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Created by Templates Zoo

Author Katie Mettner

Butterflies and Hazel Eyes ~ Chapter Three

*REMEMBER This is completely unedited*

Laverne had it right when she said Plentiful Campground was the best place to relax. As I sat on the dock, the beauty of the lake spread out before me like a smorgasbord to my senses. As a woman who has traveled from coast to coast, I can assure you, the Lady of the Lake holds more beauty than the whole of the United States. I’d never seen Lake Superior beyond a passing glance, much less camped out on her shore, but she drew me in like a siren’s song. While I ate lunch, I watched the eagles dance across the water like a modern-day ballet. The harmony of the waves lapping against the rocks reached my ears as the scent of pine boughs tickled my nose. It struck me, as I stared at the water reflecting the sunlight like glitter, how I’d avoided this place purposely. I suppose it was my less than traditional upbringing in Michigan that soured me to the Great Lakes.

My mother decided to find herself when she was twenty-five, which left five-year-old me with my dad who was the ripe old age of fifty-five. I’m pretty sure when the newness of the whole older man younger woman thing wore off, she changed her mind about the feasibility of a long-term relationship with him. She didn’t want to be tied down to a guy who had more hair on his legs than his head and wore his belt around his nipples. With no mother and a father who subsisted on a military pension, of which he drank most of, I had nothing. We lived in an old rundown apartment building where we sometimes had hot water, but we always had mice and roaches. If it weren’t for the neighbors I probably wouldn’t have eaten or even survived my childhood. They fed me and gave me their kids’ hand-me-down clothes and shoes. Since I was “homeschooled,” yes, I’m putting it in quotations, I could get away with fewer clothes than most kids, but generally speaking, going naked was frowned upon. If it hadn’t been for the neighbors I would have been running around in my birthday suit none the wiser. Obviously, my father never won any awards for Father of the Year.

I checked the road for cars and then my watch. It was ten after eight, and I wondered if he wasn’t coming. After I enjoyed the afternoon sunshine, I had time to shower, eat, and take a nap before I got ready for Gulliver’s job. Since I’d be up most of the night, I made it a point to take a little siesta this afternoon. It’s hard to stay fresh and do my best when I can’t stay awake at the computer. Since Butterfly Junction was a relatively small system compared to what I usually dealt with, I hoped to be done with this job faster than most. I sighed heavily. Dang, I hate when phrases like that cross my mind. Now this job will bite me in the backside and I’ll be working for days. It always happens when I get cocky.

I settled back onto the picnic table to wait, Mojo laying at my feet in his usual uninterested manner. I was the only one aware he was paying attention to everything going on around us. He was good at pretending to be something he wasn’t, and so was I, which was the biggest factor in why my services were in high demand. I can’t brag too much, though. When I started working as a hacker it wasn’t exactly on the up and up. I started out hacking bank accounts as a black hat at an early age. Thankfully, those days are behind me.

Tires crunched on the pavement and I stood, instinctively knowing it would be Gulliver. The van slowed and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. He was in a hideous gold and glitter combination Ford Transit cargo van. On the sides of the van doors, sprawled in a flowery font, was ‘Butterfly Junction’ with butterflies covering the rest of the van in a full wrap of fluttering wings. The van stopped and he waved, motioning me over. I glanced around and when no one was paying attention, sprinted to the thing and shoved Mojo onto the passenger side floor. I jumped onto the seat and buckled up. “Go, go, go,” I whispered conspiratorially as if we’d just robbed a bank.

He laughed hysterically, which in turn made me giggle. His laugh was truly wonderful. It was a chuckle followed by a snort followed by a chuckle. “What’s the matter? Afraid someone will see you? I don’t know why. This van is fly.”

I rolled my eyes at his words while my arms spread wide like a model on the Price Is Right displaying a prize. “It’s certainly fly. Dude, this van is also extremely unmanly. In fact, it might give some people the wrong idea about the way you swing.” I paused and held up my hand. “I mean, it’s fine if you swing the other way. I shouldn’t assume.”

