Authors: Evelyn Adams
RIDING THE PAUSE
A Contemporary Romance
Book Four of the Southerland Series
Copyright 2015 Evelyn Adams
All rights reserved
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“You wanted to see me?” Rachel Southerland stepped into her boss’s office and closed the door behind her. “I was just on my way out for the day.”
Peter looked up from the papers in front of him and waved her toward one of the empty chairs. She’d worked for the older man since she graduated with her squeaky new MBA eight years ago, and she couldn’t remember ever seeing him look as uncomfortable as he did at that moment. She sat up straight, her hands resting casually on the arms of the chair, her legs crossed at the ankle flashing a glimpse of the red soles of her perfect nude Christian Louboutin pumps. Her sister Taylor called it the queen in her throne pose, but Rachel learned early on that projecting confidence more often than not led to the real thing. And she’d needed boat loads of it to rise to a junior executive position in the male dominated Moore and Masters firm.
Schooling her expression into a neutral smile, she kept her hazel eyes locked onto Peter’s face and waited for him to speak. He ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair, and she almost felt bad for him. He looked so uncomfortable. She’d always liked him. He was fair and easy to work for. Demanding but she liked that, liked the challenge of pushing herself beyond what people assumed she was capable of. A thin ribbon of apprehension curled through her stomach. If Peter was worried, there must be something real going on. He wasn’t the kind of man who overreacted.
“You’ve heard the rumors about Albrecht?” he finally asked.
Of course she had. Her head would’ve had to be buried under a rock not to hear the rumblings of the German manufacturer’s interest in Moore and Masters. There had even been public speculation in some of the financial pages, but the last she’d heard the deal had fallen through. Rumor had it they couldn’t come to terms about the price, and Moore and Masters was supposed to be financially solvent. They didn’t need to be pressured into a sale.
“Yes,” she said with a nod. “But we rejected their offer, right?”
“Just the first round,” said Peter. “Apparently, they made a much more attractive counter and it was accepted. They finalized things a few days ago and Albrecht takes control of the company at the end of the month.”
At least that explained Peter’s nerves. The transition was bound to be tricky and might mean relocation for some of the staff. Oh God, maybe that’s what the meeting was about. Maybe she was being transferred. Her pulse kicked up a couple of notches and she had to count her breaths to keep her nerves from showing. She’d only closed on her condo a couple of months ago, but even more than that, she really didn’t want to move that far away from her family. Even when she went to college at UVA, she’d never been more than a couple of hours away. Not because she
leave them, she didn’t want to.
She’d always been close to her parents and brothers and sisters. With Travis just getting back from Afghanistan and her brothers and sister getting married and starting families, she couldn’t imagine living with an entire ocean between them. Jude and Autumn’s baby was due in a few weeks. She didn’t want to be an auntie on another continent.
“Am I being transferred?” she asked, sure of the answer before he responded. Why else would he look so miserable?
“No.” He shook his head and for a moment relief flooded her. It was a short lived feeling. “Aw hell, Rachel. With the sale, all the junior and most of the senior level positions are redundant. Albrecht isn’t keeping anyone from the old management team. I’m sure my position will be gone too, by the end of the month. They’re just giving me the pleasure of firing everyone else first.” Bitterness colored his voice, but Rachel had to shake herself back to the present. She’d lost the train of the conversation at redundant.
“I’m being let go?” she asked, the ringing in her ears making her disoriented. “You’re firing me?”
“You’ve got to know; it’s not my choice.” Peter leaned across the desk toward her, looking miserable. “You’re one of the best – maybe the best young executive I’ve ever worked with. Your performance is not the issue. There simply isn’t any place for you under the new leadership. Listen, I don’t want you to worry. You’ll bounce. I’ll write you a letter of recommendation for anywhere you want to go. There are dozens of firms that would be lucky to get you.”
