Chapter 4

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Ryker didn't go home after leaving Emmie's place

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Ryker didn't go home after leaving Emmie's place. As much as he'd tried to pass off the fact that spending most of the afternoon with her instead of at work was no big deal, this wasn't strictly true. He and Dan had a big presentation with German investors in a few days. Lucky for him, Dan was an easygoing guy. Still, Ryker struggled with a nagging guilt at having abandoned his friend in order to fulfill his own carnal agenda. What had he been thinking? He was the CEO of a corporation, not a horny high schooler. Yet despite his playing hooky and the unceremonious sendoff Emmie had given him, he couldn't quite regret the day. In fact, he didn't regret it one bit. How could you lament having the most mind-blowing sex of your life?

He texted Dan to let him know he was coming back to the office. He'd work late, he'd make up for his antics.

In typical Dan fashion, he texted back with an enthusiastic, "Yes, boss!!!!" That was Dan for you. Ryker had known him since the first day of middle school when Dan had defended him against two older boys. The bullies had thought they could make fun of Ryker's family in order to get a rise out of him, calling his mother a junkie (not untrue) and his father a dead-beat dad (only partly untrue). Their words had hit home. He'd lunged at them, a feeble attempt given their size difference, and they'd taken him right down to the ground. Then Dan had shown up, same grade as Ryker and almost as short, but with an uncanny ability to appear tough as bolts in the face of adversity. Dan may be easygoing, but when faced with injustice, he was willing to fight. And he was good at it. Dan had ended up in the principal's office and the older boys had gone home with bloodied noses.

He had been a true friend to Ryker ever since. Ryker couldn't have built MechaJames without him and he couldn't run it without his help either. Ryker's ideas may have spawned a company, but Dan's foresight had made that company a success. His friend never wanted to take credit for anything, preferring to stay behind the scenes while Ryker basked in the limelight, doing endless interviews and photoshoots and TED Talks. Ryker had been careful to reward Dan in other ways, making him project manager for UMA, for instance. Leaving him to fend for himself all afternoon, however, probably wasn't the best example of how he showed respect for his life-long friend. He hoped Dan would understand.

It was nearing seven o'clock by the time he walked into the office. If Dan resented his absence in any way, he didn't show it. Dan grunted his acknowledgment of Ryker's presence, then got right down to business.

"Mary Ellen, Zara, and I worked on the presentation most of the time you were gone. I'm not going to lie; it's amazing." He clicked on the projector and they spent the next twenty minutes going through the multimedia presentation his team had refined in his absence. His friend was right; the investors were in for a show. It opened with a few clips of UMA's prototypes, then gradually showed her progress from little more than a bunch of wires to a humanoid robot one could almost mistake as a real human being complete with laugh lines, beauty marks and freckles. It culminated in a three-minute video of her assisting and older woman by retrieving a box of cereal from a high shelf. After handing the woman the box, UMA, brown eyes smiling and a chin-length brunette bob swaying as she tilted her head, said, "Now, Alice, tell me about the time you spent in Paris. 1964 was it? I'd love to hear all about your adventures!"

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