Jade Webb

Dear Love Vixen,
I feel a bit silly writing you, but I’m desperate. Last week, I received a call from my mom that I needed to come home for two weeks. All she said it was urgent, family-related and I absolutely had to be there. And since I have about twelve weeks of vacation saved up and owe my mom for giving birth to me, I fly back home – after agreeing to still work my twelve hour days to my bosszilla. What could go wrong?

And the day after I land? My childhood best friend turned one-time lover turned nemesis decides to show up reminding me of some stupid pact we had made a decade ago that if we both weren’t married by 28, we would marry each other. We were 17 and dumb, what can I say?

And now my “fiancé” (seriously, he calls himself that!) shows up every day with flowers, sends me singing telegrams and cooks dinner for my mom and I. He’s trying to win me over, but I still am hurt by the way he broke my heart back when we were 17. I don’t know if I will be able to trust him ever again, even with those six-pack abs he not-so-subtly displayed for me.

So, Love Vixen, help me! My 28th birthday is just two weeks away and I don’t know if I can put myself out on the line again. How can I tell if he is for real or if he is going to shatter my poor heart all over again?

Yours,
Desperate and on a Deadline

Dear Desperate and on a Deadline,
Girl, this one is doozy! You have got one determined guy on your hands and that tells me a lot. After all, why would he be trying so hard to win your love if he didn’t care about you? In the age of social media and dating apps, most women are lucky if they get a guy to respond to their text in under 24 hours and you have a man chasing you all around town!

Unfortunately there’s no test or formula out there to ensure you that you won’t get your heart broken. All I can do is to tell you to trust your gut. Do you get the butterflies when you see him? And most importantly: does the thought of not being with him make your stomach sick? That will tell you more than any quiz ever could.

Good luck, hon!
The ♥️ Vixen

**Disclaimer: The Love Vixen concept, letters, posts, and advice are works of fiction. The LV is not a licensed doctor or trained professional, or even a real person. The guidance she gives should probably not be followed because everything is made up by the authors.


Meet the Author!

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Jade Webb is a lover of romance novels that feature strong heroines who know that the loves that may come into their lives are always the icing, and never the cake.

Thanks to her own marriage, Jade has learned that the challenges of life can only help to make love stronger and she is grateful to her partner for embodying all the magic that love can offer.

DEADLINE FOR LOVE

Chapter 1

There are moments in life where I wonder how I got to be where I am now—arguing with a nose-ringed teenaged barista about the amount of caramel syrup in the triple venti, half sweet, non-fat macchiato in my hand as the annoyed and judgmental customers behind me watch the interaction like it’s the least interesting Jerry Springer episode ever. Not that it is entirely my fault—if I had a chair to throw, I probably would. I would do anything to get this little punk to take me seriously. Not enough sleep and too much pressure riding on this drink order are stopping me, though. Well, that and the tiny shred of dignity I am still desperately clinging to.

And yet here I am—debating the amount of caramel syrup in this drink with the same kind of ferocity an impassioned lawyer arguing for his innocent client who has been unduly framed by a spiteful ex-lover would have. Only, one of these situations has life-altering implications, and one does not.

But still, my passion is no less diminished. This Starbucks is my battlefield, and I am ready for war.

“The ratio is clearly off,” I continue, refusing to move from my spot until this barista has rectified my order.

The barista rolls his eyes as he continues to work on the other customers’ drinks. It astounds me how little he seems to care about this caramel injustice. His apathy annoys me almost to the point of considering digging for the dollar bill I had popped into his tip jar. Almost.

I decide we need to go for a stronger tone and a lower timbre. I read an article in Scientific American once that people tend to associate a deeper voice with greater authority. “Look,” I start, dropping my voice low enough I sound like a parody version of James Earl Jones sucking on helium, “you need to remake this. I asked for a half-squirt and there is clearly a full squirt of caramel in this.”

“How can you put in a half-squirt of caramel?” he asks, finally acknowledging me. Looks like my voice change worked. Thank you, science. “That doesn’t exist.”

“Noelle knew how to make this order, and she never complained.”

“Well, Noelle quit.” He shrugs. “Sorry.”

“She quit?” I ask, stunned. Noelle has been working at this Starbucks for the past year, faithfully making—and sometimes remaking—my morning beverages without any hesitation. “Why? Is she okay?”

