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by Ashley Ladd
Description: Blair Fayard is desperate for a job, even desperate enough to take a position in a C-store, pump gas, and deal with a lot of crazy characters, the most insane being her new coworkers. At least there's one perk--hunky Race Sutton, who makes her blood boil. Unfortunately, he's not only looking for his Mrs. Right, but a stay-at-home mom for his motherless son. After three men left her mother broken-hearted, penniless, and alone with three children to raise on welfare, Blair refuses to give up her safety net for any man, even one as special as Race. Rating: Contains sexual content, adult language.
eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: May 2006
23 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [164 KB]
Reading time: 105-147 min.
Never had more welcome, life-saving words jumped out at Blair Fayard than at this moment as she cruised down Sample Road. The brakes of her Toyota Celica screeched as she swerved the car into a shopping mall lot, found a parking space, and shut off the car's engine.
"Thank you, God." She ran a brush through her windblown hair to tame it. She then refreshed her lipstick. Taking a deep calming breath, she climbed out of the vehicle. Excitement thrummed through her veins. She needed a job so desperately since her rotten ex-boyfriend had not only skipped out on his portion of their rent but had also cleaned out her bank account. She'd accept almost anything. Of all people, she should have known better than to trust a man with her money and her future. Her Pell grant would cover either her rent or this semester's tuition, but not both. She could ask her Aunt Dorothy for a loan, if she could stomach the look of disappointment that was sure to fill her eyes, which she couldn't. She had sworn not to end up like her ill-fated mother and here she'd fallen into the same trap. Near enough....
Thank God she'd not married the jerk, or worse yet, had a child to support on top of everything else.
She pivoted on her heel and froze as her heart fell to her knees. Except this.
Disappointment surged through her. The help wanted sign hung in a convenience store window, not one of the fancy boutiques or department stores book-ending the eyesore. Worse, the store came attached to an oily, stinky gas station.
If she'd wanted to work in a minimum wage nightmare, she wouldn't be killing herself taking twelve hours of marketing management classes this semester. If any of the other co-eds spied her working in a dive like this, she'd be mortified after the way she'd run off at the mouth about having a decent, respectable career, unlike her mother.
As she folded herself back into the bucket seat, she bumped the visor. Her overdue rent notice and tuition reminder tumbled open onto her lap, the big bold letters P-A-S-T D-U-E faced her threateningly. She stared at the ominous phrase so long the frightening words blurred together.
If only her scholarship had come through and Miguel hadn't turned out to be such a louse, she wouldn't be in such dire straights.
Her stomach chose that moment to growl loudly, reminding her that she hadn't put a morsel of food in it for several hours. "Oh hush up!" The only piece of food remaining in her fridge was a moldy piece of cheese and her mouth had the nerve to salivate at the thought of it. God, she was desperate!
Her glance stole back to the help wanted sign and she frowned. Desperate people did desperate, crazy things.
"Money's money," she muttered aloud. "It'll only be temporary till something better shows up.... "She came to a firm resolution. She wasn't going to end up like this destitute creature or her poor, departed mother. She'd do whatever was necessary to stay in college and graduate, not to wind up as her mother with a brood of hungry kids and insufficient skills to support them. Even pump gas.
Blair squared her shoulders, smoothed her skirt, and then marched toward her destiny with her head held high. She did her best to ignore the overpowering stench of oil and gas, which seeped into her every pore, and commanded her stomach to behave and stop growling.
She tried to buoy her confidence with the cheerful thought that the store manager would probably take one look at her resume and promote her to management. This was their lucky day. They were being offered a top-notch college student, a rare treasure indeed. Her bad luck would be their fortune. A place like this couldn't afford to turn someone of her caliber away.
When she pushed the glass door wide an arctic blast of stale air smacked her in the face and bells tinkled overhead. Hot dogs, strong coffee, and pine-scented cleaner replaced the pungent aroma that overwhelmed the outside. Her traitorous stomach rumbled again, and her mouth watered. Shut up, she hissed inwardly, hoping no one heard her making embarrassing bodily noises.
