Chapter 2: Throw Back Thursday Story
Cullen also did some homework when he got home. He looked up Emily Swan online and found that she had indeed been a child prodigy, specialising in mathematics and accountancy. She had graduated Harvard with the highest honours when she was only sixteen. She was known to be one of the finest minds in the accountancy field and usually freelanced, offering her skills as a trouble-shooter to assist various companies. She was now twenty two years of age and very successful.
Cullen cursed out loud when he saw how easy it was for him to find out all about her with just a few keystrokes. He’d even managed to track down her home address for Christ sake! The woman was a bloody sitting target.
Cullen paced around his study for a while and then decided to check the office voice mail. He was expecting a call from Tokyo and they were a bit dumb when it came to the time difference. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d left a voicemail message at two in the morning. He breathed in sharply as he heard Emily’s voice on the voicemail. She’d contacted them for another meeting. Maybe his words had gotten through to her.
He found himself climbing into his car ten minutes later. He drove to where Emily lived. He told himself he was just keeping an eye on their investment but what he really wanted was to see her house. He wanted to check that there weren’t any suspicious characters hanging around her place. He was just coming up to her street when there was a huge explosion. He did an emergency stop at the side of the road and got out the car.
Cullen sprinted at superhuman speed into the night, coming to an abrupt standstill. Number twenty seven was totally destroyed. Emily’s house was number twenty seven. He stood staring in shock, feeling as if he had just lost something important. He heard fire engines and saw neighbours starting to file out of their homes. He quickly blended into the night and made his way back to the car.
He brooded all the way back home. He dialled the office again and listened to Emily’s message. On impulse he dialled the cell number she had given. It went to voicemail. Cullen hesitated a second and then decided to leave a message, just in case. “Emily, it’s Cullen. I’m really hoping you get this message and that you weren’t at your house tonight when it blew up. This is my cell number. You can trust any call that comes from this number. Don’t answer any other calls to your cell. Call me when you get this.”
Emily stared at her cell when it rang. It was an unknown cell number. She was too afraid to answer it in case Arthur had passed her number to someone. For the moment, whoever had destroyed her house would assume she was in it. That bought her some time to figure out what she was going to do. Her cell beeped to say she had a voicemail. She dialled the messaging service and listened. She breathed a deep sigh of relief as she heard Cullen’s voice. She quickly added his number to her cell and then dialled it.
“Emily?” Cullen asked quietly when he picked up the phone.
“Cullen,” she breathed softly, her voice shaky. “He blew up my house!”
“I know. I was on my way over when it blew. I thought you were in there,” Cullen said, relief in his voice. “Where are you?”
“At a hotel,” Emily replied. “There was something about the look on your face tonight that set me on edge so I packed an overnight bag and booked into a hotel a few streets away from mine. The fire engines woke me up.”
“Tell me the name, Emily, and I’ll come and get you,” Cullen said, his voice sounding determined.
“Why were you on your way over to mine?” she asked, just registering what he’d said before.
Cullen sighed. “I did some online research and found your address in next to no time. I was concerned about how easily it was to find you. I know Belmont well, Emily. I know what he’s capable of. I decided to come over and check you were okay and then all hell broke loose.”
She was silent on the other end of the line for a moment, then she gave him the hotel name and her room number.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” Cullen told her. “Don’t answer your phone to anyone and don’t open the door to anyone but me.”
He rang off and Emily jumped up and quickly packed her overnight bag. She sat on the bed and waited.
Cullen couldn’t understand the relief that came over him when his cell had rang and he recognised the number as Emily’s. She was alive. Now he just needed to keep her that way until Belmont was taken care of. He drove quickly to her hotel and reached her room unobserved by human eyes. He knocked softly, “Emily, it’s Cullen,” he called.
He heard her approach to door hesitantly and guessed she was looking through the peek hole. He stood still so she could see his face clearer. Finally the door unlocked and he slipped inside quickly, locking the door behind him.
Cullen examined her face and saw that she had been crying and she was afraid. She was also very angry too. He smiled at her bravery and she glared at him, her violet eyes flashing.
“What are you grinning at?” she snapped angrily. “My house has just been blown up. I fail to see anything funny in that.”
Cullen struggled to contain another smile. “I was just admiring your bravery,” he said honestly, his voice heavy with approval. “Your whole world has just gone pear shaped but you’re not giving into the fear. I admire that.”
Emily watched him intently and saw that he was being honest. “I’m scared to death,” she said quietly. “But I’m also hopping mad that he blew up my house. I guess the anger is sustaining me at the moment.”
“Did you lose anything irreplaceable?” he asked gently.
She shook her head. “I’m a child of the digital age,” she said with a small smile. “All my photographs etc are on my laptop hard drive with an online backup. It’s just material things that have been lost and they can be replaced.”
He commended her spirit and reached down for her laptop and overnight bag after handing her a long coat. “Put your hat on and slide into the coat,” he said. “I don’t think there is any further danger tonight but there’s no point in being reckless.”
She did as he said and then followed him from the room. “Don’t bother checking out,” he told her. “Just head straight out to my car, it’s the silver Volvo.”
