GABE, Silicon Valley Billionaires, Book 2 Excerpt
I woke up and rolled over, stretching, my limbs loose and relaxed as I pulled Lauren’s warm body closer. Her soft moan brought back memories of last night, when I’d blindfolded her and tied her up.
Among other things.
I grinned against her bare skin as she slept. Lauren Taylor, reigning queen of the biotech industry and, until quite recently, a very uptight virgin, had been letting her wild side out to play lately. I trailed my fingers down her side, wondering if she’d be up for an encore performance this morning.
My phone rang and I grabbed it, hoping she would sleep awhile longer. On the caller ID, I saw Timmy’s number. I’d thought Lauren’s security guard was asleep in the guesthouse next door. Because he never called to chat, I said, “What’s the matter?”
“Mr. Betts, we’ve had a breach.”
I jumped out of bed. “Is someone here? At the house?”
“No, sir. Not here. I’m afraid it’s worse—it’s Hannah.”
Hannah was Lauren’s younger sister. “What?”
“Someone’s taken her.”
“Someone kidnapped her from Lauren’s house. I just got the call.”
Lauren sat up and rubbed her eyes.
I needed to stay calm for her sake. “What about the security guards?”
“They shot the two guards outside. They also shot Wes—he was in the house with Hannah.”
Wesley was Hannah’s bodyguard and boyfriend.
Fuck. “Did anyone make it?”
Lauren’s head whipped around. “What’s going on?”
I motioned for her to hang on.
“Wes is the only guard who made it,” Timmy said. “He’s at the ER right now—I don’t know what his condition is, except it’s bad. But Hannah’s alive, thank God. The security tape shows them leaving with her.”
“Have you talked to the police?”
“They’re at the scene. Do you want me to go, too?”
“Sit tight for right now. Call Paragon and let security know what happened. I’ll talk to Lauren and call you back.”
I sat down and took her hand. “That was Timmy. There was a security breach at your house. Someone broke in and took Hannah. They shot the guards and Wesley, but he’s alive. He’s in the ER.”
Her face went blank, as if the information didn’t compute. “I’m sorry? What?”
I squeezed her hand. “Hannah’s been kidnapped.”
She opened her mouth and then closed it.
“Timmy said the police are at the house—they’ll open an investigation. We have the security tape. I’ll call Agent Marks at the FBI and let him know what’s happened.”
Lauren still looked dazed.
“Babe, do you understand what I said?”
“Is my sister…dead?”
“No,” I said firmly, hoping she’d believe me.
She sat for a minute, staring out into space. Then her gaze focused back on me. “Two of our men are dead, though.”
“And Wesley…” It seemed as if the news was sinking in.
I reached out to hold her, but she flinched away.
She jumped up, grabbing some clothes. “We killed Li Na’s guards. Now she’s evened the score.”
Li Na Zhao, the Chinese healthcare CEO, had been after Lauren’s technology, her company and Lauren herself, not necessarily in that order. I knew where Lauren was heading with this line of thought. “Babe, this is not your fault.”
She laughed bitterly, pulling a sweater over her head. “Tell my sister that when she’s crying because Wes got shot—that is, if we ever get to talk to her again.”
“We’re going to get her back. It’s going to be okay.”
“It is not going to be okay!” She hustled past me to the kitchen, shaking her head as I followed close behind. “Hannah warned me—she told me to walk away from Li Na, to let her have the patch—that it wasn’t worth dying for. But I didn’t listen to her, because I never listen to her! And now she’s suffering for it.”
Lauren had recently tricked Li Na by agreeing to partner with her on a version of the patch, Lauren’s game-changing biomedical invention. But with my help, Paragon surreptitiously launched the technology, winning the race to rule the global healthcare market.
Apparently, Li Na didn’t intend to let Lauren enjoy her victory lap.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I fired up the coffeemaker while Lauren paced and cried. “This is my fault. I don’t know what I’ll do if they hurt her—”
“Don’t think like that.”
She stopped. “I have to think like that. My poor sister…” She shook her head when words seemed to fail her.
I wished there was something I could do to comfort her, but as long as Hannah was missing, there’d be no comforting Lauren. Other than me, Hannah was all she had.
We stayed in the kitchen for the rest of the morning, fielding calls from the police, the FBI, the hospital, our attorneys and our security teams.
Wesley was alive but in critical condition.
