Fandom: White Collar
Word Count: 9,081 – This Part
Beta Credit: elrhiarhodan
Warnings: Violence, knife use, non-canon death of canon characters (pre story)
Summary: Peter Burke is a high-end jeweler. When he meets Neal Caffrey, a talented young jewelry designer, it seems like a match made in heaven. But when Neal discovers that Peter is an ancient dragon, it sets in motion a firestorm that neither one may survive.
A/N - This has been an epic journey to create and would have not been possible without the help of the following people:
miri_thompson - You warred with me when I was whiny, helped me twist plots and generally made yourself indispensable. Thank you.
kanarek13 - What can I say? Your art is incredible. I bombarded you with email ideas, you delivered more than I asked for and you captured the vision of this story even before I did. Every time I needed inspiration because I was floundering, I turned to your art. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
elrhiarhodan - If I wrote all the words I wanted to use to thank you with, this note would be longer than the story. You held my hand, kicked my butt, inspired me with “oh oh…what about THIS!?”, let me play with your characters and kept me on track when I wanted to just crawl under my covers and quit. You are my brain twin and this story is just as much yours as it is mine. Thank you.
The storm came in over the ocean, roiling like the Wild Hunt of ancient times. Sheets of rain pelted the balcony of the penthouse, sending tables and chairs skidding against the railings in tangled heaps of wood and chrome.
The pounding thunder rattled the balcony doors as the wind ripped them open. The weather howled through the interior, picking up papers and flinging them about the room. Lightning streaked across the sky like skeletal fingers reaching out from the grave, illuminating the lone figure seated in the high-back leather chair.
Peter picked up the crystal-cut glass, the whiskey in it glowing dull amber in the ambient light. His hand gripped the glass - strong and sturdy, minuscule scars bleached white with age - as he contemplated the liquor before bringing it to his lips for a sip. Rising gracefully, he shut and locked the doors, returning to his chair to finish his drink. Time clicked by while the tempest raged, seconds turning into minutes as Peter waited patiently.
The gale was finally overhead, the moaning of the winds and the crashing of the thunder making the steel and glass building shudder violently. A bolt of lightning struck the building nearby, the white-hot light illuminating the shape of the figure in the doorway before a loud boom plunged the city into darkness, the only light now coming from the embers glowing in the fireplace.
Peter felt his presence – the slight change in the air that signaled another person was in the room. He didn’t have to see the face to know who was standing behind him. He knew that face intimately. The smile, the taste of lips, the feel of the rough stubble against his body.
“Neal.” Peter took another sip of the whiskey.
“Peter.” Neal’s voice was soft, almost covered by the storm’s violent screams.
“I was wondering when you would come back.”
“When?” There was choked disbelief in Neal’s voice. “Didn’t you mean ‘if’?”
“No…” Peter’s voice trailed off as he gazed into the dying flames. “I’m fairly sure I meant ‘when’.”
“You sonofa –,” Neal circled the chair, planting himself directly in front of Peter. His rain-drenched hair left scattered droplets on Peter’s thighs, soaking into the wool of his Armani pants. “What kind of game are you playing?”
“I’m not playing any games, Neal.” Peter looked Neal up and down. The man in front of him was not the man he’d met six months ago. That man was vibrant and full of mischief and could give Shakespeare’s Puck a run for his money. This Neal was dark and angry, reflecting the storm that was going on outside.
“I need to kill you, Peter.” Neal shifted, the sword in his right hand coming into view.
Peter took a moment to acknowledge the workmanship of the weapon. Hand-forged Damascus steel, pigeon blood ruby surrounded by sapphires and amethysts in the hilt. His eyes flashed gold as his nature surfaced, fingers itching to hold the treasure in Neal’s hand.
“Need is one thing, but what do you want, Neal?” He raised his eyes to Neal and watched as his lover, his friend – his heart – struggled to put his emotions into words.
“I want…” Neal’s voice trailed away – but then he raised the sword. “What I want doesn’t matter…”
Six Months Earlier
Peter Burke stood at the balcony and observed the customers wandering about the showroom of The Dragon’s Hoard. Being able to see the ebb and flow of commerce was the main reason for having his office on the mezzanine. The other was to see his stock whenever he felt the need to admire his baubles.
Blake was waiting on a young couple looking at diamond solitaires. The woman, petite, her blonde hair pulled up in a chignon, pointed to a ring in the case. Princess cut, three carat, flawless, platinum setting. Peter knew his inventory and he knew which one she would pick. He also knew that it was way out of her fiancé’s price range.
He pushed himself off the railing and headed down the stairs. Approaching the couple, he smiled.
“Hello, I’m Peter Burke, the owner.” He held out his hand for the young man to shake. “I noticed you were looking the platinum set Princess cut.”
At their nod he continued. “May I make a suggestion?” Peter motioned for Blake to take out another ring. “The Princess cut really is a lovely diamond, but I think this one would suit you better…?” he tilted his head, silently asking the woman her name.
“Katie,” Peter repeated. “While the main stone is smaller than the one you looked at, the clarity is better and the setting will suit your hand. May I?” He held out his hand for hers. Sliding the ring onto her finger, he held it under the lamp attached to the case. “See? It’s perfect.”
“Ohhh,” Katie breathed at the sparking facets. “It’s gorgeous.”
“And…” Peter leaned in to her companion. “I think we can do better than the list price. After all, love shouldn’t make you go broke.”
He grinned, watching the young man breathe a sigh of relief. “Blake will take care of you from here. And congratulations. May you have many happy years together.”
Peter smiled to himself as he walked away, satisfied that everyone got what they wanted.
