Protecting Her Heart
Copyright © 2016 Michelle Woods
All rights reserved
All rights reserved
Evie Dalton stared at her boss in shock. Mr. Grady was a short portly man with bushy black brows that looked like two giant caterpillars and he smelled like he routinely drowned himself in cologne. He had handed her the check she loosely gripped in her hand ten seconds ago after telling her that her services were no longer needed. He’d waited until she’d worked the entire day to tell her too. Glancing up at him, she could hear a roaring sound in her ears and she blinked. This wasn’t really happening, was it?
“You’re dismissed. That means you can leave,” he grunted, waving a hand at the door.
Evie couldn’t move and stood in front of her former desk still trying to come to grips with what had just happened. Her eyes stared blankly at the man and woman standing a short distance from her.
“Vicki, this is where you’ll be working now,” Mr. Grady was already saying to the dishwater blonde, who giggled when he rubbed his hand over her ass.
Evie knew that Vicki was Mr. Grady’s mistress and she’d apparently just stolen Evie’s job. She couldn’t believe he thought that bimbo was going to be a good assistant.
I mean really?
First of all, Vicki wasn’t very bright if she was dating a man who looked like he wore caterpillars for brows and second, how could she stand to be with a man who smelled like he bathed in his cologne. Ugh. She took a step forward, grabbing her things from the desk as the two of them continued to canoodle. She found herself wishing that Mr. Grady’s brother-in-law would come down and find them together and Bertie Grady would get what he deserved. Her teeth on edge, she moved around the now kissing couple to get her things. She felt bile rise in her throat as she watched them. How could Vicki even stomach kissing him? Shit--she was half his age, for cripes sake.
She glanced one last time at the couple, still hoping Mr. Grady would suddenly stop kissing Vicki and tell her it was a joke. Her nose wrinkled at their display before she dragged her umbrella from beneath the chair before grabbing her purse and the stuffed bear Rory had given her.
Feeling her hands shaking as she neared the glass doors of the building, she looked outside to see that the rain the weather channel had predicted had started to pour from the sky. Just freakin’ great. Sighing, she stuffed the check into her purse, closing it before she stepped outside under the small overhang.
She undid the little tie on the umbrella and hit the automatic open button but nothing happened. Evie shook the umbrella, trying to get it to open. Damn it, the stupid thing was stuck. Shifting the bear under her arm, she fiddled with it for several moments but it wouldn’t pop up. Frustration overtaking her, she dumped the useless thing in the trash bin and stared at the torrential downpour.
“Damn it,” she muttered out loud.
She would just have to brave the damned rain because it wasn’t going to get any better if the heavy clouds were any indication and she wasn’t going to stick around here after being fired so her boss’s mistress could take her damned job. At least her day couldn’t get any worse, she supposed. After all, what could be worse than walking for two blocks in the drenching rain right after you lost your sole source of income? She let out a snort and figuring it was now or never, she stepped out into the rain and headed to her car at a quick pace. Her shoes immediately became uncomfortable and her suit was plastered to her body. It was a soggy mess and she already felt thoroughly soaked.
Her heart was heavy with worry. How was she going to pay her bills? Her next student loan payment would be due in two weeks, her light bill was already overdue, and she only had enough groceries to last till the end of the week.
Damn, why did this have to happen now? Why not when she had everything caught up?
Evie spotted her car and quickened her pace, finally seeing her freedom from the heavy fall of water that seemed to be pounding her and the ground into submission with its relentless fury. She slid into the driver’s seat, letting out a relieved sigh when she was able to shut the door behind her, before setting her waterlogged purse on the passenger seat along with the stuffed bear.
Her hands were frozen, her suit felt like it was permanently molded to her body, and when she glanced at the mirror she noticed that her hair was flattened to her head and her make-up was running down her face. She would look like a demented Goth princess if it weren’t for the light tan pantsuit she wore. Reaching into her purse, she searched for the make-up wipes she kept inside, finding them at the bottom beneath some soggy papers and her measly five hundred dollar severance check.
