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Several heads turned as the three men made their way into the main bar of the clubhouse. Other men as well as women glanced their way, their gazes carrying a mixture of envy and admiration.
It wasn't just because these three were rich. Most members of the Sydney Royal Golf Club were wealthy. The attention they instantly drew, especially from women, was more basic than that. Cavewomen had invariably been attracted to cavemen who could best protect and provide for them; physically blessed alpha males whose prepotent genes ensured strong offspring.
A modern woman might imagine she chose her mates differently; that she was attracted to other attributes such as kindness and a good sense of humour. Recent research, however, showed that was false thinking. Apparently, the most attractive quality a man could possess was tallness.
The male trio striding through the bar-room were all tall. If that wasn't enough to give them an advantage over most members of their sex, they were also handsome and dark-haired and, yes, very rich indeed.
The man who headed straight for the bar and who was obviously going to buy the first round of drinks was Hugh Parkinson, only son and heir to the Parkinson Media fortune. Thirty-six years old, Hugh was Sydney's most eligible bachelor, a well-known man-about-town with a plethora of past girlfriends, none of whom—amazingly—had a bad word to say about him. A natural charmer, he devoted his life to the pursuit of pleasure, to remaining single and doing only as much work as strictly necessary.
His two golfing buddies were not cut from the same ilk. Both bordered on being workaholics, were married and had beenmoulded by past experiences into much tougher men.
Russell McClain owned McClain Real Estate, Sydney's most prestigious and successful property company.
James Logan owned Images, Sydney's most dynamic advertising and management agency.
The three men had been best friends since their school days. They knew each other very well, including their strengths and their weaknesses. Their affection for each other was genuine and unconditional.
Their Thursday-morning golf game, however, was a no-holds-barred affair. They always played for money, and they always played to win.
'What on earth's wrong with Hugh today?' James said as he and Russell settled at a table on the verandah overlooking the eighteenth green. 'Never seen him play such pathetic golf.'
'I have. When you were away, a few weeks ago, just before your wedding. I beat him hollow.'
'Thanks,' Russell said drily.
'You know what I mean. You're a pretty good golfer, but Hugh's better.'
'He should be. He practically lives on the golf course.'
'True.' James had used to play quite a bit himself, but not so much since his marriage late last year. Or over the recent Christmas break, when his social calendar had been very full. 'Come to think of it, Hugh wasn't up to scratch last week, either. Only just managed to beat us. What do you think's responsible for his loss of form?'
'Not sure about lately,' Russell said. 'But back in November he was having some kind of woman trouble.'
James was truly taken aback. Hugh never had woman trouble. They threw themselves at his feet with regular monotony. He could have his pick.
'What kind of woman trouble?' James asked.
'I gather he fancied some piece who wouldn't come across.'
'Now, that'd be a first. Do you know who she was?'
'He didn't say. And I didn't ask.'
'Mmm.' James frowned as he watched Hugh weave his way towards the verandah with three beers cupped in his hands.
What could possibly be the reason for Hugh's uncharacteristic failure to bed a female of his choice? His womanis-ing reputation, perhaps?
Nah. His being a bad boy with the opposite sex never seemed to put the girls off him. If anything, his being known as a rake only added to his appeal.
'On second thoughts, I've probably got it all wrong,' Russell said. 'He probably just had a late night last night, romancing his latest conquest. Maybe even the mystery girl herself. You and I both know that there isn't a girl alive who can resist those blue eyes once he turns on the charm. Except my Nicole and your Megan, of course.'
'Come now, he's not that irresistible.' But even as he said the words, James conceded that their friend was a veritable babe magnet.
'Hope you remembered to make mine a light,' Russell said when Hugh placed the three glasses of beer on the table. 'I have to work this afternoon.'
'Me too,' James said.
Hugh pulled a face as he sat down. 'That makes three of us.'
'You're joking!' James exclaimed. 'You! Work? What's happened? Someone die?'
'Not quite. But close.' Hugh picked up his glass and downed a long, cool swallow of beer before continuing. 'Dad's off second-honeymooning with wife number five and I'm in charge of the ship.'