“Nice gesture there.” His assistant, Diana Berrigan fell into step with him as he headed to the back of the store. “It wouldn’t be because you weren’t ready to part with that Princess cut, was it?” She quirked an eyebrow at him.
Peter chuckled. “Maybe a bit. But the Princess cut was way out of their price range. I just guided them to the right choice.” He grinned at her. “So what’s on our agenda today?”
“Mrs. Neidermeyer is coming in at ten to see you. Her granddaughter is graduating with her doctorate and she wants something special as a gift.” She handed him the iPad she was carrying.
“Did she say specifically what stones she wanted?” Peter swiped his thumb across the screen and opened a file, bringing up a list of gems.
“She said she was leaning towards black opal. It’s her granddaughter’s favorite stone.”
“Hmm.” Peter scrolled down, highlighting several pictures of the fiery stone. “Specific piece?”
“Full set – earrings, ring, necklace and bracelet.” Diana picked up another tablet from her desk and called up a file. “Gold setting, maybe some diamond accents. Oh, and ‘Money is no object’.”
“It never is with Mrs. Neidermeyer.” Peter opened up a drawing application and unhooked the stylus from the tablet. With a few sweeps, he sketched out a rough idea of what he thought the set should look like. “Pull rows OP15 through 25. That should cover the necklace and earrings. I’ll be seeing Aaron and Dov at lunch today – he should be able to match up the rest for me.”
“Lunch, huh?” Diana looked at him in disbelief. “You wouldn’t be meeting at the American Crafts Festival at Lincoln Center would you?”
“Maybe.” Peter smiled to himself. He knew where Diana was going with her questions. He motioned for her to follow him back upstairs to his office.
“Boss, I don’t know why you go there. You spend too much money on stuff you don’t need. Then I have to find a place to put it all.”
“It’s my money,” Peter protested. “And I can’t help that I like shiny stuff.”
“Raven,” Diana muttered under her breath as they arrived at his desk.
“What was that?” Peer turned to her in mock outrage. “Did I just hear you call me a raven?”
“You know, Boss, if the shoe fits…” She trailed off, ducking as Peter snorted a small lick of flame at her. “Hey now, no fire in the store. Remember your rule!”
“It’s not like it’s going to damage you.” Peter walked to the closet to get his coat. “You’re fireproof, remember?”
“And how do you expect me to explain no burn marks after you shoot flames out of your nose?”
“You’re my PR goddess – you’ll find a way.” Peter grinned, his face morphing subtly. “I’ve got to go meet Aaron and Dov. Oh, and clear out the back room. I feel a shopping trip coming on.”
Peter let out a bark of laughter as he heard her cursing his ancestors. It was going to be a good day, he thought as he headed out the door towards Lincoln Center.
“Neal where do you want to put the new pieces?”
Neal Caffrey looked up from the storage container he was digging through and regarded his cousin with amusement. Elizabeth Mitchell was holding a plastic craft box in one hand and a display tray with a set of jeweled earrings in the other, looking thoroughly damp in the early morning heat.
They were replenishing their stock for the American Crafts Festival at Lincoln Center. Neal was lucky to get a table this year – the jury selection was brutal and booth space was limited. He knew that this show would bring in the big wigs from some of the bigger stores and he hoped that it would land him a job designing for one of them. Being an independent designer was great, but it was tough sometimes to pay the bills.
“Peacock earrings – good choice.” Neal took the tray from her and looked at the jewelry. Amethyst and peridot were intertwined with blue topaz, garnet, aquamarine and gold zircon to create an illusion of peacock feathers. Neal opened the tabletop display case and rearranged a few pieces. “Let’s put them here next to the lapis choker. The blue will set off the other stones.”
Satisfied with their placement, he turned to her and held his hand out for the storage container. “What else is in there?”
“Mostly your silver stuff.”
Rifling through it, he chose a few more sets of earrings and an Art Deco style bracelet made of sapphire and silver. “That should be enough.” He handed them to Elizabeth and scooted around the table to take a look at the display from a buyer’s standpoint.
“Hmmm…okay, I don’t like the iolite ring next to the amethyst brooch – too close in color. Put it next to the yellow topaz in the upper right hand corner. Yeah, right there.” Neal nodded as she placed the ring next to the set of topaz earrings.
“I don’t know why you don’t just arrange them by color. Or by type.” She blew her bangs out of her face.
“Because it looks more like a treasure this way.” Grinning at her, he circled back behind the table. “And people like treasure hunts.”
“You going to put out any of your dragons?” The question was asked carefully.
Neal paused, running a hand through his dark hair. “I don’t know.”
“Come on Neal, it’s your best work.” Elizabeth huffed at him. “You never know who’s going to be looking for a designer for their store.”
“I know, El, it’s just…” He trailed off with a sigh.
“Just what, Neal?” He felt her move closer to him and turn his face towards her. “They are phenomenal pieces, Neal. You should be proud of them.”
And that was the problem.
His dragons were more than just pieces of jewelry, more than just pieces of art. They were a part of him that he needed to create but he wasn’t sure he wanted to share. Elizabeth kept nudging him to display them, even if he wasn’t going to sell them, but he didn’t even want to do that. It was too much like exposing himself to the world and it made him feel uncomfortable.
Neal glanced at the black case next to his chair. He knew exactly what pieces were inside, where in the case they were stored. He always took them with him on the off chance that he may meet a contact and show them his work. So far it hadn’t happened. By his choice. He chuckled quietly.
“I’ll think about it.”
Elizabeth squeezed him in a tight hug. “That’s all I ask.” She set up the checkout section of their display with pens, Neal’s brochures and business cards. “There. We’re ready.”
