Oh, you beautiful male, he thought as he noted Ruhn’s blush and lowered eyes. For all the power in that body, there was a vulnerability that made one want to offer the male a safe haven. Then again, Saxton had always had a soft spot for strays.

“Forgive me,” Ruhn mumbled.

“For what?” Saxton inhaled and held more of that delicious scent in his lungs. “Why do you apologize?”

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“I do not know.”

“It is no imposition that you are attracted to me. At all. Look at me. Come now…raise your eyes.”

It was forever before that glowing stare lifted to meet his own.

“I don’t know what to do,” Ruhn whispered. Except then the male focused on Saxton’s mouth.

Oh, yes, you do, he thought. You know perfectly well what to do.

But it wasn’t in the male’s nature to take charge. Fortunately, Saxton had a remedy for that one.

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“Do you want me to kiss you,” he prompted softly. “Just so you know what’s it’s like. Just so that you don’t have to wonder.”

None of it was in question. The answers were in the sexual charge that leapt to life between them, a wall of fire that promised to melt their bodies…and maybe their souls.

Except then Ruhn glanced outside.

Saxton sighed. “No one will know. I promise.”

It was sad to have to reassure the male of that, as if this were dirty business, the kind of thing that made others change their opinions about you and made you feel lesser about yourself—but there was no reason to be naive. Most civilians, like Ruhn, had a much more conservative view of these things than aristocrats did. In the glymera, there was a look-the-other-way sort of tolerance, provided you were willing to get properly mated to a female, produce an heir and a spare over time, and never, ever come out of the closet.

None of which Saxton had been prepared to do in service to his sire and his bloodline. Which was one of the reasons why he and his father were estranged.

Along that whole privacy note, he leaned to the side and triggered the interior drapes, the great swaths of blackout fabric swinging into place, shutting out the world, creating a vault of privacy.

“No one will know,” he said in spite of the disappointment in his chest.

In response, Ruhn reached out a trembling, workman’s hand…only to stop just short of touching Saxton’s mouth.

“Is that what you want,” Saxton breathed.

Ruhn lowered his arm. “Yes.”

Saxton stepped in close, but not too close, keeping a distance between their pecs. Then he took Ruhn’s face in his palms.

The male’s entire body shook, all those muscles and heavy bones poised to jump—but whether it was to him or away from him, he did not know.

“I won’t hurt you,” Saxton vowed. “I promise.”

And then he drew the taller male down slowly, the subtle pressure something that Ruhn gave readily into.

Tilting his head to the side, Saxton pressed his lips to Ruhn’s—and the gasp that came out of the other male was that of a lover surprised. Saxton felt the shock, too, and he would have said something.

But he didn’t want to stop to speak.

Gently, softly…he brushed over that mouth again and again. At first, there was no response, the lips against his own frozen. But then they parted, and stroked back, with a sweet hesitation.

Saxton’s body roared, his erection straining to get out and be stroked, and sucked. And in return, he wanted to learn every square inch of the male rightfuckingnow. Patience was a virtue more likely to be rewarded than fumbling greed, however.

Saxton inched back and searched Ruhn’s face. “How was that?”

“More,” came the moaned response.

A purring sound left Saxton as he brought himself against Ruhn’s body. Wrapping an arm way up over those big shoulders, he urged that sweet mouth back to his own as he slid his other arm around a waist that was tight and smooth as polished stone.

The shaking in Ruhn’s torso was erotic as fuck. What was even better? At those hips, an erection in total proportion to that tremendous body was a hard ridge, ready to be set free. Saxton knew not to rush things, though—because he didn’t want to seduce the male against Ruhn’s hesitations. Rather, he wanted the male to come along willingly on what was surely going to be an incredible sexual ride—

As Saxton’s phone started to ring in the kitchen, they both jumped.

“Shouldn’t you get that?” Ruhn asked in a husky voice.

Perhaps, yes, Saxton thought. But only to flush the goddamn thing down the toilet—or maybe hit it with a hammer. Except…

“It may be the King.” Saxton eased back. “Wait for a moment.”

With quick feet, he rushed to the black granite counter where he’d left his cell by the coffeepot. “Hello—oh, yes, but of course, my Lord. Tell me? Uh-huh. Yes. Right…”

Saxton closed his eyes. He could not be rude or shirk his duties, but he needed to get Wrath off the phone so he could pick up where he’d left things—and hopefully take the kissing further.

“Yes, my Lord. I will prepare the appropriate documentation and will serve it to the other party tomorrow evening—when? Now?” Saxton mouthed a word silently that was not appropriate. “Yes, I will come to the Audience House now and bring—what? Yes, that, too. Thank you, my Lord. My pleasure.”

As he hung up, he thought, actually, his pleasure was standing right over—

“Goddamn it,” he muttered as he turned back around.

Ruhn had disappeared through the sliding glass door, leaving nothing but the subtle undulations of those drapes in his wake, the cold evening air ruffling the fabric as it blew away the lingering scent of sexual awakening.

There was an instinct to follow, but he let it go. Ruhn had made his choice, at least for now.

No telling if he would come back.

Saxton touched his mouth. “But I hope you do,” he whispered into the vacant penthouse.

The bus trundled into the training center at a pace that seemed only slightly slower than that of water evaporating from a glass. In a refrigerator. Over the span of a hundred and fifty motherfucking years.

As Peyton sat on the left-hand side of the aisle, right up against the window, he focused on the black glass while trying to ignore his own reflection. There was no one else riding with him, and he couldn’t decide whether that was good or bad. A distraction might have been nice…but then again, chatter in his ear would have irritated the hell out of him—and no, thanks, on having to respond to anything or anyone.

Relief came when the vehicle slowed to a stop. And resumed. And then a little farther on…decelerated again.

Finally, they were getting to the sequence of gates. Like all the other trainees, he’d never seen what they looked like, and he couldn’t have told even the Scribe Virgin herself how to get onto the road that led into the training center. But he was well-familiar with this stop-and-go as they entered the Brotherhood’s property and descended underground to the facility.

I must speak with you alone. There is little time.

The image of Romina standing outside of that bathroom, her blue dress gathered in her hands, her eyes wide, her pale face drawn in haunted, hunted lines, made him shake his head and rub the bridge of his nose.

Romina needed a friend, badly. She also needed Peyton.

I’m afraid you’re being sold a bad bill of goods. Declare tonight that I am not to your approval, and then you will be spared.

When he had demanded to know what the hell she was talking about, she had told him a terrible story, one so horrible, he couldn’t bear thinking about it.

And in the end, she had not lied. She was indeed spoiled in the eyes of the glymera—and not as in privileged and pampered. According to all standards, Romina was ineligible for mating, although not by her own fault—assuming she was telling the truth, and really, considering what had happened to her? Why would you admit that to a stranger otherwise?

He admired her honesty. And he felt broken, too, unmateable for a lot of reasons, so they shared that.

I know that you will do the right thing for yourself. I just didn’t want anyone else hurt.

With that, she had returned to the table. And he had tried to follow in her footsteps—only to fail at the finish line. Instead of going back into the dining room, he’d kept right on going out the front door. His father had yelled after him, but nope, Peyton was done. He’d dematerialized to the pickup location, texted his arrival, and waited twenty-five minutes in the cold without a winter jacket for the bus to arrive.

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