A hunky raven-haired man bent over a mop on the far side of the store. As her gaze riveted on him, she tripped over an object in the middle of the floor and pitched forward. Wildly grabbing the shelf in front of her to keep from falling flat on her face, rows of candy scattered to the floor.
Appalled at the mess she'd made, she blanched. "I'm so sorry. I didn't see the sign." How could she have missed the neon monstrosity in the middle of the floor? Her only excuse was that she she'd been struck by a lightning bolt. She knelt down and scooped up the candy and tried to restock it in its proper place.
"Are you okay?" the man asked kindly, concern lacing his voice. He hitched up his pants leg and squatted beside her and cracked a friendly grin, when she nodded silently. "Don't worry about this. I'll get it."
Her stomach practically roared its hunger and she pretended to cough, trying to cover the horrid sound. Oh God, not here, not now. "Is the manager here?"
"Can I help you?" The man rose to his full height, a good half head taller than she was, even though she easily stood 5'10" in her flats.
"I really need to speak to your boss and I'd consider it a huge favor if you didn't tell him I nearly demolished your store." She flashed her brightest smile at him, hoping to dazzle him and win him over to her side. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad working here after all, if he were one of the perks.
Curiosity danced in his avid gaze. "I won't say a word. What did you need to talk to him about?"
"It's private. I really have to speak to him." It would be just her rotten luck that this was the manager's day off or he had left early. If she didn't get a job now, she could kiss her college career and apartment goodbye. If she ever got her hands on Derek, she'd strangle him!
"I'm the manager." The suddenly off-limits hottie folded his arms across his broad chest and flashed a noncommittal smile at her. A professional expression masked his previous friendliness.
Oh God. She'd blown any chance of landing the job even though she really hadn't planned to win the boss over by insulting him. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Management 101 hadn't covered how to salvage a mess like this one. She tried to speak, to say anything to make amends but her voice stuck in her throat.
"Miss?" From the tone of his voice, he must think her a complete imbecile. He waited for her to continue, his gaze steady on her, burning into her.
How could she apply for a job to a man who must think she was a stuck up klutz? What the hell? What could she lose? She had already wasted a half-hour and what could he do but say no? She would never see him again in that case. "I'd like to apply for your job."
Amusement flickered across his coal-dark eyes as he assessed her from the tip of her suede boots to her Gucci purse. He leaned back and folded his arms in an intimidating way. "Will you mop floors and clean toilets?"
Angry that he doubted her capability or willingness to do his dirty work, she bristled. When she started to grind her teeth, she stopped herself, remembering she was on review. "If that's the job description, I can do it. I can pump gas, too. Want to test me?"
He chuckled, his lips lifting at the corners. His brow arched and he continued to examine her fine clothing. "You don't exactly look the type. You ever worked in a C-store before?"
"What's a C-store?" Blair had never heard the term and gave him a blank stare.
"Convenience store. C-store for short." The man cracked a grin.
"No, I've never worked in a store like this, but I've done retail and I can operate a register. I have an Associate degree in Business and I'm in my senior year at FAU." If she could handle Halladay's statistics class from Hell, she could handle this cinch job until a better one opened up.
He swaggered to the register, withdrew a pad of employment applications from under the counter, tore the top one off, and pushed it across the counter to her. "Bring this back after you've filled it out." He turned his attention to an elderly gentleman that waddled into the store to pay for his gas.
The customer plucked a local newspaper from a high stack between the front door and register, and then tossed it onto the counter. "This and two quick picks," he said in a wobbly voice as his liver-spotted hands slid a crumpled twenty-dollar bill to the manager.
The manager rang up the sale, counted back the man's change, and then punched up two lottery tickets that popped out of the machine. He snatched them and deposited them in the man's outstretched hand.
