Cullen was true to his word and arrived back at the house at 8.30am. He disarmed the security system long enough for her to grab her bag and get into the car. He then reset it and climbed into the car with her.
He walked her to her new office, her name already on the door. He introduced her to a little dark haired woman called Alice who would act as her PA until she had time to recruit someone or decide that Alice was suitable for her needs.
Emily liked Alice immediately. She loved the slightly ethereal look the woman had and the way she teased her short, dark hair into soft spikes at the back and sides. She reckoned Alice was about ages with herself. Maybe it was the similarity in age that made them gel right from the start. By the end of the morning, Emily had officially asked Alice if she would PA for her permanently and she had agreed quickly.
Cullen called her on the internal phone line to say that he had set up a meeting in the afternoon for the various department heads in Accounting. He warned her that there could be some resistance to her appointment as some of the heads had been with the company for a long time.
He proposed that Dorian and himself meet with them first and she could join them later. Emily didn’t like that idea. It would look like she was hiding behind them and she didn’t think that was a good way to start a working relationship with them. But Cullen stood firm and she ended up agreeing to do things his way.
Cullen and Dorian watched the ten department heads file in, their faces concerned. Cullen had agreed to let Dorian do the talking as he was better at getting his own way by using his charm. Cullen tended to become impatient quickly and become angry when he was balked.
Dorian quickly outlined the situation and Cullen watched as Rich Marley’s face set in stone. He had flagged Rich as being the most likely to openly contest the decision.
He looked around the room and was surprised to see a smile on Rafael Montana’s face. A smiling face was not what he had expected to see on any of the assembled men.
“I don’t understand this,” Rich suddenly blurted out, his face red with anger. “If you needed an Executive Accountant then why wasn’t it posted internally? Surely we have all been here long enough to at least have been considered for the position.”
“Emily Swan has a unique skill set,” Dorian explained patiently. “We needed someone to look at various different aspects of this company and our subsidiaries. Quite frankly, we needed someone who did not already work here. Someone who could look at our processes with an open mind and refine them so we can run more efficiently. Hiring Emily in no way reflects negatively on any of you. You are all highly valued employees.”
“But we’re going to have to answer to her,” Rich griped sullenly.
“Yes you will,” Cullen said quietly. “And we will expect each and every one of you to furnish her with whatever data she needs to do her job.”
“How do we even know she’s up to the job?” Rich persisted. “Some of us have been working her for over twenty five years. We have way more experience than she does.”
Cullen could feel his ire start to rise. He looked up surprised when Rafael slowly raised his hand. The little Hispanic man was usually very quiet in meetings.
“Yes, Rafael,” he said questioningly.
Rafael stood. “Perhaps Rich would feel more confident in Miss Swan’s abilities if she could prove her skill set?” he suggested.
Cullen and Dorian looked confused.
“There is a particularly difficult balance sheet scenario we give each new recruit to solve,” the little man continued. “We’ve all done it ourselves. The quickest anyone has solved the problem has been 6 hours, the longest has been three weeks. If Miss Swan was willing to take the test and complete it in less than six hours, then I am sure Rich and anyone else’s concerns about her suitability would be assuaged.”
“You want us to ask Emily to submit to a test to keep you all happy?” Cullen said quietly, his eyes flashing dangerously.
Dorian touched his arm lightly. “I’m sure Emily would be more than happy to take the test,” he smiled.
Rafael beamed happily and pulled down the white board. He quickly filled the board with numbers and words, knowing the test off by heart. He sat back down when he was finished and Dorian dialled Emily and asked her to come into the boardroom.
Emily peaked through the window and tried not to frown as she saw resentful faces watching her. She plastered a smile on her face and entered the room.
“Emily,” Dorian smiled motioning her to come over to him and Cullen. She spared a quick glance at Cullen and saw his angry expression. So the meeting wasn’t going too well.
Dorian began introducing the men around the table but Emily found her attention distracted by the white board. It was a balance sheet but it was so evidently wrong.
