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Defiant Mistress, Ruthless Millionaire

By:Yvonne Lindsay

Defiant Mistress, Ruthless Millionaire
Yvonne Lindsay

       One


"I don't feel comfortable with this, Irene."

As soon as the words were out of her mouth Callie knew she'd said the  wrong thing. A mere shift in Irene's expression was all it took. A  barely perceptible change, but it was enough to forewarn her of her  employer's displeasure-displeasure that generally had most staff at  Palmer Enterprises scurrying for the nearest hiding place.

"Why is that, Callie?"

"Well," she foundered a moment, lost for words. "Is it even legal? He's bound to want me to sign a confidentiality agreement."

"Should that be your worry?" Irene countered. "As one of our valued  employees, you know we'd look after you if there happened to be any  fallout."

The older woman's subtle emphasis on the word valued sent a chill down  Callie's spine. She owed the Palmers-and in particular, Irene  Palmer-everything. Without Irene she would have had nothing-not her  education, her job, where she lived; even the designer shoes on her  feet.

"This works to our advantage, you know," Irene's voice interrupted Callie's thoughts.

"What do you mean?"

Callie looked up at her boss and mentor-the first adult to ever give her  hope for a future. The woman who'd actually made her believe she could  make something of her life rather than disappear down a drain lined with  drugs and crime.

Only no one had ever told her that with debt came a duty to repay it.  After twelve years Callie had been forced to ask herself, when would  enough be enough?

"Obviously any other time I'd miss having you here as my assistant, but  the Guildarian honorary consul position will be announced on Christmas  Eve. That's in, what, nine weeks' time?"

Callie nodded, her gaze locked on Irene's face.

"Don't you see, Callie, it's the perfect opportunity. Everyone knows  you're my assistant and the whole of New Zealand knows the announcement  of Bruce's appointment is only a matter of time. And while it's well  documented how fiercely loyal you are to me, when Bruce and I move to  Guildara you will be forced to seek other employment."

At Callie's in-drawn breath, Irene waved a graceful, perfectly manicured hand in the air.

"Yes, I know you expected to head up the new special developments team,  but if we don't identify Tremont's mole, and nip his steady undermining  of our business firmly in the bud, there won't be a special developments  team for you to head because in all likelihood, in a couple of years,  there would be no Palmer Enterprises." Irene leaned forward in her  chair, her eyes suddenly bright with unexpected tears. "I will do  whatever it takes to protect Palmer Enterprises and you're going to help  me. This is the ideal opening for you to be seen to be seeking  something else."

Callie felt sick to her stomach. She knew Josh Tremont's activities had  affected the Palmers-but to the extent that he could destroy the  business within a couple of years? Things were worse than she thought.

Inevitability settled like a fatalistic dark cloak around Callie's shoulders.

"So I'm supposed to go in there and spy on him?" She fought to keep her voice level.

"Well, far be it from me to suggest such a thing," Irene blinked back  the remnants of weakness in her eyes and composed a smile, the action  barely creasing her smooth complexion.

No one would guess, from looking at her, that she was sixty-five. She  had the kind of elegant beauty that was timeless, ageless, although  there was an air about her that didn't invite confidences. Not many  people ever got close to Irene. Callie was one of her chosen few.

"Of course not."

Callie's answering smile was equally lacking in humour. Irene would  never stoop so low as to verbalise such a command, but the implication  was clear.

"My dear, you know how grateful we will be," Irene said with an  inclination of her elegantly coiffed head. "Essentially, you'd still be  working for us, just … differently, that's all. You know I'm not one to  over-dramatise things but, right now, you're our only hope."

Suddenly filled with nervous energy, Callie pushed up out of her chair and stalked back and forth across the carpet.

"We don't even know that he's going to offer me a job," she blurted. "He only asked me to meet him for lunch."

A small crease formed between Irene's brows. "Don't be naive, Callie. I  taught you better than that. Of course he's going to offer you a  position. It's how he works. Each one of the key staff he's poached from  us has been invited to lunch with him first. It's not as if he hides  his intentions."                       
       
