"Thank goodness that's over!" winced Kylie, her luminous green eyes unusually troubled and wary.
"Wasn't so bad," disagreed her colleague and flatmate Tina. "Plenty of free food and alcohol!"
"I hate office parties." groaned Kylie as the two of them moved into a lift at the Isle of Man based firm - Sutherland Industries.
Kylie pressed a button for the underground car park and the lift doors snapped shut, cocooning them from the sound of lively music and chatter.It emanated from the staff meeting room that they had just left, the noisy revelry having followed them as they walked along the upper corridors.
"I don't even know who was retiring, the company's so big and impersonal these days." continued Kylie, smoothing a wisp of flaxen hair back into her messy French plait.
"Neither do I," giggled Tina, swaying unsteadily. "But who cares, when the tab is picked up by Mr High and Mighty Sutherland? Heaven knows, his empire can afford a few staff perks once in awhile."
"Strange the way Richard Sutherland never puts in a personal appearance at these soirees," observed Kylie frowning, "after all, he does own the company and the odd pat on the back for faithful, long serving employees, wouldn't go amiss.All anyone ever sees of him, is a flash of his speeding Porsche!"
Guess he's earned it, according to most reports, he's 'dedication' personified.
A real dawn 'til dusk workaholic!" replied Tina pulling a face as they reached the car park."It's paid dividends for the company... But must have played havoc with his marriage... He was signing divorce papers faster than he could complete one of his business deals!"
"Still keeping your ear to the grapevine," laughed Kylie as they made their way between the concrete pillars and parked cars. "ever since the day you started on switchboard, we've had a gossip network second to none! Just as well you're only concerned with passing on internal scandal and not industrial secrets!"
"True," agreed Tina sheepishly, "or Sutherland's competitors would be offering fantastic sums of money for my big mouth!"
"And the demon king certainly wouldn't employ you long enough to reach a retirement do!"
"Steady on Kylie, we're both only twenty-five and I sure don't intend staying on here until I'm old and grey. There's got to be more to life that a nine to five desk job, at a water purification plant!"
"That's the difference between you and me," smiled Kylie as they reached her old Mini Cooper. "I've tried domesticity and had my fingers burnt.Now I really enjoy working in the laboratories and want to further my career as much as I can... whereas you're happy looking for Mr Right, two-point two children and a mortgage!" she slid her long, elegant legs into the car and opened the passenger door.
"OK, so I admit I'm not ambitious," shrugged Tina
flopping in beside Kylie. "but I'd rather aim for a gold wedding band and babies, than try to leave my mark on Sutherland Industries." she paused and hiccupped, having drunk too much wine. "Who knows Kylie, you might make such an amazing impression on the company, that our glorious leader would have to show his face and thank you in person!" she hiccupped again and they both dissolved into fits of laughter.
"I wonder why he never socialises with his minions?" puzzled Kylie as she turned the ignition and eased the car into reverse gear.
"Dunno," replied Tina, twisting the rear-view mirror round so she could appraise her tipsy appearance."Maybe he shares your enthusiasm for office parties," she added and shot her friend a quizzical look. "what have you got against letting your hair down at work anyway?Afraid one of your laboratory technicians might make a pass behind the filing cabinets?"
"Of course not... It's a long story, I must tell you sometime."
"Oh yes, you must!" Tina seized the idea eagerly, her ears pricking up at the prospect of gleaning more girly gossip.
Visual memories suddenly swam before Kylie's eyes, memories of a past love that had begun amid laughter at another office party and ended bitterly just six months ago.Since then, Kylie had known it would be a long time before she could let herself trust a man again and she had made a deliberate effort to concentrate on her career,
blotting out all the anger and humiliation Greg Lomax had caused her.She didn't love him anymore... Sometimes she wondered whether she ever had... perhaps infatuation was nearer the truth.Part of the residual anger she felt, was still directed inwardly at herself... whenever she thought that during a year's courtship and another spent living together, she had never seen Lomax in his true colours.Never suspected that he found her useful to fall back on, when his other fleeting 'amours' lost their appeal or became too demanding!
Perhaps it was the fact that Tina continued to repair her make-up in the rear-view mirror... Or more likely, it was Kylie's own straying thoughts which were to blame for what happened next...
