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Marcus Russell was dead. Tom, his brilliant, ruthless son, had taken charge of his empire. On the Friday morning of the memorial service, two weeks after the old media magnate had been buried under a Hunter Valley gum tree, cathedral bells rang out across Sydney Harbour, summoning the rich and powerful to pay their respects.
In the dressing room of his hotel suite, Tom Russell gave his reflection a critical last glance. His charcoal suit was cut with the required elegance, enhancing the athletic power of his well-made frame. Likewise, his ebony shirt of finest Italian fabric, his pearl silk tie and hand-stitched shoes. If his blood pressure was slightly elevated, the tense little beat in his temple was contained. His steel-grey eyes held the usual degree of sardonic assurance, his harsh, tanned face the control.
No one would guess the nightmare he was living.
He held out his hands and accorded them grim approval. Steady as a rock.
With his raven hair cut crisp and close, he was as groomed, sleek and polished as any of the race of high-flying billionaires he belonged to. Used to belong to. And would again.
He clenched his lean hands. If—if he could keep the lid on.
* * * From her desk at the Sydney Clarion's newsroom, Cate Summerfield could see the Russell yacht, its flags at half-mast, embarked on a graceful honour lap of Sydney Harbour.
'Just look at that,' Cate glowered, narrowing her green eyes. 'It's probably worth enough to feed Africa for a decade.'
The schooner bowed to the swell, its white sails billowing against the glittering blue. It had been reported that Tom Russell had outfitted the luxury vessel into a floating hospital, sothe waves could lull his dying father to sleep on the days he could find no rest.
It was a far cry from the care Cate could afford for her darling gran. The frail souls at the Autumn Leaves Nursing Home counted themselves lucky even to have beds to rest their aching old bones in. The nurses didn't even have time to feed the helpless ones. Patients like Gran, who was on the waiting list for heart surgery, had to rely on their relatives to come in and help them eat their evening meals. It was probably that cold reality that had spurred Cate to be unusually terse in the obituary she'd written for the media mogul.
She'd done thorough research, digging through the archives of all the rival news chains—Russell's own, even the powerful Wests. Conscientious in her attempts to achieve balance, she hadn't shrunk from quoting some of his harshest critics, including a choice selection of the epithets his enemies had used to flay him. The piece was her best so far, in her modest opinion. Honest, she'd judged it, though Marge on the neighbouring desk had called it 'biting.'
She'd held her breath after she'd filed it, but it had made it past the legal hawks and gone to press. Afterwards people in the newsroom seemed to look at her differently. Steve Wilson, the Clarion's star reporter and resident heartbreaker, had stopped referring to her as Blondie for at least a day, and Harry, their Chief of Staff, whom she'd never seen show any emotion in two years, had raised his eyebrows and whistled.
Still, even a work of art wouldn't win her a spot on the front page. That would go to the journalist lucky enough to cover the memorial service.
Cate turned her gaze to the newsroom. Though early, already above the ceaseless background buzz of the television monitors the room was alive with the tapping of keyboards, and the constant ringing of the phones.
'The sharks are circling.' Marge winked towards a little cluster of glory chasers gathered around the news desk.
The news journalists were lounging about, swapping languid yarns, but everyone knew what they were after. They were waiting for Harry to announce whom he'd chosen to represent the Clarion at the memorial, salivating for the chance to corner Tom Russell.
Cate's money was on Steve, who boasted more contacts than Telstra. Even though she'd been engaged to him for a stressful forty-seven days, and knew how clever he was, to her mind Barbara, whose lovely face and sleek hair accompanied a razor-sharp brain, or tough, experienced Toni, who chewed politicians for breakfast, were equally deserving. They all had a special sort of gloss that had nothing to do with conditioning treatments.
She sighed and pushed a long, wavy strand of her pale hair back behind one ear.
If—when—she joined that elite group, she'd write stories that mattered. She'd build up a readership, renegotiate her salary. Make it big with a few stories, earn some respect
Cate grimaced. Dream on, girl. The Clarion was renowned for its fearless battle against corruption in high places. It had taken down many a politician or dishonest businessman, but she couldn't take personal credit for any of them. In her two years there, she'd worked on everything except the columns that counted.
