"Mr. Grayson, you have a guest waiting in the lobby. Would you like to see her now?"
"We're not done here."
"Yes, sir. My apologies, sir."
The intercom clicked off with a swipe of Atlas's finger scarcely before the woman on the other end of the line, his newest assistant, had finished speaking. "You can continue, Daniel," he said with a wave of his hand as if he hadn't just potentially scarred yet another new assistant with his coldness. It didn't matter. She probably wasn't going to last long anyway. "You were saying?"
Another man stood before him on the other side of his desk. He too had black hair, but it was sharply groomed and neatly slicked back. Tall and slender, with sharp, haughty green eyes and skin the color and purity of alabaster, he looked like a graceful prince.
Though he possessed neither the broad shoulders nor the intimidating, dominant countenance of his superior, this man had an authoritative presence all his own. The title of COO, or Chief Operating Officer, certainly suited him well.
With the very tip of his middle finger, he delicately pushed his glasses up his nose by the bridge before answering. "On paper, she had nothing remarkable in terms of qualifications. Sub-par, even. No high school diploma, no GED, no certifications. If I recall correctly, she had worked several entry-level jobs."
"Some, but mostly low-end retail and only in the assistant position. No diploma, which would automatically disqualify her from most positions of responsibility," Daniel reminded him. "All of her references had only good things to say about her, however."
A small snort left Atlas's nose. "Personal references."
"No, sir. Established businesses."
Atlas pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed hard circles into the inner corners of his closed eyes. He leaned back with a sigh. "And she applied here -" he began to say, but he cut himself off, unable to make himself continue.
"...for a custodial position, sir," Daniel finished for him. "I feel the need to emphasize, again, that she was not here to seek a contract or an agent as you had assumed at the time, sir." He adjusted his glasses again, and when he removed his hand from his face, he was watching the CEO with a raised eyebrow. "That must have been some reunion last night."
"She didn't remember me," Atlas told him, but as soon as he said the words, he cursed inwardly. She wouldn't have forgotten him, he realized. She had known exactly who he was; she just hadn't brought it up.
"With all due respect, sir, she wouldn't forget your face. You humiliated her while a crowd watched on." Daniel cleared his throat. "But if that's all, I believe you have a guest waiting for you in the lobby."
"Send me another copy of her resume before the end of the day. You said you keep a copy from every applicant for twelve months, so hers should still be on file."
Atlas tried to recall how long it had been since the fated first encounter, but he remembered nothing of the date. He had no specific memory of anything at all besides the beautiful face that had suddenly appeared before him on his way out of the main lobby. And she had nearly taken his breath away.
But that was what beautiful women did. That was their trademark, their trap and trigger.
Atlas, fortunately, was no ordinary man. He could certainly recognize beauty in its obvious forms, but his talent lay in resisting it coldly and seeing past the superficial exterior to the value beneath.
This woman had simply barged into his path, presuming herself to be so beautiful that he wouldn't be able to resist her - that had happened often enough before his reputation for administering the cruelest of rejections had gotten around. Young women wanting to seduce their way into the entertainment industry - wanting to seduce their way to the top, he had seen so many of them that he was numb to their charms.
On days he felt particularly nasty, he would take them to bed as they wished, but then work them mercilessly under contract until they gave up on their own and quit. A valuable lesson on how lucky genetics couldn’t measure up to hard work.
And back then, he had recognized the familiar anger that had risen in him when he had seen the young woman approach him with such boldness. But he hadn't been furious enough to be so cruel until he realized that he wanted to give in.
What a brilliant disguise, almost good enough to fool even him. She had looked so earnest and innocent as she stood there before him.
More than that, he had felt an overwhelming desire to touch her, to hold her face in his hands and run his thumb along her lips just to know how they felt. She’d looked gorgeous. Long, straight, unstyled black hair. Big, dark brown eyes. Soft, natural features that no one could distrust and a quietly radiant countenance.
