"It's like, I can't decide between the Kate Spade slides and the Via Spiga T-straps, you know?"
Kneeling on the floor ofthe Neiman Marcus footwear department, Lenox Square, Atlanta, Georgia, Jolie Goodman peered at the tortured coed over a mountain of over-flowing shoe boxes. Jolie's knees were raw and carpet burned. Her arms twitched from relaying stacks of shoe boxes to and from the stockroom. Her fingers ached from tying laces and finagling straps to ease shoes onto malodorous feet. Yet her considerable discomfort was apparently minuscule in comparison to the momentous decision weighing on the young woman's mind.
Jolie reached into her sales arsenal and pulled out a persuasive smile. "Why don't you take both and decide when you get home? You can always return a pair later."
The woman's shoulders fell in relief. "You're right. I'll take them both. Oh, and the Prada flats, too."
Jolie nodded with approval, scooped up the boxes, and trotted to the checkout counter before the girl could change her mind. Michael Lane, a senior sales consultant, waited for a receipt to print. He eyed the three boxes in her hands with an arched brow. "You're catching on," he murmured. "You just might last after all."
Only through the holiday sales season, Jolie promised herself. Eighty-one more days, if one were counting. The salary and commissions would tide her over until the housing market picked up after the first of the year and she could resume building her real-estate business. She had hoped the experience would sharpen her sales skills ... She hadn't counted on the bonus ofraising her threshold for pain.
Michael ripped off the long sales receipt and handed it to his customer with an ingratiating smile. "Thank you for shopping at Neiman Marcus." As he turned toward Jolie, he said, "Don't forget about the sales meeting tomorrow morning at nine. I know you're not on until noon, but everyone is expected to be there."
Jolie groaned inwardly. She'd been planning to assemble a mailing to her former customers the next morning -- one day into her temporary job, and she was already neglecting her primary goal. She rang up the slightly enormous sale, swiped the young woman's credit card, then sent her on her way with a brimming Neiman Marcus shopping bag. The satisfaction over the big fat sale was short-lived, however, because she had to straighten and clear thirty-some boxes of discards before she could move on to the next customer.
Discards -- that was a laugh. The boxes held some of the most exquisite designer shoes available, each stuffed and wrapped with form-holding stays, some swathed in cloth bags, some with registration cards. In her previous unenlightened world, she hadn't known that people actually registered their footwear, but she had since learned that when consumers forked over hundreds of dollars for a pair of shoes, they expected prestigious, if hollow, bonuses.
Jolie stooped, ignored the twinge in her lower back, and began repackaging the shoes. She reminded herself she should be thanking her lucky stars for landing this position. According to Michael, the shoe department ranked high in dollar sales per customer, and was always busy. She could do worse for a temporary job. While she repacked a pair of Anne Klein mules, she scanned the customers for the person who seemed most eager to be waited on. They were in the midst ofa Columbus Day sale, and the temperatures had begun to dip in earnest, so Atlantans were rushing to the mall in droves to replace their sandals with more substantial fare. And six-hundred-dollar faux crocodile stiletto-heeled boots would definitely keep the chill at bay.
Her gaze skitted over the after-five crowd, then caught on a familiar dark orange ball cap. Her heart stalled. Gary? The man stood several yards away, his profile obscured by other shoppers. In a split second, her mind rationalized it could be him -- he certainly had preferred shopping at the upscale stores in this mall. Her heart jumpstarted, thudding in her ears. What would she do first -- confront him or call the police? Kiss him or kill him?
Jolie craned for a better look just as the man turned. Her pulse spiked, then a fusion of disappointment and relief shot through her. It wasn't Gary. Again. She dropped her gaze and stared at the box in her hand until her vital signs recovered. She felt like a fool all over again, just like a month ago when she explained to a dubious officer that her boyfriend -- and her car -- had simply disappeared. But Gary drove a Mercedes -- why would he want her Mercury? In her mind, her car being stolen and Gary dropping out of sight were mutually exclusive. The uniformed man hadn't been nearly so magnanimous when he'd told her flat out that she'd been royally scammed.
Squashing the train of thought, she gave herself a mental shake -- she couldn't afford to be distracted, not now, when she needed to be on her sales game. She resumed scanning for ripe customers.
Her gaze landed on a tanned and rumpled sandy-haired man, strangely dressed in holey jeans and an expensive sport coat, hovering near a sleek blonde to whom Michael was showing a strappy shoe that Jolie hadn't yet memorized -- Stuart Weitzman? Stubbs and Wootton? Her head swam with trendy monikers. From the restless look on the man's rugged face, he was a salesman's worst enemy -- a "straggler," the person who accompanies the primary shopper and shifts from foot to foot until the shopper moves along. Interesting face or no, he wasn't useful to her.
Scan, scan -- stop. Jolie cringed.
Ten feet away, Sammy "Sold" Sanders, real-estate agent extraordinaire and Jolie's ex-boss, scrutinized a Manolo Blahnik bootie with laser blue eyes. Jolie's pulse hammered as she imagined the belly laugh that Sammy would enjoy when she discovered that her employee who had quit in a puffed-up huff over the questionable ethics of a deal had been reduced to selling shoes ... Party Crashers
. Copyright © by Stephanie Bond. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.