Boredom tightened the aching muscles in my neck. The opposing counsel droned on as I examined my nails. They were infinitely more fascinating than the pompous jerk in front of me. I frowned at a small chip in the polish and jotted down a reminder to schedule a manicure.
This was my fourth meeting today. Each one was more boring and useless than the last. I'd started grinding my teeth over an hour ago, at this rate I’d wear the enamel to the nerve.
The opposing counsel strutted around the boardroom like a garish peacock. He tossed over-inflated numbers around in a useless attempt to lure me in.
Lies spewed from his lips.
It wasn't his body language or tone that gave him away, anyone can learn to mask tells like that. I knew he was lying because I could see it. Each lie appeared on his skin, iridescent symbols that danced and twisted on his face. The jagged runes were tanner than his skin, a clouded shadow that barely sparkled in the low light of the boardroom. They drifted down his neck and disappeared into the stiff collar of his shirt.
No one noticed but me.
I was the only one who could see them, the only person I’d ever met with the talent–the curse as I thought of it sometimes.
I'd never truly mastered the language, although after decades of seeing things that no one else could, I’d figured out a lot. The color, intensity, movement, and symbols themselves all had a meaning. Each said something specific about the wearer and the lies they told. The darker the tattoo, the more frequent the lie was told.
The ease of its appearance, the thickness of the symbol, proved that it was a common thing for him. A pastime no more challenging or thought-provoking than breathing. My powers may be minuscule compared to others, but they were oh-so-useful.
Frustration boiled inside me; I'd had enough. I gathered my papers and threw the heavy file in my briefcase. The click of the latch echoed in the suddenly silent conference room. Five men seated at the table watched me with varying expressions of annoyance.
“Is there a problem, Ms. Anthony?” The opposing counsel looked especially irate, not surprising since I’d interrupted his carefully planned lecture.
"I refuse to waste any more of my time with this.” I pivoted on my crystal beaded Louboutins and stalked to the door.
"Excuse me?" the peacock warbled. His eyes narrowed in contempt as I paused and cocked my hip.
We’d had several run-ins in the years I’d worked for Alejandro. I wasn't sure if his animosity was due to my gender or my boss. Could be both. Alejandro Guerrero was a ruthless businessman, among other things. He gathered enemies like bananas attracted fruit flies. "Ms. Anthony, we are offering Mr. Guerrero a good deal. It would be criminal of you to pass this up." The shimmer of another lie formed on his cheek, spread across his right eye and disappeared into his receding hairline.
My heels clicked on the marble floor as I returned to the table, catching the triumphant smile shared between two of the men. Their celebration was premature. I didn’t miss the calculated gleam in the opposing counsel's eyes as I returned my Gucci briefcase onto the conference table. I ran my fingers along the smooth leather, the habitual movement soothing to my aggravated nerves.
My unflinching eyes stared into his, boring into his shrewd gaze. He dropped his eyes, running a finger along his collar.
"I don't think so, gentlemen." They tensed at my sharp words. "You have offered Mr. Guerrero a shit deal and you know it. My client will not settle for less than eighty-five percent ownership.”
“Wait a minute, young lady—” the elder partner sputtered. A flush spread up his face, turning his face an alarming shade of red.
“If you continue to stall and twist the figures for your own benefit, we will move on. And I assure you," I narrowed my eyes, "we do not bluff. Call my assistant with your answer by the close of business today." I left them floundering, red-faced and mouths agape, as I strode from the room.
Alejandro would be pissed if I had fucked this deal, but my patience was long gone. A sliver of unease gathered between my already stiff shoulder blades as I walked into the gaping mouth of the elevator.
Battling out deals and contracts with pompous assholes used to make my blood sing. I loved the power, the one-upmanship, loved that a poor nobody from the wrong side of the tracks was pulling the rug out from under these wealthy Ivy-Leaguers.
I deflated and sank against the cool metal of the elevator.
With my bank balance and lifestyle, I was now more like them than my humble beginnings.
