Captive in the Millionaire's Castle

By: Lee Wilkinson



FEBRUARY the fourteenth.

The headlines in the morning paper read:

A WELL-DESERVED VALENTINE FOR WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR. For the second year running, Michael Denver, who, according to some of the top literary critics, is unsurpassed in the field of psychological thrillers, has won the prestigious Quentin Penman Literary Award, this time for his new book, Withershins. This makes him one of the most celebrated authors of his day, with five award-winning novels to his credit.

In spite of this, Michael Denver, after hitting the headlines with a high-profile divorce from top model Claire Falconer, and subsequent rumours of a reconciliation, guards his privacy fiercely and refuses to be either interviewed or photographed.

His four previous books have been snapped up by Hollywood and three of them have already become major box-office successes. Having been widely acclaimed, and quoted as being ‘his best so far,’ Withershins seems likely to follow suit.

Michael replaced the receiver and ran his fingers through his thick dark hair. The phone call from his long-time friend, Paul Levens, had finally served to make up his mind.

Well, almost.

He could do with a PA, and if Paul was right and this girl was the treasure he claimed she was, she might be just what he wanted.

No, not wanted. Needed.

For quite a while, hating the idea of working with another person rather than on his own, as he was used to, Michael had put off the evil moment. But now, of necessity, he was having to think again.

When Paul, who had just reached the position of Associate Director at Global Enterprises, had casually mentioned that he knew of the ideal woman to fill the position, Michael had raised various objections, all of which—unusually for him—were anything but logical.

‘Look,’ Paul said, his blue eyes serious, ‘I’m well aware that after the way women threw themselves at you following your divorce the entire female sex are anathema to you, but it isn’t like you to let emotions, especially such destructive ones, overrule your common sense.

‘You need a good PA. And I’m offering you the chance of a really first-class one. Believe me, Jennifer Mansell is as good as you’re going to get.’

With devastating logic, Michael demanded, ‘If she’s that good, why are you letting her go?’

‘Because I have little option. The powers that be have decided that in the present economic climate we have to trim staff wherever possible.

‘Arthur Jenkins, the departmental boss she’s worked for for more than three years, recently suffered a heart attack and is retiring on doctors’ orders.’

As Michael was about to interrupt he hurried on, ‘If it had been simply a matter of replacing Jenkins, that would have more or less kept the status quo. But it isn’t.

‘Home Sales are being amalgamated with Export, and Cutcliff, who’s run Export for over ten years, already has a good PA.’

A gleam of amusement in his forest-green eyes, Michael suggested dryly, ‘So you’re trying to palm this Jennifer Mansell off on me?’

Paul, a fair-haired, beefy rugby forward, sighed. ‘I’m trying to help you. Though God alone knows why.’

Michael grunted. ‘Well, I’ll think about it.’

Raising his eyes to heaven, Paul said with some exasperation, ‘Don’t overdo the gratitude, whatever you do.’

Grinning, Michael clapped his friend on the shoulder. ‘Thanks.’

But, for him, agreeing to have a woman in his office, under his feet, was a drastic step.

Perhaps if Paul’s protégée had been a man…But even then, he wasn’t sure if he could tolerate the presence of anyone else.

After almost a week, though he really needed to be at his rural retreat, Slinterwood, and starting on his latest book, he had still been undecided.

Then he had received a phone call from his ex-wife, Claire, telling him how badly she missed him and how much she wanted him back in her life, which had done nothing to improve his mood.

Her apparent conviction that she just had to snap her fingers to get him back had made him bitterly angry, and only served to reinforce his present dislike of women. Especially the ones who used sex as a weapon, as she had.

That same morning, Paul had rung and informed him flatly, ‘Well, this is your last chance. On Friday evening Miss Mansell will be hostess at Jenkins’s retirement party. After that, she’ll be leaving.’

Getting no immediate response, he suggested, ‘Tell you what, why don’t you take a quick look at her, see what you think? She’s easy on the eye without being too distracting. And I’m quite sure that she’s not the kind to throw herself at you.

‘If you want to actually meet her, I can introduce you simply as a friend of mine. If not, you can stay in the background, do the whole thing discreetly.’

In no mood for a party, Michael chose the latter course.

‘In the meantime,’ Paul promised, ‘I’ll find out as much as I can about her.’

At eight o’clock that Friday evening, partly concealed by the luxurious foliage of one of the decorative plants, Michael was standing on the balcony that encircled the Mayfair Hotel’s sumptuous ballroom, where Arthur Jenkins’s retirement party was taking place.