“Sorry, Dorian,” she said when he tried to get her attention. “Just give me a minute.”
She walked to the whiteboard and stared at it a moment longer. Then she did a quick calculation and began moving figures around and adding her calculation into the mix.
She heard the room gasp and turned round in surprise. The heads of department were sitting there with their mouth’s hanging open.
“I’m sorry, did I mess up someone’s work?” she asked concerned. “It’s just it was wrong the way it was.”
Rich Marley, the oldest man said standing up slowly. “You solved that problem in under five minutes, Miss Swan. It took me six hours and I solved it quicker than anyone else ever has. It will be a pleasure working with you.” His voice held respect in it and she smiled gratefully at him.
Her eyes met Cullen’s and he smiled at her, his face no longer wearing the scowl he had when she walked into the room.
Emily went around the room shaking everyone’s hands. A huge smile suddenly lit up her face. “Rafael?” she said. “That was you,” she laughed pointing at the whiteboard. “I thought I recognised the handwriting!” she hugged the little Hispanic man enthusiastically.
“I couldn’t believe it when Dorian said they’d hired you, Emily,” he said grinning broadly. “I knew you’d solve that straight away.”
“We need to catch up and have lunch some time soon,” Emily smiled at him.
Cullen watched Emily with Rafael. Clearly they knew each other from somewhere else, most probably university as the man had been working for him straight from completing his studies.
He frowned as they hugged and talked about making lunch plans. For some reason the thought of them being very friendly annoyed him.
The meeting broke up and Cullen found himself walking back down to Emily’s office with her.
“So you know Rafael well?” he asked quietly.
“We went to university together,” she smiled. “He was my study partner. He is almost as good as me. Dorian was wrong when he said yesterday that he didn’t think any of your accounts team would have picked up the Belmont embezzlement. Rafael would have discovered it eventually.”
They had reached her office and Cullen entered it with her, closing the door behind them. He leaned back against the door as she walked around her desk.
“Study partners,” he mused, his expression unreadable. “Was that all?”
“Are you asking me if I slept with Rafael?” she asked, shocked.
“I suppose I am,” he replied watching her intently.
Emily felt her anger rise quickly. “I hardly think that is any of your business, Cullen.” Her tone was frosty and she stared back at him defiantly.
“You’re right,” he finally said, his eyes dark and unfathomable. “Please forgive my impudence.”
He watched her a moment longer. “How are you getting on with Alice?” he asked.
Emily swallowed down her anger and managed a small smile. “I’ve asked her to PA for me permanently and she’s said yes so I guess we’re getting on just fine.”
Cullen moved then, standing up straight and opening the door. “Please come along to Dorian’s office at four pm. We’ll fill you in on what we’ve been up to with Belmont.”
Emily watched him walked out her office. He really was a puzzling individual. He said such strange things sometimes. Who on Earth used the word impudence in normal everyday speech? She frowned for a moment and then turned to her laptop.
Cullen was frowning too as he walked back up to his office. Why had he asked about her personal life? It really was none of his business of his. She had a right to annoyed with him.
He stopped at Dorian’s office. “I need to head out for a moment,” he told his friend.
Dorian raised an enquiring eyebrow and Cullen sighed and entered the room, closing the door behind him.
“It’s challenging having her in my home,” he admitted ruefully, with a small smile.
“I thought you took care of your need this morning,” Dorian said quietly.
Cullen sighed heavily. “I did, but I need to do so again.”
Dorian frowned, his eyes brooding. “You need to find somewhere else for Emily to stay, Cullen.”
“There’s nowhere else that is safer than with me,” Cullen said firmly.
Dorian stood up and began to pace the room slowly. “How safe is she if you need to indulge yourself twice in one day?” he finally asked, his expression serious. It was unusual for him to be counselling Cullen. Usually it was the other way around.
“I’ve got it under control, Dorian.” Cullen frowned as he spoke. Did he have his monster under control? Who was he trying to convince, himself or Dorian?
Dorian shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever you say, Cullen.”
