© Reprinted by permission.
All rights reserved.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 Vir-shilas.
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.
'I said empty your pockets.'
'No.' Her eyes darted to the door. She might be twenty-six but she'd been a nimble runner in her school days. She was half his size and figured she must be quicker than him.
It didn't surprise Pascha in the least when Emily made a run for it, shooting to the door and tugging on the handle. 'It's locked,' he informed her calmly. 'I can see that,' she snapped.
'It won't open until I press the button to release the lock, and I won't do that until you give me what's in your pocket.'
Her pretty heart-shaped face glared at him, defiance pouring off her.
It was hardly surprising he hadn't recognised her from the camera that piped to a small screen in his private room. When he'd met her at his buy-out party, she'd been dressed in a long, black lace dress with ruffles, complemented by a pair of black biker boots and dark, dramatic make-up. All the black had contrasted sharply with her porcelain skin.
While the other women at the party had made an effort with their attire, Emily had deliberately set out to subvert. All she'd needed was a black veil sitting atop her long, dark ringlets which had spilled out in all directions and she'd have been the perfect gothic bride.
Today, though, she had tamed her curls into a bun—although tendrils were falling round her face—and was dressed in ordinary business attire of a knee-length navy skirt with a matching blazer and a delicate cream blouse. On her feet were ordinary, businesslike black court shoes and her face was make-up free. No wonder he hadn't recognised her, not until she'd raised those dark-brown eyes to meet his.
He would have recognised those eyes anywhere, dark but with flickers of yellow firing through them. Under the light of the function room the party had been hosted in, the colours had melded together, glimmering like a fire opal.
Those same eyes were staring at him now, loathing radiating from them.
He held his hand out and waited. If necessary, he would wait all day.
It wasn't necessary. Emily slipped her hand into her back pocket and pulled out a small silver device. She dropped it into the palm of his hand and stepped straight back, away from him.
As he'd suspected: a memory stick.
He strolled round to his seat, still warm from her bottom, and folded his arms. 'Sit down.'
After a beat, Emily grabbed the chair opposite him and dragged it to the other side of his office, literally as far away from him as she could get it.
'So, Emily, it is time for you to start talking. Why were you trying to steal the files from my laptop?'
'Why do you think? I'm trying to prove my father's innocence.'
'By stealing my files?'
'I had to do something. According to my sources, you haven't even started the investigation into the missing money you've accused him of taking. The stress of it all is making him seriously ill.'
Emily would do anything in her power to clear her father's name. Anything. She had to give him something that would make his life—make him—feel as if it were worthwhile again.
As much as it pained her heart, Emily knew she would never be a good enough reason for her father to go on.
She'd watched him go through these dark times as a child, long periods where he wouldn't get out of bed for weeks on end. It had been terrifying. Back then, her mother had held them all together: had held him together. But now her mother was dead. The rock they'd all relied upon was gone.
In the space of three months her father had lost the wife he'd adored and been suspended from the job he'd taken such pride in. The threat of the police knocking on his door and a subsequent prison sentence loomed over him. With hindsight, it had been obvious he would try to kill himself. He'd very nearly succeeded.
Losing her mother had been the single most devastating thing that had ever happened to her, a fresh, open wound that couldn't begin to heal while her father's mental and physical health were so precarious. If she were to lose him too.
Pascha gathered the file Emily had been reading when he'd caught her. So she had sources within his company, did she? That was something to think about later on. There was a much more important factor to consider first, namely how much of the file she'd read. He had no way of knowing how long she'd been in his office before he'd caught sight of her on the monitor. No longer than ten minutes, that was certain, as that had been the length of time since he'd left it. But long enough to read about things she had no business knowing.
'We will move on to the subject of your father shortly,' he said. 'In the meantime, tell me what you read in this file. And don't say you didn't read anything, because you were engrossed in it.'
For long moments she didn't answer, simply stared at him, her eyes squinting as if in thought. As if she were weighing him up… 'Not much. Only that a company called RG Holdings is buying out Plushenko's.'
Plushenko's was a Russian jewellery firm whose trinkets were regarded as some of the most luxurious in the world and came with a price tag to match, the Plushenko brand rivalling that of the other famous Russian jeweller, Faberge. At least, it had been regarded as such. In recent years the jewels had lost much of their lustre and sales were a fraction of what they had been a decade ago. Amidst the highest secrecy, Pascha was gearing up for a buyout, using a front company.
'Oh, and I read that you own RG Holdings but that your name is being kept off all the official documents between RG and Plushenko's.' Her brow furrowed, as if she were trying to remember something, then her lips twisted into something resembling a smile. 'What was the phrase I read? Something along the lines of, "it is imperative that Marat Plushenko does not learn of Pascha Virshilas's involvement in this buyout". Was that it?'
Only with the greatest effort did Pascha keep his features still. Inside, his stomach lurched, his skin crawling as if a nest of spiders had been let loose in him.
Her brown eyes held his, as if in challenge, before her lips curved upwards—amazing lips, like a heart tugged out at the sides. Her eyes remained cold. She leaned forward. 'It's obvious this buy-out is important to you and you need to keep it a secret. I suggest we make a deal: if you agree to withdraw the threat of legal action towards my father, I will keep the details of the Plushenko deal to myself.'
Pascha's fingers tightened on the document in his grasp. 'You think you can blackmail me?'
She raised her shoulders in a sign of nonchalance. 'You may call it blackmail but I like to think of it as us making a deal. Clear my father's name. I want it in writing that you'll exonerate him from any potential charges or I will sing from the rooftops.'
Emily could see by the whitening of Pascha's knuckles that he was fighting to keep his composure.
How she kept her own composure, she did not know.
She'd never been a wallflower, not by any stretch of the imagination, but she'd never been one for making war before either. To stand up against this powerful man—a man capable of destroying her father; of destroying her too—and know she was winning… It was a heady feeling.
From despair and anger at getting caught and failing her father, she'd found a way to salvage the situation.
'I can have you arrested for this,' Pascha said, his voice low and menacing.
'Try it.' She allowed herself a smile. 'I'll be entitled to a phone call. I think I'll use it to contact the firm Shirokov—is that how you pronounce it?—and see if they'd be interested in representing me.'
How Pascha stopped his tongue rolling out the volley of expletives it wanted to say, he did not know.
"The romance was a perfect combination of both emotions and passion. A romance between two strong and equal individuals raised the notch even higher for me. The characters had amazing chemistry and connected on both physical and emotional level." Harlequin Junkie
"This Caribbean island-set romance is enchanting. The hacking/thieving heroine and control-freak hero’s seemingly implausible romance is remedied by their beautifully meshing personalities." Romantic Times
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The Russian's Ultimatum Playlist
The Russian's Ultimatum
He'll make her an offer…
Pascha Virshilas is on the brink of securing personal redemption when Emily Richardson breaks into his office and steals private company documents. And then she has the gall to blackmail him into clearing her father's name!
She can't refuse!
But Pascha has his own terms. He'll keep his side of the bargain, but the enticing Emily must accompany him to his private island—the only place he can ensure her silence. But in the midst of a tropical storm, the wind blows aside suspicions and secrets to reveal something much more dangerous—lust!
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Excerpt: Chapter One