Vahid’s muscles protested as he climbed the stairs from the parking garage to the lobby level of the high-rise building that housed Antaeus International. He hated moving and the past two days had been spent in a haze of carrying boxes as he moved in with his current girlfriend, coworker, and boss’s sister, Eden Antaeus. He wasn’t in love with Eden, but he’d been hot for her a long time and they had a great relationship. She needed someone whom she felt comfortable with and so did he. She might not be what he needed or wanted in a mate, but she suited him well for this juncture of his life and career. He wasn’t exactly ready for the responsibilities a mate represented anyway. All in all, perhaps what had happened between him and Emily had been for the best.
Oddly, Sean had been pretty tight-lipped on the subject of him moving in with Eden. When they’d first started dating, Sean hadn’t had any problem with the relationship. When they’d first talked about moving in together, Sean hadn’t seemed to care. Yet in the last few days, Vahid had felt Sean’s disapproval like a dark cloud that enveloped him and followed him everywhere. He knew a confrontation hovered on the horizon, but he just hadn’t had the balls to face it head-on by asking Sean what was wrong.
As he stepped onto the shiny granite floor of the lobby, the object of his thoughts came into view. Sean strode toward the bank of elevators, a fresh cup of coffee from the lobby vendor in hand. He slowed his pace as their eyes met. Vahid fell into step beside his boss and they stepped into the empty elevator together. Vahid decided he’d better get the inevitable out of the way while he had no audience.
“You’re pissed at me for moving in with your sister.”
Sean’s brows rose. “Eden’s sex life is really none of my business,” he said smoothly and lifted his coffee cup to his lips.
“You’re pissed at me about something. I can tell.” Vahid knew it had to be about Eden. The timing was too perfect. Sean could deny it, but it seemed pretty undeniable to Vahid.
Sean’s dark head dipped in a nod. “I am pissed at you, but not about Eden. She’s not the only female relative I have, you know.”
His boss’s suave tone conveyed no anger, but Vahid knew him far too well. Sean Antaeus was more than just pissed. He was furious. “I don’t know what else would have upset you,” he replied, his brain scrambling to find another reason for Sean’s ire.
“Although she doesn’t want it known around the office, Emily is my cousin. She’s the spitting image of my mother.”
The ice in Sean’s voice chilled Vahid. Usually, Sean in a snit didn’t affect him. Today, fear crept in and took up residence in Vahid’s bloodstream. “You’re mad because of what I said about her before I met her.”
That whole episode in the corridor outside Emily’s office and then the meeting inside had been beyond surreal. He’d never had such an instantaneous reaction to a woman before. Her baby powder scent called to his dragon instantly. Prior to that moment, he’d only seen her at a distance, through the glass of the meeting room window, at the end of a corridor walking with Declan… She’d appeared tall, regal, cold as ice and just as haughty… But face-to-face, she’d knocked the bottom out of his world.
When her palm touched his, images of her naked, wrapped around his body, flashed through his mind. Her scent overpowered him and his dragon roared its approval of their newfound mate. But of course, everything had already been fucked up between them. His words came back to haunt him and the specter of his pending living arrangement with Eden left him unable to do anything more than let Emily dictate the tone of their relationship from that moment forward. He’d gone home and gotten blazingly drunk, the knowledge that he’d screwed up his future weighing on him heavily.
“Vahid, I’m furious that you’re not trying to fix things with her. She’s your goddamned mate. You’re condemning the both of you to indescribable pain.” Sean’s harsh voice rattled the chrome of the elevator. Obviously his dragon was on a very short leash.
“Me? What about her?” Outraged, Vahid didn’t even stop to wonder how Sean had discovered that Emily was his mate. “She’s not interested in having me for a mate. She just wants to rub my careless words in my face. She’s a cold bitch who wouldn’t know what to do with a man like me in a hundred years!”
A muscle twitched in Sean’s jaw and his amber eyes flashed. “You need to stop acting like a teenager and man up, Vahid,” he said in a cold tone. “The two of you belong together and you need to make some sort of overture toward her to fix what’s gone wrong between you. Pointing fingers, assigning blame, and ignoring the fact that you’re mates is childish, immature, and very irresponsible. Moving in with my sister after you knew you’d met your mate is just fucking stupid. I’d thought better of you.”
The elevator doors opened onto the main floor of Antaeus International and the receptionist looked up at them with a bright smile. Sean replied curtly to her good morning as he stormed toward his office, leaving a shocked Vahid still standing in the elevator.
Making his way to his own office, Vahid wondered what the hell he should do. He never went against Sean. He owed the man more than he could ever repay. He owed him his soul. He hadn’t meant to be so defensive, but somehow, Emily Carrington had messed with the comfortable balance he had going with his boss. Privately, he might wonder how a cold woman like Emily could handle a man of his temperament, but he shouldn’t have voiced the thought to Sean especially since they were related.
With a heavy sigh, he pushed open his door and headed for the relative oblivion of work. Half an hour later, a knock on his door roused him from the reports he’d been reading. He looked up as Emily Carrington stepped into his office.
