Truths, Book 1
D. Reneé Bagby
Table of Contents
Books by D. Reneé Bagby
D. Reneé Bagby
Praise for Eris by D.
A perfectly plotted,
deliciously complex story that delves deeply into how far a person
will go for forgiveness, reconciliation and above all, love.
Multicultural Romance Readers (IMRR)
Just start it—trust
me, you won’t be able to stop.
—Emma Rae, Romancing
the Book, Rose That Rules All!
I was so taken in by
the characters I loved, yes loved this book.
—GJM, Rites of
Romance, Recommended Read
I cried, laughed, had
moments of incredible frustration, but in the end fell in love.
—Yadkny, Happily Ever
If this were a movie,
it would be a box office smash.
—Dakota, Dark Diva
I found myself
stalking the novel, devouring each page, and craving to know what
—Zee, Fire Pages
ETERNAL TRUTHS: ERIS
2010 D. Reneé Bagby
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No
part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any
electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and
retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except
for the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and
First Ebook Publication:
Second Edition: April
Cover by The Killion
This title is a work of
fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of
the author’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not
to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead,
actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Thanks to Panya and
Jennifer, my beta readers, for helping me get the LARP scene right.
Thanks to Eric D. from
CGC for answering my many questions about comic grading.
Thanks to Stephanie
“Flash” Burke for being a great sounding board and knowledgeable
about some of the most random topics, including and not limited to
the sound a cat-o’-nine-tails makes.
This book was previously
published in 2010 and has been re-edited. Though technology has
advanced in leaps and bounds since that original release, I chose not
to change the date of events in the story thus updating the
technology for this re-release (hence the flip phones). Please enjoy
this stroll down memory lane.
Only time knows if
they are meant to be together.
Immortals Lucien and
Ranulf have survived to see the modern era to be with the woman they
both love once more. Equally anticipating and dreading the reunion,
they’ve vowed to let her decide which of them she wants to be with.
But are they prepared to let one woman end a friendship that has
Eris has just started
her dream assignment. She’s not looking for an office romance, but
her new bosses aren’t making it easy for her to avoid it. And right
when she gives in to their joint seduction, she ends up tossed back
in time to the medieval era where the men she loves have no clue who
she is. What’s worse, they think she’s the enemy.
The Lucien and Ranulf of
the past are rough and dangerous. Eris is doing everything she can to
survive them while searching for a way back to her time. But
returning home means confronting an undeniable truth, one that could
end their relationship forever. It’s up to her to decide if her
heart is strong enough to handle the love of two men and the reality
of their enchanted existence.
Ranulf stared at the
spacious, climate-controlled room in a thoughtful manner. Beside him,
Lucien looked through the contents of a nearby box. “We need to
stop putting this off,” Ranulf said. “Every year we say we’ll
get our collection surveyed, and every year we find an excuse to
“Why do you want
strangers tromping through our home? Where does this whim come from?”
“I’ve forgotten what
we own.” Ranulf gestured to the boxes. “And can you find anything
in this crush? I never get past the first ten boxes before I give
Lucien closed the box
near him and straightened. He looked around the room then at Ranulf.
“I’m glad you agree.
I called the company, and they are sending a representative tomorrow
morning to give us a time estimate and price.”
“Why did you even
bother asking me?”
“I like you to feel
you have some say in the decision-making.” Ranulf threw his arm
around Lucien’s shoulders. They walked like that back to the main
“You’ll be meeting
with whoever is sent, right?” Lucien asked, shrugging off Ranulf’s
arm as they entered their shared office.
“You know I will. I
know how much you hate meeting new people.”
“All we ever do is
meet new people. It’s annoying.”
“The price of
eternity. We can’t make long-lasting friendships unless we plan to
share with them what we are and why we are that way. And then watch
them age and die.”
Lucien sat at his desk.
He searched through a stack of papers, stopped, searched a drawer,
stopped and then looked at Ranulf. “Have they found her yet?”
Ranulf retrieved a slim
file from his desk and tossed it onto Lucien’s. “Nothing. We gave
them all the information she gave to us. Nothing, in all this time.”
“All the information
she gave to us.” Lucien snorted with derision. “What information?
