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The Russian's Ultimatum

By:Michelle Smart

The Russian's Ultimatum
Michelle Smart

       CHAPTER ONE

EMILY RICHARDSON DUCKED under the scaffolding over the entrance of the   smart building in the heart of the city of London, strolled through the   spacious atrium and headed to the wide staircase. When she reached the   second floor she took an abrupt left, walked to the end of the corridor   and pressed the button for the lift. Only once she had stepped inside   and the door had slid shut did she allow herself to expel a breath.

Catching sight of her reflection in the mirrored wall, she raised an   eyebrow. Power suits were really not her thing, especially ones dating   back to the eighties. She felt suffocated-and her feet, in their patent   black stilettos, were already killing her.

She had to fit in, she had to look as if she belonged in the building,   so no one would give her a second glance. Her usual attire made her too   noticeable-she would have been recognised before she'd got her foot  over  the threshold of the building. Even with the suit, she'd have to  be  careful. She'd timed her entrance to perfection-not too early to be   conspicuous but not so late that the people she needed to avoid would  be  in yet. So far, so good.

For this particular lift to work, a code had to be punched in. She duly   obliged and was carried all the way to the top floor and the private   offices held by the senior management team of Bamber Cosmetics   International-or, as it had now been renamed, Virshilas LG.

The largest of the offices was held by Mr Virshilas himself. But not today; today Pascha Virshilas was in Milan.

Unlike in the rest of the building, renovation work had yet to begin on   the top floor. She imagined it wouldn't be long before it was  remodelled  into Pascha Virshilas's idea of an executive suite of  offices.

She walked up the narrow corridor to an unassuming door that required a   swipe card to open. As luck would have it, Emily had such a card,   slipped from her father's wallet...

The door opened into a large, open-plan office. It appeared empty and for that she expelled another breath of relief.

Holding her chin aloft and forcing her back straight, she walked through   the central hub of the floor, gently swaying her empty black  briefcase.

The place really was deserted. Excellent; she'd beaten the executive secretaries in.

It surprised her to find Mr Virshilas's office unlocked. Given how   security-conscious the man was, she'd assumed it would be rigged with   explosives in case an intruder made it through the security measures.

Maybe he wasn't as paranoid as she'd been told.

All the same, she paused after she'd opened it an inch, put her ear to   the door and tapped on it. If the fates were conspiring against her and   one of the cleaners was in there emptying his rubbish bin, she would   apologise and say she was lost. She hadn't come this far to wimp out on a   'maybe'.

Her knock elicited no response.

She pushed the door open another inch, then another. Heart racing, she entered the office, softly closing the door behind her.

She was in.

Time being of the essence, she scanned her surroundings quickly whilst   reaching into the back pocket of her skirt and pulling out a   state-of-the-art memory stick.

According to her source, Pascha Virshilas kept a laptop in all his   worldwide offices. If her source continued to be correct, the laptop   sitting on his desk was a centralised hub containing every file created   by every department of every holding owned by Virshilas LG. This laptop   contained the means of clearing her father's name.

Looking around, Emily could see that Pascha kept the neatest office in   history. Not a single item looked to be out of place, not a single speck   of dust or tiny crumb to be found. Even the intricate pencil drawings   on the wall seemed to have been placed with military precision. All  that  lay on the highly polished ebony desk beneath the large window was  the  laptop and what looked to be a document file.

Flipping the laptop open, she pressed the button to switch it on. To her surprise, it fired up immediately.

Her eyebrows drew together. Had he forgotten to turn it off after his   last use? From everything she knew about the man, this seemed out of   character.

All the same, she wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. For   once it seemed the stars were aligning in her favour. The laptop being   turned on had saved her an estimated two minutes' worth of hacking time.

Sticking the memory stick in the side portal, she pressed a few keys and the process began. Now all she had to do was wait.

If her hacking-whizz of a friend's estimates were correct, all the data   contained within the laptop should be copied within six minutes.

The blue document file beside the laptop was a good inch thick. Emily   opened the cover. The top sheet of paper had Private & Confidential   stamped on it in angry red.                       
       
           



       

Pulling the thick sheathes of paper out of the file, she turned the top sheet over and began to read...

'Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my office?'

Emily froze. Literally. Her mind went blank, her brain filling with a   cold mist. The sheets of paper held between her fingers fell back into   place while her immobile hands hovered inches above the file.

Her gaze still resting on the papers before her, she forced her chin up to meet the stony glare of Pascha Virshilas.

Cold grey eyes narrowed. 'You,' he hissed, his chiselled features contorting.

She didn't know what was the greatest shock-that he'd caught her in the   act, or that he recognised her. The one time she'd met him she'd looked   completely different, so different she would have been hard pressed to   recognise herself in the mirror.

With great effort, she forced her features to remain neutral. Now was   not the moment to reveal her utter loathing of the man; she had to stay   calm.

She'd met him six weeks ago at an event, optimistically billed as a   party, thrown to celebrate the acquisition of Bamber Cosmetics by   Virshilas LG and to allow the employees to meet their new boss. Emily   had only attended as a favour to her father who, since her mother's   recent death, became crippled with nerves at social events. Being a   senior executive, his presence had been a requirement.

When she'd been forced to shake Pascha's hand, his only response had   been a slight flicker of disdain before he'd looked through her and   moved on to the next person. If he'd bothered to wait and talk to her,   she could have apologised for her inappropriate attire and explained   that she'd rushed over from work without having time to change. She'd   been busy at a fashion show and it was mandatory for the designers of   the house she worked for to dress the part.

Emily and her father had stayed at the party for a polite hour before making their escape.

She doubted her escape from Pascha's office would be as successful.

'I asked you a question, Miss Richardson. I suggest you answer it.'

'But you've just answered the question of who I am yourself,' she   answered with more bravado than she felt. Her memory of Pascha Virshilas   was vivid, yet in this office he appeared magnified. Impossibly tall   and broad, even the crispness of his white shirt and impeccably pressed   grey-striped trousers couldn't hide the muscularity of his physique. If   anything, it enhanced it. And that face... Chiselled perfection a   sculptor would struggle to replicate.

'Don't play games with me. What are you doing in my office?'

Her gaze flickered to the small stick poking out of the side of the   laptop. From Pascha's vantage point, he would only be able to see the   upright lid. He might not see the stick at all. If she was lucky, she   might just be able to escape with the data.

Using all the nonchalance she could muster, Emily leaned forward so her   chest rested on the desk. 'I was passing and thought I would pop in to   see how you're settling in.' As she spoke, she inched her fingers   forward, placed her knuckles either side of the memory stick and tugged   it out, enfolding it into the fist of her hand.

If he saw what she'd done, he gave no visible sign.

She got to her feet and casually placed her hand in her back pocket,   releasing the stick into its tight confines. She had no choice but to   brazen this out, whatever its conclusion may be. 'As I can see you've   settled in fantastically, I shall leave you to it.'

'Not so fast. Before I let you go anywhere, empty your pockets.'   Pascha's English was delivered with curt precision but with a definite   trace of his Russian heritage in its inflection. Deep and rich with a   hint of gravel, it sent the most peculiar tingle whispering over her   skin.

'No chance,' she said, inching her way round his desk, slowly closing   the gap between herself and the door to her side. She silently cursed   herself for not paying more attention to the internal door Pascha had   appeared through. She'd seen it when she'd first stolen into the office   but had barely registered it; she certainly hadn't given it more than a   cursory glance.

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