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Dragon Billionaire
Author: Kayla Wolf

Chapter 1 – Lena

 


Well, she’d miss the view, that was for sure.

Lena knew she was procrastinating. It was mid-afternoon, and she needed to clear her desk out by the end of the day. But mid-afternoon was when the sun struck the sea of buildings she could see from her window at just the right angle to make them seem to sparkle and glow in the desert light. It was her favorite part of her office—had been her favorite part of working here, in fact, ever since she’d started. Maybe it had been part of what had kept her here for so long. She’d certainly stuck with this a lot longer than she’d stuck with any other job she’d picked up.

Was it a mistake, leaving, she wondered? It was hard not to feel wistful, with the sun glowing on the buildings like this and her office feeling so neat and orderly (only because she’d taken half her things home already, she thought with some amusement.) No, she told herself firmly. She needed to get out of here. It had been a year since she’d started working here, discovered a talent for the work, discovered that it made her happy. She’d been working up the nerve to go freelance for months. She wasn’t going to talk herself out of it again.

Most of her colleagues had been great about it. She’d been anxious, of course, when she put in her notice—she didn’t want them to feel betrayed, to think she was going to go running off with all their best clients to start her own business. She’d taken great pains to make it very clear that she wasn’t going to be stepping on any toes, that it would be a clean break… but it looked like the only person who was worried about that was her supervisor, Mac. Everyone else had wished her well. They’d even hosted a little surprise goodbye party for her in the break room at lunch, complete with a cake.

Mac had always been the problem, on reflection. If it hadn’t been for Mac, she might have been willing to stay—but working under him was grating. He was rude, impatient, dismissive, never gave her credit for her good ideas… but was more than happy to take them and use them to make him look good when it suited him. Working under him was impossible—and when it had become clear that he wasn’t going anywhere, it had become abundantly clear that there was only one way forward. Why did she need to keep working with a big company like this, when she could go solo? Work one on one with clients, have complete control of the organization… no worrying about stepping on other people’s toes, complete creative control… it sounded like a dream.

That was worth giving up even a view this spectacular, she reminded herself firmly. Yes, it was scary to take that kind of leap. But she’d been planning it for a while. She’d saved her last handful of paychecks, ready for the inevitable dry spells when it came to work. Her rent was paid for a solid six months, too—she’d made sure of that. And Lena was no stranger to living frugally. Before her comfortable little office job, she’d lived and worked as an artist for decades… and artists were very good at making every dollar stretch.

She was ready, Lena told herself firmly, looking at her hazy reflection in the glass window. And even if she wasn’t… well, she’d get ready, wouldn’t she? Time to go.

“Lena! Good! You’re still here!”

She gritted her teeth, feeling the hair on the back of her neck rise. As if she’d needed another reminder of why she was leaving—there was Mac, barging into her office as usual without knocking, as though outranking her gave him the right to violate her privacy whenever he felt like it. She turned to face him, hoisting her usual grimace onto her face—if he could tell the smile was fake, he’d never said anything about it. There he was—short, barrel-chested, uncomfortably energetic. He’d be her nemesis, if she’d ever had the guts to actually stand up to him. She suppressed her irritation, took a few deep breaths. She only worked here for another hour. One more hour. She could make it. No need to antagonize him now—Volentis was a small city, and she’d prefer to have her previous employer have only good things to say about her for when her freelance business took off.

“Hi, Mac.”

“Still can’t believe you’re abandoning us like this,” he said, shaking his head as he clutched theatrically at his chest. It was irritating—he always framed his criticisms of her as a joke, which meant she either had to laugh along in tacit agreement or risk being accused of being a killjoy if she actually responded to them seriously. Infuriating—one more hour, Lena, she reminded herself firmly. One more hour.

“Well, I’m going to miss you all.”

“Gonna miss hiding from us in your office, more like,” he said brightly. “Hey, before you leave us forever, got a favor to ask.” She opened her mouth—but he’d motored on before she could cut him off. Damnit. “Look. Everyone’s out on that soulmate ceremony in the middle of the desert. You know the one.”

She nodded. One of Volentis’s noble families had been organizing an elaborate event that had slowly claimed just about the entire staff as it grew more and more intricate. It seemed that no expense could be spared for the celebration of the soulmate bond. “Can’t believe how big it’s gotten.”

“Hey, if they’re throwing money around, we’ll be there, right? Anyway, I need you to sit in on a meeting with a prospective new client before you go. Okay?”

She blinked. “Mac—I’m leaving, I can’t get into a new event like this—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said impatiently. “You can hand it all over to Sarah once the meeting’s done, I just need someone who knows what they’re talking about with the guys from Inestimable. Doesn’t hurt that you’re easy on the eyes,” he added with a wink that made her grit her teeth.

“Mac, I’d really rather—”

“You work here for another hour,” he snapped, a flash of temper in his eyes, and she felt herself recoil, her heart rate accelerating.

“Sure,” she said quickly, feeling her conflict-avoidance instincts flaring to life. “Of course I’ll sit in.”

“Thanks, darling,” he said brightly, the epithet making her skin crawl. “Conference room. Five minutes ago.”

And then he was gone, leaving her to grit her teeth at her reflection in the window. Trust Mac to make even the last hour of her employment as annoying as it could possibly be. She didn’t want to take a meeting—didn’t want anyone to suspect she was trying to snipe new clients. She needed a clean break, needed her freelance work to stand completely independent of her work here… didn’t want any bad feelings to cloud her fresh start. Her running an initial meeting with a client like this was exactly the kind of thing that might stir up resentment among her coworkers. But with all of them out of the building, what choice did she have?

She joined Mac in the conference room once she’d settled her nerves a little, hoisting a slightly more believable smile onto her face as she turned to greet the clients. A woman in an impeccably tailored charcoal gray suit rose to greet her. There was something in her hard green eyes that made Lena feel like she was staring right through to her soul—a searching, appraising kind of look, a pleasant smile on her lips that didn’t even touch those piercing eyes. Her vivid red hair was cut fiercely short, a masculine style that only seemed to accentuate the femininity of her features.

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