Baiting the Boss

By: Coleen Kwan

But despite their difference in status, an odd little friendship had sprung up between them, based on nothing more than a shared love of laksa at a local lunch spot. Away from the office, she was easier to talk to, less awed by his executive position.

Now he sensed a difference in her. She wasn’t the wide-eyed novice anymore. She’d gained more confidence, and her greenness had matured, ripened. As she walked, she smoothed back her oak-brown hair and tucked the tails of her rumpled shirt into her shorts. Her shorts were loose-fitting, but they were brief enough to reveal her legs, and with a start he realized she had long, firm, supple legs. Had he ever noticed them before, or was this the first time?

“It’s beautiful here.” She flashed him a smile.

He blinked. After all this time, he still remembered her smile. How her one front tooth was ever so slightly crooked, how her lips curved up, how a dimple hovered in the corner of her cheek. He’d forgotten many things but never that luminous smile of hers. Why was that? He frowned and shook his head.

“You don’t agree?” A puzzled look came over her.

He gave a brief laugh. “I was thinking of something else.” And what was he thinking of? He didn’t want to be reminded of Grace’s smile or Macintyre’s or Sydney. He’d left that life behind him for good. He pulled his straying thoughts together and lengthened his stride. The sooner Grace told him why she was here, the sooner he could get rid of her.

Jack’s bungalow stood on the very edge of the village, a little apart from everyone else’s homes. A bit like Jack himself, Grace thought. He’d always been one to stand out from the crowd. The bungalow, like the others she’d passed along the road, was a simple wooden structure, raised off the ground on stilts, with a thatched roof and generous deck. The outside walls were only built halfway to the roof, topped with screens and roll-up blinds for privacy. He led her onto the front deck and gestured toward a couple of loungers piled with bright cotton cushions.

“Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get us something to drink.” He disappeared inside.

Grace settled herself on a cushion, glad to be out of the blazing sun. Fishing rods and a well-waxed surfboard leaned against the wall. On the beach just beyond the garden, a couple of canoes lay on the sand. A hammock strung beneath the palm trees rocked in the strengthening breeze that stirred the damp hair at her temples. She breathed in the salty air, only to jerk upright as Jack returned bearing a tray with a jug of iced tea and two tumblers.

She wished he didn’t have that effect on her, but she’d been infatuated with him almost from day one, and his mere presence had always unsettled her. Apparently after three years, that hadn’t changed, much to her chagrin. It didn’t help that her attention was drawn to the muscles in his legs rippling as he sat down, or that she fidgeted as he studied her, as if she were a puzzle to be solved. He had buttoned up his shirt, and she wondered if that was because of her. Good thing, too. She didn’t need to be distracted by his abs when she had a delicate task ahead of her.

“Lachlan sent you, didn’t he?” He poured a glass of iced tea and passed it to her.

Her hand wobbled slightly. “Yes, he did.”

“How did you track me down?”

“It wasn’t that hard.” She shrugged. “I had to go through the Department of Foreign Affairs. It took a while, but I persisted.”

“I see.” He swallowed a long pull of his drink, his eyes never leaving hers. “And why are you here?”

She took a sip of her iced tea. The cool liquid slid down her throat, chasing the sourness from her mouth. “It’s…your grandfather.”

“He’s ill?”

“No…” How much simpler if Lachlan were ill. She wouldn’t have had to make this long trip. She would have simply rung, and Jack would have come back to Sydney without argument. She knew he would have.

“No, Lachlan isn’t ill, but he’s getting on. He turned eighty this year, and he wants to step down from the CEO position.” She gave Jack a pointed look. By rights Jack should’ve been the CEO by now. Three years ago, at the age of thirty-one, he’d been primed with plenty of experience, and Lachlan had been ready to relinquish the position.

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