Kylie was instantly jolted back from her painful visions of the past, by a loud horn blaring thunderously in the low-roofed car park and Tina squealing at her side... But it was too late, the sudden impact and fearful grating sound, were followed by a stunned silence. It couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds, before a car door slammed, then feet marched the short distance over to the Mini and Kylie's door was thrown open.
A man's hand reached in and turned off the ignition... Kylie felt disorientated, she hadn't even been aware the engine was still turning running.There was a curiously slow-motion effect in everything that was happening, probably due to shock, she told herself.Strange, how in that brief moment, she had noticed so many details about
the man.His cool hand with long, square tipped fingers and neat manicured nails.The soft, tanned skin of a man who did no hard physical labour, yet who could be strong and forceful as his merciless wrenching of her car door had shown only too well.A Rolex day-date watch circled his strong wrist, visible beneath the silk shirt and expensive cut of a slate grey suit.
Tina who was white as a ghost and eyes wide enough to have seen one, just managed to squeak. "It's HIM!" before the arm reached in for a second time, seized hold of Kylie and literally hauled her out of the driving seat.The ruthless assailant then set her roughly down on her feet and released his vice-like grip.
"You bl--dy little idiot!" he cut into the stunned silence with a vengeance. "Have you any idea what you've just done? How much damage you've caused?"
Under different circumstances, the towering, brooding stranger confronting her, could have been described as ruggedly attractive, Kylie supposed, meeting his challenging glare.However, at the moment, Richard Sutherland's dark eyes glittered dangerously and his chiselled features were alive with an expression somewhere close to violence.
She had reversed into his car... the sleek, polished extension of his male ego!Now he stood before her, all tense and livid, mentally fighting to keep himself under
control and restrain the urge to lash out at Kylie.Admittedly, she had damaged his car and yet, even if she'd narrowly missed killing him... it seemed to her, she could have aroused no greater fury in this man!
"Have you lost your power of speech as well as your ability to drive?" he was now demanding, his eyes harsh. "Heaven help any poor devil who has the misfortune to encounter you on the open road!" he jeered. "You defy the laws of physics just backing out of a parking space... how you caused that much damage whilst scarcely moving... is... is beyond me!"
"I'm fine... thanks for asking!!" she retorted coldly. "It was a genuine accident and I'm sorry if I've dented your car, but I was making all the right signals and..."
"Dented?!" he choked on the word and looked at her incredulously.Then, once more Kylie was gripped by those hard hands and thrust bodily towards the rear of her Mini.
She caught her breath in a gasp, as for the first time, she saw the true extent of the damage.The sleek black lines of his Porsche had stopped a couple of metres further on, after crossing the path of Kylie's reversing car.The Porsche was a superb machine, two-door with a sun-roof and tinted windows, designed to make driving a luxurious pleasure.Kylie recalled hearing Tina raving about its many extras, the push button stereo system, heated seats,
air-conditioning and fully reclining leather seats.Well, thought Kylie with a sinking feeling, now the sporty Porsche had an additional feature... a crushed right wing!What made matters worse and shouted contemptuously at Richard Sutherland, was the apparent lack of damage to Kylie's own more modest vehicle.Other than a mangled rear fender and some scratched paintwork, her Mini Cooper had escaped serious injury.Unfortunately, the Porsche, whilst driving past her reversing car, had taken the full side on impact.
"If you hadn't been in such a tearinghurry, this wouldn't have happened!" Kylie accused him, rubbing the back of her neck, it was beginning to feel sore. "I was signalling properly until you came out of nowhere... couldn't you have swerved or something?"she added and immediately regretted it.
"Damn right I could have done," he roared, a tight muscle pulsing in his cheek. "If your reverse light had been working, I would naturally have given you a wide berth!But there was no warning whatsoever, I didn't see you reverse until it was too bl--dy late!"
Kylie groaned inwardly, remembering the passing motorist who had flashed his headlights at her only the day before.She had reversed into a very tight parking space on Douglas Promenade, outside her flat and had felt pleased with herself for managing it so easily.At the time, she'd assumed the motorist was cheekily acknowledging her
feat, but now she realised, he'd merely tried to alert her to the fact that her rear lights were not working.If only she had thought to check them... but it was too late now, the damage was well and truly done.
"I really had no idea my lights were faulty." sighed Kylie despondently. "I realise part of the blame is mine."
"But there's still no excuse for the speed you were driving!" she snapped.
Sutherland's brows were drawn together in a scathing frown, as though the damage to his precious car had confirmed all his worst fears about women drivers.