He jiggled with laughter as he signaled his way back onto the roadway. “You’re not wrong, it’s incredibly unmanly, but so are butterflies. As for what way I swing. I like the ladies and not the gents.”

I nodded once. “Good to know, thanks for clarifying.” He threw a wink at me as he steered the van toward town. Dang, he was good with those eyes. I cleared my throat before I spoke again to make sure I didn’t sound like a schoolgirl. “If you admit it’s unmanly, why do you drive it?”

“Simple. Tricked out like this, I can write off every trip I take in it. Don’t worry, it’s not my personal vehicle or anything.”

“Okay, I’m relieved on all accounts.” Why did I say that? Now he’s going to think I’m rude. “Uh, I just mean, because it’s nice to have something else to drive, too. What is your personal car?” I asked, wishing I could sink into the car seat and fade away.

“A Dodge truck,” he answered immediately.

I wanted to give him a fist bump, but he was using hand controls, so it was impossible. “Myrtle the Turtle is a Dodge,” I blurted out to fill the silence. “A 1964 Dodge, but a Dodge nonetheless. I mean, she’s terrible looking, so I can’t really make fun of your van in all fairness.”

He grinned and winked again. “See, you can’t beat the engine of a Dodge. They just keep ticking along. I’m sure Myrtle is adorable, and I don’t care that you made fun of the van. Hell, I make fun of the van, but we all need a little fun in our lives, right?” he asked to put me at ease.

I let out a breath and grinned. “I know I do. Up until I met you my life was lackluster at best.” The van was silent and I cringed inwardly. What is wrong with me? It was like whenever I got within two feet of him my brain stopped working. I quickly swiveled around and peeked through the two captain seats into the back of the van. There were rows of stacked trays filled with objects I couldn’t see. “What’s in all the trays?” I asked to change the subject.

“Most of it is equipment we use in the field. The one row holds glass cases full of pinned butterflies for school presentations.”

“Morbid,” I said, one side of my lips turned up in a sneer.

He laughed and shook his head. I wasn’t sure if he was shaking it at me or at his life in general. “Without fail one girl will cry at every visit. We don’t kill them to pin them. I always find them dead when I’m out and preserve them. Butterflies only live for a few weeks, so I figure if I can use them to teach kids about their life cycle, habitats, and the importance of protecting them, then they’re okay with me using their cold, dead corpses.”

I smacked my forehead while I laughed. “You had me there with all that seriousness. You’re funny, Gulliver. I enjoy someone with a witty sense of humor.”

He steered into the driveway of the office building and drove around back, stopped at a loading dock, and waited for the door to open. Once it was fully open, he steered the van in and closed it behind us, shutting off the engine. There were lights on in the small parking area and he grabbed his crutches from behind his seat.

“What’s life without a little humor?” he asked as he pointed to the floor where Mojo was jammed into the small space. “Can you get Mojo out alone?”

“Sure, no problem,” I assured him. I grabbed my computer case off the floor next to the dog and opened the door. Once I was out, I encouraged Mojo to jump down by tugging on the leash until he realized we were no longer moving.

“I didn’t think you’d drag him along since I would be here tonight.”

I shut the van door and met him at the hood. “You’re assuming two things right now. The first is, I won’t need him to fight you off. The second is, he can stay in the motorhome for eight hours alone.”

He crutched to the door and held it open for me. Mojo gave him the stink eye as if to say, watch it, pal and followed me in a sleep induced stupor.

Gulliver crutched until he caught up to me. “I can assure you, the first won’t be necessary, and I assume the second means he can’t.”

I gave him the palms up as an unspoken answer. “I wouldn’t leave him alone for hours in Myrtle parked in a campground. I have no idea if he’d bark and carry on or if he’d be fine. I can leave him for a few minutes with no worries, but I’ve never left him home from a job and I don’t plan to start now. He lives to protect me.”

He lifted a brow as his gaze traveled to Mojo who was trying to catch a fly in the air. “He totally looks like he lives to protect you.”