All we have is her name. She told us nothing.”
“She thought we
wouldn’t believe her.”
“It was the thirteenth
century. Why would we believe her? Even after…” Lucien trailed
off with a soft growl. He shoved the file away and sat back. In a
soft voice he said, “Even after she disappeared, part of me still
didn’t believe we would live to see this age.”
“Here we are,”
Ranulf said in a happy voice with his arms akimbo.
“Your jovial attitude
“You have no sense of
humor, my friend. Though your sullen nature is more pronounced than
usual. Could it be you realize twenty-ten is in a few months? The
very year our lovely distraction told us she originated.”
Lucien turned away.
“Ah, so that little
tidbit hadn’t escaped your notice. We’ve almost reached the fated
time. As we are both reclusive types, we have very few venues in
which we can meet her, and the private investigators have failed to
“Yes, the ren faire.
Ten days when we allow multitudes of unknowns access to our property
so they can pretend they know about the era from which we hail.”
“How do we find one
woman in such a crowd? What if we miss her? Or, she doesn’t show?”
“What if she shows?
Remember how she was dressed when she arrived, Lucien.”
“I remember everything
about that time,” Lucien snapped. “Even if I wish I could forget
Ranulf crossed the room
and placed a hand on Lucien’s shoulder. “I know your pain, but
the subject of time remains. As much stock as I place in my own
abilities to charm the ladies, I doubt I would have made such a
strong impression on her in ten days—if we meet her on the first
“You think she arrives
before the faire then?”
“It’s the only
scenario that makes sense. Perhaps at one of the movie premieres or
while we’re at a business luncheon. Maybe we should make random
trips in and about town. We may meet her then.”
“And what? Kidnap her
and hold her hostage until she falls in love with us… one of us?”
Lucien pushed Ranulf’s hand away.
“Granted that plan is
one way, but I doubt she would have been so taken with us—this
version of us—if that was what we’d done… what we do.” He
“Don’t try to figure
it out. It’s our past tense and her future, but for us it’s her
past tense and our future. You’ll only give yourself a headache if
you think about it too long.”
“My point is that
sitting around this mansion will not get her to us sooner. The
investigators didn’t work, so we must try other tactics.”
Lucien unlocked and
opened a drawer in his desk. He carefully pulled out a framed
picture. His expression softened as he smoothed his fingers over the
Ranulf moved closer and
looked over Lucien’s shoulder. The frame held an old piece of
parchment with a drawing of a woman whose smiling visage peered out
at him. “That was the moment your skills improved the most. Why
have you never drawn her again? If you had at least done a quick
sketch for the investigators—”
“No.” Lucien put the
drawing away and locked the drawer. “The next time I draw her,
she’ll be before me and willingly posing as my model.”
“Preferably in the
nude.” Ranulf laughed when Lucien glared at him.
“That picture is the
only way I can remember her. Any drawing I do now would only be a
copy. I…” Lucien paused and passed his hand over his face. “I
feel as though I don’t remember what she looks like or that I won’t
recognize her when I see her.”
“You’ll know her. To
the depths of your soul, you’ll know her. Just as I will. She isn’t
a woman you would forget.”
“Tell me we’ll find
“We will. We’ll find
her, we’ll make her love us, and then she’ll be with us once her
journey has ended.” Ranulf walked to his own desk, suddenly not as
lighthearted as he had been only moments ago.
Knowing they were close
to the beginning—or was it the end—made every minute she wasn’t
with them unbearable.
“Soon,” he whispered
and met Lucien’s gaze across the room.
Both men said in unison,
* * * *
“What?” Eris glanced
over her shoulder then looked back at her computer screen. She cursed
and hit the back button. Her momentary distraction had made her hit
the wrong key.
“Are you listening?”
“Yes, Brian, I’m
listening. I’m a woman, which means I can multitask. What do you
“Connie is going on an
estimate run tomorrow, and I need you to go with.”
Eris shook her head.
“Not happening. I’m stuck in the middle of this database.”
“It can’t be put on
hold for an hour or two?”
She stopped typing and
looked at him, giving her boss her best disapproving stare.
He held up his hands in
surrender and backed up a step. “Yeah, yeah. You’re right. Stupid
She nodded and went back
to her typing.
