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Working Vacation by Annabelle Love (1)

Chapter 1

It had to be the stress. That had to be why she was acting like a class A bitch. Before her days had been loaded with stress, Bernadette had actually been quite a nice woman. At least, she figured she'd been a nice woman.


She'd never had any complaints.


But that had been before her business had gone public. Days of working alone, striving to make her baby successful, had ultimately paid off. But what kind of a payoff was it when the staff she could now afford were terrified of her?


Even as the thought crossed her mind, she looked at Robert in front of her, and wanted to grimace when she saw he was shaking.


Literally shaking.


What the hell did that make her? Cruella De Ville?


"I'm so sorry, Bernadette. I tried to get the proposal completed last night, but I was just so tired. I wasn't thinking straight. I was here until 10. You can check my records. I swear, I was working hard. It's just…"


"Okay, Robert, we all need to take a break from time to time," Emily, Bernadette’s PA and best friend, soothed.


Though Bernadette was ashamed of herself for making Robert shiver in his seat, and while a part of her was grateful that Emily's calmer nature could put most people at ease, she was also pissed. She'd needed that proposal. Today!


Shooting Emily a frazzled glance, she perched on the edge of Robert’s desk. Her lush curves padded her seat, taking away the discomfort of the hard edge. Bridging her hands together and stacking them on her lap while trying to be patient when that was the last thing she was feeling, she murmured, "I really need that proposal, Robert."


He blinked at her. Burrowed within his gaze, there was an emotion she couldn't identify. It wasn't hatred… Although, she didn't doubt that would come soon enough. It was… Unease?


Like someone had just had a bomb delivered to his desk, and he had to figure out a way to stop it from exploding within a set frame of time.


Just how she wanted her employees to look at her. Like a ticking timebomb.




Trying to be patient, and not display her impatience because she could see Robert feared for his job, Bernadette let out a sigh. Was asking for things to be done on time and for them to be done correctly so damn hard?


"If I get Larry and Helen to come and work with you, will you be able to get the proposal ready for me this afternoon?"


Robert bit his lip. "I-I guess?"


Not letting out an exasperated hiss was harder than she could say. 'I guess'? What kind of a fucking answer was that?


Emily, because she knew her so well, pressed a calming hand to Bernadette's shoulder. She rubbed the taut muscle, and to Robert, murmured, "Robert, you can understand why we need a more confident response, can't you?"


He ducked his head. "Yes."


"Well?" Emily prompted, when no answer was forthcoming. Still.


Robert licked his lips - his nervousness apparent. After clearing his throat, and sending darting looks about the office, he whispered, "Yes, but I think we need Sarah's input too."


Bernadette’s eyes flared. How far behind was he if the proposal needed a four-man team for completion? And why the fuck was this the first time either she or Emily were hearing about it?


Briskly getting to her feet, she turned to her friend, and said, "See that that happens." If she stayed a moment longer, she’d explode. Robert, despite being a major pain in her ass this morning, was one of her best lawyers. Or at least had been.


Striding down the hall without a backward glance, Bernadette left Emily to unruffle Robert’s ruffled feathers. She had no patience for incompetence. No time either.


The trouble seemed to be that she was obviously presenting an image where her staff couldn't come and talk to her about the issues at work. That hadn't bothered her until it had now become a problem.


Robert should have come to her if he was overwhelmed with the task at hand. He should have been comfortable enough to explain that he needed extra help.


Or, was that her being idealistic?


If a staff member was in over their head, would they ever reveal that to their boss?


Pondering that thought and trying to troubleshoot a way of preventing this from happening in the future, she carefully closed the door to her office behind her. When she'd have liked to have slammed it, she let it click gently to a close.


Eyeing her office, she tried to find peace in the calming atmosphere. Bernadette spent so many hours here, that she'd wasted a small fortune on making the place, what she'd consider, functionable and pretty.


