Late again, damn that alarm clock! Eva ran all the way from Marble Arch tube station to Park Lane. With her bag slung over her shoulder, her long, black, wavy hair flew about her face as she quickly made her way to the hotel.
With hardly time to draw breath, she swept through the lobby, checked in, and hurriedly followed the signs to the Albermarle Suite, where the press conference was being held. The Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s exclusive Mayfair, was the perfect setting for the prestigious event.
Her boss, editor of New Dawn, the forward-thinking and glossy magazine she wrote for, had sent her to cover The Global Energy Summit. Their readers were interested in all things ecological and environmental as well as the celebrity lifestyle of the people featured. The appetite for large corporate companies and billionaire lifestyles was phenomenal, with readership growing monthly. Because New Dawn’s unique selling point was the green agenda, not all companies or celebrities featured well. Those who did had their status enhanced, their company profits boosted, and their share prices raised.
Outside the room she composed herself. She smoothed her white silk blouse into place and brushed her fingers through her hair. With one last intake of breath, she pushed open the door and entered the conference room.
At least she had done her research the night before. Matt Collins, CEO of Oil Enterprises, sat to the left, Jack McClaine of McClaine Industries in the centre, and David Archibald-Watts for Energy Pipeline Inc., to the right. There was a heated discussion as a fellow journalist debated an answer he’d just been given.
Eva sensed several pairs of eyes watch as she squeezed, breathless, into a sumptuous red velvet chair at the back of the room. She noticed one of the chairpersons, Jack McClaine, give her a dismissive glance. He obviously didn’t like interruptions. His mouth compressed as he reached out and poured water into a glass, his eyes locked on her.
“Mathew Douglas, CRB TV.” The slim, young journalist in front of Eva raised his hand and then asked his question. “What the world needs to know is how you can keep the supply of energy constant. We’ve already had Russia switch off gas supplies in Europe.”
Jack McClaine took a sip of water and answered, “As already stated, Russia turned the gas supply off themselves. A man-made occurrence cannot be anticipated.” He looked around. “Any more questions?”
Eva raised her hand, and he nodded for her to speak. “Eva St. John, New Dawn magazine. How safe is the pipeline infrastructure from terrorist attack?”
Jack McClaine spoke in his native Texan drawl. His gaze sought hers. A piercing stare focused on her face. “Well, now, Miss Eva St. John. If you hadn’t got tangled in the bed sheets this morning, you would have heard that, for obvious reasons, that topic is strictly off-limits.”
A bubble of laughter erupted in the room. A few people turned to look at her, their eyes watching as she squirmed in her seat. She felt about two inches tall. Damn the man, and damn that cheap alarm clock. Surely his remarks about bed sheets were rather impudent?
What did she expect? The man had a reputation. He did everything to excess. Her research last night had shown him to be a ruthless businessman. He had hauled himself from the gutter to achieve great things. His company served as one of the main distributors of crude oil to the U.S. and Canada. He wasn’t afraid of his past, unlike herself, so she would give him that at least. She guessed he didn’t suffer fools lightly. Well, neither did she. Looking back to the podium, she raised her chin and stared back. Her hands had clenched into tight fists. Maybe she should just drop her bombshell and wipe that egotistical smile from his face.
“My understanding is you have had problems with your supply routes in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Should we be concerned? Why has the oil stopped flowing south? And will there be any environmental fallout from this event?” She delivered her question without a hint of nervousness. It was a risk, she knew, but by the look on his face, her contact had been right. She had worked into the early hours of the morning talking to several reporters. Frank Duffield had come through for her. She owed him one.
“I don’t know where you get your information from, honey. But you need to do a little more research. All pipelines are flowing freely as we speak.”
Eva watched the subtle play of emotion on his face. He’d lied at her expense. Already there were a few intakes of breath circulating the conference room at her apparent lack of judgement. She folded her arms and fixed him in her gaze. His dark grey suit did little to conceal his fine physique. Tieless, and with his shirt collar undone, told her he was not one for the established rules. His dark blond hair fell across his forehead, and she watched him brush it away in annoyance. That was when she knew she was right. She had definitely rattled his cage.
