Authors: Ashley Hall
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
Owned by the Mob Boss copyright 2016 by Ashley Hall. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission.
I slammed my foot on the gas, my tiny car leaped forward, and I merged onto the highway. I only had five minutes to make it to into work on time, and I had at least an eight-minute drive there. Crap. I was never late until my mom’s diagnosis, and I hated being late. It was unprofessional, and I held myself to a higher standard…at least I tried to.
Luckily, traffic wasn’t too bad, and I didn’t see a cop anywhere, so I just kept my foot down on the gas, the needle climbing and climbing, driving fast but not recklessly. I merged at the last second onto the exit ramp. The driver behind me honked, and I waved at him. “Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. “Running late. So sue me.”
Okay, so maybe driving a little recklessly.
Somehow, I parked right at eight on the nose. I grabbed my purse and dashed inside. Not late after all. Amazing.
I normally wasn’t like this—so behind the ball. I was the kind of girl who did everything right, did everything by the books. I never had a speeding ticket, never broke the law. Keeping order was the only way I could try to make sense of the chaos of the rest of the world. So many things were going wrong lately that I just couldn’t handle it all. At least when I was here, in the office, I felt like I had a little bit of control, like I could make a difference, like I could affect the outcome.
So unlike how things were back home with Mom and her damned diagnosis.
Maybe I needed to cut loose some. Should call my best friend and go out for drinks.
With what money?
I wondered if we still had some from that bottle of rum. I needed to try to release some of my stress. Yeah, I played by the rules, but I was still alive. I still had fun. It had just been a little while since I last had any. And I knew how to party, how to have fun. Work hard, play harder. That had always been my mantra. That was until my mom got sick, though. That changed everything. She had stage three breast cancer.
Head down, I started toward my cubicle, mentally preparing myself for the day, when a throat cleared behind me. “Rachel.”
Shoulders slumping, I grimaced. Greg Dunaway. My boss. The last person I wanted to talk to today. He was always a miserable thing.
After screwing my lips into a semblance of a smile, I turned around to face him. “Hi, Greg. What can I do for you?”
“Can we talk?” He didn’t wait for an answer, just stalked off toward his large office, leaving me no choice but to follow him.
Uh-oh. The bagel I’d shoved into my mouth as I had raced to the car from my house wasn’t sitting well in my stomach. I swallowed hard and suppressed a cough. It was my imagination, I knew, but I felt like a piece of bagel was caught in my throat. Or maybe that was just a ball of worry. I was so stressed out lately.
I’d only been in Greg’s office one other time—when he had interviewed me five years ago. His father had been sick, so Greg had stepped in, even though Greg hadn’t been the big boss yet.
An office job wasn’t that great of a position, but I was good at my job. I worked hard and never complained. And, boy, were there complainers employed here. A bunch of women worked here, and so there was a ton of cattiness too. I never bothered with any of that. Just did my work and left. Didn’t have a lot of friends here, but I wasn’t here for fun and games. That was after hours, with my best friend, Denise. We’d go shopping or out to eat or go to the bar. Of course, with my mom needing my help taking care of her, I hadn’t had much time for fun with Denise either. Just work and Mom and rinse and repeat.
Greg entered his office first. He walked around his huge desk but didn’t sit down. I moved to stand in front of one of the two chairs in front of his desk but didn’t sit down either. I still felt uneasy, and I wasn’t going to be the one to break the awkward silence.
He cleared his throat, bent down, and fiddled with some of the papers on his desk. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, and that stress level of mine skyrocketed. “It’s not always easy to do what is best for a company.”
I couldn’t breathe. This couldn’t be happening. I was a damned good employee! He had no grounds for this! He knew about my mom, about the bills. My mom couldn’t work anymore, her health was too poor, which meant that she had had no choice but to quit, and of course that meant she no longer had health insurance. All of her bills for her appointments and for treatment, and she had a ton of bills and many more to come yet, were all out of pocket, and the bills were steep and never ending.
“I hate that it’s come down to this,” Greg said, still not looking at me, “but downsizing is a part of the business, and unfortunately—”
I couldn’t listen to another word. “I’m the fastest typist out of everyone. I work hard. I don’t slack off or make excuses or take a cigarette break every two minutes.” So I was throwing Jeanine under the bus. It pissed off everyone how often she would take them and for how long too. And so what if I was rambling? I was pissed and had every right to be. “I am the longest tenured—”
“You’ve been late to work a lot recently,” he pointed out. He glanced up, but he was staring over my head instead of at me.
“I am not,” I said hotly, putting my hands on my hips. Cutting in majorly close, yes. Actually late, nope. Not even once. Somehow.
He raised his bushy eyebrows. I never realized it before, but they definitely look like hairy worms. “You’ve been taking a lot of time off.” Greg held up a piece of paper that I assumed had a list of my time off. I didn’t bother to look at it. I knew how much time I had taken. Just about all of my sick days and all but two of my vacation days.
I winced. That I couldn’t deny. “My vacation time—”
“Has all been used up.”
What? I was sure I still had two days yet! It was possible I made a miscalculation, and I hadn’t figured out what I would do once my paid time ran out. Greg didn’t care to give people time off without pay.
