Lady Chance by Caro French by Caro French - Read Online

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Summary

As the temperature rises in the glittering yachtsman's paradise of Farcreek, so too does the need for yet more conspiracy, one-upmanship and deceit among its host of colourful residents. And when the pivot of the community, Commander Farcreek, teeters on the edge of death, the question on the tip of everyone's tongue is, Who will be his beneficiary? Farcreek - the hair-raisingly, steamy new saga of mischief and mayhem in the sun - where everyone's out for what they can't have. Farcreek is an exclusive creek bordered by millionaires' mansions, a yachtsman's paradise, awash with old money - and new - and gamblers prepared to cheat, lie, steal or sell their wives if it will enable them to hold on to their assets.
Published: Accent Press on
ISBN: 9781681465968
List price: $3.99
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Lady Chance - Caro French

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Chapter One

Rick lingered in front of the window in his new office, absently caressing the sensuous curves of the eighteenth-century bronze of Circe and the swine that was the most valuable, and consequently most valued, of his business ornaments. Since the interior designer had persuaded him to buy the sculpture he’d become inordinately fond of it, so fond he now couldn’t envisage a life without its presence. Hooking his fingers around its base he lifted it, blanching at its weight. His yacht, Earned Enough I, was already packed to the water-line with possessions he was loath to abandon. Some, like the ‘investment’ jewellery he’d bought his wife Esme before she’d run off with a barman half her age, took up very little space, unlike his collection of objects d’art.

The Victorian watercolours, amber chess set, first editions of classics, antique glassware and ceramics – every time he walked around his house he found more to take, and all of it required careful packing that was proving both bulky and weighty.

One more day – and night – of his employee and new mistress Carol Cook to enjoy before he’d leave Farcreek and Traceport behind him for ever.

Were there any details still waiting to be attended to?

The mortgage he’d taken out on his wife’s house by the simple expedient of forging her signature had already passed through his hands. Two million pounds that he’d wired to a secure and secret bank account in Switzerland. He’d also cleaned out his current account to the overdraft limit – in cash. Four hundred thousand to cover his immediate expenses. Tomorrow he’d set sail with the other competitors in the annual Farcreek to Ireland yacht race, but, unlike the others, he wouldn’t be returning.

A chest of instantly identifiable but superfluous items to the safety of the Earned Enough I was stowed on deck, ready to be jettisoned at an opportune moment. A storm would be useful, but not essential, and when the oil-soaked lifebelt, plastic bathroom fittings, and other flotsam were discovered bobbing out at sea, it would be assumed that the Earned Enough I had gone down, and him with it. He’d bought paint and brushes to change the appearance and name of his yacht in a secluded Breton bay before entering Mediterranean waters.   

The Greek islands were swarming with yachts of all nationalities at this time of year. He’d lie low, soak up the sun and ouzo, perhaps even pick up a nubile young backpacker. An American, or an Australian? Both nationalities had the reputation of being uninhibited when it came to sex, and when the winter rains came and the Greek islands palled, he’d go wherever fate or caprice took him.

He glanced at his safe, making a mental note to remove the documents it contained. It had been ridiculously easy to acquire a new passport. His cousin, Ciaran Morris, had fortuitously died a few weeks ago. Ciaran had been younger than him, but he didn’t mind losing a few years. He and Ciaran had been born in the same hospital in the same town. Getting a copy of Ciaran’s birth certificate had been simple, filling in the passport application form even simpler. Forging the local doctor’s indecipherable scrawl on the back of the photograph and the form to testify to his identity, he’d driven to the passport office in Newport, browsed through a book on Greece while he’d queued, and walked away a new man.

He looked down over the rooftops of the town to the twin headlands that marked the entrance to Farcreek. Life had been good before bankruptcy had loomed its ugly head to threaten his private and professional worlds, but he was confident that wherever he eventually settled it was going to be better. If he’d had to pick a time to begin afresh he couldn’t have chosen a more opportune moment. Going now meant he wouldn’t have to watch Esme continue to make a fool of herself with John Chin, the half-Chinese boy younger than her own son. And all three of his children were adults. Piers was a successful vet, and although he felt a slight pang of conscience at leaving his twin daughters, they were of age, and he’d given them everything money could buy. It was probably time they learned to stand on their own feet.

