Baiting the Boss

By: Coleen Kwan



So Lachlan deserved her loyalty. And besides, he’d virtually promised her a transfer to a more substantial role if she brought his grandson back to Sydney—not that she’d tell Jack that.

“He’s good to you because you don’t step out of line,” Jack said.

“I’m in it for the long haul. I’m not treating my job at Macintyre’s as a temporary stopgap I can chuck in to go beach bumming.”

He leaned forward. “So you’re in it for life, are you?”

“It is my life!” She willed herself to maintain eye contact with him.

“Yeah, so why waste it being an old man’s overpaid lackey?”

“Overpaid?” A brain flash zapped through her synapses. “I’m not paid enough to take this kind of crap.” Shoot, had she really said “crap” to Jack Macintyre? She pressed her fingers against her flushed cheeks.

“Touché.” Jack gazed at her with a mixture of bemusement and respect. “I guess I am behaving crappily, and you’re the last person to deserve that.”

Grace drew in a breath. This conversation with Jack was like wandering drunk through a minefield. “I only meant that my career at Macintyre’s means a lot to me, and I’m willing to make some sacrifices, but it’s not a prison sentence.”

“Isn’t it?” This time there was no mistaking his bitterness. His eyes held a harsh glitter and she had the feeling he wasn’t seeing her at all. “I hope you don’t regret your devotion one day.”

She drew back. “What do you mean?”

He shook his head and pulled himself out of his chair. “Never mind. Forget what I said.”

But she couldn’t forget. Not when his hands were clenched like rocks at his sides, and the tendons in his arms stood out like steel cables. Whatever he meant by his words, Jack had never forgotten it.

“So you’re determined not to come back to Sydney?”

He nodded, somber. “Looks like it.”

“Not even for a brief stopover? I can’t see what you have to do around here that’s so urgent.”

“Hey, I’ve got a lot of fishing and swimming and lazing to do. It’s going to keep me busy for months, maybe years.”

She crimped her lips at his refusal to face life. He and his grandfather were so alike, but at least Lachlan had made the first attempt to heal the breach between them. “You used to be so driven, so focused,” she said. “Surely you can’t be happy doing nothing.”

“Who said anything about being happy?”

This time, the bleak look he shot her made any further argument shrivel on her tongue. She had no comeback to his rhetorical question. Whatever her objectives were in taking Jack to Sydney, making him happy wasn’t on the list.



It was growing dark by the time the rain petered off and Jack showed Grace the way to Tupua’s place. A dense purple dusk thickened among the dripping trees, and night insects chirruped in the forest. Dim yellow light spilled out from the bungalows as families gathered on their decks, their murmuring voices mingling with the aromas of spicy stews and baking potatoes rising in the still air.

Beside him, Grace squeaked as she stumbled on the squelchy track. “Oh, damn.” She lifted her sandaled foot out of a water-filled pothole and tried to scrape off the sticky red mud in the nearby grass.

“Sorry about that. You didn’t see the puddle?” he belatedly asked. The hole had always been there, and everyone avoided it without thinking.

“I can’t see much of anything!” A note of exasperation crept into her voice.

Jack looked about him. He could see his way perfectly. He’d walked this road so often he could do it with his eyes shut, but he supposed it might seem dark and rough to a city girl used to bright lights and concrete pavements.

“Don’t they have any streetlights here?” She began to hobble forward again.

“We have a couple down by the harbor, but we don’t really need any here. All the electricity on the island comes from a local generator, and we don’t want to waste fuel.” He crooked out his elbow at her. “Here, take my arm if you’re having trouble.”

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