“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
“Maybe I should try to contact Lydia,” Jia attempted to say again. He hadn’t heard her the first time when he had been slamming his fingers on the express elevator button three times in a row. “But I don’t have her contact information, so if I could get that from you -”“You don’t have to do anything,” he interrupted. “Just stand by the door and make sure to turn away anyone who’s looking for me until the meeting is over.” The doors slid open with a hiss, and before they had even fully withdrawn, Atlas was already standing inside the elevator carriage and in the middle of turning around. “Quickly,” he snapped.Jia nearly jumped at the biting impatience in his voice, but with the quick reflexes of someone well accustomed to responding to the barked orders of unreasonable superiors, she scurried inside to join him just before the doors closed behind her. With a hum, the cab began to descend.Lydia had warned her against this
Jia spent the next minute attempting to discreetly catch Anthony’s eye so that she could properly greet him, but he appeared almost desperately adamant to avoid just such a thing. Finally, she gave up and turned her head to face forward, opting to stare at a particularly colorful abstract painting hanging on the opposite wall. She had never been an artist nor schooled in its intricacies, but she was fairly certain it was supposed to look like a trumpet.Oh, this was killing her. She closed her eyes and tried to quash the boredom and agitation growing inside her now that she had nothing to do but wait. She checked the time on her phone for the seventh time and closed it again with a soundless sigh. Lydia wouldn’t return to the office for another ten minutes and some change; she hoped the woman wouldn’t summarily lose her mind at finding them gone.But that was the least of her worries. Once Jia explained to her that she had reminded Atla
“Then, if that’s all…?”Atlas stood up from the leather chair and extended his hand across the table toward George Burhock. They had sat at the end of it that was closest to the front of the room, well away from the door: though there was little risk of eavesdropping thanks to the soundproofing of the walls, Atlas could neither prove that nor did he expect the man to simply take his word for it. Emphasizing privacy was a demonstration of a small courtesy that he had no issue extending. Especially not for a multi-million dollar arrangement.“I see everything I’ve heard is true,” the older man said. He got to his feet with a grunt and reached over to shake his hand. “That has to have been the most soulless exchange I’ve ever partaken in.”Anyone else would have taken that as an insult, but Atlas considered it nothing but a point of satisfaction. What use was a soul in matters like these? “Efficiency, Mr. Burhock.” He withdrew his hand