There's a Fine Line Ch. 01byMazuri©
Please note that this is a sequel to The Other Half and this tale will make much more sense if you read it first. I do want to thank you all for your kind and encouraging comments on that story and hope you enjoy this one as well.
Also, I have two big, Big, BIG thanks to hand out. The first is my sounding board, brainstormer, and partner in crime, Mokkelke. She's helped me to clean up, refine, and streamline this story so that it is the best I can make it. Girl, you rock! The second is Jaisen. She allowed me to pick her brain on all things BDSM and helped make those scenes as realistic as they could be between a vampire and his mate. Thanks, ladies, I owe you both a bunch.
Blake Simons drummed his fingers upon the conference table and idly contemplated murdering his terminally boring Chief Financial Officer. Today's meeting was focused on the annual budget review of the multi-billion dollar company as well as voting on the proposed budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The dark haired CEO hated reports in general but reserved a special level of loathing for financial reports. They were generally a regurgitation of the same report from the previous year with little changes beyond accounting for inflation and increases in the costs of living. While such reports were considered necessary, he could see little advantage to listening as the thin, prune-faced man droned on about the financial stability of Simons Enterprises as well as the instability of several of the large conglomerate's select clients. He'd heard it all before at the last financial review and once more began plotting his advisor's death. A simple grip on the man's narrow head, a quick twist, and the torture would be over for the day. He could go home and have a glass of Madeira and relax. How charming that would be!
"...and the figures from the third quarter indicate that Leroux, Inc., has experienced a marked decrease in..."
A marked decrease in your incessant tediousness would be far more welcome, Simons grumped silently to himself. He wondered, yet again, why he hadn't turned over the running of his company to some younger underling and just raked in the profits. Oh, yes...he was a controlling bastard who trusted no one. That was it.
Deciding that a nasally tone of voice and pedantic manner of speech were insufficient reasons to go through the trouble of covering up the man's death, he, instead, allowed his mind to wander to a subject that was as equally appealing as it was appalling: Alicia Johnston – his mate. Like every other wide-eyed, fresh faced youngling, he, too, had once believed in the drivel poured into his naïve ears about soul mates that would make the interminable years ahead bearable. But when the years passed – years, then decades, and then centuries – without this mythical being, he felt the veil forcibly ripped from his eyes. Nothing could soothe the utter dreariness of outliving your friends, family – even their grandchildren's grandchildren were now dust and forgotten. Until that damnable Summit; until her. His scowl grew fierce and the CFO nervously stumbled over his words before falling silent. Though he much preferred the silence, Blake sighed and motioned for him to continue.
"Um...yes, well...meanwhile, Poligny & Debienne has seen a steady increase in..."
The only increase I want to hear about, Barnes, is the speed of your damned speech before I rip your tongue from your mouth and force you to eat it, the vampire owner and Chief Executive Officer thought sourly. He really hated meetings. As the CFO droned on, he allowed himself to drift back to the events that led up to his finding his mate.
Had it only been two months ago that he'd been approached by a member of the Vampire Council to investigate the leader of the hate group, the Human Purity League, Colonel Friedrich Hunsinger? That he'd been chosen as the Primary Investigator hadn't surprised him; he was one of the few high-profile nonhumans who hadn't stepped forward after the Reveal. He'd enjoyed a fair amount of speculation from both colleagues and rivals alike over the last five years and it had amused him to fuel the fires of both opposing opinions. When he learned that the Colonel had planned to capture several of the children of the attending Ambassadors, he passed the information on to his contact and gave it little additional thought. Vampires couldn't have children so what did it matter to him if some Shifter's brats were kidnapped? A few less mutts in the world couldn't be a bad thing, could it? So, he'd made his report but failed to follow up with the Council to discover their next plan of action.
The Council had remained silent on the matter which had surprised him. With Elizabeth Pierce as the local Council Chair and the Colonel being her mate's mortal father, he'd expected some kind of official stance on how to handle the situation. Instead, his reports had been met with nothing but silence. It was only the interception of a wayward pixie spy that informed him that the Colonel's plan had been implemented and he'd been furious. He'd stormed the hotel to confront his friend only to discover that his reports had somehow gone astray. The Council hadn't reacted because they hadn't known. It seemed there was someone amongst the council members with their own agenda.