Attempting to clean the goop off her face with the wipe, she felt tears sting her eyes and the heavy sigh she let out was loud inside the silent car. Evie wanted to run back into the building and tell Mr. Grady that he was a mean old coot who would never find a better receptionist than her with the salary he paid. If she didn’t have a black mark on her record because of her father, she’d never have taken the job working for him in the first place. But when your father embezzles millions before running off to Morocco with his current mistress, it tended to shrink your prospective job market in a big way. Even when you move two thousand miles away from the place where it happened.
The investigation and trial against her father had caused a media frenzy the likes of which she never wanted to experience again. It was six years later and she was still dealing with the fallout of his selfishness.
Not that any of his actions had surprised her because he’d never been a good father to her or, for that matter, a good husband to her mother. He cheated on her mom and missed all the important events in Evie’s life before he ran off with the money neither she nor her mother had ever even known about. While Evie and her mom struggled to get through the FBI’s relentless questioning and away from the media who chased them at every turn, her father was living in the lap of luxury in a country without extradition. The damned bastard.
Two months after they’d been cleared by the FBI, things were starting to die down and Evie thought they would be able to get their lives back on track. It hadn’t happened that way though; her mother was killed in a freeway pile-up, leaving Evie alone in the world. After her mother’s death, she’d moved across the country trying to escape the stigma of being Carson Dalton’s daughter, but no matter how far she went people still remembered what he’d done.
Evie frowned at the black raccoon eyes staring back at her in the rearview mirror. Damn, the wipe hadn’t fixed them and she looked ridiculous. Dropping the wipe on the seat next to her, she shrugged. It wasn’t like she was going anywhere important anyway. She started the car, wondering if this time she would be able to find a job without difficulty.
Evie turned out of the parking lot, her mind on her current dilemma while wondering if she might finally be able to apply for accountant jobs. Evie bit her lip hard. It had been six years and she’d even changed her hair two years ago. She hadn’t been recognized in more than a year and a half so it might be okay.
It frustrated her that she was a CPA but she couldn’t use her damned degree to get a better job because no one wanted an accountant whose father had embezzled millions. Evie almost laughed at the utter ridiculousness of the very idea. Her useless diploma hung on the wall in her living room like an ominous anvil hanging over her head. If only she’d known what her father was doing while she was studying for her degree. If she had, she never would have bothered. She took the exam for her license two weeks before he escaped the country. In fact, it had been the day after the FBI showed up at their door that she’d found out she was a certified accountant. Evie snorted; hell of a lot of good that had done her.
She pulled her car into the parking place marked 412 and stared out the window at the rain still pouring from the sky. She might as well get out. It wasn’t like she wasn’t already soaked, so what the heck. Leaning into the passenger seat, she grabbed her purse and her stuffed bear. Climbing out in the rain, she quickly shut the door and darted toward the overhang a few feet away.
Entering the building, she stopped to grab her mail. She was dripping water everywhere and likely looked like a drowned rat. Entering the elevator, she hit the button for her floor as a shiver passed down her spine. Damn, it was cold. Evie wondered why the super always cranked the AC up when it wasn’t needed but in the height of summer it was never on at all.
Entering her apartment, she shut her door, twisting the deadbolt and attaching the chain. Frankie, a thirty-year-old heroin addict who lived two doors down, was unpredictable. He’d already robbed her place once but since she didn’t have much to steal, he’d only taken her TV and her cheap e-reader. Having replaced both, she didn’t want to give him an opportunity to do it again, especially now that she was unemployed. Evie felt anger twist inside her again.
She threw the soggy bear and her mail on the end table as she walked by heading to her room. It took her fifteen minutes to wash her face and change into a loose t-shirt and yoga pants. Feeling a little less waterlogged and no longer looking like a goth princess or a raccoon, she exited the bathroom. Evie headed back into the living room, sitting down on the edge of the couch to read over the mail. Flipping through the envelopes, she didn’t think it was likely she had anything other than bills but still.
