The bolded line that grabbed his eye and refused to let go was from Blay Lock, and the subject read Follow-up.

It had come in about an hour after Saxton had left the mansion the night before, but he hadn’t been able to open the thing at home. Just the sight of the name made his loneliness condense into an ice-cold spear that nailed him square in the chest—and indeed, he would have much preferred to move the thing into junk mail and pretend he’d never received it. Avoiding his duty unto the law, however, was not an option, not even with his emotions tangled and twisted into this heartache he was so used to—and Blay was clearly seeking a legal opinion on whatever it was.


Calling the message up, it took him a minute to focus on the words that had been typed, and then the first thing he noticed was that there were no spelling mistakes, no grammatical issues, and perfect punctuation within the sentences. But that was Blay. He was a measured and methodical kind of male, who liked to do things properly and to their completion. And sure enough, the way he presented the facts and made the request was logical, respectful…

Saxton frowned as he read the five short paragraphs again.

And then once more.

Evidently, Blay’s parents had moved a number of months ago into a house in a human development out on the very edge of suburbia. Saxton had never been there, of course, as that had been after his time, but he had overheard Blay tell folks that it was beautiful, with a pond out in the back, and a porch, and lots of room. His mahmen was not totally in love with the place, because it was too new, but she was adjusting.

The problem concerned a neighbor of his parents’, an older female who resided on the large tract of land next to the neighborhood. Human developers who were acquiring acreage in the area were pressuring the female to sell her property to them so they could continue to expand and build a golf course and country club complex. But she didn’t want to leave. She was living in the farmhouse that she and her mate had constructed back in the late 1800s and it was all she had left of him and their lives together. According to Blay, she didn’t have too many years left, maybe only a decade or so, and her only wish was to stay where she was. Her granddaughter was worried about her safety, though.

The humans were banging on the door in the daylight hours, harassing her on the phone and through the mail, and sending her packages with threatening papers in them. It had been going on for a good six months and seemed to be escalating, in spite of the fact that the female had made it clear she wasn’t going to move. Blay’s father, Rocke, had even gone over to try to intercede one evening, chasing off a car, but nothing seemed to get through to the humans.

Saxton shook his head. It wasn’t like the female or her family could go to the human police: Hi, I don’t exist in your world technically, but I am bound by your property laws and am having some trouble with trespassers. Can you help me out?

Oh, and don’t mind my fangs.

He could only imagine how worried the family was. Older female, alone, human agitators tormenting her while all she was trying to do was spend the last remaining years she had in peace.

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And there was no telling where this would stop.

Humans were a lesser species, for certain. But they could be deadly.

As Saxton began to form a plan in his head, he tried to ignore the fact that his sense of purpose was contaminated by an irrational desire to be indispensable to Blay; to solve this problem, not just because it was his job, but because it might impress his former lover.

Which, naturally, in this fantasy hypothetical, led to Blay breaking off his bonded relationship with Qhuinn, leaving those two beautiful young behind, and volunteering to run away from Caldwell with Saxton.

Yes, all of that would come from one, perfectly modulated return email.

Well, that and successfully running off those thugs from the male’s parents’ neighbor.

As he rolled his eyes at himself, he started typing.

Romantic delusions aside, he was going to take this to Wrath and see what could be done. At the very least, he could do right by that defenseless older female, and there was consolation in that.

After he hit send, he swiveled around and pulled the venetian blinds up high enough so that he could see out to the snowy landscape. Everything had a thick layer of powder on it, the day having been cold, according to the human online weather reports. In the glow from the other stately homes, the landscape fluoresced blue.

Loneliness was just like winter, he decided. Cold and pervasive, trapping you inside your own head because what was outside was so inhospitable.

Was he never going to be warm again?

About three blocks over, in another mansion of similar size and distinction, though of Tudor, not Federal, style, Peyton stepped out of his shower and reached for a monogrammed towel. As he dried himself off, the air in his bathroom was so thick with steam, it was like being in a fogbank, the mirrors veiled with moisture, every breath as much water as it was oxygen, his skin tingling from the heat.

He’d just gotten home from the training center, the bus having dropped the lot of them off at a strip mall a couple of miles away, and he had an hour before he was supposed to be downtown in the field with the Brotherhood. He was hungry, hungover, and tired to the point of exhaustion—and that shower hadn’t done shit to fix any of that.

And then there was his other little issue.

“Goddamn it.”

With a series of nasty jerks, he wadded up the damp towel and threw it as hard as he could across the marble expanse. And then he just stood there, buck-ass naked, his feet planted on the heated floor, his hands locked on his hips so he didn’t start trashing the place.

That…whatever it had been…in the PT room with Novo refused to go away. Every time he blinked, he saw her lying back on that table, her eyes closed, her face as composed as a fucking corpse’s. And the visuals weren’t the worst of it. That cynical, hard voice of hers kept banging around his head, mocking him, calling him out, making him feel like a fool.

After he’d left her, he’d gone to the break room, polished off the last of the vodka, and then headed three doors down to crash in a vacant inpatient bed. Throughout the day, the muffled screams of that psychotic male patient had warred with nightmares that involved Peyton being unclothed and in the midst of stinging wasps. Both had kept waking him up, and it was a toss-up as to which was worse.

When it had finally become dark enough for the bus to depart, he had sat right in front, in the first row of seats—because Novo was always toward the rear. And during the entire trip back toward town, he had been aware of her presence, sure as if her body were a beacon. But he hadn’t heard her say one word.

The good news? He’d been so preoccupied that he’d barely given the mess with Paradise a second thought.

And now he was here, trying to get his head to calm the hell down so he didn’t get himself killed when he went out to engage with the enemy—

The knock on his outer bedroom door was discreet, which told him who it was. Fucking great. “Yes,” he snapped.

The doggen on the other side spoke in a haughty, well-modulated tone. “My Lord, forgive me. But your father wishes for an audience prior to your departure.”

Okay, so one, the butler wasn’t asking for forgiveness, at all. And two, this was a direct order. There was no fucking “wish” involved.

Peyton put his hands on the sink counter and braced his weight on his arms. “Did he say why?” he gritted. “I don’t have a lot of time.”

This was both true and not the point. The only thing guaranteed to make his head fuck worse than it already was? A royal summons from Daddy-o, the agenda of which was either Peyton’s drinking or his drug use. These command performances had been a fairly regular occurrence over the past few years, and they always went sooooooooo well.

And come on. He had been a lot better since he had joined the training program. Well, at least until his cousin Allishon’s murder. He’d fallen off the wagon since then, but who could blame him? He was the one who’d gone to her apartment and seen all of the bloodstains. And yeah, sure, fine, the fact that he was sweating out last night’s vodka at the moment didn’t bode well if he was hoping for a pass on the addiction front—or an at least partially credible counter-argument.

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