The former should have been more important than the latter, but though she was a businesswoman, she was still a woman. Pretty was vital.


When someone spent more time in an office than their home, there had to be something to sweeten that bitter pill. Not that she didn't love her job, or her company, but her days pretty much began and ended here.


Which, though she was so damn rich she didn't know what to do with the money in her bank account, was a pretty pathetic picture of modern womanhood in the workplace.


The wall of windows overlooking the bay was a glorious sight to behold come rain or shine - although, admittedly, in Seattle, it was mostly rain at this time of year - but she'd enhanced the view by lining the floor with a plush teal carpet that made the blue sky seem deeper somehow. An optical illusion that often brought a calmness to her days. Something she enhanced with the duck egg blue walls, with one offset with a cream brocade wallpaper. She looked out onto that view now and tried to find peace.


Peace wasn't easy to find unfortunately.


She had no metal in the room. Only wood. Her desk was antique mahogany, her desk chair had cost a fortune because it was a replica, one that would remain in keeping with her design choices, while being ergonomic too — she spent far too many hours there to not protect her body. The chair was padded with a dark brown leather that was almost black, which matched the lining on her desk.


Two black-brown leather club chairs were in front of the desk, and they looked onto a wall of ink sketches. Some were by local artists that had caught her eye over the years, some cheap, a few pricey, but her pride and joy were the three sketches by Degas. She didn't big up the fact that she had some original work by the artist, but the age of those three pieces was evident to anyone with eyes. The eclectic mix suited her.


There was a seating area catty cornered to her desk. A discreet sofa and matching armchairs in a cream and gold pinstripe which were huddled together around a coffee table. At the moment, the coffee table held a tray with tea on it. And that was where she headed after staring at the Bay did nothing to appease her temper.


She needed tea. Stat.


Sinking into the plush sofa, which, while discreet, was actually damn comfortable too - comfortable enough that she'd slept on it many a night - she sighed as she poured herself a cup of tea, then picked up the bowl with salad in it that someone had prepared for her. Stabbing some of the leaves with the fork provided, she glowered at her lunch, peering at it as though studying it hard enough would make it turn into a hamburger.


She couldn’t afford the calories. Dammit.


Discarding the fork, she sipped at her green tea, and stared out onto the bay ahead. It was a windy day, and the Puget Sound was rough and ready. A few hardy sailors were out on it, the sails of their boats whipping here and there in the fray of a very gray, and very grim Seattle Saturday.


She remembered those days. When Saturdays had been about fun, and not just another endless to-do list.


A knock sounded at the door. Knowing it was Emily, she called out, "Come in, Em."


A bright blonde head peered around the door. "I come in peace."


Bernadette scowled. "Not you too."


Emily snorted. "I seriously thought he was about to cry. Didn't you?"


Bernadette was all for a world where men were in touch with their emotions, but she had to wonder if any of the men on her staff had balls the size of hers if she could bring them to tears with a few scowls.


Justified scowls at that!


"Yeah, I noticed," Bernadette gruffly replied.


Falling silent, she took another sip of tea and watched as Emily meandered into the office and plunked herself down in the armchair opposite her. There was a teacup on the tray for Em, and without asking, she poured herself a cup too.


They never stood on ceremony with one another. It wasn’t how they worked. Even the knock on the door had been a gibe.


"What are you thinking?"


Biting the inside of her cheek, Bernadette pondered the question. How to answer?


Emily snorted again. "Come on, out with it. I can tell something’s on your mind."


Bernadette sighed. "Since when were you a psychic?"


"I'm not a psychic, I just know you."


"I guess you should, considering we've been together so long." They’d been best friends since middle school. Placing the cup back on the lunch tray, Bernadette rubbed at her temple as she admitted, "I'm not pissed that the proposal isn't complete." When Em let out an explosive and disbelieving 'ha', Bernadette just scowled at her. "Well, I am, but what pisses me off more is the fact that he needs three more people to work with him, and he's only just mentioned that now."


