Read Propositions Online

Authors: Tania Joyce

Propositions

No strings attached … or so she thought.

 

Following years of sacrifice and struggle, Jessica Mason now co-owns a successful marketing agency in Sydney. All Jessica wants to do is focus on growing her business and maintain the lifestyle she’s worked so hard to achieve. But everything changes when her agency wins a major contract for the opening of the new Somers Hotel and she has to take on the account.

 

Nate Somers is a workaholic trying to please his retiring father. When he meets captivating, go-getting Jessica, the prospect of a short-term love affair sounds like a proposition he’d be crazy to decline.

 

But when Jessica spends a weekend away at her favorite vineyard retreat, she runs into Troy Smith, the ex-boyfriend who left her broken and vulnerable years ago. Things don’t go to plan when the well-kept secrets from her past are revealed and Troy starts weaving his way back into her life.

 

With her business at stake and hearts at risk, Jessica’s future is destined to change. Who will end up making Jessica a proposition she simply cannot refuse?

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Two suitcases packed to the brim. One suit bag bulged at the seams. Nate Somers stood beside his bed and assessed the luggage lying before him. He rubbed the back of his neck with the palm of his hand as he surveyed his room yet again.
What else will I need?
He was unsure if he’d packed enough—he’d never stayed in one location for more than a few weeks at a time since his university days.

Living in Sydney for the next six months overseeing the opening of the new hotel for his family’s business on one hand was exhilarating and exciting, while on the other it was making him apprehensive. Because this was his project. The first one he’d seen from the ground up. Location, designs and plans had all been his idea.

Out of the bay window of his Chelsea home he caught a glimpse of the dawn erasing away the night sky, and the glow from the streetlights shimmering upon the murky waters of the Thames River. He hesitated for a moment to take in the view before he crossed the room and drew the curtains closed. This time leaving London somehow felt different. He tried to shrug off the niggling sensation that had settled in the center of his shoulder blades. Surely it was nothing. Maybe it was because he had no idea when he’d be back here again.

He made one last round of his rooms to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. In his office, his desk was all in order. Not a pen out of place. Just the way he liked it. Back in his bedroom, the metal runners on his drawers glided smoothly on their tracks when he opened them. They were nearly bare of all contents. A few neatly folded socks and jocks remained. His walk-in robe echoed with the sound of his movements as he skimmed his eyes over the railings where only a few suits and shirts hung, half still wrapped in their dry cleaning plastic. In the bathroom he checked his toiletry tote again before packing it into his luggage. He should’ve found the time to go shopping because he didn’t like the toothpaste from Japan that tasted like strawberries, or the mouthwash from China that was too sickly and sweet. But yet again this had been a fleeting visit. He spent more time away from his home than he cared to think about.

As he started to zip up his bags, the picture of Lucy on his bedside table caught his eye. He picked up the silver frame and stared at the vision of his daughter before him. Her dimpled cheeks and long black hair always filled him with conflicting emotions because she reminded him so much of her mother. Heart heavy he opened his bag, tucked the frame carefully between his clothes and zipped up his case.

Nate lugged his bags down the stairs and stood them at the front door. He checked his watch. Yes, he had time for a quick cup of tea before his driver was scheduled to arrive.

As he savored the last mouthful, the doorbell buzzed loudly. Nate opened the door and greeted his driver.

“Hey Lawrence. There’s all my things.” He pointed to his luggage. “I’ll just be a few minutes.”

Nate scuttled over to the kitchen to clean up his dishes. As he picked up the cup, something caught him by surprise. For years the loose tea-leaf dregs in the bottom of his cup had never changed. They always fell the same way—in lines—indicating travel. But today they fell in the shape of heart.
Love.
He let out a loud snicker as he quickly rinsed the pot and put everything away. Love was the furthest thing from his mind. Not an option. Not going to happen. Regardless how much he had tried to ignore his grandmother when he was a boy, her silly superstitions and tea-leaf reading antics had become embedded deep within his psyche—whether he liked it or not!

Nate put the nonsensical thoughts out of his mind as he slid into his jacket, picked up his laptop bag, headed out the door and into the waiting limousine.

Stuck in early morning peak hour traffic on the way to Heathrow airport, he double-checked his flight itinerary on his phone. Yet again, he was flying through Singapore. Yet again unable to see his daughter because of the short timeframe between his connecting flights. He hadn’t played a major role in Lucy’s life since she was born, so why was it starting to bother him now? He strummed his fingers against his thigh. Should he ring her or not? It wasn’t time for his scheduled call, but he thought ‘
What the hell’
and dialed the number.

“Hey Luce. How are you sweetheart?” He let out a sigh of relief when it was her voice on the line.

“Daddy!” Her excitement warmed his heart.

