Stepping into the office with Cole directly behind him, Luke made his way to the desk chair before turning his attention on the pretty bartender.
“What’s going on, Lucie?” Holding up his hand before she started to speak, he continued. “And before you start off with a lie, I want you to consider this your only warning. You were captured on camera, so your reason is the only thing that might keep me from calling the police.”
Lucie seemed to give his statement more consideration before she opened her mouth.
“I needed money.” That was her only explanation.
Luke understood that, but he needed a reason. Instead of asking the question straight out, he stared back at her waiting for her to elaborate.
“My daughter is sick.” This time her eyes filled with tears and Luke leaned forward in his chair, giving her his full attention. He might be a hard ass, but when it came to kids, Luke could almost forgive a parent a lot of things.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“She has chronic ear infections. Constantly getting strep throat. Her doctor said she needs to have her tonsils removed and tubes put in her ears. I can’t afford any of that. Not on my salary.” Lucie sobbed. “I know what I did was wrong, but you have to understand –”
Luke waited for her to calm down a moment. “What should I understand, Lucie? Talk to me.”
He was a little offended that Lucie would rather steal from him than come to him in the first place about her financial problems. She’d been working for him for years, and Luke knew her hardships. Hell, he knew the hardships of several of his employees.
He had always tried to be fair, and for a couple of years, he had even given large Christmas bonus’ hoping to help as much as he could without them thinking he was offering charity. His employees had pride, and he respected that. But that didn’t stop him from wanting to help.
“Her father doesn’t pay child support, and I don’t want to get government assistance. So, I started working a second job, but I couldn’t handle spending that much time away from her, so I had to quit. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Luke was dumbfounded. Here was a woman who had a four year old daughter, single handedly taking care of them both, but instead of coming to him for help she decided to break the law.
“Why didn’t you come to Luke for help?” This time Cole was dishing out the questions, moving closer, resting a hip on the edge of Luke’s desk.
Luke sat back allowing Cole to take over. He watched as Lucie stared back at the man, her eyes going soft while her chin darted out in defiance.
“How is he going to help me?” She asked, the intensity of her chocolate brown eyes focused on Cole.
Luke suddenly felt like a bystander as he watched something transpire between Cole and Lucie right before his very eyes. He was tempted to get up and walk out of the room, leave the two of them to hash out the issue, but this was his business. He couldn’t let Lucie off the hook without at least some sort of punishment.
“He damn sure couldn’t help you while you were stealing from him.” Cole stated, his tone heated with restrained anger. If Luke wasn’t mistaken, these two had a history.
“I didn’t know what to do.” Lucie admitted, her eyes darting to the floor while her hands fidgeted in her lap.
Luke felt sorry for the woman, but he was thoroughly pissed at the same time. She’d cost him a lot of money. He couldn’t imagine she had made a lot of money from selling the liquor on her own, but obviously that little extra had inspired her to keep going.
“How much money do you need?” Cole asked, surprising both Lucie and Luke. Luke stared at the man as he waited to hear where he was going with this.
“I don’t know yet. I’ve been saving the money I made so I can at least pay something to the doctors. She’s so sick.” The tears returned to Lucie’s eyes and Luke’s heart broke for the woman. Apparently he was going soft.
He’d met Lucie’s little girl a time or two when she brought her by to pick up her paycheck, and once at a company function. Now that he thought about it, the little girl was frail and unusually quiet, but Luke never considered the girl might be sick.
“When is her next appointment?” Cole asked, concern in his voice.
“What?” Lucie asked, her eyes darting back up.
Luke watched as an unknown emotion singed the air, arcing between Cole and Lucie and he wondered for a moment what the hell was going on.
“You heard me. When’s her next doctor’s appointment?”
“I haven’t made one.” Lucie admitted, sounding defeated.