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Authors: Nora James

Dark Oil

BOOK: Dark Oil
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DARK OIL

www.escapepublishing.com.au

Dark Oil

Nora James

Home isn't always where the heart is. . .

When lawyer Lara Beckham is sent to Africa to save her company's multi-million dollar investment, she's devastated at leaving her husband behind. But what can she do? She's needed on the other side of the world, fighting corruption in a country of rolling sand dunes and roaming camels.

On her return, however, it becomes clear that Tim has had plenty of company while she was away. Now, on top of dealing with a complicated legal system, an African coup and a marriage beyond saving, Lara has one more ball to juggle: her effortlessly seductive co-worker, Jack Norton, is joining her on the job. . .and he oozes trouble.

About the Author

Nora James started her working life at age 14 in a bakery in Paris. She held a number of other jobs before studying law at the University of Western Australia and becoming an international resources lawyer and translator. She has travelled extensively, both as a child and adult, for family reasons, work and pleasure.

She now writes novels and screenplays from her home in coastal Western Australia, where she lives with her husband and daughter and a menagerie of furry friends.

Acknowledgements

To Anna, Claire, Juanita, Susy and Teena, thank you for years of help and support. To my lovely late friend Leonie, your input was invaluable and you will always be an inspiration. Finally, to Dominique and Li Yu, a huge thank you. My life would mean nothing without you.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

—Albert Camus

Contents

About the Author

Acknowledgements

Epigraph

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXV

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVIII

Bestselling Titles by Escape Publishing…

I

Lara Beckham swallowed hard as she prepared to enter the lion's den. The beast, in the form of Alan Smiles, the Armani-clad CEO of Global Oil, would be watching her every move, ready to devour her at the slightest mistake. If she slipped up she'd be out, not back to her old job, but banished.

She paused in front of the glass shelves that lined the wall near Alan's office, but it wasn't the intricately carved box, the exquisite gold statue or the stunning Aboriginal painting displayed there, all gifts of appreciation of high dignitaries, which caught her attention.

She was drawn to the view, through the adjoining window, of the park behind the building where she usually ate lunch. A woman sat in the shade of a silvery gum tree, out of the unforgiving Western Australian sun that would easily scorch the delicate skin of the child she cradled with tenderness. Lara sighed. If only she could trade places! She and Tim had been married long enough. Surely he should be ready to start a family by now.

She ran her hand through her long ponytail, brushed a blonde hair off her black jacket and raised her fist, ready to knock on the solid beech door. Suddenly, it opened and the tall, broad-shouldered man who stood before her flinched, probably as surprised as Lara to come nose-to-nose with another human being at that very moment. He nodded, acknowledging her presence, and as he stepped aside for her to enter, she couldn't help but notice the intense green of his eyes, those eyes that seemed to be studying her every move.

She felt a slight flutter in her stomach, the kind she hadn't experienced in years. The man's lips curled into a mischievous smile. He knew the effect he had on her, she could tell. If it hadn't been for the apologetic look that immediately followed when she crossed the threshold, and that cute dimple in his cheek, she mightn't have forgiven him.

She turned away, quickly sliding into the black leather chair next to Martin Griffiths, the intransigent and definitely plain Commercial Manager, happy to be escaping the unwanted attention that had somehow stirred her. To her relief the man with the magnetic eyes left without a word.

Alan banged his fist on the stack of documents in front of him and the only rebellious lock of his otherwise impeccably coiffed grey hair fell onto his forehead. “The market's already nervous about us investing in countries like Negala. We can't afford stuff-ups. It has to be done by the book.”

He stared at Lara, pressing his thin lips together for an instant. The stillness of his gaze and the tightness of his jaw reminded her of his propensity to pounce. “You'd better learn from your predecessor's mistakes.”

“I certainly will,” was all she said, recognising brevity as an advantage in the circumstances. Alan was always difficult but since the Negalese government had announced Global Oil's permit to explore for oil in the country had been terminated, leaving it with no clear right to continue operating despite the hundreds of millions already spent on the project, he had become unbearably oppressive. It was best to take orders from him and say little until the storm passed.

Alan leaned forward. “I want the two of you working day and night to make this thing go away. Fix it, or it'll be your head next, Martin. Do we understand each other?”

Martin cowered in his seat, a submissive nod his only response.

“Have the two of you finished the due diligence? Any more rotten news you'd like to deliver?”

Alan was referring to the discovery, through the internal scrutiny of company records by both the Legal and Exploration Departments, that Global Oil had been late in sending a couple of work reports to the Negalese government. The unfortunate error had cost Lara's predecessor his job. The poor man's future in the law in a city the size of Perth, where the legal fraternity was chummy and mistakes quickly became known to all was now at best uncertain.

