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Mastered by the CEO

By:Opal Carew






Rachel hurried off the elevator toward her office, her heart pounding. God, this was the worst possible day to be late.

Jay, her assistant, stood up as she approached, his eyes widening.

“There’s blood on your forehead,” he said.

She pressed her fingers to her aching head then stared at the red smear on them, still hurrying toward her desk. He followed her into her office and handed her a tissue as she pulled her compact from her purse. The nasty cut on her head still oozed blood. She pressed the tissue to it as she strode to her private bathroom and wet a washcloth. Jay stood in the door as she patted the cut.

He shook his head. “I get why you feel you need to be here, but you should have that looked at. You could have a concussion.”

“It was just a fender bender. Unfortunately, I had to stay until the police arrived to write up the insurance report.”

The other guy had insisted it was her fault, but once the police arrived, their report clearly stated the fault was his. In fact, they’d hauled him off to the station after administering a breathalyzer and determining he was inebriated.

Who the hell was drunk at eight in the morning?

But that was just the kind of luck she’d been having lately. On the one day she simply could not be late…she was. And no one would believe she was hit by a drunk driver on the way into work.

“How bad is it?” she asked as Jay applied a band aid to her forehead.

She didn’t mean the cut on her head and he knew it.

“Bad.”

“You know I would have told you if I could, but they just let senior staff know last night.”

It had been after nine when she and the other senior staff of Brenier Electronics had been informed that they were being taken over by Collier Industries. She was supposed to be here by eight o’clock for a meeting of senior staff to find out details before the rest of the staff was informed. Probably to find out how many staff had to be let go, and who they would be.

She’d missed that meeting.

At nine-thirty, Jay had texted her to tell her the staff had been informed and did she know what the hell was going on.

“Do you know who they’re firing?” he asked.

Oh, God, she knew Jay was worried about his job. He and his wife, Sandy, were struggling. Sandy had been laid off six months ago and wasn’t having any luck finding something and they’d just found out they were expecting a second baby. They had a mortgage and car payments, and if Jay lost his job, Rachel knew they’d probably wind up selling the lovely house they’d just settled into so happily.

Life sucked.

She rested her hand on his arm. “I don’t. But I promise you, I’ll do everything I can to make sure they keep you on.”

He nodded. “I know you will.”

Jay had been her assistant for over three years and they had become close. And he was excellent at his job. He often knew what she needed before she did, and he was exceptional at handling details. She knew her projects went off without a hitch largely because he ensured everything ran so smoothly all she had to worry about was the big picture.

She grabbed her journal. “I better get up to Mr. Baird’s office and explain,” she said as she started toward the door.

“No point. All the executives left the building for an off-site meeting. So we were told. Currently, you’re the highest ranking executive here.”

Ah, damn.

“Okay, so call his cell phone and—”

“Already tried,” Jay said. “He’s not answering. Nor is the vice-president or any of the directors. I tried everyone.”

“Text?”

“I’ve texted Mr. Baird to let him know you’ve arrived in the office. No response yet.”

He’d probably done it as soon as he’d seen her come in the door about ten minutes ago.

A tap sounded at her open door. She turned to see Craig Anderson, one of the tech guys standing there.

“Ms. Clark. Do you know who they’re planning to let go because… well, it’s pretty disruptive right now with…”

Jan from accounting walked by the office, wiping at her eyes, clearly upset.

“With what, Craig?” she asked.

He gestured in the direction Jan had gone.

“People are being called down to personnel and each one has been told they’re let go. It’s awful out there. Everyone’s just waiting for the next phone to ring, desperately hoping it’s not theirs. Randy’s wife called and he nearly snapped her head off, thinking he’d gotten the call.”

She turned to Jay and he nodded.

“I told you it was bad,” Jay said.

Rachel couldn’t believe they’d handle it like this. Pull all the executives away so they didn’t have to face the employees, then pick them off one-by-one.

