The arrival of tycoon Luke Devlin, who has taken over her major sponsor, threatens not just her radio station but — as he offers her a lesson in passion which promises to set the skies ablaze — everything she holds dear.
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‘Let’s drop the pretence, Miss Beaumont and admit that without my support you’re in deep trouble.’
It took all her self control to keep her voice pitched low, thoughtful.
‘The loss of sponsorship from Harries would be a serious blow, Mr Devlin, I would be a fool to pretend anything else. It will take time to find new sources of support. But since you kept your activities very discreet and Michael preferred to keep his problems to himself I had no reason to suspect anything was wrong. After all, if your takeover had been a week later, the money would have been in the bank right now.’
‘You think you’ve just been the victim of bad timing?’ He shook his head. ‘Let me disabuse you of that fantasy. The truth of the matter is, Miss Beaumont that if my “activities” had been delayed even for a week, there would have been no money to put in the bank. In business, as in drama, timing is everything. And even a local radio station has to be run as a business if it’s to survive.’
Fizz clamped down hard on her teeth at this. That was precisely why they had needed to spend so much money on diversification. If only she had known, or at least been given some warning when things had started to go wrong…
‘Yes, of course it must.’
She lifted her chin a little. Luke Devlin was right. She should have known. It was her job to know that the sponsorship was on a handshake. That their sponsor was about to go to the wall.
‘As you can see from the figures, the reason for our expansion is precisely that. I wanted to give the station a broader base to avoid just this kind of difficulty.’ She remembered her intention to issue an invitation. ‘Perhaps you would like to come and look around, see for yourself what we’re doing? Saturday morning is always lively and you could have lunch with us in the new restaurant. As the station’s guest, of course.’
‘No. Thank you.’ Those disconcerting eyes could apparently read her mind. ‘Harries Industries is in trouble because the previous chairman ran it like a philanthropic society and it will take considerable cost cutting to put it back on its feet. It would be quite wrong to encourage you to squander your financial resources on entertaining me, since there is no possibility that I would change my mind once it is made up.’
Fizz swallowed. ‘And is it made up?’
‘Yes. It was made up long before you made your touching little speech.’
‘I see.’ Could she have been that wrong? Time was money to this man. Why would he waste it listening to her?
‘I may continue with sponsorship for the time being subject to certain conditions.’
‘All of it?’ The words escaped before she could bridle them as her heart performed a somersault, pure relief mixed with joy. The emotion was intense, but short lived.
‘You might not care to take it when you’ve heard my conditions,’ he continued, in the same careless voice.
‘Within the guidelines we’ll be happy to provide you with any additional advertising messages of course -’
‘Miss Beaumont, I have no doubt that you’d put my name in lights above the pavilion if I asked it.’
‘I doubt we’d get approval from the Planning Committee,’ she replied, unable to stop a grin from widening her generous mouth.
She felt glorious, as if some great weight had been lifted from her shoulders and she was perfectly willing to forgive him his earlier rudeness. Good grief, she’d walk on her hands down the pier, somersault its length, if that would make him happy.
‘I won’t bother the borough council on this occasion,’ he assured her. ‘My conditions have nothing to do with advertising.’ His voice, cool, distant, brought her crashing back to earth.
‘What do you want?’
‘ As you must realise, Miss Beaumont, Harries is in no state to give money away.’
‘It isn’t entirely a one way street,’ she protested. ‘The public relations aspect has been very valuable to Harries in the past. Perhaps you don’t understand -’
‘Don’t I?’ His voice hadn’t changed much. Just the tiniest inflection to warn Fizz that she had said something rather silly.
‘That argument might be a little subtle for the men and women who will be made redundant, don’t you think?’
She caught her lower lip between her teeth. ‘Will there be many? Redundancies?’
‘I can’t say until Phillip has made his report.’
His cousin? That dry, humourless man. She looked towards the door he had disappeared through. ‘Then heaven help them,’ she murmured.
‘Phillip might not be your idea of fun, Miss Beaumont, but I can assure you he has a highly developed sense of what is right. He won’t lightly waste a well-trained work-force.’
‘I hope you’re right.’
‘In this instance you can trust me.’
Fizz, fastened by his intent gaze was compelled to believe that he meant exactly what he said. In fact, she was sure that he never said anything he didn’t mean. And he had said they could have their funding.
She frowned. ‘And the sponsorship money? You said we could have it. Can I trust you in that instance too?’
His eyes mocked her doubtful tone. ‘I am prepared to write you a cheque now. My personal cheque. And I can assure you that I won’t require any public relations, corporate entertainment, or personal publicity in return. Quite the reverse, in fact.’ He paused, briefly, before adding, ‘And if I use your restaurant I will be more than happy to pay for my own lunch.’
Fizz wasn’t fooled into heart-stopping gratitude a second time.
‘But there are conditions attached to your generosity?’ Of course there were. Nothing about Luke Devlin suggested that he was simply an easy touch and she had a sudden ominous sense of foreboding. ‘Conditions that I’m not going to like?’
For a long moment Luke Devlin said nothing, but subjected Fizz to an intense and level regard from the coolest pair of eyes she had ever seen. Clear, incisive, ransacking eyes that made her feel transparent. The eyes of a man who would be very hard to fool. And who would make you pay with everything you had if you ever succeeded. She held his glance for as long as she could, matching his determination until she began to feel slightly dizzy, as if leaning over the edge of a precipice.
‘I think you’d better tell me.’
He turned away abruptly as if he too had found the intensity of that exchange uncomfortable. ‘Perhaps, after all, it would be better if I discussed it with your father. I’m sure that he will be able to take a less emotional view of my proposition.’
Edward Beaumont thrived on emotion, it was his life-blood, but Fizz didn’t think it advisable to say so. Luke Devlin had used the word in a manner that suggested he didn’t much approve of emotion. There was no place for it in business. He had said so.
‘But he is not here, Mr Devlin,’ she pointed out. ‘I am. And I can assure you that I am fully empowered to make any decisions on behalf of Pavilion Radio.’
Her determination must have filtered through because he turned back to face her and she met his questioning glance head on, refusing to be the first to back down. Fortunately he did not put to the test, but after a moment, nodded.
‘Very well.’ But he didn’t immediately explain his proposition.
First he took a cheque book and fountain pen from his inside jacket pocket, then casually propping one ankle on his knee and using his leg as a table, he proceeded to write a cheque which he tore from the book and handed to her.
Fizz took it almost reluctantly, with a feeling of apprehension. Luke Devlin was showing her the money. Putting it into her hand. She recognised the technique. They both knew how hard it would be to give it back, no matter what he asked. He was banking on that and that made her nervous. It suggested that he thought she might say no.
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