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The Power Of Prayer Copyright © 2017
Thank you for picking up your copy of The Power of Prayer. I hope you love it and the rest of the books in the series. As a thank you, I’d like to offer you a free gift. I’d like to offer you an advance sample of my new series. You’ll receive the first half of When Love Returns when you sign up for my newsletter at http://eepurl.com/cNxFBv. I hope you’ll love both series, and if you do, reviews are always appreciated.
The Power of Prayer is dedicated first and foremost to my grandmother who chose life when she was pregnant with my mother even though she was informed she might not survive delivery. My grandmother lived until I was four.
To my mom and dad: thank you for editing and adding your two cents. Most importantly, thank you for raising me in a Christian home and encouraging me to write.
To my husband and my children: thank you for allowing me to spend time working on this in the evenings.
To Ryann Woods: thank you for your tough questions about God. You were my inspiration for Lexi, and I’ll keep praying for you.
To Kathryn and Beth: thank you for your support and feedback.
I checked the diamond studded watch on my left wrist for the fourth time and sighed in annoyance. Only two minutes had passed since the last time, but I couldn’t keep my eyes from returning to the classic timepiece. I had been planning this day for the last year, and Shaina’s delay was disintegrating my perfectly laid plans.
“Where is she?” The agitation spilled into my voice, and my mother’s brow furrowed in the mirror behind me. My mother had never understood my need for lists and order; she preferred going with the flow, which had never been my strong suit.
“I’m sure she’ll be back any minute.” Her voice was calm and soothing, but she couldn’t hide the flicker of doubt that crossed her eyes or the furtive glance she shot at the door. Something was not right. “I’ll go check.”
As if on cue, a knock sounded at the door, and Shaina, my best friend and maid of honor, poked her blond head in the changing room. Shaina and I had met in college and become friends our Junior year because Shaina had been as driven as I was. She had been fierce competition for the top spot in class, but I had welcome the challenge and only gloated a little when I had won, if only by a tenth of a point. Relief flooded my body. Surely Shaina had taken care of whatever the problem was. “Is everything ready?”
“Well, sort of.” Shaina’s brow furrowed and her whitened teeth bit her perfectly pink bottom lip. She shuffled into the room past my mother, who took the chance to exit, closing the door behind her.
“What do you mean sort of?” A knot formed in my stomach as I whirled to face Shaina. This could not be happening. “Did the photographer flake out on us? I knew we shouldn’t have hired him. I thought he seemed flighty. I mean what kind of photographer has his studio in a garage for goodness sake? Or is it the food? I told Daniel the shop we ordered it from seemed a little dirty but he insisted on them because he loves their food . . .”
Shaina held up her left hand; her right stayed conspicuously behind her back, “No, the photographer is here, and the food is fine.” Her eyes darted around landed on anything except my face. That was not a good sign. Shaina was terrible at hiding information and even worse at sugar coating. It was a characteristic I normally loved about her. “It’s uh . . . it’s Daniel; he’s . . . uh . . . he’s not coming.”
The knot intensified, threatening to choke off my breath. My hand flew to my chest as the first signs of a panic attack coming on began. I hadn’t had one in ages, but my fiancé not showing up to his own wedding would certainly be cause for one. “What do you mean he’s not coming? Has he been in an accident? Is he in the hospital?”
“No, Callie.” Shaina lowered her eyes and brought her hidden hand forward. She turned her palm up and offered up the cell phone it held.
I snatched the phone and swiped the screen to turn it on. Daniel’s message still glowed on the screen.
–Tell Callie I’m sorry, but I can’t marry her–
What does he mean he can’t marry me? This had to be some kind of joke. My shoulders slumped forward, and my knuckles holding the phone turned white. “That’s it? That’s all? What does this mean? What am I supposed to tell everyone out there?” There were nearly two hundred people waiting in the sanctuary.
Shaina lowered her head, unable to meet my eyes and bit her lip again.
My eyes narrowed to slits as I crossed the room and grabbed Shaina’s arm, eliciting a yelp of either surprise or pain. I didn’t know which, and at that moment, I didn’t care. “What aren’t you telling me?” Her eyes narrowed to slits. “There’s someone else, isn’t there? Who is it? If you know Shaina, you have to tell me.”
