Lee Hallows possesses a master’s in art history, a string of failures at painting and romance, experience as a part time pizza waitress, an eviction notice, her looks, and not much else. Wil Scott is saddled with a teetering business empire, three ex-wives, and a weight problem. He advertises for a traveling companion with an art background to accompany him to Europe. She gets the job. The pay is high and the perks are incredible. Wil’s lawyer assures Lee that bed favors are not part of the bargain. Since the job ad egregiously requested a photo, she doubts this is true.
Required or not, the arrangement seems headed in that direction until Wil confesses to Lee that his reputation has been shattered by justified accusations of bargaining for intimacy with his female employees. His bankers are demanding a show of rehabilitation. If he fails, his former spouses, estranged children, harassed subordinates, and nervous creditors are ready to pick over the bones of his assets. His treatment of Lee is supposed to exemplify his new hands-off attitude. The effort isn’t going so well.
How could he do this to me? Her anger still boiled inside.
Tessa shrugged her hair back from her eyes and tried to concentrate on the conference brochure in front of her, but it was no good. Rob's treachery wouldn't leave her mind.
I thought we were in a loving, caring, relationship, and instead he cheated on me. She turned the page angrily. The smell of hot coffee interrupted her thoughts as an air stewardess came rattling along with a trolley.
She stopped at Tessa's seat. "Coffee and a sandwich?"
Tessa looked up. "No thank you, just coffee."
As the stewardess poured her coffee and handed it to her, the man in the seat beside her looked up from the papers he had been studying.
"What sandwiches do you have?" he asked.
"We have egg and cress, or cheese." The stewardess glanced down at the trolley.
"Are you sure you don't want a sandwich?" he said to Tessa.
"No, I've said so," Tessa said, carefully avoiding looking at him.
"In that case I'll have it. One of each please," he said to the stewardess.
Tessa stared at him in astonishment. Greedy piglet, she thought.
The stewardess looked startled but placed the two sandwiches and a coffee on a small tray, passing it over Tessa to the man and then moved on to the next seat.
He turned to Tessa, and she caught his admiring glance as he looked her up and down.
"Sorry about that," he said. "I caught the Zürich plane in a bit of a hurry and didn't get any breakfast."
Tessa shrugged, tensing up, not wishing to get into conversation. She turned again to the brochure she was reading as though this would act as a barrier between them.
He continued looking at her as he picked up his sandwich. "That's a coincidence," he said, looking down at the brochure on her lap. "Are you going to the plastics conference tomorrow? I think most people on this plane are."
Happily munching his sandwich he waved his free hand about to indicate the other passengers, while the sandwich she thought of as hers sat on his tray.
She gave a sigh and closed the brochure. "Yes, I am. What's your interest?"
"First, let me introduce myself." He looked directly at her, his grey eyes opening wide. She found his low, hypnotic voice attractive. "I'm Alex Baxter. I'm in the plastics business. I thought this conference on the future of plastics would prove interesting. How about you?"
"Tessa Corston, I'm a research lecturer. I'm involved in a five-nation project to clean up plastics in our rivers and oceans, so the future of plastics is something I really care about."
Putting his sandwich down, he wiped his fingers carefully on his napkin and offered his hand. "Hello, Tess. It's good to meet you."
As she shook his hand she felt a tingle run up and down her spine.
She let go of his hand quickly. Because calling her Tess brought back memories of Rob, who always called her that, she said angrily, "Don't call me Tess, my name is Tessa."
He recoiled as though struck with a physical blow. "Sorry, I was just trying to be friendly."
"Well, don't," she snapped, bringing the conversation to an abrupt halt. She looked cautiously at him.
His head drooped as he pretended to study the papers on his knee. The atmosphere felt glacial.
Reaction set in as Tessa leant back in her seat, starting to feel that perhaps she had gone too far.
I'm some sort of fool to treat him like that. He hasn't done anything wrong. It was a gesture of friendship. Just because Rob called me Tess doesn't mean no-one else can. How can I make amends without appearing to apologise?
Taking a deep breath she leant forwards and asked, "What sort of plastics business are you in?"
His head came up immediately and the smile came back to his face. “Here take my card, this will tell you," he said. and Taking out his wallet, he handed her a gold-edged visiting card.
She glanced at the heading, Roboplastix Inc.
"We make plastic robots that can do all sorts of jobs around the home and also ones that can care for people."
Tessa could hear the enthusiasm in his voice. "Plastic robots? That sounds weird. How can you have a plastic robot?" Tessa was genuinely interested, her earlier anger forgotten.
"We make them from a special plastic that's as strong as steel. The robots can sweep, clean and do dozens of domestic jobs, but the caring ones are made of cuddly imitation fur."
Tessa looked quizzically at him. "Sounds interesting, but you manufacturers of plastic goods don't seem to realise what you're doing to this planet. Our project is trying to find ways of cleaning up your mess," she said, her breath quickening.
"Wow, that sounds like one heck of a project," he said with a smile.
That annoyed Tessa. She felt herself getting passionate. "It's people like you that cause the problem," she said. "So much plastic waste is being dumped in our oceans."
He looked surprised. "I doubt if our robots get dumped in the ocean—they can't swim, not yet anyway." He smiled at her. "In any case, we don't cause the problem." He took a bite of his sandwich. "It's the people who dump the plastic in the water who do the polluting."
"That may be so," Tessa said, her anger rising. She felt her cheeks flushing. She stiffened in her seat as he leant forward.
"Have you analysed how the plastics get into the rivers and oceans?" he asked.
"Yes, we have," Tessa snapped. "And in a way you're right, it's the ignorance of people throwing away unwanted plastic bottles, cling film and plastic sheets. They're the things that cause the most damage, especially when they degrade into small particles of plastic which get into our food chain from fish and other waterborne creatures."