Baiting the Boss

By: Coleen Kwan

“So why doesn’t he retire?” Jack asked carelessly. “I’m sure there are plenty of executives who could step in.”

“Lachlan hasn’t met anyone he thinks is qualified enough.”

Jack’s mouth tightened into a flat line. “Because none of them is a Macintyre, I suppose.”

His sarcastic tone made her glance down at her drink. The multimillion-dollar construction company had been started by Jack’s great-grandfather and was one of the biggest privately owned companies in the country. With Jack out of the picture, the company was now owned by his grandfather and his two aunts.

“Lachlan’s tired of the uncertainty. It’s wearing him down and it’s not good for business when there are rumors going about that Macintyre’s might not survive a few more years.”

He looked up sharply. “What do you mean? As far as I can tell Macintyre’s is in good financial shape and there’s nothing to stop it growing.”

“Every ship requires a captain, especially in these economic conditions. Your grandfather needs a succession plan. If your family can’t agree on the next CEO, then they might decide it’s better to sell everything to an outsider.”

“Sell off Macintyre’s!” Jack shot to his feet, sloshing his drink. He put down the glass and paced about the deck, raking his fingers through his unruly hair.

The sight of his long, rumpled, dark hair captivated her. A strange, uncomfortable warmth roiled through her belly as she wondered what it would be like to touch his hair.

Jack halted. “I can’t see my grandfather ever allowing it,” he said.

She sucked in her lower lip as she stood and faced him. “Actually, selling the company is Lachlan’s idea. But only as a last resort, if nothing can be resolved.”

In the few minutes they’d been on the deck, the skies had rapidly clouded over, and the afternoon had grown murky and muggy. Jack had been right about the fluctuating weather. The damp breeze ruffled Jack’s loose hair around his shadowed face.

He sighed. “I guess this is where you tell me the part I’m not looking forward to.”

She wiped her hands on her shorts. Humidity thickened around them, and a bead of sweat rolled down between her breasts.

“Lachlan would like you to come back to Sydney with me.”

“And do what?” he shot back.

His scraping tone caught on her nerves. She was just the messenger, and she’d done enough tiptoeing around him.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she retorted, resting her hands on her hips. “Maybe catch up with your family? Talk to your grandfather? Check on everyone you haven’t seen in the past three years?”

In the gloominess, his eyes glinted like sea ice. His voice lowered to a rasp. “Is that a hint of criticism I detect in your voice, Grace?”

She gulped. He appraised her as if noticing her for the first time as a real person, not just a human telegram. And he didn’t seem to like what he saw.

“Criticism? Er, no, of course not.”

He glared at her a few more moments. “Liar.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Excuse me?”

“You’re lying. You think I’ve been neglecting my grandfather, my family, my obligations. You think I’m a no-good slacker. Don’t you?”

As his lip curled disdainfully, unexpected anger came whirling out of her. “How dare you sneer at me like that?” she fumed at him, a hot flush suffusing her head. “This is my first trip overseas, and do you know what I’ve had to endure just to get here? Fourteen-hour flights, single-engine propeller planes, Wally and his stinking boat, and now you have the temerity to look down your nose at me. How dare you? You should get down on your knees and thank me for coming all this way just for you!”

He started as if he’d stepped on a snake. But between the stifling heat and the bilious sea journey, her blood was up, and she couldn’t stop the words from spilling out of her mouth.

“For three years you’ve done nothing but…but work on your frigging tan while you surf and fish and laze about—” She waved recklessly at his hammock, surfboard, and fishing tackle. “You used to be someone I admired, but now you’re just a—a spoiled, selfish tycoon and it’s about time you started thinking about others for a change!”

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