“I need to talk to the staff.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea,” Jay said. “You don’t know anything.”

“I have to do something.” She turned to Craig. “Ask everyone to go to meeting room three.”

“Thanks, Ms. Clark.”

The staff usually called her by her first name, but clearly Craig was feeling a bit gun shy.

Five minutes later, she walked toward the large meeting room, Jay by her side.

“Wait,” Jay said, as they reached the door. “I just got a message from Mr. Baird. He said he wants you to head straight over to the Concord Hotel. He said not to talk to anyone and he wants you there in twenty minutes.” He glanced up from his tablet. “If I get you a cab right now, you’ll be there with five minutes to spare.”

She heard the murmur of conversation from the room. They were waiting in there. A lot of people… people she’d worked with for over three years… who were looking to her for answers. They were scared and feeling abandoned. She might not have the answers they needed, but she could at least stand by them.

She shook her head. “I can’t go.”

“Do you really think this is the time to defy management?”

Jay had worked with her long enough to know that she often didn’t follow the rules. If she didn’t agree with what she thought was a bad decision, she’d stand up against it and do what she could to make changes.

She compressed her lips. “They’re depending on me. I’m not going to walk out on them like everyone else did.”

“What will you tell them?”

“I don’t know, but at least I’ll let them know that someone cares.”

* * *

Rachel spoke frankly with them, telling them she didn’t know any more than they did. Still, they all seemed happy to stay in the meeting room, congregated together. They ignored the phones they heard ringing from the cubicles beyond the door.

Then people started receiving texts on their cell phones. One-by-one people were called away. One or two returned to say their good-byes, but most just disappeared. After an hour, she sat with the group of shell-shocked employees still left, all wondering if it was their turn next. By noon, the calls seemed to have stopped, but no one was motivated to return to work. Jay ordered in several pizzas, which Rachel put on her personal credit card, and they sat commiserating.

A lot of good people had been let go. Rachel had no idea how they would get business done with the handful that was left. Of course, Collier Industries would be integrating their own staff with Brenier’s.

Everything had changed in the blink of an eye.

“Things seemed to have settled down here,” Jay said as people drifted back to their cubicles in a daze. “You really should get over to see Mr. Baird.”

She nodded, wishing her head hadn’t started aching again. “You’re right. Call me a cab.”

“Already done,” he said.

He walked with her to her office, where she picked up her briefcase. They rode the elevator down in silence.

“I’ll let you know as soon as I can,” she said as she walked toward the glass door to the street. Her cab was waiting at the curb.

“I know,” he said. “At least I haven’t received the call. That’s good news.”

His cell vibrated and they locked gazes as he pulled it from his pocket. As soon as he glanced at the display, relief flashed across his face.

She smiled. “Still good news?”

He glanced at her. “For me, yeah. For you…” He shrugged. “Let’s just say that Mr. Baird is a little impatient waiting for you.”

* * *

Rachel sat in the cab, the movement lulling her softly. For the first time this morning, she had a moment to reflect on what all this meant to her.

Collier Industries wasn’t about to let go of their own executives, so if there were redundant positions, the Brenier people would be the ones they laid off. That meant her own job was in jeopardy. In fact, being one of the more junior executives, with less experience and only a few years at the company, she was bound to be on the chopping block.

Her stomach tightened. Before she got the job with Brenier Electronics here in San Diego, she’d been out of work for two years. Two long, scary years. She’d sent out resumes, taken courses, networked. But there simply weren’t many jobs out there, especially at her level.

Her whole team had been laid off from the last place she’d worked after only a few months and she hadn’t exactly received a glowing reference from her previous employer in Seattle. Not because she’d done a bad job, but because… well, first, it had been really stupid to sleep with her boss. Even though James “King” Taylor was the sexist man she’d ever met and made her heart palpitate so fast, she’d experienced hot flashes every time he was near. And even though she’d tried to keep it a strictly sexual relationship, avoiding any emotional or romantic entanglements between them.

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