Lucien looked at his watch and shook his head. “She’s late.”
The woman Ranulf was supposed to greet had probably gotten lost on her way out to the property. It wasn’t easy to find, and that was how Lucien liked it. No unknown guests at odd hours. Unwanted guests who knew the way were a different matter.
However, Ranulf wasn’t there to greet the woman. He’d been called away to an urgent meeting, leaving Lucien to play host—a job he hated.
Lucien had debated calling the company and postponing the meeting until a time Ranulf could do it, but had decided against it, knowing Ranulf would never let Lucien hear the end of it if he did. The man’s nagging aside, Lucien wanted their collection cataloged as badly as Ranulf.
A quick glance at his watch showed only two minutes had passed. He cursed and glared toward the front gate. Neither action made a car appear.
Rather than wear a groove into the front porch, he retreated to his office. There was a contract awaiting a final once over that would cede controlling interest to him and Ranulf for a company that had been lucrative in its heyday but had hit a rough patch due to bad management. The current president of the Mizukinawa Entertainment Group didn’t want foreigners in her company but needed the collateral Lucien and Ranulf brought to the table.
While Ranulf was supposed to okay the contract before Tokyo opened for business, his meeting couldn’t be denied. That left the task to Lucien. Yet another thing Lucien hated. He was better suited to the checking-signing part of the process. He’d been told many times that he didn’t have the demeanor for negotiation.
While they both were capable of finalizing contracts, Ranulf’s knowledge of business law and his attention to minute details most people overlooked made Lucien feel more confident about signing. Even if Lucien overlooked something that later came back to haunt them, all of their contracts had a loophole buried in legal jargon for a clean, inexpensive escape.
He’d read two lines when his cell phone rang. “Hello?”
“Sir, a Ms. Connie Depar is here for her meeting.”
“Thank you, Grant. Direct her where to park her car. I’ll meet her at the door.” Lucien snapped the phone shut and stood.
He finished reading the paragraph he had started. He would rather read the whole thing. The contract was the lesser of the two evils. With a sigh, he pushed away from his desk, left his office, and went to the front door.
The woman he was meeting topped the stairs just as he opened door.
He said, “You must be Connie Depar. I’m Lucien Riordan.” He held out his hand.
Connie shook his outstretched hand and smiled at him after looking him up and down. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Riordan. You can call me Connie. I’m sorry to be a tad bit late, but this place isn’t easy to find. I thought I got the directions wrong.”
“That’s normal. You aren’t the first. Shall I show you the collection?”
“By all means.” She pulled out a clipboard from her bag and followed him. “This is a lovely home you have here, Mr. Riordan.”
She looked at one wall and then another as they walked.
Lucien didn’t bother following her gaze. He knew what his weapon collection looked like. He also knew how she would react—the same way everyone reacted when seeing every inch of wall space covered with swords, battle-axes, spears, and various other edged weaponry from different time periods around the globe. It was another collection he and Ranulf had amassed over the centuries. And, yet another collection that needed cataloging. He would have to remember to mention that to Ranulf.
“Does Mrs. Riordan mind having all these weapons about?”
“I’m not married,” he said.
“Never say so. A handsome man like you isn’t married? You must not get out much or else some woman would have run off with you by now.”
He stifled a sigh when Connie moved closer to him. It would be rude to push her away, but the temptation was there. He didn’t like people invading his personal space, whether it was bodily or his living area. That, at least, was an idiosyncrasy he hadn’t grown out of—neither did he want to. “I don’t get out much.”
“Now that won’t do at all.” She dug a business card out of her purse and held it out to him, brushing her breasts against his arm as she did. “Call me. Staying in is boring.”
“I prefer it that way.”
Then, Lucien remembered Ranulf’s words from the day before. They wouldn’t find Eris by sitting around the house. He took the card Connie offered him and put it in his breast pocket. “However, a change of scenery may do me good.”
“That’s the way.” She linked her arm with his and smiled up at him.
If the woman knew Lucien only saw her as a means to find another woman, she wouldn’t cling to him so much. That information was none of her concern so he kept it to himself.
He led the way down a hallway and opened the door at the end of the walk. “This is only a fraction of the collection.”
Connie peered into the room but didn’t let him go to get a closer look. “Very nice. Quite a big size.” She wet her lips and looked at him, her eyes hooded. “I bet the collection takes after its owner.”
He chose to ignore her less-than-blatant sexual innuendo. “This room is where the appraisal team will work. There is a video surveillance system, but it isn’t wired for sound. I’m sure your employees are trustworthy, but I take no chances.”
“How long have you lived out here?”
