Okay enough of this nonsense, let’s get back to Space!Akuliina. It is Camp Nanowrimo month, after all.
He got a text from her a few days later after work. She’d acquired his number a few weeks before, though she hadn’t made much use of it up to this point.
may have answers to recent situation. thought you’d want to know
What sort of answers? he texted back.
don’t know yet. meet me at 221b baker st tmo after work
ps sherlock holmes looks like you lol
He’d heard vaguely of the place; some private eye worked there out of his flat. He went straight there after work as she’d requested.
Her gold Porsche was pulled up carelessly by the curb; he parked a few spaces behind it and found the right door.
“Ah, here he is,” she said as he entered the room upstairs, where a tall, thin man slouched, bored, in an armchair. “Well, then, what did you find?”
“That corporate politics are horribly boring,” complained the man, who did vaguely resemble Quinn, with dark hair – though rumpled – and high cheekbones. “I need your phone.” He held out his hand to Quinn.
“Why?” Quinn asked, on his guard.
Mr. Holmes rolled his eyes. “Because I strongly suspect you were used as bait. Isn’t it obvious? Someone – or everyone, it’s desperately obvious – knows this woman stalks you out of her lust for you, and arranged for assailants to be waiting for her as she did so.” Quinn blushed, but Miss Volkova only snorted softly. “The last step is, obviously, to determine how they knew where you were, since you don’t routinely visit that or any bar.”
“How do you know all this?” Quinn demanded. “Why should I believe you?”
Mr. Holmes sighed. “If I told you, you’d tell me ‘anyone could figure that out’; so why doesn’t everyone figure that out? Just give me your phone.”
He slowly handed it over to the man, wondering how his phone meant he could be used as bait.
“As I thought,” Mr. Holmes said, handing it back after only a few seconds. “Your work app sends your GPS coordinates to your security office constantly.”
Quinn frowned, alarmed. “I’ve set it to not do that outside of work.”
Holmes snorted. “And apps always do what you tell them to, with your complete knowledge, do they?”
Point. He’d have to find someone to fix that; that was a breach of his privacy, among other things. “Are you saying that someone at RVGR was monitoring my location and using it to attack Miss Volkova?”
“Do keep up,” Holmes said. “I’d have to check your office to be certain, but how many people have access to that computer?”
“I do, and Pierce, and Mr. Baras,” Quinn said. “The door is locked with an electronic passkey and I haven’t registered any unauthorized access.” He needed to go review the logs, maybe even check the cameras to see if someone else had let a third party into the room.
“Who is Pierce?” Miss Volkova demanded.
“Brandon Pierce, my second,” Quinn answered. “He’s an insubordinate jackass, but he’s diligent and loyal. I… I trust him.”
“Good,” she said. “He wouldn’t be my first suspect anyway.”
“Obviously,” Mr. Holmes said.
Mr. Baras? “Why would Baras do such a thing?” Quinn asked, completely mystified.
Miss Volkova gave him a withering glance. “Weakness is rewarded with failure. Surely you noticed the dip in Kuatech’s value after the incident. Had it continued…” had her abduction been complete… “it would have been far, far worse.” She gave him a slightly mocking smile. “You not only saved the damsel in distress, but her fortune as well.”
He blinked at her. He had nothing to say to that.
“This isn’t proof, you realize,” Mr. Holmes said. “Inadmissible in court. ‘Oh, your honour, people might have been looking at my phone and stalking my stalker!’” He snorted again. “Even if you find evidence, it’s circumstantial. The sad truth of the matter is, the police won’t turn up anything, so if I don’t finish this investigation, the British public are in danger. Ugh. Can’t you make it more interesting?”
“You’ll be compensated for your work, but I think I can manage things from here,” Miss Volkova said calmly. “Your best guess is Mr. Baras?”
“It’s not a guess,” Mr. Holmes said, annoyed. “Yes.”
