Jared tensed. “What? Is it Mom?”
“Why else would you barge in and run ful speed up the stairs like that?”
Bex shrugged. “I don’t know. I just felt like running. What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is that at any moment someone we care about could die. Don’t do that to me.”
“Okay,” Bex said, taken aback. “I’m sorry.”
Jared stomped down the stairs and slammed the door behind him. Bex looked at me. “I didn’t mean to.”
I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “It’s okay, Bex. He forgets you’re just a kid, I think. You’re doing great.”
Bex’s half-wounded, half-appreciative smile offered little persuasion that my pep talk did him any good. He waited for me to dress for the office, and then I all owed him to drive the Beemer to Kennedy Plaza.
“You are so much like your brother,” I told him as he opened my car door.
“I wish he’d see that.”
“I’ll walk you to the door. With them shel ing, we can’t be too careful.”
I nodded. Although I felt bad that Bex had to babysit me once again, I was glad he was so close. The sidewalk was an obstacle course, and as usual I didn’t choose the correct shoes. My high heels landed unbalanced on broken cement more than once, and my pregnant body wasn’t in its most graceful state—angel-blood-amped or not. If Bex’s newly thick and bulging arms hadn’t been there to grab me, I would have rol ed both of my ankles at the very least.
“Okay. You made it. I’ll wait in your car for Jared.”
I nodded. “Sounds like a plan, kiddo.”
“Think you could stop cal ing me that? I’ll be fourteen in a few weeks, and it’s awkward when people hear you. I look older than you.”
“Fine,” I grumbled. “My apologies, Mr. Ryel.”
“Bex wil do.”
I pushed through the glass door, frowning. I wasn’t sure when Bex had grown up, but it was unsettling. My boot heels clicked across the tile floor, muffling when I reached the elevator. The building was quiet, making me even more nervous to meet with Grant.
The elevator opened, and I stepped into a dark hal way. “Grant?” I cal ed. Everything was quiet. The sounds of the copy machine, the phones, the clicking of keyboards, and conversation were notably absent. The nervousness I’d felt about speaking with Grant was overshadowed by something else. My body was on alert. Something was off.
A faint glint of blue light trickled from under my office door. I blew out the breath I’d been holding. Get a grip, Nina. You bested Claire today.
Whatever is behind that door, you can handle.
I gripped the knob and turned, trying to keep the fear at a manageable level. When I realized who was at my desk, I was instantly angry.
Sasha, leaned back in my chair with her ankles crossed and on top of my desk, held the phone to her ear with one hand, and curled a strand of her ginger hair around a finger of the other. “Oh stop,” she laughed, slightly swaying back in forth in my custom-made Aero chair.
I swung the door open, hoping to surprise Sasha so much that she fel onto the floor. Instead, she glanced at me and then continued talking without pause. “Ugh, and did you see the shoes she wore? I thought about giving her a mercy-nudge into that mud puddle just to cover them up!”
“Sasha,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “Hang up the phone, please. We need to talk.”
Sasha rol ed her eyes. “I need to go, Mom. Someone needs her office for the first time this week—coincidental y when I’m on the phone. Okay.
Bye,” she said, returning the phone to its cradle. “You have the last cord phone in this entire building.”
“It was my father’s.”
My first reaction was to run at her ful speed and tackle her bony ass to the floor. Then she wouldn’t be in my chair complaining that it wasn’t fit to her standards.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and began again. “I’m not changing anything in this office. I like it the way it is…because it is, in fact, my office. Which begs the question: What are you doing here at ten o’clock at night?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Answer the question, Sasha,” I replied, exasperated.
“I was working,” she snapped. She pul ed a file off the desk and held it against her chest as she approached me. “Trust me, your office was happy for the change.”
I started to cross my arms, but forced them to stay at my sides. “What exactly do you hope to accomplish here by insulting the CEO of the company? How far do you expect to get here, Sasha?” I hated how arrogant that sounded, but I was genuinely curious.
“Grant is the CEO as far as we are all concerned.”
“What you should be concerned about is the company you’l be applying to after you graduate. Who do you think wil sign your recommendation letter? Who do you think wil have the final say on your reference report?”
My eyebrows popped up. “You’ve made an enemy of me from day one. You can’t expect me to feel sorry for—”
“Grant has plenty of positive things to say about my time here.”
“Grant likes your short skirts and that you have coffee waiting for him every morning. Even if he did somehow notice the insignificant tasks you do complete, he would also see how many mistakes you make. You are not the asset to this company you believe you are, and you’re a bi—” I stopped, catching myself.
“I’m a what?” she goaded.
“A bit rough around the edges.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I know you’re the princess of Titan. That doesn’t mean you get everything.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” I said, wrinkling my nose.
Sasha stuck her hands on her hips. “Oh, enough already with the oblivious routine. You may have some people fooled, but I’m not one of them,”
she said, poking her chest with the last few words.
Frustrated, I closed my eyes, shook my head and sighed. “If you don’t wish to resolve this, fine. But stay out of my office unless you have my verbal permission.” I opened the door, gesturing for her to leave.
Sasha’s arms crossed tighter, and she lifted her chin in defiance. “Truth hurts?”
“I honestly don’t have time for this.”
“You just threatened my career. Make time,” she said, pushing the door shut.
“Better than a fake one.”
“Are you serious? You’re bitter because I’m taking my father’s place in the company? As if you wouldn’t, had you the opportunity! What father doesn’t want their child to take over the family business?”
“You’re never even here!”
“What is it that you want, Sasha? My job?”