"I suppose you are insured?" he asked, his tone still accusing and unpleasant.
She nodded silently and at that moment Tina stumbled out of the Mini, thankfully diverting Mr Sutherland's fierce glare away from Kylie.Although the accident had sobered her up considerably, Tina was far from steady on her feet and the smell of alcohol was unmistakable.
"Have you been drinking as well?" he demanded, his attention swinging instantly back to Kylie.
"No, I don't drink..." she replied sharply, she'd been about to add 'when I'm driving', but it seemed pointless supplying him with further fuel for scorn.
"Staff party." declared Tina hastily, as though she felt the need to explain her own state of intoxication during office hours.
Mr Sutherland ignored Tina completely and again directed his question at Kylie. "Do you work here too?"
Whether it was a genuine query or one deliberately chosen to insult and offend, it certainly hit home and hurt!So much for leaving her make on Sutherland Industries, thought Kylie coldly, the self-made man at the head of the organisation, hadn't even known she existed until now!For a rebellious couple of seconds, she was almost glad she'd damaged his macho-mobile and for a further dangerous moment, she was tempted to tell him so.Instead, she bit back the wave of anger and answered calmly, like a soldier cornered, but not ready to surrender without a fight.
"My name is Kylie Adams and I'm a laboratory technician in charge of quality control and maintenance.I've worked here at your Manx water purification plant for almost two years,
though I trained on the mainland at your original factory in Stockport."
She had stressed her words carefully, the underlying insinuation that Richard Sutherland had lost valuable contact with his staff, did not go unnoticed and again, she saw his jaw tighten.
"You had better come with me," he commanded in a tone that defied argument, "while we straighten things out."
Turning on his heel, he walked towards his own executive lift, his tall, lithe frame moving proudly, fluidly with the easy stride of a man sure of his aims in life and equally confident of his ability to achieve them.
After a last glance at the forlorn cars, Kylie and Tina
"Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy!" whispered Kylie and they both struggled to keep their faces straight as they joined him in the lift, once more falling under his piercing gaze.
At ground level, he stopped the lift, crisply informing Tina that she could ring for a taxi from the reception desk and go home. Reluctantly, she stepped out and gave Kylie a wink, which plainly said she would expect a detailed account of the proceedings back at the flat.
The lift doors zipped shut again and this time it didn't stop until they had travelled up to the sixth and top floor, where Mr Sutherland had his suite of executive offices. He led Kylie out and down a pale peach and white corridor, the deep pile carpet and modern spotlights were in sharp contrast to the fluorescent strips and durable tiling throughout the remainder of the building.
It was the first time Kylie had ever set foot up there and she would have enjoyed the opportunity far more, if her tour guide had appeared remotely civil.However, Richard Sutherland seemed disinclined to address her again and strode on in stony silence.
He paused at a door, the brass nameplate heralding the fact that they had reached the pinnacle of his empire... his office.Producing some kind of keycard, he passed it quickly through a scanner and the door instantly unlocked and swung reverently open.
Whether he intended to impress Kylie or simply elicit a degree of respect from her, she couldn't decide.However,
as she followed Richard into his office, there was no denying the awe and thrill of stepping into such well organised space.For that, essentially, described it.... metre upon metre of plush beige carpet, with deepening tones of the same shade echoing across the walls. Richard's desk, which was more of an electronic console, rose up like an island at the centre of the sand carpet, set astride a black metal frame.Kylie noted that the same tubular steel also supported comfortable modern chairs and formed the shelving units and the base of a draughtsman desk.The furniture though sparse, had probably been painstakingly positioned and yet, still gave the impression of being strewn around Richard's central island console, like driftwood on a beach.
He sat down at the hub of his designer office, indicating with an imperious wave of his hand, that Kylie should occupy the only other nearby chair.Then he pressed a button on his desk phone and waited for a response, his expression grim and disturbing.
"Hello Rob, it's Sutherland." he said at last when the line clicked. "I need a quick repair on the Porsche, it's taken a hell of a knock...!"
Kylie glared at him, while he relayed graphic details of the accident and arranged for the garage to put another car at his disposal, until they sorted 'the mess' out!
"So," he stated replacing the receiver, his eyes piercing hers. "We meet for the first time under adverse conditions - perhaps if you ever want to see me again Miss Adams, you would favour me by making an appointment
my secretary... and go through the normal channels!"