'Should we sell our shares in Parkinson Media?' James quipped.
Hugh shrugged. 'I shouldn't think so. No one could make worse business decisions than dear old Dad when he's consumed by unbridled lust. Who knows? By the time he comes back down to earth and wants to take the helm again, I might have recouped a few of the billions he's frittered away in the name of love. You might have forgotten, Jimmy boy, but I was dux of our school. I also graduated from uni with honours degrees in economics and corporate law. I'm not just a pretty face, you know.'
'Now we know why your mind wasn't on your golf today,' said an enlightened Russell. 'So when did all this happen?'
'No wonder you're looking a bit frazzled. I'll bet it's a long time since you've done a full day's work.'
'It's been a while,' Hugh admitted, not willing to confess that there'd been a few weeks leading up to Christmas last year when he'd gone into the office almost every day and worked his silver tail off.
The reason for this episode of uncharacteristic diligence had been extremely perverse: his PA.
Hugh hadn't realised when he'd hired Kathryn Hart several months earlier that he might one day find her so damned sexy.
She wasn't conventionally beautiful, certainly not pretty. Her facial features were too large, her cheekbones too high and her mouth too wide. He also hadn't noticed her voluptuous figure at the time of her one and only interview. He'd been concentrating solely on what was contained in her excellent résumé.
Of course, he'd been in a bit of a rush at the time, his father's decision to place him in charge of the publishing arm of Parkinson's having come right out of the blue. Hugh hadn't anticipated taking over anything till his father expired. Whilst Richard—Dickie—Parkinson had made sure over the years that his son and heir had had a sprinkling of experience in every facet of his very diverse company, he was not the kind of man to give over power easily.
Surprisingly, Hugh had not been pleased at this unexpected responsibility.
Not willing to totally give up the easy-going lifestyle he'd become accustomed to, Hugh had immediately sought an assistant with superb skills in the publishing field, someone competent and decisive who could cover for him when he wasn't in the office. Kathryn Hart had seemed perfect, a cool customer who wasn't in any way flirtatious with him, as some of the other candidates had been.
He hadn't anticipated that Miss Capability would practically bully him into doing the job entrusted to him, or that he would become increasingly consumed with unwanted desire for her.
That was the perverse part. Because there wasn't anything he could do about his feelings for her.
Why? Because by the time he realised he fancied her, she was engaged. Shortly to be married, in fact.
Although Hugh was considered a conscienceless rake by all and sundry, the truth was he was quite sensitive to other people's feelings and would never pursue another man's woman. Sex, for him, was high on his list of life's little necessities. But only when it came without complications or consequences.
If Kathryn had been free, Hugh would simply have seduced her, making his daily trips to the office events to be anticipated with pleasure, not dread. As it was, he was forced to endure his growing desire for his PA with a level of physical frustration previously unknown to him. He'd even lost interest in other females, suddenly finding them boring in the extreme. There was only one woman he wanted right now.
And for the first time in his life, he couldn't have her.
'Have you moved into your dad's penthouse as well?' James asked.
Hugh shook his head. 'He offered. But I declined. I prefer my own place at Bondi.'
Which he'd bought several years earlier with money he'd accumulated on the stock market, with no help from his father, financial or otherwise. He'd used the cash he'd earned fruit-picking during several summers in his university years when his friends had thought he was overseas, skiing in Europe. Instead, he'd been working his way around Australia, proving to himself that he didn't need his father's money to survive and that he was capable of working just as hard as anyone else.
It had been a male-pride thing.
His recently refurbished and now extremely valuable apartment overlooked Bondi Beach, and was within a hundred metres of the rock pool in which he swam most mornings, come rain, hail or shine. It was the perfect bachelor pad, not too large, but with everything a single man could desire.
The thought of living in his father's oversized, over-luxurious and rather soulless penthouse held no appeal whatsoever, despite it being in the same city skyscraper as the offices of Parkinson Media.
'But it'd save you a drive into the CBD every day,' James said. 'You'd never be late. That should please that slave-driver of a PA of yours. The one who's always calling you. What's her name, now?'
'Kathryn,' Hugh said, suppressing a shudder at the thought of never being late. Being late was the only power he had over that witch.
