Due Diligence – Anna Zabo
A business trip leads to a surprise encounter with an old flame in this sexy romance from the author of Just Business.
After Fazil Kurt breaks up with his girlfriend, a business trip to Seattle offers some much-needed time away. Sent by S.R. Anderson Consulting, Fazil is there to help audit Singularity Storage, a company they are trying to save. His first discovery is intriguing to say the least: One of Singularity’s engineers is Todd Douglas, Fazil’s first love.
He knows better than to get personally involved on a job like this. Back in high school, Todd broke Fazil’s heart more times than he could count, but both men have grown so much since then—and Fazil never could say no to Todd…
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Fazil Kurt craned his neck to look out the window as the hired car drove along a highway from the hotel to the company Sam Anderson’s team was trying to save. There was an actual mountain out there. Snowcapped and everything.
“That’s Mount Rainier,” his coworker Eli Ovadia said.
The peak sat out in the middle of nothing, imposing. Fazil rubbed his neck and turned to Eli. “It’s huge—is it a volcano?”
“Yup.” Eli shifted on the seat, toying with the handle of his cane. “They say it could go off any second.”
Fazil snorted. Typical Eli, sounding too pleased at the thought of sudden catastrophe.
But the mountain was beautiful and awe-inspiring. The whole place was gorgeous. Hills and water and green and freaking mountains everywhere. God, wait until he told Kris. She would love this.
Then reality hit him like a wash of ice water. She wouldn’t care. He wasn’t dating Kris. Hadn’t been for a month.
That was part of the reason he was here in Seattle on business with Eli—to get away from that mess. Sure, the split had been mutual, but he hadn’t expected her to dive right into another relationship, least of all with his friend Lance. Had it been someone else, someone he hadn’t known, that would have been easier. Watching them drape themselves all over each other at pinball league had been a bit much.
Hell, watching them drape all over each other at every single event their social circle held had been way too much, too soon. Sure, he and Kris had been going down the tubes for a while, but it still hurt to see.
So when his boss, Sam, had asked for a volunteer to travel to Seattle with Eli to do some due diligence at Singularity Storage, Fazil had jumped at the chance to get the hell out of Pittsburgh and away from old history, especially if S. R. Anderson Consulting was footing the bill to fly him across the country. Even if it meant spending today in a suit and two weeks stuck in the corporate hell he hated. He was, after all, a blessed consultant. Thank God. The work seemed interesting. Singularity was a start-up that had developed a new way of storing and accessing big data—twice as fast as its competitors.
Plus, he’d never been to the Pacific Northwest. Visiting a new place seemed like the best way to mark a change in his life to never dating another soul again.
He sighed and leaned back into the seat.
Eli lifted an inquisitive brow, but Fazil shook his head. Even if he’d liked Eli better than he did, he wasn’t going to talk about his personal life with a coworker. Especially not a recently happily married one. Time to change the subject.
“Are you ready for this?”
Eli’s smile was bright and devilish. “More than. But are they ready for us?”
“Are they ever?” He’d yet to see a company truly understand what they were getting themselves into when they hired Sam Anderson’s team. The fact that Eli, Anderson’s CFO, was here spoke volumes. That Eli was downright gleeful meant Singularity was very screwed in the finance department.
Eli chuckled and the car pulled up to a typical boxy office building, one of the types that held several small companies. After getting their laptops from the car, they were escorted into the office by Dr. Sandra Jackson.
Sandra was one sharp woman, from her suit—which almost outdid Eli’s for style—to her technical knowledge. Hired on recently to set the company back on track, she was the reason they were here. “The agenda is fairly open today. Sam said you both like to hit the ground running. We’ll get you into an office, introduce you to the senior staff, and then to engineering, and after lunch, you can dig in.”
“Perfect,” Eli said.
After a whirlwind tour of the office, they settled into a large conference room that overlooked a parking lot. Not a spectacular view, but off in the distance were yet more mountains that put the ones near Pittsburgh to shame. Though he’d been introduced to them, Fazil forgot half the names of the upper management by the time they’d all entered the conference room.
Thank goodness for nameplates on cubes and offices. That and the list Sandra presented would save his ass, though he would only interact with the head of engineering—Stephen Davidson. It was the technical staff he’d work with and need to convince he wasn’t here to get them fired, but to improve what they were doing.
Fazil made his way to a side table that held bagels, pastries, and enough different forms of caffeine to power an entire IT department. He grabbed a cup of coffee for himself and one for Eli, who was in an intense but quiet discussion with Singularity’s CFO.
Neither looked to be enjoying the talk. Fazil sat the coffee down near Eli, breaking up the awkward conversation.
“Thanks, Fazil.” Eli took the cup, drank, and turned back to the other man. “You might not like it, but that’s the law.”
Singularity’s CFO rose and towered over the sitting Eli. “You keep saying that, but I have yet to see proof.” He glanced at his watch. “I have another meeting to attend to. We can discuss this more after lunch.”
Eli smiled. “It will be my pleasure.” Soft words, but they held the sharpness of a knife. The other CFO faltered for a moment, then walked away, and the expression on Eli’s face shifted—not to a frown, but something more intense and calculated. He sipped his coffee.
That was why Eli had flown out here, to bring the financials into proper alignment, but the strains of an awkward silence descended around the table, and that wasn’t good. Fazil cleared his throat. “The technical teams are first up, yes?”
Sandra glanced at the clock. “They’ll be here in a few minutes.” She rose and stepped over to the table of coffee and bagels, and that was all it took to break the tension.
Stephen slid a piece of paper across the table to him. “Here’s a list of the engineers you’ll be working with.”
He picked it up and scanned the sheet until his brain rammed up against a single familiar name: Todd Douglas.
