“It might have been better for you to just stay at home!”
Jaxon Amasi’s gruff voice rose with each word, bringing Izdahl out of his musings. Ever the exacting father and employer, Jaxon had expected his youngest son’s full attention.
“Father, I am sorry. I—”
“Spare me your excuses. Leave my office now. In fact, get out of my building. Do not return until I give you permission.”
“I am trying to apol—”
“I said get out.”
The low growl that had become Jaxon’s voice let Izdahl know just how serious his father was. Izdahl nodded, pinching his lips together to hold back his own fiery words. He gathered his things and made his exit, slamming the door.
As Izdahl drove home, leaving the office after yet another late night, he thought more about why his father was angry. In truth, Jaxon had a legitimate reason. For the past few weeks, Izdahl’s interest in Amasi Inc.’s latest primary project had been practically non-existent. The company was currently producing a fleet of airships for interplanetary travel. The client was Leti Corp, the planet’s most successful space travel agency. At stake was 8.5 billion Arlkan Kabari for 20 luxury ships, with the prospect of increasing the fleet to 100 over a ten-year period, should the venture flourish. There had also been some discussion about if Amasi Inc. would become the exclusive manufacturer for Leti Corp’s entire fleet of 600.
Amasi Inc.’s fortune had been built on the foresight of Aedan Amasi, Izdahl’s now deceased great-great-great-grandfather. Aedan had seen the growing interest in traveling to other worlds. He had expanded the transportation portion of the company to include constructing vehicles for interplanetary excursions. His aptitude made the corporation into one of the most profitable in the sector. Future generations had contributed in some fashion, whether or not it was by directly running the company; Erol Amasi had used his architectural expertise to redesign the vessels, making them more efficient. Now, the business, run by Jaxon, was reaching new heights.
Jaxon was grooming Izdahl to take over the business, which was what Izdahl had requested in his early teen years. While Syrik enjoyed working at the company, he had no desire to handle the more far-reaching responsibilities. With Izdahl current failure to pay attention in the way his father wanted, Jaxon was highly annoyed.
Izdahl sighed with frustration, as he continued on his way home. Armando, the source of his distraction, had once again surfaced in his mind. For the past week, he had attempted to contact the architect and was continually rebuffed. When Kiana had tried to act as a go-between, Armando had gently but firmly told her to mind her business. She had listened to her older brother’s wishes, after telling Izdahl that Armando’s anger was waning. She’d also recommended that Izdahl wait one more week before trying again to apologize for the deception. One week. It shouldn’t have seemed so interminable. After all, Izdahl had waited for years to seriously approach Armando. Unfortunately, he had recently misused that opportunity.
At times though, he wondered at his level of patience. It was unlike him to be so preoccupied with anyone for this long. He certainly wasn’t lacking for other possible conquests either; various Nitelge and humans were interested in him. Yet, as with many other matters, just because something was available didn’t necessarily mean one wanted it.
When Izdahl arrived home, he focused on soothing his nerves. He took a long, hot shower and then dressed in fine linen pants. His muscular top half revealed, he began to play his cello.
He had begun learning the instrument in college. Dmitri Petrov, one of his closest friends, had taught him during their time at Preva University. A quick and avid learner, he’d taken to the instrument. He’d found its deep rich tones to be particularly comforting, especially during troubling times such as these. So, he played, thinking back to when he’d first seen Armando.
The tall (for a human), handsome, future architect had been aloofly navigating his way through the dining hall of Preva University. Izdahl’s attraction to him had been strong, surprising even himself, particularly since he had never been interested in humans. He hadn’t disliked them. He just hadn’t considered them as potential partners. But, something had stirred deep inside of him. He’d watched the cool, calm, confident Armando choose his meal and then disappear with a friend.
Izdahl didn’t have any courses with Armando but he had still been able to find out about the young man. The most startling fact was that Armando had a deep-seated hatred of Nitelge. Izdahl was able to find out why and felt disappointment weave its merciless arms around him. Yet, try as he did, he couldn’t keep Armando out of his mind. And, as circumstances would have it, their lives became intertwined through no action on either one’s part; a mutual friend introduced Syrik to Kiana. Over the course of three years, the two became closer. The same could not be said of Armando and Izdahl.