“Everyone else is
busy, and I like one of the appraisal team members to be with the
agent when they do estimations. It makes the clients feel a little
more at ease if they meet the people who will be handling their
“I agree with you.”
She stopped typing and thought for a moment. This project was nearly
finished. If she stayed late, she may be able to pull it off. “How
about this? You authorize some overtime, and I’ll get this done
tonight. That way Connie won’t be solo tomorrow. Deal?”
“You got it. Thanks,
Eris, you’re a lifesaver.”
She smiled at him.
“All of them at
different times. You’re sure you’ll be done in time?”
“I’d be done sooner
if you would leave me the hell alone.”
Brian laughed and walked
The man was a great boss
but a little clueless sometimes. She smiled over her shoulder at his
retreating back. She’d gotten overtime while making it seem as if
she was doing him a favor.
Accompanying Connie on
the appraisal trip to assure a panicky client that their precious
possessions were perfectly safe was a small price to pay if Eris
could get rid of her current client a day earlier than she’d
planned. The man had contacted her at least three times in the last
two days. He’d told her over and over about the importance of the
database, hoping it would speed up her pace when all it did was slow
She looked at her watch.
“Ten minutes.” She could get in a few more entries before lunch.
“Ready for lunch?”
She smiled but didn’t
look back at Clayton or stop her typing. “No. I’ve got ten
minutes before my lunch starts.”
“Fudge it and let’s
eat. I’m starved.”
“Clayton, this is
“Are you gonna finish
in ten minutes?”
“No way. I’ve got
hours to go, at least.”
Clayton grabbed her arm
and pulled her.
She latched onto the
desk with one hand as she continued typing with the other.
“Eris, let go of that
keyboard. The work will be here when you get back. Let’s eat.”
She typed in the last of
the data, hit enter and the computer beeped as the information was
committed. Letting go of the desk, she swiveled her seat around so
she faced Clayton with a smile. “Hi.”
While dapper and very
handsome in his suit, his dyed-black, spiky hair somewhat marred
Clayton’s corporate appearance. His hair was originally dirty
blond, but he liked the darker look so he could appear moody.
Clayton kissed her
upturned lips then pulled on her arm. “Me hungry. Want food now.”
“Ass.” She laughed
and followed him.
Half an hour and a
filling lunch later, she returned to her desk. “Back to work,”
she said to get herself psyched up for the coming monotony.
She loved her job when
she wasn’t creating a database for a client who’d decided a month
after the appraisal team finished that he wanted a catalog of his
collection—something that was much easier to create during the
Thanks to her overtime
though, she only had a few more hours and she could politely—and in
a professional manner—tell the client to never call her again. That
was something she looked forward to.
She clicked the mouse on
the project file. While she waited for it to open, she stowed her
purse and got herself situated at her desk.
The computer beeped.
looked at it then frowned. “What do you mean file
you piece of junk?” She clicked the icon again, and the same
message appeared. “No, no, no, no! Don’t do this to me. That was
a day’s work you just ate.”
No matter how many times
she clicked the icon that had worked an hour ago nothing happened.
The computer refused to open the file. Normally, she would have
backed it up to her laptop, but Clayton had yanked her away and
backups were a before-she-left-for-the-day type of thing.
“This can’t be
happening. All that work.”
She called the computer
technician and waited frantically for the woman on duty to come to
her rescue. It took the technician forty minutes to tell Eris the
file never existed in the first place.
“Yes, it does exist,”
Eris said in a voice she tried to keep from sounding frantic and
annoyed. “I was working on it all yesterday and most of this
morning. I have the beginnings of it backed up on my laptop.” Eris
snatched up her laptop case and booted the computer to prove her
The technician said,
“Well, the company desktop just ate what you did today. My only
suggestion is to upload the file from your laptop for last night’s
data and redo today’s. I wish I had a better solution for you.”
“Here. See?” Eris
clicked the icon. Her laptop made that annoying error noise and gave
her the same message as the computer.
Without permission, the
technician took the laptop from her and repeated her earlier search.
“Same thing over here. There’s nothing there.”
“That can’t be!”
