A Man without Mercy

By: Miranda Lee


‘WHAT DO YOU mean, I can’t have Vivienne?’ Jack said. ‘I always have Vivienne.’

Nigel suppressed a sigh. He didn’t like disappointing his best client but there was nothing he could do about it.

‘Sorry, Jack, but as of yesterday Miss Swan doesn’t work for Classic Design any longer.’

Jack’s head jerked back with shock. ‘You fired her?’

Now it was Nigel’s turn to look startled. ‘Hardly. Vivienne was one of my best designers. No,’ he added, with true regret in his voice. ‘She quit.’

Jack could not contain his surprise at this second piece of news. Admittedly, he didn’t know Vivienne all that well, despite her having worked for him on his last three building projects. She was an extremely self-contained young woman who didn’t engage in idle chitchat. When on a job, her focus was always on her work, which was simply brilliant. He had asked her not long ago why she didn’t open her own interior design firm, and she’d replied that she didn’t want that kind of stress, especially now that she was engaged to be married. She’d said she didn’t want to live just for work any longer, a sentiment which Jack had not appreciated—till yesterday.

He’d been driving around the Port Stephens area, looking for suitable land for another retirement village, when he’d come across a small acreage for sale which had totally blown him away. It wasn’t what he was looking for, not even remotely. Not the right kind of land, for starters; not flat enough. There’d also been a huge house smack dab in the middle of the lot, perched on top of a hill. A house unlike anything Jack had ever seen, with a name that was as unique as the building.

Despite knowing he was wasting his time, Jack had still felt compelled to inspect Francesco’s Folly. From the moment he’d walked inside and out onto the first of the many balconies which all faced the bay, he’d known he wanted the place. Not only wanted it but wanted to live in it. Crazy, really, since Port Stephens was a good three-hour drive north of Sydney. Jack’s normal place of residence was a conveniently located and relatively modest three-bedroomed apartment in the same CBD building which housed his construction company’s head office. Aside from its inconvenient location, Francesco’s Folly was as far removed from modest as a residence could get, with eight bedrooms, six bathrooms and an indoor/outdoor swimming pool which would have put a Hollywood mansion to shame.

As a confirmed bachelor who never entertained at home, Jack had no need for a house this size, but it was no use. He simply had to have it, telling himself that maybe it was time for him to relax and live a little. After all, he’d been flogging himself for two decades, working six and sometimes seven days a week, making millions in the process. Why shouldn’t he indulge himself for once? He didn’t actually have to live in the place twenty-four-seven. He could use it as a weekender, or a holiday home. So could the rest of his family. Thinking of their pleasure at having such a dream place at their disposal had sealed the deal for Jack, so he’d bought Francesco’s Folly that very afternoon, getting it for a bargain, partly because it was a deceased estate, but mostly because the interior was hideously dated—hence his need for an excellent interior designer, one whose taste and work ethics matched his. It annoyed Jack considerably that the one person whom he could trust to do the job, and do it well, was unavailable to him.

But then it suddenly occurred to Jack that maybe that wasn’t the case.

‘So who was the sneaky devil who head-hunted her?’ he demanded to know, excited by the possibility that he could still hire the decorator he wanted for the job.

‘Vivienne hasn’t gone to work for anyone else,’ Nigel informed him.

‘How do you know?’

‘She told me so. Look, Jack, if you must know, Vivienne’s not feeling well at the moment. She’s decided to have some time off work.’

Jack was taken back. ‘What do you mean, not feeling well? What’s the matter with her?’

‘I guess it doesn’t matter if I tell you. It’s not as though it isn’t public knowledge.’

Jack frowned. It certainly wasn’t public knowledge to him.

Nigel frowned also. ‘I’m guessing by the look on your face that you didn’t read the gossip columns in Sunday’s papers, or see the photos.’

‘I never read gossip columns,’ Jack replied. He did sometimes skim through the Sunday paper—mostly the property section—but he’d been busy yesterday. ‘So what did I miss? Though, truly, I can’t imagine a girl like Vivienne making it into any gossip column. She isn’t the type.’

‘It wasn’t Vivienne. It was her ex-fiancé.’

‘Ex-fiancé... Good Lord, when did that happen? She was solidly engaged last time I saw her a few weeks back.’

‘Yes, well, Daryl broke off their engagement about a month ago. Told her he’d fallen in love with someone else. The poor girl was shattered, but she was very brave and soldiered on. Of course, the rat claimed he hadn’t cheated on her whilst they were still engaged, but yesterday’s paper proved that was just rubbish.’

‘For pity’s sake, Nigel, just tell me what was in the darned paper!’

‘The thing is, the girl Daryl dumped Vivienne for wasn’t just any old girl. He left her for Courtney Ellison. You know...? Frank Ellison’s spoiled daughter. Vivienne did the decorating job on the harbourside mansion you built for Ellison, so I guess that’s how the two lovebirds met. Anyway, the bit in the gossip column was announcing their engagement. In the photos—there were several—the Ellison girl is sporting a diamond engagement ring the size of an egg—as well as a much bigger baby-bump, meaning their affair’s been going on for quite some time.

‘Naturally, there was no mention of Courtney’s handsome husband-to-be having been recently engaged to another woman. Darling Daddy would have quashed that. You don’t get to be a billionaire mining magnate in this country without having lots of connections in the media. As you can imagine, Vivienne is very cut up about it. She was in tears on the phone yesterday, which is not like her at all.’

Jack could not have agreed more. Tears were not Vivienne’s style. He’d never met any female as cool and collected as Vivienne. But he supposed everyone had their breaking point. He shook his head, regretting now that he’d recommended her to Frank Ellison. Jack hated to think that he was in some way responsible for Vivienne’s unhappiness. But how could he possibly have known that Ellison’s man-eating maniac of a daughter would get her claws into Vivienne’s fiancé?

Still...if ever there was a man willing and ready to be eaten by the likes of Courtney Ellison, it was Vivienne’s now ex-fiancé.

Jack had only met Daryl once—when he’d briefly dropped in on Classic Design’s Christmas party last year—but once had been enough to form an opinion. Okay, so darling Daryl was movie-star good-looking. And charming, he supposed, if you liked silver-tongued talkers who smiled a lot, touched a lot and called their fiancée ‘babe’. Clearly, Vivienne did, since she’d been planning on marrying him.

It saddened Jack that Vivienne had been unlucky enough to lose her heart to one of that ilk, but he had no doubt that she would, in time, see that she’d had a narrow escape from long-term misery as a result of Daryl’s defection. Meanwhile, the last thing that girl needed was to be allowed to wallow in her present misery. Jack understood that Vivienne was probably feeling wretched, but nothing would be achieved by cutting herself off from the one thing she was good at and would make her feel good about herself: her work.

‘I see,’ he said, quickly deciding on a course of action. ‘You wouldn’t have Vivienne’s address, would you, Nigel? I’d like to send her some flowers,’ he added before Nigel gave him some bulldust about privacy issues.

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