In the doorway next to Everett stood Jared. They both stared at her, faces devoid of expression.
Neither of them said a word as she forced one foot in front of the other. She prayed they’d step aside and give her room to get out the door.
They did, but inches before freedom, Jared put a hand on her arm. Neither of them looked at the other, and his voice was gruff. “Why’d you pull the story?”
She struggled with the cascade of conflicting emotions that swamped her body. She was proud of herself. She was brokenhearted. She was frightened and unemployed and exhausted.
She decided she owed him her honesty. So she glanced up and forced the words out. “The same reason your grandfather did what he did.”
Love. Plain and simple. When you loved someone, you protected them, even at a risk to yourself.
Then she jerked away, grabbed her purse from her desk and kept right on going to the elevator.
Jared’s first impression of Seth Strickland was hardly positive, so he didn’t much care now that the man looked like he was going to wet his pants. Seth had shouted at Melissa. And while he was shouting, it was all Jared could do not to wring his pudgy little neck.
Jared might be angry with her, but that didn’t give anyone else license to hurt her. Sure, she’d betrayed him. But she was fundamentally a decent person. Even now, he was battling the urge to chase after her. Not that he knew what he’d say. Not that he even understood what had just happened.
She’d behaved in a completely incomprehensible manner. Of course, she’d baffled him from the moment they met.
While Jared struggled to put her in context, Everett stepped into the office, moved to one side, then gestured for Jared to enter.
Everett shut the door firmly behind them and focused on the sweating Seth Strickland. “Mr. Ryder, this is Seth Strickland, Windy City Bizz’s managing editor. For now. Seth, this is Mr. Jared Ryder, the new owner of Windy City Bizz.”
Seth’s jaw dropped a notch further.
Jared didn’t bother with pleasantries. It seemed a little ridiculous after what they’d just witnessed.
“Is this a copy of the article?” He advanced on Seth’s desk and pointed to the papers piled in front of him. Seth nodded.
“We won’t be running it,” said Jared, lifting the pages from under Seth’s nose.
He gave Everett a polite smile. “Thank you for your time. One of Ryder International’s vice presidents will be in touch next week.”
Then he turned and exited the office. He couldn’t care less if Everett fired Seth or kept him on. Melissa wasn’t fired, that was for sure. And she could write for Seth or for anyone else in the company.
He took the elevator to the first floor, crossed the lobby, trotted down the outside stairs and slid into the Aston Martin idling at the curb.
“How’d it go?” asked Royce, pushing the car into gear and flipping on his signal.
“It’s taken care of,” said Jared.
“Good.” Royce gave a nod. Hard rock was blaring on the stereo, while the air conditioner battled the heat from the sunshine.
“Did you see Melissa come out the door?”
Royce zipped into the steady stream of traffic. “You saw Melissa?”
“She was inside.” Jared shoved his sunglasses onto the bridge of his nose.
“And.” Jared drummed his fingers on the dashboard. “She was trying to get her editor to kill the article.”
Royce glanced at him for a split second before turning his attention to the busy intersection. “What? Why?”
“Beats the hell out of me. The guy fired her.”
“She lost her job?”
“No. Of course she didn’t lose her job. She works for us now, remember?”
“And you don’t think we should fire her?”
Jared killed the clanging music. He needed to think.
“Jared?” Royce prompted.
“Why would she kill the article?” Her cryptic remark about his grandfather didn’t make sense.
“Maybe she’s afraid of getting sued.”
Jared glanced down at the papers in his hand. He scanned one page, then another, then another. The story was innocuous. It was lightweight to the point of being boring.
“Anything about Gramps?” asked Royce as they turned to parallel the lakeshore. Skyscrapers loomed to one side, blocking the sun.
“Nothing. It’s crap.”
“She’s a bad writer?”
“No. She’s a fine writer. But she held back. She had a ton of stuff on me.” He flipped through the pages again. “She didn’t use any of it.”
“Then why did she try to pull it?”
“I asked her,” Jared admitted, flashing back to that moment, remembering her expression, remembering the emotional body slam of seeing her again, his desire to attack Seth and to chase after Melissa.