“Appearances can be deceiving,” I said pointedly.

He paused in his crutching. “Touché, my dear. To make you aware, there’s been a development since you were last here.”

I checked my watch instinctively. “I’ve only been gone eight hours.”

“A lot can happen in eight hours,” he answered and I sighed.

Something told me I was going to be here at least tonight, tomorrow night, and probably longer. I jinxed myself again, but this time I couldn’t say I was even a smidgen upset about it.


I leaned back in the desk chair and scratched my temple. What I was reading didn’t make any sense. “Gulliver? Are you busy?” I called from Chandra’s desk where I was working.

He arrived in a matter of seconds and grabbed the spare chair to sit next to me. “Nope. What’s shakin’, bacon?”

I stared at him for an extended period of time, but he didn’t say anything. “You just called me a pig.”

The expression on his face was questioning. “No, I didn’t. I said, what’s shakin’, bac—” He dumped his head into his hands and groaned.

“Exactly,” I said seriously, while trying not to laugh. He realized what he said now and I wasn’t going to dig at him any longer.

He peeked up at me, his cheeks ablaze with color. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply you’re actually a pig. It rhymes and I was trying to be cute, and—”

I held my hand up to halt his apology. “I was kidding, Gulliver. Man, you’re Gulliver the Gullible.”

His shoulders slumped with relief but stiffened again instantly. “Hey! Did you just call me gullible?”

“If the shoe fits,” I muttered, enjoying our camaraderie. Usually when I do a job I’m alone in a computer room with no one but Mojo to talk to. Let’s face it, he’s not exactly the best conversationalist.

“Did you call me out here because you needed something or to insult me?” he asked haughtily.

“Because I needed something,” I said, laughing full out. “You distracted me, so it’s your fault.”

He rolled his eyes upward to gaze at the rat’s nest of hair on his head. I had to admit it worked for him. His brown curls were haphazardly tossed around his head, either accidentally or on purpose. If it was by accident, he was extremely good at wearing bedhead the right way. “Of course, it’s always the guy’s fault,” he said sarcastically.

I whistled long and low as a warning to him. “Sounds like someone has sour grapes going on here. Did the last girl blame you and then dump you?”

“Who has time to date?” he asked, sticking his tongue out. “Now, what did you need.”

I pointed at the screen in front of me. “I’m confused how this info got onto the world wide web. If you’re trying to protect your research why would you make it easy for someone to steal it?”

His hands were in his hair as his eyes bugged out. “So, it is out there?”

I swiveled the computer so he could see it from where he sat. “I followed the trail and it ended here. I assumed you put it there.”

He nodded as his hands lowered to his lap and he picked at a fingernail absently. He was nervous, but I didn’t know why. “We did put it there, or rather we put it somewhere it could be easily found and stolen. I asked my web designer to code the information into the front of the website.”

“To what end?” I asked, completely confused.

He pointed at the formula on the screen. “The information isn’t anything overly secretive. It’s basic chemistry and has nothing to do with the actual formula we’re working on. The reason I did it was to find out if I was being paranoid or if someone was actually trying to get the information off our site.”

“Which is why you hired me. To find the weaknesses in your system and patch them, as well as find any open backdoors. The problem is, you just built a back door.”

“My web designer assured me no one could get into the whole system by changing a little bit of code,” he said, his lips in a frown.

I snorted with sarcastic laughter and resisted rolling my eyes, typing quickly on the keyboard, and then swung the screen back to face him. “He was wrong. I got into the server in under thirty seconds.”

He shook his head adamantly. “No, you can’t be. You mean you’re just into the website where the store and information about the educational opportunities are, right? The research on our servers can’t be accessed through the website.”

I banged my head on the back of my chair in frustration. “Oh, dear, sweet, naïve Gulliver. You have a website therefore you’re vulnerable. I can patch this quickly, and,” I paused, typing some more and glancing back at him, “no one has gotten anything else.” I typed a few more rounds of code and hit return. “There, now the door is not only closed, but it’s been removed and sheetrocked over. Don’t do something that dumb again without consulting a professional.”

