Her boss was going to kill her. The elaborate hairstyle she’d planned for the evening was turning out to be a complete disaster, and Dana was already running late. Her thick, red curls had been pulled out into a frizzy mess, and she had no choice but to twist it into her normal braid. Paula would no doubt look down on her cheap pantsuit and plain hair and makeup, but there was nothing that Dana could do about that now.
When she’d been hired as the assistant event coordinator at Parker Industries, she thought all of her dreams were coming true, but in the past two weeks, her life had taken a complete nosedive. Her snake of an ex had cleaned out her savings account, and there was an eviction notice hanging over her head. She hadn’t been able to get a new wardrobe despite her boss’s constant snarky comments about her clothes.
“We have an image to uphold, dear,” she’d said with a cruel smile. “I might consider getting rid of that shapeless pantsuit for something a bit more trendy.”
Her first paycheck had gone to her landlord along with begging him not to evict her despite the check not being enough to cover what she owed him. He’d had the gall to make a slimy comment about other ways that she could pay, and it was all that she could do not to throw up on his shoes.
Things had to turn around. They just had to.
Tonight was the meet-and-greet dinner for a select few reporters and the board members at Parker Industries. Ever since the founder had passed away and the three brothers returned to take over the business, the press was dying to get an inside look. Unfortunately for them, Lisa Moore, the iron-fisted image consultant they’d hired, and Garret Mason, their press release manager, were careful about what they wanted to slip through the cracks. Dana admired Lisa from afar. She knew what she wanted, and she’d gone after it.
Praying that her crappy car would start, Dana slid behind the wheel and took a few deep breaths. She’d been listening to a bunch of guided meditation and guru tapes since she’d caught Patrick with his head between the legs of another woman. Letting go of the past. Living in the moment. Not wasting her temper on things that no longer mattered. Sometimes she thought if she took any more deep breaths, she’d pass out.
Thankfully, her car didn’t give her any trouble. Sometimes she thought the twenty-five-year-old, rusted box of metal was the only thing loyal to her in this world, and her chest squeezed at the thought of it dying. She’d named it Charity when a friend had gifted it to her ten years ago, and when she’d taken it to get inspected three months ago, the mechanic had flatly told her that Charity was on her last wheel.
That was not acceptable, and she was not about to give up on her. Charity continued to get her from point A to point B, and until that stopped happening, Dana would give her all the love that she could.
By the time she’d pulled up to the reception hall, she was ten minutes late. Knowing that Paula was going to take out all her frustrations on her, she stiffened her back and steeled for the worst.
The gorgeous blonde was in a heated debate with the caterer when Dana finally approached her. “Paula, I’m here. What can I do?”
Paula swept a look up and down and sneered. “You can go home and change, for one thing. You will not be representing Parker Industries in that ridiculous outfit. Good God, are you wearing a pink shirt with that red hair? What the hell was Donald thinking when he hired you?”
Deep breaths. Imagine your happy place. The water trickling down the rocks and the bird songs filtering through the dewy foliage of the gorgeous green plants surrounding you.
“I’m sure I’ll be more useful helping you to set up. I promise to stay out of the way when the event begins,” Dana muttered as her cheeks heated. She was cursed with an easy blush, and it meant that every emotion was painted on her face.
Paula sighed and rolled her eyes. “Fine. Will you please go and make sure the name cards are out on the table? Never mind. I have no doubt that you’ll screw that up. I’ll do it myself. Just finish putting out the table centerpieces and light the candles. For God’s sake, don’t set anything on fire.”
Dana wanted to point out that she hadn’t messed anything up in the two weeks that she’d been working for her, but it wouldn’t matter. Paula had hated her on sight for some unknown reason, and Dana figured there was really nothing she could do to change it.
Happy to do something that wouldn’t mean standing near her loathsome boss, Dana started lovingly placing the centerpieces on the tables. The large glass hurricanes that housed the blue candles were surrounded by the most beautiful wreaths of ivy and matching blue hibiscus flowers. Gently stroking the petals, she wished, not for the first time, that she could figure out a way to get her dream garden onto her small concrete patio.
That was if she didn’t get evicted first.
There were seven tables in the hall, so it wasn’t long before she’d finished the job. Paula was in an argument with the caterer again, so Dana hesitantly interrupted. “Paula, the centerpieces are done. Do you want me to do the—” Before she could ask for the place cards, Paula rounded on her.
“For God’s sake, Dana, take some initiative! Help the staff fold the blasted napkins.”
The water trickles soothingly over the rocks and splashes below as the birds frolic in the water.
Her happy place was getting harder and harder to reach. She was about to remind Paula once again about the place cards when she saw Lisa walking over to them. Not wanting to interrupt again, Dana went to finish folding the blasted napkins.
Watching her idol from afar, she stayed busy as she wondered how Lisa had done it. How did she manage to look so chic and at ease in a world dominated by men or ball-busting women? She’d looked at Paula more than once and wondered if that was the kind of person that she needed to become to succeed, and the thought horrified her. Dana was a happy person. She didn’t want to put others down or be frigid, and Lisa looked like none of those things.
She polished the silverware and wineglasses and helped the staff put up the buffet tables for the appetizers. Finally, the doors opened and the reporters started to trickle in.
It wasn’t until she heard Paula practically screeching her name that her heart dropped into her stomach. All eyes were on her as she followed the sound and found Paula speaking to one of the board members. They both looked furious.
“I am so sorry,” Paula gushed. “I told my assistant to set them out, and obviously she didn’t do as I asked. Dana, can you please apologize to this man for not getting the name cards out?”
“What?” Dana frowned. “But I wasn’t supposed to—”
“I don’t want to hear an excuse,” Paula snapped. “I want to hear an apology. No one knows where to sit, and the mistake is inexcusable.”
The chatter settled down, and all eyes fell on her. Meditation and gurus be damned. Dana saw red.