“Good.” Neal pulled out a sketchbook and colored pencils. “The doors open in a half hour and I need to get some sketching done.” He sat down and flipped the book open.
“What are you working on?” Elizabeth grabbed a bottle of water out of the cooler under the table.
Neal grinned sheepishly. “Something that I’ll need a patron for.” He flipped the book around to show her.
Neal had sketched out a formal desk set, complete with penholder, blotter, ruler. Muted gold shone from the page, almost velvet in its texture. Each item displayed a dragon. Some were in repose, their figures at rest but with a subtle energy inherent in their form. Others were in flight, wings caught in that moment of lift. Still others were wrapped around each other, bodies twined sinuously in what only could be described as a mating dance. Their scales were highlighted with multicolored bits of polished gems, sapphire, topaz, emerald, ruby.
Elizabeth gasped at the images. “Oh Neal -.” She reached out instinctively to touch the paper then drew her hand back. “They’re beautiful.”
“Thanks.” Neal added a bit of shading. “I’m collecting the stones slowly. Aaron and Dov are stopping by around lunch to bring me some emeralds for the eyes of the dragon on the ruler.” He looked at the sketch and sighed. “Maybe one day I’ll be able to create them. Until then…” He closed the book. The desire to add to the image was gone, at least for the moment. He closed the sketchbook and slid it to the side of the checkout table.
“It’ll happen. I have faith in you.” Elizabeth ruffled his hair and laughed when he ducked away from her.
“So, changing the subject, have you picked your piece yet?” She nodded towards the display case.
It was an old game they played – ever since the night he’d had dinner at his aunt’s house and Elizabeth convinced him to let her manage his business. Each of them would pick a piece of Neal’s work and, if it sold, would buy the other dinner. They were only allowed to upsell their chosen piece if it fell in line with what the customer wanted to buy.
“Yup. The Etruscan-style cross with the emeralds. You?” Neal placed the sketchbook and pencils off to the side.
“Hmm…” He watched Elizabeth study the case. “It’s Thursday, it’s going to be in the 90s today, so I’ll go with the citrine and red tourmaline earrings.”
Neal let out a bark of laughter. “That was very scientific.”
“So how’d you pick the cross, smartass?” She crossed her arms and cocked her hip.
“With my tried and true method, thank you very much.” Neal gave her an exaggerated bow.
“You closed your eyes and pointed, didn’t you.” Her tone was dry.
“Yes, yes I did.”
“Hey, it’s as accurate as your method!” he protested.
“Uh huh. Just so you know I’m in the mood for sushi this evening.” Elizabeth grinned. “So be prepared.”
“What a shame we’ll be eating steak tonight then.” Neal was about to tease her further when a customer stepped up to the booth and asked about ‘the gold cross with the emeralds’.
Flashing Elizabeth a grin, he got to work. He was determined to make this a good day.
Lunch with Aaron and Dov Hershkovitz was always entertaining, Peter thought as he watched his friends comment on the passersby. They were seated at an outdoor café on 67th Street enjoying the last of their bagels and lox. The two jewelers were comparing the pedestrians to gemstones.
“That one.” Aaron pointed to a middle-aged woman in a summer Chanel suit and two-inch heels. “That one is a sapphire.”
“Why a sapphire, Zayde?” Dov asked him with a grin and a wink at Peter.
“Because she is cold fire. And her mother in law is the diamond in the family. Look.” He waved towards the woman who was joined by an elderly dowager-looking lady with shopping bags. The younger took the bags and fell in behind in what was obviously a learned behavior. “You see?”
Peter chuckled. This was an old game they played but it never ceased to amuse him. “As always, Aaron, you are right.”
“Of course I am. But it’s kind of you to humor an old man.” He finished up his meal. “So what are we shopping for today, Peter?”
“Not sure. It’s kind of a ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ trip.” Peter motioned to the waitress for the check. Pulling out his wallet, he handed her a credit card.
“Ahh. And your lovely Diana will have to clean out the back storeroom again?”
“Yes, I warned her.” Peter smiled ruefully. “She’s not happy but she’ll survive.”
“Be careful, Peter. You don’t want to make her angry.” This was said with a chuckle and a knowing grin. “You might come to work and find all your pretty gems missing.”
“I’ll let you in on a secret, Aaron. Diana loves the stuff as much as I do.” Peter scribbled his signature on the receipt. “Honestly, the items we don’t resell at the shop in East Hampton usually wind up in her apartment.”
Dov stood up with a laugh. “That doesn’t surprise me at all. She’s as much of a hoarder as you. So where to first?”
“I’m in the mood for some interesting pieces to use for display,” Peter replied. “We’re getting in some rubies from India and I want to showcase them.”
“Still not buying from Burma?” Dov gestured for his grandfather to go before him.
“Not until they improve the working conditions in the mines.” Peter’s tone was short. “I may be missing out on some quality stones, but at least I can sleep well at night.”
The three men fell silent as they made their way through the crowd. Stopping by a booth, Peter found several handmade Indian-inspired shawls. He purchased several, refusing to rise to Dov’s teasing that he bought them as a peace offering for Diana.
“Tateleh, we are near your friend’s booth, no?” Aaron looked at his grandson with what Peter could only describe as a sly grin.
“Right around those tents. Peter, I hope you don’t mind, but I need to drop off an order to a designer friend of mine.”
“No problem, Dov. What’s he specialize in?” Peter took the package from the salesperson and followed his friend.