He gave me a salute, even if it was a sheepish one. “Yes, boss,” he said.

“As for what part of the site I was in, I was everywhere, Gulliver. If there was a black hat out worth their stuff they would have gotten in, taken all the information, and been gone in three minutes.”

He blew out a breath and sighed. “I’m glad I called you in. Are you done? Are we solid now?”

I nudged the computer out of my way and leaned on the desk. “Sure, I can be done, if you don’t care your competition can steal every bit of information on your server without you knowing it. To be frank, I’m surprised they haven’t already. You have a security level on your server that I like to call, “Come on in! Everyone’s welcome!” I said, throwing my hands around in excitement. “Mi casa es sus casa. We have everything you could ever need to create ecofriendly pesticides. If you’d rather have fungicides, we have those too! Just ask!” I finished with a gigantic clown grin on my face I was relatively certain was a little bit scary.

“Sarcasm, right?” he asked, nonplussed.

“Sarcasm with a serious undertone of absolutely accurate. I’m shocked no one has gotten further than they have. I can say you aren’t paranoid, someone is trying to pilfer your research. I’ll also say you’re extremely lucky whoever is after said research doesn’t have a lot of computer skills, or at least they’re making it appear like they don’t.”

“What do you mean, making it appear like they don’t?” he asked, leaning forward on the desk. His crutches had long since fallen to each side of him and he was deeply entrenched in the conversation. I loved the way his eyes sparked in the low light of the space. His emotions showed first in his eyes and gave him away long before he could cover them. Thus far I’d seen anger and fear in those globes of dreamy, Nutella goodness.

I sighed and rolled my shoulders to relieve tension. “It could be someone extremely tech savvy. They could be taking it slow to make sure no one notices what they’re up to.”

He ran his hands through his curls, and I noted a few fingers got stuck in the locks. “You’re saying if I hadn’t called you in I would have lost everything?”

I rested my hand on his arm as a sign of comfort. “The truth is, it’s likely you would have. Most people call me after it’s too late. What set your paranoia meter off?”

He put a hand near his gut and shook it. “Something was wrong. I didn’t know what it was, but something wasn’t adding up. How long will it take to secure the website and server?”

“You’re not going to like what I have to say.”

He frowned in frustration as his shoulders squared with determination. “Probably not, but tell me anyway.”

“You need to shut this whole website down and rebuild a new one from scratch. I would suggest shutting it down immediately.” I paused. “Actually, I would suggest taking down all but the front page. You can leave a message saying the site is undergoing maintenance. Taking it down completely could tip the person off. Before you rebuild it, you need to close all the holes in your security for your server.”

“Can you close the holes quickly?” he asked, his eyes revealing a heavy dose of anger and fear.

“I can get most of it done tonight. Thankfully, the biggest problem won’t be the security breaches. Encoding all the data to protect it will be.”

He held up his hands to say stop. “I don’t understand any of this. I’m a scientist not a computer programmer. Can you help me?”

I rested my chin on my hand. “I can, but I have some stipulations.”

He waved his hand around in indignation. “Wait, I hired you.”

“And you can fire me, if you’d like, but you better have a plan to hire someone else who isn’t currently working in this office, or your current web designer, to help you get this information locked down.”

“You think someone inside the office is trying to steal the information?” He shook his head and waved his hand at me as if I was a fly in need of swatting. “No, it doesn’t make sense. They have the information readily available to them.”

“Well, sure if it’s a scientist, but I highly doubt it’s a scientist. My guess is, it’s someone on the periphery of the business trying to make a buck.”


I motioned at the computer screen as if all the answers were there. “For starters, you told me the document I found was a basic chemistry formula, and not the one you’re working on. If it was one of the scientists behind this, they wouldn’t have bothered sharing old, disproven, or nonrelevant information. They would also know you’re starting to suspect a problem. This being shared as public domain tells me it’s someone who doesn’t understand chemistry or is doing what someone else says. I traced it to a public computer, so there’s no way to know who did the actual sharing.”

