Wrath sat down as the dog’s rhythmic lapping continued in the background. “Pretty clear question, isn’t it?”
“Ah…I am quite well, my Lord. Thank you.”
“Good. That’s real good.”
George lifted his head and tongued his jowls back into order over the bowl, as if he didn’t want to leave a trail of drips. Then he headed for his master, curling into a sit so Wrath could stroke his ear.
Unable to stand the silence anymore, Ruhn cleared his throat. “My Lord, if I may…”
“Yeah?” Wrath rolled his shoulder so it let out a crack that was so loud, Ruhn had to wince. “G’head.”
“Do you wish me to vacate your premises?”
Those dark slashing brows dropped behind black wraparounds. “I asked you here. Why would I want you to leave?”
“The mansion, my Lord.”
“I can remove my things, if you wish, although I would like to stay in Caldwell to keep up with Bitty—”
“What the fuck are you talking about.”
Not a question. More like a gun pointed to his head.
In the silence that followed, Ruhn glanced at the golden retriever—who promptly lay down as if he didn’t want to be rude to the guest, but he had to vote with his master and therefore had to stay out of things.
“I assume this is about the shoveling last night?” Ruhn said.
As the King opened his mouth, his incredulous expression suggested there was more misunderstanding ahead, instead of less. “Lemme try this again. What the fuck are you talking about?”
Saxton entered and closed the double doors behind himself. “In a way,” the male said, “it is a bit about the shoveling.”
Ruhn cleared his throat and felt stupid. He should never have taken the aristocrat at his word. “I was only trying to help. I was careful so as not to score the stone steps and—”
“Okay, I don’t know what you’re going on about and I don’t care.” Wrath shoved his hair back with a slashing hand. “You’re here because Saxton tells me you’re looking for a way to earn room and board. So I’ve got a job for you.”
Ruhn looked back and forth between them. “I don’t have to leave?”
“Fuck no. What the hell gave you that idea?”
Ruhn didn’t bother keeping the exhale to himself. “Oh, my Lord, thank you. Whatever you require of me, be assured that I shall do it to the best of my abilities. I cannot abide living off of your generosity.”
“Great. I want you to take him out to visit a civilian of mine who is having problems with some humans.”
Ruhn had to frown. “Forgive me, my Lord, but I cannot read or write. How could I ever help the Royal Solicitor with his work?”
Saxton stepped forward, and as he did, his scent reached Ruhn’s nose—which seemed a strange thing to notice. Then again, none of this visit seemed normal at all.
“Our King,” the male said, “would like me to be accompanied for the purpose of protection on my visit to the civilian. The Brothers, soldiers, and trainees are otherwise occupied in the field, guarding this house, or resting, and assigning one of them to this task would be a misappropriation of sorts.”
Wrath put his palm up. “Look. I just want you to be there in case any of these humans comes down with a terminal case of the stupids. This is not a wartime situation, but I also don’t like the idea of Saxton out there without anyone watching his back. And word has it…you know how to fight—very fucking well, indeed.”
As Ruhn looked away, he could feel Saxton staring at him—and there was a temptation to deny or…at least diminish the past. Of course, he couldn’t do that without contradicting his King—and outright lying. Besides, surely the solicitor had been told about him.
“Again, I don’t anticipate either of you being in danger,” Wrath pronounced, “but I can’t promise that you won’t find a little conflict. It is nothing you can’t handle, though—not with what you’ve already faced.”
As an old, familiar exhaustion settled with the weight of a mountain on his shoulders, Ruhn let his head drop and grew silent.
“You don’t have to,” Wrath said in an even tone. “This is not a condition for you to remain in the house.”
After a moment, Ruhn looked up at his ruler. The great Blind King was staring across at him with such fixation, you could have sworn he had sight. And then his nostrils flared as if he were scenting something.
Abruptly, Wrath turned his head in the direction of his solicitor. “It’s okay, I’ll get you someone else—”
“I’ll do it,” Ruhn said roughly. And then he switched into the Old Language. “I owe you a great debt already for allowing me unto your blessed home and permitting me to reside therein. To do this service unto you is an honor.”
Ruhn forced his body out of the chair and he walked forward to kneel at his King’s boots.
But Wrath did not put the great black diamond out for the vow. “You sure about this. I’m not into forcing people to do shit—well, not people I don’t want to kill for survival or sport.”
“I am certain.”
Those nostrils flared again. And then the King nodded. “So be it.”
As the ring was proffered, Ruhn kissed the massive stone. “In this and all things, I shall not fail you, my Lord.”
When he got back up to his feet, he glanced at Saxton. The solicitor was still staring at him, an inscrutable expression on those features that were so perfectly handsome, they were intimidating—and that was before you added in all those intelligent words he was always speaking or his perfect mannerisms or his fine and fancy clothes.
“If you will permit us, my Lord,” the male said, “I should like to walk him out? And now would be a good time for you to take a break for some sustenance. We have three more hours ahead of us.”
Ruhn was vaguely aware of Wrath saying a few things and Saxton answering back.
All he could focus on was the fact that he had gotten pulled in again.
The last thing he wanted to do was fight with anyone or anything, whether it was offensively or defensively.
He had left all that behind.
But he couldn’t deny his King. Or the fact that yes, he could see why anyone would want to keep that solicitor safe. The gentlemale was so smart, and so integral to everything the King did here. Ruhn had heard the stories around the dinner table at the mansion. Saxton was indispensable.
With any luck, he told himself, he wouldn’t have to kill anybody this time. He truly hated that part.
Even though he was very, very good at it.
As Novo and John Matthew rematerialized in the shadows downwind from the pair of winter night-wanderers, it was amply clear that they were not the enemy. Which didn’t mean the two men weren’t a potential threat and, therefore, killable. But proper provocation by them was required, and as much as she might have been able to engineer the shit, that was a pussy move—as well as against the rules.
Live and let live, unless forced into engagement.
“Damn it,” she muttered.
John Matthew nodded. Then pointed back to where they had been.
“Yeah, we better stay on track.”
Twenty minutes later, they had covered the first leg of their sector and it was time to double-back. And it was so funny—while they cut over one block, she remembered the first couple of nights she’d been in the field. One of the big challenges to this kind of work was in not becoming frustrated that you weren’t in a bare-knuckler every single minute you were out here.
Somehow, she’d assumed she’d be fighting all the time.
Yeah, not by half. The discipline to it all—and something she was still working on—was in staying sharp without becoming worn out as minutes turned into quarter hours and then half hours. You needed to be as fresh at the last second of the night as you were at the first, because you never knew when you—
As her new earpiece went off, she brought up her gloved hand and pushed it farther into place. “Shit.”
Be careful what you wish for, she thought as she got her gun back out again.