A/N- This is my first fanfic. I apologize in advance for typical grammar and spelling errors (I don't think there are too many). It might seem a little slow at first, but I promise there is going to be a whole lot of tension in future chapters.
Disclaimer: I own the OC's, three pens, six sheets of paper, and the most prosperous dust bunny ranch in the world. Nothing more, nothing less.
Summary: All she wants is her freedom. She'll do anything to keep it, and he'll do anything to keep her.
I hate rain, Seto Kaiba grimly shook water droplets from his short brown hair. Very little had gone well with the day and the disagreeable weather only compounded his unpleasant mood. The upcoming engagement had been scheduled last minute, crammed into his already overflowing schedule and he sincerely doubted any good would come from the meeting.
Stepping further into the restaurant, he turned his icy cold stare on the maitre d' who gasped in surprise.
"M-Mr. Kaiba! We were not expecting you this evening, Sir!" the little man sputtered with mustered dignity.
"I need a quiet corner to attend a business matter," Kaiba frostily ignored the man's difficult situation.
The maitre d' glanced from the tall young man to the woman standing immediately in front of his podium, unsure of what to do.
"Mr. Kaiba is a very busy man, L'amour," she said softly.
"But Ms. Nieche, you have prior reservations!"
Kaiba's jaw clicked at the man's audacity until the thought occurred to him that the woman just may circulate among the prominent and the maitre d' was uncertain who deserved first consideration. The choice was obvious to him.
Slender fingers brushed back a thick lock of light brown hair to reveal a face too simple and plain to be called beautiful. Delicate and young, it was difficult to place her age though something akin to discretion born only from experience tainted her voice.
"I believe Mr. Kaiba's time is precious, L'amour. On the other hand, I am in no rush."
"Yes, Ms Nieche," L'amour bowed at her logic. "This way please, Mr. Kaiba."
Kaiba glanced at the woman with mild curiosity. She met his gaze evenly and nodded once without a hint of a smile in her pale blue eyes. He returned the nod and followed L'amour. At least some people have common sense, he decided.
Ten minutes after his associate arrived and proceeded to bore him with the details of a renovation that would postpone production on Kaiba Corp's latest software, the maitre d' reappeared with the woman he had called Ms Nieche. There was something about that name that rang in the recesses of his mind, but he couldn't quite place it. Her companion, on the other hand, was easy to recognize.
Juko Omaka of Omaka Enterprises was in direct competition with Kaiba Corp in the gaming community. Seated diagonally from Kaiba's table, the two proved to be far more interesting than his own associate.
Ms Nieche's expression could be perceived as boredom, but her attention was riveted on Omaka.
Looks like Omaka has secured himself a little treat, Kaiba thought darkly.
The woman listened intently to what Omaka said without comment until the older man finally stopped. Her expression turned thoughtful.
"It seems you have left me little choice, Mr. Omaka." Her voice carried softly but there was a distinct note of disgust hidden in the polite words.
"You will always have a home at Omaka Enterprises, Ari. Your talents will not be wasted."
"I want nothing to do with Omaka Enterprises or you for that matter," she returned.
"Don't be a fool, Ari!" Omaka snapped and her eyes widened then narrowed in proud defiance.
"Don't judge me so quickly, Omaka," she warned.
Omaka was unperturbed. "I give you due credit for keeping Nihm Fiber-optics afloat since Ashine died. But you are both a child and a woman. Inexperience and innocence are poor assets in the corporate world as you have already experienced. Nihm is crumbling under your control."
He reached out and took her hand much as one would with a stubborn child. "You were never meant to head a company. Your talents are better suited to your private research and I am certain you would be much happier in doing just that. Omaka Enterprises can use your talents and give you the room to expand your horizons. I assure you, you will be well cared for."
Ari Nieche regarded him silently as Kaiba now considered her. He didn't know Nihm Fiber-optics was in financial straits. Marketing & Research had some explaining to do. Apparently this young woman now owned Nihm, which explained why the Maitre d' thought her VIP.
