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Loren Shephard backed up four steps with a dozen folders in her hands, not to mention a coffee cup, legal pad and, dangling precariously from her little finger, a pair of tortoise-shell safety glasses. "I've been trying to avoid you all morning," she said candidly to the heavily jowled man behind the streamlined teak desk.
Her boss raised a severe eyebrow that would have quelled half the employees in the plant and sighed at Loren's total lack of response. "The day I fire you I'm going to have to put on a pair of running shoes just to catch up with you," he told her. "Don't you ever just sit at your desk and hide behind a newspaper like everyone else who works here?"
"Like you, sweetheart?"
"Sit down and behave yourself."
She complied, perching on the arm of one of Frank's massive office chairs. Her soft, teasing smile faded as she juggled the paraphernalia she was carrying in order to lower the glasses onto the end of her nose. As a businesslike gesture, it lacked something, probably because it was close to impossible for a scant hundred pounds of redhead with big gray eyes to radiate the aura of a female executive. She'd stopped worrying about that; she and Frank had resolved the women's competence issue a long time ago.
At the moment, her slim leg was still swinging impatiently; she had a hectic schedule this Friday and had no time to waste chatting up the boss. Frank acknowledged her body language with a grimace of recognition. For the past four years, he had been alternately fascinated by the shape of that swinging leg and irritated all out of proportion that his one female manager was more interested in her job than in currying favor with him.
"Accounting sent down paperwork for six raises," he said gruffly, tossing her a clipped set of papers that she recognized as having originated with her office. "Dammit, Loren, you know what the economic conditions are, and I expressly told everyone at the last staff meeting that there would be no raises for anyone until further notice."
"Yes," she agreed, "but then there's the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law, Frank. A few selective raises don't affect the balance sheets, and when the economy does improve, you have to have men in the plant who know what they're doing. These particular electricians are too damned good to loseand they know they can get jobs anywhere, regardless of the economy." She added, very gently, "We've been through this before."
Frank's thick, beefy hand smoothed back the nonexistent hair on his bald scalp. "That's no excuse for going over my head."
"I didn't go over your head, Frank," Loren said wryly. "I told you I was going to do it last week." She paused. "Did you sign them?"
His glare confirmed her minor victory. "Besides, there's a morale problem when you give out raises to only a few"
She shook her head. "Just the opposite. Your salesmen and engineers can be replaced a dime a dozen, Frank. But the production peoplethe ones who make you money are going to know you're thinking of the plant people first, not the ivory-tower snobs in the office."
He leaned forward, making an elaborate show of shuffling papers on his desk. "Just don't do it again."
"Yes, Frank." She stood up.
"And don't go using that 'snob' lingo in the offices."
"And I'd like to see you give me just half the loyalty you give the plant workers," he barked gruffly.
"Shut up, Loren."
She gave him a cheeky grin and perched the glasses on top of her rusty curls, gathering the folders back together in her arms.