The Wedding(9)

By: Emma Darcy

Blaize Callagan was stretched out in an armchair, suit coat off, tie loosened, top two buttons of his shirt undone. He was nursing a drink in his hand, something with ice, and he looked very relaxed. It did not make Tessa feel relaxed at all. It made her a lot more conscious of his body.

“Coffee by the computer,” he said.

“Thank you, sir.”

The computer and printer were already switched on, ready to go. Tessa opened her attaché case, which had been placed on the table beside them, removed her notebook and sat down. She sipped the coffee as she ran her fingers over the keyboard, setting up the word-processing program to suit her needs.

“Kick your shoes off, if you like, Stockton. Undo your jacket. Be comfortable.”

“I’m comfortable as I am, thank you, sir,” she said, keeping her eyes glued to the monitor screen. It was bad enough having him flaunting his body at her. She wasn’t about to let her guard down.

“Put each speaker on separate pages and pass them to me as they’re done,” he instructed.

“Yes, sir.”

Tessa worked at top speed for the next hour, transcribing her shorthand into neat sheets of printing. She did not pass them to Blaize Callagan. He was up and waiting for each sheet to emerge from the printer, taking it away, studying it, pacing around, pouncing on the next one, occasionally muttering to himself.

“What next, sir?” Tessa asked, when she had finished the last Japanese speaker.

He looked up from the page he had just snatched, frowned at her. “I’ve got to think. Go and have a bath or something, Stockton.” He checked his watch. “Predinner drinks in the bar at seven. Be ready.”

“Yes, sir.”

“There’ll be no business over dinner. The Japanese don’t work that way. So you can relax for a while, Stockton.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

She was already dismissed, his concentration back on the pages in his hand.

The way he could switch on and off was little short of incredible, Tessa thought, as the evening progressed. He was tense and silent, inwardly focused, until they reached the bar in the main building. In an instant he was emanating goodwill and fellowship. Over dinner he was a charming host, telling jokes, swapping stories, affable and interesting, controlling the conversation with enviable ease and mastery. The moment they walked out of the hotel, he closed into himself again, tense and silent.

They were halfway back to the cottage before he spoke, and that was only to use Tessa as a sounding board for his thoughts.

“We’ve got a real problem. The way things are shaping up, I can’t see the Japanese getting ringi,” he said abruptly.

“What’s ringi, sir?” Tessa asked. She had never heard the term before.

“Their seal of approval. Every delegate has to give it before the project can go ahead. It’s a symbol of their complete dedication and commitment to the project. A totally different system to ours. I can make a unilateral decision and force it through. Saves a lot of time and trouble. But they won’t move without consensus.”

The impatience and frustration in his voice told Tessa what he thought about that system. But then Blaize Callagan was obviously a born dictator. Tessa thought the ringi system was a lot fairer than orders from on high. Less open to abuse. But she kept her opinion to herself.

“Stockton, what happens when you run into an immovable object at full speed?”

“You get hurt, sir.”

“Don’t be a fool, Stockton. I’m talking about me.”

This left Tessa feeling confused. Did Blaize Callagan think he was invulnerable to hurt? Was he? “I don’t know, sir,” she said. It seemed the safest comment.

“There are only two things to do, Stockton. Run into it and get hurt, as you suggest. No point in trying to shift it. That’s impossible. The far better thing is—get around it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m going to sidestep ringi,” he said decisively.

“Yes, sir.”

By this time they were walking up the steps to the cottage.

“Need to write a memo, Stockton.”

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as they entered the living room, Tessa went straight to the computer, switched it on and sat down, readying herself for his dictation. He paced up and down the room, gathering his thoughts.

His suit coat came off. It was tossed onto a chair. His tie made its exit, as well. Four buttons on his shirt were flicked open, revealing a dark sprinkle of hair below his throat. Tessa was beginning to feel a bit tight around the throat herself.

He paused, frowned, then started to dictate, setting out the strategy he had decided upon in clear precise terms. Tessa’s fingers flew to keep up with him. There was another long pause for more concentration. He removed his cuff links and rolled his shirt sleeves up to his elbows. His forearms were indeed muscular. Tessa hoped the undressing was going to stop there. It was getting very, very distracting.