Today she wore a power suit in black with a sky-blue silk shirt. The slim skirt hugged her slender hips and long legs. Her pale blonde hair shone like silver in the fluorescent lighting, the silken strands caught back in a jeweled clip at the nape of her neck. His dragon stretched, rousing the instant her baby powder scent reached him. She appeared cool and collected and so very unlike any woman he’d ever been attracted to in the past. Yet his dragon salivated, nearly out of control at the barest glimpse and scent of her.
His gaze met Emily’s and her honey-colored eyes nearly floored him. Long lashed and wide, they appeared warmer than the bright amber of the Antaeus clan, and the expression in them drew him like a lodestone. Fear and uncertainty gazed out of the hazel depths despite the cool unemotional set of her beautiful face. In that instant, he wanted only to gather her into his arms and tell her everything would be okay. Cursing himself silently, he knew it wouldn’t be okay. Everything was completely screwed up and he had no idea how to fix it.
“I-I…thought maybe… Well, perhaps w-we could… I mean I thought maybe w-we could s-start ov…”
Emily’s soft, stumbling words were overridden by the bang of his office door as it swung wide and hit the wall. His girlfriend strode into the room. Eden Antaeus had more confidence than any three AI executives combined. Tall, lushly curved with full breasts, a tiny waist and flared hips, her long legs had the lean muscles of a swimmer. Tanned and the epitome of vibrant health, her golden eyes shone as bright as the sun and her long black hair waved around a face filled with vivacity.
Beside the effervescence of Eden, Emily appeared carved from a block of marble. Elegant and willowy, her stillness seemed to come from an inner composure few people could command. However, Vahid knew that to an outsider Emily would appear to be a nightingale beside Eden’s peacock.
Eden rounded the edge of his desk and planted a kiss on his lips. Vahid knew she wasn’t posturing as some females did in front of other females, staking her claim on him. Eden just didn’t think anything of being demonstrative if she felt like it.
“Eden, you’ve met Emily, haven’t you?” he said, struggling to keep his voice from sounding as strangled as he felt.
Eden whipped around and flashed a brilliant smile at Emily, whose honey-colored eyes went dark and opaque. The fear and uncertainty on display a moment before in her eyes disappeared so quickly that Vahid wondered if it had ever really been there or was simply a product of his wishful thinking.
“My cousin!” She reached out and gave Emily a quick hug before stepping back. “Sean told me he’d hired you. You must be dead awesome because Sean’s not into nepotism.”
Vahid watched as Emily’s face arranged itself into a cool, pleasant expression. Remote, but with enough polite interest to keep Eden from thinking she didn’t like her. An equally polite smile curved her sugar-pink lips, but he noticed that it never reached those honey-colored eyes.
“So I’ve heard. And I prefer not to trade on the relationship. I’ve asked Sean not to let that information out in the company,” Emily replied in a mild tone so devoid of emotion that Vahid instantly wondered what Eden thought of her coolly contained relative.
“I won’t let the cat outta the bag. Dragon swear!”
Eden swiped two fingers across her hip bone in a gesture he’d seen a hundred times before. He knew Eden’s dragon clan mark lay just inside her pelvic bone and she had a habit of using the old-fashioned dragon version of pinky swear. This time, however, the gesture made Vahid acutely aware of the fact that he had no idea where Emily’s clan mark lay on her body.
“Hey, babe, can you stop and pick up some dessert on the way home? Something chocolate. I’ve got dinner all planned, but I’ve no time to go to the bakery,” Eden said, reaching up to straighten his tie.
“Sure. I’ll stop at that Jewish bakery you love,” he murmured, his heart thudding with alarm. Dear gods. He hadn’t wanted Emily to find out about him and Eden in this manner. Not that he had any more tactful way of telling her.
Eden brushed a kiss along his jaw and he could see the ice forming on Emily. She turned away from his girlfriend’s display of affection and the stiff set of her back told him everything he needed to know. If she had come to his office to try to make things right, he’d just nipped that in the bud, although he hadn’t meant to.
“It was nice meeting you, Eden. I need to get back to my office. I have a department meeting to prepare for,” Emily said in a soft voice, so devoid of emotion that Vahid decided the expression he’d seen earlier couldn’t have been real.
The instant the door closed behind Emily, Vahid’s dragon threw a temper tantrum, raking him with sharp claws that caused intense heartburn. Once before he’d let his dragon rule him and it had caused so much trouble that Vahid knew he wouldn’t even have a life had Sean not saved him from the consequences of the dragon’s actions.
“I like her. She’s quiet, but I just have this sense that she is imminently capable,” Eden told him, her hand stroking the front of his shirt absently.
“Would Sean hire anyone who wasn’t?” Vahid forced a smile to his lips. Like Emily, he needed to put on a good face. He had a life beyond his mating troubles and it wouldn’t do to trash that life especially when he’d spent so much time carefully constructing it. He hoped everything would work its way out because viable solutions just hadn’t presented themselves to him. Being at a loss for ideas pissed him off and this time, in this situation, he had absolutely no one to blame but himself.