“I don’t have to like my job,” I said to the steering wheel. “I just have to do it.”
And if I wanted to keep said job—or at least the paycheck—I needed to get out of my car and into the building before I got fired. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath. This was only until I found another gig, which I would work on tonight as soon as I got home. Pity I couldn’t just up and quit, but those student loans weren’t going to pay themselves, my landlord wasn’t willing to wait “just a few more days, please!” again, and apparently eating was a thing.
Finally, I switched off the car, grabbed my purse off the passenger seat, and headed into the shiny three-story post-modern building with the gleaming JBT sign out front.
It was amazing how quickly things could change in a month. When I’d started here, I’d practically skipped up the sidewalk and had been so excited to swipe my badge, I’d almost forgotten how. To be fair, I’d been working double shifts at minimum wage for eighteen months while I’d finished my IT certification, and this was my first real job since the bank had laid me off two years ago. A girl’s allowed to be excited when she’s about to get paid enough to not only fill the gas tank all the way, but maybe replace the sputtering old Honda and get something manufactured within the last twenty years.
So I’d come strolling in here, giddy and ready to earn that real, adult paycheck…
And now, a month later, I had to show up twenty minutes early so I’d have time to talk myself into getting out of the car and walking inside.
I’ll apply for everything I qualify for tonight. I swiped my badge. And maybe a few things I don’t qualify for. Couldn’t hurt, right?
The red LED turned green, and the latch on the door clicked. I plastered on a professional face—a smile was a bit much at this point—and walked inside.
“Morning, Morgan,” Wendy the receptionist chirped from behind her high desk. “How are you?”
“I’m good.” I did manage to force a smile for a couple of seconds. “How about you?”
She shrugged, smiling with a little more feeling than I could muster. “Ready for Friday.”
I laughed. “Yeah. Me too. Have a good day!”
I kept walking to the stairs. There was an elevator, and I’d taken it the first few days I’d worked here, but sometimes that meant riding with my coworkers. And that was just… uncomfortable.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. I didn’t know any of them, but they seemed like perfectly nice people. I just hated being around them because I felt so conspicuous and guilty.
I have nothing to feel guilty about. I gritted my teeth as I forced myself up the first flight of stairs. I’m just doing my job.
They kept inviting me out after work on Friday nights, but I always made excuses not to go. I wasn’t antisocial or anything, and I didn’t have anything against hanging out with coworkers. In fact, I really, really wanted to make friends here or somewhere because I knew next to no one in this town aside from my roommate.
But it wasn’t easy to look people in the eye and try to forge a friendship when I already knew all kinds of damning information about them. They’d have been mortified if they knew half the things I’d seen. Tracy in accounting was super sweet, but I’d have to pretend I didn’t know she was sleeping with Mark down from shipping. Even if she confided that in me for some reason, I’d have to bite my tongue because Mark was also banging Kelli from engineering.
It wasn’t even all sordid affairs and soap operas. I just knew too much about people. I would’ve loved to grab coffee with anyone in tech support, but that would be a challenge when I knew Phil’s marriage was on the brink of collapse, Jennifer’s daughter was in trouble with the cops again, and Kevin was trying to work up the courage to come out as Karen. They all deserved their privacy, and they’d be disgusted if they knew how much I knew about their personal lives. What was I supposed to do? Go to Karen and say I supported her and had her back, and oh by the way I knew because I was paid to read every e-mail that went through James-Bailey Tech?
I groaned to myself as I cleared the top step and started down the hall toward my office. This sucked. I’d been here a month and I knew way too much about way too many people in this company, and I hated it.
But this is what you get that real adult paycheck for, so suck it up and do it until you find something else.
I shuffled into my office, shut the door behind me, and dropped into my chair. At least I had my own office. Tech support, customer service, and engineering departments were open plan departments, which would’ve driven me crazy even if my job hadn’t been to spy on everyone. Thank God for a door to keep out the noise and hide my shame.
As my computer started up, I sat back and stared at the ceiling. I wasn’t technically doing anything wrong. Everyone here knew their work e-mail accounts were monitored. Or could be. Most people assumed it was just an empty threat to keep them from screwing off on company time, but still. They knew it was a possibility that someone was reading every single e-mail they sent or received.
And I wasn’t looking for personal dirt on anybody, or trying to bust them for inappropriate use of the e-mail system. I was on a specific mission to find out who was embezzling from the company.
“I don’t know how all this network and computer stuff works,” Ethan Bailey had said the day he’d hired me. “I’m as computer illiterate as they come, which is why I need you. I want your eyes on every last message until we get to the bottom of who’s stealing from JBT.”
So that had become my job—scour thousands of e-mails, searching for an incriminating comment or something to determine who was embezzling. A month later… nothing. Tons of personal information—amazing how many people put passwords and account numbers in their e-mails—but not one peep about theft.
I kept looking, though. Because that was what they paid me to do.
Yep, need a new job.
But for today…
I logged into my e-mail, and messages started downloading. My first day, I’d set up an algorithm on the system so every e-mail sent out on a company server was blind carbon copied to me. And all day, every day, I sat here, watched those e-mails pile up by the hundreds in my inbox, and read them in search of that coveted damning information.
