A Physical Affair

© 1994


KEIRA gazed up at the larger-than-life-sized portrait that was so skilfully lit. Eden Cassidy.

Just two short days ago he had merely been the celebrated chief of Cassidy-Ford Publishing Corporation, the media conglomerate that owned the magazine where Keira worked as an assistant editor. Technically he was her boss but she’d never actually met the man whose name and face were known worldwide.

Oh, she’d seen him from a distance at a meeting once and she had to admit he was nothing if not a dynamic speaker. And, to add even more colour, the head of Cassidy-Ford Publishing was also renowned as a man who spoke his mind, who definitely didn’t suffer fools gladly. His sparse, very short and to-the-point memos, bearing his strong, forceful signature, attested to that fact.

And then he was regularly interviewed by the whole spectrum of the media who had made tracking him down into almost a national sport.

Now Keira stood in the library of the Cassidy mansion north of Sydney gazing at Eden Cassidy’s lifelike image and she shivered with anticipation, mixed with a definite trace of uneasiness. For at some time this weekend she would surely have to come face to face with the man himself.

And, in view of that small incident a short time ago, she had grave doubts that she had made the best of impressions.

Not for the first time she admonished herself for allowing herself to be manoeuvred into this ambivalent position.

Had it only been Thursday morning when Daniel Cassidy had come into her office with his ridiculous request? And as usual he’d interrupted her when she had been up to her ears in work.

‘Look, Daniel, I’m far too busy to be discussing this with you now. As well you know.’ Keira had berated him without glancing up from the stack of submissions on her desk.

‘All plain excuses, Keira. You could get this magazine out with your hands tied behind your back and your eyes closed.’ Daniel leant across her desk to blow a puff of breath lightly on her ear. ‘So, how about it?’

‘Daniel!’ Keira sat back in her chair, her fingers going involuntarily to her neck where a wisp of fine fair hair had escaped from her chignon. ‘Don’t do that!’

‘Ah ha! Now I have your attention.’ Daniel grinned at her engagingly.

And that he was an extremely engaging young man, Keira couldn’t deny. Tall. Fair-haired. Blue-eyed. Intelligent. Rich. And, to top it all off, very nice.

‘Daniel, please.’

‘Why won’t you come with me?’ he asked earnestly.

‘Just one minor reason. Because I’m a decade older than you are, that’s why.’

Daniel gave a scoffing laugh. ‘How you adults do exaggerate,’ he mocked. ‘You are but eight years-’

‘Nine,’ Keira put in, ‘which is nearly a decade.’

‘OK,’ Daniel acquiesced. ‘You are nine years my senior, which suits me just fine because I’m more than partial to older women.’

‘At the risk of denting your adolescent ego, I’m not into younger men. Sorry,’ she added wryly.

‘How do you know if you haven’t tried one?’ He straightened and folded his arms, looking down at her with overstated seriousness. ‘As a toy boy, I’m renowned, the cream of the crop so to speak.’

Keira laughed lightly, wondering what he’d say if she gave in to the urge to ruffle his stylish fair hair. I’m sure you are, Daniel. Maybe that’s why I wouldn’t be able to trust myself with you.’

‘I can be trusting enough for both of us,’ he put in quickly, and Keira shook her head.

‘Incorrigible, but tenacious.’ She smiled as she rested her elbows on her desk, her chin in her hands. ‘Which is why you’re going to make a pretty good newspaper man-’ she paused and raised her eyebrows ‘-when you grow up.’

‘Now that was below the belt.’ Daniel subsided into the chair behind him and sighed. ‘Do you really mean that, Keira? The newspaper man bit?’

‘Yes, I do. And don’t pull the insecure young person performance on me,’ she said levelly. ‘You know exactly who and what you are.’

At nineteen Daniel Cassidy had more maturity than a lot of thirty-year-olds possessed, Keira knew. Certainly more than Dennis had had. She sighed and pushed her ex-husband out of her mind.

‘And for what it’s worth,’ Keira continued, ‘I find that admirable.’