Cullen was quiet as he drove to his house. He saw her glance at him a few times with a thoughtful look on her face but she never spoke. He activated the gates to his house and quickly drove up the long driveway.
“I thought we were going to your house, not a palace,” Emily said with a snort when the house came into view.
Cullen laughed. “It’s not a palace. It’s just a big house. You didn’t ask the size of it.”
“It’s a monster!” she gasped getting out the car. “How many people live here?”
Cullen looked slightly embarrassed. “Just me.”
She stared at him and then shook her head. “Some people have way too much money,” she muttered under her breath.
Cullen didn’t let on that he heard her perfectly. She was very observant as it was. He was really going to have to watch himself while she was around.
He opened the door and stood back to let her enter first.
Emily stopped in the large hallway, her eyes wide. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting from the outside but the stripped wood on the floor and the beautifully carved wooden staircase wasn’t it. Despite the hallway being large, the dark wood gave it a cosy feel as well as the plush rug in the centre of the floor.
“Wow,” she said softly, her eyes trying to take in all the different details of the room at once.
Cullen felt a smile tug at his mouth. He was surprised to note how pleasing it was to him that she liked his home.
“The sitting room‘s to the left,” he said, setting her bags down on one of the hall chairs. “I’ll just be a moment.”
He checked the house was secure and then activated his security system. No human could breach it and he was almost certain that no supernatural being could either.
He watched Emily walk around the sitting room slowly, her little hands trailing over the furniture as she examined every nook and cranny. She was smiling slightly.
“So is this another wow or is it just okay?” he asked with a slight smile.
“Your home is beautiful,” she said softly. “You really like wood and the colour brown.”
“I guess I do,” he replied choosing to sit in his favourite brown leather armchair.
She was right. Most of his furnishings were brown or cream and all the lower part of the house had stripped floorboards. He hadn’t consciously chosen that colour scheme. He had just filled the house over the years with things that he liked.
Emily moved to sit on one of the large leather sofas. She chose the one directly across from him and watched him intently.
“So, do you have a plan of action?” Cullen asked. He had his own ideas but from their brief conversation earlier on he had quickly deduced that she would not react favourably to being told what to do.
“Only one,” she said with a frown. “To take Belmont down whilst trying to not jeopardise the livelihoods of his employees.”
Cullen watched her with a thoughtful expression. “That may not be possible,” he finally said. “It’s to your credit that you care about the people working at Belmont Industries but they’re not your responsibility, Emily. They’re Belmont’s and he has sold them down the river.”
“These people have families, children,” she said angrily. “Why should they lose everything because of Arthur’s greed?”
“That’s how it is sometimes in the business world,” Cullen sighed, his jaw tightening. “It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”
“So if Cullen and Cross acquire the company, you’re going to lay off the staff? Break up the company and sell off the bits you don’t want? What, Cullen? Tell me what you’d do.”
“Emily, you need to be realistic in the business,” Cullen said, his voice hard. “It’s all very well to have lofty goals and ideals but when push comes to shove you have to do what is best for your own financial security.”
The look of total disappointment on her face bothered Cullen.
“I thought Cullen and Cross was better than that,” she said, her tone heavy with disappointment. “I read up about you tonight before I called. Your website is exemplary, Cullen. It sucked me right in, hook, line and sinker. You should give your web designer a bonus for their sterling work.”
Her words angered him and he glared at her. “Emily,” he started to say but she stood up, cutting him off.
“I’d really like to try and get some sleep now. It’s been a pretty traumatic night. Could you show me to the room I can use?
Cullen frowned at her and then nodded and escorted her to one of the guest bedrooms. He carried her things up for her and showed her the en-suite bathroom. Then he left her and headed downstairs to his study.
He dialled Dorian’s number and filled him in with what had happened.
“You took her home,” Dorian said in disbelief. “Was that smart?”
Cullen chuckled. “Probably not. She’s irritating the hell out of me already. I’ve already earned her disapproval for not promising to save the jobs at Belmont Industries once we acquire it.”
“But we haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet,” Dorian answered.
“She jumped to conclusions when I was trying to explain the harsh realities of business life. She seemed determined to find fault with me and I couldn’t be bothered to argue with her.”
“But she will give us the proof she gathered?”
“She has no choice,” Cullen sighed. “Belmont tried to kill her tonight. We’re her only hope of getting out of this in one piece.”
“Okay, I’ll see you both at the office tomorrow. Make it about ten,” Dorian said and rung off.
Emily couldn’t understand why she felt so disappointed at Cullen’s cavalier attitude towards Belmont’s workers. She called him a few rude names under her breath as she put on her pyjamas and climbed into the huge four poster bed.
She lay there trying to figure out what she was going to do. If she couldn’t protect Belmont’s staff then there was no point giving the information to Cullen. She’d be just as well going straight to the authorities first thing tomorrow. But Arthur may have someone watching for her doing that. She groaned and then settled down to sleep. Maybe tomorrow would bring her answers.
Cullen headed to his room. He paused outside her bedroom door and listened to the sound of Emily’s deep, slow breathing. He could hear her heart beating slowly as she slept. He was tempted to peek into the room but decided against it and continued down the hall to his personal wing of the house.
To be continued...