Home>>read The CEO free online

The CEO(2)

By:Victoria Purman

‘Hey, Callum,’ Ellie said. ‘I talked to your ex-wife.’

Speaking of which. ‘You called Lulu?’

‘No.’ Ellie shook her head. ‘I mean I talked to her a minute ago.’

Callum stiffened. ‘She’s here?’

‘Why do you sound surprised? Why wouldn’t she come?’ Ellie looked up at him, her brows furrowed. ‘I thought you two were on speaking terms, despite everything. And he was her father-in-law. I mean, ex-father-in-law.’

Callum spotted his ex-wife’s familiar petite form. She was wearing a respectful black dress, protected by a large and colourful golf umbrella held aloft by a man. She had one arm looped through his, and was huddled protectively against him. Lulu had called Callum a few months before to let him know, before he heard it from someone else, that she was seeing someone. She didn’t have to say the words but he knew what she meant: she was seeing him. The man she’d left him for. She’d told him she didn’t want the half-life she’d had with him. She wanted normal and that meant being involved with someone whose face wasn’t splashed all over the business pages every other day; someone who wasn’t the subject of personal gossip at every turn, and someone who didn’t attract attention everywhere he went and with everything he did.

It had been a long twelve months since the divorce.

It had been even longer since Callum Malone had realised marrying Lulu Gibson had been a big mistake.

Ellie was apologetic. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t want to get in the way of anything, Callum, but it’s nice that she’s paying her respects, don’t you think?’

Callum cleared his throat. ‘Let’s just say that William Malone didn’t think Lulu came from the right side of Sydney. A bit like you, Ellie. There was only ever one side of the tracks that counted to him, and that was his side. He thought Lulu was after nothing but our money and that’s why he didn’t come to our wedding.’ His father had been wrong about that, too. Lulu hadn’t been in it for the money. She’d left without a cent. Guilt does that to people, Callum thought wryly.

Chris reached a protective arm around his wife, huddling her closer under the umbrella.

‘I met her new partner. Michael something. He’s a teacher. And,’ she added, ‘her sister is here, too.’

Callum’s jaw clenched. ‘Oh, that’s just great.’ Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Lulu, Michael and Ava approaching.

‘Hi, Cal,’ Lulu said softly when she was next to him, a comforting hand coming to rest on his arm. She came forward and kissed him tentatively on the cheek. ‘I was so sorry to hear about your father.’

‘Thank you,’ Callum said stiffly. A year ago, he’d have wanted to punch the teacher. Now, he honestly wished them the normal life Lulu had craved.

‘Look at you, Chris,’ Lulu said, looking happy at an excuse to change the subject and steer herself away from Callum. ‘Congratulations on the baby. That’s wonderful news.’

‘Thank you,’ Ellie said. ‘We’re very excited.’

Lulu cleared her throat. ‘Can I introduce Michael to you both?’

The men shook hands formally with muttered and understated greetings.

Callum looked past Lulu and Michael to Ava, waiting for her to meet his eye so he could at least acknowledge her and thank her for coming. But she was hanging back, using her sister and her umbrella as a shield, looking out over the stormy waters of the ocean instead of choosing to be part of the conversation. He wasn’t surprised. Since the day he’d met Lulu, Ava had never been backward about revealing the disdain in which she held him and his entire family. He’d dubbed her Ava the Terrible, a nickname Lulu had always hated. Callum had always put it down to the massive chip she carried on her shoulder like an epaulette, but today—he didn’t know why—he wasn’t going to play her game. All the money and influence in the world couldn’t fight cancer. Even the rich had to bury their dead. On today of all days, they were more alike than he knew she would ever care to admit: they were flesh and bone and heart and loss.

‘Hello, Ava.’ Callum lifted his umbrella higher so he could see her. She, too, was wearing a black dress, and had tossed a big scarf in the same colour over her shoulders. Her long dark hair was held in a messy bun at her neck and she appeared to be drenched, just like the rest of the party.

‘Hello,’ she murmured, looking at everyone else but him.

Yeah, he thought, still terrible. Which suddenly made him more determined to get her attention. ‘You look well.’