Emerald Mistress. Lynne Graham
‘That is the last time I do a favour for you on a Saturday, just so that you can meet your friends at the gym,’ Harriet declared. ‘I’m not disorganised, just run off my feet!’
A sudden silence hummed on the line.
‘I’m sorry. I was out of order,’ Luke told her quietly. ‘Will I see you later?’
‘No. I’ll be lucky to make it home before midnight.’ Even when she got back to London she would still have to call into the agency, brief her boss, Saskia, and write up a detailed report. The monthly meeting with the executives at the Zenco headquarters in Manchester was the most important date in her diary.
‘That’s a shame, because I miss you,’ Luke asserted with easy charm. ‘However, I do have a lot on today too. So don’t worry if I switch off my phone. Just leave a message. Look, I have to rush…I’ll call you tomorrow, babes.’
Babes? Replacing the handset, Harriet was surprised by that particular term of endearment, for it had a frivolous edge that was not in his usual style. Her half-sister Alice used that expression too. But then Alice was an It-girl with a trust fund and an aptitude for always being at the cutting edge of the latest trends. Harriet smiled fondly. She was very proud of the younger woman and thought, not for the first time, that it was a great shame that two of her favourite people, her sister and her fiancé, could hardly stand to be in the same room together.
Her mobile shrilled once more, just as she was about to head out for her meeting.
‘Are you watching the news?’ Her boss hissed in a frantic tone of urgency.
‘No…why?’ As Saskia was a natural-born drama queen, Harriet turned on the television news again in no great hurry.
‘Zenco has gone down…’ Saskia framed harshly.
Harriet’s stomach flipped. She stared transfixed at the screen. Crowds of employees were milling around the pavement in front of the Zenco building. Some people were banging on the entrance doors, but nobody appeared to be getting inside. Expressions reflected anger, bewilderment and blank disbelief. The camera lingered lovingly on the face of a young woman sobbing.
‘You deal with Zenco’s people all the time. Why didn’t you realise that there was trouble brewing?’ Saskia condemned, slashing like a knife through Harriet’s horror at the drama that was unfolding on screen. ‘If you’d warned us we could have pulled back!’
Unprepared for this attack, Harriet was bemused. ‘But, Saskia, how could I—?’
‘Right at this minute I’m not interested in listening to your excuses,’ her boss spat, with an almost hysterical edge to her voice. ‘Get over there and pull every bloody string you have to and find out what’s happening. Then come back here as soon as possible! Without the Zenco account you can’t afford to be running up expenses like some lottery winner.’
In the aftermath of that unreasonable accusation, Harriet pressed cooling hands to her hot cheeks. The brunette was well known for her acid tongue, but it was the first time that Harriet had personally felt its effects. Until this morning she had been a favoured employee, riding the crest of the wave on Zenco’s ever-increasing marketing budget, she acknowledged grimly. If Zenco was in trouble, so was she.
Two years had passed since Harriet had joined the staff at Dar Design. Back then the Zenco account had been small, but they had liked Dar’s creative department’s campaign and Harriet’s enthusiastic presentation skills—and the rest was history: the agency had expanded fast to meet the advertising needs of the giant multinational company. What if the gravy train had shrieked to a sudden halt?
Six hours later, Harriet crossed Dar Design’s elegant reception area. An eerie silence hung over the office. Hovering colleagues peered out of doorways and looked away again hurriedly. Nobody knew what to do or what to say. Before Harriet had even boarded her flight back to London Saskia had phoned her four more times. Everybody must have heard Saskia screaming at the top of her voice that Zenco owed the agency so much money Dar Design would go to the wall with them. Harriet’s attempts to talk to Luke had been foiled when, on calling his secretary, she had discovered that he would be at a legal conference until six; and his mobile phone was switched off, just as he’d said it would be.
An emaciated brunette in her forties, clad in a pink tweed suit, thrust wide the door of her office. ‘So?’ Saskia demanded caustically.
Harriet breathed in deeply, walked in and closed the door behind her. ‘It’s not good. The rumour is that there’s a black hole in Zenco’s accounts and investigations are pending against three of the directors.’
Saskia uttered a very rude word and studied Harriet with raging resentment. ‘Why the hell am I only hearing about this now?’
‘Corruption in high places isn’t a topic of conversation amongst the Zenco personnel I’ve dealt with,’ Harriet pointed out as quietly as she knew how. ‘They don’t have the connections and neither do I.’
* * *
Despite the long estrangement that had existed between Valente Cavaliere and his son, Rafael chose to attend his father’s funeral.
Rafael believed family hostilities were not for public parade or debate, and he saw no reason to offend tribal traditions. Certainly it was inconvenient for him to leave the UK at the moment that Zenco went into its death throes, but he was still well on track to make another few million pounds in profit from other people’s stupidity and greed.
A silence filled with awe and respect greeted his arrival at the chapel in Rome. He marked the older man’s passing without visible emotion or sentiment. His impassive demeanour was a fitting footnote which his late parent would have very much admired. In seventy odd years of fully indulging his own essentially vicious nature, Valente had never once managed to match his son’s cold, proud detachment.
In a thwarted rage at his inability to intimidate Rafael, Valente had fought continually with him. He had competed in corrupt and underhand ways for his son’s every prize and had on many occasions attempted to bring the younger man’s business empire down. In defeat, Valente had learnt to his own astonishment that he was very proud of his own flesh and blood. Rafael was fiercely intelligent, icily self-controlled and lethally unemotional. By the time of his death Valente had come to believe that he had bred a king among men by the Irish wife who had so grievously failed to meet his expectations
Rafael’s reflections at the graveside were not of a religious or peaceful nature. By then memories sharp and sour as bile were afflicting him.
‘Your mother is a slut and a junkie. Don’t believe a word the lying bitch says!’ Valente had warned Rafael when he was seven years old, and he had gone on to carefully explain exactly what those words meant. ‘When you visit her never forget that you’re a Cavaliere and she’s Irish trash.’
Valente, however, had truly surpassed himself when Rafael had fallen in love for the first and last time at the age of fifteen. He had paid a remarkably fresh-faced hooker to charm and seduce his impressionable son over the space of a week.
‘I had to make a man of you and she was impressed. Tasty, wasn’t she? I should know. I tried her out before I picked her for you,’ Valente had chuckled. ‘But you can’t love her. She’s a whore and you’ll never see her again. All women are sluts under the skin when it comes to men with money and power.’
That devastating news had been delivered with tasteless hilarity in front of an appreciative audience of his father’s closest associates.
‘There can be no sentiment in business,’ Valente had explained when the father of Rafael’s best friend had shot himself over a deal that went wrong the week after Valente reneged on it. ‘I look after me and, as long as you are loyal, I look after you. That’s it. Family and friends don’t count unless I get something out of it.’
Not long afterwards Rafael had received a lecture on the respective values of abortion, denial and intimidation in respect of unplanned