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“I care about you; you know that. But I’m not ready to move all the way to Europe.”

His shoulders slumped. “No, I didn’t think so.” He smiled weakly and said, “I’m not good at long distance relationships, but I’m willing to try if you want.”

She was tempted to say yes, if only to use their relationship status as a shield to help her ignore her unwelcome attraction to Sid. But she wasn’t terrible enough to use Toren like that.

“Thanks, but we both know it would never work. It’s better to end things now while we still like each other, rather than wait until we’ve grown resentful and bitter. That wouldn’t be fair to either of us.”

“I guess that’s it, then.” Toren let out a sigh, and then kissed the top of her head. “I’m going to miss you.”

Jayna wrapped her arms around him and held him tight. “I’m going to miss you, too.”

Chapter 9

Jayna pounded on Gabrielle’s door. When there was no answer, she unwrapped the slapfone from her wrist and sent a quick message. Need to talk ASAP. Then she knocked again.

A few seconds later, a groggy Gabrielle appeared. “What is it?”

“Toren and I broke up. I’m about to do something stupid, and I need you to talk me out of it.”

Gabrielle’s eyes widened. She stepped back and motioned for Jayna to come in. “What happened? Start from the beginning.”

As Jayna rehearsed the events of the morning, she was embarrassed to realize that losing the flight to Manutai hurt more than losing her boyfriend.

“Oh, Jayna, I’m so sorry. What can I do to help?”

“I hate to ask, but this is urgent. Do you still have access to the Rosalind Report?”

Gabrielle’s expression darkened. Her access to the online database was through her ex-boyfriend’s account. “Probably. I don’t think Frederick remembers I have his credentials. But as soon as I login, he’ll be notified and then I’m sure he’ll change them. I’ve been saving this in case of an emergency.”

“This is an emergency. Emmaline Douglas offered me a flight to Manutai with Obsidian Hayes. Unless you can give me a reason not to, I’m desperate enough to take it.”

Jayna’s search of the public data sources hadn’t told her anything new about Sid, except that he flew a bright red Aurora parabolic cruiser, just like the plane from the old Aurora 293 video series. Taking a parabolic flight had long been a dream of hers, but the rational part of her knew flying with Sid was a mistake.

Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed, and she worked her jaw as she thought. Then she sighed. “I suppose getting the lowdown on our new corporate overlord is a worthy use of my one-time access.”

Jayna moved to look over Gabrielle’s shoulder as she connected to the Myst and navigated to the Rosalind Report site. The report summary was nearly as confusing as the public record, and Jayna’s eyes went straight to the part that said Obsidian Hayes was reported to be cruel and heartless and that he delighted in destroying the livelihoods of others.

Disappointment flooded through her. “Controlling, manipulative, and full of himself. He sounds even worse than Ward.”

“Hmm…” Gabrielle said. “This report is wildly contradictory. For every testimonial that he is a job-killer and a corporate destroyer, there is someone who sings his praises and talks all about how he was a saint who blessed their lives and saved their company.”

Jayna didn’t want him to be a saint. She wanted him to be a callous jerk so she could decline Emmaline’s offer and put an end to her irrational attraction to Sid.

Then a notification popped up informing them that the connection had been reset and they needed to log in again.

Gabrielle swore, but she sounded more resigned than upset. “Okay, here’s what I found before Frederick kicked me out. Obsidian Hayes has, by and large, a solid and growing reputation score.”

“But what about all those negative reports?”

Gabrielle pursed her lips. “From what I could see, most of them were connected to a woman named Crystal Haddon-Steen.” Gabrielle jumped to a public record site and did another search. “It seems Mr. Hayes and Ms. Haddon-Steen were romantically involved a couple of years back. It ended poorly. She claims it was because he was controlling and manipulative, and her conscience wouldn’t let her stay with someone who destroyed other people’s lives for a living.”

That was exactly what she had been looking for—evidence that Sid was a villain whom she could dismiss. Yet instead of relief, she felt conflicted. She really needed the ride. “What do I do, Gabs? The last thing I need is another controlling, manipulative man in my life.”

“You’re not letting him into your life. You’re accepting a ride, and that’s it.” Gabrielle shook her head. “I don’t see that you have much choice.”

Jayna knew Gabrielle was right. Flying with Obsidian was her only option.

“Besides,” she continued, “I saw multiple reports that said his relationship with his assistant is more than just professional. She’ll keep him in line.”