When Shaina lifted her head, tears glistened in her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Callie.”
I dropped my arm and stared at Shaina. My mouth hung open like a barn door as I tried to understand what she was saying. She’s sorry? What does she have to be sorry for? It’s not like her fiancé left her. It’s not like—Anger flared up in me as the realization set in. The world flashed red, and my nostrils flared. A vice grip squeezed my heart as the loathing flooded my body. I’ll kill her. I’ll strangle her with my bare hands. My hands curled into fists and my lip quivered even as my words came out more like a snarl than a statement. “You? How could you?”
Shaina shrunk under my glaring eyes and took a step backwards. Her shoulders curled inward, and her head dropped. “I didn’t mean to, honest.” Her words tumbled together, spilling out of her mouth like a waterfall as her hands wrung together. “We spent so much time together planning the wedding while you were working. It was one time, and I had no idea he had feelings for me until this morning when he called. I even tried to talk him out of leaving you.”
“You?? And Daniel??” Flashes of black dotted my vision. “Were you ever going to tell me?” You little — My knees began to tremble from the rage boiling inside, and I fought for control of them as my carefully laid plans crumbled around me.
Shaina turned away, her voice higher than normal. “Um, no? I was pretty sure he thought it had been a mistake, so I was going to try and forget him for your sake.”
My nails dug holes into my palms, and the vein in my throat pulsed. I could almost see my heart beating. “For my sake?” The words were soft, deadly. “Shouldn’t you have thought about my feelings before you slept with my fiancé?”
Shaina flinched as my words pierced like an icy dagger. “I never meant for it to happen. If you hadn’t been so busy –”
My body tensed, shaking. “Don’t you dare make this my fault,” I seethed through clenched teeth. “I trusted you. I trusted him, and yet while trying to move up in my career you both threw that trust away.”
Shaina’s shoulders dropped, and she stared at her feet, her voice losing its power, “That’s part of the problem, Callie; your career always came first. You couldn’t even plan your own wedding. How do you think that made Daniel feel when you could never be there?”
“Get out; get out now!” Unable to contain the rage any longer, I grabbed a nearby glass of water from a small table and hurled it at Shaina. Shaina ducked and the glass missed cutting her thieving face, but the resulting explosion of shards as the glass shattered against the wall mirrored my feelings and brought a smidgen of satisfaction. “Go be with MY fiancé and have a great life, but don’t ever contact me again. I never want to see you, either of you, again.”
Shaina cowered in the doorway, hands covering her face, tears spilling down her cheeks. “I am sorry Callie, and I hope someday you forgive me.”
As the door closed behind Shaina, my knees gave out, and I collapsed on the floor. How could this happen to me? This was supposed to be my perfect day, the day I had dreamed of since I was eight years old. An ugly, wretched sound escaped my mouth, and before I could stop them, more sobs poured out. My shoulders rose and fell as if pulled on strings by some sadistic puppet master with my hitching sobs. Darkness began to claw into the sides of my vision, and my throat closed up. My hands pulled at my throat, desperate for a little more air.
The door opened and closed. I vaguely registered my mother as she entered the room, scooped me up, and rocked me like she had when I was young. As she caressed my hair, she whispered a prayer, and for once I didn’t stop her. “Please God, please heal her pain.”
As the beeping intensified, I threw the alarm across the room to shut it up and pulled the pillow over my head. I had no desire to go to work today. It had been much nicer sitting in the dark yesterday feeling sorry for myself.
Though I could tell myself no one would know, I had little doubt everyone at work would know by now that I had been stood up. They’d probably be happy. For once, I wanted to curse my braggadocios attitude and constant need to appear superior. If I hadn’t made such a big deal about the wedding and invited nearly everyone in the office to it, I might have been able to pretend the jilting never happened and go on about life. It wasn’t like I had close friends at the office, more like associates I only spoke to between the hours of nine and five. But no, I’d had to brag about how amazing it was going to be and now everyone would know of my humiliation.
Sighing, I slammed my palms down on the bed. No, I can’t let him win. I have to at least act like it didn’t bother me. Besides, they’re announcing Junior Partner this week and if I don’t show up, I’ll never get the promotion. Lowering the pillow from my face, I blinked at the intruding sunlight, and threw back the covers.
