Garret’s expression turned sympathetic as if he knew how Holden felt. He didn’t speak, but those uncanny eyes watched him like a hawk. A muffled sound of exasperation escaped Holden. “I don’t get you,” he ground out in a low tone that expressed his frustration. “Are you Magia or what? Cause I’m all edgy and weird around you and I don’t know why. My clan mark is prickling. You smell like a pack of spearmint gum. Every time I look at you, I think I know you from somewhere, but I can’t place where! What the hell is going on?”
The glow in Garret’s eyes intensified as he rose to his feet, facing Holden. “Think about what you just said to me, Holden,” he said quietly. “Think about what those things might signify. I’m not Magia, but as far as you’re concerned, I’m something far more rare and important.”
He walked over to the sliding door and then stopped, looking back at Holden. “Open your mind, Holden Antaeus. Life doesn’t always fit in neat little boxes or compartments. Things happen for a reason.”
Garret stepped into the sitting room, disappearing behind the blinds. Holden stared at the empty doorway for long moments. Emotions tugged inside him. Even though Garret had gone inside, Holden could still smell his spearmint scent. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. That scent…his dragon lore came rushing back to him and his jaw went slack with shock.
Holy shit! No fucking way!
He shook with reaction, his fingers clutching the empty wineglass convulsively. It couldn’t be true. It wasn’t possible. Somehow Sean had set him up. His brothers were punking him, playing him off against the British man somehow. The guy was probably some tennis stud who would kick his ass six ways from Sunday the moment they took their rackets out. Yet how could they have manufactured his scent and Holden’s reaction to that scent?
Holden stormed into the suite, fumbling a little with the door and the blinds. As he stumbled into the sitting room, Garret turned, his hand dropping from the handle of the suite’s door. Their eyes met, Garret’s sympathetic. Holden knew his expression was wild with disbelief. This couldn’t be happening!
Garret sighed loudly and turned his back on the door, facing Holden fully. “It’s not as complicated as you think, Holden,” he said quietly. “I don’t know why either. I just know it is
and I recognized you right away. What you do with the knowledge, how you deal with it, is up to you, but you cannot change it unless one of us dies.”
A growl began deep in Holden’s chest as fear took hold of him. “Something’s wrong!” he burst out, his emotions wildly overwrought.
Garret shook his head. “No. Something’s very right.” He moved, crossing the room swiftly to stop a few inches from Holden, who wanted to recoil but somehow managed not to. His voice when he spoke was soft, but firm. “Holden, you’re my mate.”
* * * *
The disbelief on Holden’s face filled Garret with apprehension.
“But I’m not gay!”
Garret flinched at Holden’s words. He’d known it wouldn’t be easy to convince the black dragon that they were mates. Lord knew it had hit him like a ton of bricks as he’d sat in the conference room, Holden’s crisp lime scent taking hold of his senses. In fact, the scent had tipped him off to what had happened. No one had ever had such a clear-cut scent to him before. And it was obvious that no one else had noticed. As Holden stared at his brother and then down at his folder, Garret had had a few moments to study him.
Holden Antaeus seemed familiar to him and for a few moments he figured it was because he looked so much like his brothers, whom Garret had already met. But as he stared at the ink-black hair, the tanned skin, and lean, aesthetic features with the unmistakable Antaeus stamp upon them, he realized the familiarity had nothing to do with Sean and Declan and everything to do with Holden himself. He felt drawn to the man, something inside him tugging and pulling at his emotions. The knowledge of what Holden meant to him slipped into his consciousness quietly. As Garret gazed at the youngest Antaeus brother, he knew he saw his destiny.
Sean’s announcement hadn’t been met with pleasure by any of the executive staff seated at the conference table except for Vahid Delrey, the COO. Garret had already pegged him as Sean’s right hand and had it confirmed when the man got up to hand out the retreat packets. The anger he’d felt coming off of Holden struck him square in the chest. That’s when he’d realized convincing the man that they were mates would be the biggest battle of his life. Lawyers liked to wheel and deal and argue. A man like Holden, secure in who and what he was, wouldn’t be easily convinced to switch sides because his mate was a man and not a woman. Of course, maybe the man was also bisexual. That would certainly help, but his gut told him that Holden Antaeus was as straight as a ruler.