“Thank you,” she said coolly, and stalked away towards the stairs.
Holmes eyed her thoughtfully. “Whatever you’re going to do…”
“Will be completely legal,” she said without turning.
“Not that I would stop you,” Holmes said, and she chuckled as she left.
Quinn nodded somewhat awkwardly to Holmes, who ignored him, and followed her.
He caught up to her outside, at her car. “What are you going to do?”
She gave him a thin smile as she gracefully sank into the low, reclining driver’s seat of the Porsche. “You’ll be seeing me again tomorrow.” She closed the door, and the tires squealed briefly as she accelerated hard down the street.
He did see her the next day, marching purposefully into RVGR’s main headquarters. He met her at the front desk. “I assume you’re here to see Mr. Baras.”
“Not so hard to figure out, I would think,” she said. “Would you be so good as to take me to him?”
“I don’t believe he’s busy for the next hour,” he said. “I’ll escort you there.”
It didn’t seem Mr. Baras was at all surprised by her sudden and emotionally violent intrusion into his office. “Akuliina, dear, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“You sent those men after me,” Miss Volkova said haughtily.
Mr. Baras looked confused for a moment. “Do you mean the abduction attempt recently? I assure you, I’m as shocked as you that anyone would do such a thing-”
“Oh, please,” she interrupted him, her expression darkening to thunder – briefly. Quinn recalled her fury during the incident and restrained a shiver. “You have no idea what I felt.”
For a moment Baras looked startled, then his expression smoothed. “I understand. But really, I had nothing to do with it. Why do you accuse me of such a thing so bluntly?”
“I don’t have proper proof,” she said. “I don’t need proof. I need you to know that I know, and that I’m not afraid of you. And if you try anything like it again, I will destroy you.”
Baras laced his fingers together on the desk in front of him. “You’re quite a foolish young woman, Akuliina Volkova. Please don’t make such dramatic threats, it could be bad for your father. Quinn, please escort this young lady to an unused office and ensure that she remains there. I’d like to speak with her more later, but right now I’m very busy.”
Her lip curled. “As am I. Your newest attempt at abduction is pathetically transparent.”
“Quinn, if you would.”
Quinn hesitated. If she was correct, that would make him party to another abduction attempt.
She rolled her eyes. “Right, let’s get on with it. Baras, you have fifteen minutes before I decide this isn’t worth my time.”
“My work won’t be concluded in that time.”
“Then you won’t find me in that room.”
“I’m sure Quinn will take care of it,” Baras said, with a glance that ordered Quinn to restrain her by whatever means necessary.
Quinn bowed stiffly, uncomfortably, and gestured to Miss Volkova. “This way, Miss.”
There was an unused office one floor down, furnished comfortably – it had been the office of an upper manager who had been fired recently. She turned to him with an impish smile as he closed and locked the door behind him. “And now we’re alone. I’ll have you know that was the only reason I gave him fifteen minutes to begin with. I have no doubts about him anymore.”
Fifteen minutes isn’t long enough if impropriety is what you had in mind, he thought, and slapped that part of his brain for being so inappropriate, but said aloud: “You really think this is another kidnapping attempt? I wouldn’t be so dishonourable.”
“I never said it was a good kidnapping attempt,” she said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re ordered away in a moment, leaving others to guard me. And perhaps I shall disappear after that.” She smirked. “Though not without leaving more bruises behind me.”
He wondered how much strength she’d needed to project that air of cocky nonchalance. “I will take responsibility for you while you are here.”
Her gaze softened a little. “Thank you, Quinn.”
His radio beeped in his ear. “What? …No, I’m busy. …No. I’ll assign Pierce to take care of it. …I said no, Jillins. Deal with it. …One more word from you, sir, and you’re fired.”
Miss Volkova’s gaze was knowing.
“So,” she said a minute later, her voice dropping to a purr, “there’s just you, me, and a lot of very comfortable furniture in here.” She stepped towards him, hips swaying, eyes half-lidded, and he swallowed and took a step back. “You’re sure you don’t want to make use of it?”
