"You're good… so good…"

Written by Michael House and Cheryl Sheppard

This subplot involves Akemi Rhodes (a.k.a. Jadestorm) and what happened after Toll!

May 26, 2000. 9:30ish a.m. Sarita River

Akemi cursed in four different languages as she finally got through the traffic jam. She glanced at her watch and cursed again. Half hour late! She wove in and out of traffic quickly and expertly, keeping one eye out for cops.

Well, Dad always said that learning how to swear in a given language was invaluable. Too bad that's all the French and German I know.

She parked outside the small brown stone and took the stairs two at a time.

"Ochitsuke," she whispered to herself. "By now, the news of the incident on the bridge will undoubtedly be public knowledge." Checking her appearance in the reflection of the building's front door on her way in, she saw that the top of her blouse was still open. Oh well, maybe it'll take some of the edge off. So thinking, she left it as it was.

She flew through the office door and stopped. The loan officer, Rich Simples, looked up. The small office was bare except for a desk, a few chairs and a phone.

"Oh, Mr. Simples, good morning," she said , breaking into a smile and crossing over to his desk. "Excuse me for being so late. I don't know if it's been on the news yet, but a group of terrorists tried to take over the Duke's Bridge. Fortunately, some superheroes showed up and took care of them, but traffic's been a mess as a result. Would you mind if I sit down?"

He smiled, dimples and white teeth, his eyes dropping for a brief second to her open blouse, "No problem, Ms. Rhodes, its my day off and I have nowhere to be. Besides we are waiting for the other party to arrive."

Akemi kept the smile on her face as she considered the implications of his words. This is what you do on your days off? Do your employers know that you moonlight? And who said anything about anyone else being involved in this deal, anyway?

"Then you wait no longer, Richard," the voice behind her had that musical European lilt to it, a little of southern France mixed in with northern Italy. It also held a warmth that even though it was not directed at Akemi, still sent a shiver up her spine.

Oh man, if I live to be two hundred, I don't think I'll ever forget that voice. Why, out of all the people in this city, let alone the world, did it have to be you?

It wasn't outwardly visible, but Akemi was having an increasingly difficult time keeping herself in check. Her brain and blood were both racing. For that matter, who are you? And what are you doing here? And what are you doing tonight? Akemi restrained herself from cutting loose with a wolf whistle. Not now, honey. Later, if all goes well, he may just be the cure for what's ailing me. But if he wants to talk business, that's fine by me too.

The man from the bridge stepped into view. Behind him a second man, blonde and large, stationed himself near the door after looking Akemi over. A look that had nothing that said, 'you are woman' but one of threat assessment. He had an aura of leashed violence. A dangerous man whose aura alone would keep most attackers at bay.

Akemi continued to keep her smile on her lips, her hands open at her sides. But she knew the type: she'd seen it enough times growing up–an attack dog, disguised as a bohunk. Don't worry, big fella, your kind has never been my type, she thought at him. I'm sure the feeling's mutual: you're undoubtedly thinking of me only in terms of how easily you could break this little girly-girl over your knee, am I right? Now your boss, on the other hand, will hopefully have other ideas about what to do with a woman turned over his knee.

Simples's smile became even more broad as he shook hands with the dark-haired man. "Ms. Rhodes, I have the pleasure of introducing you to Mr. Desmond Reach."

"The Desmond Reach? Of Reach, Inc.?" Words started tumbling out of her mouth, seemingly of their own accord. Her expression changed to one of astonishment. This morning seemed full of unbelievable things for Akemi to believe, and lunchtime was still a ways off.

Simultaneously bowing and extending her hand, she said, "This is a most unexpected honor. I hardly imagined that an organization of such prestige would know of my work, much less be interested in it."

She straightened up and looked Desmond Reach in the eye, a softer, politely inquisitive version of her previous smile taking the place of her previous look of surprise. "May I ask why the president and CEO of a global conglomerate is personally involving himself in a lone software developer's establishment of a line of credit for her company? I'm flattered more than I can say"–but I'd love to have the chance to try, if we can only change the surroundings–"but this all seems very unusual."

Desmond's eyes were dark and compelling, as his eyes met hers. He seemed to reach deep inside her and Akemi trembled at the strength of her reaction. Something deep inside spoke, telling her that this one man could be trusted above all.

How many other women have felt like this when they looked into your eyes, huh? Not only are you a lady-killer, but you know you're a lady-killer.

His hand touched hers and his thumb brushed over her pulse. A brief image arose of his hand caressing her body and her knees became weak, her eyes closed.

"Richard, would you be so kind as to get Ms. Rhodes some water, she seems faint."

Just what I need: to go limp in the arms of super-hunk. That would make this a fine bodice-ripper, now, wouldn't it? I guess this morning's activities left me weaker than I thought. I've never been the type to have hysterical fainting spells.

Akemi let herself go to her knees, lowering her head to the floor to reverse the flow of blood from her extremities. She took several deep breaths to get her respiration under control.

When she felt her head clear, she got back on her feet. "No, thank you, I'm all right," she said in response to the offer of water. "I guess all these surprises one on top of another got to me a little." Looking down at his hands, she added, with a half-grin, "Now I see where your surname must have originated. Do all the men in your family have hands that lethal? In any case, you should either have that touch of yours patented, or else registered with the police. Maybe both."

Desmond smiled and relaxed.

Akemi felt another jolt at the sight of his smile, going straight from the base of her skull to her crotch. Much more of this, and I may have to ask to go to the bathroom. Either that, or pull him down on the floor with me.