"Thanks, Race. You and me got a lunch date if I win."
Crinkle lines fanned out from the manager's eyes as he cracked a genuine smile at his customer. "I'll hold you to that, Petie."
The man chuckled and waved as he tucked the tickets into his wallet on the way out.
So, the man's name was Race. She tucked the information away for future reference. "I'll just fill this out now, if you don't mind." She borrowed the fountain pen that rested next to the credit card machine and began to fill in the blanks.
The heavenly aroma of the cooking hot dogs and brewing coffee enticed her unmercifully, causing her stomach to growl again. Aghast that the manager must've heard it for it sounded like Mount St. Helen's erupting, she kept her gaze down, praying he was hard of hearing or mistook it for the whoosh of machinery.
She blessed her luck when he flicked on a country music station and whistled to it as he resumed his mopping, although she didn't particularly care for that kind of music. At least it drowned out other less desirable sounds. When she finished, she turned to him and asked, "Can I get an interview now?"
"You're awfully anxious to work here."
"I need the job desperately," she admitted. "I was laid off my last job a couple of weeks ago, and now my rent's overdue, and I have to pay my tuition, or I'll be withdrawn from classes." And I'm starved and I believed in the biggest jerk of all time that ran off with all my money and saddled me with the full rent.... Of course she wasn't about to tell him her pathetic life story. Still, absolutely famished she stole a glance at the grill, uncaring that she detested greasy hot dogs under normal circumstances. She was unable to help herself.
He shook her hand and she couldn't help but note how perfectly hers fit into his. "Race Sutton."
"Nice to meet you, Miss Blair." He cut her off as he accepted the application she offered to him.
Miss Blair? Her brows knitted together. She had only ever heard such a greeting on that old TV show "Dallas" but he didn't have a southern accent. He had no room to talk. What kind of a name was Race?
"Are your parents NASCAR fans?"
"It's short for Horace."
Horace? He didn't look like any Horace she'd ever seen. Such a hunk should have a name like Brandon, or Troy or Jason. Horace was downright criminal!
"I'm named after my father." His eyes narrowed as challenge vibrated in his voice. His shoulders tensed, and his fists clenched at his sides.
"Your dad goes by Horace or Race?" Her curiosity would get her into trouble one day, but she couldn't help herself. She didn't know if marketing majors were born to be nosy or if they absorbed it by osmosis.
"Ace." Race held up one finger. "His dad went by Horace. Eighty years ago it was considered debonair."
"Not hokey, like now." To her horror, the words tumbled out before she could stop them. Then, her stomach grumbled, making her wish she would melt into the floor and die.
He pretended not to hear her and walked over to the coffee machine and poured a cup of the rich, dark liquid. "Would you like some coffee or soda?"
The aroma smelled heavenly and she nodded, following him, quickly forgetting her humiliation. "Coffee'd be wonderful."
He fixed a hot dog and to her amazement, he placed it and the coffee next to her on the counter without a word.
His kindness and generosity almost overwhelmed her, even if it was just a free hot dog. She smiled her thanks and almost forgetting she had ventured in for a job, she ate half the hot dog in one bite.
With piqued curiosity she asked, "So what will you call your son?" She couldn't come up with any decent derivations of the name not already used.
"We broke tradition and named him Steve."
The world rocked beneath her. We? They had a son? They, as in Race was married? She almost choked on the second half of her hot dog and she lost all pleasure in it. Her voice wooden, the food tasting like sand, she murmured, "Nice name."
"Can you start tomorrow night, Miss Blair?" He rattled the application in his hand.
"Yes. But only if you stop calling me Miss Blair." When he called her Miss Blair, she felt like Miss Daisy or Scarlett O'Hara, a feeling that grated on her.
His gaze focused on her hands, his brows pinching together. "Sorry, I didn't see any rings. Is it Mrs. Blair?"
