all took notes as they listened to Connor and Zach.

"All right,” Dave said finally, leaning back in his chair. “Here's what I think we need to do. You may choose to do some of this or all of this. We have names of everyone who works for you. If you can get us more details like social security numbers, it will make things easier. We'll do asset tracking for each of your employees to see if anyone has some unexplained large sums of money coming in. We also need to set up surveillance in your plant. John will need to visit to know what he needs to set up. That way we can watch what's going on. We could set up surveillance on everyone's phones and computers as well."

Connor and Zach nodded, but Connor's brows drew together. “This sounds like a lot of money."

"All right, let's discuss money,” John said, and gave them the cost details. “Ashlyn will look at everyone's computers and see what they've been doing on them."

Ashlyn nodded as Zach's eyes turned back to her, her body tensing up again. She gripped the pen tightly in her fingers.

BOOK: Dream Girl
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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