He tried to free his arm, but Connie retained her hold. She smiled at him, probably thinking he was playing with her. He swore Ranulf would pay for this. “Years, which is why the collection is so big, and why we wish it appraised and cataloged.”
“Yes, the collection.” Connie released his arm and entered the room.
Lucien thought the woman’s amateur and unwanted seduction was over, but he was mistaken. She bent and placed her bag on the ground, making sure the front of her blouse dipped low.
The woman actually had the nerve to check and see if he was looking.
He stared at her because looking away may have made her think he was shy. He would willingly look at any woman who cared to flash him. That didn’t mean he was interested, just that he wasn’t dead.
She sat on one box then crossed her legs. Her short skirt rode high and revealed quite a bit of her thighs. She smoothed a hand over her legs as she reached in her bag for a pen.
Lucien opened his mouth to demand she get to the job at hand when she said, “Judging by the amount of boxes, I’d say this is a four month job, no more than six.”
“Are you sure four months is an accurate estimate? I don’t know how quickly your employees work, but this is a big collection.” He waved his hand at the boxes in front of him. “This is only a part of it—a small part. There is more in storage, almost five hundred—”
“Not to worry. Not to worry. I assure you this is normal. Not all at once, and from one client, mind you, but still normal.” Connie jotted a few notes then chewed the tip of her pen. “I will, of course, assign Erin’s team to this job. Hers is the best. She even invented the new cataloging system the company is implementing. Very smart girl.”
“I’ll take you at your word.” He didn’t add that he thought Connie wasn’t his idea of a trustworthy source since she actually believed her actions intrigued him.
“She was supposed to accompany me on this estimate, but another project had a slight problem, and she couldn’t make it. Not to worry though, the problem was nothing she did—computer malfunction.” Connie looked around the room again. “It might be a good idea for the team to stay here. You have such a huge house. I’m sure you’d never notice them. I’d make regular visits to ensure they upheld company policy, of course.”
“My business is run from this house. My partner and I are busy men. We don’t like house guests, especially ones we’ve never met.”
“He’s currently attending a meeting, so I was left to meet you and negotiate the contract for an appraisal on our collection. We have delayed this little project for years. Our collection has only gotten bigger in that time.”
“A partner.” Connie’s entire demeanor changed. She stood and pulled her skirt to its normal length. Her flirty attitude disappeared, and the businesswoman snapped into place.
Lucien knew the woman had jumped to the wrong conclusion. It was plain on her face. The thought of him and Ranulf in an intimate, sexual relationship with each other made his lunch rise in his throat.
The fact that he’d lived with the man so many centuries without killing him—not that Lucien could even if he tried—was a miracle in and of itself. Living on opposite sides of their vast mansion and having wholly separate lives, except in the case of their business dealings, had helped. But a romantic and sexual relationship…
Lucien would rather spend the rest of the day with Connie. But he allowed her the misconception since it made her stop flirt with him.
“In any case,” Connie said, “if my people will be commuting such a long way every work day then the company requires you to pay mileage. It would be ideal if we could transport the collection to the main office but not practical given its size.”
“I don’t mean to sound rude, but do you really think I’m worried about the cost of this venture?”
“As well off as you are, I guess not.”
“I would like a simple estimate of time and cost and a start date.” Lucien had had enough. The woman had run through his patience reserves, which weren’t high to begin with. Unlike most long-lived beings, Lucien hadn’t gained that particular virtue.
“Sure.” She looked at her clipboard and tapped the end of her pen against a miniature calculator. She wrote a few figures on the sheet then held it out for Lucien to see. “That is a rough estimate. It may go up or down once everything is tallied and—”
“Fair enough.” He handed back the clipboard. “When will they start?”
“Is the day after tomorrow too soon? I think Erin should be done with her current project by then. I have to check with her once I get back to the office since she’s rerouted all her calls to another desk so nothing can bother her. Also, and I’m not certain about this, but I think part of her team is on vacation, or was it assignment? Whichever, they aren’t available at the moment.” She paused and chewed her pen some more. “Perhaps it would be better to have another team take on this job. I don’t know who’s free though.”
The woman knew nothing for sure. Who had approved her to work as a field agent? That person needed a course in proper placement of personnel.
“Connie, I thank you for your time. When you have all the information finalized, simply fax back the finished contract with the start date.” Lucien flipped a business card out of his breast pocket, almost handing back hers as well. “There are five fax numbers on there, and any of them will do. At this time, I have another meeting to attend.”
“I’m sorry this took so long.”
So am I, he thought. He walked with her back to the foyer where Leon, the butler, waited near the door. “Have a safe drive back to your office, and I look forward to your company’s services. If you would excuse me.” Lucien walked away before she could say more and enclosed himself in his office.