His mocking irony made Kylie bristle and she sat stiffly on the edge of her seat, for the chair seemed to recline slightly and to face Richard Sutherland at anything other that 90 degrees, was unthinkable.
"I came up here as a courtesy, to give you my insurance details in a civilised manner. I don't have to stay and listen to your sarcasm and scorn!!" she rose to her full diminutive 5ft 4ins and tilted her chin stubbornly.
"Have you forgotten who I am?" he queried, reaching over to a blue glass decanter and filling two glasses with what looked like whisky.
"Not for a minute... you don't appear to let anyone forget who you are!"
He lifted a cautionary eyebrow. "Do you now propose to add insult to injury?" he asked coldly.
"Isn't that more your line?" she snapped before she could stop herself. What the devil was she thinking of, deliberately antagonising him?Another wise-crack like that and she could find herself looking for a new job!Perhaps the after effects of the accident were making her feel the need to rebuke this man, who scorned her.It wasn't merely his rude manner and glare that riled her, so much as the strong masculine power emanating from him with alarming intensity.
Richard topped up their drinks with some of the bottled water produced by his company.He held a glass out to Kylie, where she stood poised and eager to leave.
"I told you, I don't drink!" she declared irritably, then mentally checked herself again, it was as near as he would ever get to a peace offering and she had as good as thrown it back in his face.
"Sit down and drink!" he commanded firmly. "You're more shaken than you realise." he glanced at the Rolex, "It's 3.30... you normally finish work at 5.00pm... so you're still on my time, so sit down and drink up, that's an order!"
"Charming," Kylie relented and accepted the whisky, she couldn't afford to lose her head or her job and would have to humour him.Pretending to sip the repulsive liquid, she took her seat and watched him over the rim of her glass. Having quickly swallowed his own drink, he was now pouring another. Rickard ran a hand through his thick, short hair, it was dark and well-cut, springing arrogantly back into place, just like its owner, thought Kylie..
"What's your opinion of my pent-office?" he inquired as though she should already have offered some avid praise.
"I didn't think you were interested in my opinion!" she replied brazenly and set the whisky down on the desk, leaving him to hurriedly locate a coaster.
Richard eyed her laconically, loosening his grey silk tie, he dragged it away from his neck and opened the top two buttons on his shirt -- like a man preparing to do battle.A dark matt of hair now showed at the base of his throat and Kylie tore her gaze away, reproving herself for finding it so fascinating.
"Perhaps you would care to choose a neutral subject,"
he suggested wryly, "One which we might discuss without the risk of biting each others head off?"
"Why bother trying to discuss anything?" she shrugged. "Neither of us is in the mood... Let's cut the small talk.I'd really prefer to go home and attempt to unwind with a hot soak and good book!"
His steely gaze flickered momentarily, he obviously wasn't accustomed to taking second place to the latest Best Seller.However, he recovered his composure quickly and again allowed his dark stare to appraise Kylie, his eyes assessing every visible curve and lingering deliberately on those that were denied to him.Her cool white linen dress, fitted like a glove and outlined her small firm breasts, slim waist and hips.Sitting as she was, with legs crossed, the material revealed rather more of her smooth shapely thighs than she realised.
Under his scrutiny, Kylie was beginning to feel like one of the executive toys on his desk... available for his amusement, there to be prodded and pushed around until he grew bored and lost interest.
"You haven't finished your drink." he drawled, wielding the decanter, ready to give her a refill.
"I'd rather have coffee." she stated petulantly.
"By all means." he nodded and flicked a switch on his centre console, it was an intercom and a sultry female voice answered him immediately.
"Yes, Mr Sutherland?"
"A coffee please, Diane." he directed.
"Right away, Sir."
Kylie wondered why he was wasting so much of his valuable time on herself, when he was obviously used to commanding such awe and respect from all his other employees?However, she didn't have any chance of considering the question, because his secretary appeared at the far end of the room and stalked purposefully across to Richard.The red head noted Kylie's presence with an oddly hostile expression on her angelic face.
"The coffee's for Miss Adams." Richard stated and Diane corrected her trajectory and countenance, before veering over to Kylie with the coffee, her secretarial smile back in place.
"Thank you." nodded Kylie and tried to analyse the familiar strong aroma that drifted across, as the secretary continued to hover, straightening her bosses already immaculate desk.