As each year passed, I found the legal face of the House more dissatisfying. While meetings with our not-so-human clientele were often nightmare inducing and had the constant potential for disaster, I was finding them preferable to the never-ending line of misogynistic simpletons in the legal system. Simpletons who enjoyed trying to pull a fast one on the young head attorney only four years out of law school. I didn't get this position working for one of the most powerful men in Florida just because I had a pretty face. Better to be underestimated by a bunch of blood-thirsty monsters because I was a mere human, rather than by my own species because I didn't have a dick.
I slid into the leather embrace of my Jag, unable to keep the smile from my face. The car was my baby, a childhood dream. I received the first as a Christmas gift seven months after officially joining Alejandro's company. Every year since a new one showed up light clockwork. Last year’s was black.
Spoiled? Me? No question. And I soaked up every gift.
My life was a far cry from the borderline poverty I was raised in, the second oldest in a family with nine kids. I'd been fortunate to pull myself out of the desperation and endless cycle of need, and I never lost sight of that. Everything I'd accomplished could be ripped from me faster than I could blink.
I gunned the engine and tore out of the parking garage. The tires screamed as I rounded the turn. The honking and yelling motorists I left stewing in my wake didn't faze me as I weaved between cars like I was skiing through downtown Tampa. Alejandro's building towered in the distance, flashing in the light of the setting sun, a diamond in the dullness of the city.
A valet materialized under the canopy as I whirled into the main entrance, nonplussed by my abrupt stop and the accompanying squeal of tires. After four years my driving no longer had valets diving for cover – except the new ones. I derived perverse satisfaction from breaking them in.
I tossed my keys to the handsome valet and slid from my home away from home, flashing more than a bit of thigh as my gray Gucci pencil skirt rode up. I caught the valet dragging his eyes away and I winked. “Better watch that wandering eye, Christoph.”
His careful smile hid sharp fangs that could rip through my skin between heartbeats. The sun—which could cause a blistering sunburn in most young vampires—barely bothered the year-old vampire. Alejandro was testing his endurance by having the valet work days. His pale skin showed no ill-effects.
Before I could comment, the vibration of my phone drew my attention. I grinned at the display.
"Yes, Margaret?" I answered.
"They took the deal." My personal assistant got straight to the point. I despised idle chit-chat and social niceties.
"Excellent. Have the final paperwork waiting on my desk for me to sign in the morning." I ended the call, gripping my purse to hide my trembling hand. I exhaled a relieved breath although no one would suspect I ever doubted my decisions. I refused to show it, hid my anxieties behind my sharp tongue and fast wit. This business was tough; I couldn't show an ounce of weakness. If the piranha-like attorneys didn't eat me alive, the vampires or shifters would.
Alejandro was now the majority owner in yet another extremely lucrative venture. I'd laugh at the absurdity if there weren't already a multitude of ironic businesses my employer kept in his pocket: beach resorts, glass manufacturers, and now pool construction and maintenance. Who would guess that a vampire had controlling interest in so many industries that revolved around the sun?
The glass doors glided shut behind me, abruptly cutting off the noise from the street, cocooning me in a muffled silence. I needed a drink. A big one. The sooner the better. I glanced at my diamond encrusted watch, last year's anniversary gift from Alejandro. Tanya should have our table ready at The Harmony, the more upscale of the two restaurants in the building.
The Harmony was lavish, catering to the affluent residents. Unlike most fine dining establishments, it was open all night. Not unusual considering it was owned by a vampire, but that secret was kept tightly under wraps.
Tanya was already finishing her glass of white wine.
I sat in the booth across from her. "Rough day?"
"That's an understatement." The tall brunette flagged our server. "Patrick, I'll need another. Hell,” Tanya scrunched her nose, “just leave the bottle."
Patrick turned, his hollow gaze landing on me. "Ms. Anthony, what may I get for you this evening?"
"I'll just have a glass of Alejandro's reserve Chardonnay. Thank you, Patrick."
"Yes, ma'am." Patrick’s long stride ate up the ground. He was probably rushing off to report my arrival.
"Must be nice." Tanya sighed, fingering the stem of her empty wineglass.
"It is." I didn't feign ignorance. My position—both as Alejandro's personal attorney and his lover—was highly desired.
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