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Asa rubbed her palms across the black skirt she wore. She sat in the chair that had been offered by her soon-to-be employer. She hoped. Asa needed this job. She knew that she was a bit overqualified, but she'd had enough of job hunting and sponging off her cousin. The month long search felt so much longer.
The man before her wasn't what she had expected. Especially after Brent's outrageous description. This man seemed approachable and more than pleasant. Still, the nervousness stayed alive inside her, bouncing across her stomach like a rubber ball let loose in a marble house.
Asa kept her feelings hidden. She'd had enough lessons in hiding any outward emotion from her previous employer. Besides if even half of what Brent said about this man were true, he was only half the tyrant Mr. Stewart had been.
"Let's get right down to it, Ms. Taylor."
His friendly smile had faded. Good things never last long, she thought to herself.
"Not just anyone can fill this job. We need a secretary. But what we want is more than a secretary," he was saying. "We need someone familiar with computer software technology. Someone who can pull knowledge of the industry from their experience or know how and where to find needed information."
Asa nodded, listening intently, a confident expression on her face. This job appeared to be no different from what she'd been doing before. Hopefully, she would be able to perform her duties without the constant ridicule and verbal abuse shehad been subjected to in the last two years.
"Of all the applicants I've seen today, you are the last and the most qualified."
Asa nodded again, continuing to stare at his smooth, brown, handsome face. She studied his light brown eyes intently, absently noticing the close-cut hair style and natural waves accenting a clean cut image. Maybe this time her boss wouldn't be a persecutor of women who could do nothing but sit and give orders.
"Can you handle that?"
Handle what? Asa thought not allowing the question to appear on her face, hoping he hadn't added anything more to the list of duties he had previously stated.
"If Maria hadn't suddenly decided to go into labor an entire month early you would have had some training. Someone to guide you, to show you how we do things here at Execute."
"No problem, Mr. Darby," Asa told him, knowing the duties he'd described, before his handsomeness distracted her, were precisely what she was used to dealing with. And why had she been staring? This strange fascination with the man sitting before her was something completely new.
"Darby? You thought I was Zain Darby?" He laughed pleasantly. "The name's Lance Handle, and even though I admire my partner, neither I nor anyone else in this world can claim to be Zain Darby but Zain himself."
"Sorry about the mistake," Asa cringed inside. Who is this Zain Darby? she wondered.
"An understandable mistake. He was scheduled to interview you today but had to fly out on business."
"Then it was unfortunate for you, Mr. Handle." Had she just tried to flirt with the man?
"No problem." He smiled at her again. "Any questions?"
"Yes, there is one thing." Only the most important requirement she hadn't discussed. Asa was not going to accept any job if her employer could not be flexible about this issue.
"If you noticed, my file states that I'm a diabetic."
"Yes, but that won't interfere with your ability to do the work, will it?"
Asa's back went up at that. She disliked the idea of anyone treating her any differently because of a disease she developed as a young child. "Of course not. But you need to understand that keeping my health requires checking my blood sugar at various times and eating on a regular schedule." Juvenile diabetes, unlike adult-onset diabetes required a strict eating schedule to help balance the amount of sugar in her body to the amount of insulin she took twice a day. A sugar level that was too high or too low had its consequences. Keeping a fine balance between the two, and maintaining a normal sugar level as her pancreas had done before her auto-immune system turn on itself was a skill she had learned long ago.
"Is that all?" Mr. Handle asked.
"Pretty much, except for the slight chance that I might one day pass out due to low-blood sugar." Asa hated bringing up this possibility and stated it as casually as she could. She knew, in all fairness, that her employer needed to be informed.
"In that event you'd need to have something with sugar. Some juice or milk right?"
"That's right?" Had she died and gone to job heaven?
"No problem. A friend of mine developed juvenile diabetes when we were kids. I understand your concern. You have nothing to worry about."
She had died and gone to heaven. Asa handed a nearly typed sheet to the handsome man in front of her. "Here's a copy of my eating schedule."
Lance Handle scanned it, then placed it into a folder in front of him.
This seemed too good to be tree. Asa would be working for a pleasant, gorgeous man who understood her disease. A tremendous burden lifted from her shoulders. What a relief.
"Sorry to rush you out Miss Taylor, but I have a wedding rehearsal to attend."
"Someone close to you getting married?" Asa felt safe in asking the question despite having knowing him for no more than twenty minutes. Lance Handle's open, friendly manner brought out her curious side.
Asa was disappointed with that bit of news. "Congratulations," she remembered to say.
"Thank you. You'll meet Mr. Darby on Monday. Be here seven-thirty sharp. He starts early and has little tolerance for lateness. I myself will be on my honeymoon."
Mr. Lance Handle, the heaven-sent answer to her prayers was not going to be here when she reported to work Monday morning. Asa watched as Mr. Handle closed the file folder and turned to place it inside a metal cabinet behind him. There was a knock on the door. "Come in."
Both of them turned to find a delivery man at the door, package in hand. Neither one noticed two pieces of paper slide out of the folder and softly land in the trash can beside the desk.
"I'm calling that more than luck," Brent told Asa meeting her on the first floor of the office building on Carondelet Street. They walked out the building and a few blocks down until they reached Canal Street, continuing to the ferry docking area at the foot of Canal Street.
"What can I say?"
"Thank you, God. That's what. If `Zain the Pain' had been your interviewer you might not be so happy about this position."
"`Zain the Pain'? Brent, you're regressing to our childhood days. Adults don't give other adults foolish names. Besides, this can't be any worse than working for the late Mr. Lloyd Stewart of Stewart Software."
"I wouldn't know." Brent pressed his lips into a grim line. He was still furious with her. Asa had never, in the two years she had lived next to Brent in Algiers Point, told him of all her problems with her boss.
"You can't still be that mad at me. It's been over a month since Mr. Stewart died."
They stopped before the steps leading to the ferry. Agitated, Brent leaned his tall lanky frame against a colored post that directed people to various New Orleans attractions. The Riverwalk and Convention Center to the right, the Aquarium and French Quarter to the left. Brent was so tall his head nearly touched the bottom sign.
"True, but I think you know what really got to me."
Asa hated seeing Brent work himself up like this, but it was about time he got it all out in the open. Beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead. His eyebrows rose, even the fat curls on top of his head moved in aggravation as he turned his head first one way then the other.
"I would have never known if it weren't for Evelyn."
Evelyn, her fellow sufferer and mother figure, had had more than a mouthful to say about their late boss at the funeral. That was it. Poor Brent felt betrayed. Her self-appointed protector, her only family member in New Orleans, was hurt because she hadn't confided in him.
"Brent, you can't protect me forever."
"I could have been a listening ear."
"True, but would you have stopped at that?"
Excerpted from Illusions by Pamela Leigh Starr. Copyright © 2001 by Pamela Austin. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.