An hour later Emily tapped on Dorian’s door and entered. “Cullen said you would fill me in on what’s happening with Belmont,” she smiled.
Dorian gave her a cheery smile and motioned for her to sit at the meeting table. He gathered up some papers and sat down across from her.
“Cullen had to go out. He shouldn’t be long,” he said. “We may as well start without him.”
He began to shuffle through the papers.
“We’re ready to make our move,” Dorian said. “We have all the backup we need in place. Arthur Belmont is going to have a very bad day tomorrow.”
Emily’s expressive face showed her nervousness. “I take it he still thinks I was home when my house exploded?” she asked quietly.
Dorian gave her a slight nod. “I have a friend in the police department. He’s quite high up. I’ve let him know what’s going on and he’s agreed to keep the fact that the house was empty, out of the papers until we make our move. You’ll need to sit down with him and go through all of this soon, though. Then you will be free to start dealing with the unfortunate business of sorting out your financial loss with regards to the house.”
Emily sighed loudly and rolled her eyes. “That’s going to be a nightmare,” she said quietly.
“Feel free to utilise our legal team,” Dorian smiled kindly at her. “It should make the process a bit easier to deal with. Have you decided where you’ll stay after Belmont is behind bars?”
He watched her face closely as she thought about his question.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” she finally admitted. “I’m sure Cullen must be wanting to get his house back to himself as soon as possible.”
“There’s no rush, Emily,” Cullen said quietly from the doorway. His mouth twitched upwards when he saw her start in surprise. He entered the room and closed the door behind him, moving gracefully to sit next to Dorian.
“You’re welcome to stay at mine for as long as you need,” he continued, feeling Dorian’s eyes boring into the side of his head.
“That’s very kind, Cullen,” Emily said quietly. “But I do need to think about getting myself somewhere else to stay while I figure out whether or not I want to rebuild my house and move back in. I think I may just rebuild and sell it afterwards.”
“You’re playing a dangerous game,” Dorian whispered to Cullen so quietly that Emily didn’t hear.
Cullen sighed quietly and gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head. He had no idea why he had said what he just had. Having the tiny woman in his home was driving him to distraction. He should be helping her to find somewhere else to live, not inviting her to stay indefinitely.
“We have various apartments in the City which we use for visiting clients,” Dorian was saying to Emily. I’m sure we could come to some arrangement that would allow you to rent one of them from the company while you got yourself organised.”
Emily was nodding her agreement, a look of relief on her face.
Cullen frowned as he listened to them. Was staying at his home really so disagreeable to her?
Emily watched Cullen’s expression darken slightly. She wondered what he was thinking about that he disliked so much. Did he not want her to rent one of the apartments?
He saw her watching him and quickly smoothed his expression. He smiled tightly. “Renting one of the apartments sounds like a good idea,” he said.
Happy to have that settled, Dorian moved on to the next thing he wanted to discuss about Belmont.
“How are you coming on with the Belmont Project, Emily?” he asked.
“It’s going pretty well,” she answered her beautiful face lighting up with pleasure. “Luckily I have a rough idea of the various departmental budgets. I’ve used rough estimates until I can get my hands on the books, but we should be able to claw back the missing cash by flexing the budgets,”.
She frowned and gave a small sigh. “There will need to be some job cuts,” she admitted, her voice sounding sad. “I’ve graded the key personnel so that should help with any decision making process. But I’m pretty sure that with the changes I recommend, Belmont Industries will be a viable going concern.”
“Can you mail us a copy of what you have so far?” Cullen asked. “I know it’s in rough form but I’d like to look over your proposal before we head into Belmont’s Boardroom.”
Dorian nodded his agreement and then the meeting broke up.
Cullen turned to his friend when Emily left. “You don’t have to say anything,” he grimaced. “I know I’m behaving like a fool. Things will be better once she moves to one of the apartments.”
Dorian laughed. “You know I hate being the responsible one, my friend.”
Cullen felt a smile twitch at the corner of his mouth. “It feels strange to have you try and lecture me,” he admitted. “After all the crazy stunts you’ve pulled over the years.”
