I sat back and grinned. “You have an amazing body, though. You shouldn’t feel insecure at all.”
“I don’t believe you, but thank you.”
“Believe it, or you’ll force me to keep complimenting your a*s. It could get really awkward. Like, a lot more awkward than this.” I gestured discreetly to the occupied table and the couple who may or may not have been overhearing our a*s banter.
She laughed, and I joined her. I loved her laugh, a natural throaty sound that took me back to another time, when we laughed all the time. I resolved to get her to do this more, for her sake and mine.
Contentment flooded me, in a way I couldn’t remember happening since…well, since the last time we’d been together.
MAYA. “Are you mad?”
“I’m not exactly thrilled with how the other night went down, if that’s what you’re asking. I thought you’d be more receptive.”
Jia dropped her napkin on the table, resting back into her seat casually. Even as I struggled to make sense of this situation she’d dropped me in, I couldn’t help but be captivated with her simple grace. How far had it taken her to this point, luring people in with that easy confidence, that air of power and control? I’d succumbed to it so easily.
“You blindsided me, Jia. How the hell was I supposed to know that he, and you, expected me to spend Christmas Eve f*****g in his office?”
“You seemed pretty open-minded when we went out to the club. I figured after a drink, you’d loosen up and you’d be fine with it. Is it this thing with Cameron?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but couldn’t find the words. I didn’t want to admit how he’d utterly freaked out on me after our rendezvous. “He wasn’t impressed.”
She frowned. “You should be careful with him.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s obviously controlling.”
“He cares about me. I don’t think he’s controlling.” My tone was sharp, surprising even me with how quickly I defended him. I didn’t like the idea of someone thinking anyone controlled my life. I also didn’t like her attacking the man I loved.
She rolled her eyes. “Right. They wait until you’re hopelessly in love with them, and then they start telling you how to live your life. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
I swallowed hard. I couldn’t really argue with the picture she painted. Being with Cameron had changed my life, turned everything upside down. Not that I would have been on board with f*****g my boss to get a promotion otherwise, but Cameron’s better judgment colored a lot of my decisions lately. Falling in love with him had played no small part in that transformation.
As if reading my mind, her eyes softened. “Maya, what happened? I thought you said you wanted to focus on your career. That you weren’t interested in a relationship?”
“I wasn’t, but…we were in love once. We fell back into it so easily.”
She sighed quietly. “Anyway, we have to figure a way out of this mess with Dermott.”
The pit in my stomach grew. My job was very likely on the line. Being jobless wasn’t how I wanted to ring in the new year. “How bad is it?”
“He’s freaking out that you’re going to file some sort of sexual harassment claim with the company and he’ll get heat. I promised him you wouldn’t, that you weren’t like that. I had to blow him just to get him to calm down.”
She gave me a look that said, Thanks for that.
I wanted to feel guilty that she’d been put in that position, but I fought a wave of nausea with the thought that it could have been me.
“How can you do that, Jia?” I asked, unable to hide my disgust. Dermott wasn’t totally repulsive, but his personality was. The idea of giving him access to any part of my body for sexual gratification seemed unthinkable, even more so than it had the other night.
She frowned as she studied my obvious reaction. “Don’t look down your nose at me, Maya. Start with that, and any semblance of friendship that we had is over. I told you I’d show you how to get ahead, and that’s what we needed to get ahead.”
“You f**k people to get ahead?” I threw my hands up, unable to accept her suggestion as remotely normal. “Doesn’t it bother you that people think that about you anyway? What kind of role model are we for other women in this company if that’s how we get ahead?”
She softened slightly. “Listen, I don’t habitually do that, but I saw an opportunity and I took it. But you couldn’t sacrifice a few hours of your life for a promotion that would have put you light years ahead of your colleagues.”