Aftershock / Page 6

Page 6


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Author: Sylvia Day


“I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the risk. Taking risks is what gets you the greater rewards. I’m just telling you to mitigate those risks. You’re talking about a merger here, but you’re not considering the most basic of precautions?”


Suddenly, I felt very foolish.


Lei saw that and gentled her voice. “Jackson has already cost you the Mondego project. Don’t let him take anything else from you.”


* * *


The rest of my day went on as usual, but I was miserable the whole time. I was seriously torn between saying goodbye to Jax and saying goodbye to the life I’d built without him in it. The easiest thing was to forget he’d come back at all, but after wishing for something for so long, it was excruciating to let it go now that it was in my grasp.


Shortly before three, my phone rang and I answered it with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.


“Gianna,” Chad greeted me, sounding a bit breathless. “Can I talk to Lei?”


My eyes closed, knowing he was going to ask to work with someone else. I’d been hoping the delay between his return to New York and his call meant he’d changed his mind, or at least decided to wait it out a bit more before pulling the trigger. “Let me see if she’s free. Hang on.”


I got up and walked to the open door of her office. She was working on her computer, her brows drawn together in a frown above her crimson glasses. I knocked lightly.


She looked up at me. “Yes?”


“Chad Williams is on the line for you.”


She pulled her glasses off and nodded. “Put him through.”


I went back to my desk and routed the call, then tried to focus on something else besides the low murmur of Lei’s voice. It was all too easy to think about Jax instead, remembering the way he’d sounded when he last told me he loved me.


He’d consumed me from the moment I first laid eyes on him. I didn’t know how to give him up. I also didn’t know how to live with him. He wasn’t going to integrate into my life easily. I was going to have to change everything to accommodate him.


Why couldn’t I have fallen in love with someone simple and easygoing? Someone who brought a little fun into my life instead a whole slew of problems.


“Gianna.”


I looked up as Lei stepped out of her office, her lips pursed thoughtfully. “Yes?”


I steeled myself for the blow. When would I ever have the chance again to spearhead a project that had the magnitude of the Mondego deal?


“Chad just got through with a meeting with Jackson Rutledge,” she said.


My back stiffened and my stomach roiled. Crap. Was Jax screwing me over again? “Why?”


“Jackson offered to make a three-million-dollar investment in Chad, for a 30 percent share.”


My mouth fell open. “What?”


What did that mean? Was he trying to steal Chad? How could he, when Chad was under contract with Lei?


Lei frowned. “Basically, Jackson is offering to guarantee that he’s not going to sabotage Chad, to the tune of a few million dollars.”


I stared at her, trying to process that news.


She shrugged. “Chad’s going to have his lawyers look over the paperwork, but he’s sending it to me, too. Wants to make sure there’s no conflict.”


Nodding slowly, I glanced at my drawer, thinking about the smartphone sitting inside it.


“He didn’t say anything about wanting to work with anyone else,” she added. “There’s no reason to, if the offer is legit.”


“Right.” I said the word, but I was still trying to fully grasp the ramifications of what Jax had done.


“I take it you told Jax about Chad’s concerns?”


Pushing slowly to my feet, I nodded. “I didn’t know anything about this, though. I swear.”


“I can see that on your face.” She studied me for a moment longer. “Looks like Jackson’s clearing a path to you.”


“Yeah.” It was crazy. What was the catch?


It was just depressing having to ask myself that question. How could I love him more than anything when I was constantly second-guessing him?


My desk phone rang and I answered, grateful for the distraction from Lei’s examining gaze.


“Gia.” Jax’s voice sent me skidding into deeper turmoil. “We’re going to sit down with your family tonight after the restaurant closes. I’ve got a lot of work to do, so I’ll meet you there. A driver will be waiting for you after work and he’ll stay with you until it’s time to take you to the restaurant. He’ll take care of loading up the things you’ll bring to the penthouse to get you through ’til the weekend, when we can grab the rest. Let me—”


“Jax. Jesus. Will you slow down?” I slumped in my chair, feeling exhausted.


He was quiet for the length of a heartbeat. “It’s taken two long years to get here.”


“Yeah. Two years of nothing. Not a single word from you. And now, all of a sudden, you’re bulldozing your way through my life and I’m feeling wrecked. Wiped out. I can’t think. Can’t figure out anything.”


“What’s to figure out?” he shot back, sounding annoyed, which only irritated me further.


I sat up, but lowered my voice, hating to have such a personal conversation at work but unable to hold back. I’d been simmering for hours and was finally boiling over. “What took you so damned long! Why now? Why are you fighting for me now?”


“Because you’re finally fighting for me!” he snapped. “You were happy with the way things were in Vegas. You wanted that to go on, probably thought we’d do that for a year or two, see where things went. And that wasn’t going to happen, Gia. We were living on borrowed time. Too much longer and someone would’ve caught on, and started hounding and exploiting you while I was thousands of miles away. I let us go on too long as it was.”


“You could’ve talked to me about it!”


“What were you going to do? Leave UNLV? Move to Virginia with me? Were you ready for that then, when you’re not now? I don’t fucking think so.”