“Miss Volkova, this is highly improper.” And if Baras came in while they were… engaged in any way, even if she only kissed him… not that he would come in, if Miss Volkova was correct about Baras’s intentions, but there was always the chance…
She raised an eyebrow as she backed him against the door, one hand reaching up to rest against his chest, playing with his tie. “Is that your only objection?”
Oh god. Why did she have to be so beautiful, with those bedroom eyes gleaming gold, and that thrilling soft voice, and a faint scent of lavender? And normally he liked women backing him into things. “You’re putting me in a very awkward position, Miss.”
“Good heavens, we’re alone, you could call me Akuliina once in a while,” she said mildly. “So you’re quite certain, then?”
“This isn’t the time or the place to be considering such things,” he said. His internal objections were weaker than usual. He liked her – he was attracted to her – even if she was a young flirt and lost interest in him as rapidly as she’d begun, even if it meant set-backs in his future, if she approached him under the right circumstances… he didn’t think he’d say no.
From the sly smile on her lips, she’d put that thought together as well. “Well, I suppose I shall see you in later, then.”
“But the-” the door’s locked, he was going to say, but she grabbed his arm and gave him a shove in such a way that he stumbled forward, giving her the time to swipe the lock with the passcard – when had she lifted it from his pocket? – yank the door open, and dart into the hallway. She wasn’t wearing heels today, he noticed belatedly. Had it been fifteen minutes? It had been fifteen minutes exactly.
Should he stop her? Should he help her if other members of his team tried to stop her?
She’d reached the emergency stairs, turned to blow him a teasing kiss, and slipped inside as he remained in the doorway.
Review of the security footage later revealed her knocking down two guards waiting for her at the bottom of the thirty-two flights of stairs, before joining the main hall to reception and out of the building.
Baras had been angry when he found that Miss Volkova had escaped, and had semi-seduced Quinn in the process, but Quinn found that he didn’t mind. Keeping her there against her will would have been wrong, even if her suspicions weren’t completely founded.
“Papa,” she said, storming into her father’s office, “I am going to destroy RVGR.”
Her father, as white-haired as she was, only raised an eyebrow. “That’s quite the task.”
“Baras is behind the attack on me. I have no real proof, or he’d be in less trouble. I went to see him and he all but admitted it, tried to get security to abduct me again.” She clenched her fists. “But I don’t need proof. I don’t need the police.”
Her father steepled his fingers. “Pray tell, then? What is it you need, darling?”
She let her lips curl into the beginning of a snarl. “I want to ruin him – as he tried to do to us, to me, but without resorting to such base methods. I want to choke the life out of him economically. I want to watch everything he’s built crumble and slip away, and know – though he have no proof on me as I have on him – that I am the one responsible for his downfall. Even if it takes a year or two.”
He smiled calmly. “I have been attempting to acquire more of his share of the market while still maintaining healthy competition. However, I’ll believe you when you say he’s behind that horrid attack. Of course I will do everything possible to help you bring him low. Is there anything in particular you’d like of his?”
Of course she only had one answer for that. “His head of security, the one who saved me. I want him working for me if at all possible.” It would most certainly be possible. Quinn had some strange loyalty towards this honourless man, but there had to be a limit. Even if she had to wait a while. Quinn wouldn’t follow Baras completely into ruin. Not when his faith in him had been shaken. She said as much to her father.
“Consider it done,” her father said, with a knowing smile. She rolled her eyes subtly.
“Thank you, Papa.”
It was a fall that took many months; summer turned to winter and winter was melting into a dour English spring. Quinn had stopped seeing Miss Volkova nearly as frequently in person, though she still texted him now and then. On one hand, he missed her teasing, missed her distraction even as he was thankful to be able to focus on his work. On the other hand, he saw her more on TV, both on the news and on talk shows.
