Chapter One: Throw Back Thursday Story
Cullen was bored. He was leaning against an ornate fireplace in a large, elegant ballroom. The room was full of people all dressed up in their best finery. Everyone in the business world wanted an invitation to Arthur Belmont’s summer ball. Everyone except Cullen. He was here because his oldest friend Dorian had convinced him that they needed to do some investigative work to find out if the whisper they had heard about Belmont was true.
Cullen’s golden brown eyes surveyed the room until he spotted Dorian. His friend was surrounded by a bevy of beauties as per usual. Cullen’s generous lips twitched in a small smile as he watched his friend dazzle the ladies. Women flocked to Dorian. He was incredibly beautiful to look at, his face handsome and strong, with sparkling deep blues eyes and a ready smile. Throw in the long blond hair and lean, six foot four frame and women melted at his feet. The slight hint of mystery and danger that surrounded his friend wooed the ladies in. If only they knew what he really was.
Cullen sighed and pushed a lock of long golden brown hair over his shoulder. He was almost as tall as Dorian, just an inch shorter. His frame was more muscular, his shoulders wide and strong. He knew he looked impressive to the ladies too. His face was strong and beautiful like Dorian. He had bucked convention by adding a black silk shirt to his black suit and forgoing a tie. Dorian had frowned when he saw him earlier but had wisely kept his mouth shut. He knew Cullen would simply refuse to go to the party if he gave him any grief about his attire.
Cullen sighed and ran his bored eyes quickly around the room again. He almost missed the tiny woman standing off to the side of the buffet table. He sipped at his glass of red wine as he ran his eyes quickly over her. It was the shock of auburn curls cascading down her back which had caught his initial attention. Her hair was beautiful, like a living flame under the light shining down on her. He examined her face, taking in the violet eyes and small upturned nose and wide generous lips. Put together they made up a very beautiful face. He drew his eyes down her body. She was so small, barely five foot tall. Her dress stopped just above her knees. It was deep purple and had a low cut bodice and thin straps. The dress hugged her breasts and waist snugly before flowing gently into a wide skirt. Her calves were very shapely and her tiny feet were encased in three inch purple sandals.
Cullen was surprised to feel his body stir as he looked her over. She was far from his usual type. He preferred tall women with generous curves, usually blondes. But something about this tiny woman captured his interest.
He felt, rather than heard, Dorian arrive at his side, meaning his friend was trying to sneak up on him.
“Tired of the ladies?” Cullen asked drolly still looking at the woman.
His friend followed his gaze. “Very nice,” Dorian smiled appreciatively. “Not your usual type though.” He turned back to Cullen and sipped at his wine. “I’d kill for some blood to slip in this glass,” he grumbled. “Red wine is practically intolerable without it.”
“Not here,” Cullen admonished.
“I wasn’t going to,” Dorian sighed dramatically. “I was just saying it would be nice.”
“Have you heard anything?” Cullen asked, changing the subject.
Dorian shook his head. “It would help if you mingled a bit, Cullen, instead of leaving me to do all the work,” his voice was slightly petulant.
“Fine,” Cullen breathed deeply. “I’ll mingle.” He straightened up and began to make his way towards the buffet table. He felt an irresistible pull to be closer to the tiny woman. He hovered close enough to catch her scent. He smelled lavender on her creamy white skin. It was a very heady scent.
From the corner of his eye he saw Arthur Belmont approaching and stiffened but the man was headed towards the woman who had caught his interest, not himself. He didn’t like the suggestive way the fat, balding, middle aged man looked at the girl as he approached. He was old enough to be her father. Cullen smiled inwardly as soon as the thought crossed his mind. What would that make him, being almost two millennia old. He couldn’t even begin to work out how many ‘Greats’ would be involved.
“Emily,” Belmont crooned as he reach the tiny woman. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here tonight. You should have told me you were coming, my dear.”
“It was a last minute decision, Arthur,” the woman called Emily answered, allowing him to kiss her cheek lightly.
Emily, Cullen mused. The name seemed to roll off his tongue nicely and her voice had a distinctive musical lilt about it. His reaction to her was surprising him more with each passing moment.
“So what changed your mind, my dear?” Belmont was saying. “You were adamant earlier that you wouldn’t be attending.”
“Something cropped up that I wanted to speak to you about,” she answered, her face serious.
