But just barely.

She didn’t want this any more than he did, he thought. Either that, or she was feeling rejected by him because he hadn’t showed up.


“Will you please get moving,” his father demanded.

Peyton looked at the poor female a little longer and wondered where she would rather be tonight.

“Give me ten minutes,” he said gruffly. “I’ll be right down.”

As he stepped around his father and took the stairs two at a time, he despised his family and its traditions and the glymera’s stupid fucking rules. But what he was not going to do? Leave some other schmuck like him out to dry, thinking she was lesser because of stuff that had nothing to with her.

He didn’t know the female, but the way he looked at it, they were in the social cesspool together.

At least for this one meal.

As Ruhn materialized on a skyscraper terrace that was larger than the estate cottage he had lived in, he took a moment to internalize where he was. Saxton’s home. Where the male lived.

He should have waited an hour and met with the attorney at the Audience House.

What had he been thinking—

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You wanted to see him, a small voice said in his head. Alone.

“No, I don’t.”

The words he spoke out loud were lost in the cold wind that rushed at his back, the blustery, chilly gusts seeming to urge him inside. For a moment or two, he fought against the draft, leaning against the invisible hands pushing at him…but it was too late to turn back now. Not without making a mess of things.

Besides, this was not personal. They were working on something together.

“And I do not want to be alone with him.”

With that resolved, he tried to figure out where he was supposed to knock, or ring a bell. The entire penthouse seemed to be made of glass, great panels lining up one to another down the front. Inside, there were few lights on, everything dim, the shadows of the furniture a landscape yet to be revealed by an artificial dawn.

So luxurious and fancy, he thought. It seemed all very sophisticated, just like the male who lived there.

Then again, someone’s personal space tended to reflect who they were. Take him, for example. He was a squatter with no prospects, homeless but for the kindness of others. It made sense if you had no future and little of the present that you would also have no roof and four walls of your own.

Walking over and inspecting one of what he hoped were sliders, he wondered who lived here with the solicitor? He had never seen the male with a shellan, nor had there been any mention of one. But then a certain professional distance had always seemed to surround Saxton, even as it was clear that he was respected by all.

Surely there had to be a female somewhere in the picture. And didn’t that fact make all of this even more uncomfortable—

He froze as Saxton came into the great open room, the male’s stride sure, his blond hair gleaming under the dimmed ceiling lights, his impeccable slacks and super-white button-down looking tuxedo ready. Or, like, whatever you wore on top of all that.

The solicitor headed into the kitchen area, throwing out a casual hand to turn on lights that provided brighter pools of illumination from above. He started doing something at the counter, by the sink—he was preparing coffee and getting out mugs and a tray. But Ruhn noticed little of that. The things that registered? Saxton’s skin was golden. His face was beautiful. His body was lithe.

What is this, Ruhn thought…especially as sexual arousal curled around his hips, sure as if hands were touching him—

Saxton looked over without warning and stopped as he saw that he was in the regard of another.

Moments turned into a full minute.

And then they both snapped back into action at the same time, Ruhn trying to pretend that he was just searching for a handle or an opening or something as Saxton came across and solved the problem for him.

“Good evening,” the male said as he slid one of the panels back.

“You invited me.” As Ruhn heard the words leave his mouth, he closed his eyes. “I mean, I’m here. I mean…”

“Yes, you are expected.”

When Ruhn didn’t respond, Saxton stepped aside. “Come in.”

Two words. Two syllables. A simple invitation. The kind of thing that was offered and accepted or rejected by humans and vampires all over the world.

The trouble was, Ruhn couldn’t shake the awareness that it was so much more for him—and he couldn’t handle it. He could handle…none of this.

“I should go,” he mumbled. “Actually. Yeah, I’m sorry—”

“Why?” Saxton frowned. “What’s wrong?”

I think I want you, that’s what’s wrong.

Oh, dearest Virgin Scribe, had that just gone through his mind?

“Ruhn, come in. It’s cold.”

Turn away, he told himself. Just turn and leave, and tell him that you’ll meet him at the Audience House in a little bit.

“I shouldn’t have disturbed you at home.” He shook his head and prayed that the heavy beating of his heart was not something Saxton could hear or sense. “I apologize.”

Across town, Peyton returned downstairs in exactly ten minutes, his hair wet and slicked back thanks to the fastest shower in the east, his tuxedo on and poppin’—and also a little tight across the shoulders, in the arms, and at the thighs, thanks to all the exercise he’d been getting.

As he entered the parlor, he did a quick check that the bar was stocked and open for business. Yup: Over there in the corner, an array of mimosas in slender flutes and Bloody Marys in squat glasses had been arranged on an antique brass cart.

My friends, I cannot wait for us to become reacquainted, he thought.

But first things first.

“Ah, yes, my firstborn son,” Peythone said in the Old Language from the armchair closest to the fire—and hey, points for the smile, old man; it looked almost sincere. “Salone and Idina, may I present Peyton, son of Peythone.”

The couple were seated on the silk sofa across from their sacrificial lamb—sorry, daughter—and Peyton walked forward to them and bowed low, first to the male, who was your bog-standard glymera type, and then the female, who was wearing a dress the exact same blue color as her young. Which was creepy. He also didn’t immediately recognize them, which was unusual. The aristocracy was small, and nearly everyone was their own uncle’s first cousin. They must be from out of town, he thought. Maybe down South?

“It is my pleasure to meet you,” he said. “Please excuse my tardiness. I have been unforgivably rude.”

Blah, blah, blah.

“You are even more handsome than I have heard,” the mahmen said, her eyes going wide. “So handsome. Is he not handsome? Such a handsome male, fresh from his transition.”

You are no MILF, he thought. So stop looking at me like I’m fresh meat.

God, he hated this.

“Enough with that, Idina,” Salone grumbled before he switched things to English. “Now, Peyton, your sire indicated you are in the Black Dagger Brotherhood’s training program—something that we have only just learned this night. I suppose we may give your tardiness a pass on this account.”

Peythone smiled smugly. “Indeed, Peyton is contributing to the defense of the species in a very meaningful way. But one does not wish to brag.”

Oh, yeah. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Idina placed her hands on either side of her décolletage and leaned forward as if they were going to share a secret—or perhaps she was going to flash him. “You must tell me, what are the Brotherhood like? They are so mysterious, so impressive, so frightening. I have only ever seen them from afar at meetings of the Council. Tell me, you must.”

Okay, he hated everything about the female. From her rapacious eyes, to those big diamonds, and that accent. God, what was up with that accent? It was like ninety percent right, but there was something wrong with her r’s. She couldn’t seem to roll them properly. And then there was the sire. Upon closer reflection, his features were coarser than one might expect, and that tuxedo—it had a shine on it like it had been rubbed hard with some KFC.

What was his father up to, Peyton thought. Of all the families they might want to associate with, why these people?

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