           



       

"Does he really believe all he has to do is snap his fingers and  everyone will drop everything to do his bidding?" Callie responded in  impotent frustration.

"Generally, my dear, people do," Irene Palmer observed dryly as she  leaned back in her leather executive chair, the serenity on her face  giving no clue as to her thoughts.

"Well, not people like me."

"Which is why this will be all the more convincing. I'm sure I don't  need to tell you about how difficult things are in the marketplace right  now. Jobs are increasingly hard to come by. And with your position on  the verge of disestablishment …  Suffice to say that no one would blame  you for jumping ship, as it were. Besides, you can't deny that Tremont  has a certain magnetism about him."

Callie threw herself back into one of the button-back leather armchairs  in front of Irene's desk and sighed. Magnetism. From what she'd heard,  Josh Tremont had it in spades. But that didn't mean she wanted to work  for him.

"What if, after meeting me, he doesn't want me?"

Irene laughed, the sound like wind rustling through dry leaves in  autumn. "Oh, Callie, you underestimate yourself. The man wants you all  right."

Something in Irene's voice made Callie stiffen. Just how far did they expect her to go in this spying mission?

More to the point, how far was she prepared to go for the Palmers and for her future?

Two days later, Callie gripped the steering wheel of her late-model  hatchback and groaned in frustration. A sleek black Maserati coupe slid  neatly into the last parking space in the restaurant car park. Now she'd  have to find a parking lot blocks away, and she'd be late.

She hated being late even more than she hated the reason for this meeting.

Her stomach pitched as she recalled what she'd agreed to do. Irene had  advised her not to appear too eager initially, in case it might put him  off. Well, Callie had no problem with that. She had no respect for the  man. None whatsoever. She only hoped that when the offer came she could  verbalise the word yes when every instinct in her body screamed the  opposite.

She reminded herself again of Irene's expectations and why she'd agreed  to do this, but it did little to assuage the slow-burning anger that  began to seethe deep inside.

She fed the flames by recapping Josh Tremont's insidious methods to  undermine the corporate structure at Palmer Enterprises. In the past  five years he'd poached several key staff, even going so far as to  attempt to buy out their employment contract restraint clauses. When  that hadn't worked for the last two executives he'd lured away, he'd  simply paid them for the year's standdown period while they languished,  ostensibly on holiday, while he'd waited patiently for the months to  roll by, secure in the knowledge that Palmers was hurting for their  loss.

Now he had his sights set on her.

By the time Callie found a metered car park about three blocks from the  restaurant, she'd built up a head of steam to match the rich auburn tint  of her hair. She walked with sharp, clipped steps to her destination,  oblivious to the catcalls and whistles directed her way from a nearby  building site.

She'd deliberately dressed down for the meeting today, in pencil-slim,  chocolate-brown trousers and an apricot, chocolate-and-white-striped,  long-sleeved blouse. Never mind that the clothes had cost more than she  had ever dreamed she would earn in a week, let alone spend on clothing.  To her they screamed blasé, certainly not what one would wear to try to  impress a prospective employer of Tremont's calibre. They would set the  tone nicely, she thought, with a private smile.

Up until this morning she hadn't been too sure how to play this  interview, but on choosing her clothes she'd reached a personal  compromise. She didn't want to look too keen, and that certainly  wouldn't be difficult, but she didn't want to be too reluctant, either. A  balance between the two suited nicely, and if she came off a little  brash, well, it wasn't as if he'd withdraw his job offer once he'd made  it. He wasn't that kind of man.

Auckland's typically humid spring air had already begun to play havoc  with her hair. Wisps that had strategically been pulled free from her  ponytail to smoothly frame her face now began to curl flirtatiously. Not  exactly the image she'd wanted to project, but short of an interlude in  the ladies' room with a hair straightener there was little Callie could  do.

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