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Eris


Eternal Truths, Book 1



D. Reneé Bagby





http://dzrb-books.com/






Table of Contents


Praise for Eris

Copyright

Dedication

Foreword


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty


Other Books by D. Reneé Bagby

About D. Reneé Bagby






Praise for Eris by D. Reneé Bagby


A perfectly plotted, deliciously complex story that delves deeply into how far a person will go for forgiveness, reconciliation and above all, love.

—Interracial 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 After Reviews


If this were a movie, it would be a box office smash.

—Dakota, Dark Diva Reviews


I found myself stalking the novel, devouring each page, and craving to know what happens next.

—Zee, Fire Pages Reviews






ETERNAL TRUTHS: ERIS

Copyright © 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 reviews.


First Ebook Publication: June 2010

Second Edition: April 2017


Cover by The Killion Group, Inc.


ISBN: 1-63475-047-0

ISBN-13: 978-1-63475-047-9


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.






Dedication


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.





Author’s Note


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.






Foreword


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 lasted centuries?


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.

Chapter One


September 2009

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 avoid it.”

“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 up.”

Lucien closed the box near him and straightened. He looked around the room then at Ranulf. “Fine.”

“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 house.

“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 is annoying.”

“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 find her.”

“The faire.”

“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 certain things.”

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 day.”

“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 frowned.

“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 glass.

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 her.”

“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, “Eris.”


* * * *


“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 want?”

“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 question.”

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 precious babies.”

“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. “Which flavor?”

“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 away.

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 her down.

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 important.”

“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 appraisal process.

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.

She looked at it then frowned. “What do you mean file not found, 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 point.

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 completely over.”

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 favor?”

“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.”

“Thank you.”

“Good luck.”

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 time.

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 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.”

“Thank you.”

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.”

Connie pouted.

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.”

“Partner?”

“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…

With Ranulf?

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.

Lucien grunted.

“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.”


* * * *


“Erin, I have a job for you.”

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 reminding me.”

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.”

Probably 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?”

Connie, 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 through.”

“Hold, please.”

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 right.”

“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.”

“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.”

“See ya.”

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 rich man.”

“You said that already.”

“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.”

“It’s not 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.”

“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 oddest things.”

“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.

Chapter Two


“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.

“Ranulf—”

“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, sir.”

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 Michael.”

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 phone.”

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 moment.

Chad snapped his phone shut. “No answer. I got her voicemail and left a message.”

“Call the office?” Michael asked.

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 four?”

“We’ve theorized 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 breakfast.”

“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, deserted road.

Connie 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 directions.

“You’re here, miss. Your name is?”

I’m Eris Brue with the Comic Grading Business to catalog the owner’s collection. My colleagues should have already arrived.” Two hours ago, 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.”

“That’s me.”

The guard gave her an incredulous look.

“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 along.”

“Thank you,” she said then rolled up her window and waited for the guard to open the gate.

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.”

“Fine, whatever.” 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 drive.

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.”

She’s lousy with my name.”

“Eris—Greek goddess 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 your cataloger.”

But, I would rather be yours, Eris thought.

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 am.”

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 times.”

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.”

“Did Connie’s 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.”

Sorry, Dad, 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 his hand.

“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 her.

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?”

“She—”

“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 exaggerate.”

Lucien said, “If you and your team could finish in four months, I would be surprised and amazed.”

Eris retrieved her laptop bag from the ground, but Ranulf took it from her. “It’s not heavy.”

“I insist,” he said, tightening his grip.

“Thank you.”

She 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 someone.

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 at her.

“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 sharpened.”

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 my chances.”

“Don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“I’m more than willing to dump him and trade up. I can gold dig with the best of them.”

Ranulf chuckled.

“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.

Lucien said, “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 room.

“Sweet Mary, mother of God’s son,” she whispered. “I’ve died and gone to comic book heaven.”

“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 dreaming?”

“I’m right there with you, Pete.” She walked farther into the room and turned in a slow circle. “This is only a fraction?”

Lucien said, “Fifty-eight boxes to start. The other five hundred remain in storage.”

“Five hundred,” Chad squeaked.

“Rough estimate.”

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 shouldn’t.”

Lucien said, “If they can hold my weight without caving then you are fine. Sit before you fall over.”


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