“I’m sorry. The file
must have gotten corrupted.” The technician handed back the laptop
with an apologetic expression. “Looks like you’re starting
Eris let her head fall
against the back of her chair and resisted the urge to chuck her
laptop across the room. It was an expensive laptop with a lot of data
on it that she needed. Not to mention, she might hit someone.
“Fine. Thanks for
coming out,” she mumbled.
“Wish I could have
been more helpful. Good luck.” The technician walked away.
Eris waited until the
sound of the technician’s footsteps receded before she looked at
the phone. “Ugh.” She dialed Brian’s number and then explained
the situation to him.
“Tech support couldn’t
get it back?” Brian asked.
“Nope. She was just
here and nada. Even if I stay all night, there’s no way I’m
getting done in time to go with Connie tomorrow. Sorry, Brian.”
“Not your fault. Don’t
worry about it. Connie’s a big girl. She can go on her own. It
would have been better with you there, but we’ll deal. You do what
you can with that file.”
“Can you do me a
“Call the client?”
“Please. I don’t
want to deal with him again. I already feel crappy enough.”
Brian laughed. “You
concentrate on that and I’ll make sure the client understands and
doesn’t call you personally.”
She grumbled under her
breath as she hung up the phone.
“This sucks!” She
kicked the edge of her desk to add emphasis to that sentiment. That
was the extent of her pity party. She retrieved all the hard copies
she’d filed and dropped them near her keyboard.
She eyed the computer
for a minute. With her fingers crossed, she tried the icon one more
The error sound mocked
her, and the accompanying gray message box was like the computer
sticking its tongue out at her.
“I hate you,” she
whispered to it before starting her project from the beginning.
* * * *
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
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.
Riordan mind having all these weapons about?”
“I’m not married,”
“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
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
“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.”
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
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
“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.”
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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.”
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.”
was the pressing business?”
“Genevieve was there.”
Lucien frowned. “He
can talk to her whenever he chooses. He doesn’t need us for that.”
According to her, having one of us there humanizes him a little so
she can deal with him better.”
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
“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
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.”
* * * *
“Erin, I have a job
Eris rolled her eyes and
sighed in annoyance.
Connie had worked with
her for two years and still couldn’t remember her name.
“Connie, my name is
Eris. Err-ris. Like Iris but with an E. Not Erin.”
“I thought that’s
what I said.” Connie shrugged. “I’ll get it eventually. Keep
Eris bit back the snappy
retort about branding her name backwards on the woman’s forehead so
she would see it whenever she checked her reflection, which seemed to
be every minute. She said, “You mentioned something about a job.”
“Yes. We just picked
up a very, very rich client with a nice-sized collection. He wants it
appraised and cataloged for insurance purposes. I mentioned your name
as one of my best catalogers.”
the wrong name,
Eris grumbled mentally.
Like every other client
Connie had ever referred Eris to, she would have to explain in a
professional manner that Erin wasn’t her name and Connie was a
flake who couldn’t seem to remember that fact.
Connie said, “I’ve
already sent over Pete, Chad, and Michael so they can start.”
Eris let her head drop
against her desk with a loud thud.
“What? What’s that
for? You don’t want the job?”
the collection has to be cataloged first.
The geeks should be the last ones touching them, not the first.”
“They said the same
thing, but they went anyway.”
“They probably wanted
to get a feel for the collection.”
As if on cue, Eris’s
desk phone rang. She picked it up. “This is Eris.”
“Eris, I have a call
from Pete for you,” the secretary said. “He said you wouldn’t
mind him interrupting.”
“It’s okay. Put him
The phone beeped and
music played for a second then Pete’s voice came on the line. “Hey,
Eris, this is Pete. Has Connie talked to you?”
“She’s here now.”
“Good, then you know
about the new job.”
“Yes. She said she
sent you and the rest of the geeks out already and you went. Why?”
Pete laughed. “We
didn’t. We called the client and let him know we couldn’t start
until tomorrow. Right?”
“I’m almost finished
with this last project. Thank God. So yeah, tomorrow sounds about
“Yeah, we just let
Connie think we were going out there. We headed for lunch, and now
we’re at the shop around the corner for market research.”
huh?” Eris rolled her eyes. “You guys are so bad. So, we’re set
for tomorrow then. I’ll let you guys get back to it, and I’ll see
you there in the morning.”