With the last reserve of energy, I rolled off the bed and stalked into my closet. A myriad of designer clothing crammed the closet, but I saw none of it. Instead, I yanked on the first black skirt and white top my hands touched. I should have wanted to make a good impression, to prove I was doing fine, but I couldn’t muster the energy.
The image staring back at me from the mirror was cringeworthy. Dark patches circled my normally bright green eyes, which were now dead and void of life. I looked like I’d gotten punched in the face. Better do something about those. It was one thing not to care about my outfit, but I couldn’t go in looking shabby and beat up. Grabbing some concealer, I placed a few dots under my eyes and rubbed it in. The look wasn’t much better, but it would have to do. I ran a quick brush through my long dark hair that normally flowed in gentle waves, but as I hadn’t showered in two days, it now hung limp and lifeless. Sighing, I pulled it into a lackluster bun, and decided “good enough” would do, for today at least.
I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and a banana and headed to work. The closer I got to work, the more the unease bubbling in my stomach grew.
By the time I parked the car and stood outside the building that served as my second home, I had to fight the urge not to turn around, go home, and crawl under my sheets again. Would everyone be talking about me? Would I have to fake my way through looks of pity all day? The very thought sounded worse than a root canal at the dentist, but somewhere deep inside a spark of courage flickered, and I grabbed ahold of it. Squaring my shoulders, I gripped the door handle to Schuster and Tuck, my firm’s office, took a deep breath, and pulled it open.
Linda, the receptionist, lifted her hand in a wave and returned her focus to her phone call. Everyone else seemed engrossed in their tasks as well. Not one eye stared at me, which could mean no one knew or no one cared enough to make a big deal of it. The knot in my stomach untangled slightly, and my shoulders relaxed a smidgen. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
With my head held high and with deliberate braver-than-I-felt steps, I covered the distance of the lobby. I was feeling good until I turned down the hallway that led to my desk, and then I sighed. I had spoken too soon. Tina stood at her desk, staring at me with sympathetic doe-brown eyes. Ignoring them, I pulled my shoulders even farther back and marched to desk.
Tina had been my assistant since I started at the firm a few years ago, and while she was professional, I often found her overly sensitive about things.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Tina’s voice oozed concern, accentuating her southern drawl. Her voice had often irritated me, and I had worked hard to break my own accent. “We’re all so sorry about what happened.”
Stiffening, I rolled my eyes. Of course I’m not okay. What kind of a question is that? My fiancé left me on our wedding day for Pete’s sake. “Good news sure travels fast,” I said instead, forcing a tight-lipped smile. “At least I have more time for work now, right?”
Tina’s return smile would have appeared condescending coming from anyone else, but I had known her long enough to know that even with all her faults, one thing she prided herself on was honesty. She held out my messages. “Sure; maybe it will even influence the partner position.” Her eyes broke contact with those words, and I knew she didn’t believe them, but she was saying them in hopes of making me feel better.
I flipped through the messages, my foot tapping against the floor – one of my nervous gestures. “I don’t understand it, though. How could I have missed the signs?”
Tina’s lips pinched together, and her eyes dropped to her lap.
“What?” I leaned back, folding my arms across my chest. My lips drew into a tight single line as I waited for her to say the dreaded “I knew” words.
“Well, I never thought it was my place, but Daniel always seemed . . . what’s the word I want? He always seemed too focused.”
“Too focused? How is that a bad thing?” I thought about my recent past. Sure, I had skipped a few family occasions, but ever since my mother and father had split, they weren’t as much fun. My father was always off with his new wife and kids. He had tried, for a time, to see me on weekends when I was young, but once he married his girlfriend, I had gotten lost in his priorities and rarely seen him after that. My mom had been my best friend growing up, at least until she started going back to church. Now, all she ever talked about was what the church was doing and how God was working in her life. I had no time for someone I couldn’t see or hear, so our relationship had grown distant.
Tina’s toe ground into the floor as she mumbled the words. “Well, it seemed like he cared more about his own work than what truly matters sometimes.”
