The MillionaireBy: Victoria Purman
He’d seen too many innocent people killed – and for what? Their shattered faces, captured by his lens, still haunted him.
And he’d seen too many people ruined by the chase and the craving and the post-traumatic stress disorder that came with being up that close to death, and cruelty of the most unimaginable kinds. Some hadn’t made it; had chosen to end their lives instead of living with what they’d seen.
He’d seen one too many lives wasted.
He was worried his might be the next. That was why he’d come home.
The next message began playing and it was a voice he recognised. Callum.
“Were you going to tell me you were back in the country?” Judging by the tone in his brother’s voice, he hadn’t been gone long enough.
“Well, hello to you to, little bro,” Chris replied to his phone. Then the thought hit him like a rogue wave. How the hell did Callum know he was back?
“Tell me this. Why do I have to read about it online? Our PR people have been dealing with calls from the media who’re describing you as Australia’s biggest bastard, because you turned down some charity request from the Royal Flying Doctor Service. What the hell’s going on, Chris? Call me back.”
Chris put down his beer. He ran a furious hand through his blond hair.
It was amazing what he picked up when he travelled as much as he had. He could order food, beer, and curse in about a dozen different languages. But right now, English was the only one to hit the spot.
“Holy fucking hell,” he said tightly, the pain in his jaw getting tighter again.
He strode from the kitchen to the small front room that served as his office and fired up his battered laptop. He googled himself and there it was, exploding all over the internet. Each news site was running a variation of Callum’s summary of events and a close up image of him in a white T-shirt and jeans. He looked closer. It was from earlier that day. It was the café at One Mile Beach.
And it was that woman. The one with the stubborn mouth and the big brown eyes and the legs, who’d followed him up from the beach. The one who’d got so nervous she’d jabbed him in the ribs instead of shaking his hand. When he took a closer look at the photo, he was unsettled by what he saw. He did look like a mean bastard. He’d clearly hidden his amusement at her very well, because all the image revealed was a big scowl on his face and his mouth twisted in a hard expression.
He stared at it for a while. He didn’t recognise that guy. The lines on his face, pale traces inside the tanned folds around his eyes and mouth, weren’t from laughing, but from squinting down a lens and holding in the horror.
Man, he really did need this holiday.
He closed his laptop. Grabbed his keys, wallet, and phone and locked the front door behind him.
The lift doors opened on to the 75th floor of a gleaming Sydney office tower, and Chris stepped out in thongs, jeans, and a T-shirt. Looking around, he realised the place hadn’t changed since he was a kid. His grandfather and his father had liked it this way. It reflected them and their attitudes exactly: intimidating and rich. If his brother thought differently, he hadn’t made any moves to change it in the two years he’d been running Malone Enterprises. Rich mahogany wood panelling lined the reception area; there was a singular and well-worn chesterfield sofa pushed against the left wall and a collection of subtle watercolours hanging on the right. Up ahead, fifty feet from the lift, there was a large antique desk, upon which sat a computer, a jug of water and a glass, and one potted plant. A cactus.
A crisply efficient receptionist looked up from the front desk and nodded in his direction.
“Christopher.” Her voice echoed in the cavernous space.
Chris had never seen the woman with another hairstyle. She kept it short and, over the years, it had slowly changed from dark brown to a silvery grey. Everything about her remained as stylish as ever. He’d loved coming into the office when he was a kid. Evelyn had always kept a jar of sweets under her desk and would slip the Malone boys a jelly bean or two whenever they came in. The sweets had disappeared years ago when the boys had grown but her big heart was still in evidence.
“Mr. Malone told me to expect you.” She was trying to hide her smile.
“Which one?” He raised his eyebrows and winked.
“Your father is playing golf this afternoon. I’m talking about your brother.”
“Ah, Callum,” Chris said with a sigh as he propped himself on the edge of the desk. He reached over and touched one of the cactus’s spikes. “I reckon he sleeps in the suit, don’t you?”
Evelyn looked at Chris over the top of her bold, red glasses. “You each followed your own path, however long and winding. Don’t judge him for that, Chris.”