The facade was so good, so convincing that he wanted it to be real - and all that had given birth to a kind of wrath that he hadn't felt in years. He had torn her application into pieces, staring into her eyes all the while, daring himself to betray any emotion except a callous indifference. But he hadn’t, so that meant he had won, of course. Against himself.
And therefore, he had won against her. No one got the better of Atlas Grayson.
It didn't matter that her face and her voice had crossed his mind several more times that evening. It didn't matter that he had thought of her as he stood under the punishing spray of a hot shower before he went to bed, one hand braced against the wall and the other wrapped around his cock. It didn't even matter that he had thought of her for days afterward, replaying the sound of her breathless words as she held her resume out in front of her to him.
"Please," she had said. "I'll work harder than you could ever want."
He had stroked himself to a second orgasm that night as he lay on top of his sheets, naked and cursing his sudden weakness. He remembered the ache he'd felt inside, the unanswered urge to bury himself in a hot, yielding body.
She had been wearing black slacks and a button-up white blouse, he remembered. They had been loose and modest, but Atlas's trained eyes had immediately spotted the almost imperceptible dent under her blouse that betrayed the presence of the bra underneath. He had seen so many naked women in his life that he could already imagine what she looked like under her clothes.
"You won't regret it, sir."
But none of it mattered, he had told himself then, because he had still won. He would never have to see her again.
That was what he had thought at the time, at least. Led astray by his deeply visceral attraction to her, he had panicked and overreacted. Fuck, he thought. He had done all of that over an application for a custodial position. How could he have known! Except he should have, and he hadn't only because he didn't bother to look before leaping to conclusions.
"That's correct, sir. I should still have her resume and application in the system. I'll send it to your email before you leave for the day."
"How is Ava doing? I heard she's planning on coming back stateside."
The man turned around. A cold light had enveloped his eyes behind the lenses of the slender glasses. He matched Atlas's stare ounce for ounce, and the air seemed to crackle as if a live current had passed between them. "With all due respect, sir," Daniel said, his voice measured and slow, "that is none of your damn business."
He turned and swept out of the office.
“Why do you want to work here?"Jia hesitated. “I’m sorry?” she asked, eyeing the man behind the desk with a leery uncertainty disguised as a case of bad hearing. Or maybe she really had heard him wrong, because what he asked made no sense at all. Last she had checked, she hadn’t had a choice in coming here.“Why,” he repeated, stressing the syllable with a sardonic impatience, “do you want to work here, I said.”“I…” Was this a test, or some kind of sick joke? She was here because he had blackmailed her, plain and simple. Jia wished Mr. Grayson had at least invited her to sit before b
“Do I have to pay for all of this?”Lydia gave Jia a scolding look with a furrow of her perfectly plucked eyebrows. “Don’t be silly,” she chided before dropping the pile of clothes into the other woman’s arms. “Who would make you pay to take old discards? Imagine. We have to pay to get our trash taken out, you know.”Jia’s eyes dropped down to inspect the expensive fabrics with an apprehensive grimace. True, she had never had an eye for fashion. But these looked just as stylish and modern as any ensemble fitted onto mannequins in department stores, all far beyond her budget. Trash, Lydia had said, but if this was trash, what did that make her wardrobe?“Are you sure these are discards?”she repeated skeptically, and squinted at the topmost article on the stack. Was that a Gucci logo? Discard, really?“Well, all right, not all of them are,” admitted Lydia. “But the damage you would do to our image if
Jia breathed a sigh of relief when Lydia finally put away the binder full of the Dos and Don'ts of dealing with Atlas Grayson. The other woman was still barreling through a heated scolding session on how inappropriate Jia's conduct had been back in the CEO's office, but after twenty minutes of haranguing her for it, she finally seemed as though she were beginning to tire out.“I understand," said Jia, keeping her voice patient and calm as if soothing a spooked horse. “It won't happen again.”“I told you to never question him! Even things like how he would like his coffee or how the day is are off-limits, and then you go and directly contradict him - !”Jia resisted the urge to jump up and flee the room. Of all the ridiculous insanities of her circumstances, the reverential fear the assistant had for her boss had to take the cake. What was this, a cathedral? Was Atlas Grayson the pope? She swallowed the resigned sigh building in her
