Goddamn it, she wished the wind would change direction—

The pair of humans or slayers or whatever they were turned and walked back in the direction they had come from, re-rounding the corner.

As John Matthew elbowed her, she nodded at him.

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And the hunt was on.

As Saxton concluded his presentation to the King, he fell silent and waited with patience for the response.

The Audience Room, which had been the mansion’s formal dining room, was empty but for the two of them, the setup of armchairs by the fire vacant, and so, too, the lineup of extra seats that could be brought into a circle as needed. Off to the side, the desk that Saxton used was ready for the night, his orderly row of folders, a legal pad, and several of his pens everything he needed.

Wrath paced around the empty space, the footfalls of his shitkickers muffled by an Oriental rug that was big enough to carpet a Target parking lot. George, his seeing-eye dog, was off halter, but still on the clock, the golden retriever following at his master’s heels, his big, boxy head and ruffled, triangle ears cocked and at an angle as if he were wondering if he needed to intervene in the event the course changed.

“Can’t we just kill the developers who are harassing that old female,” Wrath muttered as he stopped under a crystal chandelier that could have doubled as a galaxy. “I mean, it would be so much more fucking efficient.”

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Yes, Saxton thought. He’d assumed this would be the first response, and in fact, the King was completely capable of calling a Brother and sending them over with a loaded gun rightthisminute even though it was murder. Then again, Wrath didn’t particularly care for humans even though his Queen had their blood in her. And actually, the first couple of times this kind of expedient solution to a Homo sapiens problem had been suggested by the King, Saxton had waffled on whether it was a joke. Then he’d been dumbfounded to have to talk the male out of it.

Now, this was old hat.

“There is merit to that, certainly.” Saxton bowed in spite of the fact that Wrath couldn’t see him. “But perhaps my Lord would consider, at least initially, a more measured approach. Something with more diplomacy, and fewer bullets.”

“You are such a buzzkill.” But Wrath smiled. “My mahmen and father would have approved of you. They were peacekeepers, too.”

“In this instance, it is not for peace, but rather a lack of complication from human law enforcement that would be the goal.”

“Fine. What do you want to do?”

“I thought perhaps I would go out and talk to the female to make sure her documents are in order with regard to ownership in the human world. And then thereafter, I would intercede on her behalf with the humans and try to get them to desist with the harassment. With it being wintertime, I can do both prior to the audiences starting here as there is plenty of darkness.”

“I don’t want you out there alone.”

“We have no indication these humans are truly dangerous. And besides, I have lived quite readily without—”

“I’m sorry, what? Are you talking? I’m hearing this noise in the background.” When Saxton fell quiet, Wrath nodded. “Yeah, I didn’t think you were going to argue with me. You and Abalone are the only outsiders I trust with what I’m doing here. So no, I’m not rolling the dice with your life. Aside from the fact that I can actually stand to be around you ten hours a night, every night—which is a fucking miracle—there is the pesky detail that you know what the fuck you’re doing.”

Saxton bowed again. “You are most complimentary. I respectfully disagree with you about the hazard I may face, however, and—”

“You’re going to do as I say.” Wrath clapped his hands. “Great. I love it when we agree like this.”

Saxton blinked. And then cleared his throat. “Yes, my Lord. Of course.” He paused to choose his words with care. “I would just like to note, however, that the Brotherhood and the trainees are best used for guarding you here and being out in the field downtown. And if they’re not on rotation, they are taking a much needed break for recovery. In terms of resource allocation, guarding me is of very low priority.”

There was a brief silence. “I know who will do it. And we’re finished with this, you and I.”

As the King stared down from that great height of his, those black brows low behind the wraparounds, his incredible size dwarfing even the grand room, Saxton knew that, indeed, the discourse ended here. For all the collaborative work they did with the civilians, it was best never to forget that the male was a cold-blooded killer, well-versed first in the art and horror of war before he ever sat upon the throne.

“As you wish, my Lord.”

As Ruhn walked up the Audience House’s cleared front pathway, he burrowed into his old wool peacoat. He hadn’t bothered with gloves when he’d left the Brotherhood’s mansion, and inside the pockets, his hands were sweaty in the clenched fists he made.

Stopping at the top of the steps that led to the entrance, he couldn’t help but remember the first time he had arrived at the gracious antique house.

He had come in search of his niece, Bitty, after he’d heard about a Facebook posting about his sister, who had passed. Back then, he had stood before these great doors with little hope, but much desperation, his long quest for news concerning his blooded relations presenting him with a new turn in what had otherwise been a barren, sad journey.

To what ultimate end, he had not known. In fact, however, it had proved to be one blessing after another, the sum total nothing short of a miraculous run of good fortune, fellowship, and generosity.

But perhaps that was all over now, and he had been expecting such a reversal. Sooner or later, the natural order of balance had to be brought to bear, and that meant that all of this must inevitably shift back, somehow.

An official summons to the Audience House by the King? What else could it be other than bad news?

And actually, he suspected he knew what this was about—

The door opened wide and the Brother Qhuinn stood to one side. “Wassup. You need something?”

Ruhn bowed low. “Forgive me. I have been summoned. Is this about the shoveling?”

“What?”

“The snow?”

As the two of them stared at each other—like both were hoping a translator would step in and clear up the confusion—Saxton, the King’s lawyer, emerged from the Audience Hall along with a civilian male and female. The attorney was speaking in his usual calm and aristocratic manner.

“—you will receive an email from me detailing the remedies, and explaining the ramifications as to your cause of action—”

Saxton stopped short the second he saw Ruhn. And then his eyes did a quick up-and-down, as one would if they were sizing up an undesirable.

The male cleared his throat. “Greetings. Would you be so kind as to go in now? His Lordship is waiting for you, and I’ll join you both in a moment?”

Ruhn looked at the couple. The Brother Qhuinn. And then took a quick glance behind himself at all the Absolutely No One Else behind him.

All right. Clearly, he was the one being addressed here.

He bowed to the solicitor. “But of course. Thank you.”

Stepping through the tremendous crowd of people in the foyer—okay, fine, there were only four plus himself, in a space that was big enough to park eight cars in, but holy hell, he felt as though there was no room to breathe—Ruhn entered the great Audience Hall on quiet feet.

The King sensed his presence immediately, the great ruler straightening from a water bowl he was putting down by the fire for his dog.

As George gave a wag and then started in for his drink, the King looked directly at Ruhn even though Wrath was sightless.

“Hey.” The ruler of all vampires indicated one of the armchairs by the fire without turning his head that way. “Sit.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

Ruhn bowed low and then hustled across the great patterned carpet. As he lowered himself into the armchair, he tried not to put all of his weight down too fast. He was well aware of his size, and the last thing he wanted to do was break the thing.

“So how you been?”

Ruhn fidgeted as the King came over. “I beg your pardon?”

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