The barista—the handwriting on his nametag is too messy to be legible—rolls his eyes at me. Again. “She got some job in fashion or something. At like Smith Booey or something? I don’t remember.”

“Smith Boulet?” I ask, my mouth dropping open. “The Smith Boulet?”

He shrugs as if the words Smith Boulet mean absolutely nothing to him. “Yeah, I guess so.”

I am astonished by his lack of reaction to the fact that his predecessor is now working at Smith Boulet, one of the most impressive—and expensive—fashion houses in New York City. You had a better shot of winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning while also being asked out on a date by Leonardo DiCaprio as a woman over the age of twenty-five than you did scoring a job at Smith Boulet. But apparently Noelle had.

I’m momentarily stunned while I process this news and swallow back some of my jealousy. I have zero interest in working in fashion, but it is hard to see everyone in your life—from your friends to your barista—moving ahead in life while I remain rooted in place at a job that is slowly killing me.

Which reminds me.

“So, about the drink?” I ask again, my voice betraying the desperation I am clearly feeling—and that is likely written all over my face.

He sighs and rolls his eyes—his signature move. “Fine,” he concedes, “but next time can you go to the Starbucks across the street? You’re kind of annoying.”

Instead of feeling insulted, I gleefully agree. In my world of constantly feeling like an inept failure, this moment feels like a victory. It’s sad, and something I should definitely process with my therapist later, but a victory nonetheless.

He remakes my drink, and I strut back onto the street a new woman with my prize in my hand. This, I think, will be the start of a new chapter in my life. I will no longer be Josie the “nice girl,” Josie the pushover. I am now Josie, the ferocious. I battled corporate America—in the form of a minimum-wage teenage employee—and I won. There isn’t a limit to the amazing things I can accomplish.  

Something electric is in the air. I can feel it. Today will be different.

I cross the street and enter the large glass building that dominates most of the block at 431 Charleston. I wave at Neo, sitting behind a gigantic wooden concierge desk, who predictably ignores me in favor of staring down at his phone. When he fails to wave back, I quickly disguise the failed wave by making it appear as if I was simply tucking a stray piece of hair behind my ear. One day I’ll win him over and get a wave back.

I hustle toward the elevators, cringing at the sound of my heels clicking loudly on the marble floor, making me sound like some kind of skittish horse, and sneak into an almost-full elevator. As I ride up to the fortieth floor, I glance down at my watch and bite back a groan. I’m late. My little duel with the Starbucks barista has cost me, and I am officially two minutes late into work, which may not sound like a big deal, but my boss is…different. 

Sweat begins to trickle down the small of my back, and I stare at the numbers slowly ticking up to forty, glaring at everyone who had dared press the buttons for a floor beneath. Don’t they know I am late?

Finally, the elevator arrives at my floor, and I powerwalk through the lobby and into the offices to find my boss, hoping she will also be slightly late today. Though in my five years at Thurston Mill Publishing, that has never happened. But today is a new day, isn’t it? And full of new possibilities. Maybe today will be the day that… I round the corner to find my boss, sitting behind her glass desk, in her gigantic office, very much here on time.

Damn.

I half jog to her office and knock on her door. She doesn’t look up as she waves me forward, her lips drawn into a tight line. She looks down at her watch and then back up at me, disapprovingly.

“Sorry I’m late, Meryl. I ran into an issue. But,” I say with forced enthusiasm as I hand her the coffee, “I have your macchiato. And I adjusted it accordingly to fit into your daily calorie allotment!”

She side-eyes me as she takes the cup from my hands. It’s my enthusiasm—I need to tone it down. She brings the cup to her perfectly red-lipsticked lips. She takes a sip and then jerks back her head in disgust. “What is this?” she asks, her beautiful face contorted into a mask of shock.

Sure, a little dramatic, but I’ve seen worse. Much worse.

“Um, a caramel macchiato?” I offer, knowing that whatever I say will clearly be the wrong thing. 

“If that’s the case, where is the caramel? This tastes like dirt.” She hands it to me and waves me off. “Just get rid of it. I have an early meeting with Tom, anyway, so we’ll go grab our own drinks so we can get them right.”

I nod and start to walk out of her office when she lets out a banshee cry that has me whipping around in surprise, hot macchiato sloshing out of the cup and burning my wrist.

