Chapter One: Shauna
Shauna’s breath streamed white into the night air as she tried to warm her fingers. Her watch confirmed it was 2.45 a.m., and instead of being fast asleep, she stood with at least two hundred others in a park across from the hotel.
The fire alarms had gone off twenty minutes earlier, yet hotel guests still peered out from the upper levels. Were they deaf? If the alarm hadn’t been enough to shock them out of their sleep, surely the loud, recorded voice ordering to evacuate would?
The temperature had dropped to six degrees, and while some guests had grabbed blankets from their rooms, others stood in skimpy pyjamas, and a few had nothing more than a towel wrapped around them. Shauna now appreciated the extra thirty seconds she had taken to throw on a pair of jeans and her long wool-lined jacket, before grabbing her computer bag and dashing down the stairs.
The alarm continued and the noise level increased as two fire engines arrived. Six firefighters jumped out and raced into the building. Shauna was not in the mood to wait and watch. With an important meeting at nine o’clock, she’d stayed up until midnight to put the finishing touches on her presentation. Now cold, tired and annoyed, she was grateful for the flashing neon sign of an all-night cafe a few doors down from the hotel.
Shauna pushed open the door and was greeted by a buzz of music and chatter. The majority of the patrons were in their pyjamas, laughing and ordering drinks, definitely making the most of the situation. She slid into a booth. As much as she’d prefer to be sleeping, she might as well use the time to go over her presentation once more. She pulled out her laptop and clicked through the PowerPoint slides. Her pitch to Tonacoal, a large mining company, was one she intended to win. Since she had joined I-People in the role of business development manager twelve months earlier, she had predominantly worked with hospitality clients. Tonacoal would allow her to expand her portfolio.
Shauna jerked her head up. A guy in his late thirties, dressed in a singlet and Mickey Mouse boxer shorts, stood next to her booth. She suppressed a smile. ‘Sorry, are you talking to me?’
He smiled, dimples creasing his cheeks. ‘You’re dedicated to be working at this hour.’
‘Figure I might as well fill in the time somehow.’ She raised her eyebrows and looked him up and down. ‘Interesting outfit, by the way.’
The guy stared down at his pyjamas and laughed. ‘You never know when you’ll want to impress some crazy workaholic in the middle of the night. I like to be prepared.’
Shauna felt her smile slip. God, he sounded just like Simon. He’d always called her a workaholic, and then used it as his excuse to cheat on her. ‘I’m not a workaholic.’
The guy put up his hands, his blue eyes piercing hers. ‘Hey, no need to get defensive. It was a joke, a bad one obviously. It’s not a normal night for any of us. At least you had enough sense to grab your computer. I’ve left mine in the hotel. If it burns down I’m in huge trouble. I started a new job this week and I’m supposed to be wowing a client in a few hours, plus I’m meeting a colleague I’ve heard is a complete pain in the arse. If I turn up like this,’ he indicated to his clothing, ‘I’m not sure I’ll make the finest first impression.’
‘No, probably not. The hotel will reopen soon so it probably won’t be an issue.’ Shauna’s eyes flicked back to her screen. She was no longer in the mood to make small talk. This guy would be like the rest of them. Underneath the smile and charm he’d have another agenda, just like Simon had. She continued reading through the presentation, conscious that he hadn’t moved. Why was he still standing there? She looked up, noting that his smile no longer reached his eyes. His eyebrows were raised. She didn’t owe him an explanation. He clearly couldn’t take a hint so she’d need to spell it out. She pointed at her screen. ‘Sorry, but I need to go over this. So, if you don’t mind.’
He continued to stare. ‘Evacuations don’t bring out your empathetic side, do they?’
‘What?’ Why was he still talking? Hadn’t he got the hint that she would like him to go away? Shauna gripped the edge of her seat. Was he planning to insult her again?
He folded his arms. ‘You’re not exactly friendly. I thought emergency situations were supposed to be a bonding experience.’
