“Good morning, Mr. Evans.”
“Ms. Jones, isn’t it?” His voice was deeper than she had expected to be. “Sorry for being late.”
“Not at all, sir.”
He took a seat, but the girl remained standing. Well-trained of her, but he doubted it had anything to do with Collins’ tutelage.
“Please take a seat, Ms. Jones.”
“Thank you, Mr. Evans.”
He watched her do as asked and was amused at the way she resembled a headmistress, with her back barely touching the back of the chair and her hands resting delicately on her lap.
“Of course, sir.” Her voice was steady, but he didn’t miss the way her eyes flickered.
“You’re not comfortable with it, sir?”
“It’s only because of the things I’m used to with Mr. Collins.”
A perfect alibi meant to soothe any ruffled feathers, but he also noted the way she had managed to avoid calling Gareth by his name.
“May I be frank with you, Ms. Jones?” At her nod, he asked bluntly, “As you do not strike me as either the scheming or manipulative type, would you mind telling me what made you accept the temporary transfer to my office?”
Fifteen minutes later, and Pippi was able to breathe a sigh of relief the moment she came out of Gareth Evans’ office and headed back to Mr. Collins. Her phone rang then, and she answered it without looking to see who it was. “Hello?”
“Do I have any reason to fire my vice president, Ms. Jones?”
Pippi nearly dropped her iPhone in shock. “A—ah my God!”
“Remarkably quick-witted of you, Ms. Jones, but I’m afraid it doesn’t answer my question.”
“This is such a surprise.” Pippi knew she was babbling for no reason, but she couldn’t help it. She just felt so guilty and embarrassed at taking a personal call, never mind if he was also the CEO of the company that employed her.
“Yes or no, Ms. Jones.”
“No, of course not!” Her unusually shrill gasp had the other employees in the hallway glancing at her oddly, and Pippi felt like skulking away in shame.
“Then why do you look so guilty?”
“What—” It hit her then, and as soon as she turned her gaze upwards, her eyes unerringly spotted the CCTV camera mounted on the ceiling. Cupping a hand over her mouth to keep anyone from accidentally hearing her, she demanded in an incredulous whisper, “Are you spying on me?”
“I’m guarding what belongs to me, that’s all.” The words, uttered in a low, edgy tone, completely threw her off. On one hand, he was being unreasonably suspicious. But on the other hand – didn’t this mean he was being jealous…over her?
“A—” She stopped in time, but she was feeling doubly frustrated by her failure to keep the fact that she was on a first-name basis with Acheron Simonides a secret. And to think she was the one worried about Acheron slipping up!
“I read your file with HR.”
“What?” This time, Acheron’s words had her halting in her tracks, which consequently caused the person behind her to crash into Pippi’s back. Face flaming, Pippi stammered an apology and, no longer confident of her ability to function normally, hastened towards the nearest fire exit.
As soon as the heavy doors closed behind her, the words she had been holding back burst out of her in a beseeching rush. “Can we please talk after work?”
“We’re just talking.”
“But I’m at work.”
“And I’m your boyfriend as well as your boss—”
“Which no one’s supposed to know,” she pointed out helplessly.
“Then it’s time that should change.”
“Why not?” Acheron’s tone was cutting. “Or should I even bother asking when the answer’s obvious?”
Pippi nearly threw her hands up in surrender. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Your file in HR said you’ve turned down three promotions in the past two years.”
“And yet you accepted the chance to work for Evans without a qualm.”
Pippi’s lips opened and closed. Bollocks. Only now did she realize that Acheron harbored the same suspicions Gareth Evans had expressed earlier on.
“Care to explain what makes the transfer to Evans’ office different from the rest?”
Of course, Pippi thought. 1,158 reasons in fact, which was also the exact amount she was required to pay next month if she wanted Vik to stay in medical school. She usually had enough set aside for the rainy days, but Great-Aunt Agatha’s stroke a few months ago had been a massive strain on everyone’s finances.
It was why, upon mustering the courage to approach Mr. Collins for an advance, the older man had suggested she accept a project-based transfer instead. It would mean an immediate raise, and it would be more than enough to cover next month’s expenses.
“Your silence isn’t making you look good, mikrí mou.”
I know, Pippi thought, and she had the childish urge to cry. While she hadn’t hesitated to speak the truth to Mr. Collins or even Mr. Evans, she just couldn’t make herself confide her worries to Acheron.