Punctuality was a real issue with Kathryn. He knew it got under her skin whenever he was late.
Which reminded him…
Hugh glanced at his watch. It was almost noon. There was a meeting of the board this afternoon. He really couldn't be late for that. The other directors would think him not only rude but also not fit to be CEO, even temporarily. It would be foolish of him not to try to make a good impression.
Thankfully, he'd had the forethought to move some clothes into his father's penthouse, so that he could shower and change there when necessary. He wouldn't make a good impression wearing casual trousers and a short-sleeved golf shirt.
'Sorry, chaps,' he said, downing the rest of his beer in one swallow. 'Can't stay. Important meeting this afternoon.'
Hugh had to smile at the expressions on his friends' faces. But his smile faded once he reached his car, his mouth twisting into a grimace as he climbed in behind the wheel and started the powerful engine.
In fifteen minutes he would be in Sydney's CBD—the central business district. In less than twenty, he would be back in the lion's den.
Hugh slammed the Ferrari into gear and accelerated away, torn by the feelings which swamped him. One part of him— his masochistic side, obviously—wanted to be with Kathryn. His more sensible side knew he could not go on like this. One day, something was going to give and he would make a big fool of himself. And possibly find himself on the end of a sexual harassment charge.
The only logical solution was to get rid of the woman.
Hugh had racked his brain to find an excuse to get Kathryn out of his life—and out of his sight—once and for all. But she was capable and conscientious and didn't make mistakes, never arriving late or leaving early. She was the epitome of PA perfection.
His being elevated to temporary CEO of Parkinson Media had not fazed her. Kathryn had slid into the role of top secretary in the company without turning a hair, his father's hard-working PA having been given much deserved leave whilst her boss was off, gallivanting around the world.
One of Hugh's remaining hopes was Kathryn's marriage in five weeks' time.
Not that she was having a long honeymoon. She was not going to be that kind to him. Miss Must-Not-Waste-Money Hart was tying the knot on a Friday evening in a small, celebrant-officiated ceremony, then spending a whole two days honeymooning in a hotel in downtown Sydney before returning to work first thing on the Monday morning!
Hugh's other hope rested on Kathryn's becoming a mother. He knew she was turning thirty next birthday, that age when a woman became very aware of her biological clock. No doubt she would start trying for a baby straight away. She'd expressed the wish over coffee not long back that she wanted two children, a boy first, then a girl.
Lord knew how she was going to manage that! But if anyone could, it would be Kathryn. Her whole life seemed to be planned out with set time schedules and goals. Hugh was already praying for the day when she'd come into the office and announce that she was pregnant.
Though a pregnancy would not be the immediate end of his problems, of that he was sure. He had no doubt that Kathryn would work right up to the baby's birth. She was that kind of girl.
The kind of girl, too, who would look even sexier pregnant. Her already impressive bosom would become even more lush, her wide, child-bearing hips accommodating a baby easily with only the most minimal bump.
He could see her now, positively glowing with health and hormones. And he could see himself wanting her all the more.
The prospect horrified him.
Hugh's teeth clenched hard in his jaw. Could he endure at least another year of this?
He would have to, he supposed. What else could he do?
There was one thing he could do. Eventually. Offer her a very generous maternity leave. Six months with full pay. Twelve months, if necessary.
No, that would be extremely difficult to explain. Six months was all he could get away with. Hopefully, by then, she would be so enamoured by her son—it would be a boy, of course—that she wouldn't want to return to work.
Oh joy, oh joy!
Meanwhile, he had to find other ways to handle the situation, and minimise the effect Kathryn had on him.
The most obvious solution was to get himself a new girlfriend, some hot little number. There was no shortage of candidates. Maybe, if he chose a busty brunette, he could pretend she was Kathryn and cure some of his frustration that way.
Sydney's CBD came into view and Hugh's stomach automatically tightened. He hoped she wasn't wearing that infernal black suit today, the one with the jacket which nipped in at her tiny waist and the skirt which hugged her curvaceous rear just a little too tightly; the one he'd been wanting to rip off her from the first day when she'd walked into the office wearing the wretched thing!