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 chest, knowing that releasing it would only rile up her colleague even more.
“Lydia," she said quickly when the woman paused to draw breath. Here was her chance to both stem the flood and also to find out exactly why Atlas Grayson wanted her here, since it seemed like she wasn’t going to be allowed to ask him directly. "I was wondering, am I your substitute? Am I only expected to come in on days that you can’t make it?”
The blonde hesitated just before letting loose with another barrage of rebukes, and her cheeks slowly ballooned with air as she mulled over Jia's question. A long moment passed as she visibly struggled to come up with an answer. Finally, her eyes widened with impatient exasperation, and she tossed her hands up in a gesture of helplessness.
"Well, I don't know anything!" she told Jia with a burning confidence that the latter could only dream of matching one day. "I only just started two weeks ago. I didn't even know you would be coming in!”
Jia blinked. “You what? You started two weeks ago, you said?"
Strange. Incredibly strange. Sure, Lydia seemed to be a little flustered (and had also made the mistake of asking Mr. Grayson a question at least once, if memory served), but her primped and polished, loud self-assurance had given Jia the impression that the other woman was a seasoned employee. Atlas certainly hadn't hesitated to burden her with all his demands as if she were so experienced.
“Yes. And let me tell you, the one they tried to train before I came in to replace her lasted just a week. And the one that trained us - well, trained her first, then me - was only here for three months. You can't imagine how complex and demanding this position is."
“I'm...sorry to hear that," Jia said carefully, slowly becoming more confused by the second but unwilling to delve into matters that would only amount to more headaches. She certainly didn't intend to stay here long anyway, so if Atlas Grayson decided to fire her and send her home, then at least she could start looking for a real job to replace her now-failed restaurant gig.
Unfortunately, Lydia was all too eager to share her burdens anyway. “And can you believe it, she only stayed to train me for four days, and then she just up and ran away. Just left! I’m lucky I’m incredibly adaptable and brilliant. I managed to figure the rest of it out myself a few days ago - you’ll be just fine as long as you pay attention to what I say. Like when I tell you not to question Mr. Grayson -”
Jia pressed her lips together into a thin line as Lydia launched herself wholeheartedly into the second act of her Broadway tirade. The blonde even reached behind her desk to retrieve a tie and pull her hair back as if she were preparing for a battle, or at the very least a sound thrashing. At the sight, Jia let a small, inaudible sigh escape and hung her head.
Today was definitely going to be a long day.
“Don’t make eye contact with the models,” Lydia advised as she barged through the glass doors from the street and led the way back into the headquarters’ lobby with long, fast strides. She clutched a drink carrier with three custom coffees nestled into it to her chest as if carrying a precious treasure. “They’re safe as long as you don’t provoke them. They’re a little more in tune with their animal nature than the other talents are, so they can get a little feisty.”
Jia started. “I’m sorry, what?” What was this, a zoo? Did the talents she saw milling around all get placards for their enclosures and keepers to tend to them? Animal natures...what on earth?
“You know how it is. The whole sensual thing they have to do day in, day out. It makes them a little wild sometimes, gets into their heads. Also, do you remember where we’re going?” Lydia snapped her fingers with a decisive flick of her wrist before pointing backward over her shoulder at Jia.
“The express elevator,” she replied automatically, and she sneaked once more glance at another passing fair-haired model sweeping past her, all mile long legs and fierce, kohl lined eyes. Wow.
“And how do we use it?”
Jia whipped her head back around just in time.“We scan our ID badge.”
“Right. We’re picking yours up after we give Mr. Grayson his coffee.”
Lydia quickly served into the small corridor and came to a stop in front of the express elevator doors, temporarily silencing the clatter of her heels on the floor. She flicked her badge in front of the scanner before letting it snap back on its retractable string, and then she glanced back at Jia - who was now gaping not at the models, but at the marble and chrome texture lining the elevator threshold instead.
"And stop doing that,” she snapped. “Never ever stare.”
Jia flinched in surprise at the sudden hardness in Lydia’s tone. That was a voice she hadn’t heard before from the woman- sure, she spoke with all the brisk crispness of a stiff autumn wind, but she had never sounded so harsh. She blinked and drew back, firmly subdued.
Lydia sighed and looked forward again. “Trust me,” she said, softly this time. “You can’t ever show weakness here. Staring at things like that around here is a dead giveaway that you’re new and fresh, and that means you’re weak. Never show anyone what you’re really thinking, or what you’re feeling. Swallow everything down and stick it out, no matter what.”
Jia stared in silence, deeply perturbed by the woman’s abrupt seriousness. What had brought all this about? And why did the dynamic Lydia seem so - drained now, with no warning at all?
“It’s related to another sort-of-rule, one that’s not in the binder.” The blonde rolled her head back, carefully stretching her neck and shoulders with the drink carrier still in her arms. “It’s just a personal one, I guess. But one that everyone knows and follows.”
Jia felt her lips moving to ask before she could stop herself: “What is it?”
Lydia forced a grim smile at the elevator doors.
“Don’t ever let anyone see you cry.”
“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
Jia sat in stunned disbelief as Atlas and Daniel discussed the terms of her employment, now official, between themselves. Daniel occasionally deferred to her on some select points, giving her a pointed look when he expected a reply, but it was all Jia could do to nod and go along with whatever he suggested.Atlas definitely noticed it all, she thought numbly. She had seen him watching her with that piercing, ice-cold gaze on several occasions. More than several, actually. She was fairly certain he had been glaring at her for more than half the conversation.“If that’s all, that will all be in writing before you leave for the day, Ms. Moon,” Daniel was saying as he rose from his seat, and Jia quickly sprang to her feet with only the slightest of clumsy stumbles to follow suit.She cursed the black stilettos she wore again for their part in nearly making her fall over herself just now, but she didn’t have long to ruminate on the
The door latched shut behind Jia, and she had the distinct notion that what she was feeling right now was similar to being trapped inside the gated chute of a rodeo ring with a bull pawing the ground in her direction. Difference was that Atlas Grayson looked a lot more intimidating than any bull she knew of.“How do you know Daniel?”Jia hesitated only long enough for Atlas’s eyebrows to begin furrowing. Uh-oh. “We met a while ago, just once,” she said quickly. “I haven’t seen him since.”“When? And how?” he insisted, refusing to be deterred by vague details.Jia grimaced inwardly. She hadn’t wanted to bring up the topic, as embarrassing and awkward as it was. But it would do her no favors to lie to soften the blow against her pride, either. “It was when I first applied here,” she said, keeping her voice as neutral as possible. “I met Daniel, and he was able to help me.”“Help you h
Jia had taken her lunch exactly at noon as Lydia instructed (though she had been too nervous to eat anything at all, even if she had had the pocket money to spend on a lunch in this too-expensive commercial district). She was just now returning to the office after twenty minutes of wandering the stairwell at the back of the building, ten minutes before she was due back. Lydia, however, didn’t seem surprised by her early return, and instead was visibly pleased.“Oh, good,” the woman said as she pushed in her rolling chair under the desk and scurried to the door on click-clacking stilettos. “Now, don’t do anything while I’m gone. I’ll be back as soon as I can, and if Mr. Grayson needs anything done, do not do it. Let him know I’ll handle it since you can’t do anything yet.”Jia stepped to the side and held the door open for Lydia to pass through. “Okay,” she agreed. “Enjoy your lunch.”She took no of