Ripping open a plain white envelope with a blue and green logo she didn’t recognize, she began reading. She hadn’t thought anything could make her day any more terrible than it already was, but she’d been wrong. Dead wrong. She blinked and then did it again because surely this wasn’t happening. Things could not have gone from bad to suicidal in just under fifteen minutes. Could they?
She stared at the black words written across the page in bold type, her body frozen and her hands shaking. The words seemed to blur together making only a glob of unreadable ink that Evie wished she’d never opened. She sat back into the couch still staring at the letter, wondering what the hell she was going to do now. Not only had she lost her job, but she’d been caught in a torrential downpour that left her soaked and really cranky. But Life hadn’t thought that was enough shittiness apparently. Nope, because now at the end of the month she would be homeless.
Evie felt tears filling her eyes and her battered heart twisted in her chest as she tossed the letter and the rest of the mail on the coffee table in front of her and buried her face in her hands. How could they be bulldozing her building to put up a mall in less than three weeks? It wasn’t fair. She knew this place was run down and in an undesirable area of the city but putting up another shopping mall seemed pointless.
Damn it--now what the hell was she going to do? Her mind raced around and around. How was she going to make enough money to pay all her bills and afford first, last, and a security deposit in just under three weeks with no damned job? Tears streaming down her cheeks, she stared at the letter on the table. It sat there taunting her with its official nature and its black ink. Evie blinked and wiped her face, suddenly remembering her mother’s favorite saying.
‘Life and lemons, Evie’ she used to say to remind her that she could always find a way to make lemonade. Only at the moment she had no idea how she was going to do that because she was basically screwed. Using the sleeve of her shirt to wipe her face, she stood up and paced over to the kitchen still trying to come to grips with the fact that her life was falling apart all in one day. She was almost to the fridge when her cell rang.
“Hello, Rory,” Evie answered. She didn’t question if it was Rory because she only had one friend and Mr. Grady certainly wasn’t calling her because the asshole had fired her. That thought set her teeth on edge and she wished she was able to go back in time to slap him when he handed her that one-week severance check earlier today.
“Hey, doll. How was your day?” Rory asked.
“Ugg–I don’t even want to talk about it.”
“That bad, huh? I get it. Mine wasn’t stellar. I guess you got the eviction notice too?” Rory lived in the apartment one floor below her and they’d met while doing laundry about three years ago. Rory was pathetically the only friend she had. It wasn’t that Evie was shy and couldn’t make friends. No, it had just been easier after her father’s scandal to not allow people in and over the years it had become a habit not to even try.
Rory had taken the time to force her way into Evie’s life or they never would have become friends in the first place. Evie reached into the fridge, grabbing out some leftover spaghetti from two nights ago when she had splurged on something besides ramen noodles or mac and cheese.
“Yes, I got it. I don’t get how they can do this to us and only give us three weeks to find a place to live,” Evie grumbled as she opened the microwave to set the spaghetti inside. She reached over to grab a paper towel to cover it with and shut the door on the microwave.
“I don’t know but it sucks because most everything in the city is way too damned expensive. We pay four hundred fifty a month but most places now are upwards of six hundred a month. Which is way more than I can afford alone. Shit, this really sucks.” Rory was chewing on something crunchy as she talked and Evie shook her head. Rory was a bottomless pit and the crappy thing was she never gained a pound, unlike Evie who looked at something fattening and gained five pounds. The only reason she wasn’t a size twenty instead of a size fourteen was that she couldn’t afford to buy a ton of junk food or eat out.
“Yeah, it does.”
“So what made your day so awful, ‘cause I am assuming that the notice isn’t the only reason you don’t want to talk about your day,” Rory asked.
Evie let out a little sigh before taking a deep breath, listening to Rory munch on another crunchy bite of whatever she was eating. Her back pressed against the counter, she lifted her hand to run it through her red locks, wanting to cry all over again.