“Couldn’t it have waited until tomorrow at work?” Belmont asked, his voice not as jolly as it had been.
“Oh, there were two and half million reasons why it couldn’t wait,” Emily said pointedly.
Cullen saw Belmont freeze and the oily smile slip off his face. “I don’t know what you mean,” he finally said.
The tiny woman frowned at him, her expression annoyed. “I think you do, Arthur,” she replied. “You’re not very bright, are you?”
It was obvious she wasn’t expecting an answer to that question. “You should have hired an accountant who was an idiot, Arthur, not a child prodigy who would pick up your embezzlement in less than three months,” she continued her voice thick with distain.
“Keep your voice down,” Belmont hissed grabbing her arm tightly. “I don’t know what you think you know, Emily, but you will forget it right away. Am I making myself clear?”
“You’re hurting my arm,” she said coolly, not the least intimidated by him. “I suggest you let go before I decide to act all helpless and terrified and start screaming the house down.”
Belmont let go of her immediately. “What are you going to do, Emily?” he finally asked.
“Well that depends on whether or not you have the money, Arthur,” she said quietly. “If you have the money then I suggest you put it back into the company straight away. I can cover your tracks so that no one will find out it was ever missing. Then you can resign from the board and accept a nice annual salary from the company but have no further dealings with the day to day running of the company,” she paused and let that sink in.
“If you don’t have the money then we have a big problem,” she continued. “Your company will be bankrupt and ripe for a hostile takeover and at a rock bottom price. Not only that, but if I don’t report your embezzlement then I risk being locked up for the rest of my life even though I had nothing to do with your greed. I’m not going to let that happen, Arthur.”
“You could leave now without anyone being any the wiser,” Belmont countered. “You’ve only been at the company a few months. No one would guess that you had any prior knowledge of the missing money. And I would give you an excellent settlement figure.”
Emily stared at him in disgust. “You have over three hundred people working for you, Arthur,” she said, her voice dripping with disapproval. “They rely on you for their livelihoods. You’re stealing their pensions, their security. They have no idea that their lives are about to come crashing down around them because you’re a greedy bastard. I don’t want your money and I have no intention of turning a blind eye either. Return the money, Arthur. I’m giving you one week and then I’m going to the authorities and turning you in. Hopefully most of the staff would be able to keep their jobs if the business is taken over.”
Belmont flashed a look of pure hatred at the woman. “You are making a grave mistake, Emily,” he said, his voice full of venom. “I suggest you think about my offer very carefully before you dismiss it. Accidents can happen very easily.”
He spun on his heels and walked away. The tiny woman watched him go, a slight frown on her face. Belmont’s meaning was perfectly clear to her. He had just threatened her life.
Cullen watched her mull over Belmont’s last words for a moment, then she crossed the room and headed for the coat check area. Cullen shot a quick thought to Dorian and followed her.
Dorian met him outside and he quickly filled his friend in on the overheard conversation as they waited for the girl to come out of the house.
“So he’s been embezzling,” Dorian crowed with delight. “He’s handed us the company on a plate.”
“We need to convince the girl to give us the proof,” Cullen said. “She’s a tough cookie but I think Belmont may have rattled her a bit with his parting shot. He all but said he’d have her killed if she didn’t keep her mouth shut.” He frowned as he spoke.
He had felt anger when Belmont had said that to the tiny woman. It had surprised him but then everything about the woman was surprising him tonight. He guessed her to be about twenty three but she was a fully qualified accountant by the sounds of things. She had mentioned something about a child prodigy though. Maybe that explained things.
The woman exited the house and walked down the stairs. Cullen and Dorian moved towards her and she stopped in her tracks and stared at them, her expression guarded.
Oh my God, Emily thought when two Greek Gods appeared in her path. She knew they weren’t really Gods but they were so stunningly beautiful they took her breath away. Was long hair on men back in style? she wondered as she looked them over. Squaring her shoulders she decided to take the bull by the horns. “Let me guess, Arthur sent you?” she asked, her voice tense.
“On the contrary, I believe Belmont would be most upset if he knew we were talking with you,” the blond man said giving her a charming smile. She sucked in her breath as he literally dazzled her and then she frowned.
“I bet you get a lot of women that way,” she said dryly. “Won’t work on me though. Men don’t call me the Ice Maiden for nothing.” She saw the brown haired man’s lips twitch in a smile as the blond one looked crestfallen.
