Author: Ainslie Paton
Heroine: Darcy Campbell
It’s not her profession—journalism, or her looks—slightly overweight, dressing on a budget, or her actions that make Darcy Campbell heroic.
It’s the way she faces up to the catastrophe she causes, the pressures of her family and the changes professional success make to her life.
She’s not heroic because she fights off professional rivalry, sexism and being marginalised as a woman. Or because she works hard, under difficult circumstances to fix the wrong she did to her interview subject, Will Parker.
A romance about manipulation, truth and facing the past.
Truth can make you and break you. But can it glue you back together again?
Detained in a cold, dull room in the depths of Shanghai airport, a journalist chasing a career break and a businessman with a shadowy past, play a game of truth or dare—deliberately not exchanging names.
They tell each other painful secrets and hot desires. One dare leads to a kiss and a wild weekend of illicit passion, setting off a dangerous sequence of events and bringing exposure, and disgrace.
Only the brutal truth can save them. But it will also rip them apart. And it will take more than daring before they have a chance to build a new truth together.
Darcy Campbell sat on her hands. The posture wasn’t pretty outside primary school but it was effective. A better alternative to violence. It was the bodily equivalent of biting her tongue. She did that too. After the screaming match she’d had with Gerry in the corridor, she knew Mark didn’t need any excuse to regret his decision.
Mark Mason was a study in cool angry. He channelled plugged volcano, but his eyebrows had knitted. A hint the eruption, if it came, would be devastating.
It was business as usual to see Gerry frothing at the mouth. Mostly his lather was theatrical. It was designed to remind everyone he was the paper’s most senior correspondent. But right now it was downright rabid. Gerry Ives was a man whose banner headline-sized ego had been stroked the wrong way and his fur prickled.
Gerry propped his ‘years of long lunches’ bulk on Mark’s desk, wafts of cigarette smoke easing from the creases in his crinkled blue shirt. “She knows nothing about reporting business at this level.”
Mark kept his frown steady on the Richter scale and his voice level. “Is that right, Gerry?”
“Want to know anything about the ‘Oh my God’ particle, Darcy is your girl, but this isn’t special interest reporting.”
“I’d hardly call science special interest.”
“Don’t fuck with me. What’s she got I haven’t, apart from legs to her hairy armpits and good tits?”
“I’m not going to respond to that, Gerry and neither is Darce. It’s beneath you.” Mark’s warning look was the kind you gave a dog about to steal a shoe to chew, right before you thwacked him on the nose with it to make sure he didn’t. Mark knew how much Darcy wanted to knee Gerry where it would hurt more than his 48pt-sized ego.
“Why not? They asked for me. Me, our senior business correspondent, ex-Asia desk chief, twenty-five years in the business.”
“They did and they expect you, so we’re not going to give them what they expect. The day it’s dial-a-reporter-of-choice is the day I retire.”
“This paper used to be about in-depth, intelligent, investigative reporting. She’ll write about his flamin’ hairstyle, and what he has for fucking breakfast.”
“Darcy will write about Parker Corporation and if what Will Parker has for breakfast is part of his extraordinary success, she’ll write about that too.”
“Fuck. You’d be the worst managing editor I’ve ever worked with.”
“I bet you say that to all the boys.”
Darcy would’ve laughed but Mark hairy-eyeballed her.
Gerry made a growl sound; part wet ashtray, part undigested sweet and sour pork, and threw his bulk into a chair. “I’m not being precious. I don’t understand why you want Darcy to do this instead of me. There aren’t too many genuine scoops left in this business. Not too many genuine opportunities to bring the world a story it’s not heard before. This Will Parker is a fair dinkum mystery man. He’s built a multibillion dollar business out of thin air, and no one knows who the fuck he is, where he’s come from or what he’s going to do next.”
“That’s right. So it’s not like you have a head start knowing how to write the story.”
“But I know how to ask the right questions. This is my turf and much as Darce is a gun, she’s not up to it.”
“Jesus, Gerry! I’ve done my apprenticeship.”
The words were bouncing around the room before Darcy realised she’d said them. She looked at Mark. There was a fight going on at the corner of his mouth, one side ticked up with the vague promise of a smile. He wasn’t going to shut her down.
“I’ve been reporting for ten years. I’ve covered business, sure not at your level, Gerry. But I know the drill. I’ve worked crime, education, science and public companies. I’ve done bloody awful death knocks, and bat shit boring budget lockups. I’m damn sure I can interview a CEO and come away with a decent story.”
