Taken Over by the BillionaireBy: Miranda Lee
MURPHY’S LAW STATED that if anything could possibly go wrong, then eventually it would.
Jess did not subscribe to this theory, despite the fact that her surname was Murphy. But her father was a firm believer. Whenever anything annoying or frustrating happened, such as a flat tyre when he was driving a bride to her wedding—Joe owned a hire-car business—then he blamed it on Murphy’s Law: bad weather at the weekends; down-turns in the stock market. Recently, he’d even blamed the defeat of his favourite football team in the grand final on Murphy’s Law.
Admittedly, her dad was somewhat superstitious by nature.
Unlike her father, Jess’s view of unfortunate events was way more rational. Things happened, not because a perverse twist of fate was just waiting to spoil things for you without rhyme or reason, but because of something someone had done or not done. Flat tyres and stock-market crashes didn’t just happen. There was always a logical reason.
Jess didn’t blame Murphy’s Law for her boyfriend suddenly having decided last month that he no longer wanted to drive around Australia with her, having opted instead to go backpacking around the whole, stupid world for the next year! With a mate of his, would you believe? Never mind that she’d just gone into hock to buy a brand-new four-wheel drive for their romantic road trip together. Or that she’d started thinking he might be Mr Right. The truth, once she’d calmed down long enough to face it, was that Colin had caught the travel bug and obviously wasn’t ready to settle down just yet. He still loved her—he claimed—and had asked her to wait for him.
Naturally, she’d told him what he could do with that idea!
Neither had Jess blamed Murphy’s Law for recently having lost her much-loved part-time job at a local fashion boutique. She knew exactly why she’d been let go. Some cash-rich American company had bought up the Fab Fashions chain for a bargain price—Fab Fashions was in financial difficulties—and had then sent over some bigwig who had threatened the managers of all the stores that, if they didn’t show a profit by the end of the year, all the retail outlets would be closed down in favour of online shopping. Hence the trimming of staff.
Actually, Helen hadn’t wanted to let her go. Jess was an excellent salesgirl. But it was either her or Lily, who was a single mother who really needed her job, whereas Jess didn’t. Jess had a full-time job during the week working at Murphy’s Hire Car. She’d only taken the weekend job at Fab Fashions because she was mad about fashion and wanted to learn as much as she could about the industry, with a plan one day to open her own boutique or online store. So of course, under the circumstances, she couldn’t let Helen fire poor Lily.
But she’d seethed for days over the greed of this American company. Not to mention the stupidity. Why hadn’t this idiot they’d sent over found out why Fab Fashions wasn’t making a profit? She could have told him. But, no, that would have taken some intelligence. And time!
Before she’d been let go last weekend, she’d asked Helen if she knew the name of this idiot, and she’d been told he was a Mr De Silva. Mr Benjamin De Silva. Some searching on the Internet just this morning had revealed a news item outlining the takeover of several Australian companies—including Fab Fashions—by De Silva & Associates, a private equity firm based in New York. When she looked up De Silva & Associates, Jess discovered that the major partner and CEO was Morgan De Silva, who was sixty-five years old and had been on the Forbes rich list for yonks. Which meant he was a billionaire. He was divorced—surprise, surprise!—with one son, Benjamin De Silva: the idiot they’d sent out. A clear case of nepotism at work, given his lack of intelligence and lateral thinking.
The office phone rang and Jess snatched it up.
‘Murphy’s Hire Car,’ she said, trying not to let her irritation show through in her voice.
‘Hi, there. I have a problem which I sure hope you can help me with.’
The voice was male, with an American accent.
Jess did her best to put aside any bias she was currently feeling towards American males.
‘I’ll do my best, sir,’ she said as politely as she could manage.
‘I need to hire a car and driver for three full days, starting first thing tomorrow morning.’
