Baiting the Boss

By: Coleen Kwan

An awful silence swelled up between them, a silence that seemed to throttle all the air from her lungs. He stood stock-still, his eyes fixed on her, his chest moving up and down with the force of his breathing. Just as the silence became unbearable, lightning split across the sky. She flinched, and a second later the heavens opened up, releasing a torrent of rain.

Jack spun on his heel and stalked into his bungalow. Grace stared after him, then, heart pummeling heavily, she followed him inside. Soft sea-grass matting greeted her feet as she stepped into the large room fronting the deck. In the dimness she made out Jack moving about as he lit an oil lamp in the corner.

“Look, I didn’t mean to be so blunt.” She had to raise her voice above the roar of the rain.

He straightened up, his tall figure bathed in soft yellow shadows. “Don’t apologize. I probably deserve everything you said.”

“I wasn’t apologizing for what I said, just the way I expressed it.”

His brow furrowed. “Oh?”

She swallowed hard. The tension radiating off his granite shoulders was palpable, but she wouldn’t let him intimidate her. She might find him unnervingly attractive, but she couldn’t ignore his current behavior.

“I know you’ve had a hard time these past few years, but so have other people. You’re not the only one who’s suffered.” She hesitated before plunging on. “I-I shouldn’t have called you spoiled and selfish, but you don’t plan to ignore your family forever, do you?”

He stared at her blankly for several moments. Then he gestured toward a set of comfortable-looking rattan settees in the center of the room. “Take a seat. The rain shouldn’t last too long. Can I get you some coffee?”

“No, thank you.” She perched on a couch and rubbed her upper arms, flustered by his stonewalling. “Jack—”

“You can spend the night at Tupua’s. He and his wife have a spare bedroom. Don’t worry. He’s the son of the village chief. You’ll be perfectly safe with him.” Jack continued to speak in a disinterested tone, as if she were merely a stranded backpacker. “The weather should be calmer tomorrow. Wally will be able to take you back, no problem.”

“Take me back?” She sat upright. “But I’m—”

“Supposed to bring me with you. Yes, I know.” He smoothed down his mane of hair, and the motion seemed to calm his ill temper. “I’m sorry my grandfather sent you on this wild-goose chase. You should have refused.”

“You obviously don’t remember your grandfather well.”

He laughed without any humor. “Okay, he’s a relentless steamroller. Look, none of this is fair on you. When you leave tomorrow, I’ll give you a letter for the old man explaining the situation to him. Rest assured you won’t be blamed for anything.”

“So you won’t be coming back to Sydney with me?”

“No.” Hands balled in his pockets, he stared out at the torrential rain, his profile a rocky cliff against the watery backdrop. “I know what my grandfather wants. He wants me to join Macintyre’s again. He wants me to be the next CEO.”

“It’s what he’s hoped for all these years.”

“Not going to happen.” He continued to study the deluged garden. “I learned my lesson. I’ve sacrificed too much for Macintyre’s.”

“Sacrifice? I hardly think it’s a sacrifice when your grandfather’s handing you the top job on a silver platter.”

“Don’t cross me on this, Grace. My mind’s made up.”

His steely glare brought her up short. Her instincts were right. Jack wasn’t going to trot meekly back to Sydney with her. But her entire career, which was currently going nowhere fast, depended on convincing him. She’d have to fight him every step of the way, and that wouldn’t be easy, given her weakness for him.

Chapter Two

Grace shook her head. “Jack, if I had a grandfather like yours, I’d cling to him.”

“Pity relatives aren’t transferable.”

“He cares about you.”

“Only as long as I obey his commands.”

She sighed. Sure, Lachlan was curmudgeonly, but he definitely missed his grandson. In contrast to her own mother, who didn’t seem to care whether she was dead or alive. Jack didn’t appreciate what he had.

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