“You never gave me the chance!”


“Bullshit. You’ve had plenty of chances, Gia. I waited for you to decide what we had was worth fighting for. Not a day went by when I didn’t hope you’d call or just show up. You never even left me an angry voice mail. You called a few times, sent a few emails, then nothing. You gave up.”


“So it was some kind of test?” I snapped, incensed. “You broke my heart to test me?”


“Maybe. And don’t think it doesn’t piss me off that I had to come back to you to get you to finally say you wanted more.”


“You’re an asshole!”


“You’re goddamned right I am! I never claimed otherwise.”


My eyes stung with hot tears and that was the last straw for me. I was at work. I wasn’t going to break down at my desk, not when anyone could just walk by and see me crying. “I have to go.”


I hung up. Lei had gone back into her office at some point, thank God. I stood for a minute, shaking with anger and hurting. I couldn’t believe Jax was blaming me for the time we’d been apart.


Closing my eyes, I took deep breaths and forcibly put it all away. I locked up every emotion I felt and focused on the job at hand.


“Fuck you, Jax,” I whispered as I lowered into my chair.


Then I buried myself in work.


* * *


A black Mercedes waited for me at the curb after work. I knew it on sight because the driver who waited beside it had that coiled, dangerous look to him, despite the crispness of his black suit. His bearing screamed personal security and his eyes locked on me so fiercely, I felt it even through his mirrored shades.


Had Jax deliberately picked someone who’d intimidate me? Another scare tactic. Another test.


I’d been seeing a lot of new sides to Jackson Rutledge lately. Had I been in love with a mirage this whole time?


The driver gave a brisk nod in greeting and opened the back door. I slid inside and melted into the butter-soft leather seat. Closing my eyes, I longed for home. I wanted to sprawl across my bed and call my friend Lynn in Vegas. She’d been there when I first met Jax and through the weeks that followed. If anyone could help me put things into perspective, it was her.


The engine rumbled to life and the car pulled away from the curb. Knowing we were facing a slow drive due to rush-hour traffic in Manhattan, I went over the past several days in my head, gathering my thoughts so I would be at least partially coherent when I talked to Lynn. I didn’t get far before I realized we were descending into an underground parking lot. Opening my eyes and sitting up, I recognized Jax’s apartment complex.


“I thought I was going home,” I said to the driver.


“I was told to bring you here.”


I almost argued, but knew it wasn’t the guy’s fault. Jax was the one getting on my nerves. And if he wasn’t smart enough to let me settle down some before seeing him, he’d get what was coming to him.


One of the valets opened the door for me and I climbed out. The driver led me to the elevator, punched in the penthouse code, then left me to take the ride up myself.


The elevator doors slid open on the penthouse floor, revealing Jax waiting for me in the private foyer. The sight of him hit me hard.


He’d shucked his suit jacket at some point and unbuttoned his vest. His tie was loosened and the top button of his dress shirt was undone, exposing the golden column of his throat. He’d rolled up his sleeves, displaying powerful, veined forearms.


He was dressed like a businessman, yet exuded the potent virility of a man in his prime. Lust shimmered on the edges of my anger and frustration.


“Put your palm on the pad,” he ordered, jerking his chin toward the security panel beside his front door.


Clenching my teeth, I walked past him, my heels clicking across the marble. I slammed my hand against the glass and it beeped three times. “Gianna Rossi recognized and saved,” a computerized female voice said as the front door swung open.


I stalked into his apartment, tense and ready to fight. I heard him shut the door behind me.


I waited for him to say something, but he just passed me, his stride confident and sexy as hell. He carried himself like a man who liked to fuck and knew he did it well. That subtle sexual arrogance had always turned me on. Mad as I was, I still wasn’t immune.


Stopping at the metal-and-glass console in front of the wall of windows, he poured amber liquid from a crystal decanter into a squat tumbler. He took a drink, his back to me.


The silence stretched, weighting the room. I dropped my purse onto one of the black leather armchairs and crossed my arms, studying him, waiting for him. Still he stood there as if he was in the room alone.


Finally, I said, “I thought you had to work late.”


“I need to,” he said evenly.


“Then why are we here?”


He exhaled harshly. “What was it you said in Atlanta? Something about what we’ve got is worth dealing with all this crap.”


“Don’t act like I’ve got any say or control over what’s going here.” I crossed my arms. “You’re running your own show and I’m just getting dragged along for the ride.”


Jax faced me then. “I fix problems, Gia. You know that.”


“It’s not just that! It’s not just about Chad and my family. It’s always been this way with us. You say when and how and where and how long. I have no input. No control.”


His face tightened. He took a step toward me. “Is that what you think? Christ, Gia, you’ve got me by the balls!”


“If that’s true, that’s not what I want. I want us to be a team, Jax. I don’t want either of us to feel like we’re at the mercy of the other.”


He set his glass down on the coffee table as he passed it on his way toward me. “I’m completely at your mercy,” he said softly, his eyes so dark they appeared black. “All day I’ve been feeling like every step I take to get closer to you is only pushing you back. I can feel you pulling away from me...wanting distance. I can’t stand it.”


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