“Now, Peter…let it be a surprise. Truly though, his work is some of the best I’ve ever seen. You might be interested in selling some of his stuff, actually.” Dov’s voice was excited.
“We’ll see. You know I don’t just feature anyone. The work needs to suit the store.” Peter was very particular what and who he featured at The Dragon’s Hoard. It was one of the reasons they didn’t have a resident designer. Peter just hadn’t found one whose work truly spoke to him.
“Peter,” Dov stopped and faced him. “You’ve been buying from us for years. The little ones call you Dohd Peter. Trust me, okay?”
Peter hmmm’d noncommittally.
When they arrived at the booth, Peter had to admit that Dov was right. The pieces were magnificent. Purple, blue, red, green, pink, white - all the colors sparkled in the sunlight and made his head spin. He fought off the urge to storm the booth and scoop up everything so he could rush them off to his vault and admire them in private. Taking a deep breath and keeping his dragon at bay, he stepped to the side so Dov could conduct his business.
“Shalom, Elizabeth.” Dov greeted a beautiful brunette with deep blue eyes. If Peter leaned that way, he’d seriously consider asking her to dinner. “Is Neal around? I brought his emeralds.” Peter watched Dov dig into his pocket and pull out a white envelope.
“He’s next door chatting with Dmitri. Neal!” She called out.
“Coming!” The tent flap lifted and Peter found himself in the presence of the most beautiful man he had ever seen. Dark hair, thick and curling in the response to the early heat, with blue eyes that would put the most perfect aquamarine to shame; the young man had a smile on his face that was friendly and sensual at the same time. The young man was dressed in a pair of dark blue jeans that fitted his body perfectly and an off-white linen shirt, casually untucked. Peter’s cock stirred and for a moment his desire for the jewels in the case disappeared at the thought of taking this exquisite creature home with him instead.
“Dov!” The two men hugged. “How are you?”
“And you, Feter?” Neal’s voice was warm as he greeted Aaron with the honorific ‘uncle.’
“Eh, I’m old, what can you say?” Aaron shrugged. Peter grinned. It was a typical comment from the diamond merchant and no one took it to heart.
“I have your emeralds, Neal.” Dov handed him the envelope. “Mazal und brucha.” The two men shook hands, confirming the exchange.
Neal broke the seal on the envelope. Peter moved slightly closer, curious to see exactly what Dov had brought the other man. His breath caught - inside were two exquisitely matched marquise cut emeralds.
“They’re perfect, Dov. Thank you.” Neal held one up to the light and Peter desperately wanted to know what he had in store for such beautiful stones.
Dov seemed to have the same idea. “So, Neal, tell me. What do you plan to do with those?”
“They’re for a project I’m working on.” Peter noticed that Neal seemed to be hesitant to share.
“Show him, Neal.” Peter heard Elizabeth speak softly. He glanced over to her and saw that she was looking at Peter with a knowing smile on her face. He felt that the ‘him’ in her comment was directed at not at Dov but at him. Interesting. He turned back to see the younger man take a sketchbook from the table and flip through the pages.
“It’s just an idea, nothing is set yet.” Neal turned the book around so Dov and Aaron could see what was on the page.
Peter was stunned at what he saw. Dragons in repose, at play, at war, their eyes flashing, scales glittering. The detail was amazing. Somehow in that simple sketch, Neal had managed to capture the essence of what a dragon really was. A slight breeze ruffled the paper, making the dragons look like they were ready to take flight.
Peter felt a low buzzing at the base of his spine – a mix of excitement and need. If this was an example of Caffrey’s work…. Peter licked his lips in anticipation. Neal was what he’d been looking for. He stepped forward, the words slipping out before he could help himself.
“I want you.”
I want you.
Those words came from the man standing next to Dov. Tall, dark and handsome – Neal thought that the cliché fell far short of the truth. Brown hair, highlighted gold in the afternoon sun that made Neal want to run his hands through, broad shoulders that Neal wanted to touch, deep chocolate eyes that connected with him in a way that no one had done before. The man radiated power in his Armani suit. Neal wanted to know him, mentally and physically.
“Sorry, sorry.” The man had the grace to blush, which made him all the more endearing. “I meant for my store. I want you for my store.” Neal smiled as the man tripped over his words. “That didn’t come out right. Let me start over.”
The man held out his hand. “I’m Peter Burke. I own the Dragon’s Hoard. And if this is an example of your work, I want to hire you as my designer.”
Neal heard Elizabeth gasp softly and nudge him. They’d both heard about the fabled jewelry store. For years, Neal had tried to get an appointment with the owner – this man – but he’d never been successful. Now he was standing in front of Neal and offering him a job.
“Um…I’m Neal Caffrey.” Neal quickly shook Peter’s hand, secretly enjoying the firm grip and wondering what that hand would feel like squeezing his cock. Deep breath, Neal. He’s a potential employer. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, finally.”
“Finally?” Peter Burke raised an eyebrow in question. “Have you been trying to meet me?” His mouth quirked in a smile that Neal wanted to see on a regular basis.
It was Neal’s turn to blush. “When I first got into town about two years ago, I made the rounds of the specialty jewelry stores to see if anyone was hiring.” Neal shrugged. “The person I spoke to said you didn’t hire designers and that I was wasting my time.”
Peter frowned. “When was that approximately? And can you remember who you talked to?”
“Summer 2012, I think. And it was an older guy, blondish hair. Farrell…Faller...?”
“That’s it!” Neal nodded, remembering the man’s rudeness. “He made a comment about being escorted out of the store if I ever came back.”
