“You and Izdahl are having a disagreement.”
Kiana stared at her older brother, knowingly.
The two were meeting at Preva University. Kiana, a Political Science professor, had recently finished teaching her course for the day. Armando had wanted to speak with her, only letting her know that something was bothering him. He didn’t go into detail but she was already aware; his argument with Izdahl was weighing on his mind. The previous day, she’d had a conversation with Izdahl, where he had expressed sadness about the quarrel with Armando.
Armando had agreed to see her at her office for a conversation. Over the years, he had found that her straightforward opinions could set his mind at ease, even if they were not always comfortable to digest at first.
“Yes,” Armando admitted.
“You two were doing so well.”
“Apparently not as much as I thought. He did, after all, withhold something important from me. It was in connection to Rasmus. He kept telling me to stay away from Rasmus. He also mentioned that Rasmus had injured me in the woods. After I learned that, I was angry.”
“Do you think you overreacted at all?”
“No. Do you?”
Kiana took a moment, reflecting on the best manner to convey her point to her brother.
“He’s quite protective of you,” she began. “Even when you weren’t aware of it, he was watching over you.”
“I didn’t ask for any of that,” Armando replied sharply.
“Oh ‘Mando, you can be so insensitive. He has cared about you for so long. Your snobbery has just gotten in the way.”
“Why are you siding with him?”
“Because his views make sense, given how you’ve chosen to act. He was most likely unsure how you’d act. After all, he is a Nitelge and it was another Nitelge who injured you. He might have been worried that it would reflect negatively on him.”
“So,” Armando replied obstinately. “It’s still insulting.”
“I understand. However, Syrik also wants me to stay away from certain Nitelge; I’ve listened. I trust him. I also ask for more information, when I want it. Ultimately, I respect his judgment.”
“And you’re saying that I don’t have that regard for Izdahl?”
“Clearly you don’t! At the Center’s opening, you walked off with Rasmus, even after Izdahl had made his concern apparent. You showed him that you didn’t care about his views and you did it quite publicly.”
“I feel as if there are things Izdahl is keeping from me. He should have told me earlier about Rasmus injuring me.”
“I already mentioned why he likely held back. Sometimes you’re quite impatient, which is why you went to Rasmus to get answers quickly, ones that may not even be accurate. And I have a feeling you will still try to contact him again, though you now know he injured you.”
“I have to find out why.”
“Is what you can gain from Rasmus worth exposing yourself to the danger he presents?”
“Well, when you put it that way…But, I’m curious about his motives.”
“Then let Izdahl handle it.”
“I can do it myself!”
“You’ll get hurt. You don’t understand all of the aspects of Nitelge culture. I’m married to Syrik and I’m still learning some of the protocol…Anyway, you should go speak with Izdahl.”
“Hmmm.” Armando sighed, looking uncertain of himself.
“Are you worried that he’ll still be angry with you?”
“Well, in case it will ease your mind, I can tell you that Syrik is even more attractive when he’s angry with me. If his brother is anything like that; you’ll enjoy him being upset with you. A handsome, reasonably irate Nitelge can be quite appealing. You just have to know how to use it to your advantage…I think your real frustration is that you want to sleep with him but you’re scared. That’s why you’re holding on to this ‘fury’ about what he did or didn’t tell you. It gives you a reason to stay away from him. You’re actually worried about what your first time will be like. And all of that anxiety is keeping some silly frustration going. You need to have a nice, powerful, beautiful orga—”
“I’m your older brother. Do we have to talk like this?”
“Don’t be shy. We both know that a good org—”
“Yes, I get your point, Ki,” Armando said, dryly.
Kiana laughed, enjoying the flush that she’d caused to come to her brother’s cheeks.
“I’m going to my office now,” Armando told her. “I have a meeting with a client.” As he was putting on his coat, he paused, remembering another issue.
“Hey, Ki, did you know that Xersa and her family had saved us?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“She asked that I not do it.”
“She’s the one who would know.”
“And you would listen to her over your own brother?”
“At the time, you wouldn’t have understood. I had to keep it from you…I don’t ever want to return to days like that.”
When he touched the disk of blood around his neck, Rasmus saw the image of Armando walking his horse. Once again, he found himself wishing that he could be with the architect.
