I don’t want to do this anymore, he thought.

As the conviction struck, he told himself the ennui concerned merely the month of January—which, in upstate New York, was a miserable season unto itself, cold, dark, and dangerous if you got stuck outdoors for long. He feared, however, there was more than the dead zone between December and February in play.

“You going to try for home?”

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He glanced through the archway of the billiards room. Wrath, son of Wrath, the great Blind King, had arrived in the foyer, and the male was just so huge, harsh, and aristocratic, a straight-up killer in black leather—with a beautiful, kind-faced golden retriever by his side.

Saxton cleared his throat. “I’m not sure, my Lord.”

“You got a bedroom here.”

“You are most gracious.” Saxton lifted up his briefcase even though the King could not see it. “But I have work to do.”

“When was the last night or day you took time off?”

“I have no need to.”

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“Bullshit. And I know the answer and don’t like it.”

In truth, it had been forever. The King’s nightly audiences with members of the race required much follow-up and paperwork—and on top of all that valid work, there might also be a little self-medicating, distraction-seeking going on.

As if on cue, a pair of voices echoed throughout the grand open space and Saxton took a deep breath. Blay and Qhuinn were coming down the gracious staircase, each of them carrying an infant, the bonded couple laughing. When they got to the bottom step, Qhuinn put his hand on the small of Blay’s back and Blay looked over at the Brother, his eyes lingering as if he could have stared at that handsome face forever.

The shaft of pain that went through Saxton’s sternum was as familiar as the sinking feeling in his gut, the one–two punch of Blay’s no-it’s-him-I-want-not-you choice making the idea of battling the Nor’easter very appealing. After all, the other option was to take advantage of his unused room there and try to sleep under the same roof as the happy pair and their two beautiful young.

Sometimes, nothing made you feel older and more worn out than the happiness of others. And yes, that was uncharitable—but that was why it was good that inner thoughts were things one shared only with oneself.

“My Lord, do enjoy Last Meal.” Saxton pinned a smile to his face even though, again, the Blind King would not know it. “I believe I will—”

“Join us for Last Meal? Fucking awesome. Come on, we’ll go in together.”

Saxton cleared his throat and began to construct a false engagement, an imperative that could not be denied, an overriding principle—

“I’m waiting,” Wrath muttered. “And you know how much I love that shit.”

With a sag, Saxton recognized this was an argument lost before it began. And he also was more than aware that the King’s patience was as short as his temper.

After that little warning shot across the bow, Wrath’s next move could well be a draw-and-quarter out back in the snow.

“But of course, my Lord.” Saxton bowed and started to remove his favorite Marc Jacobs coat. “It will be my pleasure.”

Falling in line with his King, he walked across the foyer and entered the vast dining room, depositing his briefcase, scarf, and all that fine cashmere on a chair next to one of the sideboards. With any luck, one of the doggen wouldn’t “help” by putting his things away. In a mansion this size? They could end up a mile off in some closet.

And storm or no storm, as soon as this meal was over, he was leaving.

Using his peripheral vision, he located the delightful family of four and strategically picked a vacant Queen Anne chair on the same side of the enormous table but down at the other end. The result was a good fifteen people between them—or there would be, when everyone was settled into seats. In the meantime, he made a show of micromanaging his already perfectly arranged silverware—and then taking an ungodly amount of time explaining to a patient doggen exactly how much cranberry and how much seltzer he wanted for his libation.

No alcohol. Alcohol made him, for want of a better word, horny—and that was just going to leave him sexually frustrated. No one at home waiting for him. Nobody he really wanted to call in. Nothing to be done about that—

I don’t want to do this anymore.

As the thought struck again, he decided maybe his King was right. Maybe he should take a night off, if only so he could find a release or two with some stranger. It would never be more than that. His heart was somewhere else, never to return, and sometimes, an anonymous body used as gym equipment was all that destiny offered—

Directly across the table, a large male figure pulled out a chair and sat down. And Saxton found himself sitting up a bit straighter.

It was Ruhn. Blooded uncle to Rhage and Mary’s adopted daughter, Bitty. New member of the household. All around very decent, very…spectacular…male.

Strange, how someone that big could move in such a controlled, compact way. It was as if he commanded not just his arms and legs, but every cell, down to the molecule, on a series of separate, but coordinated, calls to action.

Amazing.

And yes, his simple clothes suited him. No tailored tweed suits with handmade shirts, a cravat, and ostrich shoes going on—which was Saxton’s typical work dress. No, Ruhn was wearing a Hanes T-shirt under a navy blue knit sweater on top of Levi’s. The male had pulled the sleeves of that knitted top up on both sides, and the tendons and veins of his forearms were a testament to both his strength and how lean he was. His callused hands were clean, with unbuffed, clipped-to-the-quick nails, and his chest was so broad that the poor sweater was—

“Hello, Uncle!”

As Bitty came skipping around the table to the male, Saxton shook himself out of his assessment. And yet his eyes quickly returned to where they had been.

“Hello, Bitty.” Ruhn’s voice was very nice, low and resonant, and the accent was that of a civilian of Southern extraction. “How are you?”

Nothing loud. And as the girl gave him a hug, those big hands were gentle and slow, the embrace careful as if he were afraid he might crush her.

And with the way he was built? He absolutely could.

“I’m good! Your hair is wet.”

Indeed it was, the deep brown waves were combed back and already curling up thanks to the dry, furnace-warmed winter air.

“Did you just work out?” the girl asked.

“Yes.”

“You’re getting as big as my dad.”

“Oh, not nearly.”

Saxton smiled a little. The male most certainly was putting on weight, the however-many hours he spent pumping iron in the training center adding pounds to his pecs, shoulders…those arms. But he clearly was as self-effacing as he was careful with how he threw his body around.

As the girl sat down and continued to make conversation, Ruhn nodded and smiled a little more and answered in few words a veritable barrage of inquiry. Unfortunately, the forty-foot table was soon filled to capacity, and Saxton could hear no more.

That did not mean he stopped looking. While Marissa sat on one side of him, and Tohrment the other, and food was served on silver platters and in deep porcelain bowls, Saxton kept up a pleasant conversation while allowing his eyes to scan from time to time the opposite flank of the table.

Ruhn ate with his brows down tight, as if he were concentrating on every slice of his knife and each piercing tine of his fork. Whether this was because he was starving and determined not to scarf his food or because he was scared of dropping something, it was hard to say, but Saxton could extrapolate it was the latter.

Ever since Ruhn had come into the household, he had been nothing short of polite and quiet, and one had to feel for him. It was as if he were worried he would be asked to leave at the slightest infraction, but that was far from the truth. He was family now, because Bitty was family now—and, indeed, the way that male had behaved with respect to the welfare of his niece was truly extraordinary. With the passing of Bitty’s mother, and Ruhn as the girl’s next of kin, he’d had every right in the world to swoop in and take her away from Rhage and Mary.

Who had been fostering the young and desperate to adopt her.

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