And slowly, his boss looked more and more stressed and angry. Quinn knew the stock value of RVGR was going down unnaturally quickly
“How is she doing it?” he heard him grumble more than once. “What secret influence does she have that I do not?”
It was not long before he received the first offer of employment from Kuatech – from Anotin Volkov, no doubt at the behest of his daughter. It would pay almost twice what he was currently making. He didn’t take it. He had his doubts about Mr. Baras now, and it seemed certain that RVGR was doomed eventually, but he was loyal to a fault. He hoped Miss Volkova would understand.
“Haven’t you done enough?” he asked, though, the next time he saw her.
“No.” She glanced at him with a coolly raised eyebrow. “He will never feel the fear and humiliation I felt. This is the closest approximation I can create without stooping to his level.”
She probably had a point. Her implacable drive was admirable, in a way. “Have there been any more attempts on… you?”
She chuckled. “Oh, yes, several. But I’m much more careful, now. Short of assassinating me outright, he won’t catch me unguarded again. Huzzah for Russian paranoia.” Her eyes were sly. “Are you sure you don’t want to come help protect me?”
That almost swayed him. “I… No, Miss. Not… not yet.”
She smiled broadly. “All right.”
Two days later, five of his own men were arrested trying to break into Kuatech.
He didn’t know what to do. Everything was coming apart, even his own little niche in the system. Being in the military had never been so confusing, even if he could quite easily recall the feeling of helplessness having to deal with General Broysc. But… circumstances were quite different. He began an intensive investigation into his entire security team – and ended up firing three-quarters of them as dishonourable or untrustworthy. Only Pierce and a handful of others were left.
In the middle of rehiring and reorganizing, the second offer of employment came. This time, Mr. Baras called him into his office.
“You may as well accept,” he told Quinn in a heavy voice. “They can provide for you better for I can at this point. I may even not be able to provide for you much longer, my boy.”
“But sir,” Quinn began.
Baras held up a hand for silence and Quinn obeyed. “There’s not much use in pretending otherwise. I’ll be trying to regroup, of course, and I’ll let you know if there’s a chance you may return… not that you will probably wish to. She is a pretty young thing.”
Quinn tried not to flush, either at the insinuation or the fact he’d referred to Akuliina as a ‘thing’, pretty and young notwithstanding. “I’ll at least finish the reorganization of security. Pierce will take over for me.”
Mr. Baras seemed pleased.
She was excited to work with him; he knew her well enough to see it. He was becoming accustomed to her cool, elegant mystique and how to read it, but it was still adorable how happy she was to have him around. For she always wanted him around; she claimed him as her personal guard and brought him with her everywhere. It was a little complicated for him; on one hand, he was pretty much always working, and trying not to let her distract him from his work. On the other hand, he was used to working hard, and if he was always working at least the work was relatively easy compared to what he’d been used to. Too, he appreciated his employer’s attraction to him, even if he didn’t allow himself to hint at his reciprocation. Yet. Perhaps someday.
When Pierce texted him a few weeks later to say he’d been laid off as well, Quinn wondered if he ought to be alarmed; there was no one left at RVGR he trusted to be steady. But at his recommendation, she hired Pierce as well. Pierce grumbled at working under Quinn again, but not as much as he could have.
And none too soon, as the night after found all three of them and Jaesa Willsaam fleeing from masked men down the back alleys of London.
“I’d better drop back, see if I can’t hold them off long enough for the ladies to escape,” Pierce said. Miss Willsaam bounded at his side; both she and Miss Volkova were fast and fit. Probably capable of fighting if it came to that. Quinn wouldn’t let it come to that.
“That’s tactically unsound,” Quinn reminded him. “No matter what position you take, you’ll be overwhelmed, and it seems likely that they’ll kill you.”
“Well, got any bright ideas, boss?” Pierce asked sarcastically.