“I got fired and then as if that wasn’t enough, my damned umbrella broke and I had to walk two blocks in the rain because this morning I couldn’t find a parking spot close to the building because of the convention next door. Then when I get home I find out I am about to be homeless and that was my day in a nutshell,” Evie said in a rush.
“Oh damn, Evie. I’m sorry, you really did have a pretty shitty day, huh,” Rory said and she stopped munching. “Geez, why did that old geezer fire you? You’re the best receptionist he’s ever had. I mean shit, you even took his dog on walks and got his wife’s dry cleaning for cripes sake.”
Evie felt the beginnings of a smile tilting her lips as she lifted the bowl out of the microwave, grabbing a fork and some napkins before heading to the couch. She loved that Rory called Mr. Grady an old geezer all the time. Rory had always told her she was doing too much for her boss and she wasn’t paid well enough for that. Now looking back she tended to agree and she would never allow herself to be taken advantage of like that again. Boss or no boss, she wasn’t going to run any more personal errands for an employer unless it was in her job description.
“His new girlfriend needed a job and he made up some bullshit about how I was late twice this month. It was just a way to allow him to hire his girlfriend so his wife doesn’t know he’s slipping her the sausage every day instead of working,” Evie told her as she sat down and pushed her fork into the noodles to take a bite.
“You’ve got to be kidding me, right? That old coot fired you and hired his girlfriend? Seriously?” Rory asked, anger now evident in her voice.
“Damn bastard. If I were you I would call his wife and tell her about the girlfriend. That way at least I got some payback,” Rory growled
“No, she will find out eventually but I won’t do that to someone. I just couldn’t stomach it.” Evie knew what it was like when someone else did something to ruin your life and she wouldn’t do that to anyone. Yes, Mr. Grady was an asshole but that didn’t mean she had to be the one to bring him down for it. He was bound to get discovered anyway because his wife’s brother worked in the human resources department. He would get what he deserved eventually.
“Ha, I know, you’re too nice.”
“I am not too nice. I just don’t want to tempt fate by screwing up someone else’s life. Besides, his brother-in-law works there with him so it’s only a matter of time before he catches him anyway,” Evie grunted, lifting the remote to flip on the TV to watch the news.
“Shit, what an idiot. It still sucks though. I would offer to let you live with me but until I can save up for another place it looks like I’ll be living with my mother and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” Rory said, and the crunching started again, making Evie smile.
Rory’s mother wasn’t anyone she wanted to live with, that was for sure. She was frankly surprised that Rory was going to move in with her. Her mother was a drunk who tended to get verbally abusive when she drank. Rory had moved out when she was seventeen because of that very fact.
“Why are you moving in with her?” Evie asked.
“I don’t really have much choice. I was going to see if you wanted to go in together on a place actually but with you losing your job, I’m not sure the two of us could afford it. If you get a job in the next week maybe we can move in together. If not, I will be moving in with dear ol’ mum. Ugh—it even sounds horrid. Get a job quick please,” Rory begged.
Evie snorted a little laugh out. “I’ll do my best but no promises.”
Luke Stewart stared at the empty chair of his latest temp with apprehension. Damn it, Janet had gone to lunch an hour early without telling him, again. Why the hell couldn’t he find a competent assistant? It had been nearly eight months since Maria retired and only one of the temps the agency had sent over was in any way competent.
Luke let out a little growl, his hand clenching on the notes he held, before he stomped back into his office. He moved toward the desk and snatched up the phone, hoping that Monica, Laney’s assistant, was at her desk and not out getting her and Laney lunch. Laney was eating in today because they were working on putting together the annual charity gala. Seals Security did one every year for several reasons. One, they wanted to give back to their community; two, it was good PR; and lastly, because his sister loved throwing formal events and they enjoyed spoiling her.
Luke couldn’t believe this was happening again. How was he supposed to get anything done with Janet leaving in the middle of the day all the damned time? His foot tapped on the floor as he waited impatiently. The phone buzzed once, twice and then a third time. He was just about to hang up when a soft feminine voice answered.
