The Russian's Ultimatum

By: 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.

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