“Lucy—who is it?” The sound of his ex-wife Rachael’s voice in the background turned everything cold again.

“Daddy, Mommy’s mad at me for not eating my dinner. I don’t like sushi. It’s yucky. Do I have to eat it?”

Nate didn’t like sushi either, so he knew where Lucy was coming from. “I’ll talk to your mom about it, okay?

“Daddy, when are you coming to see me again?”

“Soon, baby. Soon. In three months. For the September holidays.”

“Nathan?”

He winced as Rachael’s voice suddenly screeched in his ear. What did she do, rip the handset out of Lucy’s fingers?

“What are you doing calling now? Lucy has to finish her dinner and her homework. Call back on your designated day.”

“Come on Rachael, it’s just a phone call. I’m stuck in traffic on the way to the airport—”

“No, Nathan. Lucy doesn’t need the interruption. We have a deal. If you don’t like it, you’ll be hearing from my lawyers.”

Nate’s back stiffened. He’d had enough of lawyers in business and in his personal life to last a lifetime. The thought of losing what little access he had to his daughter sent a chill through him. Rachael was pushing his buttons the wrong way. “
Should
we get the lawyers involved this time? I’m sure I could easily get partial or full custody of our daughter.”

Rachael laughed down the line. “Your threats have no substance, Nathan. You know that. You’re too tied to your business. What kind of life would Lucy have with you?”

He hated it when she dismissed him. She was the only person in the world who could get under his skin. He’d never suspected the innocent-looking Singaporean girl, who he became smitten with, would be the one to take him for a ride.

“Okay, Rachael. Enough is enough. I have to go. I’m nearly at the airport.”

Infuriated, he hung up and put his phone back in his jacket pocket. He massaged the tension throbbing in his temples. He hated to admit it—but Rachael was right. The truth sent a shudder through his body. What kind of father could he ever be? He had no time to be a father. Not now. Not ever. Business always came first. Always would.

Rain pelted against the window of Jessica Mason’s office. She glanced out at the crowded Haymarket Street below where impatient drivers honked their horns and people hid beneath umbrellas as they darted along in the wet. She shivered, grateful to be indoors out of the cold June weather. She turned back to her desk to face the two large Mac screens that glared brightly in the dim room. Artwork for her Audi print advertisement was sprawled across one monitor’s screen and the word processor was open on the other. She rubbed her hands together to warm them and returned to typing. Her fingers tinkered across the keyboard as she wrote the advertising copy for her next campaign.

“You got a sec?”

Jessica looked up from her work. Her business partner, Alex Chambers, crossed the room with quick steps and sat down in the chair opposite her desk.

“I’ve only got about ten minutes before my next meeting.” Jessica noted the time on her watch. “What’s up?”

He wriggled around on the seat. “Do you remember months ago when we put in a bid for the opening of Somers Hotel—the one being built as part of the north-eastern redevelopment of Darling Harbour?”

“Yes. Of course.” She recalled countless late nights working with Alex on the creative elements for their proposal—advertising and promotions, social media, press and entertainment.

“Well, I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing with them for months …” He waved his hand about, rambling on about shortlists, amendments and costings, antagonizing Jessica to the point where she wanted to throw something hard at him. “And you know these things take time—”

“Are you going to get to the point or not?”

“Okay. Okay. Well, we won the job.”

“Really?” Her eyes widened with excitement. “That job was such a long shot. This is incredible news. We’ll have to celebrate tonight over a bottle of champagne!”

“Abso-freaking-lutely. But here’s the thing.” Stress crept into Alex’s usually happy face, making the creases around his eyes deepen. “I’ve just rechecked the figures and the margins on this job are low, leaving little room for error.”

The depth of his words hit Jessica hard. This would be the biggest project that they’d ever taken on. She wasn’t naïve to think everything would be smooth sailing, but … “We’ll be fine. If all goes well, this’ll put our name up in lights and we’ll attract a whole heap of new clients. You just wait and see.” She sucked in a deep breath. “Wow, we really beat EyeOn Marketing and Meredith Bowen?”

That did surprise Jessica and thrilled her endlessly. Meredith was ruthless competition with power and money behind her. Years ago when EyeOn, the American giant, entered the Australian marketplace, they’d approached Kick to buy them out. Alex had dollar signs dancing in his eyes, but Jessica had managed to keep his head out of the clouds. The very thought of selling Kick Marketing and Events Management was unbearable. She never wanted to be swallowed up in a company acquisition and lose everything that she and Alex had spent so long building. This was her life and the very essence of her soul.

“Yep, but here’s the deal,” Alex continued. “Somers have requested that only the best people work on their campaign and we both know you’re better at events management than I am. This is a huge multi-million dollar project and you’re the only one capable of pulling it off. So … the job’s yours.”