Ari freed her hand from Omaka's and lifted her glass, staring absently into the contents. The price for buyout Omaka offered was seductive despite being under market price. However, money meant little when it was personal. Her company would not be in this prostrate position if not for Omaka. The man was a snake and she despised him accordingly. His graceful words did not deceive her. He did not wish to "employee her talents" as he suggested. Omaka was a man who owned things, but he would not own her!
Ari looked up and her eyes locked with blue ice. Seto Kaiba. Ashine had often spoken of the young CEO with contempt, a sure sign that he respected his skill and authority in the business world. Ruthless and cold, she had been repeatedly warned to avoid any and all dealings with the man for she was sure to lose out. Men like him shouldn't be allowed to look that good, she thought. It gives him too much power.
She glanced away quickly to meet Omaka's expectant stare. I've lost my appetite.
"You may send your proposal to my office, Mr. Omaka," she said. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kaiba look away indifferently. Omaka, however, was pleased.
"I'm glad to see you have come to your senses. I shall fax it in the morning."
Ari nodded. "I appreciate your patience with me," even if you are a snake.
Omaka chuckled and patted her hand as if he were consoling a toddler. "Not at all, Ari. I understand how difficult this must be for you. Ashine had good intentions, but you were never cut out for this cutthroat business. I believe he would want this for you."
Ari averted her gaze to hide the venom seeping through her being. How dare you!
A soft beeping emitted from his dinner jacket and he reached in for his cell phone. "Omaka," he said sharply, sparing a small smile for Ari who returned it half-heartedly.
"Are you certain? Very well, I will come immediately." He hung up and stood abruptly. "You will have to excuse me, Ari. Duty calls. It has been a charming evening and I will speak with you soon. Good evening."
She let out a small, insignificant sigh to be left alone with her scattered thoughts. I'm sorry, Kaska. You never should have left the company to me. Surely you knew this would happen, didn't you? I suppose sentiment destroyed you in the end.
"Ms Nieche." The waiter broke into her thoughts. "Will you be dining alone this evening?"
"No," she said with a pained smile. "I seem to have lost my appetite."
"Mr. Omaka made it clear that you were to be given whatever you asked."
Ari felt a trembling in her chest until the low chuckle became audible. Her laughter was clear, born both of amusement and exasperation. "Whatever I ask? Indeed!" Suddenly her pale eyes brightened and she gathered her small purse and stood.
"Perhaps you should leave that between me and Mr. Omaka," she said with wry amusement, another faint chuckle escaping. "Whatever I ask," she murmured, walking away with a shake of her head. "Won't he be surprised."
"Interesting," Kaiba murmured, eyes scouring the detailed report he demanded regarding Nihm Fiber-optics. Previously owned by Kaska Ashine, the company in its entirety had been left to Ari Nieche upon his death just over a year before. Strange, since nothing linked the two people in any manner that could be discerned.
The company maintained its hold on the fiber-optic empire throughout much of Nieche's control, until just four months ago. A sharp dive in production and sales seriously hurt the company, numerous "accidents" crippled Nihm's laboratories, and financial help of any kind had been denied. It reeked of sabotage. Omaka never would have tried something like that had Ashine still been alive.
Kaska Ashine had been a difficult man, cold and distant. The man often received the same public labels as Kaiba himself. They had no dealings with each other, despite Kaiba Corp's need for fiber-optic technology in its gaming hardware. He and Ashine didn't see eye to eye.
Purchasing Nihm would severely augment Kaiba Corp's research and development, no doubt the same reason Omaka was after it. If Omaka wanted it then Kaiba had to have it. He would be a fool to permit the competition to gain such an asset.
As for Ari Nieche, she was inexperienced and naïve just as Omaka said. Kaiba smirked. Easy prey.
Ari stared at the proposal before her. It was the third one Omaka had sent her. The first had been "accidentally" shredded by her secretary and the second suffered a similar fate. Her stalling would only buy her so much time before Omaka wised up to it.
There must be something more I can do! She still refused to believe that bankruptcy and liquidation was the only way to keep Nihm's research out of Omaka's hands. I need more time!
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.
"Come in." She glanced up and her secretary, Lil, poked her head in.
"Ms Nieche, there is a Mr. Kaiba here demanding a word with you. I know he doesn't have an appointment, but he is being quite insistent."