Izdahl was determined to change that. First, he had to remove another obstacle he’d unwittingly created. Armando was unaware of who was Viktor’s true employer and that was certainly Izdahl’s doing. He sighed again, torn between letting Armando’s current annoyance dissipate or disclosing everything at once.
Two hours later, Izdahl pulled himself away from his somber thoughts. He put away his cello, his decision about what to do next solidified. He’d let the architect know about Viktor. He’d already spoken to the assistant and assured him that, should Armando terminate him, Izdahl would provide him with another form of employment.
Viktor had proven to be quite loyal. Well, Izdahl admitted, yes, Viktor had actually been serving two masters, which would, on the surface, contradict the meaning of “loyal.” However, his intentions had been noble, desiring to protect his second employer by aiding the first one. So, while Viktor was duplicitous, it was not in the usual malicious sense. That was the main reason Izdahl wanted to shield him from Armando’s likely wrath. Izdahl’s only hope was that Armando would see past his anger and something positive would come from all the steps Izdahl had taken and planned to take.
“Can you believe how far we’ve come?” Jonas asked. “Soon, we’ll work our way up to a larger space in this office building.”
He turned to face Armando and leaned back in his leather chair, a look of supreme satisfaction on his face. Armando laughed, understanding what his childhood friend meant.
They had both recently finished reading an article about their company. Paska Lavat, the author of the article, an architectural critic known for her caustic appraisals, had given them a stellar review for their three projects, which had all been office buildings. The university project had been an opportunity to branch into another area. The article had even contained anticipation of the company’s latest venture, the Science and Technology Center at Preva University. It was possible that Lavat’s commentary would bring more publicity.
“I like what she said but let’s not get too comfortable. If there are mistakes with the university’s building, I can bet you we won’t be praised then.”
“Well, at least you’re allowing yourself to accept compliments from a Nitelge. Gosh, you have changed.”
Armando looked at his friend out of the corner of his eye, noticing the obnoxious smirk that was gracing Jonas’ face.
“Sometimes I don’t know why I put up with you,” Armando grumbled in mock annoyance.
“Because I’m sexy and if I weren’t married, you’d have your way with me.”
Jonas found himself dodging the magazine containing the article.
“I’d sleep with Izdahl, instead of with you,” Armando quipped.
“Oh?” Jonas raised one eyebrow. “You think of him in that way, do you?”
“That’s not what I meant. I only—Never mind. Let’s finish for today.”
“Sure. Felicia would love to have me home a few hours early.”
“How are she and Sophia doing?”
“They’re both fine. Come by and see us soon. Sophia is chattering nicely; her first word was, of course, ‘Dada’. I see big things in that girl’s future.”
Armando grinned as he put on his coat. He enjoyed Jonas’ eagerly recounted tales about his wife and daughter. He wasn’t particularly interested in having children but he liked knowing that fatherhood had made Jonas an even better man. In a month, Kiana would be delivering and Armando was looking forward to being an uncle. That was enough for him.
“I’ll see you in another week,” Jonas said. “Felicia, Sophia and I are going to visit her parents. Don’t do anything to embarrass our company while I’m away.”
The two gathered up the rest of their belongings and left their offices, taking an elevator down six floors to the main lobby of the office building. They were bidding good night to the reception staff when someone called for Armando’s attention.
“Mr. Medina, I came to speak with you.”
Jonas looked at Armando and the other architect motioned that he could leave. Jonas remained nearby, feeling uneasy about the guest. This being was clearly a Nitelge and one with a strong, negative aura. While he was trying to appear subservient, an expression in his eyes, one that Jonas could not quite name, made the architect want to remain near his friend.
“My name is Rasmus Terada,” the visitor began. “You do not know me, Mr. Medina. However, I come here on behalf of my employer who wishes to, for the moment, remain anonymous. He wanted me to inform you that your servant, Viktor, has more than one master.”
Armando stared coldly at the visitor.
“I have evidence, if you’ll permit me to show it to you,” Rasmus added, taking a step closer to Armando.
Jonas continued to eye Rasmus warily.
“Until I know more about you and your benefactor, I have no reason to trust anything you say,” Armando responded calmly. “If you have architectural business to discuss, you can return during our office hours. Otherwise, good evening to you.”
“I understand your reluctance to speak with me,” Rasmus said. “I will leave your presence. Good night Mr. Medina. Goodnight, Mr. Ramsey.”