Jack McClaine cleared his throat. “I think that concludes all the questions we have time for. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” he declared in his Texas drawl.
Eva sat in her seat and waited as the room slowly emptied. She observed Jack McClaine gathering his notes. He didn’t look worried now as he chatted easily to his co-hosts before leaving the room.
She breathed out and shook her head. Her boss would not be pleased. Because she’d been late, she’d only just caught the end of the conference. Foolishly, she’d allowed herself to be goaded into spilling her prize piece of information. Now everyone would be looking into McClaine Industries in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
Placing her bag over her shoulder, she went out into the corridor. Jack McClaine leant nonchalantly against the wall. His cool grey gaze skimmed over her. He certainly had a piercing stare. She’d give him that. With his dark blond hair flecked from the sun, he had a rakish quality. He’d become well known for his womanising, and his intimidating stare. Like a laser, it burned into her. Well, it didn’t worry her in the least, especially after he’d made her look completely ridiculous in front of her counterparts.
Close-up she certainly appeared stunning in a non-English sort of way. Her eyes, were bright blue, with an almost violet hue, and framed by very thick, black, wavy hair that cascaded down her back. If it weren’t for the colour of her eyes, and her pale skin, he would even have thought her Mexican. She looked annoyed. Her full lips tightened into a thin line as she stared back. He realised the woman had great poise. Intrigued, he felt he should say something.
“So, who was your source, honey?” he drawled. “Who gave you the misinformation?”
She smiled sweetly. “Mr. McClaine, we both know I spoke the truth.” She looked straight at him as he raised his eyebrows. “I expect you had good reason for denying it.” She shrugged. “No matter, I must get back to work.”
She made to move, but he stood in front of her, barring her way. His broad shoulders filled the corridor, so she could not pass without brushing up against him. “Honey, a remark like that can cost me millions. Will cost me millions. Of course I’ll deny it.”
Well, now that was unusual. She wasn’t afraid to return his gaze. Little Miss Eva St. John was not amused. In fact, it looked like she may say something else, in her very precise English accent, the type that had been made with a silver spoon. The very quintessential Englishness that he hated about this country. Give him an ordinary down-to-earth person any day.
“Well, Mr. McClaine, you keep your millions.” She pointed a well-manicured finger at him. “Just remember this, when you undermine someone in public, they might have something to say that you don’t want to hear. So thank you, Mr. McClaine, and good day.” With that she pushed past him and strode purposefully down the corridor.
She turned briefly and gave him one last withering look. “One final thing, Mr. McClaine, I’m not your honey.” Then she continued along the corridor. He noticed her pencil skirt accentuated the sexy sway to her hips as she walked calmly away.
His face broke into a smile at her last remark. “I’m not your honey.” He had the darndest feeling that he wanted to shout back, “Not yet, honey.”
Jack McClaine was definitely intrigued. It made a change for someone not to be impressed by his status and wealth. He wondered what would impress her. Maybe the blue blood flowing through her veins made her unimpressed. Deep down he knew there was more to it than that. Close-up she didn’t strike him as coming from the privileged background he’d first assumed. He thought he recognised something of himself. Now he definitely wanted to know more.
Jack McClaine had affected her more than she cared to admit. When she’d moved far enough away from him, she’d at least be able to breathe properly. Just as she emerged outside, he caught up with her.
“Not so fast, darlin’. You haven’t yet told me how you got this information.” His hand cupped her elbow, and he began to lead her back towards the hotel. “You and I need to find a quiet place to talk.”
His large hand clasped round her arm, and she turned to him, her eyes questioning. She gazed up into his rugged features, noticing the deep lines contouring down from his cheekbones. He certainly looked like the man she’d read about. He had the arrogance and, yes, a huge quantity of devilish charm, but Eva saw right through him. He was just a man, nothing more.
“Why, Mr. McClaine, are you always so polite with the ladies?” she remarked sarcastically.
His face creased into a smile as he looked at her, and it was the first time she noticed he had deep-set dimples on either side of his mouth. Her heart seemed to lurch before she drew in a breath to steady herself.
His silver gaze riveted her to the spot. “Hell no, darlin’, but perhaps if you’d allow me to offer you a coffee, you could tell me how you found out such a confidential piece of information about my company.”