Peter’s face darkened in anger and Neal swore that he saw smoke coming out of his nostrils. “I’m sorry about that. Garrett Fowler was a hire I made in error. A request from a friend. He no longer works for me. Please accept my apologies for the way you were treated.”
“It’s okay.” Neal had to admit he was a bit impressed with the formality of Peter’s tone. It reminded him of the books of fables and fairytales he used to read growing up. “No real harm done.”
“No, but it would have meant I could have had you two years earlier.” Peter ducked his head. “Wait, that didn’t come out right either.”
Neal had to laugh. “How about we talk about what you’re looking for.”
“Please?” Peter looked so relieved that Neal wanted to hug him.
They were interrupted by a smiling Dov. “Peter, if you’re going to talk business, then we are going to go.” Dov motioned to his grandfather. “Aaron and I have clients we need to meet this afternoon.” Neal watched as Dov pulled Peter close to him and whispered in his ear, patting his shoulder when he finished. “Neal, Elizabeth, Shalom. It was good to see you both.” The two diamond merchants departed, leaving Peter standing at the booth.
“Come around the display case and we can talk.” Neal gestured to the open area and waited as Peter squeezed through the gap between the tables and the storage containers. “Sorry about the clutter. I basically brought the kitchen sink, just in case.” He unfolded two chairs and set them up in the back. “Elizabeth, can you keep track of the front for a bit?”
“Of course.” Elizabeth had that gleam in her eye that told Neal she had an opinion and it wasn’t just going to be about the potential job offer.
Neal was immediately distracted as Peter sat down and crossed his legs, his Armani suit tugging in all the right places. He had a fleeting thought of climbing onto Peter’s lap and riding him. Focus! “So,” he said, trying to reel in his fantasy. “Tell me what you’re looking for.”
“I’m not sure, honestly. I’ve never had a resident designer before.”
“So why me?” Neal was curious. Peter’s comment about wanting him and then not ever having a resident designer made for intriguing possibilities.
“Because of your dragon sketch. It’s exactly what I want for The Dragon’s Hoard.” Peter waved at the storage containers. “Do you have any finished work like that?”
Neal’s gaze flickered over to the black case where his dragons were. He knew they were exactly what Peter was looking for but he still wasn’t sure about sharing them. He decided to stall and show Peter some other pieces while he considered.
“Let me show you some of the pieces that I didn’t put out yet, see if there’s anything you like.” Neal opened one of the storage cases and pulled out a cross section of styles. Peter examined each one, offering to purchase some, setting others back. They haggled over Neal’s latest design – an Art Deco pin, before Peter agreed to take it on consignment.
“These are perfect, Neal and I can move them fairly quickly, but it’s not exactly what I’m looking for,” Peter said, as Neal packaged up his purchases. Neal could hear the unspoken and you know it. at the end of his sentence.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Elizabeth – blatantly eavesdropping – point to the case and mouth, Show him.
“I may have a few other pieces you might be interested in.” Neal reached over and grabbed the case. Opening it, he pulled out the black velvet display board and set it on top of a tall storage unit. He felt Peter’s scrutiny as he debated on which dragons to show him. Taking a deep breath, he removed several velvet bags and closed the case, putting it at his feet. Neal shook the contents of the bags into his hand and placed them on the display board.
Three dragons were displayed – a Chinese dragon in gold, onyx and topaz twining sinuously around itself, a Greek Drákōn made of silver, emeralds and aquamarine that always put Neal in mind of the Aegean, and his favorite, a Welch dragon in gold and rubies. The sun captured the gold, silver and gemstones, splashing the colors on the side of the tent, bathing them in rainbow hues. Neal watched Peter’s expression shift from awe to admiration to – something else. Lust? Neal wasn’t sure, but a small part of him wanted to know what he needed to do to have Peter look at him that way. The thought made him shiver.
“How much?” Peter’s voice was rough and abrupt and it broke Neal from his musings.
“What?” Neal tried to catch up.
“I want to buy them. How much?” Peter pulled his wallet out from the pocket in his suit and retrieved a credit card.
“They’re not for sale.” There was no way Neal was going to sell his dragons.
“Why not?” Peter looked put out, like a little boy who was told he couldn’t have a cookie.
“Because they are just not.” Because they are too much a part of me.
“You can’t tease me like this, Neal. I’m serious.”
“So am I. They’re not for sale.” Neal began to gather up his dragons, but was stopped by Peter’s hand on his wrist. His grip felt hot. Neal was sure there would be marks when he let go.
“Okay. If you won’t sell them, would you at least let me display them in my store? As a teaser for promoting my new designer?” The smile on Peter’s face left Neal dazzled.
“I didn’t agree to work for you, yet.”
“No, but you will.” Neal half laughed at Peter’s certainty that he would come to work for Peter. “Come by the store tomorrow at nine and let me show you the operation. See if it suits you.”
Neal debated for a half-second before he said, “Okay. I’ll be there.”
“Good, Good.” Peter let go of Neal’s wrist and sat back. “Trust me, Neal. You won’t regret this.” Again, he exuded a power that sent a thrill down Neal’s spine. “I need to get back to the store or Diana will have my hide. You’ll get to meet her tomorrow. And don’t worry, she’s not as tough as she’ll seem.” Peter stood and shook his hand. Neal felt his breath as Peter leaned in. “I’m looking forward to this.”
As he watched Peter say goodbye to Elizabeth and head back to his store, Neal had to admire the man’s ass as he moved. He felt Elizabeth come up next to him.
“Well, that was interesting,” she said.
“Yeah.” Neal kept looking until he lost Peter in the crowd.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“I have no clue.” They were interrupted by several people asking about items in the case. Neal nudged Elizabeth and they went to work. They were busy enough that Neal only thought about Peter’s offer every other moment. And if he were being honest, he was thinking more about the man than the job.
