“We’ll be making some changes over the next few weeks.” Sophia’s smug look met Alli’s still stunned expression. “Alli, regretfully, we won’t be able to keep you on through this transition. Under normal circumstances we would give you two weeks, but due to the nature of this acquisition, we feel it’s best if you leave the company, effective today.”

Alli’s eyes grew wider, her jaw dropping farther. “What?”

“Isaac already has a full marketing team. Your services are no longer needed.”

I stood up, my hands flat on the table. “You can’t do that. We had an agreement. The staff stays.”

Sophia’s gaze darted up to mine. “Sorry,” she quipped, without a trace of regret. “That clause doesn’t hold in the case of a third-party acquisition. Perry Media Group, in this case, is the third party. Did you read the agreement closely, Erica?”

Her words punched the breath from me. I went to war with the tremors of anger coursing through me.

She’d fucked me. She, and Alex, and Isaac. They had all royally fucked me. I tried to collect myself, tried to pick my dignity and my jaw off the floor, though I was certain she noticed my reaction.

If Alli was out, I was probably going to be right behind her. No one hated me more than Sophia, and it was obvious that Sophia—not Isaac—was running this show.

“So I guess that means I’m next,” I said, hoping to beat her to the punch.

A smile twisted up the side of her face. She tapped her nails on the table. “Oh, no. We want you to stay. We have plans, and you’re just the one we want to see them through.”

I sat back down. Not out of defeat, but because in that moment I couldn’t have held myself up for the world.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Tension hung in the air between us. I didn’t want to show weakness, but I silently pleaded with Isaac. The look he returned was almost pained, as if Sophia were literally twisting his arm up behind his back, forcing him into a situation that was only pleasurable for her. I wasn’t entirely convinced in that moment that Sophia wasn’t a sadist in her own right. For all her wanting to be Blake’s submissive, she really seemed to get off on hurting others.

“We’ll be bringing on new staff, of course. People from my agency and Isaac’s team. You’ll work directly under them to carry out the new vision for the site,” Sophia said, smug authority dripping from her voice.

Under them. Under her.

I leveled a glare at her, but I was growing numb. The air was thick, and the silence in the room was deafening. Blood hummed in my ears. I vaguely noticed James and Chris hovering on the sidelines of our conversation, waiting. They were all looking to me, waiting on me to make the next move.

“You can’t do this.” My voice was thin, not my own.

They couldn’t make me do this.

“You have no ownership stake, Erica. You’re now an employee of the company, and what we say goes.”

Something had snapped. It wasn’t a punch in the gut or even a slap in the face. I sat there, stripped. Gutted. The pain and the shock of what she was saying gave way to something else. Reality, the choices I’d made, and the choice I was now facing.

Sophia wanted to run me into the ground. She couldn’t have Blake, so instead she was aiming for the singular pleasure of ruining the thing I’d worked so hard for, and forcing my hand to help her do it.

“You’re not going to top me, Sophia.”

Recognition shadowed her eyes. “Well, someone needs to. Unfortunately, Blake left me in a somewhat precarious position when he pulled out from the agency. I was forced to diversify. Isaac and I were both surprised when Alex told us how receptive you were to selling. But don’t worry, the business is in good hands now. You’ll get to see firsthand.”

No fucking way.

I shoved out the chair and stood. “I won’t be a part of this. I’m not going to watch you ruin what I spent years building.”

For the first time since she’d entered the office, Sophia showed an inkling of displeasure, her eyes narrowing slightly. “You’ll lose everything if you leave now.”

“Maybe I will. Maybe this is the best hand you can play, Sophia, but you should know that I’m not playing this game with you. Not like this.”

She let out a curt laugh. “You’d give everything up, just like that?”

“Just like that,” I said quietly before turning toward my office. 

I struggled to fill my lungs with air, but all I could manage were shallow dizzying breaths. I couldn’t believe this was happening, but it was. In a matter of minutes, days, everything had irrevocably changed. Of all my worst-case-scenario worries, this one topped them all.

I went to my small partitioned space and stood in silence a moment, surveying the contents of my desk top. None of this was mine. Not anymore. For the first time for as long as I could remember, none of it mattered. The paperwork, the lists, the schedule I’d written out for my day. Hell, the pop-up sticky notes on my desk that I couldn’t normally live without. None of it mattered if Clozpin wasn’t mine. I wasn’t being fired from my nine-to-five job. I was leaving behind an era of my life that I would never, ever get back.

But what other choice did I have?

I closed my laptop and shoved it into my bag along with the framed photo I had of Blake and me.

“Erica, don’t do this. We want you to stay.”

I flashed an angry look up at Isaac who had joined me. “Of course you do. So you can force me to watch Sophia ruin everything.”

“We aren’t going to ruin everything. I didn’t spend all this money to flush it.”

I squeezed my eyes tight, willing the emotions away. “How could you do this to me? What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Was it that night…with Blake?”

I shook my head, in disbelief that Blake defending me against Isaac’s terrible behavior could plant such a seed of vengeance in him.

“I was talking to Alex before I even met you. I was interested in the market, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to meet with you. When I realized he was working with you as a partner, we discussed adding you to the acquisition. I knew you’d never sell to me directly, and based on our last meeting, I wasn’t even sure you’d continue the partnership knowing I was involved.”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t have.”

His shoulders sagged. “It’s done now. Let’s make the most of it and figure out how to work together.”

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