Tucking the disk safely under his shirt, he sighed. He thought that, perhaps Khalaf was right. It was likely that he was becoming fixated on Armando. He didn’t want to jeopardize his goal of carrying out the tasks Dagmar wanted. However, there was something about Armando. Rasmus desired him very much. The brief conversation at the opening of the Science and Technology Center did not help to abate his feelings. It had merely fueled them. He had hoped for more time to speak with the architect. But, Izdahl had interfered. And now, Izdahl and Armando appeared to be growing closer. He had seen them in various places, oblivious to everyone else, intent on only showing each other attention.
Rasmus wondered, not for the first time, why someone like Izdahl seemed to have so much. He sighed again, feeling disgust creep through him. The Amasis are successful, he thought, because they don’t get lost in self-pity.
Once again, he found himself thinking of that clan. He realized how many of his actions were influenced by the Amasis. To improve his clan’s status he’d gone to Dagmar, who was close to the Amasis. He wanted Armando, who, while he was highly attractive in his own right, was made all that more appealing because Izdahl desired him.
Putting aside that line of thought for the time being, Rasmus looked at his watch. He had a meeting with Dagmar in 30 minutes. The process of completing all of the tasks that Dagmar required was taking longer than he’d thought it would. At first the Kelcho had rushed him, wanting quick results. And then, the elder Nitelge had suddenly slowed his pace. The two-year plan had been extended indefinitely.
Rasmus hoped that Dagmar was not about to end the project, which had been quite lucrative so far. He and Khalaf had become the envy of many of the Teradas. Some demanded to know how the two of them had received such fortune. They were careful to keep that information to themselves. They had not repeatedly flaunted what they had earned. However, they’d been able to afford finer items than they’d ever had, including new vehicles for both of them. The rest of the funds, after living expenses, was being saved for the day they would put their private plan into action.
“Welcome, Mr. Medina,” Uelden stated. “Mr. Amasi will be available shortly.”
Izdahl’s butler provided Armando with a drink, while the architect waited in the living room.
Armando replayed in his mind how he had last spoken to Izdahl. The argument had surprised him, being the complete opposite of what he’d hoped would happen that night. He’d wanted to celebrate with Izdahl.
Armando was considering what he would say when he heard Izdahl’s voice.
“You did lose the bet and you do owe…”
Izdahl’s words trailed off when he saw Armando.
Dmitri, to whom Izdahl had been speaking, was intrigued when he saw the expression on his friend’s face. To the Nitelge, no one else but Armando was around; no one else mattered. For a moment, Dmitri wished that ardent gaze were meant for him.
“He’s so rude, isn’t he?” Dmitri said to Armando. “He hasn’t formally introduced us. He’s just staring at you, as if he’d like to take you right now and—-”
“Be quiet, Dima…Armando, this is my best friend, Dmitri Petrov.”
“It’s good to meet you,” Armando said, shaking his offered hand.
“I remember you from our university days.” Dmitri blatantly scanned Armando up and down, assessing him. “You’ve always been quite handsome…though aloof.”
“Dmitri, stop it,” Izdahl said, laughing.
Armando looked at both Izdahl and Dmitri, speculating about the connection between them.
“Dima is on his way out,” Izdahl explained. “We were working on some pieces for a concert.”
“Unfortunately, we’ll be spending a great deal of time together,” Dmitri added cheekily.
“That’s what you get for teaching me the cello.”
“I’d give you all the reasons I regret doing that but I’d be late for an appointment. You are spared for now…Goodbye Mr. Medina.”
“Goodbye Mr. Petrov,” the architect replied. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Don’t lie. You’re unsure about the relationship between Izdahl and me. To be clear, we slept together once. He was fantastic.” Dmitri gave Izdahl a wicked smile. “There! That’s out of the way. Have a good night.”
Dmitri quickly exited the house, ignoring the glare Izdahl was giving him. The mischievous cellist planned to talk to his friend later. He wanted to explain why he had divulged the information, as he believed that doing so would actually benefit Izdahl.
There was an awkward silence.
“Please ignore Dmitri,” Izdahl finally said. “He often chooses not to use his filter.”
“There was no need for filtering. I’m not under the impression that you’ve never had a lover. However, just so I know, do you have a fetish for humans?”