“What? But you did the tender.” Jessica looked at the overwhelming pile of work already mounted on her desk. She wasn’t going to deny that the thought of managing another big international client thrilled her to the bone. “What about one of the Account Managers? How about Mel? She’s good with hospitality.”

“No, Jess. Not Mel. She’s good, but we both know she can be a bit of a vamp in her outside-of-work behavior. I don’t need that around this client.” Alex sat up tall and straightened his tie. “It’s Mr Henry Somers coming here to personally oversee the final touches for the opening in November. And with his reputation, we don’t need the two of them together.”

Jessica smiled. “Henry Somers? The head honcho himself? You think Mel will throw herself at the old guy just because he’s rich?”
Wouldn’t put it past her, given the opportunity
.

“Yep. Come on, Jess. This is a huge client. We can’t afford to fuck this up.”

Jessica sighed and tapped one of her fingernails against the glass top of her desk. A vision flashed in her mind. She saw Meredith Bowen, the owner of EyeOn Marketing, raucously laughing if gossip hit the headlines or if they were unable to deliver the opening for whatever reason. That was
not
going to happen. Jessica’s bulldog determination kicked in. She wasn’t going to ever give Meredith the satisfaction. Reshuffling of accounts and the team she’d want to work on the project was already brewing inside her head. “When do we have to start?”

“Oh, you’re going to love this. The Somers team are flying in from the UK and will be here first thing on Friday morning to meet with us.”

* * *

Jessica pulled up outside the security roller door at the office underground carpark just after nine o’clock on Friday morning. She pressed the button on her garage door opener. Nothing happened.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” she cursed as she pressed the button frantically. Was the battery dead? As if sitting in a traffic jam all the way into the city wasn’t stressful enough, today’s weather forecast had been spot on accurate with its prediction of more rain. It fell in blinding sheets against her windscreen, hindering her vision. She was already running late.

After parking in the alley, Jessica made the dash up to the street entrance without an umbrella. Hers was still in her office, left propped up by the door so she wouldn’t forget to take it home. Fat lot of good that did her now. The wind whipped around her body from all directions; the icy rain bit into her skin and soaked her through.

“Oh, my new Jimmy Choos,” she whimpered at the sight of her saturated shoes as she leapt over a puddle. But she didn’t stop running, not until she reached her office on the first floor.

“Oh my God! Look what the tide washed in.” Zoe Peterson, her personal assistant, giggled.

“Funny.” With her teeth chattering and water dripping off her hair and suit, Jessica was not amused. Her cheeks felt flushed from a combination of running and the chilly weather. Why did this have to happen when she was about to meet her new client? But she was determined not to let being wet through to the core stop things from proceeding.

“Alex is already with the Somers Hotel team in the boardroom. But you might want to quickly go sort yourself out in the bathroom first.” Zoe waved a finger at her. “I’ll let Alex know you’re here, then I’ll make you your tea and bring it in to you. Okay?”

Jessica dumped her folders in her office and fled into the restroom. She kicked off her shoes and peeled the soggy stockings away from her legs. Then she looked in the mirror, horrified by the reflection before her. Wet was an understatement. She tousled out her shoulder-length blonde hair with her fingers. “So much for straightening it this morning. What the hell do I do with it now?” Rummaging in her bag, she dug out a hair tie and comb. A slicked-back ponytail would have to do.

Her shivering fingers were reluctant to cooperate as she buttoned up her black suit jacket to hide the lace of her bra showing through her white shirt. She looked like she’d been through a carwash with the windows down. Usually she kept a change of clothes in the office but today, of all days, they were at the drycleaners.

After a quick blow dry under the hand dryer to warm up, she reapplied her favourite lipstick—oriental red. She smoothed her hands over the front of her jacket and let out a sigh. She’d done her best under the circumstances not to look like a drenched cat.

With haste in her step, Jessica dropped her bag off in her office and rushed for the boardroom. Just outside she stopped. She closed her eyes, took a long, deep breath and gathered her wits.
It’s just another client. Just another event.
Clear the head. That’s it. Let’s go.
She opened the door and entered the room.

* * *

The overhead projector buzzed and a presentation lit the screen as Jessica made her way to the head of the large, black glass table. Alex looked relieved that she’d arrived, but she could see he was struggling to withhold a laugh at the sight of her soggy attire.

“Good morning,” Jessica said to everyone. “Sorry I’m late. Nothing like Sydney traffic and broken garage doors in wet weather.” She was lucky it was only twenty minutes. It could have been much longer.

“All is fine, Jess,” Alex chirped.