“As a matter of fact…” He looked around for the next fire escape. “If we go up the fire escape fast enough, we can take a shortcut. If I remember well… Can you reach it?” he asked Miss Willsaam, who was taller. He’d have to boost Miss Volkova.
Miss Willsaam’s stride didn’t check as she changed course for the fire escape, jumping with all her might – she only just made it. Pierce grabbed her shins and shoved her upwards – and then their pursuers came around the corner.
There was no time to get Miss Volkova to safety. There was a steel dumpster nearby, and he scooped her up and tossed her in, slamming the lid on her as she screeched in indignation. “Quinn!! Put me d- Not there!!”
“Sorry,” he apologized, taking up a position behind another dumpster, taking aim at the nearest masked man. How was this happening? These things oughtn’t to happen in peaceful countries. Across the alley, Pierce had also found cover. Above, Miss Willsaam had skittered up the fire escape, and instead of leaving, was finding things to throw. Foolish girl! But brave.
The lid of the dumpster behind him creaked open. “Akuliina!” he snapped. “Keep your head down!” He was only a little surprised when she obeyed.
Then the alleys were full of police, complete with helicopters overhead.
A tall slender figure in a long dark coat waited at the entrance of their alley. “Mr. Holmes!” Miss Volkova exclaimed. He nodded to her briefly.
“Just finishing up here,” he said. “Thanks for playing bait again. I don’t think you’ll have too much more excitement after this.”
“But I like excitement,” she said, smirking at him, and he shrugged before moving on to speak with a policeman. Pierce and Miss Willsaam were emerging from the alley as well, unscathed. She turned to Quinn. “You were so forceful back there. I liked that too. But you’re very lucky that dumpster was full of cardboard.”
“I apologize,” he said, bowing his head slightly. “I lost my composure. It won’t happen again. I only wanted your safety.”
“It had better happen again,” she said firmly. “I like when you use my first name.”
He… didn’t know what to say to that. It went against everything he held to be professional. Though… his mind flashed back to a long, late car drive, soft words whispered in darkness, a warm weight on his arm almost nestled against his shoulder… If anything like that came up again, perhaps he could call her by her name. “I… will… consider it.”
Over the coming months, Mr. Baras was tried and found guilty of a myriad of crimes, of which attempted kidnapping and assault was only the tip of the iceberg.
Kuatech bought out RVGR, and Miss Volkova took it over personally.
She stayed to the end of the celebratory gala, until all the guests had gone home and staff were beginning to clean up, before drifting casually over to Quinn, who’d remained in her background the entire evening of course. “Excellent work as usual.” It seemed there were no final reprisals, that she was at last triumphant against her adversary – not that he could do much from jail, but she wouldn’t put it past him, so she’d been on her guard all evening anyway. Under the same grey dress she’d worn the first time they’d met, she was wearing flats, ready to run or fight as need be.
“Thank you, Miss – Akuliina.” He was relaxed enough to give her a slight smile. God, his eyes were exquisite.
She gave him a sidelong smile in return. “You should stay over tonight.”
He blinked and blushed and appeared to be fumbling for words, but she forestalled him. “If you will, meet me upstairs.” She glided away towards the elevator without a backwards glance.
She was halfway from the elevator to her rooms when she heard his quick, purposeful steps behind her from the direction of the emergency stairs. She turned at the last moment and then she was in his arms, his mouth was on hers, her arms were sliding around his neck as she pressed herself closer to him. A thrilling jolt of adrenaline flashed through her chest and she wondered how long it had been since a mere kiss had excited her so. This man – her man – Quinn – Malavai – he was special, the only person she truly cared about. She was going to hold on to him.
He’d backed her into the wall, his lips still devouring hers, tongues twined together, their bodies pressed tightly together as it was possible to be. A fire was building in her and she was growing lightheaded. When he backed off enough that they could both gasp for air, she jerked her head in the direction of her room. He nodded and stepped back, and she seized his tie and dragged him, unprotesting, after her.