“A fetish? For humans?” Izdahl sputtered. “Did you really just ask me that?”
“Yes. I want an answer.”
“I don’t have such a fetish. Dmitri is one of the few humans with whom I’ve slept. It was during our final year in college. I’d known him for a while and we’d been curious about each other. As he mentioned, it happened once. We’ve been strictly friends for more than a decade.”
“I see,” Armando replied icily.
“Why do you still sound disapproving?” Izdahl asked. “Are we going to argue about that too?”
“No matter. Before I become distracted, I came here to speak with you about our last conversation…I can’t say that my anger is completely gone. You weren’t open with me—and that seems to be a pattern with your family.”
“What exactly do you mean?”
“Your great-grandmother withheld important information from me. Your brother spirited my sister out of my home. You keep trying to set boundaries for me.”
“Can’t you see your role in any of that? Your view of Nitelge affected how we’ve treated you. I understand your ideas about us are changing but…”
“I admit I had my part, Izdahl. Still, you shouldn’t have lied to me.”
“I didn’t! I just had to weigh all of the factors before I told you. I didn’t have all of the information I needed. I’m sorry it didn’t all take place on a timeline that was acceptable to you. Please understand that I was acting out of concern.”
“I do. However, I want you to trust me and not try to shield me.”
“Then, we have come to terms…”
“It’s difficult to stay upset with you,” Armando noted.
“Good. I don’t like it when you’re angry with me. And, I really didn’t mean to ruin a night that was so important to you. I should have voiced my opinions at a different time.”
“You didn’t ruin my night. Thank you for coming with me. It mattered to me to see you there.”
Izdahl moved closer to Armando, desiring for their mouths to meet. Having the same thought in mind, Armando took the initiative, surprising and pleasing Izdahl. A moment before their mouths met, the architect saw Izdahl smile, mirroring the happiness he felt.
“A week is such a long time away from you,” Izdahl whispered against Armando’s lips.
“How are things going with your lady?” Armando asked.
He and Viktor had finished reviewing the tasks he wanted his assistant to complete during the week. Now, Armando was taking the time to see how things were going in Viktor’s life.
“Quite well. I didn’t expect us to be together for so long,” Viktor replied.
Viktor didn’t give an answer immediately. He took some time to collect his thoughts, getting up out of his chair and pacing in Armando’s study.
“Well, I’m not particularly successful with relationships,” the assistant explained, “However, she’s quite pleasant. I get honest responses from her. I can discuss anything with her.”
“How long have you two been together?”
“It’s going to be about a year next month.”
“That’s a solid amount of time. You appear to be serious about Nadine.”
“Actually, I’m with Leila,” Viktor informed him. “Leila Barton.”
“Leila? I thought her name was Nadine.”
“No. Nadine and I ended some time ago…” Viktor laughed.
“I apologize,” Armando said, sounding embarrassed but chuckling. “I’m sure you told me you. I’ve just been preoccupied with so many things.”
“I understand…Leila has repeatedly asked about you. Would you like to meet her? I hope it won’t be inconvenient for you to—”
“Viktor, of course it won’t. Why don’t the three of us have lunch together? The end of this week would work best.”
“I’ll talk with her.”
“Great. Well, tell me more about her. What does she do?”
“She’s a procurement specialist for one of the offices the Havads opened in the city.”
“What exactly does that mean?”
“She purchases the more expensive items that the business needs. She’s regularly spending millions.”
“She sounds impressive. I’ve heard that the Havad Clan is quite demanding.”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve learned too. Leila has regularly take trips to different parts of the planet. She doesn’t always give me many details about where she’s going. She explained it’s the nature of her employment…At any rate, lunch really is possible?”
“Yes. Arrange it and let me know.” Armando stood to leave. “I’m going over to Izdahl’s. I’ll most likely eat dinner with him.”
“You’ve been spending a great deal of time with Mr. Amasi,” Viktor noted.
“Indeed, I have.” A smile of pleasure graced Armando lips.
Later, during their meal, the architect mentioned to Izdahl his conversation with Viktor.
“Viktor told you that Leila buys for one of the Havad companies?” Izdahl asked.
“Yes,” Armando replied.