On the night their engagement had crashed, among other vicious remarks Steve Wilson had made about what he called her obsessive concern for Gran, he'd sneered that she was too soft to make a top news reporter. Even Marge said she tried too hard to think the best of people.
They couldn't be more wrong. Underneath Cate's annoying curls, pale skin and the soft curves bequeathed to her by some Scandinavian ancestor, she was tougher than she looked. Long before Gran's heart emergency, she'd been dying to rip open the fat underbelly of the privileged rich and expose them with her brave, incisive words.
All she needed was a chance to report on someone living. Dead people, even dead media legends, didn't generate scoops. Scoops went with live players. And if she was ever to get off Obituaries, a scoop was what she had to have.
She leafed back through her photo file to a rare shot she'd unearthed of Tom Russell. Now, he was alive. At thirty-four, his harsh, sardonic face with his glinting grey eyes, arrogant cheekbones and firm, masculine chin, was stirring in its vitality.
'Did you manage to dig any dirt on him?'Marge said, peering over at the image, her lively brown eyes alight with interest.
Cate hesitated. She'd dug up heaps on old Marcus. It had been easy.
As a young woman, Gran had worked for one of his big dailies, before he'd sacked her and some of her colleagues in order to turn his respected newspaper into a trashy tabloid. Everything he'd done since had only reinforced Gran's anger with him.
Gran had never missed an opportunity to point out the evils of his ways. Even in Cate's eyes he'd done nothing of value with his wealth, except to indulge his own extravagant tastes and flamboyant lifestyle.
His son, though, was a more elusive target. Tom Russell had spent a number of years in England, running the Russell media enterprises there. Gran had never had much to say about him.
'I only found what everyone knows,' she said, handing Marge the photo. 'You know, about how he came back here to take over a few years ago when the old man first took ill.
The ruthless strategic war he's waging against Olivia West's chain—'
'Not to mention the ruthless strategic war he's waging against us.'
Cate shrugged. 'Well, he is a businessman. It's strange, though. I couldn't find a thing about his private life, except the tragedy, of course. Nothing at all about girlfriends.'
The truth was that, since the death of Tom Russell's wife in a car accident in England a couple of years ago, very little of a personal nature was ever reported about him. He was never seen at the big society bashes or charity dos.
'His wife was somebody famous, wasn't she? Wasn't she a scientist?'
Marge nodded. 'Medical research. Some genetic studies, I think.'
'Well, she doesn't sound like the usual trophy wife men like him seem to go for. Are you sure there would be dirt?' Cate met Marge's cheerful, cynical gaze. 'Maybe Tom isn't over her death.'
'Oh,' Marge scoffed, 'give me a break. She died two years ago, but I'm sure I heard they were separated long before that. Anyway, a man like him knows how to move on. You can't be that rich without being a villain, one way or another. He's a man. And a very attractive one.' She gave the photo a tap. 'Think of the world he's been brought up in. He'd have women by the boatload.' She frowned at Cate. 'Now, don't you start going soft on him. I thought you said you'd given up being sucked in by heartless machos.'
'I have.' Cate's gaze was uncontrollably drawn towards the vicinity of the desk. She was over Steve. She really was. It was hard to believe she'd ever had to creep to the ladies' room to cry when he'd flaunted his girlfriends at the Friday after-work pub session, though, humiliatingly, on the rare occasions she was now able to join them, everyone still looked at her to see how she was taking it.
'I definitely am,' she assured Marge. 'But you still have to give people the benefit of the doubt. Just because Tom looks like that and has that unfortunate background '
Unmoved by the counsel for the defence, Marge shook her head. 'Sorry. It doesn't look good for him.'
Cate frowned. At twenty-five she was hardly naïve, especially after her brief, soul-destroying plunge into lunacy with Steve, and she had to acknowledge the likelihood of Marge's words. Tom Russell had been brought up by a father whose endless stream of actresses and models must have caused serious pain for his succession of wives.
She studied the photo. Was he as callous as Gran had so often described his old man? Those cool grey eyes roused an unquiet little buzz in her insides. Her gaze shifted to his mouth. A lot could be deduced from a man's mouth. His had been chiselled in severe lines and was wide and firm, the upper lip straight, the lower one very slightly fuller. There was no softness there, though more than a suggestion of irony. He didn't need to spike up his hair to make himself look taller.