The lights in the meeting room dimmed, pulling Blake from his thoughts. His eyes shifted closer to those of his inner beast's, more crimson than his dark brown, in order to pierce the low light. When the projector flared to light, he barely stifled his groan. PowerPoint was the bane of every meeting in the corporate world and he had half a mind to hunt down Bill Gates and kick his ass for allowing the damned thing to be created.
"As you can see by this table, the changes in the Board of Directors of Larrabie, Inc., has caused stockholders to..."
Holy fuck, was the man still talking? Ripping his head off was far too kind. Perhaps he could pin him to the wall like a wingless butterfly and peel the skin away in small squares...
Immersed in the pleasurable contemplations of his CFO's torture, Blake returned to his thoughts of the recent past. When the others had left the room, he'd remained behind – drawn by something he couldn't name. It wasn't until he'd paced the room more than a dozen times that he'd learned whom the elves had been tending. The young human female wasn't what he normally indulged in when it came to sex or food, but her scent had captured his attention the instant he'd gotten close. Once those annoying elves had moved out of his way, he'd gotten his first good look at the girl. His beast had hissed his pleasure...and his need.
She was a little thing, short and slim, with gently waving light brown hair that fanned out over the pillow like a honeyed halo. Dark brown lashes kept her eyes hidden but the scattering of freckles across her cheeks and bridge of his nose had his fingers itching to trace each and every one. In sleep, she looked far younger than her nineteen years and yet the gentle swells of her breasts beneath the thin sheet had belied her childlike appearance. She wasn't, perhaps, classically pretty but she was petite, cute, and called to him on such a deep level that, in his eyes, she was the most beautiful creature he'd ever been privileged to see.
The blood that stained her shirt had been the evidence of a vicious wound and he barely remembered asking the elven shaman how she'd obtained the injury. The answer had been a dagger straight to his soul. Alicia had been injured helping the children – those same children he'd written his reports about and then dismissed. The pain he'd felt when he'd gazed upon a near-mortally wounded, young, human girl and realized that his complacency had caused her injury very nearly crippled him. It was his fault she was injured; he should have confronted the Council after his first report went unanswered.
And then there was the knowledge that another of his kind had drank from her – placed their bloodied and savage fangs upon the creamy flesh of her delicate throat and defiled what was his. He didn't care if it had meant their escape; reason had little to do with the vampire's visceral and instinctive reaction. Blake's inner beast rose sharply at the thought with but one purpose, to kill, but he ruthlessly subdued his vicious nature. For as cruel and bestial as his inner beast was, it had learned quickly in the earliest days of their shared existence that the human was far colder, more cunning, and deadlier than it could ever aspire to be.
But now, both were undone by a girl. A Girl! His low growl caused those nearby to shift uncomfortably in their chairs but he paid them little mind.
Once she'd healed, he'd visited her in her room and asked her to dinner. Granted, she'd been in the shower when he'd entered and it had been quite a struggle to keep from joining her. Just the thought of the water flowing over that young, nubile body to wash away the frothy bubbles that hid her delightful curves from his eyes had very nearly shattered his monumental self control. Fuck, it was damaging it even now as the memory of her in that fluffy robe, with her hair wet and tousled, had him hard as granite in his pricey A. Caraceni. The surprise on her face when she'd found him in her room, followed quickly by a perfectly thrown knife aimed for his head, had him ready to ruin his expensive tailored suit.
And then he'd tasted her.
If there was a heaven, it had been found upon his Alicia's lips. She'd tasted minty and sweet and so totally his in a way he never could have dreamt possible. If her kiss had been heaven, then the scent of her arousal had been pure, unadulterated sin. His beast had nearly taken control when she returned his kiss; Blake had nearly let it when her honeyed fragrance had washed over them. The temptation to fuck her hard against the wall of her hotel room had been nearly impossible to resist. If she'd been anyone other than his mate, he would have. But she was his soul, his redemption, and he needed more than just a quick screw. He needed her to want and need him at least half as much as he did her. And so, instead of doing what his beast demanded and what his body craved, he'd taken her to dinner instead.
