Chapter Fifty-eight

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Wednesday morning I put on the new underwear. I also put on a new shirt with my Sunday pants. My wardrobe would require some creativity for the next couple of weeks, but I was glad I hadn't spent any more than I did. The idea was to pay off my credit card bill, not add to it.

Both Claudie and Jimmy had done my bidding on Google last night, but nobody got lucky. In the cyber-sphere, Simone DuPre was all there was. Oddly enough, there was nothing from her earlier than five years ago. I might have to visit my pal at the County Clerk's office again. I was pretty sure that marriage and divorce records were public.

My mother made me a nice breakfast, and I packed my own lunch complete with vanilla zingers. The Swede must have a sweet tooth because I found a family-sized box of them in the cupboard. Maybe the guy was human after all.

I arrived at work early again, too, which amazed me. In my own home, I could barely open my eyes when the alarm rang. At Chez Swede, I consistently woke before the alarm. Maybe it was all the clean living.

At 10:30, Becky buzzed me to say that Barney wanted to see me. For Barney, this was early. I climbed the stairs wondering if Harriet had managed to change his mind about my employment.

When I knocked, Barney opened the door himself and ushered me into one of his comfy client chairs. Then he swung around his own massive desk and sat down in his kingly chair.

"I've been thinking about your employment," Barney said.

I braced myself for bad news.

"You know, Paulette," he said, "considering your recent tragedy, I'd like to make your full-time job retroactive to my meeting last week with Ms. DuPre."

"You do?"

"Yes, Ma'am. You had to spend more time with the police, so I'd like to be sure that you get paid for it."

"Really?" I said. Now we were talking. But, I wondered what he was leading up to. Barney smiled.

"No need to sound so surprised," he said. "Perhaps you don't realize what an asset you are to this firm. You're smart. You have good judgment. And, you make intelligent decisions."

Okay, now he had me. "I do?" I said. "Thank you."

Barney chuckled. "Honey, I offered to take you to bed, and you went for Jimmy instead. That in itself shows sense."

"But I . . . you . . . what?"

Now Barney laughed, and I was the cause. "Sugar," he said, "my personal habits are no surprise to anyone who works for me."

He was right about that.

"So when I find an attractive woman like yourself, I naturally make an offer," he said. "The damnedest thing is that I seem to think better of her if she turns me down."

"Is that why I got the job?" I said.

"In part," Barney said. "If you'll forgive the expression, I call it thinking with my other head."

I nodded. Although I knew exactly what he meant, it made my face red to be discussing my boss's penis with him in his office.

"Now, let's get down to brass tacks," he said. He got up from his desk and handed me a typed sheet. Then he sat in the client chair next to me. "This here's your salary and benefits."

The money was great for Rockford. I'd be able to get a nice new apartment and furnish it.

"Hello, honey beige," I said.

"Sorry?" Barney said.

"That's the color I want to paint my new apartment," I said.

"So we've got a deal?" he said.

I stood and stuck out my hand. "You, Sir, are the motherlode."

Barney stood, took my hand, and pulled me a step closer. "You said a mouthful," he replied. He wrapped his left arm around my waist and pulled me closer still. Then he kissed me on the lips. I half expected a wet tongue, but what I got was deep, moist pressure and an electric jolt of sexual energy.

He let me go in an instant. "Whew," he said. "Paulette, when you let that passion go, you're going to make some lucky man very happy."

I blinked. Had the big guy just kissed me?

Barney chuckled again. "You're a powerful woman," he said.

When my legs felt solid enough to walk, I wandered out of Barney's office. I had signed the typed sheet, which meant that I accepted his offer of employment. The other offer was a little harder to analyze.

Strictly speaking, Barney had sexually harassed me with a kiss. At least, it seemed that way. The legal definition was clear about "unwanted" sexual contact.

While I had no wish to send working women back 30 years to bosses who pinched bottoms at will, I also didn't want Barney's kiss to be undone. I liked knowing that he desired me. Although I never intended to call in his marker, it was damn nice to know that I could.

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