Her life was over.
Madison couldn’t believe this was happening. Not to her. She was good at her job. Maybe she’d misunderstood her boss’s words.
“What do you mean, I’m being let go?” Madison said in a raw voice.
Joanna stared at her hands for a moment and then lifted her gaze. “I have to fire you, Miss Fairbanks.”
Fire her? Somehow that sounded much worse than being let go.
“Why?” she asked. She was so utterly shocked that her face tingled. Her heart raced out of control. She doubted her knees would support her if she stood up from the scratchy, wool-upholstered chair beneath her. “I’m good at my job. I’m a good employee. Why would you fi—let me go?”
Joanna’s dark eyes shifted to her desk calendar, and she rubbed a finger along its smudged edge. “It’s been brought to my attention that you’ve been sleeping with a client.”
Madison’s breath came out in a whoosh. She couldn’t deny it—it happened to be true. But how did Joanna know about her relationship with Sole Regret’s lead guitarist? She’d been careful to keep their involvement hidden from everyone at work. Hell, her parents didn’t even know she was seeing him.
“In your office,” Joanna added.
Madison couldn’t deny that either. Who had found out? Who had tattled on her? Had they been overheard? She’d been really careful about that too, keeping her cries of pleasure locked inside.
“Do you deny it?” Joanna pressed.
Madison was a bad liar, but if lying meant keeping her job . . . She loved her job.
But she loved Adam more.
“Do you have proof?” Madison asked, her stomach twisted in a knot.
Madison lowered her eyes to stare at the photograph on Joanna’s desk. The woman’s pet collies seemed to be smiling at her. She fixed her gaze on the dogs as she struggled to find her rational mind.
“This is my first offense,” she said calmly. “And Adam no longer comes here for therapy. Perhaps an unpaid leave of absence would be more reasonable.”
“I’d rather dismiss you now. Before your habit causes irreparable damage to our reputation.”
Her habit? She didn’t have sexual relationships with clients—Adam being the exception.
“I made the mistake of falling in love with a client,” she said. “I admit it.”
“And what should you have done about it?”
Madison closed her eyes. She knew what she should have done. She’d even started the process, before deciding it wasn’t right for Adam the addict, even if it would have protected Adam her lover.
“I should have referred him to a different counselor,” she said. “But he was finally making real progress in his treatment, and I knew that dropping him on someone else would have sent him back to square one. He isn’t someone who opens up easily. It took me months to get him to even talk to me.”
“Yes, you should have referred him to another counselor.” Joanna reached for a pen and tapped the end of it repeatedly on her desk. Madison fought the urge to yank it out of her hand and toss it across the room. “Your other option would have been keeping your legs closed.”
Madison stiffened and her jaw hardened. What? She could not believe Joanna would say something so insulting to an employee. Ex-employee, Madison reminded herself.
“Unless you’re willing to give up seeing this man—”
“I’m not,” she blurted out.
“Then I really have no other alternative. You’re a nice girl, Miss Fairbanks. It’s just too bad that you fell prey to the wrong sort of man.”
Madison scowled. Why did everyone always assume that she was a victim and Adam was some bad guy? “He’s a good person. Just—”
“Misunderstood?” Joanna raised an eyebrow at her.
“Well, everyone makes mistakes,” Joanna said. “Too bad this one had such disastrous consequences for your career. I wish you well, Miss Fairbanks. Dionne will help you clear out your office.”
Madison sprang from the chair, unable to listen to another word this woman had to say about her or about Adam. Her knees no longer wobbly, she stormed out of Joanna’s office and burst into her own much smaller workspace. She was too angry to beg to keep her job now. How dare anyone make assumptions about Adam? He was not a mistake. He was the best thing in her life. She would never choose a job over him.
Dionne entered her office carrying several empty boxes and wearing an unreadable expression. Had she been the one who’d told Joanna? As the common receptionist, Dionne knew the comings and goings of the counselors and clients more than anyone in the office. Maybe she knew far more about Madison’s comings than she’d let on.