His work? Heat flooded my body, and my hands clenched, crumpling the messages. “It seems he cared even more about my best friend than his work.” I paused, mentally forcing myself to calm down and relax my hands. A deep breath completed the outward transformation. “It’s done, and now I have more time to focus on my career. Who needs a man anyway?”
Tina nodded, timid as a mouse, and returned to her work.
I stepped into my office and sat down at the familiar, mahogany desk. A mountain of manila folders stared back at me. I drummed my fingers on the desk, hoping the monotony of the familiar would take control, but all I could do was stare at the pile.
Thoughts of Shaina and Daniel flooded my mind, constricting my throat and making it difficult to swallow. What were they doing right now? Was she cuddling with him as I used to? Was he nuzzling her neck finding that sweet spot in between her collar bones and the curve of her throat? The beep of the office phone intercom interrupted my nightmare, and I jumped.
“Yes, Tina?” I said, punching the intercom button.
“There’s a Lexi on the phone for you.”
Lexi? She was more of an acquaintance than a friend. I had met Lexi in college, but she had always been into partying, which had never fit in my perfect plan. Right now though, letting loose sounded like a nice diversion from the torturous thoughts of Daniel and Shaina. “Put her through.”
“Callie, I’m so sorry about what happened,” Lexi began. I ran my hand across my forehead. Maybe this had been a bad idea. Her overly sympathetic tone made her sound like a valley girl, which only increased my irritation, “but I know how to cheer you up. My brother’s band is playing downtown tonight. Come with me to hear them. I guarantee you will have a good time.”
This wasn’t the first time Lexi had invited me out. In fact, I was surprised Lexi was still trying as I never bothered to come up with a good excuse when I turned her down. How many times had I told Lexi I was working late or getting a massage when, in fact, I was going home and curling up with a good book or with Daniel? Daniel, ugh. I needed a distraction from Daniel.
“Sure, sounds like fun,” I said, pushing the thought of Daniel out of my mind. It actually sounded about as much fun as watching golf on TV, but at least I wouldn’t be alone, and it would get Lexi off my back.
“Really? I mean that’s great,” Lexi stammered in surprise. “Okay, let’s meet at the Blue Banjo at eight.”
“I’ll be there.” I hung up the phone and rubbed my temples. Would this day ever end? No answer came, and as the mountain of paperwork continued to mock me, I picked up the top folder to begin the tedious research. “Junior Partner cannot come fast enough.”
When five o’clock rolled around, there were still a few folders on the desk. A week ago, I would have stayed until they were all done, but I had promised to meet Lexi tonight and surely one more day couldn’t hurt. Clicking off the computer and then the light, I enjoyed the blessed darkness for a moment before heading home.
Though I normally had no trouble throwing outfits together, I stood in a pile of discarded clothes liking nothing. Nothing seemed to say ‘my fiancé left me for my best friend so leave me alone.’
Deciding I needed something to draw the attention away from my vacant eyes, I grabbed my green cowl-necked shirt. As I tugged it on over my head, I wondered if I would ever feel normal again.
A hand swipe down my jeans sent a piece of lint flying into the air. I watched it fall, realizing my life now felt a little like that, blown off course and subject to whatever force came near it.
Out of habit, I glanced over my shoulder for Daniel, who was always ready before me. He usually stood by the door, phone in hand as he made business deals while waiting. He wasn’t there, but his jacket was, hanging on the hook, taunting me. He must have left it the last time he was here, stupid jacket. I wondered what else of his might be lying around and realized tomorrow I would have to do a thorough sanitizing of the place to get rid of all his things.
Grabbing my keys, I stalked out the door, determined to have a good time and forget about Daniel.
“Another round,” I hollered at the blond waitress who ambled past us on the dance floor. The lights flashed, and music flooded my body, relaxing the tense nerves that had taken root. The noise filled my brain, allowing me to forget about Daniel, for the time being.
Lexi’s slender body moved to the beat, her blond hair flowing against her bare shoulders. “Wow, no offense, Callie, but I can’t remember the last time you were this fun to be with.”
“Me either.” I lifted my hair to relieve the sweat trickling down my neck, and a pair of hands, not my own, landed on my hips. They were tan, strong hands, and no ring marred them.
