In a world caught in a tenuous balance between war and alliances, RAASHH DECISIONS can set the world aflame...as well as emotions.
Raashh was Daahn's second in command, a powerful Grea elder, now head of a nest of his own. But his nest is missing one essential detail; THE FOUNDING of a nest requires a female to fill it with children. When Rayn and MacNair bring Marie to him, Raashh is convinced it's a joke, but the tiny human female proves to be more than a match for the elder.
The humans are restless, and it's not safe to be Xxanian on Earth. When Daveed Raashh hires a new designer for the Spice clothing line--a human female designer, both of them know it's not smart to get involved. But the heart doesn't follow the head in THE BUSINESS OF LOVE.
A tragedy at birth left Arren Raashh a SUBDOMINANT SON in a nest full of Dominants...always lesser, always looked down upon. A chance meeting with Zondra Duncan brings something into Arren's life he never expected, a human woman looking for a man who will never cheat on her. Sandy doesn't mind that Arren is a Subdominant, but can they mend a lifetime of scorn from his family and reunite a broken nest?
Diagnosed with a chronic reproductive problem that would prevent her from having children, Abby walked away from Gabe and her dreams of a life as his mate. Then came the curve ball. She was pregnant with his child, a child that the human doctors assured her would miscarry before viability. What's a girl to do? Tell Gabe and force him to mourn a child that couldn't possibly survive or try to carry their son alone and face heartbreak the same way? No brainer. Or so she thought. Not only did Michael survive, he thrived. Now Abby is a single Hauaa to a Xxanian crossbred child, in a world where anti-Xxan guerillas are looking for the next reason to attack...and with no clue how she's going to explain the situation to Gabe.
CONTENT ADVISORY: This is a re-release title.
"The files are on your desktop, Mr. Raashh," Celeste informed him with her usual military efficiency.
"Thank you." He tried to keep the edge of irritation out of his voice, but that was difficult. One thing Celeste had never understood was his single-minded approach to design. When he was creating, no interruption was welcome. Not even one I knew was coming at some point today.
Celeste puts up with my moods and distraction. How many personal assistants would be so understanding?
Of course, when I have another designer working with me, I can have many interruptions handled by him. That would be a blessing of the Seir-God.
The creative spark successfully derailed, he dropped the electronic pen to the shelf on the inclined drawing table and pushed the button to save the design he'd been working on. He pushed away from his preferred workspace with a sigh and headed for the desk.
The idea of holding a contest to choose the new designer had been Arren's, and it was a stroke of genius. The very idea of Daveed spending days or weeks interviewing prospective candidates had convinced him not to take on another designer for more than a year. This way, he had minimal contact with them and only had to interview those whose work he felt would fit with Spice's existing line best.
The first three designers' offerings held his attention for less than five minutes each. At that, he was being kind, seeing if anything they offered might fit with his image for Spice.
The fourth left him shocked speechless for a moment. The designer's Neo-Xenolithic style went beyond the usual flounces and ragged edges and straight to the heart of some two-year-old's idea of Xxanian culture. The skin-tight silken creations covered from neck to ankle, some with hoods, and included long gloves, complete with fake talons. The entire line was in green, blue, and black scale designs.
Daveed considered stopping right there. Clearly, he wasn't going to find what he wanted this way.
Something convinced him to go on. Just one more.
He was glad he did from the very first outfit that appeared. The designer had produced long, flowing gowns that draped the female form in elegance, short gowns that enticed without being vulgar, and blouses that would show a Xxanian female's fertile stripe clearly.
"Perfect," he decided. How could any designer's work be so perfect for Spice? Maybe he is another Xxanian. That would certainly explain it.
Excited by the prospect, Daveed skipped to the artist's introduction of himself. His breath caught, and he gulped in shock. The designer wasn't Xxanian. She wasn't male, either.
Her dark honey-colored hair was pulled up in a simple style at the top of her head, and errant curls surrounded her face. She wore one of her own designs, a deep blue that matched her eyes, and she moved gracefully on stiletto heels.
Daveed barely heard the details she imparted to the vid-recorder. The only one that stuck in his mind was her name.
"Joy." It was also the name of her clothing line.
He paused the feed and summoned Celeste with the push of a button. She appeared in the doorway and waited to hear what he needed from her.
"I wish to interview number five...Joy."
"Joy Patterson," she replied. "Any others, Mr. Raashh?"
"Just the one for now." Seir-God willing, he would have no need to meet the others.
"As you wish."
When she'd disappeared from view, Daveed started Joy's vid again, from the beginning. He wanted to know everything about Joy and her line he could before the interview with her.
He made a mental note to have Arren do a background check on the artist in question, in the meantime. One could never be careful enough with anti-Xxan guerrillas on the prowl.
* * * *
Joy scooped up the phone, growling at the interruption. "Yes?" she asked.
"Ms. Patterson?" the woman on the other end asked.