‘Good afternoon, Mr Morris.’ His secretary, Marcia Neilson, knocked before walking in with the Traceport Argos and his afternoon coffee.

‘On the desk, Marcia,’ he ordered abruptly, repositioning the bronze when  she attempted to lay the tray on the coffee table in front of the window.

‘Yes, sir.’ She did as he asked before backing out with uncharacteristic haste. He noticed her legs as she left. They weren’t bad. Pity she had no dress sense. For a thirty-year-old with basic material that could, with a little flair and imagination, have been turned into something quite passable, she looked like a middle-aged frump.

He pushed the pile of work on his desk aside and sat in his chair revelling in a delicious sense of freedom. There was absolutely no point in writing new sales and promotion brochures for MMS that would never be printed. He wondered how the staff would take the news of his demise, not just Marcia but the consultants, Dan Pike, and Carol Cook … Carol!

He recalled what he’d done to her in his bedroom that morning, causing more than  memories to rise. Checking his intercom, he pressed the button for her office.

‘I’m having trouble with these brochures, Carol. Are you free to help?’

‘Be right along, sir.’

He put his hands on his desk recalling the time an ex-mistress had strapped him to it before subjecting him to indignities he’d rather forget.

‘I’ll bring the brochures to you.’ Releasing the button he buzzed reception. ‘Marcia, Miss Cook and I will be in conference for the next half hour, see we’re not disturbed.’

‘Very good, sir.’

Dan Pike, who was transferring audio files  to Marcia’s e-mail, looked across and winked at her. ‘Conferring again? He can’t have seen it.’

‘I hope I get out of here before he does.’ Blushing at the implication Dan had managed to intimate in ‘conferring’, she pushed her copy of the Traceport Argos aside.

The headline MULTI MILLION POUND DEAL FOR TRACEPORT glared at her. She slipped on her headphones and opened the first of Dan’s e-mails …

‘Carol?’ Rick smiled as he leant against the door of the conference room and locked it.

She walked across to meet him. He slid his hands up her thighs, lifting her skirt to her waist.

‘The best thing about summer is bare legs, and … no knickers?’

‘Since you’ve begun to pay attention to me, Mr Morris, I haven’t been able to keep a pair on for more than an hour.’

‘This is a private time, you can call me Rick.’

‘We’re in the office, Mr Morris.’

‘So we are.’

‘And,’ she breathed in sharply as his probing fingers became less gentle. ‘As you pay my wages you have the right to tell me what to do.’ Kicking off her shoes, she reached up and kissed him. He pushed her away.

‘Bend over the table face down.’

She did as he asked, reaching out to the far corners she gripped them tightly. In the bedroom she occasionally dictated the pace. In the office Rick did. It was a game they played, and one she enjoyed. It had taken her a long time to find a lover whose sexual drive matched her own, and who also had the same capacity for fantasy.

‘This is the kind of office work I really enjoy.’ Running his hands over her naked buttocks, Rick remembered the bronze. The contours of warm female flesh were more exciting. Perhaps he didn’t need to take the sculpture with him after all.

Closing her eyes, Carol tensed herself. Rick’s office lovemaking was invariably rough bordering on savage, but always exciting. As though he deliberately allowed the persona of ruthless businessman to spill over into what he called ‘private times.’

Parting her legs with his knee he unzipped his trousers and bent over her, pulling up her cropped top. Squeezing her breasts he entered her. She gasped as he thrust forward, slapping her against the unyielding surface of the table. Her knuckles whitened as he continued to pound into her, his hands moving from her breasts over her bunched up skirt to her thighs.

The telephone buzzed at Carol’s elbow. She reached out.

‘Leave it,’ Rick commanded brusquely. ‘I told Marcia we weren’t to be disturbed.’

‘Then it must be important.’ Much to Rick’s chagrin she pressed the button.

Traceport Argos for Mr Morris. I told them he was in conference, but they were most insistent.’

‘Tell them I’ll get back to them,’ Rick barked angrily. Moving away from Carol he pulled the plug on the phone.

‘Don’t ever do that to me again.’