For the moment, Rasmus withdrew, bowing. He had already known that Armando would be stubborn. However, he thought that his remarks would stay in Armando’s mind and, later, the architect would want answers.
Jonas and Armando looked at each other, wondering about the recent visitor. They both decided to temporarily put him out of their minds.
“Pretending to get some work completed, are you?” Izdahl heard. He looked up to find Syrik leaning against the door to his office. His brother entered and settled his tall frame in the chair on the opposite side of Izdahl’s desk.
Syrik had recently finished a conference with his father. As Amasi, Inc.’s Chief Risk Management Officer, he had briefed Jaxon Amasi on the latest developments. He now took the opportunity to stop in and speak to his younger brother.
“I heard that Father gave you quite a scolding not too long ago. Of course, it had something to do with Armando. It’s a pity that you and he are still at odds,” Syrik teased his brother, enjoying the glare he received. “On the other hand, he and I are beginning to put aside our differences. And, might I add, Kiana is supremely happy with the results. She thanks me in quite an intimate way. My muscles have regularly been hurting…Brother, did you know that human females can—”
“I don’t care about your sex life,” Izdahl interrupted, wanting to spare himself the details.
“Then I’ll move on to a less ‘squeamish’ topic. Besides, I know you’ve had a wretchedly long dry spell. So I won’t torture you, at least not today…Now, a few weeks ago, you mentioned that you had something important to discuss with me. Whatever it must be really important. You’ve seemed very absentminded lately.”
Izdahl thought of how to best bring up the matter. He didn’t have much proof but he hoped that by speaking with Syrik, some things would solidify. Sensing that the topic needed to reach as few ears as possible, Syrik went to close the door and then reclaimed his seat. He motioned for Izdahl to start talking.
“Someone is after Armando. I don’t have all the information I need to make a confrontation. However, I learned that he was injured in the woods. I’m beginning to believe that the same person who hurt him also wounded me. This is all frustrating. I only have bits and pieces of the information I need.”
“Why do you think anyone would be after him?”
“I’m unsure but I feel a growing urgency to find out. This would all be much easier if Armando wasn’t so angry with me right now. I could ask him many questions.”
“Maybe you should try to speak with him anyway. Explain to him what you think.”
“And have him mark me as crazy? I am definitely not in his good graces; there’s no need to worsen the situation.”
“You sound like such a coward. Put aside your fears. His safety is important.”
“You’re right,” Izdahl murmured.
“Of course I am. I’m regularly having sex.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to mention it again.”
“You’re such an ass.”
“I know. That’s why I’m about to suggest a slightly underhanded method for you to use with Armando.”
Izdahl looked warily at his brother. He didn’t necessarily want to listen to Syrik’s next words but he found himself still paying close attention; his need for Armando was great.
“Welcome home,” Viktor said, taking his employer’s coat.
“Thank you. How was your day?”
“Excellent. I confess I spent a great deal of time with my lady friend. However, I did see to it that the roast you wanted was perfectly prepared…By the way, a letter arrived for you.”
“Izdahl Amasi.” Viktor handed him the communication.
“I wonder what he wants…Why don’t you put dinner on the table while I read the letter.”
“Of course.” Viktor nodded and went to the kitchen.
Armando sat in his favorite chair.
He read the correspondence from Izdahl:
I’d like a chance to better represent myself. Please provide me an opportunity. If your answer is ‘yes’, then meet me at your office tomorrow at midday.
“He’s so damn persistent!” Armando grumbled, “Imagine him wasting paper for this drivel.”
Even after speaking his words of irritation, he kept reading over Izdahl’s letter again. He found himself trying to name the feelings he was experiencing. Was there fear? Partially. And the rest of it? He was unsure he wanted to explore it. Curiosity was driving him; he would meet Izdahl.
“Dinner can be served now,” Viktor informed him.
During their meal, Armando stared at Viktor pointedly, wondering if he should bring up the earlier words of Rasmus. Then, he decided he would. He usually liked to get to the root of things quickly.
“Viktor, are you working for Izdahl?”
The assistant put down his utensils slowly. Izdahl had already spoken with him about this possibility.
“Yes but he is better able to explain the details of why. I just want you to know that nothing was done out of malice.”
“I’ll be the final judge of that. Izdahl Amasi and I have much to discuss…” Armando said.
