Chapter 8

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Trying to quell the surging panic, I grabbed my purse from beneath the desk and dug around for a treat. Any treat. A half-sucked Lifesaver. A dinner mint. A caramel wrapper with a tiny blob stuck to the corner.

Nothing. Not even a lone Nerd rolling around the dust and lint gathered in the bottom of my bag. How had I left home without a single piece of candy? How had I eaten every last piece in my drawer?!

Leaping from my chair, I pressed the intercom button and announced, “I have to go out for a minute. Please hold my calls.”

My assistant Angela didn’t respond from the other end of the phone line, but I didn’t care. I dashed for the door. Just as I reached for the handle the door burst open.

Instantaneously, a dozen men dressed all in white began removing furniture from my office. Out went the armchairs and the side tables and the floor lamps before I could even voice a, “What on earth is going on here?”

Had I been fired? Had Jawbreaker found out that Phelps was a fraudulent boyfriend? Had there been an unwritten rule in the croquet tournament that the loser lost her job?

“Mr. Ferrero’s orders,” one of the men said. “Wants everything out but that desk and chair.”

Then, with all the offending furniture gone, they threw plastic sheets over the desk, the built-in bookcases, and the entire floor. One of the men carried in two paint cans and set them in the middle of my dropclothed desk.

He popped off the lids to reveal brilliant fuchsia and tangerine. Three other men made their way around the room laying strips of blue painter’s tape in parallel, vertical stripes on the bare walls.

Oh no, I thought, my beautiful khaki and cream walls. Before I completed the thought, the painters started spreading garish deep pink and light orange stripes up and down my lovely walls.

I couldn’t watch. As I turned to leave, I ran into Jawbreaker in my doorway.

“Lydia, I’m glad I caught you,” she oozed.

Great Gobstoppers, can’t she say anything without simpering. “What can I do for you, Janice?”

“I need to get the files for the trunk show tour.”

“Oh, I haven’t gotten the PowerPoint done yet.” Or even started for that matter. I had more pressing concerns at the moment.

She smiled like a cat who came across an endless river of cream. “That’s fine,” she purred, “Kelly can do that.”

No, Kelly can’t do that. The West Coast Trunk Show was my project, my idea from the beginning, and no little KY tramp was going to take it away.

Giving up on getting out of the room anytime soon, I walked back to my desk and plunked my purse on the plastic-covered desk. “Actually, I was going to start as soon as I get back. I’ll have it to you before lunch.”

She didn’t look as taken aback as I’d hoped.

“You have too many other things on your plate right now, what with the Spring collection and all. Besides,” she drawled, her voice positively reeking of unadulterated gloat, “that will fall under the purview of Kelly’s new duties.”

“New duties?” If not for the sheet plastic covering my chair I would have collapsed into the cushy softness.

“Ferrero’s orders,” Janice said.

I watched in horror as a gloating grin spread across her tanned, aging face. Where was candy when I needed it?

Wait, I thought I remembered seeing a stray Tootsie Roll in my file drawer last week. Dropping to my knees behind the desk, I flipped up the sheet plastic and jerked open the drawer. I shifted files desperately and, finally finding the dust-covered treat, stood as I tore off the wrapper.

Jawbreaker continued as I chewed my way to emotional calm.

“He ordered that all your duties be divvied up while you’re working with him.” Her eyes fell on the trunk show file beneath the transparent plastic. She carefully lifted the cover and slipped the file out without displacing anything on the desk. “Kelly will be taking over most of your duties.”

I nearly choked on my Tootsie Roll. “I-I-I—”

“Maybe you two should get together later so you can show her the ropes.”

“I have to go.”

I needed more than a Tootsie Roll. Maybe one of those giant Tootsie Logs. Or a case of them.

This was my nightmare come true. KY Kelly was getting my job, before I was even out. I had no delusions that she would treat this as a temporary situation. If she could find a way to snag my job permanently—whether by straightforward or ethically-fuzzy means—she would.

I dashed to the door, leaving a confused Jawbreaker at my desk amid the sheet plastic and rapidly forming pink and orange stripes. I made it to the doorway before remembering my purse. No way I could get my candy fix without my wallet. Unless I was ready to stoop to shoplifting. Though I actually considered that option for longer than was morally comfortable, I knew I had to go back to get my purse.

“Can’t leave without my purse,” I said through gritted teeth.

Jawbreaker looked confused. Perfect, I could retrieve my purse and get the heck outta Dodge before anything worse could come out of her mouth. I made it to the doorway again. Only to run into Kelly.

“Lydia,” she exclaimed in that annoyingly high-pitched, enthusiastic voice, “I’m so glad I caught you.”

Caught was sure the right word for it.

I pasted on my best glad-to-see-you-but-I’d-rather-eat-broken-glass smile. “What can I do for you, Kelly?”

“I just wanted to tell you what a fantastic opportunity I think this is for both of us, you working so closely with Ferrero,” she stepped forward and hugged me, “and me getting the chance to work with you.”

“Yeah,” I managed to lift my right hand to pat her on the back in the kind of hug guys give each other at football games, “great.”

“I was just saying you two should set up a meeting,” Jawbreaker said. “Maybe you could have a standing appointment. At least until Kelly gets into the swing of things.”

I extricated myself from Kelly’s hug. I wanted to shout, No, no, no! There would be no getting into the swing of anything by anyone but me.

But the opportunity with Ferrero was more important than protecting my current job from devious KYs. I had to keep telling myself that. Reminding myself. Because if this worked out, I could drop the number-crunching job and focus on my designs. If I decided that’s what I want to do.

What? No, I meant I could snag the promotion I’d been working so hard to get. I couldn’t become a full-time designer. It was too… risky? Unstable? Terrifying. Definitely terrifying.

So, for now, I just smiled and nodded and pretended like helping Kelly learn how to do my job wasn’t the last thing I wanted to do.

“Sounds great.” I inclined my head to the door. “Gotta run now. We can talk when I get back.”

This time I made it all the way out.

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