She thought of her date with Axe. “Tomorrow night?”

“I have it off. I’ll come to you.”


“Better that I go to your place. Especially if we’re going to be talking about her. I don’t want anybody to overhear anything.”

“Fine. And Elise, I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know. I’ll see you tomorrow. Come when you can, I’ll just be hanging in my room.”

“See you then.”

Just as she hung up, a strange tremor went through her body—and at first, she assumed it was from what she and Peyton had been discussing. But then … no, that wasn’t it.

Putting the phone down, she looked around, but come on. It wasn’t like someone was lurking in a darkened corner—in her all-white marble bathroom that had all its overhead lights on.

Leaving her phone behind, she went out into her bedroom. Glanced in all the corners, of which none were dark because she had all the lights on in there as well.

Except she wasn’t exactly scared.

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More like pricklingly aware—

“Axe?” she said out loud.

Even though Elise was in her pink bathrobe, she padded out into the hall. Followed the instinct down to the main staircase. Proceeded to the first floor—

Fresh air. Someone had just come into the house.

And … Axe’s scent. It had been he who had been let in. Moreover, thanks to the blood she’d taken from him the night before, she knew precisely where he was.

Snapping her head to the left, she saw that her father’s study was closed up.

Making no sound at all, she whispered over the marble floor to the parlor that was located behind his private work space. Inside, the peach-and-silver loveliness of the wallpaper and the drapes was lost on her as she went to a built-in shelving expanse that had a scalloped top and Herend figurines of roosters and waterfowl and other birds of all kinds on its levels.

The release was hidden on the right at shoulder height, the kind of thing you couldn’t see and wouldn’t guess at—and when she toggled it, the entire unit, built some hundred and fifty years before, unhinged from the wall and slid soundlessly to the side.

Stepping into the hidden passageway, she pulled an old-fashioned metal cord with a wooden handle on the end … and back the shelves went, moving so seamlessly that the priceless porcelain collection wasn’t disturbed in the slightest.

The space was cramped and dank, but not cold, and there was enough light from the seams of the molding high above that she made her way forward about five feet … to a set of wooden steps that led up the back of a wall.

She was careful as put her slippers on the slatted wood. She didn’t weigh a ton, but she was worried about creaking sounds giving her away. Once on the highest step, she reached up to a slide that was roughly at eye level.

When she moved it aside, she could see out into her father’s study, visualizing the fire across the way, the desk, her father’s figure … and Axe, who was sitting across the desk from her sire.

Yes, she was staring out of the “eyes” of a portrait. Just like in the movies.

Her mother had cut the holes in the painting herself—and her father had nearly fainted. But oh, her mahmen had been able to get away with things like that with him.

She’d been the only one who could.

If Elise was careful not to breathe heavily, and if she concentrated on drowning out the sounds in the ductwork and the soft whistle of a breeze in the rafters, she could hear them speaking.

Her father was just sitting down, which would make sense. Clearly she had become aware of Axe’s presence the instant he’d entered her home.

And by extrapolation, he would soon guess where she was—

Sure enough, he frowned and looked across directly at her. His expression was one of almost annoyance, as if he couldn’t figure out why the hell he’d been distracted by a two-hundred-year-old portrait of some old vampire in formal dress.

“Thank you for coming,” her father said as he pulled his cuff links into proper position under the sleeves of his navy blue suit jacket. “I gather that your first evening with my daughter went satisfactorily.”

Cue a quick image of her naked, stretched out in front of Axe’s fire, his mouth and hands—

Okay, that needed to stop right now.

Axe glanced at her father. Looked back at the portrait. Refocused. “She came home safely.”

“For that I am most grateful.” Her father smiled, and seemed sincere. “She is my heart. She reminds me so much of her mother. A fiery spirit, a fierce intellect, afraid of so little. That is also why I worry.”

“And why you hired me.”

“Indeed.” Felixe cleared his throat. “On that note, I should like to expand your duties.”

“How so.”

“I will never put her under sehclusion. She would not do well with that. And I am aware that she must leave the house for other reasons than her studies from time to time. Mayhap for a festival or a get-together of females of her station.”

Yeah, right … because she was really looking to go out and have her nails done with a bunch of get-mated-obsessed Barbies?

She’d much rather save the money, keep her toenails to herself, and read through her dissertation paper one more time.

“I should like her to find a suitor.”

Elise frowned. Oh, hell no.

“Do you have one in mind?” Axe asked.

“There are a number of appropriate males whose families are looking for them to settle down. She is of age and then some. It is time, but I am certain if I state that I support the prospect in any way, she shall rebel. So I am in a very difficult situation.”

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