Meryl jumps out of her seat and screams a second time. I have only seen an outburst like this from Meryl twice before in my five years working for her. The first was when she found out her favorite SoulCycle instructor had abruptly quit, and the second time had been when Jameson Theon, one of Thurston Mill’s biggest authors had left us and sold his next book to a new publishing imprint that no one had heard of before. I had been disappointed, too, though not to the point of banshee-level shrieking. Theon was one of my favorite authors, and I had taken full advantage of my position as Meryl’s assistant to devour all his books.

But even Jameson hadn’t gotten two shrieks, so this has to be big.

“Um, are you okay, Meryl?” I ask.

She looks up at me, her eyes wild and, frankly, a bit unhinged. “That bastard!” she grunts.

I wrack my brain for who “that bastard” could be. Knowing Meryl there are quite possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of options.

“Um, is there anything I can do?” I ask, silently praying that she dismisses me so I can get the hell out of here before she starts throwing furniture and breaking things.

“Get Davis and Peter in here. Now!

I nod and rush out the door, depositing the macchiato on my desk before popping my head into the men’s offices, informing them that Meryl needed to see them urgently. Both come quickly, having heard her banshee cries a few minutes earlier.

And just when I think I’ve gotten off scot-free, Meryl shouts for me to come back into her office to take notes. I grab my notepad and scuttle into her office, claiming a spot in the back near the door in case I need to escape quickly.

“We lost Rebekka Elkidis,” she says, her voice simmering with rage.

That I had not been expecting. Rebekka Elkidis was huge. She was, without a doubt, Thurston Mill’s top author, and her books probably paid for most of our salaries. In her entire career, spanning nearly twenty years, she had published all her books with Thurston Mill. No wonder Meryl is losing her shit.

“What?” Davis barks. He’s one of the department heads and can be even more emotional than she is, though his vocal range isn’t quite as powerful. “How the hell did this happen?”

“I don’t know,” Meryl snaps. “Her agent sent me an email—an email!—informing me of their decision to leave our house.”

“And go where? Who else could possibly—”

“Thirty-Four Conway.”

A silence washes over the room. Thirty-Four Conway is the same imprint that had spirited away Jameson Theon from us a few months earlier. Meryl and the whole team had been pissed, especially because it appeared as if Thirty-Four Conway had just emerged out of thin air. It had to have some serious capital to be taking on all these big names, especially an author like Rebekka Elkidis with her millions of readers and followers.

This was bad. Very, very bad.

“Fuck,” Peter mutters under his breath. He looks up at Meryl. “What are we going to do?”

She rolls her eyes at him. It’s no secret she finds Peter completely useless. “We need to find out who the hell is behind this imprint and crush them. If they keep taking our authors, we are going to be destroyed.”

My stomach sinks at her words. It feels like I’ve been working here for an eternity, scraping my way up the never-ending corporate ladder to make it to the acquisition editorial team. If Thurston Mill were to shut down, I would have to start all over again.

I feel sick.

Davis, Meryl, and Peter spend the next ten minutes discussing putting together an emergency meeting with the directors to plan next steps. I try to take notes, but it’s hard to write anything of substance when all three of them just keep repeating the same version of “we’re fucked.” Finally, Meryl dismisses me, and I stumble out of her office back to my cubicle.

I collapse onto my chair and, leaning deep inside my cubicle and out of eyesight, take a long sip from Meryl’s rejected caramel macchiato which is now room temperature. I frown. It tastes like a caramel macchiato. Sure, it is light on the caramel, but Meryl had told me she was cutting back on sugar and that I needed to ensure she stayed below ten grams of sugar for her morning coffee. According to the Starbucks nutritional calculator, if I cut the caramel syrup and substituted one of her sugars for a Splenda, I could meet her macros. Of course, I had to try several variations of this combination, ensuring that I not cut the caramel too much to rid the drink of its flavor.

All this work. For nothing.

I power on my computer and am greeted with no fewer than seventy-eight new emails. Forty-three of them are from Meryl. Most are one-liners with gems such as “Remind me I don’t like the codfish maki from Sakura next time I order” and “cancel my meeting on Friday.” Most emails are easy and quick enough for me to quickly file away—I have a running document of all of Meryl’s hated foods. And hated restaurants. And hated people. There were a lot of these kinds of lists—but some require more digging. Like this meeting on Friday that I need to cancel. She has six meetings on Friday. Which one is it she wants me to cancel?