“A reclusive superstar CEO about whom not a word’s been written that’s not pure speculation or conjecture.”
Gerry had a point. Gerry always did, that’s why he was the country’s leading business commentator and Darcy was rattled by this whole thing. One minute she was writing about particle physics, the next Mark wanted her on a plane to Shanghai to write the definitive piece on Australia’s most enigmatic businessman.
This was the ‘Oh my God’ particle right here.
But if she showed any sign of weakness, any twitch of confidence, Gerry would elbow her sideways so hard she’d be writing the racing guide. And if Mark, for all his apparent consideration and support, smelled a whiff of fear, he’d have no qualms reversing his decision.
“I’ve got this, Gerry,” she said, looking at Mark. Mark who’d sign her expenses and ultimately approve her copy. And bounce her so hard if she fucked up, a job in a suburban paper writing about the need for more school safety zones would start looking good.
Gerry’s head whipped around. “Sounded like your old man there for a minute, Darce.”
Trust Gerry to bring Brian up. He’d never gotten over losing out to her father on the managing editor job at the Financial Record. Every chance he got he’d made a dig about it. The inference was always that Darcy only had a job because Brian pulled strings.
Gerry glared at Mark. “I get copy approval.” He hauled himself upright. “I’m still business pages editor.”
“I’ll take that into consideration,” said Mark. Now the shouting had stopped, he was doing his imitation of the earth cooling, brows going it back to their habitual position above watery grey eyes that’d seen too many pissing competitions like this. “Get out. And if I have to break up a racket like what just went down between the two of you again, I’ll find a way to bloody well dock your pay.”
He would too. And there’d be nothing they could do about it. Mark was wily. If he needed to walk on water to run the paper he’d come up with special moves to keep his feet from getting wet. You didn’t survive as managing editor of the Herald without knowing how to out-manoeuvre, out-bully and outsmart a mob specialising in manoeuvring, bullying and being near criminally intelligent.
Darcy let Gerry quit the office first. She wanted a word with Mark. He let her hover uncertainly while he read an email. He had a way of making you feel like you were taking up too much space on the planet.
“They asked for Gerry. You’re taking a risk on me and I want to know why.”
“I’d better not be taking a risk on you.”
“You know what I mean.”
Mark sighed. ‘You’re the investigative reporter, take a stab.”
“Parker won’t be able to pick where I’m going with the story because my current resume isn’t on point. It’ll be harder to manipulate the interview because I’m an unknown quantity.”
Darcy watched Mark for a nod or a meaningful blink. She got nothing. “You’re sending me because my tits are more impressive than Gerry’s.”
He picked up his phone and thumbed it. “That’s my good little investigative reporter.”
“I can’t believe...”
Mark dropped his phone and zeroed in. Mean glare at two paces. “Will Parker is a thirty-something year old ghost. He’s never done an interview. The only reason Parker’s people initiated this is because he suddenly needs to build a local profile. The guy wants something and we don’t know what. We’re not his bloody PR agency, but that’s how he’s treating us. If we want the real story on why Parker wants to expand his interest here instead of China where he’s been based for the last ten years, we’re going to need to fight for it. And your tits are better than Gerry’s.”
“You want me to seduce him?”
“Come on, Campbell. Every interview is a seduction; you know that. You learned that as a cadet. Hell, you probably learned it at Brian’s knee. Yeah, I want you to fucking seduce Will Parker. Seduce him so he flashes his soul and all his grubby business interests at you, so you can stick ‘em on page one, and wreck any chance he has of ripping off the Australian public in his quest to make another billion.” Mark took a lungful and expelled it impatiently. “Is that clear?”
“And you get I’m not actually telling you to flash your tits, or sleep with the guy?”
“I do. Anyway he might be gay and my tits are not that good.”
Mark’s hand went to his head in a gesture of disbelief. “Fucking might be gay.” He refocused on her, and it wasn’t humour he projected. ”Darce, you always did know how to push the point. Go meet a deadline. Don’t disappoint me.”
It wasn’t till she was back in the corridor that Darcy allowed herself to feel exhilaration. Her heart was fuel-injected; her head, helium high. She was going to interview Will Parker. No—she was going to seduce Will Parker with nothing but her intellect. And when she’d broken the secrets of Parker Corporation, no one would say she skated by because she was Brian Campbell’s daughter, and any media job she wanted to name would be one step closer.By the time she got back to her desk, her smile muscles were fatigued and her stomach was flip-flopping. If she was going to seduce Will Parker with anything other than a plunging neckline and a too short skirt, she had work to do.
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