"There's nothing else, Diane." he announced, indicating her dismissal from the office as clearly as if he'd risen and held the door open for her.
"Yes, Mr Sutherland." the glossy red lips pouted for a split second and then she aimed her stilettos back towards her adjoining office.
"Oh and Diane, I know it's Friday," he stated. "but in future, please paint your nails out of office hours!"
She turned and looked at him guilelessly, wondering what had given her away.
"Sorry Sir... It's just they get so chipped on the keyboard and..."
He waved her aside, "As I told you earlier, I'm not interested in excuses, only efficiency!"
Nodding meekly, she disappeared.
Richard Sutherland sighed and stood up. "She keeps a civil tongue in her head," he said impatiently. "but that's about all she keeps up there! This afternoon she answered calls from two of my clients and instead of switching one through to me and holding the other - she somehow managed to cross the lines, with disastrous results.The clients talked themselves out of doing any business with Sutherland Industries!"
No wonder his temper had been so short, thought Kylie suddenly. First, his secretary fouled up a couple of lucrative accounts and then there was the damage to his car...
"A bad day all round." she agreed glumly.
"Any suggestions for improvement?" he asked as if chairing a board meeting.
"Honest opinion?" she ventured and hesitated.
"Well, it seems pointless having an office like this and a secretary... er..."
"Like that?" he supplied.
"I agree," a sudden crooked sort of smile transformed his face and took her completely by surprise.
"Yes, I'm trading her in first thing Monday morning and getting a replacement.She's only a temp holding the fort
while my usual secretary's on holiday." his face clouded again, but Kylie could still visualise that quick silver grin and the way his eyes crinkled slightly at the corners, while the line of strain was smoothed from his forehead.She found herself wondering how he would sound when he laughed?If the tension and weight of Sutherland Industries ever lifted from those proud shoulders?
He had risen and moved across to the single, yet enormous, panoramic window.At the touch of a button, the striped light of the Venetian blind reeled itself in like a concertina and left a breathtaking, unimpaired view of the bay below Douglas head, sweeping round to the distant beach.
"It is a fabulous view and super office." admitted Kylie suddenly. "Out of this world!"
"I spend so much of my time here," he stated gazing out across the ribbon of water, glittering in the late July sunshine. "I really think I'd end up climbing the walls in a conventional exec. office... all those depressing leather chairs and flow charts. It would put years on me!"
Kylie studied the angular, well-defined features of his profile as he continued to stare at the distant horizon, she guessed he was in his mid-thirties.He had that distinguished air about him, the certain sort of charisma which made a woman sense his presence in a room, before she even set eyes on him.He commanded attention, the overwhelming masculinity and hint of suppressed ruthlessness... his sheer hunger for life and power.
Dragging her eyes away from him, Kylie forced herself to
concentrate on something else, anything that would take her mind off Richard Sutherland.A movement to the extreme left of the window, caught her eye and she turned to see an unusual hexagonal aquarium, with several delicate angel-fish swimming timelessly around.She hadn't been aware of them before, no doubt because it was so hard to keep her attention away from the dangerously fascinating man at the window.
"A living sculpture." stated Richard, his gaze following hers. "I like movement and individuality... I tire of things that stay the same, it makes me restless, anxious for change, improvement... progress!"
Kylie wondered whether he applied the same formula to his women?A marriage which had survived for less than six months, seemed to suggest that he did.
Setting down her empty coffee cup, Kylie joined him at the window, careful to maintain a safe distance between them.
"You certainly have a lovely view across the bay and hills," she said staring out over the calm sea. "and you could never tire of looking at it, everyday there's a new picture in the frame, a different quality of light, a changing season and tide..." she stopped abruptly, aware of his suddenly intense stare, those expressive eyes were regarding her with open curiosity.
"You speak as an artist," he observed. "do you ever put paint to canvas?"
"I gave myself away," she acknowledged, it was the first time he had shown any interest in her at a personal level
and it threw her slightly off guard. "just a hobby," she shrugged and added. "I'm a sort of weekend Van Gogh."
"It doesn't show!" he mused quietly, appraising her full lips, high cheek bones and flaxen hair.
"You haven't seen my paintings!" she laughed up into his eyes and then glanced quickly away, moving back to her seat.