Eris hung up the phone
then said for Connie’s benefit, “That was Pete. He let the client
know they couldn’t start without me, and I’m not available until
tomorrow. We’ll be there bright and early.”
“So long as they
informed the client, and he was okay with it. This is a very, very
“You said that
“He has a nice
collection and may even invest in the company if we impress him.
That’s why I’m sending you and the best of the geeks… I mean,
of the grading department.”
“Connie, just call
them geeks like everyone else. You aren’t insulting them. It’s
okay. The geeks of the world have reclaimed the word and made it mean
something good. Well, not negative at any rate.”
professional, and I’d hate to slip and call them that in front of a
client. Here”—she placed a file folder on Eris’s desk—“is
the client info and the directions to his estate.”
“I mentioned he is
rich. People with that much money don’t live in houses. They live
in estates or mansions. It’s three miles to his front gate once you
leave the highway, and that’s all wooded land with call boxes every
few hundred feet.”
Eris flipped open the
file and scanned the contents. “You estimated four months, and he’s
paying commuting costs.”
“Yes, I insisted on
that. His collection is much too large to send here, so you’re
going to it. He suggested the group of you simply board there for the
duration, but I talked him out of it. There’s too much chance one
of you would do or say something unprofessional that might insult
him. You know these rich people. They are very sensitive about the
“Uh-huh. Well, the
geeks and I will endeavor to uphold the company image and finish our
job as quickly and accurately as possible.”
Connie patted Eris’s
shoulder. “Good girl. I knew I could count on you. Keep me posted
on the progress and have fun.”
Something about Connie’s
tone made Eris think she’d missed some important detail, or Connie
hadn’t told her something. She would find out tomorrow morning.
Hopefully, the feeling was a false alarm and nothing to worry about.
Knowing Connie the way she did, Eris would hope her feeling was wrong
but prepare for the worst-case scenario all the same.
“The appraisal team is
here,” Leon announced and stepped out of the doorway, waiting.
Lucien looked at Ranulf,
but the man didn’t move. Lucien cleared his throat.
Ranulf didn’t look at
him but continued reading over the paperwork before him.
“First you complain
when I don’t do the final on the contracts, then you complain when
I don’t greet the guests. Which is it to be, Lucien? You can’t
have both.” Ranulf looked at him.
Lucien left the room
with Ranulf chuckling behind him. He depended on the man entirely too
much, and Ranulf knew it.
Leon gestured to the
three waiting men. “The Comic Grading Business’s appraisers,
Lucien held out his hand
to the man nearest him. “I am Lucien Riordan, partial owner of the
collection. Call me Lucien. My partner is busy at the moment, but
you’ll meet him later.”
The middle-aged man
shaking his hand said, “I’m Pete. Nice to meet you.” He
gestured to his younger companions. “This is Chad, and this is
The others shook
Lucien’s hand. He looked beyond the men for the fabled Erin.
“Connie said there was a fourth—your team leader. Where is she?”
“She’s not here
yet?” Chad looked at the others then back at Lucien. “It’s not
like her to be late. She hates being late. Let me try her cell
Lucien nodded. “Please.
She may be lost.”
Michael said, “It’s
almost guaranteed if she’s following Connie’s directions.”
Lucien didn’t have to
ask. If Connie had made the same mistakes on the directions as she
had on the contract, then there was no telling where Erin was at the
Chad snapped his phone
shut. “No answer. I got her voicemail and left a message.”
“Call the office?”
Pete said, “There’s
no way she would go to the office first then come here. They’re in
opposite directions.” He gave Lucien an apologetic look. “We
can’t start without her. I’m sorry. I’m sure the company won’t
charge you for the wait time.”
“We’re paying by the
day, not the hour,” Lucien said. Something like this should bother
him, but he found he wasn’t annoyed. The men before him weren’t
at fault for their leader’s absence. And Erin’s tardiness
could—and would—be blamed solely on Connie. He asked, “Have you
eaten? My cook has an annoying habit of making king-sized breakfasts,
knowing full well Ranulf and I don’t eat before lunch.”