Twisting my body to see who the hands belonged to, I hoped for someone handsome. If I was lucky, maybe it would be someone who could make me forget Daniel for a night.
The face that met mine did not disappoint. Bright blue eyes above an impish grin stared back at me. Taut muscular arms extended from what was likely an equally chiseled chest. Yes, he could do. Desire flooded my veins, and my eyes roamed over the rest of him. The hint of a tattoo peeking out of his shirt sleeve gave him the air of a typical “bad boy,” and tonight I wanted to be a “bad girl.” I locked my arms around his neck, pulling him closer so the rhythm of his hips could match mine. He flashed a sexy grin and tightened his grip on me.
He leaned his head down, lips brushing my ear as he whispered, “My name is Brent, and I think you’re hot.”
Inwardly, I cringed at the pedantic come-on, but tilted my head back and smiled. Handsome, though not eloquent; I guess I could do a lot worse. I ran my fingers through his short blond hair and let my mind go blank. One dance turned to into two, then three, and the rounds of Tequila kept coming.
“It must be late.” My words slurred, and I realized too late I had had too much to drink. Though we sat at a table on the side of the dance floor, the room still spun. I put my hands to my temple in hopes of stopping the roller coaster I seemed to be on, but it was no use
“I think you’re right,” Lexi stammered, equally inebriated, “and I have to work tomorrow, so I’m heading out.” She stood and grabbed the tabletop to keep from toppling.
“Are you okay to drive?” Brent offered his hand to steady her, and I wondered briefly how he seemed so sober. Hadn’t he had as many drinks as we had? I tried to think back in my mind, but the exertion increased the pounding, and so I stopped.
“No, but my brother is.” She pointed an unsteady finger to the stage where the musicians were packing up their instruments. “He can drive me.”
I tried to focus on Lexi, but I wasn’t sure whether the left or the right Lexi was the real one. I had always thought people were full of it when they said they were seeing double, but now I realized I had never been drunk enough. “Thanks for getting me to come out. We should do it again soon.”
Lexi flicked a sloppy salute and stumbled off.
Brent turned his attention back to me and brushed a curl from my face. “How about I drive you home?”
His fingertips felt nice on my face, soothing. I nodded, my eyes trying to close for the night. The image of my warm apartment and soft bed called to me, but then the jacket flashed in my mind. I couldn’t go home and face the jacket. My eyes flew open, and my lips parted. Leaning into Brent, I placed a hand on his solid chest, “How about you take me back to your place instead?”
Brent licked his lips, and his eyes roved my body, “I thought you’d never ask.” He placed a hand on either side of my face and brought his lips down on mine. It was a rough kiss and his stubble scratched my chin, but I didn’t care. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I surrendered to the feeling, or lack thereof, and leaned farther into him.
When we parted, I thrust my car keys into one of his hands and grabbed the other, stumbling after him to my red mustang parked around the corner.
The cool, night air woke me enough to acknowledge the tiny seed of doubt sprouting in my head. This wasn’t like me. I was no prude, but I didn’t go home with men I didn’t know. I wasn’t even intimate until we had both said, ‘I love you.’
Shivering, I pressed my lips together, fighting the urge to call it all off. I wanted to be bad tonight. I needed to feel attractive again. Before any words could form, we were in the car; the warmth enveloped me; and I stopped caring. My eyes closed as I leaned against the leather seat.
“Come on.” His voice cut through my sleepy fog. He had parked, but I had no idea where we were or even how far we had driven from the club. Tiny alarm bells sounded in my head, but I couldn’t focus on them. He stood outside the car door, a hand held out to me.
I placed my hand in his, struggled to stand, and fell against him. His chest was indeed chiseled, masculine. He spun me around and pulled me to his side, wrapping his arm around me to help me walk. We crossed the parking lot and he deposited me against a wall while he rummaged for his keys.
The sound of silence crept in on me, stirring a little more awareness into my head. “Why is it so quiet?”
He cocked his head at me, “It’s two in the morning. Everyone else is asleep.”
“Right,” I nodded, pointing a manicured finger at him, “sleep.”
He pushed his door open and grabbed my hand, pulling me across the threshold into his apartment. The door shut behind me, and the click of the lock on the door registered something in my mind, but a thick fog obscured it.
