Title: Heart on His Lead
Author: JR Hart
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 02/28/2023
Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, contemporary, family-drama, gay, dog walker, dogs, sibling rivalry, enemies to lovers
Jobless Julian has been struggling to get his life in order for a while now. When his sister asks him to dogsit, he’s turned off by the idea. For one, he’s never been a dog person. For two, her pampered pooch Sprinkles takes a lot of extra work.
Thankfully, dog expert, former dog trainer, and current romance writer Cole has experience with Sprinkles. Too bad he’s annoying…and cute. Growing closer feels inevitable, but when a sudden accident makes Cole second-guess Julian’s dog-oriented decision-making, Julian needs to prove he’s changed from doggy downer to man’s best friend. That, or forget the grand gesture and admit this dogsitting thing—and his time with Cole—was only ever temporary.
Heart on His Lead
J.R. Hart © 2023
All Rights Reserved
If Julian was going to get fired, did it have to be in this office, the one where the door barely clasped closed? He could picture someone walking by; the swift breeze of their movement causing it to swing open and let everyone see him get canned. Then again, it wasn’t like they didn’t already know the second he was called into the office, considering how the day was going.
“None of this is reflective of your performance.”
Julian picked at a piece of lint on his pants. The reassurance didn’t help if the result was the same. “No?”
“If we could keep everyone, we would.” His boss, Michael, cocked his head to one side. “The thing is, we can’t. It’s just not in the cards for us at this point. The company has faced some major losses. You know it. I know it.”
“And if it isn’t reflective of my performance? Why me? Why not someone else?” He felt compelled to ask the question. What was it about him versus anyone else in the company? Why had the six of them who had been called into the office in rapid succession been let go, rather than the others who sat at their desks, typing away, staring at spreadsheets on screens instead of agonizing over they’d be called in there? He wondered if they had gotten some memo telling them not to worry, because as name after name got called, most of them didn’t even flinch, or seem to be concerned they might be next. His boss’s dog looked up from the bed in the corner, and he resisted the urge to scowl back. They had the time and space for a damn dog…but not for him.
“Timing,” Michael said. “We’re starting with the newest hires first, then working our way through, weighing our options. There are a lot of factors at play, Julian. There’s not a simple answer here.”
But Julian knew that wasn’t entirely true. Marissa had already come and gone, and she started working here well before he did. And, of course, well before his coworker Alex, who still sat at his desk, completely unconcerned. Other factors? What others? There were always “a lot of factors,” so that wasn’t an answer in the slightest.
“But my performance…”
“Didn’t play a role. You’re a hard worker, and we’re happy to provide a reference. We definitely look at speed, efficiency, rate of errors and mistakes, but you’re fine, Julian. You do good work. It’s just…”
“Timing.” Julian looked him in the eyes and took in the blatant lie. Ultimately, this day was bound to come. Julian, as hard as he worked and as much as he tried, was never going to keep this job, even after giving them unending loyalty solely to avoid facing another layoff, his third in a row. And it wasn’t enough. Then again, this wasn’t even the kind of place he’d wanted to work; he took the job knowing it would only ever barely pay the bills. He’d landed a second interview here, which had been an improvement from getting ghosted after first interviews at two other companies, all of that following another layoff that had been out of his control. Another “it’s not you, really. It’s us. Downsizing.” Somehow, though, it was always him who was downsized. He was really starting to believe the whole “nothing on your end” thing was truly something wrong with him after all. “I’ll go pack up my desk.”
He stood, uncomfortable at the way that, even with both of them standing, he looked down at his boss. Slumping his shoulders to minimize himself, give some form of deference, felt silly at this point. After all, Michael wasn’t even his boss anymore.
“Thank you. And Julian? We’ll need security to accompany you for the whole thing. It’s nothing against you, just…”
Policy. Julian had already watched the other six go through the same thing. A meeting with Michael, an escort to their desk, loading their things into a box, and being marched out of the door as though they might snap at any moment, do something horrible or go off on a massive tirade on their way out, or they’d have to be dragged out of the doors of a company that clearly didn’t want them, as if it would somehow change the result. “I understand.”
He headed to his desk, only a few rows of cubicles away from the manager’s office. Honestly, he didn’t even know what to pack. Not the metal nameplate reading “JULIAN” in big blocky letters. They could keep that, throw it out, destroy it…he didn’t need it. What would he do with it? Not the pens—all company issued, their name printed down the side—that barely worked half the time, enough to write a Post-it to stick to the side of the computer. He reached forward and pulled down a photograph thumb-tacked to the fabric-and-cork cubicle wall, a family photo from years before. His sister and his parents, and himself, smiled from the glossy surface. They had been on a trip. God, it had to have been from high school, or maybe the summer after. Maybe when Molly was in college. No, definitely when she was. He’d tacked the picture up as a joke, once someone mentioned his cubicle was so bare. The reality was, he’d never bothered to bring anything because he knew this day would come. After his last layoff, it had felt inevitable. Why personalize his cubicle when he’d only be leaving it eventually? Then, he snatched the pride flag out of the pen cup; he’d offered it up as a small nod at who he was, after another employee a few cubicles away had quietly added a pronoun pin to her lapel. He wanted to make himself seem like a safe person to talk to, and if that meant outing himself at work, well…he hadn’t exactly been hiding who he was, and he wasn’t unclockable anyway.
He’d tried going into marketing, and he’d ended up here, in data entry. He was at least working at a marketing company, which he’d hoped would have been enough to spin on his resume as some kind of experience if he applied to another one, but being in the thick of typing in metrics for anonymous companies on anonymous accounts he wasn’t privy to, not even getting the chance to analyze what they meant or how to improve them, wasn’t helpful to getting somewhere in this career path. Oh well. Now, looking at the blank cubicle, it didn’t matter.
He turned to the security guard, single photograph and tiny flag in hand, and let out a weak chuckle. “I guess I don’t really need the box, do I?” He picked up his water bottle in his other hand and stood up out of his desk chair. He wasn’t going to miss the way the chair was too short for him, never adjusting to the length of his legs, not that he’d expected any chair to fit his above-standard height. “It’s just this.” Three items. Three single things representative of how little he’d grown attached to this workplace despite the hours he’d been putting in. Maybe that was why he was getting laid off.
Meet the Author
J R Hart is a queer 30-something novelist passionate about telling romantic and erotic stories about LGBT+ characters. When J R isn’t writing, you can find her at the science museum with her son, cheering for her favorite soccer team, or at The Bean Coffee Co plotting her next work. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @jrhartauthor, or on her website at jrhartauthor.com.
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