“Did someone say my
name?” Ranulf walked toward the group. “I’m Ranulf Styr, the
other owner. Call me Ranulf. Nice to meet you…” He trailed off
with a frown as he looked around. “Aren’t there supposed to be
she’s lost due to Connie’s false directions,” Lucien said.
“They can’t start without her, so I’ve invited them to eat our
“Better them than
sending it to the main office, I suppose. Enjoy, gentlemen. I only
wanted to show my face. I’ve done that, and now I must get back to
work.” Ranulf nodded and went back to the office.
Chad, Pete, and Michael
looked at each other then Lucien. Michael said, “I never turn down
free food. Lead on, Lucien.”
* * * *
“I can’t believe
this. Late on my first damn day.” Eris peered out of her
windshield, hoping she’d turned off onto the correct tree-lined,
had said the gate to the client’s estate
was three miles off the highway exit, but Eris had already gone five.
The nagging feeling of being lost wouldn’t leave her alone. She was
about to turn around and go back for another try when a security
guard station and a large wrought iron gate loomed ahead of her.
She pulled to a stop,
and the guard came to her rolled-down window. “Hi. I’m looking
for this address.” She held out the paper she’d used for the
“You’re here, miss.
Your name is?”
Eris Brue with the Comic Grading Business to catalog the owner’s
collection. My colleagues should have already arrived.” Two
she added to herself.
She only hoped the
client—essentially her new boss for the next four months—was the
understanding and forgiving sort. Eris prided herself on her
punctuality, but today was the exception. One bad thing after another
had happened to her that morning, making her late.
The guard said, “I
don’t see an Eris Brue on the list.”
And they kept happening.
Eris held back a sigh
and pasted a smile on her face. “Is there an Erica Bree or Erin
Burn or some combination thereof on the list?”
“Yes to Erin Burn.”
The guard gave her an
“I know how this
sounds, but the woman who gave you that name is notorious for getting
my name wrong. I’m supposed to be here, and I’m very late.”
“Fine, I’ll play
“Thank you,” she
said then rolled up her window and waited for the guard to open the
He tapped on her window.
When she rolled it down again, he said, “Hand your car keys over to
my associate, and I’ll take you up to the house myself. If you’re
supposed to be here, we’ll park your car in the garage. If not,
I’ll escort you back.”
She rolled the window up, shut off the car, and got out with her
laptop bag in tow. The car could get stolen and she wouldn’t be too
upset, but her laptop currently had her life stored on its hard
The guard waited for her
in a golf cart.
She handed over her keys
to the second guard and got on the passenger seat. “I’m really
sorry about this. It’s not a scam, I promise you. My co-worker is
lousy with names.”
“The other three guys
checked out fine.”
lousy with my
of chaos, right?”
“Yeah. That describes
my whole morning from the beginning until now.”
During the drive to the
front door, Eris learned her driver’s name was Grant, and he was an
avid student of Greek mythology. He insisted on hearing the story of
why her parents named her after the goddess of chaos. Eris obliged
him, but gave the truncated version to head off more questions since
she wasn’t in much of a conversation mood.
Grant ushered her to an
office to the left of the foyer. He knocked on the door then entered
when the man inside said to do so.
Before Grant could
present her case to the man seated behind the desk, Eris said
quickly, “I am so sorry I’m late, sir. I ran into car trouble
this morning and then the tow truck guy took forever to get to me and
I got a little lost on my way here. I’m not usually late. I prefer
getting to appointments early, but—”
“Mr. Styr,” Grant
said over her, “this woman claims she’s with the group from the
CGB, but her name’s not on the list.”
“As I told Grant
already,” Eris said in a tone she knew was near exasperation, “my
co-worker cannot remember my correct name, which is Eris Brue. I’m
I would rather be yours,
The man before her was
tall, dark and handsome. Well, he appeared tall. He sat behind his
desk staring at her and Grant with his tawny eyes wide and unblinking
in a state of shock. They may have overwhelmed him overwhelmed him.
His dark brown, almost
black, hair was pulled back in what Eris guessed was a ponytail. She
couldn’t tell. It could be braided. The length was an unknown in
the man’s current seated position, as well. She wanted to get up
close and personal so she could find out first hand.