Brent took my other hand as well and began walking backward, pulling me down the hall. I vaguely registered the clutter of clothes strewn about before we entered his bedroom. He spun me around and backed me to the bed until the back of my legs hit the frame, and I fell back, letting desire and fatigue take over.
“Go away,” I moaned, throwing my hand over my face to block the bright light, but the sun filtered through the gaps of my fingers. “Ugh.” My head felt like it weighed a thousand pounds as I tried to lift it. Giving up the fight, I lowered it back to the pillow and opened my eyes slowly to adjust to the light. White walls covered in Green Bay Packer paraphernalia filled my vision. Where was I? I didn’t even like football.
The sheets in my hands were white. My sheets were purple Egyptian cotton ones. A feeling of unease ignited in my stomach, and I clutched the sheets tighter in my hands. How did I get here? A shuffling noise grabbed my attention, and I turned, recoiling at the sight of the muscular man lying next to me. What had I done?
My audible intake of breath woke the sleeping giant, and he rolled over and smiled. “Good morning, sunshine.”
I swallowed, racking my brain for his name “Um, hi–”
His blue eyes danced at my obvious discomfort. “Brent; we met at the Blue Banjo Club last night.”
The events of the previous night flashed in my mind, and a soft pink blush crawled up my cheeks. “Right, and I guess we –”
“Oh, come on,” he said, reaching out a finger to caress my face, “I thought you would at least remember that.”
Trying not to flinch at his touch, I pulled the sheet to my neck and glanced around for a clock. “Um, what time is it?”
He rolled away a moment – there must be a clock on his side – “Ten.”
I jumped. “Ten? Oh no, I am late, very, very late.” I rolled off the bed, pausing for a moment as the world swam around me. When it stopped, I wrapped the blanket tighter around me, and tried to ignore the flame burning my ears.
“Call in sick,” Brent patted the empty bed next to him. “We can order in and have breakfast together, right here.”
“No, I can’t stay and have breakfast,” I said, agitated. “I am a candidate for Junior Partner. I can’t take a day off.” I rummaged in the clothes on the floor, tossing them in the air until I located my jeans and shirt, wrinkled from their time on the floor. Another few minutes of searching yielded the rest of my clothes.
“Suit yourself.” He laced his hands behind his head and stretched out, as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
I shot him a dirty look as I pulled on my clothes. Cringing at the thought of wearing jeans to work, I tried vainly to smooth out the worst of the wrinkles and grabbed for where I normally kept my keys, but came up empty-handed. Of course, this wasn’t my apartment.
Planting my hands on my hips, I turned to face Brent. “Where are my keys?”
“By the front door; on the table, I think.” He pointed out the bedroom door.
I swallowed the knot growing in my stomach and hurried out of the bedroom and into the living room, scooping my keys off the hall table on the way. Slamming his front door behind me, I scanned the parking lot for my car, spotting it halfway across the lot. Hurrying across the asphalt already radiating heat, I climbed into it and turned the ignition on.
Easing out to the street, I searched around for a point of reference, but nothing seemed familiar. Oh, great. I eased up to the intersection to see the cross streets. Baker and Yates? Where was I?
My jaw clenched as I whipped out my cell phone and turned on the GPS app. The low battery icon flashed eliciting a groan. Please last until I get to work. I kept an extra cord in my desk drawer as my phone often needed a charge during the day, but I needed to get there first. I punched in the office address, and my heart sank another few feet; thirty minutes? I am so dead.
“Where have you been?” Tina asked in a harsh whisper as she hurried toward me. Her brows furrowed, creating a pattern of wrinkles across her forehead and making her appear older than she was.
I shook my head, “It’s a long story.” The sordid events of the previous night lay on my shoulders like a heavy blanket. What had I been thinking? Now I knew why I never had one-night stands. I felt dirty and cheap.
“Well, Mr. Reid said he wanted to see you in his office, as soon as you arrived. I’ve been trying to stall for you.”
Her words hit like a punch in the stomach. “This can’t be good; the partner position wasn’t supposed to be announced until next week, and I can’t see Mr. Reid looking like this.”