"Mr. Simons?" The nervous stutter of the stick-thin CFO penetrated his turbulent thoughts and he locked his dark brown eyes on the sweating man's pale blue ones. "We..." his voice cracked and he wiped a handkerchief across his brow as he cleared his throat, "we need to vote on the budget, sir."
"Mickelson," the pensive vampire turned to a bespectacled young man of less than thirty years, totally ignoring the spluttering of his CFO, "a brief summary, if you please?"
The CFO started to protest but a single look from those dark eyes was enough to have him cringing back into his chair. Though Blake's face bore little emotion, those who'd been with the company for more than a few weeks knew that was when he was at his most dangerous. Lawrence Mickelson, a rather plump junior accountant attending the meeting solely at the insistence of that same dangerous man, stood, adjusted his glasses, and cleared his throat.
"Sir, there are few notable changes to last year's administrative budget beyond routine adjustments to account for inflation, approved salary changes for current employees, as well as the necessary increase to provide funding for the new hires in the recently-opened Seattle office. The production budget, however, shows a marked change due to the recommendation to drop Leroux, Inc. in favor of a fledgling new company, Poligny & Debienne."
"Why, exactly, are we considering cancelling the contract with Leroux, Inc,?" The young man looked pointedly at the nervous CFO. "Mr. Barnes?" This time, his dark eyes pierced the slender man's as if seeking the answers in his very soul. "Please explain, if you will."
"Well...." The CFO squeaked nervously at the oh-so-polite tones of Blake's velvety soft voice. Polite was bad; polite was dangerous; polite usually meant people disappeared. "It would be in this company's best interest to diversify its client base and..."
"Enough." The quiet voice seemed to echo throughout the conference room and Ray Barnes winced before falling silent. Blake rose to his full 6'2" height and surveyed the small group of advisors, his face betraying none of the irritation he felt. "Now, Mr. Barnes, you have sixty seconds to explain why you would recommend severing the contract with a highly profitable and loyal client of nearly a century and I would advise you not to waste your time or mine by attempting to insult my intelligence."
"Mr. Simons, I would never..."
"Forty-five seconds, Mr. Barnes."
"Poligny & Debienne are offering similar products at a far more competitive price which would enable us to gain a greater profit..."
"Twenty seconds, Mr. Barnes." Blake moved away from the conference table in a slow prowl around the room but kept his deep brown eyes fixed upon the flustered CFO.
"But, Mr. Simons, I promise you...!" At the disbelieving arch of that one dark brow, something inside the thin man snapped. Heedless of his own safety, Barnes sneered. "Fine! I've got an important reason we should drop those dogs at Leroux: Poligny & Debienne are owned, run, and staffed with humans, not creatures best placed in a zoo or on a laboratory table. Those monsters are slowly taking over the fucking world and we're letting them, begging them, even! The reputation of Simons Enterprises demands that we associate only with equally reputable companies; there's no way a company run by a bunch of freaks could measure up."
"I...see." Sighing inwardly, Blake walked to the windows with his hands clasped behind his back. Though the pose radiated calm introspection, he was actually struggling not to toss the xenophobic ass out the thirtieth floor window. Mentally contacting the vampire waiting at the entrance, he relayed the thin man's incendiary words with grim satisfaction. "Thank you, Mr. Barnes. You may go."
"Yes. You have until 5:00pm to clear your desk and vacate the premises. After that time, you will be detained and handed over to the police for trespassing. Do you understand, Mr. Barnes?"
"You can't do that! I'm your CFO, a member of the Board of Directors, and it takes..."
"It takes nothing but my word." Turning from the window, the centuries-old vampire smiled at the thin accountant and relished the man's rapidly growing fear. "Let me remind you of a few details of your employment contract."
Blake advanced on the wiry man slowly and let his eyes shift to the crimson of his inner beast. Fear lay like an unwanted cloak over the accountant and he tried to ease away from the stalking predator. Blake smiled evilly, his fangs descending slowly to press against his lower lip.
