Chapter Excerpt

The Cost Of Love And Sanity

CHAPTER 1


“Uh um,” the VP of Operations, Mr. Eugene Sims, stood behind his executive chair and cleared his throat. The room acknowledged him with silent cooperation. “Surely, you all are wondering why I’ve called this meeting. Everyone is in a hurry to get out of here and enjoy their New Year’s. Nevertheless, we have a pressing issue to discuss before the first of next month.” He frowned.

“As you all know, our numbers are down twenty-eight percent this quarter after being down nineteen percent last quarter. We’ve lost contracts. We aren’t getting as many good people placed with our present clients and this is affecting our business.” He leaned on the chair. “Golden Burch has been looking for a sales professional for four months. We haven’t sent him anyone in four months!” the VP raised his voice, allowing his aggravation to erupt like a volcano.

For a second, you could hear a rat pee on cotton. Alexis Carter, one of three junior recruitment managers, blinked four times in rapid succession. Until Mr. Sims’ outburst she’d been fighting hard to stay awake. She should have made herself a cup of tea that morning or at least stopped somewhere and bought a tea. A tea and two sunrisers. She could smell the steaming hot, peppered sausage, melted cheese and buns burning up her fingers as she pushed one into her mouth. Her stomach growled in response to her food fantasy. She quickly placed her hand over her stomach and looked to her left and her right to see if anyone heard it. Nobody showed any signs they did.

Suddenly, Dan Reece, a coordinator, raised his hand, looking like a fifth-grader about to ask his teacher if he could go to the bathroom.

“What?” Mr. Sims zeroed in on Dan.

“We haven’t sent over any sales candidates because none of them fit their qualifications,” Dan said.

“And what did you do about that?”

Dan fell silent, searching his colleagues’ faces for ideas about what to say next. When no one offered him a lifeline, he answered on his own, sitting up straight in his chair. “Well, I…I called everyone I could in our database.”

“And?” the VP said, without blinking.

Dan swallowed. This meeting was going further downhill by the minute.

“And no one matched,” Dan said.

The VP pointed toward the embarrassed employee. “This is my point. As bad as the economy is, with all the people out there looking for jobs, all we’re doing is making excuses. We’re not doing everything we can to find the candidates. That’s not gonna cut it.”

Alex sat back in her chair. She knew this talk would come. The year started with a bang and ended with a whimper. She’d hoped their tongue lashing wouldn’t come today, especially since her stomach seemed intent on gearing up for a second growl.

“Last year, we launched the Referral Program. Whatever happened to that? I heard it a couple of times in the meetings but not one person has mentioned anything about it since.” Mr. Sims walked toward the right side of the room. “What about other ideas? Has anyone even attempted to find other ways to solve this problem?”

In an effort to look productive in this train wreck of a meeting, Alex answered. “I’ve had my people making triple the calls, to unemployed candidates as well as employed ones. I figured maybe some people are ready for a career upgrade.”

She saw Dan smirk out of the corner of her eye.

Mr. Sims nodded. “Well, Alex, we’ll have to continue finding ways to recruit. It’s the company’s goal to find people jobs, right?”

“Right,” the room said in unison.

“Good. I’m glad we agree on something. In the meantime, we’re going to have to make some changes.” Mr. Sims scanned the board room. “The company will have to let someone go in a few months.”

Everyone looked around at each other, except Alex. She couldn’t see herself on the chopping block and, most importantly, she wouldn’t see herself on the chopping block. She’d exceeded her recruitment numbers over the past two years. She became one of their top recruitment managers her first month there. This can’t apply to me. I’ll make sure of it.

“We’ll be observing you guys. We should be making a decision around March or April. Until then, come up with ways to help our clients. Immediately. I’ll be watching you.”

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence and exchanged glances, Mr. Sims dismissed the executive staff from the boardroom. Alex sped away from the low chatters and panicked expressions and headed toward the elevator. Courtney Davis and Romero Martinez filed behind her.

“Wow!” Romero said. “I guess we’d really better get on the ball, huh? We need to work harder at protecting the image of the company.”

“Forget the image of the company! I need to keep my job,” said Courtney. As Alex watched her talk, she thought about Courtney’s uncle—the CEO Mark Davis. Somehow, Alex didn’t think the spunky redhead had anything to worry about.

Courtney bounced off the elevator onto the third floor.

Romero shook his head and said what they were both thinking. “Like she’s gonna get fired. I hope they don’t get carried away with the rest of us. I have a kid in private school.” Romero narrowed his eyes and wrinkled his forehead.

“This only means it’s really time to buckle down,” Alex said.

Romero’s eyes stared off into the empty space. “Yeah. I suppose you’re right.”

The bell rang and the elevator doors opened to Alex’s floor. She turned toward the door and raised her foot to step off.

“Hey!”

She turned back toward Romero.

“Thanks.”

Alex forced a smile and nodded.

“Say. Did you get my email?” Romero asked.

Her brain flashed back to the email she had received from him yesterday. Romero had asked her to attend an art exhibit with him. Refusing to allow recognition of the email to cross her face, Alex feigned ignorance. “What email?”

“Oh, I sent you an email about the art exhibit downtown tomorrow. I wanted to know if you would like to go check it out with me?” Romero asked, smiling.

Alex took a deep breath. She hated to tell him no. He really was a nice guy—but not the guy for her. Besides, she’d been seeing Phillip for about six months now. Even though she and Phillip were far from heading toward the wedding chapel, she couldn’t see making a run for Romero.

She snapped her fingers. “You know what? I already have plans with my friend.”

“Oh, yes. Yes, of course,” he said, lowering his head slightly.

“But thank you. Thank you for the invite.”

“Sure. Maybe some other time,” Romero said.

“Maybe.” Alex stepped forward and the elevator door closed behind her.

She shook her head. Not a chance. Romero wanted more than she could possibly give him and she did not believe in dating nice guys because they were, well nice. Besides, any romance between them would spark unwanted office gossip. Employees already had enough food for thought with the coming layoff. She had to concentrate on how to keep upper management off her back and what she wanted to do for New Year’s Eve.

Excerpted from The Cost of Love and Sanity by Jaye Cherie
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