“I have a skirt if you want to borrow it,” Tina offered. “I know we aren’t exactly the same size, but it might look better than jeans.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. I’d known she was different, but why would anyone keep outfits at work? “Why do you keep a skirt at the office?”
“Oh, gosh, I am such a klutz that I keep a whole outfit here in case I spill on myself. I’ve had to replace my replacement outfit twice.”
I weighed the options. Tina appeared a size smaller than I was, but borrowing a skirt from her would be better than showing up in jeans, if it fit. “Okay, thanks.”
Tina opened her right bottom drawer and handed over a simple black skirt. Tucking it in my arm, I headed to the nearest bathroom and peeled off my jeans. The skirt reluctantly shimmied up over my slim hips, but I couldn’t tug the zipper up all the way. I pulled my blouse out over the skirt and turned to the mirror. The effect was still a little unkempt, but it was better than before. I rolled up my jeans and dropped them at my office before continuing down the long hall to Henry Reid’s office.
Beads of sweat broke out on the back of my neck and trailed down my back as I pushed open his door.
His assistant looked up from her desk and wrinkled her nose. With her blond hair pulled back in an immaculate bun and her pressed black suit, she was impeccable – the way I normally dressed myself. My unease grew, but I squared my shoulders, portraying a confidence I didn’t feel, and approached the desk.
“I’m here to see Mr. Reid. I’m Callie Green.”
“Yes,” her eyes traveled up and down my form. “He’s expecting you.” Disdain dripped from her words.
Ignoring her scorn, I crossed to the inner office door and smoothed my blouse one more time for good measure before stepping into the dark and masculine office.
His mahogany desk color was captured in the dark wall coloring and complemented by the dark mauve carpet. Various plaques and commendations hung from the walls and garnered my attention as I made my way to the dark brown chair across from his desk. Smoothing my skirt, I sat down and folded my hands in my lap.
Henry Reid met my gaze across the desk. He was the oldest of the partners. White hair circled his head, but the middle of his pate had lost its battle long ago. “Hello Callie, how are you doing?”
The truth was I was a wreck, but I couldn’t say those words. “Not too bad sir, considering. I am throwing myself into my work.” A stiff laugh escaped my lips, and I forced my hands, which had begun to curl into fists, to lay flat on my lap. My traitorous right index finger, however, continued to tap a pattern to the steady staccato of my accelerated heartbeat, displaying my nervousness.
“Yes, that is what I need to talk to you about.” He leaned forward, “Do you remember the Mead case?”
I tilted my head and closed my eyes, reviewing the cases I had pored over yesterday. “I’m sorry sir. It isn’t ringing a bell, but I still have a few files on my desk.”
He cleared his throat. “That’s the problem, Callie. It still WAS on your desk, and an injunction was supposed to be filed yesterday.”
My heart dropped to the floor, and my shoulders curled inward under the heavy weight of the mistake. “I am so sorry sir.”
“Normally, this would be an offense we fire for,” Mr. Reid began. “We can’t afford such costly mistakes.”
I dropped my head into my hands and shook it back and forth. This couldn’t be happening.
“But considering your history of success here and your recent personal event, I have convinced the board not to fire you.”
I lifted my face to look at him through splayed fingers. “Thank you, sir.”
“They have agreed to a one month suspension, without pay. I suggest you take a vacation, regain your footing, and come back ready to work. And Callie,” he emphasized, “they won’t be this lenient IF there is a next time.”
“Yes sir.” I gave a curt nod and stood. The Junior Partnership flashed in my mind, and I cleared my throat, unsure of how to ask the question on my mind. “I don’t suppose—” I broke off mid-sentence, unable to form the rest of the question, but he read my mind.
“I’m sorry, Callie. I couldn’t recommend you this time.”
My head fell. “I understand, sir.”
“But there will be another junior partnership next year. If you come back refreshed and re-focused, I could recommend you then.”
Another whole year? The weight of the prospect of another year of doing grunt work bore down on me, threatening to release the tears now crowding my throat. As my heart shrunk in my chest, I fought to compose myself.
“Thank you, sir.” I forced a tight smile and shook his hand. Drawing myself as straight as I could manage under the heaviness descending my body, I shuffled out of the office and past the perfectly put-together, snarky assistant to the hallway.