As she walked to her place at the table, she glanced over the assembled group. A young man with thick black hair typed on his notebook computer, a middle-aged man sipped his hot steaming drink, a young woman scrolled through emails on her tablet. Then her eyes met those of the fourth person sitting at the end of the table across from Alex. Jessica did her best to hide her surprise because this was not Henry Somers—this was Nathan, his son. She instantly recognized him after having spent hours searching for information on the net about the British hotelier and his empire. It had been an effort to find anything useful among all the gossip surrounding Henry Somers and his affairs. Here, in person, there was something about his son that the photos just hadn’t captured.
Wow!

She smiled warmly as Nathan stood up to shake her hand. His wide shoulders and broad chest filled out his suit in all the right places. She couldn’t help but admire the fine lines of his athletic physique. His vivid blue-gray eyes locked onto hers for that moment too long, making her pulse quicken unexpectedly. The man exuded confidence.

Jessica’s mouth went dry, but she did manage to speak. “I’m Jessica Mason, Sales and Creative Director. Nice to meet you.” She pulled her shoulders back, hoping to regain her professional composure.

“Good morning. I’m Nathan Somers, President of Global Business Development and Operations. But please, call me Nate.” He spoke with a velvety-smooth, rounded English accent that made her knees weaken.

As they broke their connection physically, something still had a hold on her. She couldn’t put her finger on it. He wasn’t that good-looking. Was he? Actually, yes, he was.

A soft knock at the door saw Zoe enter the room with Jessica’s tea in hand. Relieved by the interruption, Jessica managed to draw herself away from Nate’s captivating gaze.

Nate cleared his throat. “I’d like to introduce my team. Brooke Read, my personal assistant.” The strawberry-blonde Kate Winslet look-alike smiled brightly at Jessica. “William Grangeville, our food and beverage manager.” The youthful man looked up from his laptop and nodded. “And Martin Windsor, the hotel’s general manager.” Martin raised his cup to Jessica.

“Nice to meet you all. Has Alex introduced you to everyone who will be working on your opening?” They all nodded as she looked around the table at her team: Lin, the entertainment manager, Gabby, her media specialist, and graphic designers Matt and Darren.

“I was expecting to meet with Henry Somers,” said Jessica.

“Sorry, there must have been some miscommunication,” Nate replied. “I look after all business development and project ventures such as this.”

“Well, we look forward to working with you and your team.”

Savoring the first long sip of hot tea, and with her heartbeat back to normal, Jessica finally felt like she was firing on all cylinders for the meeting.

As the hours ticked over, she led the team through the agenda. Her brain was in overdrive as she went through all the plans and preliminary schedules of the campaign for the November opening of the twin Somers Hotel and Residential Towers. Social marketing had to start right away. The first magazine advertisements had to be done by next Friday. A PR trip had been scheduled for Melbourne for Monday week. Videos had to be made for web promotions. And then there was the grand opening itself. It certainly didn’t give her very long to pull together a no-expenses-spared launch for the new venue, but she could do it. Twelve months would have been nice, not a tight six.

“There’s just one thing I’d like to add to the plan,” Nate interjected, making Jessica balk. “I’d like to hold a night to entertain industry representatives—travel agents, flight operators and the like. We open up to reservation bookings in August and I want to be at the forefront of their minds.”

“According to your information,” Jessica flipped back through her paperwork, “the hotel opens to guests in early October, is that correct?”

“Yes, but we won’t be able to hold any functions at the hotel until after the official opening. We need to open to guests and make sure we can operate without any glitches in the weeks before the grand opening celebrations in mid-November. So on that note, I look forward to hearing what creative ideas you can come up with.”

Jessica clenched her teeth together for a moment and took a calming breath. One major event was hard enough given the timeframe, but two was pushing the limit. Was this the start of this client causing her nothing but grief? But she had to take it on the chin and do everything in her power to make the client happy. “Sure, we can do that. I will come up with some concepts and costings for your review.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry it wasn’t included in the original documentation.”

She forced a smile and returned to the agenda.

As the meeting continued, Nate’s intense gaze kept catching Jessica off guard. It threatened to derail her train of thought. When he spoke his deep voice resonated throughout her entire body. His cologne lingered in the air. It was subtle and alluring, spicy with a hint of sandalwood and cinnamon. So warm and inviting. She found herself daydreaming of sipping champagne in a hot bubble bath with his arms tightly wrapped around her while he ran kisses along her shoulder and nuzzled her neck. Jessica shook her head and blinked to clear away her outrageous thoughts.

Don’t be stupid.
He’s your client. Don’t even go there. Stay focused on the job.

How could this man affect her so? At lunch last Friday her best friend, Maxine, had suggested that she should start dating again. Did that have Jessica suddenly looking at men in a different light?
Oh, Max, look what you’ve done.

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