“Laney Thomas’s office, Monica speaking, how can I assist you?”
Luke felt a relieved sigh escape him. He had to have this proposal done and he still needed to go over the three reports from the Brantley security briefing that he was holding in thirty minutes with Eric and Craig over at Brantley’s office.
“Thank God you’re still here. Can you please type up a proposal for me?” Luke asked, his voice curt as he held the phone with his shoulder and grabbed his suit coat off the back of his chair, slipping it on. Then he reached out and grabbed his keys off the desk beside his computer, shoving them into his pocket before picking up the notes and his reports.
“Why can’t your assistant do it?” Monica asked, her frustration clear in her voice.
Not that Luke could blame her; over the past eight months while he went through one incompetent assistant after another, she’d been the one to pick up the slack. At least three times a day she was loaded down with his needs as well as his sister’s and it was wearing on her. Monica was good at her job but she was stressed out because her workload was almost doubled lately.
Laney had promised to murder him if Monica quit on her like she’d threatened a little over two weeks ago. It was the fourth time this month she’d stayed late to work with him. Thankfully, she was almost family so her threat was really all bluster but he still felt bad making her work so much harder. If he wasn’t heading to the briefing he would just type the proposal himself but he didn’t have time today.
“She left for lunch again without telling me and I need it done for the client meeting I have when I get back. Please. I know it’s going to mean working during lunch for you but I really need this typed up to present to the client.” Luke leaned back on the edge of his desk still holding the papers.
“Ugh–fine. But you need to get a new assistant again because this is getting ridiculous. How many is this now? Seven? And that’s not even counting the first two that we actually hired instead of going through the temp company,” Monica grumbled into the phone and he could tell she’d shifted because her voice was garbled for a moment.
“Eight actually.” Luke exhaled noisily, trying not to lose his temper thinking about it because he was beyond frustrated by current events.
How damned hard was it to find a decent personal assistant in a city this size? Apparently it was impossible. The first woman he’d hired had called out six times the first three weeks she’d worked here and the second one had been too busy trying to get him into her pants to do her job. His sister Laney had suggested the temp agency at that point hoping that they would find someone who knew what they were doing. The first one they sent over, a man named Tim, had done his job and stayed on for about three months. Luke liked him and he was efficient so he’d offered Tim a position with the company but Tim’s wife was offered a higher paid position with the law firm she worked for and Tim had quit to move to New York with her.
Luke hated to see him leave and the next six temps they’d sent over were beyond incompetent. Janet, the current one, was the best of the bunch but she tended to leave without telling him and she didn’t care if he needed something done by a certain time. He’d talked to her about this habit last week and she’d agreed to tell him before she left in the future, but here they were a week later and she’d left without telling him again.
“I know and Laney’s supposed to be interviewing some soon but this week is really hectic with the finalization of the gala as you know. Hopefully we can find someone decent in the current pile of applicants.” Luke set down the papers, rubbing his hand over his forehead, trying to relieve the headache he suddenly had.
“I sure hope so because I am sick of doing your assistant’s job,” Monica growled.
“Look, I know this is hard on you and I’ll make sure that your bonus this year compensates you for the added work. I’m sorry that I can’t offer you a fat raise to go along with it but opening the office in Texas has us stretched a bit until we get it set up. All the hiring bonuses and the costs for the building are eating into our profit margin. I don’t want to get into a situation where we have to take out loans from the bank.”
The set up of that office was stressing him out even if Eric was the one flying back and forth to do all the hiring and working with the contractors. Luke was glad he didn’t have to deal with that on top of everything else he had to do at the moment because he wasn’t sure that he would be able to handle it if Eric hadn’t wanted to deal with it.
“I know you’re trying but it’s getting to the point that I can’t handle it all during the day and end up working late. It’s not the money, Luke, it’s the time. I like having a life and when I’m working late every night I can’t have one. Look, it’s fine, just bring me what you need typed up and I’ll get it done before I run out to get Laney and me lunch.” Monica didn’t wait on him to reply, she just hung up on him.