Deciding to face the whole situation head-on, he’d followed Holden to his office. Looking at the “wall of fame” the man had made Garret realize his mate’s pride. Intelligent. Athletic. And…nice. Right away Holden had let him know that he wasn’t angry with him, but with his brother. A nice man. A fair man. One who didn’t believe in the old dragon tales, but instead held a clear vision of equality between the dragon clans. He was a man Garret could be proud to call mate. If he could get Holden to accept him as such.
Now, standing eye to eye, a few inches separating their bodies, Holden completely unnerved and freaked out, fear crept into Garret’s veins. He had to convince Holden of the truth. Somehow, they had to work things out.
“Neither am I,” he said quietly, trying to keep his voice steady and calm.
Holden’s golden eyes flared with emotion and Garret could see him holding onto his composure by a thread. “If I’m not gay and you’re not gay, why the fuck are we mates?” Holden growled.
One step forward.
Holden hadn’t refuted the evidence of scent, recognition, and the awareness of a growing emotional bond. However, having a man for a mate confused him. Something Garret totally understood.
“I’m bisexual, Holden,” he explained.
Holden shook his head dazedly. “It still makes no sense, Garret. I’m not gay. I’m not bi. I’m not into men at all. I never have been.” His face hardened. “I’m a pussy licker, not a cocksucker!”
Garret flinched again. One step back.
He resisted the urge to grab Holden by the shoulders and shake him. The sense of fairness and equality he’d gotten from Holden earlier in the day was completely missing now. The man’s mind wasn’t open to the possibilities at all.
“Mates aren’t just about sex. They’re about compatibility and happiness. Whatever force creates these matches does so in order to bring about the happiness of the people involved.” Garret felt like a professor outlining basic dragon biology and theology. “It’s not gender specific but person—dragon—specific.”
Holden’s nostrils flared and a trickle of smoke emerged, giving away his emotional turmoil. “So the fact that we’re supposed to recognize each other, mate, and have sex together for the rest of our lives has nothing to do with the fact that we are both men and one of us isn’t interested in sex with men?” he asked in an acid tone.
A leaden sensation began to take hold in Garret’s chest. This wasn’t going well at all. Like Holden, he didn’t understand why they were mates, but at least he was open to the possibilities. He knew the consequences of not mating once you’d found your mate. He’d once heard them detailed by someone who had watched another be slowly driven insane by the pain. If Holden never came to accept that they were mates, their future was bleak.
Garret turned away toward the door. “I don’t know, Holden,” he said heavily, his unhappiness with his mate’s reactions coloring his words. “I only know that chosen mates are supposed to be blissfully happy after mating. I know that the love and the bond that forms between mates is person-specific and has nothing to do with gender.” He twisted his head so that his eyes could meet Holden’s. “I know that my sex life has never been about gender. I don’t have sex with people I don’t and can’t like no matter how attractive they might be. I’ve never had a painful or difficult breakup with someone and I don’t have exes who hate me.”
Now Holden flinched and Garret wondered how many of his exes hated him. Probably all of them, he thought cynically as he reached for the doorknob.
At Holden’s exclamation, Garret paused, about to turn the handle of the door. “What?”
“You’re just gonna go down to dinner like nothing happened?”
Garret sighed again. He turned to face Holden. “Nothing did happen. And you’re blowing this all out of proportion,” he said quietly.
Holden’s black brows rose. “Being confused and angry and upset because I’ve discovered I have a man for a mate when I’m not into men is blowing it out of proportion?”
The mocking incredulity on Holden’s face pushed Garret over the edge. Reaching out, his hands grasped Holden by the shoulders. He yanked the heavier man close to him, his mouth finding Holden’s half open one. Anger fueled the kiss. Lust was the farthest thing from his mind when he’d touched Holden. But the taste of Holden’s mouth on his tongue, the rasp of the man’s five-o’clock shadow against his own stubbled jaw, the feel of those heavy shoulder muscles bunching beneath his fingers, served to light a fire inside Garret that he’d never felt before. He let his tongue flicker over Holden’s lower lip, teasing and tasting. His hips brushed Holden’s and his cock began to stir.
Holden must have felt it too because he went stiff and still. Angry with himself for his lack of control, Garret tore his mouth from Holden’s and spun on the balls of his feet, reaching for the door. Without looking back, he slammed out of the suite and headed for the stairs. He pounded down the two flights and emerged in the lobby. Bypassing the restaurant, he veered into the bar and out onto the patio. He leaned against the railing, chest heaving, sucking in great gulps of cold night air.
He turned his head and saw a waitress hovering. He forced a smile for her. “Scotch. Neat,” he told her. “A double.”