“You have a reputation, Mr. McClaine.” She arched her brow. “Just where would coffee be served?” She didn’t think him remotely interested in her contact.
He laughed easily. “I admire your directness, Miss Eva St. John. I have the use of the executive lounge. Look, you’ve probably sent my company stock plummeting by several million. The least you can do is indulge me.”
“Very well, if you insist, Mr. McClaine.” She tried to still her quickening heart rate as he began to lead her into the hotel.
“Just call me Jack, darlin’. My friends do,” he instructed as he led her into the lobby and escorted her to the lounge, “and I hope you will allow me to call you Eva.”
“We’ll see, Mr. McClaine, perhaps.” She wondered why her heart had suddenly begun to flutter at the very way he’d said her name. His Texas drawl, like a caress, emphasised the E of her name. “Eva” had never sounded like that before. She drew in a breath to calm herself. Under no illusions about the man, she knew he would be returning to the U.S. soon. She should definitely steer well clear of him. Though he did have a certain roguish quality, she had to admit. His deep-set dimples creased as he smiled, and the smell of the delicious bergamot undertones of his expensive aftershave had practically made her light-headed.
The executive lounge created a charming atmosphere with its luxurious blend of sofas and chairs of soft brocade and velvet. The feeling of cosseted luxury immediately sprang to mind. Eva sat on one of the armchairs grouped around a low coffee table. Her grey pencil skirt rode up to give him a rather delicious glimpse of her thigh.
He ordered two coffees, then turned his attention once more to her. “So, Eva, what’s with this English accent? Why do you sound like you’ve come from a whole dynasty of aristocrats when it’s quite obvious that you haven’t?”
Eva stared at him for a moment, and he knew he’d been right. “I suppose that’s how you’ve made your billions, second-guessing everyone.” She laughed. “You’re very perceptive, Jack, and very direct. In England, appearing to have a pedigree gets you places that other accents can’t. I’m afraid it’s the class system. It’s very much still alive. Especially in the South of the country.”
“Well, you should try America, darlin’. Money is the only thing revered there.”
The waiter came and placed their coffees on the table.
“Youthful looks too,” she added pointedly. “I hear one can never get old there, especially if one has money.”
“True.” He laughed, admiring her sense of humour. He studied her for a while. She had a natural beauty. She hadn’t come plastered in makeup. Just a hint of blue eye shadow, was the only thing he could detect. He liked the way her hand drifted to her coffee cup, her fingers curled around the handle. She appeared very tactile, a trait that he admired in all women. Tactile was good. However, he could detect an underlying reticence to be truly herself. She definitely hid who she really was. He wondered why. “You say you work for New Dawn magazine?” he asked eventually.
Eva nodded. “It’s an eco-”
“Oh, I know all about New Dawn magazine, honey,” he interrupted. “You’ve no need to explain. They’ve been trying to do a piece on me for years. ‘A day in the life of Jack McClaine,’ they wanted to call it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t even begin to show them what I do in a week, let alone a day. I’d need at least a whole month to show the real Jack McClaine.”
She drew in a deep breath and responded, “Maybe you should steer clear. Maybe your company wouldn’t come across well. It has been known. Perhaps if you have things to hide, they are better not disclosed to the public in general.”
“Speaking of which, are you gonna divulge your source, Eva? The one who gave you the costly misinformation about McClaine Industries?”
“No.” She looked warily at him. “If I did, I’d never be trusted as a journalist again.”
“I thought so.” The coffee had been an excuse to see what she was really made of. If she’d revealed her source, she would have gone down in his estimation.
“Was it one of my employees?” he asked as he leant forward and stirred demerara sugar into his coffee.
“Why do you want to know that? So you can sack him?”
“I demand absolute loyalty from my employees. They’re either one hundred percent with me, or they’re out.” He knew she disagreed with him when she raised her brows. He continued, “Surely you can see my point. If it’s one of my employees, then they can compromise the safety of the whole pipeline infrastructure. Someone with a big mouth can jeopardise people’s lives.”
