Her ringer had been off when she’d been in the field, and what a good choice someone had made in not turning that back on. As she triggered the screen, there was a raft of texts. A lot were from her fellow trainees…there was one from John Matthew…and a couple from the Brothers. Also one from Rhage looking to see when she would be well enough to give a statement about what had happened in the alley.

And then about…oh, seven hundred and fifty from her sister.

As well as some voicemails from the female. And their mahmen.

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Novo closed her eyes as she felt like screaming. Then she refocused. Feeding. She needed to feed.

And on that subject, now would be a great time to make good choices, she told herself. She needed to hit up Craeg, Axe, or Boone and ask one of them if they could help her out.

Yup. She was just going to text one of those guys, and she knew they would come as soon as they could arrange transportation. And then she would be one more step closer to having this all behind her—and a step further away from complications she could do without.

Read: Peyton and his blue-blooded vintage.

Yup, she was going to hit up Craeg…

Or Axe…

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Or…Boone.

They were going to do just fine, she told herself as she signed into her phone. Just fine and dandy.

After Ruhn spoke up, he fell silent and really wished that he hadn’t said anything. Actually, wait, what he would have preferred was not to have come here at all. Because if the latter had been true, then the former never would have been a problem.

I’ve always known you didn’t approve of me.

Had he really said that? “Never mind, it is hardly relevant—”

“What gave you the idea I disapproved of you?”

“I should not have brought this up.”

“No, I’m glad you did.” Saxton shook his head. “We need to talk this out. I’m trying to see how I could ever have given you that impression.”

For a moment, Ruhn got too busy falling into those gray eyes, those big, beautiful pearl-gray eyes. He loved the way they looked up at him, the thick lashes framing that stare, the brows arching perfectly, the head tilted in polite inquiry…

The mouth ever so slightly parted as if the male were still surprised.

“Whyever would you think that?” Saxton prompted.

“I cannot read.”

“And that matters how? Reading is a measure of something that can be taught, not intelligence, and certainly not worthiness. Ruhn, you gave up Bitty to parents who loved her for her own good. You let your bloodline go for her benefit and others. How could I not appreciate a male who could make such a selfless, loving act?”

“I couldn’t sign the documents.”

“You gave your mark…beautifully.” Saxton’s voice grew forceful. “Worry not ever, Ruhn, over my opinion. I could not respect you more. In fact, I have always been”—those eyes shifted away—“struck by you.”

An unfamiliar blooming sensation warmed Ruhn’s chest, relieving the pain there—and at the same time, the walls of the elegant penthouse seemed to shrink into them both, drawing them closer together even though neither of them moved.

Ruhn’s heart began to beat harder, and he coughed a little.

“Have I made you feel uncomfortable?” Saxton linked his arms. “I apologize. I assure you, I offer this only in the spirit of friendship.”

“Of course.”

“Regardless of my orientation.”

“Orientation?”

“I am gay.” As Ruhn recoiled, Saxton’s face tightened and his voice lowered. “Is that going to be a problem for you?”

More like a solution, Ruhn thought—before he caught himself.

Coughing again, he said, “No. No, it will not.”

“Are you certain about that?”

When Ruhn didn’t reply, Saxton looked away. “Well. In any event, thank you for updating me about Miniahna and I’ll take it from here. Your services are no longer required—”

“I’m sorry?”

“You heard me—”

“Wait, are you firing me?”

“Just so you and I are clear, I have been beaten for being what I am.” Saxton went over and opened the sliding door. “I have been disowned by my bloodline because my sire regards me as an embarrassment and a disgrace now that my mahmen is gone. So I can assure you, I’ve survived far worse alienation than your disapproval, and I will not apologize for something about myself that I am not ashamed of—simply because it makes you or anyone else uncomfortable.”

Ruhn took a deep breath.

After what felt like an hour, he walked over to the open door and the male standing stiffly and with dignity by the way out. As freezing air swirled into the penthouse, it ruffled through Ruhn’s hair and he wondered what it would be like to have Saxton’s fingers do that.

“Forgive me,” Ruhn said quietly. “I mean no offense. I honestly do not. I have…trouble expressing myself, especially around people like you.”

“Gays. You can say the word, you know. And it’s not like you can catch homosexuality like a cold.”

“I know.”

“Do you.” Saxton tugged at his cuffs, and as he did, there was a flash of red rubies. “I’m not sure that is true, and incidentally, a sexual preference should not be threatening. I’m not going to jump you or anything. People are as principled or unprincipled as they are. Whom I choose to sleep with does not affect my ability to recognize boundaries any more than a heterosexual male would not aggress on every female he comes across.”

“It’s not that.”

“So you believe I am morally wrong. Ah, right. It’s that, then.”

“No—”

Saxton put his hand out. “Actually, I’m disinclined to argue with you. Your reasons are your own. It’s cold and I would like to shut this door. Thank you.”

Later, Ruhn would wonder where the courage came from. Where the honesty did. The answer to that, when it occurred to him, was both simple and profound: Love had wings that demanded flight.

“I am attracted to you and I don’t know what to do about it.”

Saxton’s eyes grew wide, his shock altering everything about him.

“I mean no offense.” Ruhn bowed low. “I do not expect you to be complimented by that, nor do you have to worry I will embarrass you. I just did not expect to find a male attractive, and…” He looked away. “The only reason I tell you this is because I cannot abide you thinking that I would shame you or anybody else in that manner. So I’m sorry.”

There was a tense moment of silence.

And then Saxton reached out…and slowly slid the door back into place.

The downstairs male guest bathroom in Peyton’s family’s mansion was a small but dramatic space tucked in under the grand formal stairs. The floors, walls, and ceiling of the asymmetrical, slant-roof’d room were tiled with slabs of golden agate, and the fixtures and sink were gold. Brass sconces on either side of a gold-leafed mirror threw orangey illumination that had always reminded him of the end of a lit cigar, and the needlepoint rug underfoot had the family’s crest woven into it.

There was no bladder imperative to have come here. He’d just needed a break from all the shoot-me-now polite conversation in the dining room, and to waste some time, he took out his phone to see if someone, anyone, had texted or emailed him.

It was the first time he had ever prayed for spam. He didn’t give a shit whether it was Viagra from overseas, or a webcam scam telling him to text SUCKME to some number…or the president of Nigeria needing to hide money: He was in. Anything but going back out to that table, where his father and Salone were trying to one-up each other on who they knew, the mahmen was getting drunk and leering across the table at him, and that Emily Dickinson waif was pushing her food around without eating anything.

“I’ve quit better jobs than this,” he muttered as he checked the phone’s screen.

On that Annie Potts note, maybe he should just put the OG Ghostbusters on and watch from under his napkin—

Four texts. Three of which were from the club set. And one that made his heart pound like he’d been hooked up to a car battery.

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