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'Kate you'll never guess what! John told us this morning, whilst you were at the dentist. The business has been taken over. And the new boss is coming in tomorrow to interview everyone!'
Kate Vincent digested her co-worker's excited comments in silence. Dropping enviably thick, dark lashes reflectively over topaz eyes, she considered what she had been told. She had only been with the company for six months, as before that she'd only been able to manage a part-time job whilst she was completing her Master's. With the qualification nicely enhancing her CV she had felt confident enough to apply for this post, which previously she would have considered out of her range.
'So who's taking us over?' Kate questioned Laura, absently flipping the smooth length of her chestnut-brown hair over her shoulder as she did so. It had been hot outside in the street, and the coolness of the office's air-conditioning was very welcome.
'Well, John wouldn't say,' Laura responded, suppressing a small envious sigh as she studied Kate's elegantly slender body, clad in a neat white T-shirt teamed with a chocolate-brown linen skirt.
Laura had been with her when Kate had bought the skirt, an end-of-line sale buy which she herself would have deemed dull. But on Kate it looked not just good, but also somehow discreetly expensive.
'Apparently everything has to be kept hush-hush until tomorrow.' She gave Kate a rueful look.
'I suppose we should have seen it coming. After all, John has been hinting for ages that he'd like to take early retirementbut I never thought he was contemplating selling out. Mind you, he and Sheila don't have any children, do they? So I don't suppose there's much point in hanging on when they could be spending their time in that condo of theirs in Miami.'
Kate listened intently to Laura as she booted up her computer. The business John Loames had set up to supply specialist facilities and equipment to the building trade had been very successful, but Kate had seen for herself since she had started to work for the small private company as its accounts executive that John was growing less and less inclined to seek out new contracts. Which was a pity, because she knew that the business had a great deal of potential, and she was not entirely surprised that someone had bought John out.
'Everyone's worried about what might happen,' Laura confided to her. 'None of us want to lose our jobs.'
'Someone new taking over might not necessarily be a bad thing,' Kate pointed out to her calmly. 'There's ample room for the business to be expanded, and then there would be more than enough work for all of usprovided, of course, the new owner doesn't already own a similar business and just wants to amalgamate John's with his own.'
'Oh, don't say that!' Laura begged worriedly, giving a small shudder. 'Roy and I have only just increased our mortgage so that we can extend the house.' Her face became slightly pink. 'We're trying for a family, and a baby will mean that we definitely need extra space. The last thing I need right now is to lose my job! Which reminds meJohn told us that he wants us all here especially early tomorrow. Apparently the new owner has said specifically that he will be here at eight.'
'Eight?' Kate switched her attention from her e-mails to Laura, her forehead crinkling in a worried frown. 'Are you telling me John wants us here at eight?'
Kate's porcelain-clear skin paled slightly. It was impossible for her to make it to the office for eight o'clock in the morning. Pre-school didn't start until eight, and she would have to leave Ollie at seven-thirty at the very latest if she was to make it here for eight. She could feel the tension cramping her stomach.
It was hard enough for any mother to work full timea constant finely-judged balancing actbut when one added into that delicate balance the fact that the mother in question was a single parent, fighting desperately hard to give as much emotional security as two loving parents would, plus the fact that she had not told her employers that she had child, then that balancing act became dangerously unstable.
Just thinking about Ollie was enough to have her stomach twisting in knots of maternal protective anxiety.
'What's wrong?' Laura asked curiously, sensing her tension.
Kate hadn't told anyone at work about Ollie. All too sensitive to the attitude of colleagues and employers to the difficulties that came hand in hand with a worker who was a motherespecially a single motherKate had made no mention of her son during her interview with John. It had only been after she had started to work for the company that she had learned that John had a somewhat old-fashioned attitude about employing women with very young children.