Some messages were filtered into another folder where they’d just sit there unread. It was pretty obvious that purchase order requests and shipping confirmations didn’t contain anything incriminating, so I didn’t bother looking through them. Or if they did, they were coded so deeply that I couldn’t parse the secret messages slipping through. If “I need a shipment of solvent in 2-gallon jugs” meant “I just moved the money into the offshore account,” then bravo for them because I sure as hell wouldn’t catch it.
A knock at my door turned my head, and I switched windows before calling out, “Come in.”
Ethan, my balding hulk of a boss, stepped inside and shut the door behind him. “Just wanted to check in with you. Any progress?”
Lips pursed, I shook my head. “Whoever’s involved in anything shady, they’re not e-mailing about it.”
He scowled. “Keep looking. They’re bound to slip up sooner or later.” He stabbed a finger at my computer. “Somebody is stealing from this company.”
I gritted my teeth. Were they stupid enough to talk about it via e-mail? And were they stealing enough to make it worth what JBT was paying me to track them down? Best not to answer that question, or they probably wouldn’t pay me for much longer.
Definitely time to find another job.
“I’ll keep looking,” I said quietly.
“Good.” He gave a sharp nod. “Keep me posted, all right?”
He left my office, and I released a breath. Rubbing my eyes, I muttered a few curses. I didn’t know which was worse—that I was being tasked with spying on people, including reading their obviously personal and private conversations, or that I was apparently so terrible at it I couldn’t find what my boss was looking for.
This is why I went to school while working double shifts. Totally. Now I had a useless bachelor’s degree in business management that had gotten me nothing and nowhere, a subsequent IT certification that had landed me a job that was going to earn me an ulcer, and a big stack of student loans from both of those. Maybe I should’ve listened to Aunt Trudy and gone for that nursing degree. As much as I hated the idea of dealing with poop and puke on a daily basis, I was beginning to see the appeal.
Well, whatever. This was my job right now, and I had rent and student loan payments due this month, so until such time as I scored another gig…
I sipped my coffee and continued down the list of e-mails. When I told it to refresh, some more messages came in.
One was from Courtney James, and my heart fluttered at the sight of her name. My pulse reacted every time her name showed up in the clandestine inbox, and not just because of my guilty conscience. She was the daughter of Ethan’s business partner and company co-owner, Bill James, and she ran the engineering and technical support departments. And damn if she didn’t push all my buttons.
Just passing her in the halls or seeing her in the breakroom was enough to make me even more tongue-tied than I usually was because Jesus Christ on a cracker, Courtney was gorgeous. I couldn’t decide if she was more jaw-dropping with her usual ponytail, or when she let her blonde hair come tumbling down over her shoulders. And what could I say? I’d always been a sucker for a woman with glasses. Not to mention women with a figure like hers—the kind of heart-shaped butt and curvy hips that were just… oh my God. Especially when she wore one of those immaculately tailored pantsuits.
Today, several e-mails came through from her. It was just after nine, which meant she’d been here for an hour or so, and was probably doing her morning e-mail catch-up. Mostly work-related. Engineering was butting heads with marketing over some design issues in the new product, and lately Courtney’s days had been peppered with frustrated e-mails shooting back and forth to the marketing director.
She and Kendra, purchasing manager, had apparently been friends for a long time, and they e-mailed constantly throughout the work day. Probably to keep themselves sane, especially with all the inter-departmental drama. Their messages were always pretty benign, and I’d thought more than once about filtering them into the “not gonna bother reading” folder, but Ethan had been especially concerned about Courtney and her father as suspects. He didn’t seem to trust his business partner—or anyone for that matter—and had made some comments about how Courtney was still trying to recover financially from a vicious divorce. Apparently the lavish salary her dad paid her wasn’t quite making ends meet after her ex-husband had taken her to the cleaners.
So, as always, I opened her e-mails and started perusing them.
This was stupid. Courtney had to be one of the least malicious employees in this building. There was no way in hell she was involved in any—
A line in the e-mail caught my eye, and I nearly spat out my coffee.
My dad would kill me if he knew I was checking out a coworker, but have you seen the new girl in IT?
My jaw fell open. I reread the e-mail. Again. A few more times to be sure. I even rubbed my eyes because no way.
She couldn’t have meant me. That wasn’t possible. A woman like her could have anyone she wanted. Why would she bother with the chick whose classmates had been annoyed that she perpetuated the stereotype of computer nerds being socially inept?
But if not me… who? I wasn’t the only person in the IT department, but I was the only female and the only new employee. New girl in IT didn’t describe anybody else.
And… Courtney’s a lesbian?
Morgan hates her job. She didn’t bust her hump to get an IT certification so she could spend her days reading employee emails. Unfortunately, what the boss says, goes, and he has her on email detail until they find out who's been embezzling.
About the only redeeming feature of working for this company is getting to steal glances at the head of engineering and tech support, Courtney James. What Morgan wouldn’t do for the confidence just to strike up a conversation. Asking Courtney out? Not a chance.
When an email tips her off that the crush is mutual, though, Morgan's torn between making a move and pretending she never saw the message. Her heart and body say to go for it. Her conscience says to leave well enough alone.
The one thing she can’t do, however, is forget about it…