Peter Burke was exactly his type. Tall, legs for days, deep brown eyes. He could see himself falling and falling fast and that scared him. Mentally, Neal squared his shoulders and told himself it was a job, just a job.
If only he could believe that.
“Shop’s locked up and today’s inventory has been checked in,” Diana said as she entered the penthouse and put her purse on the entrance table. Peter was seated at the oak table, a piece of jewelry in his hands. She saw several more items resting on a black velvet cloth. “So how much room is going to be left in the upper storeroom after today?” She grinned as Peter looked up from the piece he was holding.
“Quite a lot, actually.” His tone was a bit sheepish. “But we’re going to need to remodel the space in the back a bit.” He waved his hand for her to sit down.
“Peter, what did you do?” Diana sat and poured herself a glass of wine from the bottle on the table. She recognized his tone of voice - it usually meant lots more work for her and lots of money to be spent.
“I might have hired a designer today.”
“Excuse me?” It was a good thing she hadn’t taken a drink yet, because she would have managed the classic spit-take. “You did what?”
“I might have hired a designer today,” he repeated and damn her if Peter Burke wasn’t blushing.
“Okay, spill.” This should be good, she thought.
“Take a look at these.” Peter pulled the cloth towards her. Nestled in the black velvet were a set of earrings, a torque necklace and several bracelets. The colors shimmered under the soft lights of the apartment. Gold and silver, amethyst and topaz, emerald and rubies. Diana’s eyes darkened at the display in front of her.
She picked up the torque and felt an instant connection. The deep gold, etched in a knot-work pattern, ruby-eyed beasts at the tips, spoke to her in a way that hadn’t happened in a long time.
The earrings were a completely different theme altogether – their intricate silver and multicolored gemstone design put her in mind of a Jackson Pollack painting. Not her style, but she knew immediately which customer would buy them in a heartbeat.
“Ms. Meriwether would like these.” She held them up to her ear.
“That’s why I got them.” Peter held up one of the bracelets. Delicate silver links were interspersed with cabochons of black opal that were almost purple in their hue. “And this one as a teaser for Mrs. Neidermeyer while we get her commission ready.”
“That’s beautiful.” They all were, Diana thought. And better than the independent designers they had worked with recently. “And all sellable.”
“We can move them fairly quickly, definitely.”
“What’s the last one?” Peter hadn’t let her see it yet, which usually meant he was on the fence about selling it.
He handed her the piece in his hand. It was a brooch in an Art Deco design and it took her breath away. The centerpiece was a young girl surrounded by flowers. Diana held it to the light, marveling at the interweave of the different colors of gold – rose, white, yellow, red – and the sparkle of the gems.
“This is incredible.” She peered closer. “Oh my god, he even set the eyes. Is that sapphire?”
“Yep.” She could hear the satisfaction in Peter’s voice. “With a tiny bit of onyx. Plus an interesting cut of ruby for the lips.”
“Dov’s work.” Diana tilted the pin just so she could see the play of light and color. “Peter, this is fantastic. I’ve never seen this much detail in a piece this size before. And he let you buy it?” She looked up to see Peter with a look on his face that she never liked. “How much?”
“I offered fifty outright. And no, he didn’t let me buy it – it’s on commission.” Peter ran a hand through his hair. “More of a consolation for the pieces that he wouldn’t sell me.”
“He has better?” Diana raised her eyebrow in skepticism.
“He has dragons.” Peter stood up and started pacing. Diana could feel the excitement radiating off of him. “Diana they are…” He paused, and she could see him searching for the right description. “…alive.” The words spilled out, tumbling over themselves.
“I’ve never seen anything like them before. The detail was – I don’t know – incredible is too simple a word for it. The scales, the faces, the stones he used. And all different kinds. He had a Chinese dragon, a Greek Drákōn – even a Y Ddraig Goch that I swear looked like my grandfather.”
He slid back into his chair and waved at the pin in her hand. “Compared to them, that piece is like something you’d find in a gum machine.” Grinning at her, his eyes flashing gold, he said softly. “He gets it, Di.”
Diana was silent, watching Peter vibrate. His skin started to take on a subtle sheen, his face elongating slightly. She was amazed. Peter rarely lost control like this – only when he was angry, excited, or aroused.
“What’s his name?” Diana needed to get her boss back on track. She planned on doing some research when she got home. She wanted to get a handle on this person that had Peter so worked up.
“Neal Caffrey. He’s a friend of Dov’s who’s presenting at the Festival. He’s meeting me at the store tomorrow at nine.”
“Okay – what did you promise him?” Better to know now what Peter had discussed than be blindsided in the morning.
Peter rubbed the back of his neck. “Actually, not much.” And there was the blush again. “I…might have told him that I wanted him.”
“He had a sketchbook and flipped it open to a design he was working on – a desk set – and I might have told him I wanted him…”
Diana listened as Peter explained what had happened this afternoon. The desk set, the jeweled dragons, the offer to work as The Dragon’s Hoard’s exclusive designer. His motions were animated and he kept grinning like a dragon with a new gemstone. Finally, he wound down and took a sip of wine.
“Okay, so let me make sure I have this. You met him, saw his work, made an inappropriate comment and offered him a job.” She shook her head as Peter nodded. “And he didn’t run away screaming.”
“No, thank god.” Peter met her eyes. “He needs to come and work for us, Diana. He’s beyond talented.”