Daniel pursed his lips. ‘Then why won’t you come with me on Saturday? It’s only until after lunch on Sunday and I promise you’ll have your own room. With a lock. And a chain. Should any lecherous intentions arise,’ he added with an impertinent twinkle in his eyes.

With no little difficulty Keira controlled the blush that threatened to colour her cheeks. Fair skin had more disadvantages than the fact that it was susceptible to the sun. She had just turned twenty-eight, for heaven’s sake. She had married at twenty, been divorced at twenty-five, so one would expect she’d be long past being embarrassed by a teasing innuendo.

Usually she could handle it. But just occasionally the naïve little nobody who’d fallen for a handsome face and the thoughts of babies and a pretty little suburban cottage sprang out to remind her.

‘I can’t understand why you don’t ask one of the hordes of dead gorgeous girls of a socially acceptable age for a nineteen-year-old male. They’d all be more than willing and would rush to spend the weekend at the Cassidy mansion,’ Keira remarked, and added quickly in defiance of her old self, ‘If you did there could be an added bonus and, dare I voice the indelicate, you could get lucky.’

Daniel feigned shock. ‘Bawdiness doesn’t become you, my dear.’ He grimaced and shook his head. ‘I hate casual sex. I told you. I want a meaningful relationship.’

“Then spend some time getting to know someone your own age.’

Daniel said something unprintable under his breath. “They’re mostly so…so boring. Older women are-’ He shrugged. ‘I just like older women. But apart from that, you have to come, Keira,’ he said softly. ‘I’ve told the family you will.’

“The family?’ Keira questioned absently, her mind half on the work on her desk.

‘Well, my uncle.’

Keira’s backbone straightened, her full attention now on Daniel, and she gazed at him in surprise. ‘You what?’

‘I just…’ He ran his hand through his hair. Oh, hell, Keira. He forced my hand. I was provoked.’

‘Provoked? You actually told him I was…? You mentioned me by name?’

‘Well, Eden said with his usual sarcasm, “And this is a special occasion, Daniel, so if you must bring one of your giggling air-heads, make sure she knows her fork from her spoon",’ Daniel mimicked. ‘I lost my cool, Keira.’

Keira could understand that. She also wondered if Daniel knew just how like his well-known uncle he sounded. Eden Cassidy was an older, usually unsmiling, dark-haired version of Daniel, his late older brother’s son.

‘Well, he doesn’t know me,’ Keira frowned, ‘so you can simply tell him you’ve made other arrangements.’

‘He knows you by name,’ Daniel remarked and grimaced. ‘Keira Strong and Chloe magazine are mentioned conversationally in tandem. Everyone knows you virtually run things here and that old Dingbat Di is just an editor in name only.’

‘Daniel, I won’t have you-’

‘All right,’ he broke in, ‘you don’t want to talk about that either. But Eden does know you work here. And that’s gospel.’

‘He probably won’t even remember. I’m just small fry,’ she murmured almost to herself, and then looked back at Daniel. ‘You’ve said yourself your uncle lives to work. And what with everything else he must surely have on his mind, well, this magazine is just a tiny cog in the wheels of Cassidy-Ford Publishing.’

‘Huh!’ Daniel sat forward. ‘No go, Keira. The man has a mind like a computer. He never, but never, forgets a thing. He knew you were with this magazine and he’ll be expecting you in person.’

‘Daniel, for heaven’s sake!’

‘Can’t you look on it as a business meeting?’ Daniel suggested.

‘A business meeting? Your grandfather’s eightieth birthday celebration?’

‘Well-’ Daniel began.

‘Since your grandfather is Sir Samuel Ford, co-founder of this illustrious and gigantic media conglomerate, I hardly think we can write off the weekend at the family mansion as a business meeting, do you?’

Daniel shrugged. ‘On past performances there’ll be thousands of people there, all vying for top attention. We won’t even be noticed.’

Keira gave a sharp laugh of disbelief. ‘Oh, no? The only grandson of Sir Samuel Ford will be pushed right out of the limelight.’ Keira shook her head. ‘Really, Daniel! If you were the young brother I think of you as I’d-well, I’d do something very physical to you.’