No one knew where they’d taken Hannah.
Lauren continued to pace, two hectic spots of color in her cheeks. She wasn’t crying anymore, but she also wasn’t talking. “Babe, we should probably eat something. This is going to be a long day.”
“She’s probably dead,” she said flatly.
Lauren whirled on me. “I know you’re trying to make me feel better, but stop. Please. I just want…I just want it to be yesterday. I want to go back. But I can’t, so I need to prepare myself for the worst.”
Her phone buzzed against the island, and she lunged for it. She tapped at the screen and then stood there—I could see her hands shaking as she read.
“It’s Li Na. She sent me an email.” She shoved the phone at me.
It seems I finally have something that you want. I’ll be in touch.
I clutched the phone hard, on the verge of shattering it. “I’m sending this to Dave and Leo—to see if they can trace it—maybe we can give it to the FBI.”
Lauren nodded, her face a pale mask.
“I called my brothers. They’re already on a flight. They want to help.” She hadn’t met Levi and Asher, and this wasn’t how I’d planned on introducing them, but since they ran a private security company, there was no time like the present.
“Are they…familiar with this sort of thing?”
“Yes—Levi’s ex-military. His company handles all sorts of cases, including high-profile kidnappings. He’ll know what to do.” Levi and Ash couldn’t get here fast enough. Waiting to hear back from the police and the FBI was making me crazy. They were telling me nothing, probably because they had nothing to tell.
But Levi would get results. That was why Betts Security was widely recognized as one of the top security firms in the country.
Lauren licked her lips. I poured her a glass of water, and she stared at the clear, level liquid. “I’m going to let her have it,” she said after a minute. “Li Na, I mean. The patch. My company. I’m not doing this anymore—I can’t. I’ll email her back when I can formulate a coherent thought.”
“Okay.” It would’ve seemed crazy for her to say that even yesterday, but this was new territory. “I understand. I’ll help you do whatever you need.”
“I can’t lose Hannah. I would never… I could never…”
I put my hand over hers and squeezed. “I know.”
“Do you really think she’s still alive?”
“Yes—Li Na isn’t going to hurt her right now. She wants your technology, Lauren. She knows that your sister is going to give her the bargaining power she’s been looking for. Li Na’s a lot of things—and completely fucking crazy is at the top of that list—but she’s not stupid. She did this for one reason: to get you to crack.”
She threw up her hands. “Well, she wins.”
“And that’s okay. We’ll get your sister back, and then we’ll go after Li Na.”
“I don’t even care anymore. I just want Hannah safe. Li Na can have Paragon. I’ll just…start over, or not.” She looked around the house. “I could hide here for the rest of my life, I guess.”
I pulled her against me. “I would say I like the sound of that, but I can’t. You’re too brilliant to keep from the world.” I kissed the top of her head. “We’ll figure it out.”
She buried her face in my chest, her shoulders shaking.
I held her close. “Shh. Don’t.”
Lauren’s phone buzzed again, and we both jumped. She grabbed for it. I could see over her shoulder it was from a blocked number. “It’s her—I know it.”
Right before she hit the speaker button, she motioned for me to be silent.
“Hello, Lauren,” Li Na said, sounding infinitely pleased with herself.
“Safe. For now.” Li Na paused to let the implied warning sink in. “And she’ll stay that way if you’re more cooperative than you’ve been in the past.”
Lauren clenched her fists together but held herself in check. “Tell me what you want.”
“The same thing I’ve wanted all along—I want you to sell your existing technology to me. And the rest of your company. I want the patents, the contracts, the equipment—everything. And I want you to consult for me.”
Lauren’s brow furrowed. “Don’t you think the FBI’s coming after you at this point, now that Clive Warren’s dead and you’ve kidnapped my sister? Not to mention shot three security guards? And what about the Chinese authorities?”
Li Na snorted. “I’m not worried about it. I’m helping to reinvigorate Shenzhen—my people won’t touch me.”
The city of Shenzhen, which housed Jiàn Innovations’ headquarters, was considered the Silicon Valley of China. Li Na was practically royalty there.
“As for the FBI,” she continued, “they don’t seem that concerned. Clive Warren was an admitted criminal. They haven’t been in touch about the circumstances of his death. With respect to your sister, I’m sure the authorities are curious. But are they launching a full-scale investigation against me? I doubt it. I’m on Chinese soil, and I covered my tracks. If you have this call traced, it will lead to a cell tower in the Southern District of Russia. I would describe myself as largely unconcerned.”