Jess’s eyebrows lifted. They didn’t often have people wanting to hire one of their cars and drivers for that length of time. Mostly, Murphy’s Hire Car did special events which began and ended on the one day: weddings; graduations; anniversary dates; trips to Sydney airport; that sort of thing. Based on the central coast a couple of hours north of Sydney, they weren’t an overly large concern. They only had seven hire cars which included three white limousines for weddings and other flash events, two white Mercedes sedans for less flash events and one black limousine with tinted windows for people with plenty of money who wanted privacy.
Recently her father had bought a vintage blue convertible Cadillac but it wouldn’t be ready for hiring till next week, having needed new leather seats. Jess knew without even looking up this weekend’s bookings on the computer that she wouldn’t be able to help the American. They had several weddings on. Not uncommon given that it was spring. ‘I’m sorry, sir, but we’re fully booked this weekend. You’ll have to try someone else.’
His weary sigh elicited some sympathy in Jess. ‘I’ve already tried every other hire car company on the Central Coast,’ he said. ‘Look, are you absolutely certain you can’t wangle something? I don’t need a limo or anything fancy. Any car and driver would do. I have to be in Mudgee for a wedding on Saturday, not to mention the stag party tomorrow night. The groom’s my best friend and I’m the best man. But a drunk driver ran into me last night, wrecked my rental and left me unable to drive myself. I’ve a bunged up right shoulder.’
‘That’s terrible.’ Jess hated drivers who drank. ‘I truly wish I could help you, sir.’ Which she genuinely did. It would be awful if he couldn’t make it to his best friend’s wedding.
‘I’m prepared to pay over and above your normal rates,’ he offered just as she was about to suggest he try one of the larger hire car firms in Sydney. They could surely send a car up to him lickety-split. He might even have success hiring an ordinary taxi.
‘How much over and above?’ she asked, thinking of the hefty repayments she had to make on her SUV.
‘If you get me a car and driver, you can name your own price.’
Wow, Jess thought. This American had to be loaded. He could probably afford to charter a helicopter—not that she was going to suggest such a thing. Jess wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
‘De Silva,’ he said.
Jess’s mouth dropped open.
‘Benjamin De Silva,’ he elaborated.
Jess’s mouth remained agape as she took in this amazing coincidence. With his being American and having such a distinctive name, he had to be the same man!
‘Are you still there?’ he finally asked after twenty seconds of shocked silence.
‘Yes, yes, I’m still here. Sorry, I…er…was distracted for a moment. The cat just walked onto my keyboard and I lost a file.’ In actual fact, the family moggie was sound asleep on a sun-drenched window sill, a good ten metres away from Jess’s desk.
‘You have a cat in your office?’
He actually sounded appalled. No doubt there were no cats allowed in the pompous Mr De Silva’s office.
‘This a home-run business, Mr De Silva,’ she said somewhat stiffly.
‘I see,’ he said. ‘Sorry. No offence intended. So, can you help me or not?’
Well, of course she could help him. And it was no longer just a question of money. For how could she possibly give up the opportunity to tell the high and mighty Mr Benjamin De Silva what was wrong with Fab Fashions?
Surely there would be plenty of opportunities somehow to bring up her lost job during the course of their very long drive together. Mudgee was a long way away. She’d never actually been there but she’d seen it on the map when she and Colin had been planning their trip. It was a large country town in the central west of New South Wales, a good five-or six-hour drive from here, maybe longer, depending on the state of the roads and the number of times her passenger wanted to stop.
‘I can take you myself, if you like,’ she offered. ‘I am well over twenty-one, a qualified mechanic and an advanced driving instructor.’ She only helped out in the office on Mondays and Thursdays. ‘I also own a brand-new four-wheel drive which won’t have any trouble negotiating the roads out Mudgee way.’
‘I’m impressed. And extremely grateful.’
And so you should be, she thought a little tartly.
‘So where exactly are you now, Mr De Silva? I’m presuming you’re on the Central Coast somewhere.’
‘I’m staying in an apartment at Blue Bay.’ He gave her the address.
Jess frowned as she tapped it into the computer, wondering why a businessman like him would be staying up here instead of in Sydney. It seemed odd. Maybe he was just doing the tourist thing whilst he was in the country. Combining business with pleasure, as well as going to his best friend’s wedding.