table of contents
Excerpt from TANK
Books by M. Malone
About the Author
LUKE (Blue Collar Billionaires #5)
Child prodigy Lucas Marshall has written everything from security software to video games. There’s only one hacker alive who is better than he is. His online buddy C7pher. Now that he’s the heir to a billionaire, he wants his friend to help him build coding schools for underprivileged kids around the country. He isn’t prepared for his best friend, his only friend, to say NO. Or for him to drop out of his life completely.
Then he’s asked to consult on a hacking case for the FBI and the hauntingly beautiful suspect seems to know a lot about Luke. Things he’s only told one other person...
When the only person you’ve ever trusted is a liar, everything is fair game.
I was five years old when I first learned that most people are liars. Ashley Graham told me I was her best friend and kissed me on the cheek. I’ve never again experienced a euphoric high quite like when she grabbed my hand and pulled me beneath the jungle gym.
I’ve also never experienced devastation as acutely as the moment I realized she really just wanted me to share the gummy bears in my pocket.
My eyes go back to the email I just received from an old high school “friend” who looked me up on Facebook last month. Brandon was never someone I knew well but at least he wasn’t one of the jocks who made my life hell. I hadn’t thought anything of accepting the friend request.
It was kind of flattering to have some of the same people who never noticed me before suddenly want to hang out. Until after exchanging a few emails and finding out that he was mainly interested in getting me to invest in his new business. A video series.
Reluctantly I click on the attached file and almost snort up the last of my soda when it opens. It’s a promotional poster with scantily clad women mud wrestling in the jungle for a video called Girls Gone Ape.
No, seriously. Girls Gone Ape.
After wiping up the drops of soda on my keyboard, I quickly close the file before anyone sees me looking at it. Maybe it’s a good idea to wait a little while before I respond to Brandon. Although I’m not sure time will help much. There’s only so many ways to say, hell no, please lose my number. Luckily, I’ve been expecting this. Word has apparently gotten around that I’ve inherited a lot of money and this is the result. People are only friends as long as they want something. Not that I didn’t already know that.
Maybe I should look up Ashley Graham while I’m at it and thank her for the life lesson.
I glance through the rest of my emails and then hit the refresh button. All these emails from people I couldn’t care any less about and nothing from the one person I truly consider a friend. Now that I have this sudden influx of cash, I wanted to do something to help others so I asked my online buddy C7pher to help me run a coding school for underprivileged kids. We could set it up any way we wanted, hold classes in different parts of the country even. I specifically threw that part in there because I know he doesn’t like to be tied to one place for long.
He’s suddenly stopped responding to me.
C7pher has always been secretive. I’ve never even heard the dude’s voice before. But he’s gotten me out of more than one scrape online and covered my ass for me before I was skilled enough to do it myself. Now it’s like he’s fallen off the grid completely.
With a sigh, I shut the lid on my laptop just as my mom rounds the corner carrying a slice of pie and a Coke that I know is for me. She sets the glass down on my table and then continues on. I watch as she sets the pie in front of a man reading a newspaper two booths behind me. He smiles up at her gratefully and even though I can’t hear what he’s saying, it doesn’t take much imagination to guess. My mom is a magician with pastry and all of her longtime customers at her bakery, Anita’s Place, adore her almost as much as I do. Now that she’s started serving a few lunch and dinner options, things are busier than ever.
A few minutes later, she slides into the booth across from me. “What are you still doing here, sweet pea? You’re usually gone by now.”
Even though her voice is steady, her face shows her relief at being off her feet. She pushes her long braids over her shoulder. She’s worn her hair that way as long as I can remember.
“Finn and Tank are meeting me here. They invited me out to have drinks.” As expected, that news brings a smile to her face. She reaches a hand across the table and pats my arm.
“That’s wonderful, baby. I’m so glad you’re getting to know your brothers. Maybe they can convince you to get out there and make some friends your own age. It’s not right for you to be holed up here with me and the rest of these old folks.”
“Mom, I have friends.”
She rolls her eyes affectionately. “You know what I mean. Real friends. Real people that you can see face to face.”
This is an old argument so I don’t bother explaining again that my online friends are as real as it gets. Unlike the jackasses coming out of the woodwork to be “friends” now that I have money, my online friends have been there since I was a twelve-year-old hanging out on chat boards because I was lonely. Our connection is based on nothing more than a meeting of the minds and not because they want something.
She sees the look on my face and squeezes my arm. “I just want to see you getting out more instead of staring at a screen all day. You’re doing important work online and you know how proud I am of you. But I want you to have other things in your life, too. You know, friends. Girlfriends.”
“Mom, stop.” The blush I feel coming on mortifies me almost as much as this conversation. Somehow, no matter how old I get, my mom can make me feel like a kid.
She holds up her hands. “I didn’t say anything.”
My phone dings and I pull it out of my pocket to check it. It’s a message from my brother, Tank.
“It looks like the guys are going to be late.”
Mom stands and then waves to the waitress who just walked in. “I’ll just go change now that Rory is here to take over the floor.” She kisses me, a gentle buss against my forehead, and then disappears behind the counter.
I’m about to send a message back to Tank when an alert shows up. There’s only one person on my email list that I have an alert for. I open my email and then stare in disbelief at the one word answer from the guy I thought was my best friend.
That’s it. No explanation, just no.
Another text message pops up from Tank telling me they’re on the way. It covers the email I was looking at but it’s like it’s burned into my brain. More than a decade of friendship distilled down to one word. I don’t want to be angry but I suspect the anger is better than what lies just beneath. Hurt.