A waft of scent trickled past Diana’s nostrils. Smoky, with a touch of burnt cinnamon sugar. She sniffed deeper and quietly chuckled. Peter was presenting, whether he realized it or not. This Neal Caffrey had aroused more than the dragon’s desire for gems and beauty – he’d roused the physical dragon as well. Tomorrow should be very interesting.
“So tomorrow at nine at the store. And it’s my job to make sure he says yes.” She gathered the jewelry and placed it in front of Peter.
“Our job.” Peter sounded relieved as he relaxed in his chair. “And I promise I’ll watch what I say.”
“Good idea.” Diana stood and took the wine glasses to the kitchen. When she returned, Peter was wrapping up the pieces. Diana noticed he left the torque out. “You forgot one.” She held it up for him.
“No, I didn’t. That one I got for you.”
“Aww – you do love me.” She smiled as she put the torque around her neck and settled it.
“Never said I didn’t. Think of it as a thank you in advance for the renovations you’re going to have to do.” Peter hugged her.
“That works.” She picked up her bag. “Okay, Boss, I’m headed out. See you in the morning.”
Later driving home, Diana thought about her discussion with Peter and shivered. For all his excitement, she wondered if, for the first time, Peter Burke wasn’t getting in over his head.
The apartment was redolent with the smell of garlic, oregano and onions. Neal sniffed appreciatively as he considered the subtle shades of blue pencils in his collection. He wanted to use a Swiss blue topaz for the eye of the Wyvern he was creating, but he wasn’t sure how deep of a blue he wanted it to be.
“Dinner’s ready, just so you know.” Elizabeth popped her head out of the kitchen. “Pick out the wine if you want some.”
Sighing, Neal closed his sketchbook and moved his supplies off to the side of the dining room table. The dragon’s eye would just have to wait until after dinner. Standing, he stretched, wincing at the tightness in his shoulders, before crouching down to inspect their small cache of reds. Grabbing a Sangiovese, he uncorked it and placed it on the table as Elizabeth came in holding two plates of spaghetti Bolognese.
“Can you grab the salad and the bread?” She nodded at the kitchen.
“Sure.” Neal did as she asked and placed the salad bowl and bread in the middle of the table. “Smells great, El. Thanks for cooking.”
“If I didn’t cook, you wouldn’t eat,” she replied as she sat down.
“True enough.” Neal chuckled. She was right. If it weren’t for Elizabeth’s cooking, he would starve. He served her some salad and broke off the end of the bread, slathering it in the homemade garlic butter. Taking a bite of the spaghetti, he groaned. “God, El, this is fantastic.”
“New recipe. Glad you like it.” She wrapped spaghetti around her fork. “Yup, pretty good.” They ate in silence for a while. “So,” Elizabeth began. “You decided about the job yet?”
“I don’t know, El.” Neal pushed his empty plate away and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s almost too perfect, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah. Exclusive designer for The Dragon’s Hoard, having free rein in designing what you want, smokin’ hot boss that wants to jump your bones, what’s not to love about it?” She grinned when he glared at her. “What? You know I’m right. Peter Burke was practically salivating over you and it wasn’t just because of your designs.”
“Whatever.” Neal could feel the blush creeping up his neck. He knew Elizabeth was right. The way Peter Burke looked at him – like Neal was some sort of gift that he wanted to unwrap – sent shivers down his spine even now.
“Admit it. You thought he was hot.” Elizabeth sopped up the sauce with her garlic bread. “I’d fuck him if he played for my team.”
“El!” Neal looked askance at her. The things she said sometimes.
“Oh come on. You didn’t even once consider making a move on him?” She bit off the end of her bread and grinned at him while she was chewing.
“Okay, fine. Yes he was hot and yes, I would definitely go there. Except for one thing. He may wind up being my boss.” Neal poured himself a refill.
“That just means he’ll be close at hand for some hot desk sex.” She held out her glass for him to top off.
“Would you stop!” He shook his head. Elizabeth was incorrigible when she got this way.
“Hey. I just want you to be happy.” Taking a drink, she set her glass down and reached out for Neal’s hand. “Seriously, he’s handsome, smart, well-off and most of all, he connected with you.” She waved her other hand around to encompass the apartment. “And he’ll get this – I can feel it.”
Neal looked around his space and acknowledged that again, Elizabeth was right. His apartment was covered in dragons. Books on dragon history and lore, artwork of all kinds – tapestries, prints, sculptures – all were spread out throughout the rooms. He even had some cute stuffed animals that Elizabeth got him as a gag gift ‘to snuggle with’.
Neal’s eyes fell on the framed print of Raphael’s Saint George and the Dragon hanging over his sofa. It was his favorite of his entire collection. He felt Elizabeth come up behind him and wrap her arms around his shoulders.
“You’re thinking about your mom?” She pressed a kiss to his head.
“Yeah.” Neal leaned back. “Remember when we saved up all our money to order that print for her?”
“Yeah. She was so thrilled.” Elizabeth let go and began clearing the table.
“She named me after that painting. Didn’t know if you knew that.” Neal rose and grabbed his plate. “My middle name.”
“Really? I don’t think I remember you telling me that before.” Elizabeth scraped the plates into the trash and filled the dishwasher.
“Yeah. Raphael was her favorite. So that’s how I got ‘George’.” Putting the leftovers into the fridge, he straightened with a grin. “When I was little I thought that Raphael was a friend of hers and he painted that just for me.” He chuckled. “I was so disappointed when I found out it was done in the fifteen hundreds.”
“Neal, I’m crushed.” Elizabeth put a hand to her chest in mock anger. “Here I am – family – and probably your best friend and you never shared that story with me.”
