“Just put out of business? Yeah. That’s me. My daycare, all my teachers, and aides, everybody. We’re just collateral damage to you. Numbers on a spreadsheet. But I’m more than that, and I could never consider being with a man who can’t tell the difference between his heart and the bottom line. It comes down to integrity and values, not doing a job. And you’ve just shown me that you have neither of those things. I hope karma gives you exactly what you deserve.”

“Maggie, wait—” he called out.

“What for? More crap about how you really like me despite having to destroy my life? Go fuck yourself,” I said.

I picked up my shoes and walked out barefoot. If I was going to have to do the walk of shame, I might as well get on with it.

He flung the door open, stepped out into the hall as if to follow me.

“You’re naked. Get back inside before I call the cops,” I said, stomping down the stairs.

“You can’t leave like this. You don’t get to have a tantrum and walk out. That’s ridiculous. Come sit down and we’ll discuss—ow, shit! Did you just throw your shoe at me?” he said.

“Yeah, and I got another one if you don’t leave me alone,” I said.

I turned around and walked out. For once he did the wise thing and didn’t follow me.

What the hell was I going to do? I had to face everyone I loved when they knew I’d slept with the enemy. I had to find some way to explain what I’d done, and how I’d believed something that wasn’t true—that he’d come to care about me and all of us too much to hurt us that way. That I’d been wrong and arrogant and we were all screwed. No more factory, no more adjacent businesses that depended on it including mine.

I’d have to come up with a plan. When I wasn’t pissed off and stomping down Oak Street in only one shoe.

16

Jeremiah

I paced for a while, took a shower, left her a voicemail. Then I finished my report and sent it in. The recommendation was clear. The factory had to be shut down and relocated. Nothing I’d seen and no one I’d met or slept with altered the hard facts. If it was heartless, then so be it. Business was heartless, and I was very good at it. Excellent, in fact.

Tyler called in the morning to see if I was going to be back in the city by the end of the week.

“I’ll be back tomorrow. I’m finishing up early.”

“So, didn’t go well with the feisty redhead?” he asked.

“You could say that.”

“Care to elaborate?”

“No,” I said.

“That bad?”

“Worse,” I said grimly.

“Worse like you need a drink or ten or worse like you need stitches?” Tyler quipped.

“She did throw her shoe at me.”

“Ouch. Was it a high heel?” he said, trying to stifle his laughter.

“It was a wedge, so it was heavy as hell.”

“Did you put ice on your boo-boo?” he chuckled.

“No. And I don’t expect you to sympathize with my woman troubles since you’ve sworn off of them.”

“I have not sworn off women. I’m just staying off them for now. When I’m interested, I’ll consider it.”

“But sex was your favorite hobby,” I supplied.

“I also like working out,” he countered.

“You can’t be serious. That’s not the same thing.”

“Really? You don’t say?” Tyler said sarcastically. “You worry about your own issues. Like Cinderella with the shoe missile. She sounds like a keeper.”

He hung up. I did not feel better. People who thought having a twin was the most comforting thing in the world had clearly never met my brother, the hardass with the smart mouth.

There was nothing for it but to take my leave and head out of town. I walked into Ron’s office at the plant. I liked and respected the general manager, and I wanted to speak to him in person.

“I reckon I know what you’re here for. And it’s not another tour of the label licker room,” he said grimly, hands in his pockets.

I saw the bald spot starting at the crown of his head, thought of the cruise he wanted to take his wife on. I was moved by this, by the years he’d given this plant, and what he’d have left when he was out of work. I didn’t want that—I was struck with the force of how I wanted to stop the inevitable from happening.

“It’s nothing to do with you, Ron. I think you do a fine job and run this place like it was your own. Your plant has a good safety record and all your workers speak highly of you. You have a lot to be proud of. And you understand nothing’s official. I’m not the final word on this. It’s just about the numbers. I’m submitting everything to Hadley, and they’ll review the report and make a decision.”


Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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