Charmingly RuthlessbyEgmont Grigor©
* Set in New Zealand. Spelling and grammar are indigenous.
Baxter and Chase Hudson's marriage began disintegrating the day best friend Aimee told Chase at the juice bar at Betty's Gym that Baxter had made an aggressive pass at her.
Chase bristled and demanded, "Aggressive?"
She'd imagined that that her husband had attempted to steal a kiss or fondle one of the well-developed boobs of the 34-year-old who'd been her bridesmaid five years ago, and who could blame him? No -- that's not what she meant. Good God!
Aimee had aquamarine eyes, brilliant shiny eyes that caught the light and smiled jewel-like when Aimee purred or reacted to clever repartee or a saccharine greeting of a friend or someone handing her a fat cheque for her home décor consultancy work. Chase and Aimee had known each other since the age of thirteen, at time when bodily changes including on the chest had them both worried and fascinated.
The course that nature took was to endow the chest of Aimee more substantially, a biological advantage -- or so it seemed -- that really taught Chase the meaning of envy. But in their late teens and to this day she now longer envied her friend for that reason because Aimee had a heavy load to carry and the way men looked at her disgusted Chase.
Now, it seemed, Baxter had succumbed to the temptation of Aimee.
"You don't want the details -- I recommend that you don't press me on this one," urged Aimee, sweeping her chestnut hair back with a combination of head flick and hand guidance that even some women would watch through narrowing eyes and a slight catch of breath.
The look on Chase's face clearly said she wanted to know, in complete detail.
Aimee sighed. "The Olivers' party at the Yacht Club last Saturday -- you and Jackson were just ahead of Rachel Guest and me going up the stairs to the dinning room and Baxter was right behind me. Well, he came up really close; his hand went up under my dress and struck you know where."
Chase had tensed and asked if Aimee was absolutely certain it was Baxter.
"Yes sweetie, I regret to say," Aimee said sadly, touching her friend on the arm lightly. "I turned and saw him. There was no one else within a couple of paces of us."
"The bastard," breathed Chase, face struggling to remain impassive.
Almost two months had passed since that revelation that branded Baxter as promiscuous. Then just ten minutes ago Jackson had phoned Chase to advise he'd just caught Aimee in bed with someone and had fought the seducer.
"I'm sorry, Chase, but the bastard I caught with my wife was Baxter.
After the call terminated Chase wept. She'd suffered a double blow. Her best friend as well as her husband had betrayed her. She knew that Baxter would be hurt, probably suffering facial injuries because Jackson was a bigger and stronger man.
Wiping her eyes, the blonde and very feminine journalist with a tough streak acted decisively. She went to the study where she emailed her letter of resignation to the editor of the Morning Star, one of the top daily newspapers in the country where she worked as an associate editor, in charge of the Star Weekender magazine section.
She'd also been required to write a couple of 'editorials' -- the think piece representing the newspaper's viewpoint -- at least twice a week as part of being groomed for greater responsibility. The editor-in-chief used Chase to write with a feminine viewpoint on domestic issues, feminine issues and ethereal thoughts while the editor-in chief and his deputy wrote with weighted thoughts in a mix of fact, interpretation and opinion on topics ranging from international threats to peace to teenagers wallowing senselessly in drugs, sex and Hip Hop.
Chase sighed and left the building without saying goodbye to anyone.
Seventeen minutes later the black medium-size Mercedes was packed with her choice possessions. Placing the house key under the mat after setting the security alarm, Chase drove off, heading south before Baxter arrived from the other direction.
She smiled, thinking of bad guy Baxter's arrival home. When the electronically controlled garage door opened Baxter would assume Chase was out because her car was not there. Later he'd realise he'd been abandoned, finding Chase and her dearest possessions had gone. The bank where Baxter worked as operations manager owned the home. He was an executive director on the board. Baxter would later find before Chase left the city she withdrawn exactly half the funds in their joint-bank account.
Cruising along the highway out of the city within the maximum speed limit, Chase chose a CD and the first track; 'Blue Moon' suited her mood perfectly. Until now she'd never planned to leave Baxter, so had nothing planned. Even so, her destination was in her mind: a northern seaside city of around 50,000 people. A few days ago she'd noticed the city's afternoon newspaper was seeking a senior executive, so now that vacancy interested her greatly.