She turned the photo sideways. Sexy, from all angles.
She started. It took a second for it to filter through to her that Harry had come out of his huddle with the news editor, and seemed to be looking her way.
Her? He wanted her?
She pushed her chair back and rose to stroll the length of the newsroom, vaguely conscious of Steve's, Toni's and Barbara's startled gazes whipping around to stare.
At the desk the others looked up to watch and listen while Harry's sharp eyes appraised her from beneath his bushy brows.
'Your Russell obit wasn't all that bad,' he stated.
She gazed at Harry through a mystified fog. Were there bells ringing somewhere? Then pleasure, sharp and furious, streamed through her to her toes. 'Oh. Oh, thank you. Thanks, Chief. Thanks very much,' she stammered, feeling her ears turn pink.
She continued to babble her thanks, but Harry ignored her.
'See what you can make of the memorial,' he instructed with laconic calm. 'The business people, the politicians who've been invited, who's in and who's out—the tone of it. Above all, watch Tom Russell. Who he talks to, who his friends are. Take Mike with you. They're not allowing cameras inside the cathedral, but get there early and see who you can catch on the red carpet. There's a lunch in some undisclosed location. Press are excluded.'
She nodded. A huge, joyous whoop had risen inside her and threatened to burst out, but Harry wasn't the sort to encourage a hug, so she squashed it down.
'Oh, and, Cate—security will be tight. Don't forget your pass. And don't even think of trying to get to Russell. He's a dangerous man to cross.'
She nodded with appropriate newsroom nonchalance, and turned to stroll back to her desk. The little cluster of ace reporters fell back silently to allow her through. She permitted herself one glance at Steve Wilson. He was frowning hard, his ginger spikes quivering, his blue eyes narrowed. Pity it made him look slightly cross-eyed. She should have noticed that sooner.
Everything—the day, the sunshine streaming in through the window, the newsroom—felt suddenly fantastic, as if it was her day. She grabbed some notebooks, pencils and her miniature tape recorder and stuffed them into her handbag. Then she paused a moment to glance down at her dress, beginning to show signs of washing stress. Not quite the thing for a society memorial.
Black. She needed something black.
A vintage suit she'd bought from Rhapsodie, the boutique down the road from her Kirribilli boarding house, was itching for a new outing. She glanced at her watch. Nearly eight thirty. The service was slated for noon and she and Mike, her photographer, would need to set up at least two hours earlier. Time enough to catch the train home.
She found Mike in the canteen, poring over the racing page. She had a hurried conference with him, and a bare thirty minutes later was running up the stairs of the Lady Musgrave.
Her eighties suit was a stunning fit. The slim skirt fell to just above her knees, while the jacket had big, sewn-in shoulder pads and a severely shaped bodice with a modest, though deep-cut neckline. Extremely flattering to her breasts, although hanging the press pass around her neck rather ruined the effect. She tried clamping the pass to her jacket hem, considered it with a frown, then took it off to worry about later.
The other nineteen occupants she shared the boarding house with had left for work, so she had the bathroom to herself. In the presence of black, her blonde hair had turned to a pleasing silvery ash. With no time to waste, she subdued the mass by tying it in her nape with a black velvet ribbon. Black heels and pearl earrings completed the effect.
Not too much later, dressed to kill in vintage Carla Zampatti, she found Mike at the rear of the cathedral with his camera, leaning his long, lanky bones against a brick wall.
Streets had been cordoned off to control traffic, and the cathedral precinct was quiet, apart from a battalion of security guards prowling the boundaries, mobiles to their ears, and an occasional black-clad cleric hurrying across the grounds. There were a couple of big, expensive cars in the visitors' car park, but no other sign yet of the rich and famous.
A team of television journalists arrived to set up in the front. Cate exchanged mobile codes with Mike, and went to reconnoitre the cathedral.
A security guard with a shaven head was stationed in the porch. She showed him her press ID, and after a growled warning not to even dream of trying to use her mobile inside if she didn't want it confiscated, he consulted a list before allowing her to pass. She grinned to herself. Fat chance they had of enforcing that rule.
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