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Home > Mistress of the Game(11)

Mistress of the Game(11)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

Today, of course, Robbie Templeton knew the legend of Kruger-Brent by heart. It was as much a part of him as the blood in his veins and the hair on his head. He knew all about Jamie McGregor, Kate’s father. About how he had come to South Africa from Scotland in the late 1800s, penniless but determined, and founded the most profitable diamond-mining business in the world. Jamie had been cheated by a local merchant, Salomon Van der Merwe. With the help of Van der Merwe’s brave black servant, Banda, Jamie had taken his revenge; first by stealing the perfect twenty-karat diamond on which the Kruger-Brent empire was founded and then by impregnating Van der Merwe’s daughter, Margaret-Kate Blackwell’s mother.

The name of the company Jamie founded was a further insult to the merchant who had not only cheated him but tried to have him killed. Kruger and Brent were the names of the two Afrikaner guards who had chased Jamie and Banda as they fled for their lives, their pockets weighed down with Van der Merwe’s diamonds.

Kate herself had no memories of her father, who died when she was very young. But it was clear from the hushed, reverential tones in which she spoke of him that in her eyes, Jamie McGregor was nothing short of a god. She loved to tell Robert how much he looked like his great-great-grandfather. And indeed, if the portrait of Jamie McGregor that hung in Cedar Hill House was anything to go by, the resemblance was striking.

Robbie knew his great-grandmother meant it as a compliment. But he wished she’d stop saying it all the same.

After Jamie McGregor’s death, Kruger-Brent was run for two decades by his friend and right-hand man, another Scot named David Blackwell. Kate fell in love with David. Despite being twenty years her senior, and at one point engaged to another woman, David ended up marrying her. As so often in her life, Kate had seen something she wanted and refused to rest until she made it her own.

David Blackwell was the second great love of Kate’s life.

The first was Kruger-Brent.

When David was killed in a mine explosion shortly after World War II, everyone had expected his young, pregnant widow to grieve for a year or so and then marry again. But it never happened. Having lost one love, Kate Blackwell devoted the rest of her long life to the other. Kruger-Brent became her sun and her moon, her lover, her obsession, her world. Under Kate’s chairmanship, the company grew from being a successful, African diamond business to a global giant, with holdings in copper, steel, petrochemicals, plastics, telecoms, aerospace, real estate, software. Kruger-Brent was in every sector in every market in every corner of the globe. And still Kate Blackwell’s lust for acquisition and expansion remained insatiable. Even stronger, however, was her obsession with finding an heir. Someone within the extended Blackwell clan who could carry on her good work and take the firm to even greater heights of world domination after she died.

When her own son, Tony, buckled under the pressure of his inheritance and lost his sanity, Kate transferred her ambitions to his twin daughters: Alexandra, Robbie’s mother, and Eve, his scary aunt. Eve and Alexandra’s mother died giving birth to them. With their father confined to a mental institution, it was left to Kate to raise the two little girls.

From the start, Kate Blackwell was determined that one of her granddaughters should take over Kruger-Brent when she came of age. For many years, it was going to be Eve. Eve was always the dominant twin, and her succession seemed natural. But then something terrible happened. Something so bad, it had convinced Robbie’s great-grandmother to cut Eve out of her inheritance altogether.

Whatever the terrible thing was, it was a secret Kate had taken with her to the grave. Robbie would have liked to ask his aunt Eve himself what had happened all those years ago, but he was far too frightened. With her shrouded face and strange, cryptic way of talking, Aunt Eve had always given him nightmares. Even his parents seemed a little bit afraid of her, which frightened Robbie even more.

Still, he longed to know what had passed between his great-grandmother and his aunt. Because whatever it was, it was responsible for his own, unhappy position. Like his grandfather Tony before him, Robbie had dreams for a life outside of Kruger-Brent. All he’d ever wanted to do was play the piano. But Kate Blackwell had named him as her heir against his own, and his parents’, express wishes. The force of her will was unstoppable, something generations of her family had learned the hard way.

Robbie smiled at Karis Brown, the head receptionist. A softly spoken brunette in her midforties with a trim figure and dancing, merry hazel eyes, Karis had the sort of face that radiated kindness. Though far less beautiful, she reminded Robbie a bit of his mother.

“Dad’s not expecting me. At least, I don’t think he is.”

There was always the possibility that Mr. Jackson, the principal of St. Bede’s, Robbie’s prestigious private high school, had called ahead.

Karis Brown raised a questioning eyebrow. “Not in any trouble, I hope?”

Robbie shrugged sheepishly. “No more than usual.”

“Well, in that case, I guess I’d better send you up. Good luck.”

She handed him a specially coded card for the elevator that would allow him access to the twentieth floor. All of the Blackwell family’s private offices were on the top two floors of the building, and security was tight.

“Thanks.”

Karis Brown watched Robbie shuffle reluctantly over to the elevators, hands thrust deep in his pockets, and wondered what mischief he’d been up to this time. Like most of the Kruger-Brent staff, Karis Brown had a soft spot for Robbie. How could you not love him, with those soulful gray eyes and that mop of surfer-blond hair and the adorable way he blushed whenever you looked him in the eye? Everyone at the firm knew that Robbie Templeton was a wild child. Ever since his mom died, he’d been flying off the rails faster than an express train on black ice, poor lamb. In the last five years, he’d been expelled from more schools than Karis Brown could count. But to meet him you’d never believe it. He seemed like such a sweet, shy, gentle soul.

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