‘Just being the good employee.’ Carol tried to pull down her top, but he stopped her.

‘Up on the table.’

She lay back. Running his hands over her flanks he yanked both her top and her skirt over her head. He tossed them aside, knocking over a pile of papers.

‘The Peggotson Report,’ she demurred.

‘This is the only kind of work I’m interested in for the next half-hour.’ He leered smugly as he studied her. Naked she was irresistible. He played with her, teasing her, rousing her to a pitch of moaning passion, before lunging into her again and again. She was an exceptionally good lay. In the heat of the moment he debated whether he should ask her to join him. His planned ‘death’ could easily accommodate two corpses. But as he withdrew he noticed the clenched muscles in her thighs. She was a trifle too athletic for his taste. He preferred softer, plumper, more feminine females. Cruising the Mediterranean, with time and riches to spare, he’d find women enough even to satisfy his appetites. So why limit himself to one bite of a cherry when he could have a whole bowlful to savour, relish, and enjoy.

John Chin sat alone in the cabin of the Freedom. Esme Morris, his live-in lover, was working, busy running the gallery she managed for Bert Marner. The air was still, stiflingly hot, but he didn’t attempt to open the cabin door to the light breeze that ruffled the surface of the creek. He sat poised, immobile, the only sign of animation in his eyes as they read the clock on the wall. Five – ten minutes passed. He knew what he should do. What he had planned last Christmas – the worst Christmas he had ever spent.

A phrase sprang unbidden to his mind. ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’ Whoever had said that had got it wrong. He should have killed Rick Morris the day he’d set eyes on him. Instead he’d sought to hurt him first by seducing his wife, only to have all his carefully laid plans shattered when he’d fallen in love with Esme.

Pushing back the table, he peeled the carpet from the floor. A safe was set flush with the boards. Dialling the combination he lifted the heavy door and removed a file thick with newspaper cuttings. He closed his eyes momentarily when he opened it and saw the photograph of his father on the front page of a tabloid. When he opened them again the headline glared at him.

SUICIDE OF FOUNDER OF NATUROPATHIC EMPIRE.

He could recite the article printed below word for word, but that didn’t stop him from reading it again.

‘Mark Benchley Hazard, the founder of the Green Lime chain of naturopathic shops was found dead yesterday in his fume-filled car. Mr Benchley Hazard was recently ousted from the board of the company he founded following a successful takeover bid by Heddington Conglomerates. Heddington employed the services of MMS, the Traceport based management consultancy, to streamline the staff of its newest acquisition and shock waves resounded in the West Country business world when Mr Benchley Hazard fell victim, the first casualty of the cutbacks. Spokesmen for Heddington Conglomerates and MMS declined to comment on Mr Benchley Hazard’s death. The former tycoon is survived by his wife, a former Hong Kong beauty queen and one son, a student at Cambridge University.’

John turned the page and continued to sift through the cuttings. The last one was dated December 2nd. No headline this time. Just a footnote at the bottom of a column.

The former beauty queen, Lei Tschang, widow of the Green Lime tycoon, Mark Benchley Hazard, died yesterday after jumping off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It was the second suicide at the spot this month, and calls for stricter policing of the bridge have been made by local councillors.

Lei Tschang’s husband, Mark Benchley Hazard, was found dead in a fume-filled car six weeks ago. The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide. The Benchley Hazards will be remembered for their tireless fundraising for child-related charities. They are survived by one son.

Pinned to the back of the article was a photocopy of a confidential report prepared by MMS. A report that damned Mark Benchley Hazard’s business abilities and implied he was suffering from premature senile dementia. A report Rick Morris had dictated, signed, and received a quarter of a million pounds for, from the man who had taken his father’s place. Closing the file John continued to sit and stare. It had all seemed so simple when he’d plotted vengeance after his mother’s funeral. First he killed the new Managing Director of the Green Lime chain, Ashley Cotton-Potter, then Rick. Only Cotton-Potter had eluded him by dying in a plane crash, which left Rick Morris.

He tried to block Esme from mind, remembering only that Rick had ended his parents’ lives, and ruined his own by taking the only family he had.