Next time, he would leave Ranulf to deal with the annoying, sex-deprived woman while he went to the meeting. Lucien glanced at his watch then at the papers lying on his desk. He had another hour before Tokyo’s start of business.
He sat back and stared at the ceiling. Thoughts of his old life crept over him even as he tried to keep his mind in the present. Life had definitely been simpler back in the twelve hundreds, albeit a lot more dangerous.
His gaze strayed to the contract. It hadn’t reviewed itself while he daydreamed away his time. He straightened with a sigh and got to work.
He was on the last page when Ranulf entered the office. Lucien didn’t acknowledge him. He had ten more minutes before a very excitable Japanese woman called him to bicker over nothing as had become her custom since the start of the contract negotiations over a month ago.
“When will they be here?” Ranulf asked, leaning his hip against Lucien’s desk.
“That isn’t an answer.”
“If you’d bothered to do as I asked before leaving the house, I would have time to talk to you.”
Ranulf snorted. “Is that what this is about? You’re being pissy because I made you meet someone new? Grow up, Lucien.”
“This has nothing to do with my maturity level. Meeting new people means preparing for their eventual demise. I’m getting sick of attending funerals.”
“Ha! You were always anti-social, even back when we were mortal. Whereas back then your personality quirk was tolerated because you were a lord, nowadays you’re seen as a reclusive asshole.”
“Which is why you handle the first meetings.”
“And why I leave the tough cases to you.” Ranulf smirked as he gestured to the contract.
Lucien picked it up and waved it in Ranulf’s face. “This wouldn’t be necessary if we had never sold that company back to them four generations ago. Her great-great-great-great-grandfather wasn’t this much of a pain in the ass.”
“You missed a great. Besides, she’s like that because she’s a woman president in corporate Japan. Their glass ceilings are made of cement with a large sign that says no girls allowed. She’s had to become tough to prove she can do the job she inherited.” Ranulf chuckled. “Any woman who has nerve enough to yell at you—over the phone or in person—is definitely worthy of heading that company, even if her two predecessors ran it into the ground thus compelling our involvement once more. Or, you could simply let the company flounder and die. Though you promised her ancestor that you would look out for his family in exchange for having harbored us so many centuries ago.”
“You would bring that up.”
“Like you had forgotten. You never forget a debt, Lucien.”
“Pain in my ass,” Lucien grumbled, lowering the contract back to his desk so he could continue reviewing it.
Ranulf crossed his arms. “You know that contract backwards and forwards. Stop fawning over it like it’s your baby and answer my question. When will the catalogers be here?”
“The rep wasn’t sure.” Lucien pushed the contract away and looked at Ranulf. “She sang the praises of a woman named Erin who heads the best team, which she wants to send, but isn’t sure when they’re available or how much it will cost. The woman was a complete flake.”
“Tell me how you really feel about her,” Ranulf said with a smirk.
“Her little mind leapt to the conclusion that we’re lovers when she misinterpreted a comment I made.”
Ranulf shuddered with a look of disgust. “While I know our living situation leaves us open to that assumption, I wish people would stop making it. You’re not my type.”
“Like you’re mine?” Lucien shook his head with an annoyed huff. “If she has to come back out here, you’re dealing with her.”
“I would have dealt with her this time if I had been given a choice. You know how this goes, Lucien. We don’t choose. He does.” Ranulf sat across from Lucien and propped his booted feet on the desk. “This time he chose a walk in the park.”
“That was the pressing business?”
“Genevieve was there.”
Lucien frowned. “He can talk to her whenever he chooses. He doesn’t need us for that.”
“She insisted. According to her, having one of us there humanizes him a little so she can deal with him better.”
Ranulf didn’t elaborate more than that, and Lucien didn’t ask. They went where they were told and then pretended they heard and saw nothing. For that service, they were granted life everlasting.
The fax machine rang, beeped, and then the printer spat out several pages.
Ranulf retrieved the document. He read it over and handed it to Lucien. “Since when is your name Lucianne?”
Lucien looked at the typo on the contract Connie had faxed. The woman had not only feminized him, but she’d spelled his last name wrong. He’d given her a business card and still she’d made the mistake. “I told you. The woman is a flake.”
“Let’s hope Erin and her team of appraisers have a better eye for detail—and names.”
“We should contact another company.”
“No, no, let’s give them a chance. They are the number one company for this kind of work, and we’ve worked with them before, though it was through a third party.”
Lucien scraped his pen across the pages, making handwritten corrections so he could fax it back. “I don’t know why I still trust you,” he grumbled.
“You don’t have any choice in the matter.”
* * * *