“Let’s talk in a good way? Or let’s talk and it’s bad?” she asked.
“Just be prepared,” he said. “Run the numbers if the Stavros Group stays with the deal, and then run the numbers if they don’t.”
“Which set do you want first?”
The sooner he knew what he was up against, the better. “The latter.”
“So it’s bad.” Her worried gaze swept over the engineers sitting at low desks. A few browser windows featuring the Silicon Valley Weekly website closed as Luke and Anjuli passed by.
“It might be.” He increased his stride to pull ahead of her.
His steps slowed as he neared the door to the conference room. A clump of his top executives occupied the space between him and the door. Every single person standing outside his office he had handpicked to be on his team. In many cases, he persuaded them to leave lucrative salaries and promising career trajectories to join him at Ruby Hawk. He owed them, more than he could express.
“There he is.” The knot of executives pressed forward.
“Is it true?”
“What’s happening with the acquisition?”
“Are you leaving the company?”
He caught sight of a messy blond ponytail on the outer fringes of the group. Good. He needed Danica—or rather, he corrected his thoughts grimly, he needed her work, now more than ever.
He held up a hand and the questions quieted down. “Don’t pay attention to the rumors. Our response is to keep our heads down and continue to do good work. But I do need to see her.” He indicated with a jerk of his chin for Danica to come forward.
Her startled gaze met his. “Me?” she sputtered.
“You. Anjuli, let’s meet after you run those numbers. Everyone else, back to your desks. If you want to gossip, do it on your own time.” He stepped forward to usher Danica into his office as the small crowd dispersed at his command.
* * *
Danica didn’t have time to form a protest. His hand on the small of her back guided her, its warmth radiating through the thin cotton jersey of her shirt. He indicated a chair in front of his desk and let go of her arm, not a second too soon for her comfort. The door shut behind them with a resounding click.
“What can I do for you?” she asked, sitting gingerly on the edge of a clear molded acrylic chair. Her back was to the glass wall, but her spine prickled with the heat of at least half a dozen stares aimed straight at her.
He sat down on the opposite side of the repurposed-wood conference table. He pushed a button on a remote control and mechanized shades unrolled over the windows, shielding them from the curious gazes.
The light in the room dimmed, the atmosphere changing from corporate to intimate. She was very aware they were the only two people in the room.
His shoulders seemed to fall slightly. It was a small chink in his usually impenetrable armor of arrogant self-confidence. She yearned to reach out and smooth the faint creases marring his brow. “What’s wrong?” she tried again, her tone soft.
The vulnerability disappeared as quickly as it had revealed itself, causing the temperature in the room to fall a few degrees. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
She resisted the urge to turn around and point at the now-shaded glass wall. “The angry mob searching for pitchforks and torches was just my imagination?”
His eyebrows drew together. “A vivid one. That was nowhere near a mob, and they weren’t angry.”
“A group of concerned employees, then. Is it the article about the Stavros Group pulling out of the deal?”
“I need your candidate list.”
It was a good thing she was already sitting. The shock would have blown her off her feet. “I sent you my preliminary list days ago. That’s why I was standing there, hoping to catch you for your reaction.” She pulled an email printout from the folder she carried and placed it on his desk.
He glanced down at the paper, and then his head came up sharply. “I thought this was a list of rejected candidates. I deleted it.” He pushed it aside. “It’s been five working days. I need your results. Now.”
He deleted her hard work? Without so much as an acknowledgment he had received it? “I know it’s been five days!” she shot back. “Five days of you ignoring my emails, my phone calls, my chat invitations, my texts.” How dare he put this on her? “I did everything but parade naked in front of that window to get your attention!”