All Work and No Play

By: Coleen Kwan

A weak laugh escaped her. “Discombobulated? Me?” Her lungs didn’t seem to be working. Omigod, was this a panic attack?

Giles took two steps forward and halted right in front of her. Strong hands grasped her shoulders. Calm blue eyes focused on her. “Breathe, Anna. Just breathe.”

His unflappable attitude steadied her. She sucked in air, released it, inhaled again.

“Thanks.” She stepped back, causing his hands to fall away from her. His grip had calmed her, but it wasn’t a good idea to let him touch her.

“Are you going to tell me what’s happened?”

“Nothing’s happened,” she said, automatically defensive.

Giles pushed his hands into the pockets of his pants, his demeanour saying he wasn’t going to be fobbed off by her. “For the past half hour you’ve been clicking your pen, twisting your hair around your finger, bashing on your keyboard, and muttering under your breath. That means something’s happened. Something that seriously bothers you.”

She gaped at him. “You noticed all that?”

Giles sighed. “I notice a lot about you, Anna.”

Her heart did a strange flip-flop, but she pushed the sensation away. Now was not the time to let herself go gaga over Giles. But she was touched at his perception, and in her moment of weakness his concern broke through her usual barriers.

“What I’m about to tell you is strictly confidential,” she said. He nodded as he straightened to attention. “I just found out that Oscar’s work has some serious flaws which he’s attempted to cover up. They would have come out during user acceptance testing and been a serious embarrassment to me. I need to go through every single one of Oscar’s programs and re-test them. It’s going to take some time. A lot of time.” An unwelcome thought hit her. “Have you noticed anything suspicious in Neil’s programs?”

“Nothing. He seems like a competent programmer.” Giles was frowning. “Why would Oscar do something like that? Did he have a grudge against you or the company?”

“I’m not sure why he did it.” Anna slid her fingers through her hair. “I always liked him. He seemed a nice, quiet guy, and I was genuinely happy for him when he decided to follow his girlfriend to India. Maybe I put too much pressure on him. Maybe he faked his test results, knowing he wouldn’t be around much longer, to get me off his back.” She bit her lip. “Maybe I’m a lousy project manager.”

Damn, why had that slipped out? She might have doubts, but she couldn’t afford to appear less than one hundred percent confident.

But when she glanced at Giles, he didn’t seem smug or condemning. “I don’t think you are.”

She drew in a deep breath as she realised that Giles’s opinion of her mattered more than she’d expected. This was getting crazy. “I don’t want my boss to find out. Not yet, anyway. I want everything ready for user acceptance testing by Friday, just like we planned.”

“But you don’t know how much extra work Oscar’s left you. It’s better to tell Lionel now.”

Anna shook her head stubbornly. “No way. I’ll get it done by Friday. Then I’ll tell Lionel. The last thing I need is people saying I can’t handle the pressure.”

“That’s not what they’ll say.”

“Wanna bet? You might be able to waltz in and have everyone falling at your feet, but I’ve had to work twice as hard to prove myself, and not everyone was happy about my promotion. I can’t afford to let anything go wrong.”

“Anna, this could happen to anyone. It isn’t your fault.”

“Maybe not, but this problem is my responsibility, and this is how I’m going to take care of it.” She tilted her chin at him, challenging him. “So. Are you going to tell Lionel anyway?”

Giles rested hands on hips and huffed out a breath. “Of course not. I’m on your side.”

Again, a wave of gratefulness hit her. She couldn’t understand how much Giles’ support meant to her.

“Thank you. I really appreciate that.” As she breathed out, she felt some of the pressure easing off her. If nothing else, talking about the problem had helped her.

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