Blue-Eyed Devil Page 86

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"Okay." She managed a smile. "Thanks, Haven."

The intercom pad on my desk beeped. Since the office was furnished in an open-cubicle system, anything Vanessa said on the intercom was audible to everyone.

"Haven, come to my office, please."

"No problem," I muttered, leaving Samantha's cubicle and heading to Vanessa's corner office. I deliberately took my time, trying to compose myself before confronting my boss. I knew I was probably going to get fired for what I was about to say, and that afterward I would probably be the victim of a highly effective smear campaign. But that didn't matter. I could get another job. And the damage Vanessa would do to my reputation wasn't nearly as important as standing up to her.

By the time I reached Vanessa's office, she had pressed the intercom button again. "Haven, come to my — "

"I'm here," I said, going directly to her desk. I didn't sit, just stood and faced her.

Vanessa stared at me as if I were an ant crawling up the wall. "Wait at my door, please," she said in a detached tone, "until you're invited in. Haven't we gone over that enough times for you to remember, Haven?"

"I'm setting aside the rules for a few minutes. This is important. There's been a mistake with the billing sheets. It needs to be fixed."

Vanessa was not accustomed to anyone else setting the agenda. "I don't have time for this, Haven. I didn't call you to the office to talk about the billing sheets."

"Don't you want to know what it is?" I waited. When it was obvious she wasn't going to answer, I shook my head slowly. "No, because you already know. It wasn't a mistake, was it?"

A curious, chilling smile spread across her lips. "Okay, Haven. I'll play. What is it?"

"Samantha's been charged for the flowers the office sent to her father's funeral." I waited for any kind of reaction, a slight widening of the eyes, a flicker of shame, a frown. Anything. But Vanessa showed all the emotion of a department store mannequin. "We're going to fix it, right?"

An excruciating silence passed. Silence was one of Vanessa's more effective weapons . . . she would stare at me until I felt myself collapsing like a tower of blocks, and I'd say something, anything, to fill the unnerving wordless void. But I held her stare. The silence drew out until it was actually sort of funny. But I managed to outwait her.

"You're out of line," she informed me. "How I choose to manage the employees is none of your business, Haven."

"So taking that money out of Samantha's paycheck is some kind of management technique?"

"I think you'd better leave my office right now. In fact, take the day off. I've had more than enough of you and your bratty attitude."

"If you don't agree to put that money into Samantha's account," I said, "I'm going to Jack."

That got a reaction. Her face darkened, and her eyes flashed. "You spoiled bitch," she said, her voice taking on a crisp edge.

"Nick's told me all about you . . . how you use people, how selfish you are. How you lie and manipulate to get your way. Lazy, cheating, whiny little parasite — "

"Yeah, that's my PR from Nick." I wondered if she had actually gone out with my ex-husband. Good Lord, what was it like when two narcissists went on a date? "But that's not what we were talking about, is it? Are you going to give the money back, or should I go to Jack?"

"You dare say one word to him, and I'll unload. By the time I finish telling him what you really are, he'll be as disgusted by you as I am. He'll tell you where to — "

"Vanessa," I said quietly, "he's my brother. Are you really so arrogant that you think you could turn him against me? You think he'll take your side over mine? Jack is loyal. You can trash me all you want, and it won't do you any good with him."

Her face was starting to look splotchy, rage bringing up red patches that seemed to float on top of her skin like oil slicks on water. But somehow she managed to keep her tone controlled. "Get out of my office, Haven. And don't come back. You've just been let go."

I was calm on the surface even though my heart had been galvanized into a rocketing pace. "That's what I thought you'd say. Bye, Vanessa."

I went to my desk to get my purse. As I reached my cubicle, I was bemused to see Samantha, Rob, and Kimmie all standing there, wearing identical blank expressions. If I hadn't been so distracted, I might have thought it was funny, the way they all looked. "What's going on?" I asked, going into my cubicle. I stopped short as I saw Jack beside my desk. He was staring down at the intercom pad, his color high and his month hard.

"Hey, Jack," I said in bewilderment. "What are you doing here?"

He answered slowly. "I came to take you out to lunch."

Kimmie moved closer to me and touched my arm. "The intercom was on," she murmured.

Vanessa must have forgotten to turn it off when I had barged into her office. And Jack and the others had heard every word.

Jack picked up my purse and handed it to me. "Come on," he said gruffly.

I went with him, blanching as I realized we were heading to Vanessa's office.

Opening the closed door without a knock, Jack stood in the doorway and gave her a hard stare.

My boss's face went blank. "Jack," she said in surprise. And then she gave him a warm smile, and she looked so poised and pleasant that I was astonished by the change in her. "How nice to see you. Come in, please."

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