“Do I still have a job?”
“For the moment, yes.”
Izdahl paced back and forth in front of the door to Armando’s office. It was half past midday and Armando had not yet appeared. Perhaps, Izdahl thought, I have been too hopeful.
He was heading to the elevator when the buttons indicated that someone would soon be arriving. When the doors opened, Izdahl grinned.
“I didn’t think you would come,” he said, his voice carrying the pleasure he was feeling, “Just so you know, I chose your office because you coming to my home or vice versa might have been too uncomfortable for you…I guess, I’m trying my best not to put you off in any way…Um, I understand that this is awkward but I’m so glad you came.”
“I’m still unsure about why I’m here,” Armando admitted, surprised at the shyness he was suddenly feeling.
“Well then, don’t over think it. You might decide to leave quickly.”
Armando found himself smiling, despite his uncertainty about what would happen next. He shook his head clear. There was a matter he wanted to discuss with Izdahl and the demon’s charm was not going to distract him.
The two walked to the Medina and Ramsey office. Armando opened the door, ushering Izdahl inside. Even before Izdahl was comfortably situated in an armchair, Armando broached what was on his mind.
“Why do you have Viktor working for you?” he asked bluntly.
“So then you have found out,” Izdahl murmured, sighing.
“Obviously. Now answer my question.”
“For some time, I have suspected that your life is in danger. You’ve been unwilling
to get near me, until recently. So I found someone you trusted to assist me.”
“You could have been straightforward.”
“Not with your trademark stubbornness,” Izdahl said, chuckling.
“It’s presumptuous of you to—”
“I didn’t come here to argue with you Armando,” Izdahl cut him off, “I came to apologize for my previous actions. I also wanted to tell you of my concerns. Instead of listening to me, you’re remaining obstinate. There is only so much patience I can have.”
Izdahl stood, ready to vent more of his exasperation. Armando found himself also standing and stepping nearer to him, watching Izdahl’s mouth. Izdahl quieted when he realized how close Armando was, the architect being only a few inches away from him. He knew what was about to happen and said a silent prayer to his gods, asking that nothing would ruin the moment. He counted the seconds that passed before their lips touched.
He had thought it would be quite enjoyable for his mouth to meet Armando’s but he hadn’t known just how much pleasure he would receive. Armando’s kiss was fervent, full of the zeal he invested into the other areas of his life. He even cupped one hand around Izdahl’s neck, pulling Izdahl towards him to gain further access.
Even as their tongues played with each other, Izdahl felt a little guilty. Here he was, swearing that he was going to be completely open with Armando. Yet, he believed that even now he was adding another layer of dishonesty.
In the last conversation he’d had with Syrik, his brother had given him some advice. Nitelge had the ability to manipulate their pheromones, making it difficult for each other to resist affectionate pursuits. Overtime, they had learned that their scents could also intoxicate humans. Of course, as Syrik had reminded him, the technique would only work providing there was any interest in the first place. Given Armando’s response, there must have been some desire on his part. So, perhaps Izdahl didn’t have to feel deceitful.
“I’m sorry. I…” Armando’s voice trailed off as a flush of color came to his face.
“It’s not a problem. And I certainly wouldn’t mind a repeat.” Izdahl laughed softly, which caused the architect to feel self-conscious.
“Get out,” Armando snapped.
“Haven’t you kissed anyone before?” Izdahl asked, marveling at Armando’s embarrassment.
“Certainly not one of your kind.”
When Armando saw the hurt expression in Izdahl’s eyes, he regretted his words.
“And I thought we were making progress,” Izdahl murmured. “I confess I’m tired of hearing you speak of us that way.”
“I’ve gotten better,” Armando protested.
“Yes, better enough to kiss me,” Izdahl couldn’t keep from saying.
“You really need to leave.”
“But we have more to discuss.”
“Another time. Get out.”
Armando shuffled Izdahl out of his office, locking it. Even as he leaned against the door, reviewing his recent actions, he realized it was a thin barrier against Izdahl. He wondered what he was going to do.
Izdahl stood on the other side. With his heightened senses, he could hear the busy cadence of Armando’s heart. He could smell the beads of sweat that had gathered on the architect’s body and picked up on the stubborn man’s pheromones.
Izdahl smiled, feeling triumphant.