Just because he found the male attractive did not mean that regard was mutual.

Still, there had been an undeniable trickle-down effect, a gnawing, restless energy that had ultimately taken him into his contacts list and through the entries of males and human men that he had availed himself of from time to time. Most of them were acquaintances, individuals he met at clubs or parties, and he never asked about their couple status. All he cared about, as did they, was that they could fuck well.

Not to put it too bluntly.

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And the fact that he had chosen one with dark hair and a big, strong body? He supposed he could look at it as a sign of improvement. At least it hadn’t been a redhead. Somehow, though, it was hard to be encouraged by the fact that he had traded one male he couldn’t have for another.

“Enough,” he said aloud.

Shifting his legs out from the satin sheets, he sent himself toward the bath, the subtle aches and click to his hip the kind of things he was used to after a day like the one he’d had—and he tried not to think of Blay and the past. Back when he had been with that male, the aftermath of the sex had been more about the warmth in the center of his chest and the side smile that had come unto him whenever he had thought about his love.

What he was experiencing now was nothing more than the mechanical residual of unaccustomed exercise.

As he entered the marble enclave, he kept the lights over the sinks off for a number of reasons, the main one being that the glow from the urban landscape provided him with more than enough illumination. And he also didn’t want to look at himself in all the mirrors.

He took four Motrin as he waited for the hot water to get running in the shower.

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Stepping into the multiple heads, he washed himself thoroughly and shaved using the anti-fogging mirror he’d had mounted in one corner. When he was finished, he was no more refreshed than he had been satisfied by the way he had spent the day—and for the first time he could remember, the idea of going in to work and losing himself in his nightly tasks held no prospect of enthusiasm or satisfaction.

And then as he toweled himself off, the sound of flapping terrycloth made the emptiness of the penthouse seem like a black hole in space.

In the back of his mind, the idea of leaving Caldwell tantalized him yet again. Certainly, everywhere he went, there he was…but he had to believe that a fresh perspective would come if he lived in a different place and pursued a different kind of life. Perhaps as a teacher? There were people who still wanted to know about the Old Laws, and he was so well-versed in them now that he could easily design a curriculum—

When his phone went off out in the bedroom, he let whoever it was go into voicemail. But when the thing immediately began to ring again, he wrapped the towel around his hips and proceeded over to it—because, yes, he was that kind of male who thought answering a phone while naked was inappropriate, even if FaceTime was not involved.

Especially as it was likely Wrath or one of the Brothers—

No, not this time. As he checked the phone’s face, it was not someone who was in his contacts, although the No Caller ID suggested it was from a member of the Brotherhood’s household.

Vishous was into the untraceable.

“Hello?” he said.

“Saxton?” Ruhn’s voice was instantly recognizable, and a surprise. Also carried with it an erotic charge, but again, that was just on his side.

“Yes? Hello? Ruhn?” There was some interference over the connection, some wind blowing or something. “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you?”

“I’m out at Miniahna’s.” Fuzz. Rustle. “I just ran two men off her property.” Wind blowing. “Where are you?”

“I’m at home. Downtown.”

“Can I come see you?”

“Yes, yes, of course—let me tell you how to get here.” After he provided directions, he cut in, “Wait, before you hang up. Did you kill the trespassers? Do I need to call for a body removal?”

Blustering sounds. “Not yet, you don’t. But that is not going to last.”

As soon as the call ended, Saxton rushed into his walk-in closet and pulled a pair of slacks on along with a white button-down shirt—and had to resolutely ignore the fact that he had quite a bounce in his step all of a sudden.

This is just business, he told himself. For godsakes, keep it professional.

Across town, in the wealthy zip code where mansions sat like crowns in the midst of manicured, snow-covered grounds, Peyton arrived on the grand doorstep of his father’s house along with a marching band of exhaustion, his dull-thumping temples the bass section, the sharp shooters in his lower back the cymbals, and the grumbling cramps in his gut a tuba manned by a very low-skilled, but highly enthusiastic, player with a great set of lungs.

He couldn’t decide whether he was hungry or nauseous.

And his first clue that the night was about to go from bad to worse—once again—came as he opened the front door: There was a sweet smell in the air that was utterly foreign. Perfume? he thought. Yes, that was it. But who could be wearing any—

His father’s butler shot out from under the stairs as if the male were on roller skates.

“You’re late.” Eyes the color of old newspapers swept up and down him. “And you are not dressed.”

Last time I checked, I sure as shit was, Peyton thought. These scrubs cover the naughty bits.

He kept that to himself. “What are you talking about?”

“First Meal starts in fifteen minutes.” The doggen pulled up his cuff and flashed a watch like it was a gun aimed at a mugger. “You have missed libations.”

Peyton rubbed the front of his skull with the heel of his hand. It was either that or take that timepiece and feed it to the guy—through his ass.

“Look, I don’t know what you’re going on about, but I haven’t slept well since the day before yesterday, and there was a terrible accident last night in the field—”

“There. You. Are.”

Closing his eyes, he thought, of course, his father. And that tone? It made the butler seem like a BFF.

Pivoting around, he caught a glare like a frying pan to the side of the face. Which was saying something considering his sire was wearing a custom-made tuxedo and was hardly the type to throw pans, much less punches.

But that stare was a stinger for sure.

“Hello, Father.” Peyton clapped his palms together. “Well, good talk, and now I’m going up to bed—”

As he turned away, his father stepped in front of him, blocking the way to the stairs. “Yes. You are going to the second floor right now, but it is to change—because you agreed to meet Romina this evening. At this hour—actually, last hour, and where have you been.”

“I don’t know anything about this.”

“I called you last night. Twice! So go up and put your tuxedo on so you don’t embarrass me or that poor female any further.” The male leaned in. “Her parents are here, for godsakes. What is wrong with you. Can you not, for one night only, be the son I need you to be?”

Well, jeez, Dad, when you put it like that, how about I solve the issue for the both of us and go hang myself in the bathroom?

#problemsolved

Peyton glanced over his sire’s shoulder at the staircase and tried the suicide plan on for size. He had plenty of belts, for sure—and a nice sturdy light fixture in his bedroom.

Except then the image of Novo feeding from him came back, sharp as a knife-edge.

Yeah, no way he was offing himself. Not yet, at any rate.

Shifting his stare into the parlor, he started to form a fuck-off, fuck-you, and fuck-this combo that somehow encapsulated how little he cared about social bullshit after having spent the last twenty-four hours dealing with the reality that he had nearly gotten someone killed.

But all that came to a crashing halt.

Through the ornate archway, he could see into the elegant room, the silk sofas and chairs arranged with the marble fireplace as a focal point. Seated on the cushions, with her back to him, was a female with brunette hair pulled back in a chignon and a formal, pale blue dress that had some sort of tie or sleeving that draped like an angel’s wing over the arm. Her head was down, and her shoulders were tight, as if she were holding herself together.

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