She was desperately unhappy. Otherwise, this brief show of normal wouldn’t offer such a frickin’ contrast.

Sure enough, she happened to glance over at him, and instantly, she dropped the victory song and dance, her mask of cold, hard competence slamming down over her features. Turning her back on him, she went over to where Paradise was sitting and fished through a duffel, grabbing a water bottle.


But she didn’t drink. She took out her phone and frowned at the screen.

When John Matthew came over and tapped her on the shoulder, she jumped and fumbled with the cell.

The Brotherhood had recently improved reception in the underground facility, so texts and calls now went through with greater reliability. And that was a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it was good to just be in the zone.

With a shake of the head to John Matthew, she disengaged and headed for the equipment room/PT suite, disappearing behind closed doors.

As the next game was organized and got started, Peyton watched Xhex and Payne go up against Butch and V. But not for long. After about five minutes of play, he got to his feet and started down the opposite flank of the gym…following in Novo’s wake.

Saxton barely made it through dessert, and as soon as the parfaits and fruit started to be cleared, he folded his napkin and placed it next to his untouched sweet. After saying good day to those on either side of him, he pushed his chair back and retreated from the table along with a couple of stragglers who were likewise peeling off early: The Brotherhood usually lingered after the final meal of the night, relaxing and talking over coffee, wine, or aperitifs.

Which would feel like two lifetimes and a second-degree burn all over his body at this point—

“Are you really going home in this storm?”

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Saxton looked over his shoulder and tried to hide his true reaction. Blay had come up behind him, napkin still in hand, as if the male had hurried from his seat.

Well…damn. It was so hard not to notice how beautiful he was, how kind, how smart and loving, how considerate.

“I shall be fine,” Sax said roughly.

It was hard to put any faith in that, though, especially standing so close to the source of his pain. What he wanted to say? I miss you. I want to hold you. I want to feel that wholeness again, that sense of purpose and—

“The weather is really bad out there.”

Saxton took a deep breath. “It’s the work of a moment to get back downtown.”

Blay frowned. “Downtown? Why would you—sorry, that’s none of my business.”

“I moved about three months ago.”

“Wait, I thought you were at your Frank Lloyd Wright?”

“No. I sold it and bought Rehv’s penthouse at the Commodore.”

Red eyebrows rose high. “And what happened to your Victorian?”

“I sold it, too.”

“You loved that house.”

“And I love my new place.”

“Wow.” Blay smiled after a moment. “Well, you’re moving up in the world.”

“To a higher elevation, certainly.” There was a pause. And then Saxton felt compelled to say, “Your young are doing well.”

Blay glanced back at Qhuinn and the two bouncy chairs that had been brought in from the kitchen. “They’re so much fun. It’s also a lot of work, but between the four of us, we cover it.” The male crossed his arms over his chest, but it was in a relaxed way. “God, I feel like I haven’t talked to you in forever.”

“We’re both busy.” And you’re in love with someone else. “I’m happy for you. Everything seems to be working out for the best.”

If you were Qhuinn, that was.

“For you, too. You and the King are doing an incredible job together. Which brings me to my point. Do you mind if I talk to you about something? It involves my parents’ neighbor? I’d really like your take on what’s happening.”

Oh, so this wasn’t about my going home in the blizzard. It was about work.

“Yes, of course,” Saxton said in what he hoped was a level, calm tone.

As Blay started to lay out the facts, Saxton felt himself pull back from reality, the inner part of him retreating until he was tucked deep inside of his mind and his body, miles and miles away from this pleasant, largely uncomplicated discussion concerning real property.

Cruelty came in so many different fashions, did it not. And Blay was not being purposely mean. In all his un-complication and warmth and casual conversation, he would no doubt have been shocked to find that he was tearing a hole in the soul of the sad, hollow male he was speaking with.

“Forgive me,” Saxton interrupted. “I don’t mean to cut you off, but perhaps you could summarize this in an email and I could respond a bit later? If I’m going to leave, I should probably do it now.”

“Oh, God, yeah of course. I’m so sorry. And your safety comes first, I shouldn’t have even brought it up here.” Blay put a hand on Saxton’s shoulder. “Be careful out in the blizzard.”

“Thank you.” Although it is so much more intolerable under this roof, Saxton added to himself.

With a reflexive bow, he took leave of his former lover—and as he turned away, he was relieved to find that his coat and briefcase were still where he’d left them by the sideboard. Drawing his coat on, he crossed the foyer and let himself out into the vestibule.

At which point, he stopped and dropped his head.

His heart was pounding and he felt sweaty, even in the chill.

This really wasn’t going to work. This whole thing in Caldwell. He loved what he did for the King, but the grind of being around what he had lost and was never going to have again was wearing him out.

Blay, and everything they’d shared for that brief time, was why he’d had to switch to living in a penthouse in the sky. The Frank Lloyd Wright house didn’t name the requisite technology upgrades, and the pair of them had been together too much in that beloved Victorian of his—it had been their love nest when they’d sneaked out of the Brotherhood mansion in search of privacy: They had made love in the master bedroom. Lain side by side in front of the fire. Talked of private things and taken meals. Read books and newspapers. Sung in the shower and laughed in the claw-footed bath.

He’d had dreams of them settling there forever, raising a family of some description, enjoying the ups and enduring the declines of life.

So, of course he’d had to move somewhere else. He didn’t want to catch glimpses of the male all night, and worry about the fighter when he was out in the field with the Brothers, and remember what it was like to have sex with him…and then have to go home and be stuck indoors where the last one on that list of mournful memories had happened on every flat surface and most of the bumpy ones.

It was hell—

Some kind of rhythmic noise got his attention and he frowned.

Leaning an ear to the outer door of the vestibule, he couldn’t identify the sound, but he was fairly sure that whatever it was, it was directly outside.

If it were lessers, they would be banging the panels down, and it certainly wasn’t that loud or urgent.

Setting the briefcase on the floor, he looped the scarf around his neck, tucked the ends across his chest, and anchored them by buttoning up the coat’s front.

And then he opened the door—

The wind hit him square in the face and brought with it a slurry of flakes, his vision diminishing in the midst of the stinging onslaught. But the barrage didn’t last. In the next breath, the gust shifted to another direction, and like a rock star drawing a crowd, the flurries followed the leader, leaving a vacuum that gave him plenty of sight.

Schhhht. Heave. Schhht. Heave. Schht. Heave…

Ruhn was shoveling huge loads of snow over his shoulder, the movements powerful and showing no sign of tiring, the path he was creating from the front entrance three to four feet deep in the drifts—and one had to wonder why he bothered. Nobody was going to try to come in that way before dawn, and certainly not afterward, even with the heavy cloud cover—

What a powerful body that was.

As Saxton traced the movements, the jabbing forward, the hauling back, the over and over again, something stirred inside of him…and it was a surprise. Ever since Blay had passed through his life, leaving behind a frigid, ruined landscape, Saxton had noticed no one, really. Sure there had been sex, but he’d quickly discovered that was no solution to his pain, and nobody had resonated with any depth. Yet here he was in a snowstorm, measuring the width of a set of broad shoulders, and the swing and twist of a torso, and a pair of legs planted with such strength.

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