The Russian's Ultimatum(7)

By: Michelle Smart



‘My brother. I told you, I have things to organise. Now, take your hand off me.’

Not trusting her an inch, he complied, stepping back far enough to give them both a little space, but remaining close enough to disconnect the call should she try anything.

‘James?’ she said into the receiver. ‘It’s only me. Look, I’m sorry for the short notice, but I need you to come and stay with dad for the next week and not just tonight.’

From the way she sucked her angular cheekbones in, and the impatience of her tone as the conversation went back and forth, she wasn’t happy with her brother’s responses.

Emily was clearly a bossy big sister but beneath it all he heard genuine affection. He could well imagine her ordering her brother around from the moment of his birth.

His mind turned to the man he’d always regarded as a brother, the same man who would sooner drive Plushenko’s—the business he’d inherited from their father—into the ground rather than sell it to Pascha.

While Pascha had openly hero-worshipped him, Marat had never made any secret of his loathing for Pascha. When Pascha had been seriously ill and death had been hovering, real, Marat had wanted him—the boy he’d liked to call the cuckoo in the nest—to die.

Emily’s conversation ended with her saying, ‘Mandy’s around during the day if you need to go into the office. I’m only asking you to come for a week—you’ll be fine. Amsterdam will still be there when you get back.’

She disconnected the call and immediately put the receiver back to her ear, dialling yet another number. This time, she relayed that an emergency had come up and asked whoever was on the receiving end to tell someone called Hugo that she needed to take a week’s leave of absence.

‘Are you done?’ Pascha asked when she’d replaced the receiver.

‘Yes.’

‘No boyfriend to call?’ He didn’t even attempt to hide his sarcasm.

In response, she threw him the hardest look he’d ever been on the receiving end of, and in his thirty-four years that was saying something.

‘No.’ With that, she went back to the freshly boiled kettle.

‘I take my coffee black with one sugar,’ he informed her as she tossed a teabag into a mug, poured hot water onto it, followed by a splash of milk, and gave it a vigorous stir.

‘That’s nice.’ She picked up the mug and swooped past him.

‘It is good manners to offer guests refreshments.’

She came to an abrupt halt and spun around, somehow managing not to spill a single drop of tea. ‘You are not a guest in this house and you never will be.’

For a moment, Pascha seriously contemplated forgetting his promise to send Emily somewhere safe and simply lock her in a sound-proof cupboard for a week.

Keeping close to her tail, he followed her up the stairs. When they reached the top, she turned back to him. This time she whispered, although she still perfectly managed to convey her hatred towards him. ‘This is my father’s room. Do not come in. Seeing you might just tip him over the edge.’

‘Then keep the door open. I want to hear what you’re saying.’

‘You’ll find our conversation scintillating.’ She rapped her knuckles on the door, pushed it open and stepped over the threshold into a dusky bedroom, curtains drawn.

‘Hi, Dad,’ Emily said, speaking in such a gentle voice he could easily have believed it was someone else talking. ‘I’ve made you a cup of tea.’

Pascha watched as she went to the window and drew the curtains back.

‘Let’s get some air in here,’ she said in the same gentle voice, opening the window. ‘It’s a beautiful day. Honestly, Dad, you would love it out there. It really feels like autumn now.’

The daylight streaming into the room allowed Pascha to spot the full-length mirror on the wall, which gave him a perfect view of the still figure in the bed.

With Emily keeping up a stream of steady, gentle chatter, the figure slowly rolled over and lifted his head an inch before slumping back down.

Pascha’s jaw dropped open to see him.

Malcolm Richardson was unrecognisable from the man he’d suspended just a month ago.

He looked as if he’d aged two decades.

A stab of something Pascha couldn’t place jabbed in his guts.

It wasn’t long before Emily re-joined him. ‘Get a good look, did you?’ she shot as she sidled past and over to a room on the other side of the landing.

‘Don’t be facetious,’ he snapped, speaking through gritted teeth. ‘When will your brother be here?’

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