And you are probably wondering to yourself, “Gee, why don’t you just ask her which meeting she wants to cancel?” And yes, in an ideal world, this would be the case. But in my world, I have to be very selective of the questions I bring forth to Meryl. Depending on the day of the week, her mood, and what she ate for breakfast, I have anywhere from three to five permittable questions I can ask her. And they are all typically squeezed into a two-minute block of time where I grab her in between trips to the bathroom or after meetings when she is walking back to her office. Half my morning usually consists of me examining her schedule to find this exact period of time. And after the disaster this morning, I doubt I’ll have any time today to grab her for questions, which will just make my day even more tedious and tiresome. Yay.

“Hello, Josepha.”

I groan. The other half of my morning? The one where I’m not playing the Microsoft Outlook version of Sherlock Holmes? Yeah, that half is spent avoiding him.

I sit up straighter in my chair and pin him with a disinterested look. “What do you want, Lucas?” I ask, deciding to be mature and not purposefully mispronounce his name like he always does mine.

“Ouch, kitty has claws this morning.” He meows, and when I look up at him, he lets out a hiss.

I roll my eyes. “I’m really busy this morning. Either tell me what you want or scram.” I wish I had a water spritzer nearby so I could literally spray him away to follow up on my threat.

He places his hand over his heart and lets out a dramatic sigh. “I am so sorry, Josie. I had no idea you were so busy with”—he leans forward to look at my screen, which I stupidly should have minimized when his knock-off Drakkar Noir first invaded my nostrils— “compiling that list of Meryl-approved dry cleaners. Very important work, indeed.”

I hate how my cheeks heat with embarrassment. Having to work for Meryl is humiliating enough. Adding Lucas’s insults into the mix is brutal. But I don’t want him to see that he’s hurt me, so I fight back tears that I know I will inevitably spill later tonight in the comfort of my shoebox-sized room—like I do most nights—and force a smile as I look at him.

“So, what is it you need, Lucas?”

He smiles, showing off his perfectly white teeth that practically glow under our fluorescent lighting. “Peter needs you to pull together that monthly Excel thing you did for him last month.”

“The end of month summary? Why can’t you do that? The only reason I did it last month was because you were out ‘sick.’”

Lucas doesn’t like my air-quotes around the word ‘sick’ even though he is fully aware that I know he wasn’t sick last month, but rather wanted a four-day weekend to celebrate his boyfriend’s birthday in Vegas. But because Lucas likes to think he’s an “influencer,” he had plastered his social media with pictures from their vacation. Luckily for him, Peter is ancient and can barely operate his own email and has no idea his assistant had been faking sickness to get drunk and lick whipped cream off bronzed six-packs in some club.

“Well, whatever the reason I was out,” Lucas responds, his fake smile now permanently gone, “Peter wants you to do it.” He shrugs, inspecting his nails. “I mean, he said your version was so much better than mine. You should really be taking it as a compliment.”

I bite the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from shouting what I really think. Like how I think this is bullshit, for one. Lucas is Peter’s assistant, and he has no right assigning me his work. Not like this is the first time. I have been here twice as long as Lucas and yet I still get stuck doing all the grunt work in our department. It isn’t fair. But Lucas and I both know I am not going to complain about it. I need this job—and more importantly, need the recommendation from Meryl for when the next acquisition editor position opens up. Meryl has assured me the position will practically be mine whenever it opens, considering I am the most qualified out of all the assistants. Not that there is a very high bar—basically it just means I am the only one to last this long without quitting. I am not sure if that is a good thing or not.

“Fine,” I mutter. “Just send me the data, and I’ll do it.”

Lucas smiles victoriously. “Already sent! Oh, and could you be a doll and finish by EOD? Peter needs it for the board meeting tomorrow morning. You’re the best!” he says before spinning on his heel and retreating back to whichever level of hell from which he ascended. God, I hate Lucas. He had sent the email before coming to ask, because he knew I would agree. Am I that predictable?

Or am I just that much of a pushover?

The small feeling of victory I had felt from earlier this morning has now faded into nothing. I groan and drop my head onto my desk.

Guess today really isn’t all that special after all.