He worked his lips around in a circle. “You’re saying their only goal is to sell the information? Why would they put it on the internet if they want to sell it?”

“If I had to guess, I would say to make it appear less like they’re going to make money on it and more like they’re making it accessible to all. When they do come across highly important data about your research, they won’t publish that. This,” I said, waving at the computer screen, “I don’t understand, but I’ll figure it out. Maybe whoever stole this is nothing more than a plant for another company planning to sabotage your research.”

“Basically, you’re saying someone is trying to screw me in several different ways.”

I raised a brow and gave one nod.

“If I had to take a guess, I’d lean toward a competing company longing to be the first one to rush it to market. That isn’t uncommon.”

I pointed at him in agreement. “Either way, the time is now to protect yourself before all of this implodes on you.”

“How long can you stay and help me get this figured out?” he asked immediately.

I let a smile work its way back to my face. “I have all summer, but it won’t take me the entire summer, don’t worry. I’ll kill the website tonight, and work until I finish the loopholes on the server. Once I feel like everything is secure, and I can’t hack into the information from any computer here, or outside of this office, then we start rebuilding the website. You’ll have to work closely with me for the rebuild. I can write code, but I don’t know a thing about bugs.”

“First question. You know how to hack? Second question. What about my web designer?”

“First answer. What do you think I do for a living? I hack into systems to point out their vulnerabilities. Second answer. Jim is going to have to go bye-bye. You can’t trust him. He could be the person funneling information to whoever is behind this,” I said, tapping the computer screen.

He struggled to hold in a laugh, but it snuck out his pursed lips anyway. “Jim Porter is the one stealing secrets? Jim is sixty and a grandfather.”

I stared him down with steely eyes before I spoke. “Old means nothing. Grandpas need money, too.”

He held up his hands in silent agreement. “Okay, let’s do it your way. We’ll get rid of Jim. Anyone else?”

I tapped the desk I was sitting at. “How long has Chandra been here?”

He frowned deeply, his brows knitting together. “About a year, but she’s super tech unsavvy and the best friend of my biggest investor. I had to show her how to use a computer when I hired her. She answers the phone and does word processing, and not much more. She’s not even here full-time.”

“Good, send her on a week’s break starting now. I’ll sit at her desk and work, and I’ll answer the phone as well. I want to make a log of who’s calling and why. By the time the week is over I’ll have everything cleaned up and the data encoded. Once Chandra is back we can work on the website.”

He chewed on his lip while he considered it. “I have a lot of work during the day to do with the other scientists. I don’t know how much time I’ll have to spare.”

“Not a problem. I’m all about working at night and weekends. We can do it at your place or mine, but I’ll tell you this much, mine has a much better view.”

His gaze roved over me in a blatant display of lust. “Truer words were never spoken.”


I carried his plate back to the table and set it on his placemat while he settled his crutches against the wall. I slid into my seat to face my own steaming plate of deliciousness and rubbed my hands together eyeing the food. “Man, this is the best thing I’ve seen in days. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, biscuits, and whatever these things are,” I said, poking at a round ball of dough covered in sugar.

He snorted with laughter and had to cover his face with his napkin or risk spraying coffee across the table. “It’s a donut hole, you nut,” he finally answered when he finished coughing. “We’re big fans of them here.”

I picked it up and took a bite. “This is yum, too. I like the cinnamon and sugar,” I added, popping the last bite into my mouth. “The fruit is amazing. No one makes fruit salad like this and puts it on a buffet.”

He swung his fork around my face in a circle. “You need a napkin, you’re drooling.”

I gave him my har-har face and grabbed my own fork. “I’m in love with you for suggesting we eat here,” I said, shoveling eggs into my face. When I glanced up to get my juice he was staring at me slack-jawed. “Figure of speech,” I added, but inside I was cringing. What the heck, Charity? You’re ridiculously bad at small talk, as obvious by the above statement. If I could kick myself in a literal sense, I would.