"Yes." Since it was her work phone, there was no sense denying it. It wasn't as if she had a staff. Yet. I will have my own staff. Someday.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Patterson. This is Celeste Banks from Mr. Raashh's office at Spice Industries."
Her heart thudded in her chest at that pronouncement. If they were calling, it wasn't a refusal of her proposal outright. I'm still in the running. "Yes, Ms. Banks?"
"Celeste will be fine."
"Celeste." Her tongue felt thick in her mouth.
"Mr. Raashh would like to interview you. I have openings in his schedule on Friday afternoon and again on Monday afternoon. If that's not convenient, I can try to move another appointment to --"
"Friday. I mean, Friday works well for me." Keep calm, Joy. Don't make them think you're desperate.
But she was desperate to win a position with Spice. Any position would do, even if she failed to get the job as Daveed Raashh's assistant. Spice had a name for advancing from the inside; even if it took years to advance, a job like this could make her entire career.
"Very well." The click of keys in the background let Joy know Celeste was making the appointment for her.
"The...contest details said you would provide transportation?" It had been one of the reasons she'd snapped at the chance to enter. There was no way she could afford the trip to Virginia on her own.
"Yes. You can meet the Spice shuttle at noon at the airport. Go to the cargo terminal area and park at Spice's hanger. Mr. Raashh's private shuttle will meet you there. The pilot's name is Karl."
She swallowed a lump of surprise. "I will. Thank you, Celeste. Should I bring samples along?"
"There's no need for that, but if you have any new designs that are not on the vid, you may want to bring the files to view here."
"Yes. Absolutely." Her mind spun. Which designs would Mr. Raashh like best?
"Until Friday, then. Good luck, Ms. Patterson."
Celeste was gone before Joy could find the words to thank her again.
She hung up the phone and rushed to the racks of clothes. What would be the best outfit to meet the Xxanian designer in?
He's already seen me in the short wrap dress. Nothing too formal. Her hand closed on a knee-length evening dress that was cut deep between her breasts and to the center of her back. I can couple it with a suit coat and remove it, if I need to. "Perfect."
* * * *
"Two minutes, Ms. Patterson," Karl called out.
She took another sip of the white wine. She'd tried to tell the Xxanian male she didn't need anything for the short cross-country flight, but he'd insisted on providing refreshments for her.
The shuttle was decadent. A far cry from the public transports students took to space stations on field trips, the interior of Daveed Raashh's private shuttle would look at home in a five-star hotel.
The vehicle touched down with a whisper of sideward motion, and the engines wound down. Joy took a calming breath, unfastened her seat harness, and stood.
Karl rushed past her and opened the door. He stepped out and offered his hand to help her down the stairs. She climbed down carefully and looked around.
They were on the rooftop of the Spice Building. The sideward movement of the shuttle had brought the vehicle's door under a reinforced overhang.
"This way, Ms. Patterson," Karl instructed. He led the way to an elevator.
It opened as they reached it, and a child that looked to be about twelve years old exited and headed for the shuttle at a trot, a riot of bright blond curls bouncing around his face. He wore jeans and a t-shirt with high-top tennis shoes and sunglasses. He was thin but muscular.
Karl turned to him with a smile. "Just a moment, Arren."
"Okay." He hopped into the shuttle and disappeared from view.
Joy watched him, confused by the interaction.
"Raashh's younger son," Karl explained.
He's not hairless. She hadn't known first-generation crossbreeds had hair. Arren didn't have a light dusting of hair, either. He had a full head of golden curls that many girls would die to possess. Or to run their fingers through, if he was a little older.
"Board the elevator. Celeste will meet you. Good luck, Ms. Patterson."
He loped away almost before she could get that much out.
Joy stepped into the elevator. She snapped her head up as the engines started ramping up again. Karl was securing the door, which meant the child was piloting. Is that even legal?
The elevator doors closed, and it moved smoothly downward. Moments later, it opened.
Joy's smile faltered a bit at the sight of the man standing in the doorway, muscular arms crossed over a broad chest. He stood at least two and a quarter meters tall, bald, imposing, and wearing sunglasses indoors.
She raised a quaking hand. "Mr. Raashh, thank you for inviting me. I'm Joy Patterson."
* * * *
"Karl says they're coming in now."
Daveed heard Arren's shout of excitement. He didn't doubt the boy was on his way to the roof for the flying lesson Karl had promised him.
He didn't understand why their seir spoiled Arren as he did, though he suspected Raashh saw his dead mate in his younger son's face and was uncharacteristically soft on him for it. The old buck had never been soft on Daveed. That much was certain.
"On my way," he grumbled. Daveed rose and buttoned his suit coat, then headed for the elevator. Just in time to see Arren disappear into it.
He couldn't wait to meet Joy Patterson. Everything Daveed had learned about her had roused his interest further.
The elevator returned with the lady in question aboard. She focused at his chest level, then her head tipped back and she looked up into his face. Her smile went stiff. It eased again, and she raised her hand.