“Eris, there you are!”
Eris tore her gaze from
the man and looked behind her. “Pete. Thank God. Tell them who I
Pete entered the room
with Chad, Michael, and another unknown man following behind him.
Chad threw his arm
around Eris’s shoulders and said, “Ranulf, Lucien, this is our
fearless leader. Eris Brue. The best cataloger the company’s got.
When she’s done with your collection, you’ll be able to find an
issue by the colors on the cover.”
Eris said, “I wouldn’t
go that far.”
The man with Chad stared
at her in the same state of shock as the other.
She couldn’t figure
out the problem.
Chad didn’t seem to
notice anything amiss. He pointed to the man with him and said, “This
is Lucien Riordan and he”—he pointed to the man at the desk—“is
Ranulf Styr. They said to use their first names. I’ve been telling
them all about you. Well, actually just Lucien. Ranulf has been holed
up in here doing busy work.”
Eris snapped, “You
couldn’t have told them my name while you were at it?”
“I didn’t know
Connie had you listed wrong.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, I should have
guessed she’d flubbed your name and made sure the guys at the gate
knew, but I thought you’d get here before us.”
“I planned to, but my
car died on me this morning.” She put down her laptop bag,
effectively dislodging Chad’s arm.
“You should have
called,” Pete said. “Matter of fact, Chad tried calling you three
She shook her head. “My
cell is lost. I had it last night, and the thing grew legs and
disappeared. I noticed it was missing when I decided I should call
here and confirm the directions. To add insult to injury, my Internet
connection isn’t functioning properly either, so I couldn’t go to
a map site.”
directions get you that lost?”
“Horribly. She had all
the exit numbers and names mixed. Thankfully, I figured it out.”
“You should have
called before you left your house.”
but I don’t have a landline since I have a cell phone, and I gave
up looking for it because I didn’t want to be late. I ended up
borrowing my neighbor’s phone to call the tow truck guy. He was
such an ass—uh, excuse me—jerk
about it I didn’t want to ask if I could call here too.”
“You’re here now,”
Lucien whispered. He cleared his throat and said in a normal tone,
“Welcome, Eris. Chad has indeed told me much about you, but he
never mentioned your name.” He walked around Pete and offered her
“I’m really sorry
I’m so late,” Eris said, shaking his hand. His grip tightened
when she would have let go. She tugged on her hand, and he released
Ranulf said, “Thank
you, Grant. You can go.”
“Sure thing.” Grant
said to Eris, “Your car will be in the garage when you’re ready
to leave. Your keys will be on the small table near the front door.”
“Thank you. Sorry
again for making you come all the way up here,” Eris said.
“It’s my job.”
Grant nodded then left the room.
Ranulf came around his
desk with his hand out toward Eris.
She shook his hand, and
like Lucien, he hesitated before letting her go. Or maybe it was her
imagination. Both men wore a weird expression and stared at her as
though they couldn’t believe she was real.
Lucien said, “Connie
said your name was Erin.”
“That’s Connie for
you,” Pete said in an annoyed tone. “She thought my name was Pat
for the first six months I worked with her. Chad was Chris. Michael
was the only one to escape.”
“She made up for it by
butchering my last name,” Michael said. “How the hell do you get
Kites out of Cates?”
“Anyway,” Eris said
over Chad’s reply. She smiled at Lucien and Ranulf. “I know I
held everyone up, but I’m here now and eager to get started.”
“This way,” Ranulf
and Lucien said in unison. They looked at each other.
“Jinx,” Eris said,
bringing men’s attention back to her. “Sorry. Silly joke.” She
gave a nervous laugh and quelled the urge to fidget under the men’s
scrutiny. “Connie said your collection would take four months.
While I would like to trust her estimate, she has been known to
Lucien said, “If you
and your team could finish in four months, I would be surprised and
Eris retrieved her
laptop bag from the ground, but Ranulf took it from her. “It’s
“I insist,” he said,
tightening his grip.
walked out of the office with Lucien in front of her, Ranulf beside
her, and the rest of the guys following. Both Ranulf and Lucien were
taller than her—Ranulf by a head while Lucien only had a few inches
over her. Lucien’s broad back held her mesmerized. She tried
imagining what it would feel like to sleep on it. Not against it, on
it. She didn’t know what it was about broad shoulders, but they did
it for her.