The initial cold hostility between Richard and herself had slowly ebbed away... and turned instead, toa different sort of tension.It was a long time since Kylie had looked into a man's eyes and felt her pulse quicken.Something about him forced responses from her body that she wasn't ready to accept or examine too closely.Glancing at her watch, she was amazed to see almost an hour had slipped by, in the deceptive ambience of Richard's office and company.However, misinterpreting her sudden desire to check the time, his attitude altered and his face immediately darkened.
"Of course, I forgot..." he said irritably, "I'm keeping you from your hot soak and that good book!" he allowed the venetian blind to snap back into place and searched for his attache' case. "by all means, let's be on our way!"
Giving Kylie no opportunity to reply, he strode over to the door and waited impatiently for her to join him.Outside in the corridor he walked briskly towards the lift, leaving Kylie to follow on in a wake of expensive aftershave.It was totally in keeping with his 'self-made' image,
thought, entering the lift... he even smelt rich and successful!She tried to ignore the distracting aroma and half held her breath.
"As I find myself temporarily without transport," Richard's sarcasm broke the awkward silence. "and since your car is still almost roadworthy, it won't take long to detour and drop me at my house.I trust you have no objections?"
"None at all." she replied coolly, as they reached the basement car park. "I'll drop you anywhere you like."
He looked at her sharply, receptive to the implied suggestion that she would be only too happy to get away from him.Pleased to have annoyed him, Kylie was unprepared for his swift retribution.As they approached the blue Mini Cooper and she took the car keys from her bag, Richard snatched them rudely out of her hand.
"I'll drive!" he announced dourly.
"You've no right, I'm perfectly capable of driving my own car!" protested Kylie furiously.
"Are you?" he mocked. "Forgive me, if I seem unconvinced."
"Hand me my keys!!"
"Certainly not, there's no way I'm sitting on the edge of my seat while you drive." he opened the driver's door and shrugged off his jacket, laying it carefully across the back seat, "Well get in!" he ordered brusquely.
What was the point of arguing with him? The chauvinistic brute had made up his mind to insult her and teach her a lesson.Physically, she had about as much chance of wrestling the keys off him, as she did of vying with him for
the driver's seat.Reluctantly, Kylie walked around the car and climbed in the other side, slamming the door loudly to emphasise her protest.
Richard was already at the wheel, his towering figure folded nearly double, until he re-adjusted his seat to accommodate his long, lean legs.Then he deliberately took his time repositioning the rear-view mirror, throwing Kylie a further look of disdain.
The whole nightmare accident that had forced her to sit there, the target of Richard Sutherland's ridicule, might so easily have been avoided.If only she hadn't allowed her concentration to waver, Kylie admonished herself.Eight years of incident free motoring, marred by a careless mistake.Why of all people, did it have to be him who had witnessed and played such an unwilling part in her only driving misdemeanour?He was the one man she had wanted to impress, albeit on a strictly professional level.Kylie had worked hard over the past two years, the last six months in particular.
Following the break-up of her personal life, she'd thrown all her energy and enthusiasm into her work at the laboratory.Hundreds of reports and recommendations had been presented to the arrogant man now at her side, for approval and consideration.Yet, it was as though she still didn't exist in his world, just a cog in his great industrial machine, who kept the company's product at above average quality.Whether she worked her lunch hour or
evenings to maintain that high standard was of little concern to him...
Kylie watched as Sutherland steered her car away from the wounded Jaguar, she felt him wince as he glanced at the damaged right wing.Then he guided the Mini Cooper easily towards the exit and up the ramp, letting the wheel feed smoothly through his fingers as they emerged into daylight and straightened up.She sensed that only by a bitter and tight restraint, had he stopped himself from launching into another derogatory tirade on her driving.Kylie also remained silent, not trusting herself to speak without losing her own temper and probably her job as a result.At least he wasn't trying to make polite conversation, she thought, it would have been laughable when they were both inwardly seething.
They drove between the main factory adjoining the office block and the two huge cylindrical storage tanks which were almost as high as the building itself.One tank stored thousands of litres of purified water, prior to transportation or bottling, while the other housed the sophisticated pieces of equipment that produced the pure water, by a process known as reverse osmosis.
An enormous container lorry was just negotiating the main gateway of the Plant and Richard had to stop to let it pass.
"Another shipment bound for the ferry," he stated with satisfaction. "Demand on the mainland is up 30%"
"Isn't that a bit like selling oil to the Arabs?" remarked Kylie.
