Her Secret Protector

By: Roxanne Snopek

Secrets of Cherry Lake Romance



Chapter One








The first message in Carrie Logan’s inbox that morning was from GoDaddy, and read as follows: “Due to a server breach, the security on your website has been compromised.”

Carrie set down her coffee mug and opened a new window on her second screen, feeling her blood pressure rise as she waited for her website to load.

Compromised? What did that mean?

She was supposed to be finishing the family photo package for Rita Kauffman today. After that, she had Bethany Kyle’s wedding shoot to plan, not to mention preparation for the annual cherry festival. But if her site had been hacked, everything would take a backseat to damage control.

Not that she had any idea what that damage might look like. Or how to control it.

Oh, you know what it might look like, said a little voice in her head.

“Stop it,” she commanded the voice. Those pictures had been safely archived and forgotten, years ago. Hardly anyone even knew those pictures existed.

The spinning icon indicated that the page was loading, loading and still loading.

Did it always take this long? Was this the first sign of a problem? Cyber security was so not her strong suit. She should have outsourced her website management, but it simply wasn’t in the budget yet. Or, she’d put other things ahead of it. Things like groceries. And cat food.

She went back the GoDaddy message in her inbox.

“Please be aware that your private information may have been taken.”

As if there might be eyes blinking at her from the walls, Carrie looked around her office. What kind of private information? Her email list? Passwords?

Banking information? Her stomach clenched. Surely not that. She did most of her banking online, but it was encrypted, which meant it was safe.

Wasn’t it?

“Ouch!”

Carrie reached up and removed a tiny, razor-sharp claw from her neck. The claw was attached to a white-tipped paw, attached to a small silver-grey relentlessly affectionate tabby cat.

“Belinda,” she said, rubbing the scratch, “this is not the right time.”

It hadn’t been the right time at five this morning, either, when Belly-the-Terrible had been hurling herself at the bedroom door, yowling for breakfast.

The cat stepped delicately from the desk onto Carrie’s lap, purring like a machine-gun, then slipped and plunked onto the floor, taking a sheaf of papers with her.

“Honestly!” As Carrie grabbed for the papers, her elbow bumped the half-full coffee mug, sending it sloshing over a pile of unpaid bills.

In a flash, the cat disappeared up the stairs, all speed and grace when she wanted. The lower street-facing part of Carrie’s restored heritage house was devoted to her photography business. She normally kept the cat confined to their living quarters in the upper level overlooking the garden, and this was why. From Belinda’s vocal displeasure, you’d think she spent her days in an airless dungeon, rather than bird-watching on a sunny windowsill.

But given that Belinda had begun life in an actual airless dungeon – a dumpster, in fact, on which the lid had fallen shut, trapping both mother and kittens – Carrie cut her a lot of slack.

Encryption, she thought. Wasn’t that the stamp of approval promising that private information was safe? Banks had vaults; vaults were like tombs, like crypts, hence the word, right? Encrypted. Secret. Secure. Sealed. In the vault, as they said.

Was GoDaddy saying that this vault, like Belinda’s dumpster, had been opened?

As Carrie mopped up the mess, an even worse thought occurred to her. She had a shopping cart function set up on her website so clients could place orders digitally. It couldn’t be compromised… could it? It had that little lock icon and everything. Didn’t that mean it was secure?

The little wheel-of-death continued its cheerful rotation but just when she thought she’d lose her mind, the website popped up, Forever Yours Photography, looking as it always did.

She felt the familiar rush of pride at the display of her work: heart-warming images of Montana mountain scenes, kids poking sticks into streams, cheering third grade soccer teams, Cherry Lake community events, families grinning “cheese”, all the images rotating smoothly on a classic, neutral background. Pretty much what you’d expect from a small town photographer.

Carrie exhaled with relief. It had taken her weeks to learn how to build the site, even with a template. She couldn’t bear the thought of starting all over again.

She re-read GoDaddy’s message, which concluded with a recommendation that she contact a security expert and apologized for any inconvenience… blah-blah-blah.

The message was probably a hoax. Her website looked fine and – she took a quick scan through the rest of her emails – no other alarming emails. A scam, likely. And she’d fallen for it.

She went back to editing the Kauffman family photos, shaking her head at her unnecessary panic, glad no one was around to see it. Her mom’s tightly-wound overprotectiveness came out of love, she knew that, but it hadn’t achieved what she’d intended.

Thank goodness for Grandpa Nate, who’d always treated her like an ordinary person. The Jackson clan might be messy and sprawling, but as far as Carrie was concerned, it was preferable to the Logan side of her family.

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