Two hours after arriving in Walton City, Chase was handed the keys to a foreshore apartment she'd leased for three months with the contract containing a right-of- purchase clause and signed by the developer.
The young real estate salesperson had noticed the car and Chase's clothing and expensive jewellery, so had not bothered to ask for references, which was fortunate, because Chase had none with her and was completely unknown in the community. In turn she'd signed the lease agreement and initialled the purchase clause without referral to an attorney and that rather worried the salesperson. The very attractive brunette client had not revealed she possessed a law degree.
The apartment was the penthouse, the last unit in the luxury block to be occupied. A new opportunity had jumped into the developer's grasp so he'd decided to remain with his family in an old house and begin his new project, informing Chase that his banker would be pleased that the Blue Horizon apartment block was now fully occupied.
"Er -- where will you sleep until you get this place furnished?" asked the astute salesperson who was in her mid-twenties.
"Oh, I really hadn't thought about that," Chase confessed.
"My mother lives just along the street," said Pru. "She usually has a friend staying in her guesthouse but no one is in occupancy at the moment. Should I phone and see if she'll accommodate you?"
Chase was surprised that Pru should make this sound so pompous -- a pokey little room in the garden could scarcely qualify as a guesthouse and she was slightly miffed that the mother would rule whether Chase was an appropriate person to have at the bottom of her garden.
"I think perhaps I should stay at a hotel."
"No don't -- your accommodation will be superior and I've a feeling mother will bond immediately with you."
Well, that made it sound as if hotel accommodation in the city was a bit tacky and the upside was 'mother' might be a personality.
"Thanks Pru. I'll accept your advice."
Well, 'mother' turned out to be Pru's stepmother, Lady Judith Clinton-Jones, widow of Sir Iain.
Lady Clinton-Jones lived with a cook and chauffeur-gardener in a tired-looking mansion with a beautiful new luxurious cottage built beside the rose garden. The cottage provided modern facilities for visiting relatives and for her old friends who came from afar to enjoy what Pru called "decadence and the sea air."
Chase had expected Lady Clinton-Jones to be outrageously eccentric, but in fact she was a pretty woman, small in bone and statue, third wife of the late Sir Iain and aged about fifty. Chase was thirty-four. Despite the legacy of her deceased husband's title, inherited from his father who'd arrived in New Zealand from Britain sixty years ago Judith, as Lady Clinton-Jones insisted Chase call her, was not at all superior in manner or overly inquisitive.
Pru had left after having coffee with Judith and her houseguest.
"Pru is young to be working in real estate agency."
"Yes," said Judith with a smile. "It helps that one of my occasional lovers own the business."
"Oh goodness, I didn't mean to pry."
"You're not -- I chose to share than information. Pru will not mind you knowing that. She's a sweet and uncomplicated young woman; I'm the one in the family accused of not acting my age and being irresponsible."
"Your roses are very pretty," hastened Chase, wishing to get back to neutral ground.
"Yes," smiled Judith. "Look, you settle in and come and dine with me at 7:00 if you wish. I'd very much welcome the company."
"Why thank you."
During dinner Judith took a phone call from her daughter and simply said "Yes, yes, that's lovely of you" and that was the end of it.
"That was Pru -- her next business appointment is as noon tomorrow. She will be here at 9:00 to take you around the upmarket furniture shops and home décor specialists."
Chase was over-whelmed by such kindness.
"Oh, it's nothing," smiled Judith. "The developer who took a risk engaging Pru as sole salesperson is pleased that the penthouse is to be occupied as it finishes off that development."
As 'cook' (Mrs Ryan) served dessert and with two cocktails before dinner plus a shared bottle of chardonnay after soup and during the main course, Chase revealed her purpose to coming to Walton City.
Judith said wryly, "That might be a bit radical for the Walton Evening News -- it's less than a decade ago they engaged their first female reporter.
"Well, I've decided to relocate here whatever the outcome. My widowed father died three years ago and left me financially very well off; there is no reason why I should work, expect I am compelled to be industrious."
"And good for you," was all Judith said. She did no attempt to interrogate the handsome younger woman with her sad eyes.
The next afternoon, after a very productive morning with Pru inspecting some furniture shops and being introduced to a very confident husband and wife running a home décor business, Chase phoned the law firm of Wright, Younger and Abbott.