“No! It’s absolutely ridiculous that you have this huge office right beside Grant that you’re never in! What a waste of company resources! Grant keeps this company running while you’re off doing God knows what with your husband-slash-stalker…it’s disgusting,” she said, her face screwing so tight, the skin around the creases in her face turned white.
“Yes! When you do decide to show up, you’re so busy flirting with Grant that you still don’t get anything done. What wil happen to this company if Grant decides to leave? It’s doomed!”
Sasha’s words turned a light on inside my head, and I stood there in shock. “You’re in love with him,” I whispered.
“Oh, please,” Sasha said. “You must be losing sleep again.”
“You’re in love with Grant.”
Sasha’s mouth fel open. “Am not!”
I pointed at her. “You’re in love with him, and you’ve been pissed at me this entire time because he flirts with me!”
“You think I’m jealous of you? That’s just the most ridiculous…,” she trailed off, laughing to herself. Her face turned red, and the she took a step forward. “I don’t see what anyone sees in you. You’re not talented…at anything…you’re not that smart, definitely not that attractive, you have no fashion sense, and you have the personality of a rock.”
“Tel me how you real y feel,” I said, incensed. “I don’t care what Grant sees. I’m married to the most perfect, amazing, handsome man in the universe.” Although it was the truth, I inwardly cringed at how sophomoric it sounded.
“You don’t care? Then why did you stick me in the bowels of the file room? I know you wanted me out of the way!”
I wanted to tel her that Grant was the one that cast her away, but that was more cruel than I was capable. “You can have Grant. I never wanted him,” I said. Even the thought of Grant, of me and Grant…ew.
“He’s not yours to give away!” Sasha howled. “You want to know what I can’t stand about you? That! That right there! That snooty, presumptuous, overconfident tone you have when you have zero redeeming qualities! Your father thought you hung the moon, Grant thinks you can do no wrong, your best-friend-slash-assistant treats you like a queen, and your husband should have never given you the time of day. Now, you’re pregnant and gloriously happy. I’m not jealous, Nina, I’m revolted! You don’t deserve anything you have!”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“What?” Sasha said softly, clearly caught off guard.
“I don’t have any redeeming qualities to speak of. I don’t know why Grant has that ridiculous crush on me—if that’s even what it is—and I am the first person to admit that I don’t deserve Jared. He probably just fel in love with me because it’s his job to be around me twenty-four-seven, and he didn’t have time to date. He disagrees, but I’ve always thought….”
“Wel ,” she cleared her throat, “you’re not…you’re not that bad. I mean, you’re not funny at all but sometimes you make Grant laugh. And I’ve seen you be sort-of kind to Beth. Once. No, you don’t have any redeeming qualities, but since when does anyone need to be extraordinary to be loved?
Most people are average. Not me, of course, but it’s perfectly fine that you are.”
I took a deep breath. “I can see why you’re upset with me. I haven’t handled our situation in the best way. I should have talked to you. I didn’t realize…I mean, looking back, I knew about Grant. But I thought it was the position you wanted, not necessarily him. Now that I know, I get it. I don’t think he’s all that attractive, but I see why others do.”
“He’s very cute,” Sasha sulked. “He real y does care about this company and the employees, and he’s so smart—and sweet. When he’s not trying to figure out how to keep Titan on top, he’s talking about you. It’s infuriating. You are never kind to him.”
I frowned. “I’m not. I wil try to work on that.”
“No! Don’t do that!” she said, shaking her head. “I just meant that...don’t go out of your way on my account.”
“I’m sorry. I would like us to get along better,” I said. Now that I knew the source of her disdain, it was easier to understand the motives behind her hateful remarks. “You stil can’t put your feet on my desk.”
“You’re right. Total y out of line. I apologize.”
I wasn’t sure what to say next. We had never been civil to each other, and now that we had come to an understanding, all that was left was an awkward silence.
“I was, er…I was just about to get some coffee. I’m going to be here all night reorganizing the file room. It’s atrocious. So…do you want some?”
“Yes,” Sasha said, trying a smile.
“Here,” I said, pulling a twenty dol ar bil from my pocket. “I can’t drink coffee, especial y not the sludge in the break room. I’ll grab me an apple cider and you a coffee at that place on Spruce. It’s my favorite.”
Sasha snatched the bil from my fingers. “I’ll get it. I need a break, anyway. I just need a flashlight.”
“I had to park four blocks down in that parking garage because of the construction, and the lighting is nonexistent.”
“Why don’t you take my….” I had to stop myself and think. Jared was surely back by now, but he couldn’t take her in the Escalade, for many reasons. My car was parked at the curb just outside. The only people I had all owed to drive it were Jared and Bex, and that was only because they had supernatural powers of precision and lightning reflexes. It was too late, now. I’d opened my mouth, and a retraction would shake our already fragile cease-fire. I would have to let Sasha drive the car my father had given me.
“Why don’t you take the Beemer?” I said, nearly choking on my words.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I said, holding out the keys. “Just be careful, please.”
Sasha smiled. “What do you want?”
“I’ll have a large hot apple cider with caramel. Oh, and a slice of their Lemon Velvet cake.”
“I know it’s summer, but I can get you an iced coffee if you’d prefer.” I shook my head, and Sasha’s expression changed quickly from confusion to understanding. “Oh, right. The baby. Okay, I’ll be back in twenty.”
I smiled. “I’ll be here.”
My keys jingled in Sasha’s hand as she disappeared behind the elevator. I leaned against the wal , wondering if I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. How could I trust Sasha with my most precious possession? She hated me.