Emily shrugged. "You frighten him."


She let out a hiss. "I frighten him? I don't mean to impugn his masculinity, but what the fuck? I don't expect anything of him that isn't listed in his job description. For him to admit that he needs extra help after the deadline is over, well, it's really concerning."


Emily's mouth pursed, which told Bernadette her friend was being argumentative for the sake of it – Emily was just as pissed off as Bernadette. "What are you going to do? Fire him?"


She shook her head. "I don't want to fire him. He's damn good at what he does. Usually."


"You always say that he's slow," Emily rebutted.


Bernadette countered that with a rueful grimace. "There's slow and then there's slow." Picking up her teacup again, she stared into the murky green and admitted, "I can deal with slow, just not this."


"Let me talk to him. He's not terrified of me. I'll let him know how close to the edge he's come this time and explain that you're angry over his decision not to let you know he needed extra help rather than going over the deadline. I think it's imperative we make a distinction between the two."


Bernadette nodded, then surprised herself by letting out a yawn. Clapping a hand to her mouth, she stared at Emily in surprise.


Her best friend giggled. "I don't know why you’re so surprised. You must be exhausted. You slept here last night, and I don't care how much you say that sofa is comfortable… It's not your bed. Plus, it's Saturday. You need a break. When was the last time you took a full weekend off?"


Bernadette grimaced. "Last year?" Maybe.


She was always careful to ensure that out of ten weekends, Emily had at least eight free. The last thing she needed was for her best friend to be burned out. For herself, that strict rule was non-existent. She worked seven days a week - she had to.


There was never enough time to let her hair down any more.


Ever since her graphics business had taken off, working all the hours God sent had become the norm.


"I really think you need a break," Emily suggested carefully. When Bernadette started shaking her head, Emily held up a hand. "Look, just bear with me. You’re exhausted. It's making you irritable, more so than usual, and the staff are scared of you. That’s not good for morale, and if it isn’t good for morale, then the level of work suffers."


“I pay enough bonuses for morale never to be affected,” she snapped grimly. Knowing it was BS even as she said it.


Emily shook her head. “You know that’s not enough.”


Bernadette wanted to scream with irritation at how true that was. "I know. And I have no idea why. If I were a guy…"


She let the thought hang because both women knew that if her staff was working for a guy, they wouldn't have a problem with her authoritative nature. But because she was a woman, they expected her to be softer, more generous and less disciplined. When she proved that wasn't the case, she had to deal with situations like today.


Robert would have just taken her criticism on the chin, accepted he was in the wrong if she'd been a dude, but because she had ovaries it messed with his head. She didn't think it was something he, or the rest of her employees, did on purpose, but on a subconscious level, it affected them.


Not that that stopped it from being irritating as fuck.


"You know I don't have time for a vacation," Bernadette retorted with a grimace, knowing exactly where Emily was heading with this conversation because she did it at least once a month. "I have the shareholder meeting on Monday, and that appointment with the CEO of Dragon Inc. this afternoon. That's just how this week ends and next week starts. When am I supposed to take a break?"


The question should have been rhetorical, but apparently her best friend needed the reminder. The appointment this afternoon and the shareholder meeting were exactly why Emily was here when she should still be in her PJs, soaking up her latest favorite romance novel. If Emily had to be in the office, then it was pretty damn imperative that Bernadette be here too, and not on a break.


Emily gnawed at her lip. "Look, don't bite my head off…" She hesitated, making Bernadette frown. Emily wasn't the hesitant sort.


"What have you done?"  Bernadette asked suspiciously.


Emily cleared her throat, making all kinds of nasty thoughts flush through Bernadette's head. Panic mode on, she was almost relieved when Emily admitted, "I set you up an appointment with Hedonist Central."


Bernadette frowned. "Is that a potential client?"


"Not exactly…"



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