"Firstly, you are a financial advisor, not a board member. Simons Enterprises doesn't have a Board of Directors for it has but one owner: me. Because I have refused to incorporate over the years, I am the only person I need to speak with in order to remove the dead wood from my company. As you may have surmised, I've consulted with myself and we agree that you've overstayed your welcome.
"Secondly, I'm sure you are swiftly realizing that being a racist, speciesist bastard is not exactly going to further your career prospects within this corporation." Placing a hand on each arm of the chair and trapping the former CFO, he leaned forward to whisper softly in the shaking man's ear while Barnes made an impressive attempt at melding into cushioned seat.
"And lastly, I know that you've been doctoring the books for the last two years and, if you weren't such a skeletal, greasy fucker, I'd have drained you dry and left you for the rats in the alleyway months ago. As it is, I've taken it upon myself to relieve your accounts of the funds you've stolen and will let you walk out of here on your own two feet and right into the waiting arms of your dealer. You really should have known better than to use recreational drugs, you know. They'll be the death of you yet."
Barnes' eyes grew huge and he actually whimpered. Blake smirked and stepped back to let him scamper out of the room. He'd contacted the former CFO's dealer, a fellow vampire and all around nasty piece of work named Chucky, prior to the meeting. The mental growl he'd received upon informing the dealer of his client's unflattering view of nonhumans warmed his heart in an evil, unwholesome sort of way. He was confident that the thin man's life was about to get a whole lot more difficult or a whole lot shorter. Or both. Looking around the room, his eyes – once more their deep brown – landed on the promising young accountant that he'd insisted upon attending the meeting.
"Mr. Mickelson, if you would be so kind as to please stay a few minutes late tonight and ensure Mr. Barnes has removed his property from your office, it would be greatly appreciated."
"My office, Mr. Simons?" The young man gulped audibly, certain he'd heard incorrectly.
"Yes. It appears we are in need of a CFO." This time his smile held genuine amusement as he regarded the astonished junior accountant. "Would you be interested in the position, do you think?"
"Y...yes, sir! Thank you, sir!"
"Good. And ensure our contract with Leroux is renewed immediately." The young man simply nodded and began gathering the paperwork left behind by Barnes.
After that, the meeting came to a swift conclusion and the advisors filed out of the room as quickly as they possibly could. Blake resumed his post at the bay window and looked over the city in the direction he instinctively knew lay his mate. It had only been three days since they'd gone to dinner at the Summit and yet it seemed more like years. He could still taste her kiss upon his lips and knew her blood would be just as sweet. Before he could claim her, however, he had a duty as her mate to protect her. That meant he had to find the traitor on the Council, eliminate him, and then use all of his resources to discover the truth about Daevas Malphas. Turning from the window, he strode purposefully from the room. It was time to settle things so he could claim what was his.
Alicia wandered aimlessly around the library at the Pierce estate and cursed her growing restlessness. Her silent companion and friend, Francisco di Luca, watched with a knowing smirk and wondered when she'd accept what everyone had already told her – resisting the mating pull was both pointless and foolish. As she paced by where he lounged with a book resting loosely in his lap, she noticed his smile and scowled at him fiercely. No matter what he or his Sires said, she was not mated to some arrogant, blood-sucking vampire regardless of how sinfully gorgeous or deliciously sexy he was. Unconsciously facing the direction of the headquarters of Simons Enterprises, the agitated girl laid her forehead on the cool glass of the window as his image swam before her eyes.
He was a picture of rugged handsomeness carved from flesh toned granite – all hard angles and smooth planes. From his straight, aquiline nose to the high cheekbones that begged for her touch all the way down to the prominent line of his jaw, Blake Simons was the embodiment of male perfection. He looked to have been in his late-twenties or early-thirties when he was turned and had obviously been in prime health. The deep brown eyes that had captured hers the moment she'd been foolish enough to allow it had revealed a deep sensuality and a hunger for her that had her frozen in place even as her mind screamed at her to run. The thought was all she'd been allowed.