Authors: Rachelle Ayala
Tags: #Fiction / Romance / Suspense
Table of Contents
Rachelle Ayala, 2012
Copyright ©2012, Rachelle Ayala
All Rights Reserved
PRAISE FOR BROKEN BUILD
When truth collides with hope—another riveting tale sure to keep you guessing!
– Melisa Hamling, bestselling author of
Keeps you up way past bedtime, chasing bad guys and falling in love.
– Chantel Rhondeau, author of
Always & Forever
Shocking twists... amazing chemistry, yummy with an edge.
– Christina McKnight, author of
Only In Her Dreams
A mind-teasing mystery and captivating romance where forgiveness is the key.
– Christine Raggio, writer
Action-packed, twists and turns that keep you guessing until the very last page.
– Cate Beauman, author of the
Bodyguards of L.A. County
Full of suspense, mystery, humor, and romance. Techy, but never boring!
– Flara Richards, reader
Amazing chemistry, and Dave always worrying about Jen is so romantic!
– Roopa Prabhu, software engineer
Copyright © 2012 by Rachelle Ayala
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real events or real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
All trademarks belong to their respective holders and are used under trademark fair use.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version.
Cover design by Robin Ludwig Design Inc.
Edited by Cherie Reich of Surrounded by Books Publishing
Psalm 127:1 Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it
The gangbanger car drove by, its ground effects practically hugging the asphalt. Jen Jones raced through a vacant lot littered with beer bottles. She pushed the timer on her sports watch and jogged up the potholed driveway of her apartment complex.
The garish pink two-level building could have passed for a quick-stop motel. Bars covered the windows, and the pulsing of Mexican
accordion and bass horns, blared from an open door. Despite the popular image, Silicon Valley was not all red tile roofs, German cars, and venture capital.
The car slowed. A man waved a red bandana and hooted,
Jen slipped off her sweatband and stepped into the foyer. Sherry, her roommate, walked by with her golden retriever, Max.
“Muscle Boy’s been by again,” she said.
Not good news. Jen stopped at the mailbox and opened it. A small pink envelope dropped to the ground.
Sherry picked it up and handed it to her. “For you. Baby shower? Wedding?”
Jen stuffed the envelope into her pocket. “Junk mail.”
Max strained at his leash and whined. Sherry tilted her chin toward the street. “I told him you’d be back after your run.”
“Sure, whatever.” Jen rushed through the small courtyard and bounded up the stairs. Once inside her bedroom, she tore the envelope and pulled out an aftershave-scented note.
Silence comes with the right price, but LOVE conquers all.
Unsigned and not amusing. She turned the page over. Indentations. Definitely heavy-handed. Ugh. Muscles were way overrated. She tossed the note into the trash and rummaged under her mattress for five twenties. This blackmail game was getting old. If only she could stop him for good…
After a quick shower, Jen pulled on a pair of worn jeans and a sweater and placed her laptop on the kitchen table. The slanted rays of the setting sun reflected off the screen.
Another Saturday evening with nothing to look forward to but work.
Better check the software build.
A few keystrokes later, Jen connected to her company’s network. Her coworker Praveena’s instant messaging window popped up with its attending ringtone.
I need to check in a fix. The build’s broken.
Heavy knocking vibrated the door. “Jen, you there?”
Jen’s jaw tightened along with her fists. He wasn’t supposed to meet her here. She ignored him, but the banging continued. “I know you’re in there.”
She yanked the door open before he disturbed the neighbors. Rey Custodio, aka Muscle Boy, stood on the doormat.
She groaned, not bothering to hide her aggravation. “You promised to stay away.”
He raised his sunglasses over spiked black hair and wiggled his snakelike eyebrows. “Hey, hey, missed you at the gym.”
“I’ll get your money. Wait here.” She moved to close the door, but he blocked it with his shoulder and sidestepped into her apartment.
“Actually, I came to see you.”
“I’m busy right now.” Jen gestured toward her computer. The instant messaging app jingled, and Jen brushed past Rey to her laptop.
OK, will restart.
Rey pulled a chair to the kitchen table and straddled it backward.
“I didn’t invite you in.” Jen moved the laptop away from his prying eyes. She logged into the build servers and scanned the error messages. The build had already aborted on a compile error deep in the source tree. Scrolling through the code, she located Praveena’s latest changes and labeled them.
Rey placed a memory stick on the table. “The code you gave me last week broke.”
“Broke? Or you couldn’t take the time to figure it out?” Jen typed in a few more commands, checked the available disk space, and started the build script. She blew between her teeth. What would it take to shake Rey loose from her? The leech.
“I need your help, sweetie.” He beamed at her with his arms across the back of the chair.
Jen pushed the stick back to him. “I only left out a few steps. Don’t you want to learn anything?”
He trapped her hand. “I could be more forgetful if you’d cooperate.”
