“Novo?” the female prompted. “Let’s not be rude to your guest.”

Okay, that smile was to fine china what Dixie was to plates.

“This is Peyton, son of Peythone,” Novo muttered. “He’s in the training program with me.”

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There was a pause. And then the Pomeranian shot a look at Novo and put her hand out. “Well. How lovely. And allow me to introduce myself as my sister, Novalina, seems disinclined to do so. I’m Sophya.”

Those eyes bounced up and down him, from his shoes to his suit to his cuff links, and he could have sworn he heard the chatter of an adding machine in the background as she assigned a monetary value to everything.

Talk about instant dislike. He was really not impressed.

So, yeah, he deliberately stayed seated and crossed his arms over his chest. “Hey.”

“Are you, ah, are you joining us for dancing?” She smiled stiffly as she lowered her hand. “Because everyone has to dance with the bride-to-be, you know.”

He ignored that and focused on the male standing behind her. Funny, for someone who was apparently getting mated sometime very soon, he didn’t seem terribly interested in the female he was going through the ceremony with.

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Nope. He was staring at Novo.

On the one hand, Peyton could understand it. Novo was hot as fuck, a Bugatti in a parking lot full of minivans. On the other hand…he really just wanted to castrate the motherfucker and feed his own cock to him.

Then field-dress him in the middle of the dance floor.

Maybe cut him in quarters with a saw while the humans screamed and ran for the exit.

Then light the corpse on fire.

Yeah, ’cuz you really should clean up your messes.

“—of course, I’ve always had a flair for style.” Novo’s sister paused to take a breath. “I mean, the wedding is going to have to be just right for—”

“This is your hellren-to-be,” he said, cutting her off.

“Oh, yes! Yes, I’m sorry.” She stepped aside and made like Vanna White. “Peyton, this is Oskar.”

Oskar.

The name Novo had called out in her sleep.

As a cold bucket of water splashed down over his head, Peyton got to his feet. “Named after a hot dog.” He got to his feet and extended his hand. “Quite a bastion of honor there, bro. Or do you prefer wiener?”

Everyone froze.

And then Novo started laughing so hard, she nearly fell over.

It was rude to laugh. Novo knew this. She honestly did. But the evening, which had started on a low note and then sunk to sub-basement levels, had suddenly turned on a dime—and was looking more like an adventure than an endurance contest.

“I’m sorry, buddy.” Peyton clapped Oskar on the shoulder. “Just joking.”

Sophy recovered quick and stepped in between the two males. “Yes. Indeed. Well, ah, Peyton…you must tell me all about yourself. Come, let’s sit down together. Waiter!” Sophy called out. “Waiter, a menu for my guest!” She actually snapped her fingers. And then pulled out a chair for herself and one for Peyton. “I want to hear all about what the Brotherhood is like. You must have some amazing stories.”

And there it was. The charm. The batting eyes. The touch on a male’s forearm.

In response, Peyton looked back and forth between Sophy and Oskar—but Novo couldn’t tell whether he was taken by her sister or not. And God, that would be…really sucky. Even though she had no claim to him at all.

A pit formed in her stomach—except almost instantly, she thought, nope. If her sister wanted to pull another Oskar here, the joke was on Sophy. There was no way in hell Peyton was going to mate a civilian: in spite of the fact that Sophy was beautiful, and certainly had the social aggression to try and take a further step up, there was nowhere to go on that staircase for her.

Paradise was much more his style as the daughter of the King’s First Adviser.

“Peyton?” Sophy prompted. “So? Will you sit down with me?”

Okaaaaaaay, wiener references aside, the night was once again taking a torpedo into its hull, and Novo glanced over her shoulder at the way out. Time to go. Hey, if Peyton wanted to get to know her sister better—hell, if he wanted to fuck her just because he could? More power to him—

“No, we’re not staying.”

Popping her brows, she turned her head back around—to see Peyton picking up her leather jacket from the back of her chair.

“Come on, Novo,” he said. “I’m taking you out on the town.”

“You can’t leave,” Sophy protested. “Wait, you can’t.”

Peyton leaned in and looked the female right in the eye. “I can do anything the fuck I want, sweetheart. And what I am not going to do is play windup toy for you as you ignore the poor SOB you’re mating and disrespect your sister. I’d say it was a pleasure to meet you, but I gave up lying a couple of nights ago, so that’s a no-go. And I’d wish you a happy life, but that is not what you’re heading for.” He pegged Oskar with a hard stare. “And neither are you, my friend. If you have any brains left, you’ll either leave her or blow them out. Good luck.”

Novo was so stunned, she let herself get escorted out. But come on.

Come on.

The two of them strode past the other humans eating full meals and entered into the tea room section of the place. And then they were out into the cold.

She started giggling as soon as she hit the night air.

Putting her fist up to her mouth, she stuttered, “That was awesome. That was fucking awesome.”

Peyton indicated the way forward. “My car is over here.”

Taking her elbow, he led her over to a—oh, wow, nice—blacked-out Range Rover and opened things up so she could slide into the back.

“Oh, my God, you did that.” She was still laughing and talking to him even as he closed the door and went around. “You fucking did that.”

There was a doggen behind the wheel, a young one, and he twisted around in his seat. “I’m sorry, madam? Whatever did I do?”

She batted her hand through the warm, new-car-smell air. “Nothing. I was just—I was talking to him.”

Peyton got in and ordered, “Drive.”

“Where may I take you, sire?”

“Anywhere, I don’t care.”

As they pulled away from the curb, it was clear that Peyton was not laughing.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Who is Oskar to you?”

Well, that double-tapped her happy-happy, joy-joy. And now she became just like him, serious as hell.

When she glanced at the driver, Peyton said, “He is discreet.”

“Just because your servant won’t talk to anyone else doesn’t mean I’m all about discussing my personal business around him—or with you.”

“So you admit that you and Oskar were together.”

“Jealous?”

“Yeah. Especially because he was staring at you the whole time. He’s getting mated to that nightmare female in how many nights? And he only has eyes for you. What did you do, dump him when you got bored and he dated her because that was as close as he could come to having you?”

“Try the other way around,” she said in a low voice.

“What?”

She turned to the window and looked out. They were passing by other restaurants that were locally owned and operated; in this neighborhood, there were none of the commercial chains that were closer to the exits of the Northway or the skyscrapers of downtown. And through the fogged-glass fronts of the eateries, she saw humans on dates, families gathering, waiters and waitresses hustling food and drinks on trays.

“He left me for her,” she heard herself say.

Okay, she needed to stop—

“What the fuck was he thinking?”

Novo told herself not to be complimented. Hell, Peyton had to be saying that just because he was hoping to get some later.

“I mean, your sister is fake,” he continued. “I’m sorry, I know she’s your blood, but that is one of the most transparent females I’ve ever met in my life—and I’m in the glymera, for godsakes. We invented that kind of horror.”

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