39 | Minor Mistruths

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He put on a brave face and gave the scheming businessman a smile as they shook hands. "I certainly wouldn't have let her leave me behind for this, sir."

"How many times have I told you to call me Amir?" Chuckling, he motioned to the seat next to him. "Please, sit. Can I get you a drink?"

In their early days of friendship, Blair had been quick to inform him on a certain part of Iranian culture: the tarroff. If you were offered something, you were to decline politely. Apparently this went on for a few rounds, and once you were sure it was no trouble for your host -- or that the offer was genuine -- you could accept. Needless to say, he didn't understand why anyone would want to go through all of that, but he hadn't questioned it. By now, he had art of tarroff-ing pretty much down.

"No, thank you," he replied with a shake of the head. "I'm fine."

"Please, I insist."

Since he wasn't Iranian and hadn't been born with the inherent ability to tell whether someone was just being polite or truly offering, he declined again for safe measure. The worst thing he could do at the moment was piss off Amir; it would have ended everything on the spot.

Fortunately, Amir waved a hand in the universal "it's no trouble" sign, and before Sebastian could protest again, a glass of Scotch was shoved in his direction.

A silence passed between them as Blair's father plucked a cigar from a mahogany box on the coffee table and slipped a lighter out of the breast pocket of his finely tailored suit. As he lit up, Sebastian took the opportunity to study the older man carefully.

There was no denying that Amir Bakhtiar was a foreboding man. At six-foot-two with the build of a former athlete, his broad frame was intimidating to be sure, but it was his gaze that usually convinced people to keep their distance. He and his nephew shared the same seafoam green eyes -- a color that had somehow passed Blair over -- but unlike with Khalid's, there was no warmth in Amir's gaze. It had taken years for Sebastian to work up the nerve to look the man in the eye for more than a few seconds, and even today he couldn't bring himself to hold his stare for too long.

"I must say," Amir said a moment later, smoke curling past his lips as he exhaled, "I wasn't expecting to see you here. These things aren't the most entertaining events, and even less so for an -- excuse me for being blunt -- outsider." He shifted his hard gaze away from his cigar and let it settle on Sebastian, a challenge present. "Please take no offense, for it's only the truth. I'm sure it can't be fun being the only non-Persian in the room."

Sebastian had to confess that he did occasionally feel out of place, but it had never been enough to make him want to run away. However, he knew Amir's statement hadn't been meant as a dig, but as a subtle inquiry into whether or not he was cut out for a lifetime of mehmooni and Persian culture.

The truth was that he definitely was not. While he enjoyed the food, the music, and the people, he knew that there was still more to the culture than he would ever fully comprehend, which was bound to make him an outsider forever. That was certainly one reason he and Blair never would have made it.

But he wasn't here to say that.

"Honestly, I enjoy it," he lied, gently swilling the Scotch in his glass. "I mean, really, who could turn down a night of food and family? Emphasis on the food."

"Ah, yes. Our women certainly know how to put together a meal. Now, if only my daughter would show an interest in learning." Amir raised the cigar to his lips once more, but hesitated before taking another puff. "Not that it would really matter if she wants to or not. It is a skill a woman must have if she plans to ever find and keep a husband."

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