She stared at the back of his square hand, decorated with the sharp points of a tattoo. She had to remain calm—perhaps mislead him—make him think what he had on her wasn’t that important. Yeah, right. If her company did a thorough background check, she’d be fired, maybe even jailed.
She met his eyes with a confidence she did not feel. “It’s better for you to figure out things for yourself. I can’t take the tests for you.”
Rey let go of her and grinned. “Go out with me. Since you haven’t given me good code, you owe me dinner and dancing.”
“I’m not sure how you figure that.” Jen backed from the table. Why would he want her company’s code for an intro computer science class at State? Sweat moistened Jen’s palms. She couldn’t betray her employer, but she couldn’t allow Rey to spill what he knew.
“We should renegotiate.” He walked to the fridge and helped himself to a soda.
“That’s Sherry’s.” Jen snatched the can from him and put it back. “What do you really want?”
“If I like you, I might forget your faults.” He opened his hands and flashed his white teeth, looking surprisingly handsome, for a moment.
Perhaps he could be charmed into keeping his mouth shut. Besides, Jen had nothing better to do. Sherry had the night off, and sitting through the Saturday night primetime lineup while babysitting the build was not exactly top on Jen’s bucket list. Neither was going out with her blackmailer, but a girl’s gotta do…
“If I have dinner with you, you’ll call off the blackmail?”
One side of his face lifted in a sideways leer, and he crowded her against the kitchen counter, his aftershave overpowering like chemical waste. “Depends on how much you beg.”
Yuck. Jen stomped to her bedroom and grabbed the five twenties. She returned and waved them in his face. “This isn’t working out. Take it and leave.”
“Jennifer, Jennifer, you’re my date tonight.” He pushed the money back. “I’ll be a good boy. Promise.”
Jen swallowed hard and stuffed the bills in her pocket. “Name’s not Jennifer. It’s Jen. Jen Jones.”
“Jennifer Cruz, you can’t hide from him forever.” He shook his head with the grim expression of a doctor pronouncing a death sentence. “Might as well fess up.”
“He can’t know. If lose my job, who’s going to pay your bills?” She shot what she hoped was a stun-gun glare. “Besides, what’s with the baby pink envelopes?”
His eyes glittered with amusement while he opened the door. “That’s for the baby girl we’re going to have.”
Arrogant son of a…
Jen glanced out the window. Sherry was coming through the courtyard with Max.
“Let’s go before my roommate gets back.” She grabbed her keys from the hook and looked for her purse before remembering she had lost it the day before. “You better drive. I haven’t replaced my license yet.”
How could she be so stupid to leave her purse at Starbucks? Of course no one claimed to have seen it when she returned later. Jen tucked the laptop under the sofa and grabbed her iPad in case her boss needed to reach her. After locking the door, she dragged Rey down the back stairway.
Rey stepped over an overturned tricycle and opened the car door. Jen huffed, not surprised he parked on someone’s excuse for a lawn. She slid quickly into the vinyl passenger seat of his too-low muscle car, a nauseous yellow 4-door Dodge Charger Super Bee reeking of stale weed. The fake piney scent from the hanging air freshener added to the cheesiness.
“Il Forno okay with you?” he asked.
“Sure.” She sunk into the seat and arranged her hair like a curtain over her face. Rey turned the ignition and fiddled with his GPS system. Jen lowered the window, tempted to bail. The car jerked backwards and jumped the curb. Had he even looked in the rear-view mirror?
An Asian girl in too-tight running shorts jogged by. Ray whistled at her and gunned the motor. A block later, he leaned toward Jen at a stoplight with his lips puckered.
She dodged his advance. “I’m not your girlfriend.”
“If you really want to be my friend, you’d be nice to me.” She poked his bicep, eliciting an almost sweet smile from him.
“If you’re nice to me,” he said in a surprisingly low voice. For a moment, he reminded her of his brother, the man who was briefly her fiancé before dropping her like a hot
. No explanation, no communication, just a sad look and a door quietly shutting.
“I’ll try.” She swallowed at the memory. Rey’s brother, Rodrigo, had died a few months ago in a tragic accident. He must have told Rey about her. Pressure swelled her throat. Did Rey also know about the baby?
Rey boomed rap music all the way up Highway 101 and exited at University Avenue. After circling the block twice, he hooked a sharp U-turn and snagged a parking space from a minivan that had been waiting with its signal on.
The minivan rolled away, the driver no doubt glaring at them. They walked the few short blocks past the valet parking to the restaurant’s stone façade entrance.
A glamorous couple entered ahead of them. Jen looked at her jeans. “Are you sure? I’m not exactly dressed…”
“Like a million bucks.” He held out his arm.
* * *
Dave Jewell, CEO of Shopahol, pressed the key fob and locked his Camry. Stately mansions spread in the cul-de-sac behind him. He walked toward Atherton Avenue.
“Hey, handsome.” A woman driving a black Mercedes S550 pulled onto a driveway in front of him. “What’cha doing here?”
He peered into the open window. “Waiting for you, beautiful.”