Ari could not keep a wry smile from her lips. "I'll bet he is."
"Shall I have security escort him out?"
Ari chuckled. That would be a fatal move, though interesting to see. "No, I will see him." So now you're after Nihm too, Kaiba. My blood is drawing the biggest, meanest sharks. Who will finish me off?
Lil reappeared with the tall young man in tow, his favored blue trench coat brightening his unnerving gaze to the point of sheer intimidation. At a glance at the imposing office with the young woman sitting behind her executive desk, he suffered the acute impression that she did not belong in that setting.
I have nothing to lose, nothing to fear, she reminded herself as she stood and rounded her desk. "I should have been expecting you," she said, proud of her steady voice.
His unflinching gaze made her feel smaller than her five five and even more the child Omaka accused her of being. She was a troublesome mouse in his eyes, she realized.
Ari gave herself a mental shake for good measure. "Show me your offer."
So easy. He reached inside his coat and pulled out a long envelope. Ari Nieche merely watched him from where she leaned against her desk. He closed the distance in two strides and handed her his offer.
Her fingers were unusually steady as she opened the envelope and stared at the contract.
"Wow," she murmured, glancing at him. "You work fast."
Ari look down at the contract and out of habit, she wandered with slow, thoughtful steps as she read.
Kaiba watched her with distant amusement. Her long brown hair was pulled back with a few loose strands framing her face, but not distracting her view in the least. Her simple white blouse and black slacks made her look more like a high school student than a corporate executive.
After a moment she looked up to stare out the large window she now stood beside. It was quite an offer, more than Omaka's for sure, but something about it bothered her.
She tapped the paper thoughtfully against her lips. At least, it would buy me some time… Ari glanced at Kaiba. His arms were folded across his chest and his stony expression was formidable. No wonder Kaska told me to avoid this man.
"I will give it serious consideration," she said.
There was no deceit in her expression, but he got the unshakable feeling she was hiding a great deal behind that innocent face. A cruel smile flickered across his lips as he considered her vulnerable and no doubt desperate situation.
"The offer expires in two days," he said.
"And if Omaka outbids you? You wouldn't be here if Nihm wasn't valuable to you."
"My time is valuable to me, as you have previously noticed. I won't waste it on a futile pursuit."
Something akin to hope seemed to die in her pretty pale eyes, replaced by acceptance of an inevitable fate.
"Nihm will be of no use to anyone by then," she said, folding the contract up and sliding it back into the envelope.
Kaiba frowned. "You would rather lose everything?"
Ari placed the envelope on her desk as if it were delicate and fragile. "There is a distinct difference between your offer and Omaka's, aside from the digits. Omaka has information regarding Nihm Fiber-optics that you do not and his contract is written accordingly."
She grimaced at her fingers lingering on the envelope. "He has manipulated privilege information and…" she faded off in thought, glancing up at Kaiba's face. His steady stare told her he was paying rapt attention.
"It would not be right," she wasn't sure why she was doing this, "to sell my company to you with this disadvantage. The omission renders Nihm useless to you. It would be a con."
His eyes widened slightly in surprise and then narrowed. "You should have taken the deal and run. You are a fool."
Ari shrugged. "So be it."
"You could share that information," he suggested with a quirk of the brow.
She could not hold her laughter, but clearly Kaiba was not amused. "I would be a fool to think you that much different from Omaka. The great Seto Kaiba, ruthless and merciless in business and duel monsters!" And probably in life.
Her words were mocking, but her pale eyes showed timid caution as if she knew she was treading on thin ice to be taunting him to his face. But then, she didn't have much to lose.
"I refuse your offer merely for my own conscience's sake, not out of any consideration for you. No, I will break Nihm to pieces before Omaka or anyone else can benefit from my hard work."
"Your hard work? Ashine has been gone only a year."
Alarm washed across her face at her slip of words. "Of course." She left her desk and quickly walked to the door.
"Forgive me for wasting your time, Mr. Kaiba." She opened the door and stepped aside. Averting her eyes, Ari Nieche's stature was of a woman trapped between defiance and defeat. "It won't happen again."
A/N- So, what do you think? It's okay to let me know, if you want. I won't twist your arm, promise.