“Hmmm, that’s odd. Dagmar doesn’t particularly like humans. She must be exceptional.”
“Perhaps Dagmar is becoming more open-minded.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily go that far.”
“Maybe you can find out more, if you have lunch with us.”
“Do you think Viktor and Leila would mind?”
“I doubt it.”
“Then, I’d definitely like to meet the human who impressed Kelcho Havad.”
“Leila, are you feeling ill?” Viktor asked.
Viktor looked at his partner with concern. Usually confident, she presently appeared to be quite nervous. He had already squeezed her hand reassuringly several times but doing that seemed to be of little use.
Khalaf was not fine. As much as he had prepared himself to be around Izdahl, he was trying desperately to stay reasonably calm. It took a significant amount of will power to be a human when he was feeling stressed.
He didn’t want all of his work during the past year-and-a-half to go to waste. For months, he had investigated Viktor’s previous lovers, finally forging a human being who had a combination of the physical characteristics those women possessed. The result, “Leila Barton,” had flawless, tanned skin, a small oval face with piercing green eyes, a button nose and a mole above full lips. Her body featured generous breasts where Viktor loved to rest his head. Her black hair extended down to a trim waist and brushed against a toned derriere. Viktor enjoyed having her athletic thighs and long legs wrapped around him. Dainty feet completed the package of deceit.
The image of such a beautiful human kept Viktor distracted from seeing what was truly happening. The more Khalaf was with Viktor, the more information he could gather about Armando and Izdahl. He timed his questions perfectly so that Viktor didn’t realize he was merely a steppingstone. It was the best morphing Khalaf had done—and it could all become worthless if Izdahl saw through his disguise.
When Viktor had mentioned that Armando wanted to bring Izdahl to lunch with him, Khalaf had felt frozen. However, he’d opted not to cancel the lunch, wanting to test just how effective his morphing capabilities were against someone as discerning as Izdahl Amasi.
Still, Khalaf was unable to ignore that Izdahl was intimidating. Khalaf had seen him in numerous Nakra Hein competitions, including the one against Rasmus. Khalaf was determined never to be on the receiving end of Izdahl’s anger. Under Izdahl’s engaging, refined demeanor was a fierceness that Khalaf wanted to avoid. He imagined that the other Nitelge could be quite destructive when he found it necessary.
Maybe I don’t need to be worried, Khalaf thought, Maybe he doesn’t know I’m pretending to be a human.
Despite thinking this, Khalaf wondered why the other Nitelge’s eyes stared at him in such a penetrating manner.
“I admit that I’m feeling nervous,” Khalaf said. “Naturally, it’s because I’m around so many handsome individuals.”
“Then perhaps the others will leave and just the two of us can chat.” Izdahl’s laugh that followed was light and charming, on the surface.
Izdahl’s words gave Armando pause but the architect couldn’t quite figure out why. It wasn’t the enticing nature of them. Something else was beneath what Izdahl had said. Unable to decipher what it was, Armando put the matter aside for the moment.
“Are you flirting with me?” Khalaf asked, thinking he could use this to hide some of his anxiety.
“Perhaps,” Izdahl replied. “Do you find it unbecoming?”
“No. I’m actually quite flattered. I’ve heard much about you from my Viktor.”
“I too have heard about you from my Armando,” Izdahl stated. “He notified me that you’re an employee of Dagmar Havad’s. Congratulations. Sir Havad is notorious for being difficult with humans.”
“I’ve never had a problem with him,” Khalaf replied, making sure to smile sweetly. “I very much appreciate the opportunity he provided for me. When he opened one of his offices in the capital, I was at the right place at the right time.”
“That is quite a talent of hers,” Viktor mentioned. “One day, as I was leaving Armando’s office, I met her outside. I literally bumped into her.”
“Ah, how convenient,” Izdahl remarked.
He leaned back in his chair, keenly assessing Viktor’s partner. His nervousness about to overtake him, Khalaf excused himself to go the “lady’s room.”
“Viktor, I would be careful with this Leila individual,” Izdahl stated, after watching Khalaf depart.
“Why?” Viktor questioned.
“Because she might not be who she claims,” Izdahl said firmly. “For the time being, continue to act in the usual manner.”