"It's a licence to print money, if that's what you mean?" he answered giving her a cursory glance. "But don't blame me, its all down to radiation scares and the latest healthy living campaigns... our product is purer than any bottled spa or spring waters.!
Richard opened his window to exchange a few words with the night watchman, who was just coming on duty.
"Evening Mr Sutherland, I didn't recognise you for a minute in that car..." the man saluted his boss and tipped his cap at Kylie."Evening Miss."
"Hello Jack," acknowledged Richard. "I've had some trouble with my car, the garage are sending a man to pick it up, so I'll leave the keys in your capable hands."
"Right you are Sir, glad to oblige," beamed the old watchman, his chest swelling at the honour of being trusted with the task.
"Thanks Jack, see you tomorrow." nodded Richard and swung the Mini Cooper out through the high double gates and on to the open road.
"I see you do remember some staff names." declared Kylie pointedly.
"Yes I do," he agreed."Particularly those who treat my car and self with due respect and courtesy!"
"And I fail on both counts!"
"Let's just say we got off to a bad start." he answered wryly and concentrated on turning into the busy Friday evening traffic just outside Douglas town centre.
"Do you often work weekends?" asked Kylie, remembering his parting words to the night watchman.
"When necessary," he nodded. "I'm not just a figurehead, if that's what you're implying!"
"I wasn't." she shrugged, he seemed determined to twist her words around.
"If there's a problem or special deal in the pipeline, so to speak, then I stay and see it through.I've worked 72 hours in a stretch before today... A seven day week can seem pretty normal after that!"
"No peace for the wicked!" marvelled Kylie flippantly. "It's certainly no wonder your..." she bit her lip forcing herself to stop, had she really said that out loud? She was treading on dangerous ground again, but it was too late.
"No wonder my marriage failed!" he finished the sentence for her."If you didn't work for me Miss Adams," he added grimly. "Your continuing impudence might be almost amusing."
With that, he put his foot down hard on the accelerator and the car speedometer quickly leapt up to 80mph.He was weaving in and out of traffic like some kind of demon engaged in a boardroom power struggle.The window was still wide open on his side and while the wind tore fiercely at Kylie's blonde hair, it merely sleeked Richard's back into fine, dark fathers, accentuating his dynamic profile.
"You're not in the Jag now, you know" shouted Kylie above the screaming wind.
He took no notice and continued to eat up the outside lane of the dual carriageway which ran adjacent to Ronaldsway airport.A small jet was taxiing along parallel to the traffic, it
seemed to be rapidly approaching the end of the runway and Richard was fast running out of road.
"One of us better take off soon!" declared Kylie anxiously, then thankfully, he slowed slightly and followed the turning for Port Erin. "I see now what you meant, when you said it wouldn't take long to drop you off." she continued, he had just condensed a half hour drive into less than fifteen minutes.
Another couple of minutes spent zigzagging through narrow country roads at high speed, brought them out into Port Erin.A sleepy little seaside village that Richard seemed determined to rouse, as he sped towards the harbour and shot up a steep incline.Eventually he stopped at a rather quaint split-level cottage that was built into the hillside.The main part of the building faced out across the harbour.
"My back door." he announced, gesturing towards a panelled entrance, almost hidden by a shroud of climbing roses.
"You live here?"
"Sorry to disappoint you," he replied evenly, "but yes, I do."
It was a lovely home, though she had no intention of telling him so.Hardly the millionaire's bachelor pad she'd envisaged and the rough road would scarcely accommodate his usual car.
Richard's hand swung past Kylie, very close to her face and for a split second she thought he was going to touch
her.What a crazy notion... when all he actually did, was to reach over the seat and retrieve his jacket from the back. Then he climbed out of the car and slammed the door, leaving Kylie to juggle with the gear stick and slide into the driver's seat, because he had parked right up against a wall on her side... what a gentleman!
"Thanks for the lift." he nodded cordially and gave her a mock salute.
Kylie caught sight of her reflection in the wing mirror, her hair had escaped from it's restraining plait, she now resembled some kind of female scarecrow.Whereas Richard's hair, she noticed with annoyance, had once more sprung back into silky, arrogant control.He tossed the car keys on to her lap, his eyes piercing hers.
"Don't let me keep you, Miss Adams and take it easy on the way back."
"If I didn't work for you Mr Sutherland," she retorted, starting the car. "I'd tell you exactly what I think of YOUR driving!" with that, she thrust the car into gear and left him standing there, staring after her.
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