She frowned, and then enlightenment dawned. Shaking her head and suppressing a sigh, she put her finger on her signature, enunciating as she corrected him, "I'm Miss Blair Fayard. Everyone calls me Blair."
Stars twinkled in the man's eyes and his lips twitched. A man had no right to have such chiseled, sexy lips. Those lips spoke to her most erotic fantasies. But alas, she reminded herself that those lips belonged to his wife who also owned the exclusive rights to have erotic fantasies about them. Not that an employee should fantasize about her boss regardless if he was married or not.
With supreme effort, she dragged her gaze from his lips to his ears. Ears weren't sexy. They'd be safe to stare at.
To her utter chagrin, Race had sexy ears, too. Ears just made to nibble and lick. Ears perfect to whisper deep, dark fantasies into.
The object of her uninvited fantasies uncapped a red ink pen and poised it over the paper, annoyingly professional. "What shift can you work?"
She bricked off her wayward thoughts and mentally reviewed her class schedule. Daytimes were filled with college classes. "Part time. Evenings and weekends only." After a pause, she added, "I'm taking eighteen hours and I need study time."
Race nodded as he scribbled. The application fairly bled with red ink. "That's a heavy load. Can you handle twenty hours a week here, too?"
She nodded, her throat less constricted already even though she wouldn't get her first paycheck for a week or two. "What's the salary?"
"We start you out at minimum wage. After you log a thousand hours, you'll be eligible for a raise."
Minimum wage? With the outrageous price for gas the station was raking in? How criminal!
Her heart sank to her toes. She'd have to work more than twenty hours weekly just to meet her expenses. She'd have to get a new roommate to split expenses with despite this job--if it was offered. She could forget about any kind of recreation that cost money. Again she cursed the evil Derek under her breath. She had a mind to warn his new girlfriend about his
At least a raise loomed on the horizon. Her hopes leaped. "How much of a raise?"
"A dime an hour." He didn't flinch like he should have at such an embarrassing figure.
Blinking in shock, she did a double take. A dime wouldn't even pay for a phone call. That was only two dollars more a week for a twenty-hour week. Two dollars wouldn't buy one day's food. Well, maybe if she lived on rice and peanut butter sandwiches. "That's a joke, right?"
"No joke. Do you want the job or not?" He sounded as if her decision made no-never mind to him.
She made a quick mental calculation and concluded she would earn a little over a hundred bucks a week. Not good, but better than nothing. She would have to actively hunt another job, but this would be some money until she found one. She didn't have a choice. Her pockets were completely bare. "I'll take it."
She leaned on the counter and stared him straight in the eye. This was no time to get shy. "How about letting me into your management trainee program? I'm almost finished with my management degree."
"You have to apply to Corporate for that but they usually prefer grads. You'll have a better chance once you have your diploma in hand."
Her hopes dashed. She couldn't win. "Do you have the application form?"
Race straightened, flashing a look at her she couldn't discern. "You'll have to snail mail a resume or apply online." He delved under the counter again and emerged with a business card, which he held out to her.
"Let's get you suited up and ready to go for tomorrow night." He led her to the office that doubled as a storeroom and pointed to a long rack of uniforms. "Take two in your size. Bring the soiled ones back for the laundry service and take a new one after every shift."
Blair sorted through the clothing rack looking for her size, dreading having to wear the ugliest uniforms she had ever seen. Neon orange and pink clashed wildly, giving her an acid flashback even though she was far from a child of the sixties.
Meanwhile, he filed her paperwork in the metal file cabinet. When he straightened up, he eyed her boots speculatively. "We'll start orientation tomorrow night at six sharp. Wear gym shoes that you don't mind getting dirty and tie your hair up. We have to abide by health regulations."
"Oh joy." Her words came out so dryly they almost turned to dust. She was going to love this job.
She wiggled her fingers at her new boss, trying to remember to be thankful for this godsend. At least her stomach was full, even if she could still taste the grease from the hotdog. "Ta ta. Till tomorrow."