Title: The Acquisition
Author: Rachel Ford
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 09/06/2021
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary Thriller, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, lesbian, action/adventure, reverse hero’s journey, suspense, humorous, revenge, workplace drama/office workers, tech secret espionage, pets, cruise ship, violence with guns, family drama
When Sutherland Bio buys up the little bio research firm Human Resources specialist Angela McCormack works for, she tries to adapt. Even though her shady new boss’s smarminess and sexism makes her stomach turn. She sticks it out through the verbal abuse, and through the benefit cuts and layoffs.
But when her boss, George Sutherland Jr., tasks her to recruit replacements for the people he laid off—and lets it slip that the layoffs were just part of a regime change strategy—she’s ready to throw in the towel. As much as she hates the idea of shoveling manure again, she’d rather return to her family’s farm and petting zoo than stay with Sutherland Bio.
Then George Jr. takes a particularly bad day out on her. And Angela decides she’s tired of the humiliation. She’s going to fight fire with fire. She makes it her mission to fill George Jr.’s team with the worst possible candidates she can find.
But she didn’t take into account falling for one of the new hires. All of a sudden, she’s not sure she wants to leave. Not yet.
And that’s just the first chicken to come home to roost. Little does she know, George has plenty of secrets of his own. And when one of them turns deadly, Angela will have to rely on her handpicked sabotage crew for survival. She might just wish she was back home shoveling manure after all.
Rachel Ford © 2021
All Rights Reserved
You don’t piss off the person making your food. You don’t piss off the woman who gave birth to you. And you don’t piss off the HR lady. Everyone knows that.
Everyone, it seemed, except George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. As with most memos, George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. had missed that one. Along with the one about manners. And treating employees with respect. And showering every day instead of wearing a bucket of cologne to work.
Angela McCormack wrinkled her nose and stared at her boss’s feet. They were at eye level since he had them propped up on his desk. The sight made her stomach turn a little. It wasn’t so much the untrimmed talons on the ends of his toes, or the hobbit-like growth of untamed hair. It was the fact that she could see them at all. And the no-feet-on-the-furniture and don’t wear flipflops into work when you’re the CEO memos.
Yes, there were quite a few memos George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. had missed. But at the moment, it was the one about not downsizing people out of their jobs just to recreate the same position two months later that weighed the heaviest on her mind. Because, unless she’d misunderstood everything he had just said, that’s what he was doing here. And despite George’s propensity to torture a simple sentence into a longwinded monologue for the sole pleasure of hearing himself talk, she was pretty sure she hadn’t got it wrong.
“Excuse me, Mr. Sutherland,” she said, “just to clarify, we’re refilling the positions we just downsized?”
He cocked an eyebrow up at her. “No, not at all. These are different positions, Angie.”
God, she hated when he called her Angie. “Yes sir, I heard you say that. But if I’m understanding you, the titles will be different, but the positions will fill the same basic function as before. We’re looking for an IT team lead to replace Dawn. You need a Director of Business Services to pick up where Mark left off, and so on?”
He flashed her a toothy grin that, she supposed, he assumed was charming. It wasn’t. It was the kind of smile she’d expect from someone selling a car that probably wouldn’t make it out of the lot. “Now you’re getting it. You know how it goes. New era, new regime. If I’m going to do this right, well, I need people I can trust.”
He studied her for a long moment with keen blue eyes. “That’s why I kept you on. I had a good feeling about you. And you know what I say—I’m a man who goes with his gut.”
Angela McCormack forced a smile and lied through her teeth. “Of course, sir. You can always trust me.”
“Don’t call me sir. Call me George.” He smiled again. He smiled too much for her liking. Grinning CEO’s, smiling politicians, and gas station sushi: she reserved the same measure of trust for each of them. “Now, I’d like these listings up by Friday. Is that something we can do?”
We. As if he’d lift a finger to help.
“I’ll get the drafts to you by the end of the day tomorrow. If the revision process goes smoothly, I don’t see why not.”
He nodded. “Excellent. Excellent. Well, that was all I had, then. Oh, my dry cleaning’s not back yet, is it?”
“No sir. I mean, no, George.”
He winked and clicked his tongue as a kind of sound effect to match the finger guns he aimed her way. “That’s better. I don’t like a formal workplace. I’m all about casual. I think it builds better morale. Don’t you?”
Angela smiled and lied again. “Oh, absolutely.”
She had nothing against casual, as long as it wasn’t the kind of casual that involved dirty hobbit feet on the desk. But George had come into Fenwood Bio like a whirlwind, laying off staff, axing benefits, and implementing draconian cost reduction programs within his first two weeks. The turnover rate was already higher than the layoffs. Which was one of several reasons why she was currently filling the role of the entire HR department, as well as admin, IT department, and supply requisitions. All for the same salary as before, of course, but with a much slimmer retirement package, and no life insurance benefits.
No, Angela McCormack didn’t want to hear the word “morale” pass his lips. He’d personally shredded every last bit of it and flushed it down the toilet.