‘Are you for real?’ Shauna glanced at the clock on the cafe wall. ‘Three in the morning and you expect me to be delighted that some loser in his underwear is hitting on me? Considering half of the hotel guests came down in the lifts, rather than the stairs, I don’t think this is an emergency situation.’
He shook his head. ‘Loser? Really? That hurts. Cute, adorable, smart – they’re all names I’m used to. But “loser”? Never been called that before.’ He didn’t wait for a reply, instead turned and retreated to the counter. The guy serving laughed at something he said.
Shauna averted her eyes. She knew it wasn’t his fault that she was constantly on edge when it came to men. Even though twelve months had passed, trusting anyone after Simon was going to be hard. So far, unless it was for work, she found even talking to men difficult. She didn’t know if she’d ever want to put herself in a position to be hurt so badly again. It wasn’t just the cheating, it was the way he had tried to undermine her, taking credit for her work and suggesting to clients they request him as their account manager rather than her. She pushed it out of her mind and spent the next thirty minutes engrossed in her presentation. The cafe was empty when she’d finally finished.
‘Hotel’s open.’ A girl wiping down the counter called over to her. ‘False alarm.’
Shauna smiled. ‘Thanks.’ She packed up her computer and dropped some coins into the tip jar on the way out, conscious that she hadn’t ordered anything. It was nearly four already. Hopefully, she would be able to get another hour or two sleep before her alarm sounded.
* * *
‘Graham and Michael will just be a minute.’ The receptionist held up a piece of paper. ‘Also, this phone message is for you. Why don’t you take a seat while you wait?’
‘Thank you.’ Shauna took the message and walked over to the waiting area. She couldn’t help being impressed by the spectacular views Tonacoal enjoyed of Sydney Harbour. She unfolded and read the message. It was from a Josh Richardson, who, according to the note, was running late.
Shauna went back to the front desk. She smiled at the receptionist. ‘I’m afraid this message isn’t for me. I’ve never heard of this guy.’
‘He definitely asked for you, Ms Jones. I do apologise if I got the name wrong.’
‘I’m not meeting anyone. I think you’ll find it’s for someone else.’
Confusion clouded the receptionist’s face. ‘I’m sorry for the error. I’ll sort out the mistake when he turns up.’
Shauna returned to her seat, closed her eyes and took a calming breath. This was a big contract and an important client for I-People to obtain. Their elaborate office space and million-dollar views confirmed Tonacoal were doing well. She picked up a magazine from the coffee table and flicked through it. She barely looked up when the lift opened and a man carrying an overnight bag and briefcase walked out. Shauna’s interest sparked when the receptionist spoke.
‘She’s in the waiting area, but I’m afraid she didn’t seem to know who you are.’
‘Oh, my interesting morning continues.’ He smiled at the receptionist, and came over to Shauna.
She was already on her feet. What the hell was going on?
‘Josh Richardson.’ He stuck out his hand. He was tall, at least six foot. His beautifully cut charcoal suit sat snugly across his broad shoulders. Freshly shaven, he smelled clean, musky. This was a man who knew how to present himself. Looking at Shauna, his smile extended from his lips to the furthest depths of his eyes.
Had he not recognised her? Shauna’s arms remained crossed. ‘I believe you already know me as a complete pain in the arse.’
Josh’s smile was replaced with a frown. He stared at her. ‘Oh no.’ He shook his head. ‘Sorry, I didn’t recognise you. You look a lot more professional during the day. Your hair wasn’t that straight last night, was it? I kind of remember it being all messed up.’
Shauna’s hand flew up to her shoulder-length bob. Hair? He was asking about her hair? She dropped her hand. ‘Aside from standing around in your underwear in the middle of the night, who are you?’
The furrows in Josh’s forehead deepened. ‘Are you kidding?’
‘No, other than being amused by the boxer shorts you choose to wear to bed, I don’t know anything about you. Should I?’
‘Craig didn’t bother to mention I’m the new national marketing manager for I-People, and I’d be joining you for the meeting this morning?’