I wanted to reach through the phone and throttle her, but I kept my cool for Hannah’s sake.
“So you think you’re just going to get away with this?”
“I don’t see why not,” Li Na said casually, as if discussing the weather.
“I need my sister back now,” Lauren said. “Selling Paragon and preparing everything could take months. I can’t let you keep her that long.”
She was right—we needed to get Hannah out as soon as possible. If Li Na kept her in less-than-pristine conditions, she would never last. I didn’t want to consider what else might happen to Hannah—things worse than a dirty mattress or unappetizing food.
“I anticipated that response,” Li Na said, “and I would allow you to trade yourself for her, if you prove you’re taking meaningful steps toward the sale. Once you show me a P&S and other supporting documents, your sister will be released and I’ll take you in her place. You can work remotely to finalize the transfer, someplace secure. I won’t hurt you, Lauren. But you’ll be alone—no security detail and no FBI—I learned my lesson the hard way, last time. No one will save you if you try to cross me again.”
Lauren’s throat worked as she swallowed hard. “I understand.” She didn’t dare look at me.
“And I won’t stop with you,” Li Na said, her voice calm and decisive. “I’ll come back for Hannah and for your Mr. Betts, too. I hear you’re back in his good graces—”
“I’ll do it,” Lauren said. “Just tell me where you want to make the trade.”
Oh to the HELL NO.
“I have to go. I’ll be in touch.” Li Na hung up.
My fists clenched in rage. “No.”
Lauren started pacing again, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. “No, what?”
“No, you are not turning yourself over to Li Na. She’s not ever touching you again!”
“She’s never touched me! Even when she held me prisoner in Menlo Park, she only ever fucking Skyped me. I can’t let her keep Hannah. It’s me she wants!”
I stood in front of her so she couldn’t pace and plan. “She can’t have you.”
“Of course she can! I have to get my sister out!”
“You’re not in the right frame of mind to make decisions.”
She looked at me as if I had three very annoying heads. “So what? There’s only one decision to make—to save my sister! I’ll do whatever Li Na wants—anything to get my sister back.”
She tried to maneuver around me, but I grabbed her shoulders. “You’re not thinking this through. If Li Na wanted you, she could have taken you in the first place. But she didn’t do that. She went after Hannah because it would hurt you. Because it would bind you to her.”
I watched her warily, trying to ascertain whether she could understand, given her highly agitated state. “She has you exactly where she wants you—finally. I don’t care what she promises you. She’s not going to let Hannah go. She’ll take you, and then she’ll make sure that some guard’s holding a knife to Hannah’s neck the entire time you do her bidding.”
Lauren shook her head. “I won’t go to Li Na until they give Hannah to you. Once that’s done, leave and take her with you.”
“They aren’t going to give Hannah to me.” I fought the urge to shout. “They’ll keep you both, and then Li Na will kill your sister when it suits her. And when she finally gets her hands on the international cash cow that is Paragon and has it up and running—once she’s used you up—she’ll kill you, too. And I won’t let that happen.”
“This isn’t about you. This is about my sister, who’s the only family I have left, who’s in trouble because of me!”
“You made me a promise to never put yourself in harm’s way again.”
“This isn’t about me, either. It’s about what she’s going to do to my poor sister—”
I squeezed her shoulders. “This isn’t your fault. And I’m not going to lose you, babe. Not now. Not ever. We’ll find a way to get Hannah back, I promise. But it’s not going to be trading your life for hers. You’re staying here with me.”
Her eyes went wild with fury. “No, I’m not. This isn’t your choice. It’s not some power game we’re playing in the bedroom!”
“You’re right. It’s not.” My voice had a sharp edge. “This is life or death.”
I grabbed my phone. My eyes never left Lauren’s face as I made the call. “Timmy, I need you watching the perimeter. My brothers are landing at SFO this afternoon, and our attorneys are on their way. We need to go on lockdown. Assemble the team. No one else gets in or out of here. Got it?”
I hung up and nodded at Lauren. “Did you hear that? Lockdown. You’re going nowhere unless I give you express permission.”
Lauren looked stricken. And as if she might punch me. “You can’t do this.”
I crossed my arms against my chest. “Watch me.”