“Me too. You might say, it’s one of my core philosophies.” He nodded, to himself it seemed, then added, “Well, I’ll let you get to work, then.”
She didn’t mind the dismissal. Hell, it couldn’t come soon enough as far as she was concerned. “Right.”
Retreating to her office and closing the door after her, Angela breathed out a long sigh of relief. She hadn’t been afraid he’d called her in to lay her off. He’d gotten that out of his system within the first few weeks. Still, she’d seen so many come and go, she would have been lying if she said the thought hadn’t occurred to her.
Mostly, she detested him. And she had the kind of face that didn’t know how to use its inside voice. When someone tripped her BS trigger, well, her face broadcast it loud and clear before she even realized it.
George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. lived in the BS zone. And Angela McCormack needed her job. She had a mortgage and a house she loved. Sure, she could have found a job elsewhere that would have paid as well, or maybe a little better. But she didn’t want to give up her house. Not after all the years she’d spent restoring it, a room at a time.
Nor did she want to leave Fenwood. She’d grown up here, and she planned to grow old here. Older, she thought with a sour glance at the calendar. She’d be thirty-five in two days. She didn’t want to have to start over at thirty-five.
And that’s exactly what finding a new job in human resources would be. Fenwood Bio—now Sutherland Bio Research—was the biggest employer in the area, and those companies that did have HR departments weren’t hiring.
She knew because she’d checked. So, if she was going to find another job, it would mean leaving the area. It would mean moving a hundred miles south, or seventy-five miles north, or even farther east and west.
Fenwood was one of those smack-in-the-middle-of-nowhere towns, with more cows and horses than people. You either loved it or hated it.
Angela loved it, and she didn’t want to leave.
So, she pulled open her archaic software suite and started filling in the job listings they’d talked about. Did it make her a modern-day Judas Iscariot, helping this son of a bitch after he’d fired so many of her friends on the pretense that their jobs were redundant, now that Sutherland Bio Research had acquired them?
Maybe. Then again, Judas didn’t have a mortgage. Angela stared at the screen, trying to focus on the work. But the work didn’t—couldn’t—make up for the feeling in the pit of her stomach. The feeling of betrayal that left her a little sick. God, I hate this job.
She started as her messenger application dinged. Glancing at the clock on her desktop, she frowned. Somehow, half an hour had already passed.
Angela brought up the messenger window and groaned. It was George, and he’d flagged the chat as a high priority.
Can you come to my office?
Grimacing, she typed, On my way.
Angela practiced her fake smile on the way. It probably wouldn’t have convinced anyone who wasn’t as obtuse as George, but at least it wouldn’t be scary. Or, so she hoped anyway.
She knocked on his closed door and immediately heard, “Come in.” She did, and Sutherland smiled at her. “Ah, Angie. Thank goodness. We’ve got a situation.”
Oh no. “Oh?”
“I forgot I had an appointment this morning.”
“Really? I didn’t see anything in your schedule.”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you about it. I would have had you add it to the calendar. But that’s not the issue. Point is, we don’t have anything for them to eat.”
Now, she did grimace. So far this month, he’d sent her on eighty-some dollars’ worth of coffee runs, lunch pickups, and pastry runs. For a millionaire, Mr. Sutherland was chronically short of cash. It had all gone on “the tab.”
The tab didn’t exist, except as a figment of his imagination. Angela had her doubts that it would ever be settled. He’d pay off ten or twenty bucks here and there. But it always seemed larger than whatever cash he happened to have on hand.
“What did you have in mind?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Whatever you can find.”
“When are they going to be here?”
“Nine-thirtyish. Maybe ten. I’m not really sure. They were going to be here when they could. They’re flying in from Philly. Shit.” He shook his head. “I need to have something here for them. They probably haven’t eaten yet.”
Despite herself, Angela felt his tension get to work on her mind. “Well, I can put a call into Tealeaves & Coffeecake. I’m sure we can get a breakfast tray.”
He nodded. “Good. Good, their stuff is good. For Fenwood food anyway. See if you can get one of those breakfast quiches, and pastries.”
“Nothing with mushrooms though. I can’t stand them.”
“Oh, and what are we going to do about coffee?”
“I’ll make sure we have a pot freshly brewed by nine-thirty.” It wasn’t her job, but if it quelled a panic? Well, Angela would do it.
But George wrinkled his nose. “I’m not going to force them to drink that crap.”
She blinked. “You mean, the office coffee?”
He nodded as if she was agreeing with him somehow. “You’ll have to get one of those jugs of coffee. French roast. You know how I like it.”
“All right,” she said, then added, “I’ll let you know how much it costs.”
He nodded absently. “Sounds good. Thanks, Angie, you’re a lifesaver.”
“Anytime,” she said, leaving his office before the scowl set in.
Award-winning author Rachel Ford is a software engineer by day, and a writer most of the rest of the time. She is a Trekkie, a video gamer, and a dog parent, owned by a Great Pyrenees named Elim Garak and a mutt of many kinds named Fox (for the inspired reason that he looks like a fox).