I replaced the notebook on the shelf, grabbed my coat, and rushed down the stairs. Stepping outside, I relished the painful, sobering burn of the cold air filling my lungs. I looked in the direction of my apartment and took the first steps of what I knew would be a very long walk in the opposite direction.
MAYA. Tonight was Christmas Eve. The team had thinned out until only Dermott, Jia, and I remained. We’d finished, just under the wire. As much as the holiday didn’t mean much to me, I’d hoped we could wrap up and finish early. I was exhausted and wanted to go home to Cameron. Last night had been intense. Exhausting and intense. We never used to fight, but this new version of us did. I fought and he fought harder. Then he silenced me with the kind of passion that I’d never known, the kind of wild crazy love that took us straight into the dawn. He was relentless, tireless, like he was breaking me down in his own way.
Whatever he was doing to me might have worked too. I couldn’t think about anything else. He was like a really good drug that I’d had the good sense to stay away from until now. He was in my blood, and f**k if I didn’t need him again already.
I sank back into the club chair in Dermott’s office, trying not to think about how I’d rather be rushing back to see Cameron than taking a minute for a celebratory drink now that we’d finished.
Jia’s lithe figure swayed toward the bar in Dermott’s office.
“Sure.” I sighed. I scanned the room, appraising the size and decor—dark woods, clean lines, and an impressive view of the glittering night sky. I tried to imagine myself here, sitting behind the enormous executive desk or looking out over New York from our forty-third floor vantage. I couldn’t imagine it. Perhaps the prospect was simply too far from the reality I was living. It certainly didn’t align with any dreams I’d had for my life before coming here.
Yet this was what I was working toward, wasn’t it? Jia was, and she was taking me along with her. Would respect and a title make all this worth it? The long nights, the years of being passed over? My tired delusions about my professional future were interrupted when Jia lowered an engraved tumbler into my grasp. “Here, drink up.”
She stood across from me, leaned against Dermott’s desk, and sipped her own. She seemed softer, younger. How, I wasn’t sure, because we’d just wrapped up a marathon workday. She smiled as I assessed her silently. There may have been an inkling of mischief in her eyes, but I was probably seeing double at this point.
I closed my eyes for a second. “Glad to be done, I suppose.”
“Cheers to that.” She raised her glass and I met it with a clink.
I took another slow sip, appreciating what I knew had come from an expensive bottle. I swallowed, savoring the smoky burn.
“You did great this week, by the way.”
“Thanks, you too.”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but now that I’ve worked with you, I can see what an asset you’ll be. I think everyone can see that now.”
“You think so?” I beamed a little.
“Absolutely. And if they can’t, I’ll make certain they do.”
“Thank you, Jia. This was an amazing opportunity. You went out of your way for me. I realize that, and I hope you know that I appreciate it.”
“I’m happy to have done it. Perhaps you could return the favor sometime.”
“Of course.” To repay a gesture such as hers would go without saying. She’d taken a risk for me, not knowing me, and I would do whatever I could to do the same for her one day.
As I committed to that in my mind, Jia held out her hand to me. I hesitated. She curled her hand up toward her, urging me to take it. Once I did, she gave me an upward tug. I stood, taking an unsteady step closer until we faced each other.
She hushed me, placing her finger on my lips.
“I want to finish what we started the other night.”
My eyebrows shot up. Before I could speak, she moved closer, bringing her mouth to mine. Shocked by her boldness, my lips parted instantly to suck in a breath. She took the chance to kiss me deeper, seeking out my tongue with her own. Catching my cheek in her palm, she coaxed me closer still.
“What are you doing?” I gasped, breaking our contact.
“I’m kissing you.”
“I know. I’m not sure why.”
“Because you’re beautiful, and I’m attracted to you.” She traced a line down the buttons of my blouse. “And Dermott wants to watch us.”
I went wide-eyed, my heart racing with panic and confusion. I hoped I’d misheard her. “What?”