“Sorry…it was just something between me and mom, I guess.” The ache of missing his mother never seemed to ease and he knew his face showed it when Elizabeth wrapped her arms around him.
“Oh honey, it’s okay.” She hugged him again. “I didn’t mean to make you sad.”
“You didn’t.” Neal stayed in her arms, regaining his composure, before breaking away with a small smile. “I just miss her, you know?”
“Yeah, I know. I do too.” She squeezed his shoulder. “She would have been so proud of you.”
“I hope so.” Neal sighed and shook off the melancholy.
“She would. She always wanted you to do what you loved and this is it. And speaking of doing what you love, it’s my turn. We’ve got to figure out what you’re going to wear to snag the job and the boss.” Elizabeth picked up their wine glasses and headed toward his bedroom.
Neal chuckled. Snagging another bottle of wine, he followed her. Something told him this was going to be a late night.
The alarm drove splinters of sound into Neal’s brain. Groaning, he rolled over and hit the off button, cursing Elizabeth’s insane need to touch every single item in his closet as they decided what he should wear. And of course his fashion show had to be accompanied by more than one bottle of wine. By the time they were finished, his room looked like Fashion Week had vomited wool and silk over every surface and they were curled up on his bed, tipsy and giggling.
Struggling out from the tangle of covers, he staggered to the shower to wake up and greet the day. The pounding of the hot water started his transformation back to being human. The two cups of Italian Roast and a dose of Advil that followed managed to take the edge off what would have been a blinding headache.
Neal leaned against the kitchen counter and looked at the clock as he finished the rest of his coffee. Seven forty-five a.m. He had a little over an hour to finish getting ready before heading downtown to meet with Peter.
His cell phone rang – Elizabeth’s ringtone. He chuckled, completely unsurprised that she was calling.
“Good morning, gorgeous.” He put his cup in the sink and headed to his bedroom to get dressed.
“I completely hate you right now.” Elizabeth’s voice was hoarse. “Why did you make me drink that last bottle of wine?”
“I didn’t make you do anything.” Neal grinned as he pulled out a pair of black ManSilk boxer briefs from his drawer. “You did that all on your own.”
“I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck,” Elizabeth whined. “Make it go away, Neal.”
“Advil, lots of water and go back to sleep. I’ll swing by after my meeting with Peter to check on you.” He tucked the phone under his chin while he found his socks and shoes.
“Bring me hot and sour soup from Ling’s when you come? Please? It’s the only thing that sounds good.” Elizabeth used her puppy dog voice – the one that Neal could never say no to.
“Yes, dear. Anything else?”
“A sledgehammer to put me out of my misery?” Somehow Elizabeth managed to put pitiful and hopeful in her tone.
“Aww, poor baby. Go take something and go back to bed. I’ll let myself in when I come over.” Tossing the items on the bed, Neal gathered the black pants and thin cashmere sweater they’d chosen last night and placed them next to his underwear and socks.
“Okay.” Neal heard the bathroom faucet turn on and the rattling of a medicine bottle. “You’re wearing what we picked out, right?”
“Yeah, have it on the bed as we speak. Putting you on speaker so I can get dressed.” Neal clicked the button and placed the phone on his nightstand. “I grabbed the black Ferregamo loafers,” he said as he pulled off the bath towel that was around his waist and began to get ready.
“Perfect. You will look so hot that Peter Burke won’t know what to do with himself.” He heard her laugh then moan. “Ouch. Okay, I’m going back to bed to die. Don’t forget my soup.”
“I won’t. See you soon.” Neal reached over and clicked the off button. Dressing quickly, he made a trip to the bathroom to tweak his hair and put on cologne. Slipping on his shoes, he paused by the standing mirror in his bedroom for a final once over. Shoes polished. Check. Zipper up. Check. Collar even. Check. Now all he needed was his case of jewelry and his sketch books.
Neal placed the case on the dining room table and opened it. Choosing the pieces he wanted to show Peter was easy. The dragons, naturally. Peter wanted them as an exhibition case to introduce him as The Dragon’s Hoard’s resident designer. Neal picked his favorites – the Welsh Y Ddraig Goch that Peter had admired, a Japanese dragon made of sapphire and topaz, and a zmey with emerald and black opal scales – as well as a smaller wyvern set in amethyst and gold.
He added an Etruscan-inspired necklace in gold and amber, an Egyptian armband in the shape of a snake with ruby eyes and another Celtic torque, this time with amethyst and diamonds. Rounding out his choices were several pieces of Renaissance-style jewelry in pearls and garnet as well as several silver and gold necklaces and bracelets inspired by the crown of the Chrysler building.
Placing the sketchbooks in with the pieces, Neal closed the case and called the cab service. Headed into the kitchen for another cup of coffee, he thought about his upcoming meeting with Peter Burke.
The man was flat out gorgeous which was going to make today’s meeting difficult. Neal’s mind conjured up the image of Peter at the booth. Long legs, broad shoulders, strong hands. A flash of those hands holding his hips down as Peter’s tongue swirled around the head of his cock made Neal instantly hard. He closed his eyes and cupped himself, leisurely squeezing his prick as he pictured the two of them, sweaty and aroused, Peter fucking into him, hitting the right spots.
The honk of a horn startled him from his reverie. His cab was here. Neal adjusted himself, hoping that his erection would subside by the time he arrived at The Dragon’s Hoard. Exiting the house and locking the door behind him, he entered the cab and gave the driver the address.
Leaning back against the seat, he felt excitement bubble up in his chest. But the question was – was it for the job or the man? Either way, Neal had an unsettling feeling that his life was about to change.