“Would you like coffee?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine. Thanks,” I said. “And thank you for the tour. Rick was definitely the friendliest tour guide I’ve ever had.”

“Rick’s a terrific guy. Do you do this kind of thing a lot?”

“Inspect factories and file reports? It’s part of my job. Most of the time I’m in Boston at corporate doing project management. But the head of quality control had a stroke six months ago and I was reassigned temporarily to his job.”

“Do you like it?” he asked.

“That’s the first time anyone’s ever asked me that, Ron,” I said. “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t. I like planning things and figuring out the best way to make them successful. This is the opposite of that—it’s evaluating someone else’s work and filling out forms that show whether they’re meeting objectives or not. It’s a necessary evil most of the time, but it’s far less constructive than what I went to college to do.”

Now why had I said that? Why had I told Ron the general manager of the factory that I hated my new position and it was depressing?

“Well, then I hope you get back to your projects soon. I can’t imagine a guy like you walking around with a clipboard like this all day,” he said.

“I’m flattered, but I was the only man in the office qualified to carry this particular clipboard apparently,” I said wryly. “Anyway, I did see your safety numbers are good, and you have a strong history of making quota. You keep your overtime within recommended limits, and your workers stay for a long time. Not much employee turnover which means you’ve built loyalty. You’re running a good factory here, Ron,” I said honestly. Good but not great, is what I didn’t say. Maybe not good enough for me to save it.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, “My wife’ll be proud to hear it. She sets a lot of store by our performance scores. Planning on taking a cruise to the Bahamas for our twenty-fifth anniversary this year if the performance bonus stays what it was last year.”

Shit. He takes pride in his work and plans to surprise his wife with a trip. Why did this have to be so goddamn human? I wanted a project to manage, a startup to expand, not a plant to shut down. It was ugly and unpleasant. Not that the guys scalding chicken carcasses had a pretty or delightful way to earn their money either.

We went over quarterly reports, and I marked off more information. He had a meeting, so I planned to speak with him again the next day.

“Before you go, I wanted to be sure and invite you to the potluck supper tonight. A bunch of us are having a dinner to welcome you. It’ll be out at the community building at six. Lots of people around here want to meet you and tell you how much this factory means to us,” he said.

“A welcome dinner,” I shook my head. “Well, I’d be honored.”

There seemed nothing else to say considering it was the weirdest thing I ever heard. The people were so desperate to keep their factory that they were willing to pretend I was welcome there and try to win me over to their side.

I called my brother from the parking lot. “How you doing?” I asked.

“I’m good. How was your first day in Mayberry?”

“It’s not Mayberry, but it’s not far from it,” I said ruefully. “They’re having a potluck dinner for me. The whole damn town.”

“Are you sure they’re not trying to poison you?” he joked.

“They’re so friendly and hospitable. Except for the hot girl at the front desk who rescinded her invite for orgasm queso.”

“I’m going to need more information on that. Is this the one you met last night? The redhead?”

“Yes. She was flirting with me and then she took it back because I’m from corporate.”

“So Hadley, in addition to transferring you from your dream job to one you hate is now a proven cockblock?” he said laughing.

“Yes,” I said grimly. “And I don’t see the humor in it. The curves on this woman, I swear, it’s enough to make a man lose his mind.”

“It sounds like you’re losing yours. Over a girl you talked to once. What’s gotten into you? It’s this depressing fucking job they switched you to.”

“I’m sure you’re right, but this depressing fucking job, as you call it, is diametrically opposed to my best interests as a man. What good are a six-figure salary and stock options when I can’t get laid?”

“Maybe if you let everyone know about the money you could bag a cute gold digger,” he suggested.

“I don’t want a fortune hunter with tens of thousands of dollars in Botox and lip fillers for me to pay off, thanks,” I said.

Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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