Blue-Eyed Devil Page 30

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Liberty spritzed my hair with water and moved all around my head with a straight razor, slicing off angled pieces until there were heaps of hair on the floor. "Don't be nervous," she said as she caught me examining a lock that had fallen onto my plastic-covered lap. "You're going to look great."

"I'm not nervous," I said truthfully. I didn't care how I looked, as long as it was different.

She blow-dried my hair using a round brush, ran her fingers through it to make it piecey, and beamed in satisfaction. "Take a look."

I stood and got a mild shock — a nice one — at my reflection. Liberty had given me long bangs that swept across my forehead, and a short layered bob, the feathered ends turning up gently. I looked stylish. Confident. "It's flippy," I said playing with the layers.

"You can turn the ends under or out," she said, smiling. "Do you like it?"

"I love it."

Liberty turned me around so we could both see the cut in the mirror. "It's sexy," she said.

"You think so? I hope not."

She smiled at me quizzically. "Yes, I do think so. Why don't you want to look sexy?"

"False advertising," I said.

The manager that Jack brought over from the other office was named Vanessa Flint. She was one of those highly groomed and put-together women who had probably looked thirty-five when she was twenty-five, and would still look thirty-five even when she was fifty-five. Although she was only medium height, her slimness and good posture fooled you into thinking she was a lot taller. Her face was fine-boned and serene beneath a sweep of ash-blond hair. I admired the composure she wore like a high-buttoned blouse.

There wasn't much substance to her voice, which was crisp and soft, like ice wrapped in velvet. But somehow it forced you to pay more attention, as if you shared in the responsibility of Vanessa making herself understood.

I liked her at first. At least, I wanted to like her. Vanessa was friendly, sympathetic, and when we went out for drinks after our first day at work, I found myself confiding more about my failed marriage and divorce than I should have. But Vanessa had recently been divorced too, and there seemed to be enough similarities between our two exes that it was a pleasure to compare notes.

Vanessa was frank about her concern over my relationship with Jack, and I appreciated her honesty. I reassured her that I had no intention of coasting by, or running to Jack just because he was my brother. Just the opposite, in fact. I was going to work a lot harder, because I had something to prove. She seemed satisfied by my earnest declarations, and said she thought we would work well together.

Vanessa and I were both given apartments at 1800 Main. I felt a little guilty about it, knowing that no other manager's assistant would have gotten an apartment, but it was the one concession I'd made to Jack. He had insisted on it, and the truth was, I liked the security of living so close to my brother.

The other employees lived off-site and came in each day, including a petite blond office manager named Kimmie; the leasing agent, Samantha Jenkins; the marketing agent, Phil Bunting; and Rob Ryan in accounting. We contacted Jack's commercial office whenever there was a need for legal resources, tech questions, or something we weren't equipped to handle on our own.

It seemed that everyone who worked for Jack at the commercial office had acquired his personal style . . . everyone was relaxed and almost jovial, in comparison to our office. Vanessa ran a tighter ship, which meant no casual-dress Fridays, and a "zero error tolerance" policy that was never exactly spelled out. However, everyone seemed to regard her as a good boss, tough but fair-minded. I was ready to learn from her, follow her example. I thought she was going to be a great new influence in my life.

But in a matter of days, I realized I was being gaslighted.

I was familiar with the tactic, since Nick had done if a lot. A bully or someone with personality disorder needs to keep their victims confused, off balance, perpetually unsure of themselves. That way he or she could manipulate you more easily. Gaslighting could be anything that made you doubt yourself. For example, a bully would make a statement about something, and when you'd agree with it, he'd disagree with his own original statement. Or he'd make you think you'd lost something when you hadn't, or accuse you of forgetting something when he'd never asked you to do it in the first place.

What worried me was that I seemed to be Vanessa's only target. No one else seemed to be having a problem with her.

She would misplace a file and tell me to get it for her, turning up the tension until I was scrambling to find it. If I couldn't come up with it, she accused me of hiding the file somewhere. And then the file would turn up in some weird place, like beneath a plant on top of a cabinet, or wedged between the printer cart and her desk. She gave people the impression that I was scatterbrained and disorganized. And I had no proof of her mischief-making. The only thing that kept me from doubting myself was my own shaky sense of sanity.

There was no predicting Vanessa's moods or requests. I learned to save everything, after she asked me to write three different drafts of a letter and then decided on the first version after I'd deleted it. She would tell me to be at a meeting at one-thirty, and when I arrived, I was a half hour late. And she swore she'd told me one o'clock. She said I must not have paid attention.

Vanessa let it drop to me that she'd had an assistant named Helen for years, and she would have brought Helen with her to the new job, except that I'd already been given the position. It hadn't occurred to me that I would have broken up a long-running professional partnership, and robbed someone of a position they deserved. When Vanessa had me call Helen, who was still at the old office, to find out the name and number of Vanessa's favorite manicurist, I took the opportunity to apologize to Helen.

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