That might be true, but what were the chances of them hiring, thought Rachel. The economy was getting stronger but it wasn’t supporting the kind of growth that meant new hires. She’d be lucky to find a position a couple of steps down the ladder let alone make a lateral move.
“I don’t know what I’m even worried about. You’re so on top of things. I bet you have a nest egg socked away for a situation like this. You’re always prepared. You’ll be fine.” He had to be saying the words to convince himself because they weren’t doing a thing to help her outlook.
She’d had Suzie Orman’s recommended six month salary in savings until she bought her condo and decided to use a sizeable chunk of the money to beef up her down payment. She’d wrestled with the decision at the time but in the end it seemed like a good calculated risk. Putting twenty percent down instead of ten would save her tens of thousands of dollars over the life of her mortgage and she’d felt secure enough with her job to take the chance. Which just proved what a mistake it was to take unnecessary risks.
She wasn’t destitute. She’d never lived from paycheck to paycheck. She had some money in savings and her retirement accounts. She’d used the inheritance from her grandmother and scholarships for college and grad school so the only real outstanding debt she had was the mortgage on her condo.
“How long?” she asked, swallowing hard to clear her throat. “How long do I have? The end of the month?”
Peter rubbed a hand over his face. When he pulled it away, his eyes looked tired and much older than his fifty-seven years.
“Today’s your last day, Rachel.”
The gasp escaped before she could stop it, and she cringed at her loss of composure. Drawing in a deep breath, she counted the exhale silently to herself until she could be sure her emotions were in check and her face wouldn’t give away her inner freak out. She’d made it a point to never lose her cool, and she wasn’t about to start now. Not on her last day.
“You get a month’s severance and someone from HR will call in a day or two to do your official exit interview. I really am sorry, Rachel. You did good work.”
She nodded, not quite trusting her voice, and then she stood and offered Peter her hand, grateful that it didn’t shake. Turning, she left his office and made the walk of shame down the hallway to the storage room to find a box for her few personal items. At least the floor was mostly empty. The majority of her colleagues had already left for the night. It was okay. With the exception of Peter and David in the office next to hers, she hadn’t gotten close to the people she worked with, which she supposed was the only bright side of not getting to say good-bye.
She slid the last of a ream of paper into the copier and snagged the now empty box. Considering she’d just been fired, she would probably be justified in just letting the paper sit on the shelf, but that messed too much with her sense of order. It would bother her too much to leave something undone. Closing the tray with a click, she went to her office to pack.
There wasn’t much; some family pictures, Travis in his uniform, her niece Abby blowing out the candles at her sixth birthday party, her twin brothers, Adam and Blake, goofing off at the lake, and a crazy pineapple shaped cookie jar from her sister Bailey that she’d used to hold office supplies. She’d spent almost eight years of her life at Moore and Masters, and the remnants didn’t even fill the copy paper box. Sucking in a breath and squaring her shoulders, she picked up the box and walked away from the job that had been her identity as well as a paycheck.
Ian Maxwell put another log in the ancient wood burner, leaving the door cracked for a moment until the wood caught. He paused and stood with his back to the fire letting the heat radiating from the stove warm him through before he went back to his desk and the piles of papers.
He hated paperwork days and hated even more dealing with the delinquent accounts. There weren’t many, but most of the galleries that sold his furniture were in resort communities that weren’t as quick to recover from a slow economy. Every couple of months he forced himself to go through the outstanding invoices and make the uncomfortable phone calls.
No sense putting it off, waiting didn’t make it any more palatable.
Stepping over the sleeping German Shepherd sprawled on the rug in front of the stove, Ian dropped into the rolling wooden desk chair he’d saved from an abandoned warehouse and started flipping through the invoices subconsciously putting them in the order he wanted to deal with them.