Both Lucien and Ranulf
were blessed with that particular feature. Eris couldn’t stare at
Ranulf without being obvious so she settled on Lucien.
Sandy peach-fuzz covered
his whole head from the top to the outline of his jaw to under his
nose—all trimmed to the same length. Eris rarely went for guys with
facial hair, but she would make an exception for Lucien if he showed
an interest in her… That is if she weren’t already seeing
She should feel guilty
about imagining a relationship with him while dating Clayton, but it
was just imagination. Besides, both Lucien and Ranulf probably had
girlfriends who spent all day in spas being pampered so they looked
good for the cameras that probably appeared at the functions men like
Lucien and Ranulf attended.
Eris wished she were
camera-ready. Her head currently sported a colorful scarf that hid
her roots. She hadn’t seen her hairdresser in over a month. Her
dreadlocks needed maintenance badly. Fuzzy described her hair
situation best, which meant she would be wearing scarves until she
found a free three to four hours for a hair appointment.
She ran a hand over her
head, making sure her scarf was in place. When she lowered her hand,
she bumped Ranulf’s arm. She apologized quickly, but he only smiled
“Before you got here,”
Pete said, “Lucien fed us and we were in the middle of a tour. This
place is huge.”
Eris looked at her
surroundings. All styles of edged weaponry adorned the walls along
with several colorful, medieval banners. “Anyone trying to rob this
place is in for one hell of fight. Are the weapons real or
decorative?” She looked up at Ranulf for an answer.
“Real,” he said.
“Lucien and I spend our free time keeping the weapons cleaned and
She looked around again.
“You must have a lot of free time then.”
“We do.” Lucien
glanced over his shoulder at her but looked away before she could
meet his ice blue gaze.
“That’s it. I have
to ask,” Chad said. “Are you two gay?”
Eris reacted without
thinking, swinging back and smacking Chad’s forehead with the back
of her hand. “I can’t believe you just asked that.”
“What?” He fended
off her hand when she would have smacked him again. “I want to know
“Don’t you have a
“I’m more than
willing to dump him and trade up. I can gold dig with the best of
“Ignore him,” Eris
said, hoping Ranulf and Lucien didn’t take offense. “Chad is just
joking around.” She also hoped the answer was no. And not because
of their money. Both men were gorgeous with a capital G.
“Unfortunately, Chad, we are not. Sorry.”
Chad snapped his fingers
and sucked his teeth. “Damn.”
“We’re simply old
friends whose joint efforts have made us both rich. Since we work out
of our home, it’s only natural we live together.”
Ranulf said, “Besides,
we’d only fight over what pieces of our many collections belong to
whom if we lived separately.”
When Lucien stopped
walking, the group stopped with him. He opened the door in front of
him then stepped back. “This is the room on which Connie based her
estimate. I’m not sure she heard me when I told her this was only a
small fraction. We have a climate-controlled storage facility
separate from the house with the rest of the collection.”
Eris walked forward, not
believing her eyes. She touched the box closest to the door then
looked at the other long, slender white boxes stacked around the
“Sweet Mary, mother of
God’s son,” she whispered. “I’ve died and gone to comic book
“Holy shit on burnt
toast!” Chad pushed past Eris and fell into the room. “This is
unreal.” He removed the lid of one box and then another. They were
all full of plastic-wrapped comics.
Pete was rooted to the
spot where he stood, looking around in amazement. “Eris? Am I
“I’m right there
with you, Pete.” She walked farther into the room and turned in a
slow circle. “This is only a fraction?”
“Fifty-eight boxes to start. The other five hundred remain in
“Five hundred,” Chad
Michael wheezed a little
then pulled out his inhaler, drawing on it twice.
Eris whispered, “This
will take way longer than four months.” She sat on a stack of boxes
then promptly jumped up with a mumbled apology.
Ranulf said, “You can
sit on the boxes if you like. They are sturdy.”
She shook her head. “I
Lucien said, “If they
can hold my weight without caving then you are fine. Sit before you