"I cannot put you through to Mr Younger," said the prim-sounding receptionist. "You'll have to state the nature of your business to his personal assistant and arrange an appointment."
"I am not a legal client. I wish to speak to him about the Walton Evening News."
"Oh, just a minute."
Less that a minute later Chase's phone clicked and the voice of an elderly male barked: "Harold Younger speaking."
Chase stated the nature of her business.
"You'll need to apply for the editorship through the correct channels as stated in the recruitment advertisement."
"I wish to short-circuit the process. I'll automatically be regarded a final selection candidate."
"By heavens, woman, you have some gall."
"No they don't."
"Well, I required to be interviewed. I have just arrived in Walton City and secured accommodation so am ready to take the position as editor."
Harold laughed. "By God, you've got some nerve and a high opinion of yourself."
"Don't you have similar attributes?" Chase replied coolly.
There was a pause. "Do you play golf well?"
"Well my wife and I are playing golf with Mansfield Alum at the golf club on Thursday afternoon at 1:30. Would you like to partner me against Mansfield and my wife Helen?"
"Yes, that would be lovely."
"It's just a social occasion."
"I'd expect nothing more than that, although I appreciate that I will be under inspection."
Harold chuckled and gave Chase details about her Thursday appointment.
On Wednesday Chase went to the apartment to instruct furniture movers where to place her bedroom furniture suite and the dinning table and chairs and two chairs and small table for the kitchen.
During their pre-dinner drink together, Judith expressed such an interest in that event that Chase stood up and said, "Let's go and take a look."
"What now?" asked Judith in surprise.
"Yes, why wait?"
As they drove out of the gates, Judith remarked casually it was a lovely car.
Chase pulled over to the side of the road and convinced Judith she should take a test drive just to get the feel of a modern car.
Judith enjoyed the experience as well as inspecting the penthouse.
"I've not been in the building since it was structurally completed, with virtually no finishing work done," Judith said. "What stunning views you get of the entire spread of Rushmore Bay."
"Yes, I'm thrilled with my temporary home. I do have an option to purchase and probably I will unless I find a superb place to live in the wine country."
"Go for a home close to the sea," Judith urged. "The ocean with all its moods is good for the soul."
"Well said," Judith replied, looking thoughtful, aware of just how true Judith's comment was.
* * *
Standing with his wife Helen by their electric golf kart, senior law partner Harold Younger watched the attractive and very well assembled young woman emerge from her black car and then walk over to the pro shop where a few minutes later she merged with a set of hire clubs.
"I think that's our guest," he told Helen.
"Then if she's out guest you must reimburse her for her green fees and hire clubs."
"I'll think about it."
Harold watched the white-faced woman with long black hair peeping under her cap approaching. She was dressed in a masculine-looking tee-shirt that did quite not fully conceal a splendid-looking pair of breasts and was sensibly dressed in shorts that reached just below her knees. What he could see of her legs was impressive.
"She's quite a stunner."
"Shame on you, you dirty old man," Helen laughed easily.
"Good afternoon -- are you Mr and Mrs Younger?"
"Yes we are," said Helen, holding out her hand. "I'm Helen, wife of this grumpy man. Welcome to Walton City -- is it your first visit?"
"Yes, my first real visit -- I've come twice to wine festivals."
"Doesn't everyone," smiled Harold. "Pleased to meet you Chase. My, what an unusual name."
"My mother wanted me to be an unusual person Harold," replied Chase, not waiting to be invited to use his first name. Harold did not look displeased -- it was customary to play golf with people on first-name basis.
"And are you unusual Chase?"
"I guess it's for other people to decide Helen but I know that I am not run-of-the-mill."
"Here's Mansfield," Harold said cheerfully.
"What's his occupation?"
"He's the fulltime Mayor of Walton City," Helen replied, watching Chase closely and seemed surprised that Chase showed no reaction beyond saying that was interesting.
Despite having hire clubs Chase played under her handicap of ten, the lowest of the foursome. She rode in the buggy with her partner Harold and they won the match two-up.
In the clubhouse over a bottle of wine and beef-sandwiches the four of them chatted easily and then Mansfield asked, "What brings you to our fair city Chase?"