“Of course,” he replied and immediately changed the subject. “They have a breakfast buffet every morning, but Saturday and Sunday are the best days. They add extra items for the campers as they stumble into town to oust their hangovers. We got here early enough we won’t be taken over by them, but most weekends there’s a line out the door of this place.

I swallowed and took a drink of coffee. “I can understand why, honestly. I travel all over the country and I’ve never seen a spread as copious as theirs,” I said, jabbing toward the buffet with my fork. “Even in Vegas, and those casinos know how to do buffets.”

“The difference is the food is homemade and not from a box, can, or freezer,” he explained.

I leaned back to give my stomach a little more room to stretch. “You know, I think you’re right. The cook cutting the ham and making omelets to order is also a nice touch. It makes you feel like they care about you not just as a customer, but as a friend.”

He raised a brow in a way I read as you have no idea. “You really aren’t from around here. Lucy would give the shirt off her back to anyone in need and Kevin, her husband, would hand over his boots. Everyone is a friend in Plentiful. Well, apparently not everyone,” he said, his lips tipping up into an awkward smile.

I laid my fork down on the plate. “We don’t know anything yet, Gulliver. I think someone is trying to get insider information, but I have no proof. Remember, I have no proof, yet.”

He tipped his cup at me. “I’ll try to remember, but it’s frustrating. I trust everyone I work with, which means either someone is lying to me or I’m as naïve as you said I am.”

I tapped my fork on my plate as I worked out a way to make this clearer for him. “It might not be someone you work with. It could be an independent contractor, someone from the supply company, or even someone on the cleaning crew. You can’t keep track of what all those people are doing, too.”

“You think if we tighten security on the system they’ll just give up then?” he asked as he popped a grape into his mouth.

I gave him a sarcastic laugh. “Not likely, but what they will do is tip their hand. If they can’t get the information from the anonymity of a keyboard, they’ll have to get it in person. At least they will if there’s enough money at play to make the risk worth it. But, there can’t be a massive amount of money at play to steal ecofriendly pesticides, right?”

My attention back on my breakfast, I stabbed a sausage and took a bite. The casing snapped under the pressure of my teeth and the juice poured into my mouth, spicy and sweet. When I glanced up he was staring at me, his fork dangling in his hand. “What?” I asked, after I swallowed. “Can’t a girl eat?”

He fidgeted with his juice glass. “I’m not staring at you because you’re eating. I’m staring at you wondering if you’re as equally naïve as I am, only this time about how competitive the ecofriendly pesticide industry is.”

A variety of emotions flew across his face in quick succession as I lowered my fork to the plate. The guy was, dare I say, gorgeous in a boy next door kind of way. His eyes were what drew you in, but his dark, curly hair made you sigh a little inside. He reminded me of Antonio Banderas if Antonio Banderas had short curly hair. I’m a sucker for tall, dark, and handsome, but I’m also a sucker for depth to character. What I learned over the last twenty-four hours was under the layer of overinflated fake ego, he was actually a sweet guy who believed in what he was doing, both with the pesticide and trying to protect the creatures he loved. I respected his devotion to both. I’ve met so many guys who don’t care one way or the other about working to help other people, especially at the expense of their own personal lives. I learned he could make fun of himself, and me, without sounding jerky or conceded, but the most important thing I learned about him today was this. His ego was nothing more than a defense mechanism. We’d worked together all night and the façade slowly fell away to reveal the real Gulliver Winsome. He acted macho, but nothing could be further than the truth. He was a sweet, gooey, kind, and overall good guy who was dealt a rotten hand in life. This morning, when we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer, he offered to treat me to the best buffet in town before he took me home. There was an inherent sense of kindness within him, and if you broke through his bluster, you got to experience it. I certainly couldn’t pass up a free meal. Mojo could, though. He’s passed out in his office, sleeping off his hard work from his night of sleep.