Eva reclined back in her chair and took a sip of her coffee. “If it makes you feel any better, it wasn’t one of your employees. I’m not about to tell you where my source got his information from.” She held up a hand. “That’s all I’m prepared to say on the matter. I don’t envy your position, Jack, and it’s probably best you don’t appear in one of our magazine articles. I don’t think your company would come across well.”
“Is that so, honey?” He laughed. He stared into her violet blue eyes and wondered if she was as direct in everything that she did. So far she had impressed him, and it took a lot to get even close. “You couldn’t begin to know what I do. Having a tight rein is what’s required when your company stretches all the way from Texas to Alaska.”
She finished her coffee and placed the empty cup back on the table. “Thank you for the coffee, Jack, but I really must be going.” She stood and smoothed her skirt back into place and picked up her bag.
“Yes, of course, I’ll see you out.”
“No bother, it’s fine. I’m sure you’re busy.” She held out her hand. “It’s certainly been nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. McClaine.”
He took her hand and held it for a little longer than necessary. The warmth from her flesh seeped imperceptibly into his. When they’d looked at each other he’d noticed the subtle play of emotion on her face.
Surprise had been followed quickly by wariness. He smiled as he studied her. Eva St. John was physically attracted to him.
“Well, even though you probably wiped thirty million off my share price today, it’s been a real pleasure, Eva.”
Looking down into her eyes had given him the answer he’d hoped to find. He couldn’t help feeling a little smug. When their eyes connected, he’d noticed her pupils dilate. Eva was definitely receptive to him. “I’ll be in touch,” he promised as she walked from the room. From their brief conversation, he’d already decided how to get acquainted real soon.
“Why, Miss Eva St. John, I feel about as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party.” Jack McClaine spoke as mild amusement played around his silver-grey eyes.
Eva eyed him warily. It was only two days since she had first laid eyes on the rugged Texan. Now his lithe, athletic frame perched on the desk, her desk. He looked every inch at home, as if he belonged there. Wearing a light grey suit, he seemed to think his very tall six-foot-three-inch frame had somehow a right to be there.
“Just what is going on, Mr. McClaine?” Eva folded her arms across her chest, her mouth compressed with indignation, as she waited for his answer. Her gaze was drawn inexorably to his, and like a laser it burned into her. Then as a smile spread from his eyes down to the deep dimples at the side of his mouth, she felt the breath escape from her lips in a silent gasp. Why did he have to be so damned attractive? She had to fight the sudden urge to push the stray hair back that had fallen forward across his forehead.
“Mr. McClaine, are you going to answer my question?”
“Hold on now, darlin’, I thought we were on first-name terms already.” He smiled at her in amusement.
“No, we’re not.” She slumped into her chair and glared up at him. “Andrew Jameson could shadow you for a month. Why do you want me? I won’t be a pushover, you know. I’ll certainly write exactly what I think.”
He smiled easily and twisted around to meet her frosty gaze. “Now, why would I want Andrew Jameson to shadow me for a whole month? Live in my home. Share my food. Share my life. Why would I want him when I’d be much happier with you?”
Eva picked up a pen and pointed it at him. “You, Mr. McClaine, have a reputation. If you are expecting anything but a working relationship, then you are mistaken.”
“Well, that’s settled then, honey.”
She looked up watching the amusement play around his eyes. The creases channelled down to his mouth. “Don’t look so smug, Mr. McClaine. You may regret your decision to invite New Dawn magazine into your home. You may not like what I write. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. McClaine.”
“Darlin’, I’ve never regretted anything in my life.”
“I told you once before, Mr. McClaine, I’m not your honey, and I’m telling you now, I’m not your darling either.”
He laughed. “Eva, it’s just a figure of speech. It don’t mean anything.”
That afternoon a huge row developed with her boss, Simon Jessop, but he wouldn’t back down. If she pulled this off, he’d give her a raise. Even more than that, he’d give her a promotion. She wanted to know why he thought Jack McClaine specifically asked for her to do the article. His thoughts exactly mirrored her own. He had lifted his hands in the air, an expression of helplessness on his face, and said, “You’re a big girl, Eva. I’m sure you can handle yourself, and Jack McClaine.”
Eva felt like a dish served up specifically for Jack McClaine’s pleasure. What’s more, her boss had handed her over on a solid silver platter.
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