Yeah, so May ran away… somewhere. I don’t know what happened. I changed my perpetual calendar over the weekend and it still read April, so that’s where I am right now. What this means is you’ll get a flash piece on this weird Monday, and another next Friday, the 16th. Unless I lose another month again. Maintaining schedules isn’t my strongest suit. Anyway, here’s May’s flash piece. Enjoy!
May – Emerald Fire
Emily drew in a calming breath and silently repeated the mantra she’d used for most of the night. Prison orange is not my color. Prison orange is not my color. Prison. Orange. Is. NOT. My. Color. It wasn’t helping.
“Mr. Harold,” she said through teeth clenched so hard her jaw hurt. “Remove your hand from my ass before I cause a scene you’ll regret.”
Today was May Day, the traditional date for forging new contracts and reaffirming existing ones, and Porter Industries had thrown their annual party in celebration. She wasn’t one of the big names on the guest list, but as the owner of a thriving art studio with several famous clients and students, she was still a guest. She was not, as one of her fellow guests had decided, part of the entertainment. His harassment had gotten really old really quickly.
Oh, she hadn’t noticed it at first. The brush of a hand across her butt while in a crowded part of the room could be explained away as accidental, as could the fleeting touch on her breasts when he reached across her to grab a glass of wine from a passing waiter. Then it happened again. And again. Always from the same person and always accompanied by a laughing apology that said the man knew exactly what he was doing and enjoyed it. She was going to kill her previous partner for allowing him cut in.
Desmond Harold’s hand slid back to her waist, but his smile never faltered. He was more charismatic than handsome, and she was certain a lot of women had followed that smile into a bedroom. If rumors could be trusted, a few men had done so as well. Desmond Harold wasn’t picky about his partners, and neither was his wife. The constant influx of partners and the drama they created lured the gossip magazines to every function the pair attended like vultures waiting for kill. Emily refused to become a story on page three, even if she had been tempted. His business could handle such philandering. Hers couldn’t.
“Truly?” His smile morphed into a grin of cruel delight. “Amuse me, please, and tell me what you would do that I’d regret.”
She didn’t trust that smile at all. If vipers could smile, it’d look exactly like that, and she refused to be prey to this arrogant jackass. “Well,” she said in the sweetest voice she could muster, “if you touch any part of me not required by this very sedate dance one more time, I’m going to lodge my right knee into your left nostril via your dick. You’ll have to blow your nose every time you piss just to clean up. Will that suffice or should I demonstrate?”
His fingers dug into her waist as fury flared in his eyes. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“May I cut in?” a smooth voice asked into the tense silence.
“Of course.” Harold’s tone was all politeness, but his eyes promised retribution. “I have an urgent business matter to attend to anyway.”
Emily turned toward her new partner and nearly swallowed her tongue. Maximillian Darrow, owner of the nightclub Envy and sexiest man alive for three years running, offered his hand. Damn. He looked even better in person. She placed her hand on his and let him lead her back onto the dance floor with smooth, graceful steps.
“I appreciate your help, Mr. Darrow,” she said as they moved easily between the other couples. “But if you’ll dance me toward the door, I think I’ll slip away.”
“Dance with me first. If you leave now, Harold will know he’s upset you.”
His eyes flickered with emerald flames reminding her that Maximillian Darrow was something other than human. Of all the magic touched who’d risen since the Awakening, he was the most compelling and the most mysterious. He moved among the rich and powerful of both humans and magic touched, dated gorgeous women and the occasional man, and operated an invitation-only club every person at this very polite party would kill to get into. He gained nothing by helping her, and that made her suspicious of his motives.
“There’s always a Desmond Harold at these sorts of things. I can handle him.”
“Will you at least allow me to escort you home?” His thumb brushed her side and sent a shiver down to her toes. Such a small touch to affect her so greatly. “I don’t trust him.”
She frowned. “Why? I mean, I know why you shouldn’t trust him. Hell, I don’t trust him. But why escort me home? What do you hope to gain from this, Mr. Darrow?”
His smile was devastating, and his laugh addicting. Good god, this man was a menace to her good sense. “So suspicious. I approve. As for the escort, I’ve seen this play out before. He’ll be waiting at the door in his limo. If you go with him, you’ll be another conquest on page three. If you don’t, you’ll make the front page with headlines like ‘Look inside for the full scoop’ or ‘Lover’s quarrel goes public!’ I’m sure you don’t want that.”
“Okay. I get that. What I don’t get is why you’ve gotten involved at all.”
“Because you fascinate me, Ms. Carr.”
Her eyebrows shot to her hairline and probably beyond. She fascinated him? On what planet? Regardless of his obvious lie, she didn’t push. Truth was she was nervous about leaving. Desmond Harold wasn’t used to taking no for an answer. She didn’t think he’d stoop to kidnapping her off the landing of Porter Industries’ HQ, but he knew how to twist the press to suit him.
“Fine. You can escort me home.” Well, to her studio. She wasn’t a complete idiot to give a near stranger her home address.
“Excellent! While we make Harold sit and stew in his rented limo, will you tell me about your work?”
While they glided along the dance floor, Emily realized several uncomfortable truths. One, Maximillian Darrow was an excellent dancer with inhuman grace. He guided them around other couples, between scurrying waiters, and through narrow gaps between furniture with effortless ease. She wasn’t the best dancer, her talents extended to clay and paint, but he made it a delight rather than a chore.
The second was he was a pleasant conversationalist. He neither dominated the conversation nor did he place her under a microscope. They chatted and laughed and moved seamlessly from one topic to the next as if they’d known each other for years rather than minutes.
And lastly, that she was enjoying herself. She usually attended these functions in hopes of securing grants for those students without the means to study at her studio. She’d make the rounds, dance a few dances, remind the rich and powerful that donations to her scholarship programs were tax deductible, and then go home. Now… Now she wanted to stay. She scolded herself all the way to the elevator. It wasn’t like Darrow would allow her to monopolize him all night. He was being kind, but kindness had its limits.
“The press will be vicious,” he murmured quietly. The elevator was thankfully empty and allowed them privacy from curious ears.
“I know.” Her stomach was already in knots. If she didn’t know they were watching all the exits, she’d slip out the back like a thief. “I’m screwed no matter what, aren’t I?”
He looked down at her, the shadows darkening his eyes to almost black except for the faint flickers of green firelight within. “Maybe not. Trust me?”
“What’s it going to cost me?”
He pulled her close as the elevator arrived on the ground floor and brushed her lips with his thumb. “A kiss.”
The flames were larger now and tinted with crimson. Mesmerizing, terrifying, and so very tempting. “Yes.”
A thousand lights flashed as the door opened, the journalists getting a story they never expected. Emily didn’t care. Maximillian kissed like he danced, with a grace and expertise unmatched in mortal men. She twined her arms around his neck and kissed him back. To hell with the vultures and their cameras and microphones. This was a once in a lifetime chance, and she wasn’t going to pass it up.
“Now,” he murmured against her lips, “I’ll escort you home. That way, I’ll know where you live to pick you up for our next date.”
“Tomorrow.” He took her hand, pressed his lips to her fingers, and guided her through the journalists with the same skill as he’d guided her through the dance floor. “Lunch. I’ll cook.” A valet tossed him the keys to a sleek black import, and Maximillian settled her into the passenger seat with another scorching kiss. “Yes?”
This would end so badly, but she was crazy enough to take the chance. Tugging on his head, she initiated another kiss which left her breathless. “Yes.”
copyright 2023, Elaina Roberts