“Mr. Grayson is unavailable to take your call, but I can pass on a message for you.”Lydia was somehow juggling three binders, her smartphone, a stack of unstapled sheets, and a large coffee while handling the phone call with the utmost professional demeanor. She sounded downright automated.“I will make sure your message reaches him. Thank you, Mr. Li. We look forward to the conference tomorrow.”The phone dropped back into the pocket of her slim suit jacket, and Jia was left mystified by how exactly the woman had achieved such a feat when both of her hands were still full. Lydia seemed to think nothing of it as she proceeded to speed down the corridor with all the urgency of a Formula 1 car on a straightaway. Somehow, despite being taller than the blonde and most definitely possessing a longer stride, Jia found herself panting slightly to keep up.“Daniel is our Chief Operating Officer,” said Lydia as they rounded
“Close the door behind you, please.”Jia floundered for an instant before she regained the sense of mind to respond to the request. Right, the door. She hastily stepped forward so that she could let it latch shut behind her, but her stare quickly darted back to pin itself onto the young man again. He was the Chief Operating Officer? But how…? Maybe she just thought she recognized him, she told herself, but that couldn’t be it: he had recognized her, too. He had even called her by name.And there was no mistaking that face, of course. A woman would have to be blind to not confess his beauty, with those elfin features and striking green eyes.She didn’t realize she was still staring goggle-eyed at him until Lydia discreetly jabbed her in the side with a well-placed elbow in passing. “These are the documents,” the woman was saying, and Jia catapulted herself back into the present with a firm mental slap. She succeeded just in tim
“Last night?”“Yes,” said Daniel, and Jia had to force her facial muscles to relax so that she wouldn’t remain a dead ringer for a marble statue, paralyzed by panic. Those extraordinarily intelligent eyes wouldn’t miss a thing; she needed to say something to dispel his curiosity before he delved any deeper.She had to act natural, casual. And bored, too, she thought frantically, but without making it obvious she was hiding something. The last thing she wanted was to accidentally pique his interest by being too mysterious.But what should she say? Should she lie? But what if he then asked Atlas, who might or might not reveal everything anyway? Maybe a half-truth then - but Jia couldn’t rifle through the facts and figure out which were ‘boring’ enough to safely tell.Whatever you say, don’t say that it’s a funny story, she told herself sternly as she took in a deep breath, still scrambling for the right words
Daniel already knew how and where and when everything had begun, but the true dilemma had been knowing how little Jia could get away with telling him. She didn’t want to reveal the minute details of her home situation no matter how helpful he wanted to be, or even genuinely seemed to be.But without the proper context, it was impossible to make him understand why she had been so afraid of getting the police involved, why she had begged Atlas to let it all go, and how he exercised such a lopsided advantage over her now because of it.But above all else, Jia knew her priority was to extricate herself from Atlas Grayson’s powerful grasp. She had responsibilities, two kid siblings who depended on her back home. Whatever Atlas’s game was, she knew it couldn’t possibly be good for her.There was no reason to believe this bogus “position” he had given her as the assistant of his assistant would even pay her any wages, muc
Daniel had barely opened the door when a hand forcibly pushed it open the rest of the way, forcing him to step back to avoid being brained on the wood. Jia was twisted around at the waist in her seat to stare over her shoulder at the unfolding scene. All the strength in her body had fled when she heard Meghan’s stammered warning, making it impossible to trust her legs to hold her up.“Ex - excuse me.” Meghan squeezed out from between the two men to beat a hasty retreat. They were staring at each other over her head with an intensity that made even Jia’s skin crawl, and she was sitting ten feet away. She could only imagine how the poor Meghan was holding up in the middle of the crossfire. “I’ll be out of your way, then. Mr. Grayson, Daniel.”Meghan must have been even more nervous than she looked; she dropped slightly in what appeared to be a flustered, hasty curtsy before she clattered away on her heels.Meanwhile, Daniel and Atlas