Dorian feigned an innocent expression, his blue eyes twinkling merrily. His expression sobered.
“I like her, Cullen,” he said quietly. “Don’t do anything to harm her. Please.”
“I would never harm her,” Cullen growled, his expression fierce.
Dorian watched him intently and then finally nodded his head.
“Why don’t you take her home and let me get on with some work?” he said. “There’s a few more things I want to get through before I go home myself.
Emily watched Cullen out the corner of her eye as they drove home in silence. He expression was closed. She wanted to say something, to break the heavy atmosphere in the car but his body language seemed to totally discourage it.
She followed him into the house and waited as he disabled the security system. He locked up behind them and re-enabled the alarm. Without a word, he turned and walked up the staircase, disappearing to his room.
Emily sighed and went up to her own room to have a quick shower and change her clothes. She headed back downstairs and found that she was still alone.
Sighing she looked in the refrigerator. She didn’t feel very hungry so she settled on scrambled eggs and toast. She ate silently at the table.
When Cullen didn’t come back down she wandered around the lower floor, looking in all the rooms she hadn’t had time to examine before. The study enchanted her. It was so warm and cosy, full of the inevitable dark wood and brown leather furniture. She wandered to the bookcase on the far wall and began examining the titles.
There was such an eclectic array of books that she found herself smiling as she read the titles. He had the usual classics, some business manuals. There were crime novels and even some fantasy novels. She almost laughed out aloud when she came to the horror section. She would never have imagined Cullen as a lover of horror novels.
Emily ran her hand over the titles, vampires and werewolves and zombies. So strange. On impulse, she pulled out one of the vampire novels and settled into a large armchair. She tucked her feet beneath her and opened the book.
Cullen stayed in his rooms as long as he could. He listened to her moving about his home and forced himself not to go down to her.
His mood was black. The scent of her was driving him crazy. Dorian was right, the sooner she moved out the better it would be. It had been a very long time since Cullen had been so sorely tempted as he was now. It was as if Emily had managed to somehow burrow inside his defences.
He suddenly became aware that it had gone quiet. He silently left his room. Emily was still downstairs somewhere. He could hear her heart beating slowly and evenly. She must have fallen asleep.
Cullen found her in his study. She was curled up asleep in his favourite armchair, a book lying discarded on the floor. He stared at her for a long moment. She looked so peaceful. He wondered if she was dreaming.
Silently he crossed the room and bent to retrieve the book. He grimaced when he read the title. Why had seen picked that book? Was her deadly intuition trying to warn her?
He put the book on the coffee table and then lifted her gently into his arms. She stirred and murmured softly and then rested her head against his chest.
Cullen froze as her sweet scent reached his nose and her soft body melted against his. He sucked in a deep breath and tried not to inhale again as he swiftly carried her upstairs to her room.
He gently lay her on the bed and literally dragged his arms away from her. She sighed softly and rolled onto her side. Cursing under his breath, Cullen pulled a blanket over her and all but ran from the room.
He leaned against the door taking deep breaths. His body had hardened when he’d held her. He struggled desperately to get some kind of control over himself.
Finally he walked back to his rooms and headed straight to the little refrigerator. He drank straight from the bottle, trying to satisfy the need that was building steadily within him.
Emily was confused by Cullen’s behaviour. She had barely seen him the last few days and when she had, he was cold and remote, his beautiful face seeming to be carved into a perpetual scowl.
His Jekyll and Hyde routine was finally starting to really grate on her nerves. It was obvious he didn’t want her in his home anymore, despite him telling her she could stay as long as she liked. She only ever saw him when he took her to work and then drove her home.
She’d taken to spending her time either in her room reading, or sometimes reading in the study. She made sure not to fall asleep again when she was in the study. That first time, Cullen must have carried her to her room because she had woken up fully clothed on the bed. That had really unsettled her.
Emily banged a book down on her desk in frustration just as Alice entered her office.
“Everything okay?” the little woman asked, arching an eyebrow in surprise.