“You’re saying there’s a lot of money in this business?” I asked when I swallowed.

He nodded his head up and down like a puppet on a string. “Billions of dollars are at play. The company that develops the product can sell it to whomever they want, and there will be a bidding war for it. Companies without an ecofriendly pesticide currently want to be the first one to get the research. If they’re the only company with an ecofriendly offering, everyone will buy from them. It’s a potential market disrupter, and not being the one to hold the research and patent is a guaranteed loss of revenue.”

“Huh, it hadn’t crossed my mind, but if what you say is true, the mole could be literally anyone from any company. What do you plan to do with it once you have the formula?”

He lowered his coffee cup and glanced around at the other tables. He leaned in over his plate and lowered his voice. “We think we’re nearing the completion of our pesticide, which means fungicide and herbicide will follow quickly. Our choices are, sell it to the highest bidder, produce it ourselves, or make it public domain so anyone can use the research to develop their own brand of ‘cides.”

“If you make it public domain you won’t make any money on it, right?” I asked, leaning closer to him and keeping my voice low. “How do you keep a business alive when you don’t make money? Don’t you have to pay for the research you’ve done?”

He nodded as his eyes darted about the restaurant. No one was paying us a bit of attention, though. “We do, but R&D is only a portion of what we do. We also sell other products and supplies. You’ll understand more once we start setting up the website again. To answer your question, we probably won’t straight up make it public domain. Mathias is the one in charge of that. He will make the best choices once we have the final formula in hand. We’ll likely patent it and go from there. We do want to get the information out to the third world country farmers who are struggling with clean water and protecting the pollinators. Helping them is a big must on our to-do list. The reason being, many of our pollinators come up from those areas.”

I nodded while I bit my lip and pushed around the uneaten eggs on my plate. “If you spend all this time and money on protecting the research and in the end make it public domain anyway, wouldn’t it defeat the purpose?”

“Not entirely,” he explained, leaning back in his chair. It was a relief because he can be intense when he wants to be. “I’m protecting it because it isn’t finished yet. If someone were to get half the information and assume they can work out the rest, they could do great damage to the fields and the butterflies. I’m protecting the research because I don’t want it getting out before it’s finished. If someone takes it and messes up the rest of the missing equation, it’s my reputation on the line. I have to protect it for multiple reasons.”

I set my cup down on the table and nodded thoughtfully. “I see what you’re saying. There’s a real risk to this in many different arenas.” I could see in his eyes, without him answering, how right I was. “My brain is spinning because up until a few days ago I didn’t even know ecofriendly pesticides were a thing. Trying to take it all in and sort it out is difficult. If I ask too many stupid questions, forgive me, and if you get tired of answering, just say so.”

A smile crept across his face and for the first time it was relaxed. I noticed when he relaxed, his eyes shined brighter than when he’s worried or working. This smile made the gold flecks in his eyes brighter and the flecks of green shine like the morning lake. I rested my cheek on my hand and smiled back.

“You can ask as many questions as you’d like and I’ll answer them all,” he assured me. “There aren’t a lot of people, much less women, interested in what I do. Most see my manly van and steer clear.”

My grin grew as my mind pictured the butterflies in all their glory stretched across his van. “I was embarrassed riding in it at first, but now I understand the business a little bit better, and I’m over the embarrassment. I think it’s perfect for what you do and who you are.” I yawned unexpectedly and covered my mouth with my hand. “My goodness. How rude. I’m sorry. I guess the night is catching up to me.”

He winked and grabbed his crutches off the wall. “I agree. If you’re full, we’ll grab Mojo from the office and I’ll drive you home.”

I patted my belly as I stretched. “After two plates of food, I’m more than full. I’m stuffed, and you might have to roll me out of here, but I’m totally coming back tomorrow morning.”

He stuck out his fist and I bumped it. “It’s a date. I mean, if you want company that is,” he said, blushing.

I smiled, my heart pounding for a moment at the idea of a real date with Gulliver, but I managed to squeak out an answer. “I’d love some.”

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