The Millionaire's Christmas Wish

By: Lucy Gordon

PROLOGUE




I T WAS the most glorious Christmas tree in the world: eight feet high, brilliant with baubles, tinsel and flickering lights, with a dazzling star shining from the top.

Around the base brightly coloured parcels, decorated with shiny bows, crowded together, spilling lavishly over the floor.

The whole thing presented a picture of generous abundance. It was a family tree, meant to stand in a home, surrounded by happy children eagerly tearing the wrapping from the parcels, revealing longed for gifts.

Instead, it stood in the corner of Alex Mead’s huge office. The presents were fake. Any child removing the pretty wrapping paper would have found only empty boxes.

But no child would do so. The whole confection had been designed and carried out by Alex’s secretary, Katherine, and as far as he was concerned she had wasted her time.

She entered now with some letters in one hand and a newspaper in the other, and he noticed that she couldn’t resist glancing proudly at the tree as she passed.

‘Sentimentalist,’ he said, giving her the brilliant grin that won him goodwill at every first meeting. Often the goodwill was short-lived. It didn’t take long for rivals and associates to discover the predator who lived beneath the charm.

‘Well, it looks nice,’ she said defensively. ‘Honestly, Alex, don’t you have any Christmas spirit?’

‘Sure I do. Look at your bonus.’

‘I have and it was a lovely surprise.’

‘You earned it, Kath. You did almost as much as I did to build this firm up.’

He was a generous man where money was concerned. Not only her bonus but that of several other vital employees had been more than expected. Alex knew how to keep good staff working difficult hours.

‘Some of them want to come in and thank you,’ she said now.

‘Tell them there’s no need. Say you said it for them, and I said all the right things-Happy Christmas, have a nice time-you’ll know how to make it sound good.’

‘Why do you have to try to sound like Scrooge?’

‘Because I am Scrooge,’ he said cheerfully.

‘Liar,’ she said, with the privilege of long friendship. ‘Scrooge would never have let his employees go a day early, the way you’re doing. Most firms keep everyone there until noon, Christmas Eve.’

‘Yes, and what’s the result? Nobody does any work on Christmas Eve morning. Half of them are hung over and they’re all watching the clock. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.’

She laid the newspaper, open at the financial page, on his desk. ‘Did you see this?’

It was the best Christmas gift an entrepreneur could have had. There was a page of laudatory text about Mead Consolidated and its meteoric rise, its impact on the market, its brilliant prospects.

Backing this up was an eye-catching photograph of Alex, his grin at its most engaging, telling the world that here was a man of charisma and confidence who could steer his way skilfully through waters infested by sharks. You would have to look very closely to see that he was one of them.

The picture was cut off halfway down his chest, so it didn’t show the long-limbed body that was just a little underweight. He was thin because he forgot to eat, relying on nervous energy for nourishment, just as he relied on nervous force to make an impact.

It was Alex’s proud boast that he had no nerves. The truth, as Kath knew, was that he lived on them. It was one of the reasons why he looked older than his thirty-seven years, why his smile was so swift and unpredictable, and why his temper was beginning to be the same.

When she’d come to work for him his dark eyes had sparkled with ambition and confidence and his complexion had had a healthy glow. The glow was gone now, and there were too often shadows under his eyes. But he was still a handsome man, only partly through his looks. The rest was a mysterious talisman, an inner light for which there were no words.

She had been on business trips with him and seen the female heads turn, the eyes sparkle with interest. To his credit he had never collected, although whether that was out of love for his wife or because he couldn’t spare the time from business, Kath had never quite decided.

“‘Here’s the one to watch,’” she read from the newspaper. “‘By this time next year Mead Consolidated will threaten to dominate the market.” Well, you might try to look pleased. It’s so brilliant you might have written it yourself.’

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