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“And how much will that cost?” I asked, expecting the worst.

“About a hundred bucks.”

Jackie’s head whipped up. She raised an eyebrow at me. Mykia was obviously giving me a deal. I wasn’t above taking it.

“Okay. If I toss in another fifty, can they help me get more of this lawn up?”

“Done.” Mykia grinned. “This subdivision is full of perfect lawns and Stepford wives. Your neighbors aren’t going to be happy.”

“Nope.”

“See if your association will give you a permit,” she added, her smile widening. Mykia was getting a kick out of this. I had the feeling that thumbing her nose at authority revved her up.

“You sure about this, Paige?” asked Jackie. The voice of reason. But I wasn’t feeling particularly reasonable.

“No,” I answered. “I’m not. But I’m doing it anyway.”

CHAPTER 9

Excerpt from Petra Polly: Chapter 8—The Underperforming Employee

Imagine you are dealing with a small child who insists on heedlessly running into traffic. At first, you admonish her and attempt to explain the danger. Next, you threaten punishment. Finally, you purchase a leash or quit walking altogether. Neither of these solutions is particularly desirable. They both teach the child nothing.

For management, dealing with an employee who has lost her way offers similar choices. Multiple warnings or write-ups, the threat of dismissal, forcing more restrictive rules, outright firing—these tactics are only rarely necessary and ignore the real issue at hand.

Your employee feels unchallenged and seeks attention.

So you must give it to her. Hang a brass ring. Draw a finish line. Engrave a trophy.

Set the standard necessary for achievement. Sit back and watch her run.

I thought about Petra’s words on my way into work later in the week, turning her ideas over and over. The meeting with Landon Cosmetics had gone well, and Lukas had set a meeting for later in the day to discuss the next step forward. Rhiannon, Byron, and Seth had stayed pretty tight-lipped all week, and Jackie and I tossed around ideas about what it meant. Was Landon giving us a chance? What would have seemed unlikely a few years ago was now a definite possibility, and I had to admit it felt pretty good.

And, if Landon were ours, would Lukas give me a chance to shine? If he still followed the gospel of St. Petra, then yes, it seemed he would hang that brass ring for me. Landon Cosmetics was big-time. Was I?

It was market day, which meant I parked a few blocks from Gossamer Space. The white-peaked tents kept me from seeing inside, but I imagined Mykia, charming customers, doing brisk business. I hoped so, because the sky, heavy and gray, promised a downpour before the afternoon was out.

I stopped in my tracks. Rain. The possibility hadn’t occurred to me. Mykia’s men had showed up a few days before, machines in tow. My backyard had gotten a Brazilian—only a single strip of grass grew along Mr. Eckhardt’s fence line, hugging his property. The friendly, efficient men had tilled the soil, disturbing it, then turned it over again, leaving a dark, blank canvas for me to begin to fill. I’d meant to get over to the nursery to pick up some plants and paving stones but hadn’t been able to find the time. Would a storm wash all the topsoil away? Was I going home to a mudslide?

I wanted to jog back to my car and dash home. I could buy a tarp on the way. I could call the lawn service and pay a fortune for a sod emergency.

But I couldn’t miss the Landon meeting. Leaving early meant leaving myself professionally vulnerable. What was the worst that could happen? A little runoff onto the sidewalk? Mykia had promised the men would dump some mulch on the corner of my property. Maybe the weather would hold out, and I could buy the plants on the way home and get them in before it rained.

With renewed confidence, I walked into the offices of Guh, head held high, heels clacking on the shiny hardwood floor.

“What’s gotten into you?” Jackie said. She sat at her workstation dipping jicama into a tub of what looked like a strawberry smoothie. I’d never seen her venture into anything even remotely exotic. Then it hit me; she’d been shopping at the farmers’ market on her own.

“Did Mykia sell you that?”

Underneath her caked-on foundation, Jackie blushed. “Maybe. I guess. It’s really good.” She handed a stick to me. “Go ahead. Try it.”

The sharpness of the jicama was tamed by the strawberry sauce. I tasted honey and something else, something vinegary. “This really wakes up the palate.”

Jackie shrugged. “I’m not one for fancy foods, but I know what’s good. This is even better than good.”

“What do you think?” I asked as I settled in front of a computer station. “Of Mykia, I mean.”

Jackie chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “She’s like some of the young people who work here. I can’t deny that they do good work, but I can’t shake the feeling that part of them is already on to the next thing. They aren’t in it all the way. Mykia seems committed to what she’s doing because she’s got nothing to lose. In our case, we’re committed because we’ve got everything to lose. Does that make us better at what we do? Hell if I know.”

Jackie rarely uttered more than a sentence or two, and she slumped a little, her hand reflexively reaching for her purse. “I need a smoke,” she said. “Or maybe three.”

“It’s like dropping pearls before swine,” Rhiannon muttered.

The spring line of Landon Cosmetics lay scattered over the white conference table. Byron and Seth poked at the merchandise with clinical detachment.

“What’s this again?” Seth asked as he gingerly held a sleek chrome tube between his index finger and thumb.

“Mascara,” Lukas said. “Landon is expanding into eye makeup. Weren’t you paying attention when Trinka was speaking?”

“Of course,” Seth said too quickly. “I’d just forgotten.”

Byron and Rhiannon shared a look. Rumor had it Seth was quite taken with Miss Trinka, CEO of Landon, and had paid little attention to anything but her ample cleavage.

Lukas directed our attention to the makeup with one expansive swoop of his hand. “Familiarize yourselves with the product line. Think outside the box—forget the box even exists. Petra discusses awakening your creative juices in chapter 5. I’d suggest you read it again.”

“Or for the first time,” Jackie mumbled, but she was taken with the cosmetics, just as I was. Since its inception, Landon Cosmetics meant old-school glamour—Trinka’s bestselling lipstick, an indelible true red, evoked Marilyn at her finest, yet looked good on every woman who tried it, regardless of skin tone. High-end department stores couldn’t keep it on the shelves, and her online business boomed. She’d recently offered corals and pinks, the color palette of midcentury-modern craze, and she’d done well.

But now she’d moved into the space age. Frosted lipsticks; thick, natural-looking false lashes; fast-drying liquid liner—she was reinventing herself.

“Landon is ours?” I said, too shocked to keep the disbelief from my voice. “Really ours?”

Lukas took a moment to answer. “Not yet,” he said evenly, “but there is no reason why it can’t be.”

“What does that mean?” Jackie said bluntly.

“Miss Trinka is interviewing candidates. She wants a full presentation of ideas for this new line. In two weeks.” Lukas smiled, letting his eyes roam to make contact with each of ours. “We are more than up for the task.”

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