Todd. Broad, tall, blue-eyed. Memories of his old leather jacket and cologne and that beat-up junker he’d driven to high school all those years ago, the one they’d made out in a million times. He’d given his first blow job in Todd’s car. Received his first, too.
He set the page down on the table because it was shaking too much in his hand. “Thanks.” No way it could be the same guy. Todd hadn’t gone to college. He’d planned to take over his old man’s garage in Warminster, PA. Seattle and computer engineer didn’t jive with the Todd Douglas he’d known all those years ago. A common enough name, but the memories set his skin on fire and for a moment he hoped it was his Todd.
“Here’s the team now,” Stephen said.
Men and women filed into the conference room, eyeing both him and Eli warily, except for the last man. He locked gazes with Fazil and stopped.
Holy shit. Same blue eyes, same dark hair, but the roundness of seventeen had given way to the angles, lines, and hardness of a man in his prime. Todd still looked like he belonged in a mechanic’s shop, except for the decidedly geeky t-shirt that read There’s no place like 127.0.0.1 and clung to his chest in sinful ways. God, to run his hands down the length of that body.
Eli’s chair squeaked as it rotated and Fazil peered at his laptop. The presentation he had to give in a few seconds might as well have been in a language he didn’t read. Shit. Get it together.
Thankfully, Todd sat as far from Fazil as he could in the suddenly way-too-small conference room. Todd was an engineer? No way in hell. He’d barely passed math class until Fazil had tutored him. Then again, after that, he’d gotten straight As. He met Todd’s stare a second time and he couldn’t tell if Todd wanted to fuck him or kill him.
Guess some things never changed. He shivered.
“You’re up.” Eli spoke quietly and with a hint of concern.
Fazil stood and nodded. “I’m fine.” He was. He had to be, despite Todd glaring at him from the back of the room. No other option.
Not like they could step outside and undo the past fifteen years.
“Good morning.” He clicked the laptop into presentation mode and picked up the remote. “I’m Fazil Kurt. I know you think we’re here to take your jobs, but we’re not. We’re here to save them.”
And he was off and running as if his first lover hadn’t walked back into his life.
Meeting concluded, Fazil followed Eli and Sandra from the conference room. Next up was lunch, and if they hurried, he’d avoid having to speak to Todd. Too many years, too many unresolved conversations, and too much temptation packed into a body that wasn’t at all seventeen anymore. Those arms. That jaw. He’d tripped over his words whenever his glance at the technical team had fallen on Todd.
He’d had to stop looking just to get through the damn talk. Luckily the presentation seemed to have gone over well. The Q and A had been intense but friendly, and the staff seemed to have good heads on their shoulders.
Todd had sat there, nodding sometimes, chewing on his lips at other points, but hadn’t asked any questions. Fazil’s heart thudded in his chest. Usually presentations didn’t faze him. But he’d never tried giving one when he actually knew what someone sitting in the room looked like naked.
Or at least he had known. His brain was rapidly trying to fill in the blanks as to what Todd’s naked body might look like now.
You could find out. Nope. Fazil exhaled. Not even going there. Their past was the past for a reason.
Sandra paused in the hall near an office that bore her name. “There’s a nice pho restaurant nearby. Katiya from human resources will be joining us as well,” Sandra said.
“Excellent.” That from Eli.
“Fazil?” Todd had a deeper voice now, but utterly recognizable. It slid into Fazil’s brain and down his body, tightening his heart and heating his blood exactly as it had in high school, back when he never said no to that temptation.
So you like boys, too? Good, ’cause I like you, Z.
As he had then, Fazil turned and there Todd was, hopeful, surprised, and far sexier than he had any right to be after all these years. “Hi, Todd. Long time.”
“I’ll say.” He ran a hand through his hair. Same nervous tic. Fazil knew that look, too. No, Todd certainly didn’t want to kill him.
Fazil stuffed his hands into his pockets, partly to keep himself from reaching out and pulling Todd into the embrace he wanted, and partly to hide what that stare did to his dick.
“You two know each other?” A hint of surprise colored Eli’s voice.
“We went to high school together.” That was a much shorter explanation than He was my best friend and lover and broke my heart so many times it’s a wonder it still beats.
“A long time ago,” Todd said.
Not long enough. He’d thought he’d gotten over Todd, that the years had removed the need to touch that skin and taste those lips. Maybe they had, but somewhere along the line, those same traitorous years had transformed Todd from a cute guy into a smoking-hot man, and Fazil wanted to know all those little details all over again. Right now. “Fifteen years.”
He’d flown all this way to escape Kris and run headfirst into the biggest regret of his past.
Life was so unfair.
“Anyway.” Todd fiddled with his watch, but never stopped looking at Fazil. A hint of scruff dusted his jaw. “You’re probably busy today, but let’s grab lunch sometime and catch up?”
Of course. Todd always had a plan for Fazil. Saying yes to it was such a bad idea, even if he did want to see what was under Todd’s shirt and taste the skin there. “Sure.”
“Great!” And there was the smile that always melted Fazil’s heart and kick-started his lust. Same effect, too. “Send me mail when you know your schedule.” Todd nodded to Eli and Sandra before vanishing down the hall.
“Sorry about that,” Fazil said.
“Not a problem,” Sandra said. “Always interesting to catch up with old friends.” She gestured and they headed toward the entrance.
Fazil felt Eli’s silence and a glance confirmed his perplexed expression. Well, at least he had that. Throwing Eli off his footing was the office pastime, even more so than Ping-Pong. He’d take victory anywhere he could find it.
Especially when what he wanted was Todd Douglas naked and in his bed—the hell with all the years and the anger and the fucking guilt. Fazil rubbed the bridge of his nose. Shit. This trip was going to be a lot harder than he’d thought.