Shauna stared at him. ‘Hold on, you can’t turn up unannounced and join me at the last minute for a sales presentation. Do you have any idea how important this client is?’
Josh nodded. ‘Yes, and that’s exactly why I’m here. Craig wants me to accompany all pitches where the potential revenue is over a million dollars.’
‘We’re supposed to work together on the pitch if you’re going to be part of the team. What the fuck is Craig thinking?’ Shauna walked over to the full-length office windows. A large cruise ship was preparing to depart from Circular Quay. Why on earth hadn’t someone contacted her? She couldn’t have this guy messing up her first opportunity to present to Tonacoal.
Josh followed her. ‘Don’t stress, I’m here to observe this meeting, nothing more. I’ll make that clear from the start.’
Shauna pulled out her phone.
‘Now, what are you doing?’
‘I’m calling Craig. This is ridiculous.’
Josh leaned towards Shauna, his voice lowered. ‘No time. The client’s here. Go with it. Show me how good you are. Rumour has it you’re a remarkable salesperson.’
Shauna took a deep breath. She needed to put the entire morning out of her mind and refocus. ‘Really? A remarkable salesperson? That’s a step up from complete pain in the arse.’
‘Pain in the arse is obviously true, so prove to me you can live up to both reputations.’ Josh winked and turned to greet the clients.
* * *
‘See, all went well.’ Josh clicked his seatbelt on as the taxi drove out into the traffic towards Sydney Airport.
‘It would have gone a lot better if you hadn’t thrown me off at the start,’ Shauna said.
‘What – by turning up?’
‘Yes, your only contribution to the entire day is pissing me off at 3 a.m., and then throwing me off minutes before a huge presentation this morning.’ She did her best to suppress a smile. Shauna had in fact been quietly impressed by Josh; not that she was going to tell him. He’d listened attentively throughout the presentation, adding value with some comments about additional marketing programs that would be undertaken for the direct benefit of Tonacoal.
Josh grinned. ‘If I just witnessed you presenting when you were thrown off, I’d love to experience you at your best. You were bloody good. You’ll win the contract.’
Shauna didn’t respond. He was saying all the right things, but so had Simon. Both personally and professionally. Always stroking her ego to ultimately get what he wanted. She wouldn’t let it happen again.
‘Are you always this quick to decide you hate someone, or do you not like anyone? I’m just wondering if I should be offended.’
Shauna opened her mouth, ready to launch another sarcastic response, but closed it when she saw his face. His smile had been replaced with a frown. She was being a bitch. It seemed she couldn’t help herself these days. A man just had to look at her the wrong way and she felt her jaw clench. ‘I’m sorry, okay? Lack of sleep and pressure to get Tonacoal aren’t helping. Craig’s heard talk of them absorbing LJR Mining’s contracts. It could be worth millions. I wanted to be on my best game today, and with middle-of-the-night evacuations, and surprise marketing managers turning up, I wasn’t. I apologise if I’ve been rude.’
Josh nodded and they lapsed into silence.
After a while he turned to Shauna. ‘How about we start again?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘We’ve never met. Today I’m some annoying guy you happen to be sharing a taxi with. Tomorrow, however, you’ll be introduced to the new marketing manager of I-People. Not only will you like and respect him, you’ll find him funny and charming. You’ll be delighted when he turns out to be one of the best assets you’ve ever had on your team. Sounds like a dream man, doesn’t he?’
Shauna felt the corners of her mouth twitching. ‘Dream man? I’d say he probably only exists in your dreams. I’m not saying don’t try. If nothing else you might give me a good laugh.’
‘Anything would beat the look of contempt I’ve been receiving.’
The reproval in Josh’s voice was obvious. Shauna had been unfair, she knew that. ‘Prove yourself to be as brilliant as you say and my expression might change.’
Josh laughed. ‘I can’t wait to see the respectful, awed version of Ms Shauna Jones.’
‘Neither can I. Good luck is all I’ll say.’ As the taxi raced towards the domestic terminal, Shauna turned to the window in an effort to hide her smile.