SEVERAL heads turned as the three men made their way into the main bar of the clubhouse. Other men as well as women glanced their way, their gazes carrying a mixture of envy and admiration.
It wasn’t just because these three were rich. Most members of the Sydney Royal Golf Club were wealthy. The attention they instantly drew, especially from women, was more basic than that. Cavewomen had invariably been attracted to cavemen who could best protect and provide for them; physically blessed alpha males whose prepotent genes ensured strong offspring.
A modern woman might imagine she chose her mates differently; that she was attracted to other attributes such as kindness and a good sense of humour. Recent research, however, showed that was false thinking. Apparently, the most attractive quality a man could possess was tallness.
The male trio striding through the bar-room were all tall. If that wasn’t enough to give them an advantage over most members of their sex, they were also handsome and dark-haired and, yes, very rich indeed.
The man who headed straight for the bar and who was obviously going to buy the first round of drinks was Hugh Parkinson, only son and heir to the Parkinson Media fortune. Thirty-six years old, Hugh was Sydney’s most eligible bachelor, a well-known man-about-town with a plethora of past girlfriends, none of whom—amazingly—had a bad word to say about him. A natural charmer, he devoted his life to the pursuit of pleasure, to remaining single and doing only as much work as strictly necessary.
His two golfing buddies were not cut from the same ilk. Both bordered on being workaholics, were married and had been moulded by past experiences into much tougher men.
Russell McClain owned McClain Real Estate, Sydney’s most prestigious and successful property company.
James Logan owned Images, Sydney’s most dynamic advertising and management agency.
The three men had been best friends since their school days. They knew each other very well, including their strengths and their weaknesses. Their affection for each other was genuine and unconditional.
Their Thursday-morning golf game, however, was a no-holds-barred affair. They always played for money, and they always played to win.
‘What on earth’s wrong with Hugh today?’ James said as he and Russell settled at a table on the verandah overlooking the eighteenth green. ‘Never seen him play such pathetic golf.’
‘I have. When you were away, a few weeks ago, just before your wedding. I beat him hollow.’
‘Thanks,’ Russell said drily.
‘You know what I mean. You’re a pretty good golfer, but Hugh’s better.’
‘He should be. He practically lives on the golf course.’
‘True.’ James had used to play quite a bit himself, but not so much since his marriage late last year. Or over the recent Christmas break, when his social calendar had been very full. ‘Come to think of it, Hugh wasn’t up to scratch last week, either. Only just managed to beat us. What do you think’s responsible for his loss of form?’
‘Not sure about lately,’ Russell said. ‘But back in November he was having some kind of woman trouble.’
James was truly taken aback. Hugh never had woman trouble. They threw themselves at his feet with regular monotony. He could have his pick.
‘What kind of woman trouble?’ James asked.
‘I gather he fancied some piece who wouldn’t come across.’
‘Now, that’d be a first. Do you know who she was?’
‘He didn’t say. And I didn’t ask.’
‘Mmm.’ James frowned as he watched Hugh weave his way towards the verandah with three beers cupped in his hands.
What could possibly be the reason for Hugh’s uncharacteristic failure to bed a female of his choice? His womanising reputation, perhaps?
Nah. His being a bad boy with the opposite sex never seemed to put the girls off him. If anything, his being known as a rake only added to his appeal.
‘On second thoughts, I’ve probably got it all wrong,’ Russell said. ‘He probably just had a late night last night, romancing his latest conquest. Maybe even the mystery girl herself. You and I both know that there isn’t a girl alive who can resist those blue eyes once he turns on the charm. Except my Nicole and your Megan, of course.’
‘Come now, he’s not that irresistible.’ But even as he said the words, James conceded that their friend was a veritable babe magnet.
‘Hope you remembered to make mine a light,’ Russell said when Hugh placed the three glasses of beer on the table. ‘I have to work this afternoon.’
‘Me too,’ James said.
Hugh pulled a face as he sat down. ‘That makes three of us.’
‘You’re joking!’ James exclaimed. ‘You! Work? What’s happened? Someone die?’
‘Not quite. But close.’ Hugh picked up his glass and downed a long, cool swallow of beer before continuing. ‘Dad’s off second-honeymooning with wife number five and I’m in charge of the ship.’
‘Should we sell our shares in Parkinson Media?’ James quipped.
Hugh shrugged. ‘I shouldn’t think so. No one could make worse business decisions than dear old Dad when he’s consumed by unbridled lust. Who knows? By the time he comes back down to earth and wants to take the helm again, I might have recouped a few of the billions he’s frittered away in the name of love. You might have forgotten, Jimmy boy, but I was dux of our school. I also graduated from uni with honours degrees in economics and corporate law. I’m not just a pretty face, you know.’
‘Now we know why your mind wasn’t on your golf today,’ said an enlightened Russell. ‘So when did all this happen?’
‘No wonder you’re looking a bit frazzled. I’ll bet it’s a long time since you’ve done a full day’s work.’
‘It’s been a while,’ Hugh admitted, not willing to confess that there’d been a few weeks leading up to Christmas last year when he’d gone into the office almost every day and worked his silver tail off.
The reason for this episode of uncharacteristic diligence had been extremely perverse: his PA.
Hugh hadn’t realised when he’d hired Kathryn Hart several months earlier that he might one day find her so damned sexy.
She wasn’t conventionally beautiful, certainly not pretty. Her facial features were too large, her cheekbones too high and her mouth too wide. He also hadn’t noticed her voluptuous figure at the time of her one and only interview. He’d been concentrating solely on what was contained in her excellent résumé.
Of course, he’d been in a bit of a rush at the time, his father’s decision to place him in charge of the publishing arm of Parkinson’s having come right out of the blue. Hugh hadn’t anticipated taking over anything till his father expired. Whilst Richard—Dickie—Parkinson had made sure over the years that his son and heir had had a sprinkling of experience in every facet of his very diverse company, he was not the kind of man to give over power easily.
Surprisingly, Hugh had not been pleased at this unexpected responsibility.
Not willing to totally give up the easy-going lifestyle he’d become accustomed to, Hugh had immediately sought an assistant with superb skills in the publishing field, someone competent and decisive who could cover for him when he wasn’t in the office. Kathryn Hart had seemed perfect, a cool customer who wasn’t in any way flirtatious with him, as some of the other candidates had been.