"Mr. Raashh, thank you for inviting me. I'm Joy Patterson."
Daveed hesitated before he took her hand and kissed the back of her knuckles. Women seldom invited a male's touch in such a manner.
Especially the touch of a Xxanian male. I will not waste such a gift.
"Welcome to Spice Industries, Ms. Patterson. May I escort you in?" He offered his arm as his Hauaa had taught him to.
Her cheeks darkened in a blush. "Yes. Thank you." She took his arm and accompanied him down the corridor toward his workroom.
"Was your flight in pleasant, Ms. Patterson?"
"Joy," she invited.
His heart skipped a beat in excitement.
"Lovely. Thank you. Karl made sure I was comfortable."
A niggling of jealousy ate at him, and Daveed pushed it away. "This is our design department. You understand that the job would be here and not in Oregon, where you currently live?"
"We would, of course, relocate you."
By her easing muscles and exhalation of air, Daveed guessed she was relieved to hear that.
He ushered her into his office. She sucked in a startled breath and surveyed his workspace. Daveed took pride in her reaction.
"Your office will be here." He motioned to the adjoining door.
Joy looked up at him, seemingly confused. "My... I thought I was here for an interview?"
Daveed smiled. "Xxanian Dominants are decisive. Your designs are a perfect complement to the vision I have for Spice Clothing. That a given, I fully intend to offer you the position."
"Of...of assistant designer? You're serious?"
"Is there a problem?" It seemed there was.
She hesitated a moment, then answered. "I entered the contest on the off chance you might like my style and choose to offer me a lesser job in the company. I supposed..."
"Yes?" Daveed prompted her.
"I supposed that there were other contestants with much more experience than I have."
"Experience is not as important to me as vision. You match the direction I am seeking to take Spice in, and that is the most important factor." That and the fact that Arren found not a single indication that Joy might be affiliated with or susceptible to coercion from any anti-Xxan groups.
"You're offering me the job of assistant designer?" It seemed she was still having problems believing he was offering her an executive position.
It was time to shock her with the truth. "Actually, you will be the head designer of Joy by Spice line, the sister line to the one I head. I trust that would be acceptable to you?"
"You're keeping my name on the line?"
He raised her hand and kissed her knuckles again. "Why interfere with perfection?"
"You're serious. Aren't you?"
Daveed furrowed his brow. Hadn't he made himself clear yet? "The job is yours, Ms. Patterson. The only question is... How much will you make me pay to secure your services as a designer for my company?"
Her face went scarlet, and she seemed to have trouble forming words.
Knowing he had the upper hand, Daveed took advantage of it like the Dominant he was born to be. "I know what I will do. I'll offer you more than any other firm would consider proper. Then you cannot possibly refuse the job."
She swallowed hard.
Daveed leaned down and whispered a figure in her ear. He could go much higher, but he suspected she'd believe anything higher a joke.
She gasped. "That is more than fair, Mr. Raashh."
"Daveed," he invited her. "I assume we will be on a first-name basis when we are working together."
"Joy." Her hand tightened slightly on his fingers. "I think I should see the contract."
"Of course." Daveed left her side, punched the salary amount into the contract Arren had finalized that morning, and collected it from the print tray. The intricacies of legal agreements were something Daveed wished he could live without, but business demanded it. For that reason, Daveed was glad his younger brother was a prodigy in the minutia of legal and contract terms.
Joy sat on the chair he used to design, one shapely leg crossed over the other. She was silent, but her breath heaved in and out at certain points. Daveed tensed every time it happened, certain that Arren had put something in the contract she'd find unacceptable.
At last, she looked up at him. "Do you have a pen, Daveed?"
* * * *
Joy drank down half the glass of wine in a single swallow, containing her need to shout in triumph. She'd done it. She'd signed a contract with a major fashion house.
But not just any contract. I've signed a contract as lead designer of my own signature line, produced by said house. And at a huge salary. With bonuses.
She'd come away from the non-existent negotiations with everything she'd ever hoped for and ten times the money she'd expected to be offered at this stage in her career.
Daveed had introduced a budget and advanced the idea of her choosing an assistant designer from the remaining contest entries. By his tone, she guessed he wasn't sure she would find any complementary designers in the group.
Of course, she had to pack and buy her way out of her lease over the next two weeks before she was due to start work at Spice. Daveed had informed her that the moving service would be at her disposal, whenever she was ready for them. Her packed belongings would be transported by van to the airport and by shuttle to Virginia.
Daveed had arranged for immediate transfer of three months of her salary as a signing bonus to "offset the financial and emotional burdens of her move". Spice even maintained a secure building, and she'd been granted the penthouse as part of her contract.
He'd made the choice to sign the contract painless for her. The only thing that bothered her about the entire thing was her attraction to Daveed.
Don't mix business with pleasure. Remember that, Joy. It's bitten you in the rear before.