“Your sick days too,” he continued. He laid the paper on his desk and tapped at certain spots. I didn’t care what he was trying to point out. I was too busy glowering at him. “And I heard from Lydia that you wanted to take a few mornings off without pay too.”
I winced again and dropped my gaze from his face to his desk, no longer scowling, more apologetic than anything. No. More defensive than anything. “You know why—”
“Why doesn’t matter. Why doesn’t get the job done.” He shook his head. “You are a good worker, and I value everything you’ve done for us this past few years, but—”
“You can’t,” I whispered. I needed this job. I had to have it! How could he do this to me? To my mom? I was doing everything I could to keep everything together, both at home and here. I wasn’t sleeping well, between having to care for Mom and worrying about her, but I hadn’t failed Mom, and I hadn’t made any mistakes here at work. Yeah, okay, so sometimes I took naps in my car during my lunch break, and I might have gone over by five minutes here and there, and twice I had left to take Mom to the hospital and had to rush back to work and been a little late getting back then too, but I really was trying to juggle everything as best as I could. I wasn’t Wonder Woman. I wasn’t perfect.
“I’m afraid I don’t have a choice in the matter, Rachel.” Greg shook his head again. I never realized what a huge melon of a head he had before. “You are the fastest typist, but you’ve been careless lately.”
“I…” I hung my head. I didn’t want to make excuses, and I didn’t want to cry. I blinked rapidly, my eyes burning.
If he thought I was careless, that my work was slipping, he was right to fire me.
But he was wrong, and I had to fight this. For Mom. “Careless?” I challenged. I wasn’t that out of it. I would’ve known if I had screwed up!
“Can you deny that your work has been compromised as of late?”
“I’m doing my best—”
“Your best today is not the same best that it had been when you were first hired. I’m sorry, Rachel.”
Yeah, sure, he was sorry. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about me or my mom. All he cared about was his stupid company. There was a reason why he had to downsize, and it had nothing to do with how hard his employees were or weren’t working. He had inherited the company from his father, and he just plain wasn’t as savvy a businessman as his father had been. This wasn’t sour grapes talking. This was the truth.
“Under the circumstances,” he added, “I can give you a two-week severance package—”
“Two weeks,” I said sourly. That was it? All I was getting? What a cheapskate! His father had been the one to hire me, and he’d let go of a few people before he had stepped down two years ago, and I had learned that he always gave a four-week severance package. Not a miserly two!
“I wish things were different,” he continued. He rubbed the back of his neck, his gaze on his desk. You would think he was the one getting fired, given how uncomfortable he looked. I knew I wasn’t the first person he had fired, but maybe I was the only one with a sick and possibly dying mother who he had canned.
Greg hadn’t looked at me once the entire time he had been firing me, and it just struck such a nerve that I couldn’t handle this final slap in the face. Two-week severance package. He wished things were different. Like hell he did! He was lower than pond scum!
“How would you feel,” I asked, fuming mad, “if you were running yourself ragged all day at work while staying up half the night taking care of your mother or worrying about her or trying to find time to run her to her appointments, to sit with her some during chemo, and—”
“Personal life—” he started to say to cut me off, but I interrupted him right back.
“It can’t just be left at the door,” I said firmly. Was I shouting? Maybe. Did I care if I was? Not a bit. “Not something like this. Don’t do this to me, Greg. I…just give me another chance. I can do this. I can juggle it all, and—”
Now he did glance up, and he was staring at my buttoned-down shirt. Odd. He was in his late forties and never once hit on me or any of the other female workers. I didn’t take him for a pig. An ass maybe.
Oh. He wasn’t staring at my chest. He was staring at my buttons and how I hadn’t even been able to button my shirt correctly today. Wow. Okay, so maybe I was a mess, and I couldn’t handle everything.
“Damn it, Greg. This isn’t fair.” I didn’t sound like I was whiney. All right. Maybe a little. Whatever it took to get through and crack his shell to his humanity. There had to be a way to get him to see what a dick move this was.
“You think I should fire someone else? Who?” he demanded, finally sitting and calmly folding his hands on his desk. “Tell me. I’ll call him or her in, and you can tell him or her that he or she is fired and why they deserve to be fired over you.”
I opened and closed my mouth. Jeanine the chain smoker? She had three kids. A single mom. She needed the job as badly as I did, and the others were all decent workers. And that he wanted to push the actual firing onto me wasn’t fair either.
What a dick.
“None of us should be let go,” I countered, lifting my chin into the air. I made no move to sit. I would stare him down until he caved.
If he caved.
“I’ve been over the numbers, and someone has to go, and I picked you.” He made it sound so cold and matter of fact. “There will be other firings in other departments. It’s not just you.”
That didn’t make me feel any better. Nothing would. Not even rum or an entire bottle of wine or all the chocolate in the world.
“You’ve been making the most mistakes lately. Small ones, yes, but I just…” He shook his head. What was he, part dog? I never saw someone shake their head so much before.
“What mistakes?” I ground out.
He sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Do you really want me to go through the last few reports you’ve typed up?”
“Wasting time,” he muttered. “Time equals money.” Still muttering, he started typing on his computer. A few minutes later, he shifted the monitor toward me. “Your last report…”