Too Close for Comfort

By: Lynne Marshall

Chapter One

“You are out of control!” Edie Donovan snapped.

Joy Waltham swept up a tall stack of recipes from her daughter’s desk, made a bee-line out the door. She dashed down the hall toward her office, her sports trainers squeaking and skidding across the polished floor.

She needed to go over the ingredients one more time before sending the recipes off to production for their winter menu. One tiny error on any of the spices could blow the whole batch, and cost them a boatload of cash. Money they needed to ensure the successful launch of their plans for new vitamin supplements.

With each hurried stride, the bundle of recipes slipped a little farther toward the floor. She used one knee to hoist them back up, her elbow to press on the handle of her private office door, and her butt to push it open.

Edie’s heels clacked on the tile as she caught up to Joy. “Stop being so clutchy, Mom. I already doubled-checked those recipes. Everything’s fine,” she said as she burst into Joy’s office. “And while we’re on the subject of clutchiness, when were you going to tell me about Dad?”

At her desk, Joy leaned on her hands, fighting off the feeling of panic edging its way into her chest and lungs. She drew a rough breath, trying her damnedest not to pant. “I planned to tell you. Must have slipped my mind. Call it a brain fart or something.”

She couldn’t quite keep up with her air. The silent partnership with her ex-husband had never mattered before. She’d originally made Paul partner to show him how grateful she was for helping her get her business started up way back when. He’d insisted on the silent part. “Honestly, I think I simply forgot.”

“How could you forget Dad owns twenty percent of the business?”

Under normal circumstances that look of disgust on Edie’s face, combined with her condemning tone, would’ve upset Joy. She’d have felt compelled to explain that Paul was a partner only on paper, that it probably was time to buy him out and be done with the whole thing. At the moment, with thoughts of production deadlines and branching out into new business ventures, she couldn’t breathe deep enough to speak in sentences longer than three words.

“Why haven’t we paid him twenty percent of the profits?” Edie asked, arms akimbo.

“He wanted his portion to get reinvested”…back into the company, as she recalled. It now took two breaths to get one-half of her thoughts out.

“And you didn't deal with this during the divorce?”

“We agreed to leave things the way they were.” Out of courtesy on his part, she would have added. If she could inhale.

Edie shook her head. An incredulous expression accompanied her glance toward the ceiling. “Legally, we can’t consider expanding into vitamin supplements without Dad’s approval—”

Mid rebuke Edie stopped, brows rising above the thick purple frames of her glasses as she finally noticed Joy’s condition. “Where’s your panic bag? You know what the doctor said to do when this happens.”

Joy’s head felt odd and her brain fuzzy, like her heart sprinted toward a nonexistent finish line. The panic attack had started with a foreboding spark during the discussion with Edie about the business expansion, got swept aside when Paul’s role in all of it came up and now, facing the reality of his control over her future, ignited to full-body anxiety attack. She pulled the brown paper bag from her belt—having developed a three to four bag a day habit, she preferred to keep them near—and took a few good breaths, practically sucking the sack into her lungs.

“Mom, you seriously need a vacation,” Edie said, pacing the Oriental rug, index finger tapping her lip. “And we need to get Dad’s signature, pronto. Comfort is the perfect place for you to do both. I’m going to arrange everything.”

“Can’t we just fax the contract?” Joy said, voice muffled from the inside of the bag. “Or overnight it, then mail him a check?” The sack crackled and popped as it deflated and inflated. “He doesn’t care.”

Edie clearly wasn’t having any of her mother’s delaying tactics. “You owe him some kind of explanation. To keep things completely legal, you should have his signature notarized. Now is the time to make the change, while we can still afford to buy him out.”

She studied Joy, her eyes intense. After a second or two her scrutiny let up, and the strident attitude dropped back a notch. “He doesn’t hold a grudge, Ma. Everything will be fine.”

Joy wasn’t at all sure having to face her ex-husband and ask for his signature was what was needed. In fact, it seemed a bit overboard. What was wrong with faxing the contract, having him sign it and move on from there? Why was Edie so hot to get her out of the office?

Who said she needed a vacation?

On the other hand, Joy had been grooming Edie to step into a bigger leadership role with the company. Why not give her daughter a chance to spread her wings, let her call some shots? Was it the end of the world to give up some control?

As quickly as it had appeared, the panic attack waned, and her lungs loosened up. “You’re sure he doesn’t hold a grudge?”

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