“Sorry, Alice,” she said sheepishly. “I was just imagining my desk was Cullen’s thick skull.”
Alice laughed, the sound so sweet and light that Emily couldn’t help but laugh too. She rolled her eyes and muttered ‘Men’ under her breath.
“Here’s the reports you wanted,” her PA said, handing over a bound document. “You sound like you need a coffee. Can I tempt you with a mocha?”
“Alice, you’re the best!” Emily said with a groan. “A coffee would cheer me up no end.”
Alice left with a promise to be back shortly.
Emily’s phone rang and she picked it up. “Emily, can you come to the Boardroom?” Dorian asked cheerily.
“I’ll be right there,” she sighed. She hung up and picked up a notepad and pen. She probably wouldn’t need it but having something to do with her hands was probably a good idea if Cullen was going to be there. It would stop her hand from itching to smack him across the face to see if it would make him react to her.
She marched up to the Boardroom and entered after knocking. Cullen was there with Dorian. She avoided looking at him and sat down, automatically twiddling the pen in her hands as she looked at Dorian expectantly.
“Belmont’s been arrested,” Dorian said without any fanfare.
Emily let out a huge sigh of relief. She could literally feel some of the tension ooze out of her at the news. “Finally!”
Dorian’s mouth twitched in a smile. “I thought you’d be pleased about that.”
“Does this mean I can move to the apartment now?” Emily asked, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on Dorian. She saw Cullen shift slightly at her words. He probably couldn’t wait for her to move either.
Dorian looked at her in surprise but nodded. “I see no reason why you can’t, Emily.”
“Great,” Emily said jumping up. “Is tonight too soon?”
“I’m sorry you’ve found my hospitality so lacking,” Cullen finally spoke. His voice was cold and hard and Emily found herself turning to look at him.
“Oh, it was fine when Dr Jekyll was in residence but it became a bit of a chore when Mr Hyde showed up,” she snapped waspishly.
She saw his jaw tighten and a flash of anger spark in his golden eyes. So he didn’t like being called up about his unreasonable behaviour.
“Horror story analogies?” he said shortly, his voice dripping with disapproval. “Very droll, Emily.”
Her face reddened as he slapped her down and her own anger heightened.
“I can’t for the life of me understand why I even bother to care about your boorish behaviour, Cullen,” she hissed. “No wonder you live alone. No one couldn’t possibly put up with you for longer than two days.”
Cullen’s eyes flashed dangerously and he slowly stood up.
“Children!” Dorian called. “Play nice, now,” he laughed, placing a warning hand on Cullen’s arm. Emily was surprised to hear the strain in his voice. Although he laughed, it was a forced laugh.
Cullen spun around and left the room, slamming the door behind him. Emily realised she was holding her breath and slowly exhaled.
“Sorry, Dorian,” she said quietly. “He’s just been rubbing me up the wrong way for the last few days. I shouldn’t have reacted as I did.”
“I think it would be best if I took you to get your things, Emily,” Dorian answered, his expression thoughtful. “Give Cullen some time to calm down.”
She sighed with relief again. “Thanks. I don’t really fancy being alone with him right now. He looked as if he wanted to rip my head off just then.”
Dorian patted her arm reassuringly. “He’d never hurt you, Emily,” he said quietly. “Please, don’t be afraid of him.”
“I’m not,“ she lied unconvincingly.
Dorian went looking for Cullen the moment Emily left the Boardroom. He flew into his office and glared furiously at his friend.
“Are you out of your bloody mind?” he hissed. “You scared the life out of Emily! And me!”
“I’m sorry,” Cullen groaned, taking deep breaths. “You need to get her out of my house, Dorian. Tonight.”
“I have every intention of doing so,” Dorian snapped angrily. “You just stay out of the way until I call you and tell you she’s gone. I swear, Cullen, if you do anything to harm that girl you and I are going to have a serious problem.”
“I wouldn’t,” Cullen protested angrily.
“The look on your face just now, could have fooled me,” Dorian retorted and left the room.