And he hadn't been the only one to get the boot. The commercial team was also considerably lighter for failing to monitor compliance with the contractual obligations. Lara shook her head. “I've checked and double-checked all our records. Everything else has been done by the book.”

Martin cleared his throat. “I have to point out again, Alan, that we relied on advice from Legal.” His voice was still croaky and he brought his long, bony hand to his scrawny neck. “The date in the summary was wrong.”

“How hard was it to double-check the contract? Perhaps I should have sacked you, too. How late is the report, did you say?”

Martin tilted his narrow, egg-shaped head. “Just over a week. In any case, the government hasn't given us any reason to think that's why our exploration permit is being withdrawn. And the breach certainly isn't the type you'd withdraw the title for, if you were acting in good faith.” He glanced at Lara. ”Well, that's my understanding.”

Alan's face was becoming a brighter shade of red by the minute. “It's not the point, Martin. We can't afford to give them any excuses for termination—rightful or wrongful. That's exactly what they're looking for. Excuses.”

Alan flicked the unruly lock of hair off his forehead and back where it belonged. “How can they do this? Don't they know who we are? We're the biggest oil company in Negala, damn it. We've invested hundreds of millions!” He turned abruptly to Lara. “What's your take? Do they have the right to terminate?”

Less than two weeks ago Lara thought she'd spend the rest of her career preparing mind-numbing supply contracts, alone in an office. Now, after the spate of sackings, she was the lawyer advising the CEO. The learning curve was steep. And Alan Smiles wasn't the caring type. He didn't suffer fools. He crucified them.

She projected her voice, hoping for confidence. “The Production Sharing Contract. . .” She took a breath as she remembered the big boss liked acronyms. “The PSC says they can terminate for any breach, including the late lodgement of reports, but only if they do certain things. They must first send us a notice to comply under section forty three. Then, if we don't remedy the breach within one month, they can withdraw the permit and terminate our contract.”

She settled further back in her chair, feeling her shoulders drop and the tension in her body dissipate now she'd started. She could do this, and do it well, despite Martin's sneer whenever she opened her mouth. “In other words, they have to give us a chance to fix things before they can take away our right to explore.”

She rested her left hand on Alan's desk. “The point is there's no longer a breach for them to use as an excuse. We've already sent in the reports, even though they were late. I'm told a government employee accepted the documents. End of story. Well, it should have been. Lodging the report late isn't a valid reason for the Negalese government to terminate the PSC. There is no valid reason, as far as we can see. And there's no evidence they've even noticed the reports were late. Whatever we send in usually sits on someone's desk for months before anyone looks at it. We know that from past experience, or so I'm told. My gut feeling is they've terminated our rights for reasons unknown to us and completely unrelated to anything we've done as a company.”

The CEO pursed his lips. “There's nothing more we can do to protect ourselves now?”

“I'm afraid not.”

Alan grunted. “You're both meeting the government in Zakra tomorrow. Jack Norton's coming, too.”

Martin let out a sound of disbelief. “We don't need Norton.”

“It's not negotiable. And Martin, I want you to report to me personally every day. That includes weekends. Get PR involved for damage control.”

Lara's heart pounded in her chest. A meeting in Zakra tomorrow? That meant leaving tonight, straight after wining and dining and a little—too little—romance with her husband. It wasn't what she'd planned. She'd been counting the days impatiently, imagining their anniversary in every detail. The Dom Perignon champagne, the rose petals on the bed, the vanilla-scented candles. She'd thought about everything, including breakfast in bed together the next day.

Alan tapped the desk with his right index finger. “Find out what's driving this. We need definite answers. Don't come back until it's fixed.” He picked up the phone, Lara and Martin's cue to leave.

They saw themselves out without a word, Martin slipping past Alan's assistant and down the corridor. Lara hurried behind him.

“We're leaving tonight?” She hadn't expected to travel this soon into the job. Her stomach churned at the thought of telling Tim. At least they'd have some time together this evening. She'd been planning it for so long.

Martin shook his head. ”This afternoon.”

Lara's eyes widened. Her shoulders tensed. “This afternoon?”

“Do you have a hearing problem?” He was in a foul mood after the meeting with Alan and barking again now he was back in control. He opened the door to his office. “I can't believe I have to put up with Norton again. He's not to be trusted, that one. Don't say I didn't warn you. Well, what are you waiting for? Go home and pack your bags. You'll need to be at the airport by half three.”

She felt heavy, as if she'd suddenly been asked to carry a boulder. Lara had hoped she and Tim would find themselves and find each other again this evening. He'd been working such long hours lately and they'd spent so little time together. Most of it had either been Tim worrying about work or lying brain-dead on the couch, trying to recover from his gruesome schedule.

BOOK: Dark Oil
13.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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