"My family," he mused, looking inwards for a moment, "No one has mentioned my family in a long time. Actually the men in my family are prone to curses, rather then lethal," his eyebrow raised, "hands."

"Oh, my apologies," she said. "I didn't mean to touch on anything unpleasant."

She sat down in one of the chairs, smoothed out her skirt, and picked up her shoulder bag. "I apologize for that little display of theatrics. I'm really not the flighty, vaporous type." Conscious of the bodyguard, she eased her PowerBook out of her bag, opened it up on her lap, and woke it up. "If you gentlemen would still like to discuss business, I'm more than willing," she said, smiling as she looked up from its display. "And like I said, Mr. Reach, I'm flattered that you would be interested in bankrolling me, especially personally. But before we go any further, I think I'm entitled to know why: both the 'why' of your involvement, and the 'why' of this being made a surprise party."

Desmond's eyes met the bodyguard. The blonde man stiffened, frowned and gave Akemi a hard glance. With a slight bow, he left the room.

"Please do not think I am dismissing Armond because I have no wish for him to hear what we will say, rather I find Armond tends to make people nervous."

"Why… the second is easier to answer. One, I like my various projects to be anonymous. Only those with whom I deal with need know. Two, as you may have surmised, the bank may not approve of Richard directing business elsewhere, even though it is that business they have decided not to handle. I have no wish for Richard to loss his job."

"As for your first question… that answer has many layers."

He watched her for a long time, as if trying to judge what he should say.

When he spoke his voice was very soft, "I knew your father. He was one of the very few people in his line of work for whom I had any respect. I was the one that made sure he would be there at your birth. If he had had to use a commercial airline, he never would have made it."

Akemi blinked, once, twice, her face suddenly devoid of expression. Then she hit a certain three-fingered combination on her keyboard, Sleeping her PowerBook again. She closed the lid, and put her hands together on its top, all without taking her eyes off Reach.

"I guess the operative term here is 'bombshell.' But there aren't too many people I know who've heard that particular story about Dad, so I guess you must have known him before I was born." She cocked her head, then: "I have a hard time believing it, though, because you don't look that old. Or do you have a picture in an attic someplace?" she finished with a smile of her own.

His smile answered hers, "I came into my inheritance rather young in life."

"Still," and here Akemi straightened up in her seat, "whatever the case, while that might explain your interest in me personally"–though not all of your interest, I sincerely hope, she continued to herself–"it doesn't explain your being here professionally, nor does it explain how Mr. Simples thought to put us in contact."

"That is, it doesn't, so long as these are all the facts that I have about the situation. And that being the case, I have to start drawing conclusions. Or perhaps jumping to conclusions would be more accurate. Is it because Mr. Simples knew my father too, that he didn't told me that his bank turned down my line-of-credit request? Is that why he brought us together, as a favor to a mutual friend's daughter?"

She paused, and took a deep breath. "Because if so, then we can all go home right now. Either I get this credit on merit–and I'm not all that surprised that the bank turned me down; I can guess what their reasons were–or we'll all pretend this meeting never happened, because I won't take handouts. Not even from you, Mr. Reach." Her own voice softened at this last, and she looked squarely into his eyes, returning his own gaze. "We can discuss your interest in me later. What's your interest in the work I've been doing?"

Reach nodded to himself. "I would have been disappointed if you had said anything else. As your father you have pride and integrity. When I heard that you had broke in on this business I looked into it because of Chris."

Desmond leaned forward, the smile leaving his face and an intense look settling over it, "But believe me, Ms. Rhodes, if your work wasn't outstanding, we would not be here."

He leaned back and the smile came back in full force, "I have sponsored over 200 people in various lines of work on the strength of my belief in their work, and their drive. Only 10 of those have ever failed. Your work is very good, and timely. You have your father's upraising and what you have said here has confirmed your drive."

"As to why Richard brought you to my attention. Richard has always been–how is it said these days?–a sucker for a beautiful lady in need."

"Shall we discuss the terms?"

"Well, if that's how Mr. Simples feels, I'll have to thank him in a suitable manner sometime soon. It's nice to know I can have that effect," she replied, opening her PowerBook and Waking it up again. Opening the files she wanted, she continued, "Now, I'm still not entirely certain why a respectable businessman such as yourself would want to involve himself in what amounts to computerized erotica, but yes, I'd like to involve myself with you. I knew that when I saw you this morning on the bridge, before I even knew who you were. Not many people would stand ransom for who I guess is a complete stranger, let alone put themselves in that sort of danger to do it. I realized that there was more to you than just incredible good looks, and that matters to me in all aspects of my life."

A small smile quirked in his eyes, "Thank you. I do not often hear that."

"The pleasure is all mine."

Once she had everything set up to her satisfaction (a matter of moments for her machine), she said, "I'm ready when you are. Which would you prefer: a written agreement or an oral recording?"

Reach reached down for the briefcase he had brought with him. He slid it over to her.

"There are several agreements inside, take your time, have a lawyer look them over. Choose the one you think is fair. I have already signed them, so we await only your signature. When you are ready, contact the number that is in the case and we will have dinner to confirm our relationship."

The door opened and Armond stood there. Reach rose to his feet. "I have other appointment which that whole bridge business set back. I had originally scheduled more time."

He leaned over her hand, and gently raised it to his lips, then spoke in French, <Until we meet again.>

Akemi didn't understand the exact words, but she didn't need to. She knew what he meant, and used her smoldering gaze to tell him so. In words, she added, "If you know my father well enough to refer to him as 'Chris', then call me 'Akemi'."

"Akemi, then," his voice caressed the word as he closed the door behind him.