His to Keep (Beauty and the Brit)(3)

By: Terri Austin

Cassandra froze and batted her big brown eyes. “You’ll have to, Brynn. There’s no one else.”

Panic made Brynn’s hands clammy. “Why can’t you do it?”

Cass’s thin, plucked brows rose halfway up her forehead. “Do you see all this paperwork? I’m up to my neck. Besides, I make you sit through those seminars so that I can network. I’m not up-to-date on the latest information, and you are.”

In the two years Brynn had worked here, she’d been perfectly content to sit in her converted supply closet office and write manuals. Facilitating? Out of the question. “You didn’t hire me to educate, Cass. You hired me to write curriculum.” And somehow, Brynn had managed to add a pile of other duties to her job description without ever seeing a pay raise. But that was a conversation for a different day. Right now, she needed to find a way out of this. In an effort to control the anxiety flooding her system, Brynn breathed deeply from her diaphragm and counted to six. Then she exhaled in a whoosh. She repeated the process—breathe, whoosh, breathe, whoosh. It didn’t help.

“Calm down,” Cass said. “You’ll be fine. Besides, there’s no one else. Tag—you’re it.”

Brynn’s mouth went dry. Her eyes dashed around the room as she gripped the nubby, padded armrests. Clearing her throat, she stood. “Cassandra.” Maybe she could get her point across using the “I phrase” technique. “While I understand your predicament, I don’t feel I’m the right person for this job. I simply lack the skill set.”

Cass tilted her head to the side. “Brynn, you wrote the manual, for crying out loud. No one knows the material better than you.” Then she slipped to her knees and disappeared under the desk. “Where is that damned phone? Call it for me?”

“Yes, but I’m not the right person to teach it.” Brynn tugged her own phone from her pocket and dialed Cass’s number. Ringing sounded from the trash can.

Cassandra popped out from beneath the desk and knee-walked to the wastebasket, upending it on the floor. “How did it get in there? Anyway, you’ll be fine with this. From what I understand, it’s not even a group. It’s a one-on-one training session. Get the details from Lori. I emailed her all the particulars.”

Brynn tucked her phone away. “Cass, I have mounds of work to do. I finished evaluating the dry cleaning chain, but I need to plan their antitheft awareness program.” A hey employees, quit cribbing shit from customers’ pockets program might be a more accurate description. But the corporate training world wasn’t about accurate. It was about diplomacy and covering an employer’s ass. “There must be someone else who can do this. Anyone. Ted’s really personable.” She glanced down at her jeans and sandals. “I’m not even dressed to meet a client.”

“You look great. A little, you know, hippy dippy, but cute. I know this isn’t your thing, that you’re happier staying in the background, but you, Brynn Campbell, are my most reliable employee. You know the standard course backward and forward. It’ll take two days, tops. If you do this for me, I’ll consider hiring you an assistant. Please, Brynn. I really need you.”

Pressing her fingers to her eyes, Brynn nodded, giving in way too easily. She always did. How hard was one little word? Brynn practiced saying “no” over and over, but it never came out when she needed it to. And maybe a one-on-one situation wouldn’t be so bad. At least she wouldn’t have to face a crowd of people. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

Cass hopped up. “You’re a lifesaver. In fact”—she bent over, reached into a cardboard box on the floor, and pulled out a roll of candy, thrusting it into Brynn’s hand—“our latest promo item—Lifesavers with the TDTC logo. Cute?” Then Cass looked down at her bare feet. “I guess I should put on a new pair of hose. I have some in my purse, which is…where?” She glanced at her desk and began shuffling things around, which knocked over the full mug of coffee. Brown liquid trailed over reams of paper and onto the floor. “Damn it.”

Brynn quickly wheeled around and sped through the door before Cass asked her to mop it up, because like the jellyfish she was, Brynn would have probably done that, too.

* * *

Iain Chapman listened as his lawyer explained about the new economic regulations, zoning details, and ecological classifications that had just been enacted. But as Stan droned on, Iain became more agitated. “For fuck’s sake, Stan, cut to the chase and tell me how all this is going to impact the land we want to develop. Preferably in English.” Iain couldn’t take one more acronym—NEDA, CDBG, SBA, USGS. It was giving him a bloody headache, it was. In his right hand, he rubbed a pair of red dice back and forth. It was a habit Iain had acquired over the years, one he couldn’t seem to shake.