The first couple of phone calls were easy. The galleries were owned by larger parent companies. Bumping them with a phone call was enough to shake the money loose, and he hung up with a handful of new orders and assurances that he’d have checks for the delinquent invoices by the end of the week. He didn’t doubt it. They knew he wouldn’t fill the orders otherwise and despite the dusting of snow on the ground outside his cabin, spring was just around the corner and with it the start of tourist season in the Blue Ridge. The galleries would want to be stocked and ready to go when the visitors showed up alongside the redbuds.
Inventory wouldn’t be a problem, he thought, glancing out the window to the barn he’d converted into a woodshop. He’d spent the winter turning reclaimed doors, flooring and barn boards into the simple elegant one of a kind pieces he was known for. His work had been feature in design magazines and even on a home improvement show, but that wasn’t what mattered to him. Success was great if it let him do what he wanted to do and gave him a chance to spend his spare time in the woods that he loved, but crafting beautiful objects from discarded scraps was what fed his soul. He’d make the cabinets and side tables even if he never sold a single one. Selling them simply made room for the new pieces.
Cataloging the work he’d already finished against the new orders, he grimaced when Artemis jumped onto his lap and started to play happy paws, her sharp claws piercing his jeans. He didn’t even like cats, he thought, peeling her claws from the denim and rubbing behind her ears. The calico started rumbling, more like an engine in need of a tune up than a feline purr and bumped her head against his palm, demanding attention. He’d found her two years earlier, scrounging for food behind the dumpster.
Actually it had been Apollo who’d found her. The giant shepherd jumped out of the truck while Ian was emptying the trash from the back. He’d darted around the side of the recycling container and returned with the tiny kitten held gently in his mouth. Ian didn’t have a choice but to take the cat home. Over time she’d grown into her name, hunting and eliminating the mice that tried to make his cabin their home. She’s more than earned her keep over the years and had grown to the size of a small bobcat, no mean feat considering how small she’d been to start out. She still owned Apollo’s heart. He followed her around like a ninety pound puppy.
Scratching absentmindedly behind the cat’s ears, Ian shifted her weight on his lap and flipped to the next unpaid invoice, groaning when he saw the name. Mrs. Smithfield might possibly be the nicest little old lady in the world, but Ian was fairly certain she didn’t have the money to pay him. Her shop in Rappahannock County was small, but crammed full of treasures. He’d found the place while he was exploring the river area and had been taken by the quirky, high quality pieces the shop carried.
He’d been the one to approach the Smithfield’s – Mr. Smithfield had still been alive at the time – about carrying his work, and for years it had been a profitable relationship for both of them. But since Mr. Smithfield passed away, he could tell it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to handle the store on her own. The last thing he wanted to do was shake down an old widow lady for money. Cringing inside, he forced himself to suck it up and dial the number. She answered on the third ring, and his resolve disappeared at the sound of her voice.
“Hi, Mrs. Smithfield. It’s Ian Maxwell.”
“Ian,” she said, sounding truly happy to hear from him. “How are you doing, dear?”
“Fine, I’m just fine.”
“I owe you money from the last order, don’t I?” she asked, and he hated hearing the embarrassment coloring her voice.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. He’d be fine without it, and he was pretty sure she wouldn’t. “You can send it to me whenever you’re able. No hurry. I was just calling to see how you were doing.”
“I’m okay. Lonely, but okay. When are you and that big black dog coming to see me? I’ll make you a cobbler.”
“Peach?” he asked, smiling in spite of himself.
“Whatever you want, darling,” she said, flirting.
“With an offer like that, you’ll have me reaching for me keys.” He laughed out loud, grateful that she felt comfortable enough to play with him.
“Don’t tease me like that. I’m an old woman. My heart can’t take it.”
“There’s nothing old about you, and you know it. Apollo and I will come for that cobbler soon. Promise you’ll call me if you need anything.” At the sound of his name the dog raise his big black head long enough to sniff the air before drifting back to sleep.
“You sweet man. Have you found a young lady, yet?”
“No one to rival you,” he said, grinning when he heard her clear bell like laugh on the other end of the line.