Innocent - Roe Horvat



“I saw the invitation.” His omega dad was a head shorter than Zana, but when he braced his hands on the breakfast table and glared at him, Zana felt like a little boy all over again.

“What invitation?” With some effort, he managed to keep a neutral face.

“Why are you going to the Taheri’s palace again? I thought you were a man of integrity. And now you’re doing business with Sajid Taheri? Have you gone mad?”

“I’m not doing business with Sajid, Baba.”

It felt strange to keep a secret from his dear baba, and Zana suspected he wouldn’t be able to do it for long. His omega dad had always been too perceptive.

“Then what are you doing there? People are talking about it already. The man is a snake, Zana.”

“It’s nothing bad, Baba. You don’t have to worry.”

Frowning, his baba leaned in closer. When his gaze changed from stern to sympathetic, Zana knew that resistance would be pointless.

“Please talk to me. What’s going on? I’m happy you’re here with us. You know I am. But what about your work in Dalton City? You were supposed to fly there tomorrow, and now you’ve postponed it again. And you’re so withdrawn these days. Something’s bothering you.”

It was time to say it out loud. With a deep sigh, Zana clasped his baba’s hand. “Baba, I think I found the right man for me.”

His baba’s eyes widened in surprise. He swayed and grabbed the table for support. Then he fumbled for the chair and sat down, nearly missing it. “Here?” He breathed the word out.

Zana smiled. He had surprised himself; of course his baba would be astonished. “Yes. Here.” He kept his voice mild and held his baba’s gaze.

“Javad.” His baba called the name loudly without looking away. “Dear, please come here.”

Within three seconds, Zana’s alpha father appeared in the doorway, his thin face slack with surprise. “Yes? What is it?”

“Speak, Zana,” his baba prompted.

Zana looked from one parent to the other. “I found a man, and I’m sure he’s the right one for me. I want to claim him and marry him next year. His name is Navid Taheri.”

His father scowled. “Sajid’s son?”

Zana had expected the reaction, and it didn’t worry him much. As soon as his parents met Navid, they’d understand.

“Yes. The youngest. He’s seventeen, so I know I’ll have to wait. But I’m sure I want him and not anybody else.”

His baba searched his face for a moment, his features morphing from confusion to apprehension. “Be careful, Zana.” He wasn’t as quick to get angry as his alpha father, who had a good heart but a notoriously short fuse.

Javad Massoud stepped into the room and sat down next to his husband. “Don’t let them fool you, son. They will lure you in with pretty young eyes, and before you know it, Sajid is using you to advance his businesses. And the boy is only seventeen? You can’t be serious.”

Zana flashed his father a sly look. “You were both eighteen when you got married. Was it a mistake?”

Javad opened his mouth to protest, but his husband laid his hand over his on the table, silencing him. “Let him explain, dear.”

“I know you worry,” Zana said. “And I love you both for it. But this time, you’re underestimating me. I intend to use Sajid. If he believes I’ll invest in his undertakings, he’ll promise me Navid. I want to wait one more year. I’ll travel here every other month, meet Navid as often as possible, and claim him next summer. I need to keep Sajid on my side until then. I might invest some insignificant sum here and there in his minor projects in the city, only to keep him motivated. As soon as Navid is mine, I’ll sever all business ties with the Taheris.”

His baba shook his head, smiling. “You’re no son of mine, Zana Massoud. You’re a changeling. Such intrigues.”

Laughing, Zana kissed his baba’s cheek. “In this case, it’s for a good cause.” Then he grew serious. He needed to explain. “If you met Navid, you’d understand. He has this unspoiled trust in goodness. It makes me ache. I want to keep him safe. I want to protect him from disappointment and bitterness and preserve his innocence because it makes the world a better place. He’s beautiful, inside and out. I wonder how it’s even possible that a boy like him could have grown up in the pit of worms that’s Taheri’s palace. I need to get him out of there.”

“Sajid’s husband is a