She knew he'd keep her waiting. He was that type of person, a hard-hearted and ruthless businessman. She wished there was another solution to her dilemma, but time was running out and she was becoming increasingly desperate. Despite his reputation, she'd been assured he was the only person who had the compassion to take on her request. Whilst she hated going cap-in-hand to anyone, all she had to do was remember the people who would struggle without this and it was enough to spur her on.
"Mr Hart will see you now,"a voice disturbed her reverie, and looking up she saw the rather over-efficient grey haired receptionist peering over the top of the desk opposite her. "It's the third door, on the left."
Standing she nodded, "thank you."
Knocking the door she stood and waited patiently...again. By the time a deep voice responded, after what felt like an hour, but was less than a minute, she was furious.
Opening the door she stepped into the lion's den. Her eyes scanned the large room, and for an office it was huge. The wall to her left was covered in bookshelves all filled with leather covered tomes, to her right, floor-to-ceiling glass gave a flawless panoramic view of the Thames, straight in front of her was a huge and imposing desk. Behind it sat Liam Hart, his black-haired head bowed over a wad of papers.
"Sit!" he gestured to a chair opposite him without looking up.
Annoyed at his deliberate disdain, she remained standing, a foot from his desk. She'd have accepted him being engrossed in a phone call, but her fraught nerves and the anger that had grown since she'd set foot inside this building was threatening to erupt at his blatant rudeness.
Liam had had a horrendous day, he'd not remembered this appointment, and as such was missing out on an auction across town, he'd been after a certain piece of land for a while, and now he had to rely on his assistant to secure the deal.
Laying down his pen he looked up, his eyes leveled with a waist, clad in a cerise thick woollen dress. He raised his eyes upwards slowly, taking in large, but firm breasts, slender neck, rigid jaw, then flashing, angry, brown eyes. She glowered down at him. The fingers on her free hand flexing and straightening in an almost methodical fashion. She was angry, suddenly he felt a little frisson of excitement. He loved a good argument, and he rarely lost.
"You are...?" From the look on her face, he thought she'd explode with anger. One - nil!
She shook her head, "Mr Hart, you know exactly who I am. Less than six months ago in my hour of extreme grief, you were hounding me relentlessly wanting to buy my company. Now you act as though I am a stranger? Or is this a deliberate attempt to undermine me before we even discuss the reason for my visit?"
He was surprised at her acumen, but hid that with a laugh, "you are so cynical Miss Wharton. We have never actually met, but your anger and cynicism tells me you are the same person responsible for the barrage of emails I received from your company whne I merely enquired as to whether you would consider selling to me. Please have a seat and explain the reason for this unexpected appointment."
Finally sitting opposite him, Melissa Wharton leaned back to cross the legs he had only just come to notice. He took a deep breath and settled back into his own chair, propping his elbows on the arms and watching her, his chin resting on his steepled fingers.
She ignored the goading look in his fathomless blue eyes, inhaled then informed him.
"I want to discuss you buying Wharton's."
He hid a gasp of surprise. It was like a very early birthday present. For years he'd wanted to monopolise the construction industry in the South East, the industry that had directly ruined his family. Wharton's was the largest independent commercial construction company left, and he wanted it. But less than six months ago he'd laid a very substantial offer on the table at Wharton's and had been virtually thrown out of the building by Stanley, Melissa's father and the then CEO. He'd tried to reason, explain his intentions, but all he received back was a spate of aggressive emails that spelled out exactly why his interest wasn't welcome.
To rub salt in his wounds, after rejecting his offer, the Wharton's had instead gone into alliance with Ryan Porter, an old friend and business rival of Liam's who had fought to outdo him on so many deals over the years. The man had no scruples and prided himself on stripping any acquisition into fragments and selling for as much as he could. Despite their antagonism, he'd emailed both Stanley and Melissa to warn them about him, but neither had heeded his warning.
He'd thought that had been the end of that, and he'd struggled the last six months to accept that his dream, his life's ambition was over, and at the hands of Porter of all people. This piece of news was like a breath of fresh air.
Liam had heard on the grape vine that the old man had died not long after their disagreement, but no one had informed him that his daughter had taken over in his place - a rather beautiful, fiery and at this moment, extremely angry daughter. He knew he was staring, but she was beautiful, in an unconventional way, her glossy dark hair hung over one eye as he watched her try to remain composed. And a smile stretched across his face.