“Forgive my friend, he’s not used to rejection,” the brown haired man said quietly. “I’m Sebastian Cullen and this is Dorian Cross.”
“Emily Swan,” she said. “So, Cullen and Cross. Guess I now know who’s been sniffing around Belmont’s recently.”
Cullen looked surprised and Emily couldn’t help but smile as she realised that she was probably one of only a handful of people who could put these two self assured men on the back foot.
“I was always a nosey child,” she said. “My mum always said it would get me into trouble. You’ve been very subtle about it but I picked up a rumour last week. I just didn’t know who it was.”
“You didn’t tell Belmont that there was someone already looking at the company,” Cullen said.
Emily frowned at him. “Were you listening to our conversation?” she asked suspiciously.
“To every word,” he admitted his expression unrepentant.
Emily suddenly continued down the stairs. “I’m not going to help you ruin Belmont Industries,” she said firmly, stepping around them and onto the pavement.
“We don’t want to ruin the company, Miss Swan,” Dorian said following her. “We just want to buy it.”
“Then pay full market value for it and stop trying to find a backdoor in,” she called over her shoulder.
“There’s two and a half millions reasons why we won’t pay full market value for it,” Cullen said coolly.
Emily halted and turned around. “You really did hear every word,” she said thoughtfully.
“The part I found really interesting was when Belmont talked about accident’s happening,” Cullen answered. “You don’t seem very concerned, Emily.”
“I suppose this is the part when you try and play on my fears so that I’ll gratefully accept your protection in exchange for handing over the proof of Arthur’s embezzlement,” she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
“I’m not playing on anything,” Cullen snapped. “Belmont is not to be taken lightly. He wouldn’t think twice about getting you out of the way to protect his secret. You’re not a stupid woman, Emily. Don’t play dumb now.”
Emily stared at them both and then shook her head. “Thank you for your concern and advice. I will take it under advisement. Now if you’ll excuse me, I reckon I have less that twenty four hours to get some protection in place. I figure it will take Arthur that long to really make up his mind. Good evening to you both.” She spun around and headed off down the street.
“Interesting woman,” Dorian said quietly. “We could use someone like her.”
“She’s a bloody fool,” Cullen growled angrily. “She has no concept of how dangerous Belmont is, despite her brave words.”
Dorian eyed his friend thoughtfully. “It’s not like you to let a human woman get under your skin,” he laughed. “Have your hormones kicked in? Just follow her home and glamour her. I’m sure she’ll be receptive to your charms once you get started.”
Cullen snorted and shot his friend a murderous glare. “It’s the proof against Belmont I want, not her.” He muttered angrily.
Emily hurried home, glancing back a couple of times. It didn’t appear the two men were following her. She was worried. She could see that Cullen seriously believed that she was in danger from Arthur. She had initially thought that Arthur’s words had been all bluster but now she wasn’t so sure. Cullen and Cross were well known in the business community. They seemed to have a finger in many pies and were always one step ahead of the competition. If they were concerned about Arthur Belmont then so should she be.
On impulse, she packed an overnight bag when she got home and headed back out to find a room for the night in one of the local hotels. She felt a bit better once she was securely ensconced in her hotel room. She flipped open her laptop and connected wirelessly to the internet. She did a quick background check on Cullen and Cross. She liked what she read. Their business ethics were above reproach and they supported quite a few local charities.
She picked up her cell phone and dialled the number on their website. Voicemail picked up her call as she expected. “This is a message for Sebastian Cullen,” she said quickly. “It’s Emily Swan. I’d like to meet with you and Cross again and discuss things further. You can contact me on 07938 444555.” She hung up and turned off her laptop and went to bed.
She was woken by screaming sirens in the early hours of the morning. There was a large bang and the windows of her room shook. Jumping up, Emily ran to the window and stared outside. The night sky was red and orange off in the distance. Something was on fire. Fire engines were screaming down the road past the hotel.
Emily threw on a pair of jeans and a T shirt then gathered her hair up and pulled on the old woollen hat she’d had forever. She slipped on her jacket and headed outside towards the glowing red sky. She moved quickly, her heart starting to beat faster and faster as the wailing engines and bright flames drew her closer and closer towards the street where she lived.