He looked down into the safe. The gun was still there, the box of bullets beside it. He had delayed long enough. Rick’s name was on the board in Farcreek yacht club as a competitor in the Irish race. The Freedom was faster than the Earned Enough I; all he had to do was dog Rick’s wash and wait until there were no other yachts in sight. Picking up the gun he closed his fingers around its cold, hard weight, recalling the time his father had taught him to use it.

He’d settle his score with Rick Morris on the open sea, and let the waves take the evidence.

The coffee still stood cold and congealing on his desk when Rick returned to his office. He buzzed Marcia.

‘Bring fresh coffee, and return the Traceport Argos’s phone call.’ Swinging back in his chair he folded his hands behind his head and propped his feet on the desk, feeling satisfied with himself, the world in general, and Carol in particular. She deserved a treat. They would leave work early and visit a jeweller’s. He’d allow her to pick out whatever piece she wanted, to the limit of one of his many credit cards. He could afford to be generous when he wouldn’t be around to receive the reckoning.

And afterwards they’d dine at the Harbour View. He had nine credit cards. It would be fun to stretch all of them to the limit. He’d buy her a dress in Betsy Crawford’s ludicrously expensive boutique as well. Then she could wear it and nothing else. The thought of sitting in the decorous, elegant surroundings of the Harbour View with a woman who was wearing no underclothes excited him.

Tonight was going to be fun – a taster of the years that lay ahead.

Traceport Argos for you, Mr Morris.’

‘Rick Morris.’

‘Thank you for returning our call, Mr Morris. Do you have any comment to make on today’s news?’

‘No.’

‘That’s very generous of you, considering what you’ve lost.’

‘Lost?’

‘You have seen today’s Argos, Mr Morris?’

Rick unfolded the issue of the Traceport Argos Marcia had brought in with his coffee. As he scanned the headlines his hand began to shake.

‘Mr Morris … Mr Morris are you there?’

Rick slammed down the receiver to disconnect the line before picking it up again. ‘Get me Betsy Crawford!’ He shouted.

Dan Pike  glanced up from his own copy of the evening paper. ‘Looks like he’s finally seen it. Bet that took the gilt edge off his conferring with Carol.’

Marcia rang the number she’d looked up when she‘d first seen the headline. She spoke for barely a minute before pressing the intercom button. ‘Ms Crawford is not taking any calls, Mr Morris.’

Abandoning the phone, Rick stormed out of his office, walking past Marcia and Dan without a word.

‘I wouldn’t like to be Betsy Crawford,’ Marcia commented, relieved  Rick had taken his wrath elsewhere.

‘I would.’ Dan closed his newspaper and propped his feet on the corner of Marcia’s desk. He re-read the first paragraph of the lead story.

JAPANESE INVESTORS PAY £1.75M FOR WATERFRONT SITE THAT CHANGED HANDS FOR £300,000 LESS THAN A MONTH AGO.

‘Betsy’s going to make over one million pounds profit, give or take the odd hundred grand. That’s got to be worth braving a few harsh words from Rick.’

John Chin heard the light tread of a footstep on the gangplank of the Freedom, replaced the gun, ammunition, and cuttings in the safe and rolled back the carpet. He was sitting reading an old copy of the Reader’s Digest when Esme burst breathlessly through the door.

‘God, it’s hot in here,’ she complained opening the porthole. ‘The meeting with Keith Flynn finished early. I have half an hour to spare.’ She pulled the pins from her hair. Auburn curls veined with silver cascaded to her shoulders.

‘Half an hour?’ John rose to greet her.

‘I might manage another few minutes.’ She kicked off her shoes and started on her shirt buttons. ‘I just couldn’t bear the thought of lasting until midnight without you.’ Wriggling free from his arms she ran out of the cabin into the bedroom.

He followed. As their lips sought one another’s they tore off their clothes indiscriminatingly, tossing shirts, shorts, skirt, underclothes into disorderly piles.

‘I never want to go through a day without this.’ Esme divested herself of her last garment and pulled John even closer.

He entered her standing up. Lifting her legs she encircled his body with her own. He fell back on to the bed as their love-making became more urgent, more frenzied. She teased him to the brink of orgasm then slowly, almost lazily, drew back.

‘You’re getting too good