"She's chasing a job," giggled Helen, admiring her own wit.
They all laughed.
"I guess you get ribbing linked to your name all the time."
"Not all the time Harold."
"What job are you seeking?" Mansfield persisted.
"Editorship of the newspaper," said Helen, no longer laughing.
"Good God!" exclaimed Mansfield, looking at Harold who remained poker-faced.
Mansfield turned to Chase. "Your chances of getting that post are very remote."
"I'll then have to take my chances, won't I?"
"The Evening News is a very old and conservative newspaper -- it was founded 128 years ago..."
"One hundred and eighty-nine," Harold corrected.
"Yes and it virtually never had a woman on its staff for 100 years and no woman in the editorial department until about 10 years ago.
"Nine years ago," Harold said gently.
"These differences over years tell me who'd the politician and who's the lawyer," Chase grinned.
Mansfield's laugh was genuine, Helen's shrill laugh proved she was no more than a two-glass drinker and Harold wore a light grin, looking at Chase thoughtfully.
"I guess being mayor is a tough job?" Chase asked to change the focus.
"Yes, especially when Cole Brighouse is moving to knock him off his perch."
Chase turned to Mansfield, raising an eyebrow.
"Cole is deputy mayor and is running against me in the October elections. He's already spending big money and fighting dirty," Mansfield sighed.
"Well, I guess your campaign manager will be on to that?"
"Campaign manager? I don't have one."
"Well you should and you should have a small advisory team working in the background as well -- Harold may agree to assist if the advisory team works away from the public eye."
Helen snorted, and reaching for the bottle asked, "Are you qualified to suggest such a thing Chase?"
Feeling the effects of drinking -- the second bottle of wine was being emptied by Helen -- Chase decided to reply firmly. "Apart from completing law and business studies at university I took extended political studies as an optional subject and in my post-graduate studies in journalism political studies was my in-depth study."
"You have a law degree?" asked Harold, unable to risk the double check.
"Have you practised?"
"What about business studies?"
"I worked in administration for a law firm when at university and for a full year afterwards before I decided to go to the School of Journalism."
Harold rubbed his chin.
Chase thanked everyone for a beautiful afternoon's golf and interesting conversation.
"I'll walk you out to your car," said Harold. As they neared the vehicle he said pleasantly, "You took a risk parking in the prime parks for club committee members."
"Golf club committee meetings are usually at evenings and officials are cautious about having expensive cars towed away," Chase smiled.
"Look, would you lunch with me tomorrow at 1:00 at the Walton Club."
"Why thank you, but are you sure women are admitted?" she teased.
"Tomorrow at 1:00 -- I'll be waiting in the foyer. And thank you for that win today -- Mansfield and Helen usually take Crystal and me to the cleaners."
"My pleasure, Harold, and thank you for inviting me; I really did have a lovely time."
Harold watched her drive away, wondering if he'd be foolish enough to make one of the riskiest decisions of his life.
The lawyer walking back to the clubhouse was a descendant of pioneers from Britain who came south of the equator 190 years ago and founded the East Coast settlement of Walton.
Harold was a large open-faced man who perhaps looked more like an ageing golf professional rather than a lawyer specialising in defending clients in Court facing criminal charges and lesser offences. He was sixty-four and majority shareholder in the law partnership. He'd been chairman of the board of the Evening News for fourteen years and was concerned that the newspaper was inextricably sinking towards oblivion under mounting debt.
The newspaper still had 67,000 city and rural subscribers and a very profitable commercial printing operation but advertising was being eroded by relentless competition from radio and television.
Back in the clubhouse Mansfield challenged him. "Helen tells me there's something about this woman that's attracted you, that you are going to short-list her for final interviews without requiring her to go through the employment agency handling the recruitment process?"
"I don't know where Helen got that from, but yes, that's what I have in mind."
"What's the attraction? Helen told me you'd taken your interest before even sighting the woman?"
"Another lucky guess by Helen. I merely told her this woman had phoned me and had the cheek to be asked to be short-listed."
"And?" asked Mansfield, determined to get it all from his long-time friend.
"Well," said Harold defensively. "She sounded full of vigour with a lively brain and wasn't at all timid or fawning in speaking to me. I know this is very unlike me but she sounded as if she regarded the editorship as hers."