episode 2

1535 Words
Baby doll? The careless way he’d diminished her to nothing irritated Sara sufficiently for her to forget her nerves. All her life she’d been patronized and underestimated. All her life people had doubted and dismissed her. And she’d proved them wrong, over and over again. She’d fought against the odds and she’d succeeded. Until now. Now she was in danger of losing everything she’d worked for. And she wasn’t going to let that happen. This was probably the most important fight of her life and she was going to win. She had to win. And to win she had to forget that she was probably the worst person in the world to be given the responsibility of talking numbers with the African billionaire with the computer brain. She had to forget everything except the consequences of losing. And the people depending on her. If she failed then they lost their jobs, it was as simple as that. If William Willson called in his loan, then it was all over. The humid, oppressive heat wrapped itself around her like a thick, suffocating cloak and she pushed a damp strand of hair away from her face, her eyes drawn upwards, following the straight lines of the trees that rose to such impressive heights. It was like being in a remote, exotic paradise and it was hard to remember that cities like London and Rio de Jane even existed. ‘Isn’t he afraid, living out here?’ ‘Willson?’ The pilot chewed on a piece of gum and gave a grim smile. ‘He isn’t afraid of anything.’ Knowing that if she heard any more about the man she wouldn’t have the courage to face him, let alone fight her corner, Sara stumbled out of the helicopter and discovered that her legs were shaking. At that precise the moment she would have been hard-pressed to say whether she was more afraid of the jungle or William Willson. In a world obsessed with celebrity and image, he treated the notion of both with something approaching contempt, rejecting every invitation to talk about himself. And he didn’t need to, because everyone else did the talking for him. The papers were full of curvaceous blondes who’d been persuaded to ‘tell all’ for the right amount of money. And so the whole the world knew about his relentless pursuit of his billions, his prowess as a lover and his determined refusal to indulge in ‘happy ever after'. Once. Once he’d done that and the news of his glamorous wife’s departure from his life after less than three months of wedded bliss had filled the newspapers with stories that had lasted longer than the marriage. He’d been impossible to live with. He’d ended their relationship by email. He was only interested in making money. And more money. The speculation had been endless but if any of it was to be believed then William Willson was little more than a machine and she knew, she just knew, even before she had to fight for her business, that he was going to be just the sort of man that brought out the worst in her. She wouldn’t look at him, she promised herself. If she didn’t look at him she wouldn’t become tongue-tied or stammer. She’d just pretend that she was in her small sitting room at home, talking to the mirror as she always did when she had an important presentation to memorize. Sara felt her stomach lurch again and this time the feeling of sickness that enveloped her had nothing to do with the helicopter and everything to do with her past. At times like this—times that mattered—the memories rolled up behind her like a giant wave, waiting to engulf her. For her, this was the ultimate test. And she wouldn’t fail. She just couldn’t. Too much was at stake. There was no reason to be afraid of William, she assured herself as she stroked a hand over her straight, formal skirt and forced herself to move forward onto the wooden walkway that was suspended above the forest floor. His personal life, no matter how dark, wasn’t her concern. This the meeting was about business and, whatever murk hovered around the man, he was a businessman, like her father. When she showed him her plans for taking the business into profit, he’d be positive. He’d change his mind about calling in the loan. She would save everyone’s job and then she could fly home and leave the jaguars, the snakes and the billionaire African businessman to their jungle hideaway. The tropical heat made her suit stick to her body and suddenly she realized just how woefully ill-prepared she was to meet this man. She wasn’t even comfortable in her clothes. Stooping to free the spindly heel of her shoe from the careless bite of the wooden planks beneath her feet, Sara clutched the briefcase in her hand and suddenly wished she’d gone over the figures one more time in the helicopter. But what difference would that have made? With the help of her father, she’d committed them to memory. There was nothing in her a briefcase that wasn’t already fixed in her mind. Jerking her shoe from the jaws of the walkway, she regained her balance and straightened. And saw him. He stood directly in front of her, as dark and dangerous as anything that might have prowled out of the jungle, his body completely still, his eyes watchful. And he was watching her. Entirely unprepared for the physical impact of the man, Sara ceased to breathe. The helicopter, the rainforest, and all her problems just seemed to melt into the background and she was conscious only of him. His tarnished reputation had caused her mind to conjure up physical images that were so far removed from reality that for a moment Sara couldn’t do anything except stare, as hundreds of women had undoubtedly stared before her. His eyes locked on hers with the lethal accuracy of a deadly weapon and the breath left her body and every thought was sucked from her mind. For a wildly unsettling moment, she couldn’t remember anything about herself. She couldn’t remember what she was doing here. Her body felt strangely lethargic and warmth as thick as treacle spread slowly through her limbs. ‘Miss Sara?’ The hard bite of his deep, masculine voice was sufficient to wake her from her dreamy contemplation of his manly attributes and she gave a little start, desperately hoping that he hadn’t noticed her embarrassing reaction. So much for being cool and businesslike, she thought. And so much for her plan not to look at him. His physical presence and his film-star looks demanded attention. As she stood there gaping, it was a struggle to remind herself that this man was said to be ruthless and cold-hearted. For her, that wasn’t a winning combination of character traits. Looking into his deep-set, cynical eyes, she decided that there was something about his cool scrutiny that made him more menacing and intimidating than all the jungle predators put together and she knew in an instant that his pilot had been telling the truth about one thing—this the man was no angel. Forcing her legs to move, she walked towards him, her briefcase in one hand, the other seeking the reassurance of the rough rope handrail. Even without the benefit of billions of dollars, William would have attracted women. His hair was blue-black and swept back from a the face that was as hard as it was handsome. The golden sheen of his bronzed skin betrayed his African heritage and the soft fabric of his the casual shirt clung to shoulders that were wide and powerful. She watched for his reaction to her arrival but he revealed nothing. His mouth didn’t shift into a smile and his eyes, so dark and brooding, showed no sign of welcome. It seemed that he was as unfriendly as he was handsome and the way he was looking at her made her want to sprint back up the walkway and leap into the departing helicopter. If she hadn’t known better she would have thought she’d upset him in some way but she knew that wasn’t possible. How could she possibly have upset him? He’d never even met her before. His animosity was a reflection of his personality, rather than their relationship. He just wasn’t a people person. , he wasn’t about to make an exception for her. And it didn’t matter, she told herself firmly. She didn’t need him to like her. She just needed him to agree not to withdraw his finance. Keeping that in mind, she took the last few steps until she was standing directly in front of him. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Willson ’ His mouth tightened and his eyes gleamed with impatience. ‘This isn’t a social visit or a children’s party, Miss Sara. I don’t want or expect polite. I don’t do small talk or pleasantries. I don’t care about the weather or the nature of your journey. If you find that approach to business challenge, then you’d better leave now.
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