Melissa glared at him, meeting his stare straight on, she tried to hide the contempt from her face, but knew she was failing. Taking in the dark stubble starting to grace his face and neck at this late hour, his short black hair, and those piercing deep blue eyes that were hidden under his hooded brows. She tried to spot a glitch in the armor of his expression as he kept looking back at her.
"You want to sell, now? Why now?" he eventually asked, hiding his eagerness.
Melissa sighed, "Things have changed. As you may be aware my father passed away. I've battled to keep going, but now think that we may need help from elsewhere."
Liam fought the euphoria that this news brought, "I'd want to see your accounts, investigate things."
"Of course, you'll find out soon enough that we had some bad advice and borrowed a large volume of money against the business, and that's what's crippling us."
The catch in the story. The real reason for selling. "So are you solvent?" Liam knew that his desire to achieve his goal would override any business decisions, but he wasn't going to make it too easy for her.
She nodded, "though we do have repayments on this loan, plus other outgoings."
Melissa handed him a dossier. "These are copies of our accounts, our proposal and our current commitments. I have a stipulation though, that is there's a condition."
The cheek! Liam felt he had to admire her audacity, but he wouldn't let that show. He looked at her expectantly, "and that is?"
She took a deep breath, "I want the staff protected, the business plan for the future to remain unchanged for five years."
"This is the business plan for a business that's failing?" He tried not to laugh out loud.
Melissa shook her head in annoyance, "the business failing is due to a bad, very bad decision that I made. So I hold my hands up to that. The business has been successful for years, and there's no reason, as you can see from my projections, that that will change."
Thinking for a few moments, Liam finally asked, "so why wouldn't I just wait for you to struggle, fail and pick the company up for next to nothing?"
She stood, knowing that this was the only question she couldn't answer with real confidence. "It will never get to that point. We have more contracts than ever, despite the recession. So that's my offer Mr Hart. Just let me know what you decide in the next ten days if you're not interested then that's fine."
She was at the door before the words slowed her, "you were interested once, and I've heard that you're a good man, you're ruthless, but you'd honor the commitment to our employees. I had some sort of faith in you Mr Hart."
With that, she was gone. Her face implanted in his mind, along with those long legs, beautiful pert bottom and those perfect breasts. She was the opposite of everything he looked for in a woman. Headstrong, feisty, tall, she was even fuller, more curvaceous than he ever had found attractive before. So why was he lusting at her memory like a teenage boy. After everything that had happened Liam knew he couldn't let hormonal surges spoil his judgment or his future.
He sat for a while staring into space remembering for the first time in too many years his childhood. Memories locked away deep in his mind, a place he never visited. His father had been sacked by an international company that had bought up a small regional construction company and stripped it down to nothing when he was young. It coincided with the recession in the 80's. He couldn't get any more work, and when he struggled to feed Liam and his brothers, his father did the worst thing imaginable.
He killed himself.
Liam could see the events of that day in his mind as though it was yesterday. His mother uncontrollably weeping, police, his younger brother......
And so their lives went from hard to VERY hard. He vowed at that moment to never let that happen to another family, to any other small boys, or mothers of children. Purchasing this company was vital. It was the last piece of a very important dream.
Liam was nothing if not thorough, and he spent the next few days researching. He had every available man on the hunt for every possible skeleton in any closet. It was just two days later that Jamie, his accountant pushed for a meeting. So he arranged it along with Marco his solicitor.
"Well," Jamie began. "There was a business loan taken out a few months ago, sanctioned by Stanley, countersigned by our Miss Wharton. There's no obvious input to the company, and the repayments are scandalous."
Marco nodded, "and if you take on this offer, then she'll be walking away with more money in her back pocket, and you'll be liable for the debt."
As the facts were laid out in front of him, he started to feel anger at this greed. "So, let me get this straight. She's taken a loan, I'll end up repaying that AND buying her out. So she's basically taking me for a ride?"
They both nodded, "there's no sign anywhere that the money has entered the business account."
"What about the future projections?" He tapped his fingers rhythmically on the desk.
"All sound and viable, the only worry is this money, if you want to give up several million to settle things then go for it." Marco looked at Liam with an eyebrow raised, knwoing that in the ten years they'd worked together Liam hadn't undertaken a deal as ridiculous as this one.
He was thoughtful, "thanks men. I'll get back to you on this."
Once the door closed behind them, he picked up the phone and called the office at Wharton's. Melissa had left. He laughed ironically, why would she work when she was about to fleece him for a ton of money...twice? Ridiculously the rather elderly sounding secretary revealed Melissa's home address, such a breach of her privacy, but for Liam, it meant that at eight pm he found himself on her doorstep.