‘Promises, promises.’ He held up his hand at Keira’s expression. ‘I’m sorry. But you know I hate going out to the family seat for the weekend. I thought if you were going to be there it would be bearable. I mean, Eden always gets on my back about going to university, old Sam quizzes me about girls.’ He sighed loudly. ‘He wants a great-grandson, would you believe? No one pressures Eden about producing an heir to take over the family fortune. I tell you, Keira, it’s a hell of a life.’

She had to smile, if reluctantly, and Daniel pulled his chair closer, reaching across her desk to clasp her hand. ‘But apart from that, don’t you see, Keira? That’s why I like you. The money-it doesn’t rate with you. I know you like me for myself. You aren’t after the cash and the name and everything. Most girls are, you know.’

He could be right about that, Keira acknowledged, and then removed her hand from his. ‘Very clever, Daniel. But the poor little rich boy act won’t wash either. However, don’t despair, you nearly had me there.’

He laughed softly. ‘I do really like you, you know. How could I not? You’re attractive, intelligent, funny. And I can talk to you. Can’t you do me this one small favour?’

‘No, Daniel.’

‘Then you’ll be wasting Eden’s spot of investigation.’

Keira paused and glanced up from the article in front of her. It’s another ploy. Ignore it, Keira, she told herself, knowing full well she wouldn’t and that she’d regret asking. ‘Investigation? What investigation?’

‘Well, you don’t think Eden Cassidy would take any girl I’d date, one I’d bring to old Sam’s party no less, at face value, do you?’

‘Absolute rubbish.’ She frowned. Was this another of Daniel’s tactics? ‘You said yourself he knew all about me.’

‘Not all about you. Knew of you. Now you’ve been checked out. Hasn’t there been someone around the office this past week just asking a few unassuming questions, almost invisibly watching the comings and goings?”

‘Daniel, that’s ridiculous.’ Keira caught her breath. There was someone. A nondescript man of indiscernible age. But he’d said he was part of the time and motion… He’d had credentials. It had started rumours of revamping the magazine, although Keira personally had disregarded the idea.

She looked levelly at Daniel. ‘Are you making this up?’

He shook his head and Keira stood up to pace behind her desk.

What a rotten thing to do. Eden Cassidy wouldn’t have the gall to investigate her for so paltry a reason. Not face to face. Well, face to face if only through one of his minions, so to speak. He could have simply checked her file in personnel without going to such elaborate lengths. ‘He wouldn’t dare,’ she breathed.

‘Wouldn’t he?’

The sound of Daniel’s voice brought her back from her cloud of anger and she looked at him through narrowed eyes. ‘Is this on the level?’

He nodded solemnly.

‘Good grief! Just because he’s the king pin it doesn’t mean he can…’ She paused, seeking the right words. ‘It’s an invasion of privacy, that’s what it is. He must think he owns us. Do you know, I should front up to him and tell him to his face what a manipulative…’ Keira closed her mouth and bit back the rest of the unflattering adjectives she was thinking in conjunction with Eden Cassidy.

‘He sure has a nerve, doesn’t he? Thinking he can dictate someone’s after-hours life.’ Daniel stood up and rubbed his hands together. “And this weekend would be the greatest opportunity for you to show him he has no claim on you after you’ve put in your forty hours.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘What say I pick you up about eightthirty on Saturday morning?’

And what a fantastic display of Cassidy manipulation, Keira told herself for the umpteenth time as she’d snapped shut the catch on her overnight case this morning and set it by the front door. The dynamic Eden Cassidy would have been proud of his only nephew.

‘Manoeuvred into going away for the weekend with a boy still in his teens,’ she muttered aloud as she gazed down at her sleeping cat. ‘To a party for a self-made billionaire which is to take place in the family mansion. And said family mansion just so happens to be a showpiece that has held its own in the hierarchy of lifestyles of the rich and famous. What do you think about that, Roger?’