Desperately in need of a few quiet minutes to put herself together, Joanne perched on the ugly orange chair that had missed the first furniture purge and wiped the tears from her lashes.
What had she done? Her submission in the bar had pleased him and he’d been clear in his praise. The conversation in the car had been pleasant and friendly. Hell, Derek was almost flirty. Then, with no warning, he’d become cold and distant. She riffled through the interlude to find a reason for the change but couldn’t.
Finally giving up the search, she repaired her face as best she could and went to find Mark. Wrong move, all the way.
“What happened?” He didn’t wait for an answer, just walked right up close and touched her cheek.
“It’s nothing. Just a misunderstanding.” The idea of discussing one boss with another was anathema, guaranteed to make her job disappear in a heartbeat. She’d never been there, but had seen it happen too many times to count.
But Master Mark was a pit bull.
He didn’t back away, and he didn’t take her answer at face value.
“What did he do?”
“Nothing. I misunderstood, that’s all. It’s fine.” She turned to the long table in his office with an eye to tidying the stacks of paper but he caught her arm with a warm palm around her wrist.
“Don’t walk away from this, Joanne. Tell me what happened. Better yet, let me tell you what I think happened.”
Oh, hell. What had she gotten involved in this time? And how could he know what happened at lunch, unless Derek had already told him. She turned accusing eyes at him, but he shook his head, sympathy pooling in those dark brown depths.
“I haven’t seen or heard from Derek, but I can guess what happened. He was flirting, teasing and friendly, dominating you to the edge of sensuality, and suddenly went cold. Am I close?”
Her free hand floated behind her hip to find the chair she knew was close by and when Mark let go of her arm, she sank into it.
“How did you know?” she asked, her words a thin whisper.
Mark perched on the chair across from her, his elbows braced on his knees and his hands hanging between his calves. “It’s not the first time, but it’s been a while.”
“Whether or not you get involved with Derek, your job is secure. We have high expectations for job performance in the mainstream fashion—theft, violence, and the like aren’t tolerated. Having a mutually satisfying relationship with someone you meet here will not be reflected on your yearly evaluation. Understand?”
A deep exhale lightened her heart. “Yes, Master Mark. Thank you.”
He nodded. “Good. Now, we still have a shitload of things to take care of before we open in two weeks.”
“Umm, can I ask a question?”
“Of course. Shoot.”
“Are you planning to upgrade the restrooms? I was in the ladies downstairs and it’s clean but on the far side of ugly.”
“How ugly?” His brow furrowed as he picked up a yellow notepad and a pen. “Show me. I never gave a thought to the public restrooms, since all the private rooms have a full bath. Damn.”
They started on the second floor and once inside the ladies room, Mark agreed to refurbish. “Even to my eye, it’s bad. You know what women expect in a high—end salon. Talk to Derek and have him set you up with his general contractor today. We need new tile, mirrors, chairs.”
He made a few notes and said, “You’re in charge of the bathrooms. Get a bid from the contractor for all of them and run it by me, since I keep the money. Let’s take a look at the men’s before we get carried away.”
Half an hour later, Joanne found herself back in the bar, sitting on a barstool while Derek finished his last interview. He’d acknowledged her with a nod when she arrived, polite and polished as always. When the applicant left, Derek rose and walked to the long bar and stood next to her.
“I owe you an apology, Joanne.”
She ducked her head. “I talked to Master Mark.”
Humor licked at his words when he said, “Turn me in with the boss?”
“No. He asked...he noticed that I was upset and before I could explain, he told me what had happened.”
His tone belied his comment, dark with a hint of pain, and her heart squeezed. “He helped me understand that it wasn’t my fault.” Dammit. Not the right words at all.
“It was never my intention to blame you.”
“I know. Can we change the subject? Master Mark asked me to take care of the refurbishing of the public restrooms and he told me to ask you for an introduction to the main contractor so I can get a bid.”
Derek tipped his head back and laughed. “Perfect, sweetheart. I’m the managing contractor. Show me what you want to get done.”