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“I’m glad you guys came.”

“Do you want us to stay overday with you?” Paradise asked.

“I don’t know what I want, to be honest.” He looked at the vase of flowers set on the coffee table in front of them all. “I just . . .”

Axe spoke up. “I know, it’s hard to explain—”

“My father was traitor.”

As he said the words, he realized he was trying them on for size. Testing the weight of them. Strapping on the shame for the first time, and undoubtedly not the last.

“My father . . . was a traitor.” He shifted his eyes to his friends. “He was directly involved in the previous plot to overthrow Wrath, and there is a good chance he was part of a revival of that treason tonight.”

Craeg cursed and turned his hat around and around in his hands. Paradise put a hand on Boone’s shoulder. Axe made like he was spitting on the ground.

“I tried to get him to stay home.” Boone shook his head. “I told him not to go there. But he refused to listen to me.”

“Your father is not you,” Paradise said. “You are not him.”

“I know.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I just want to go back to work.”

He studiously ignored the volley of worried looks that his friends shared. But as long as his shoulder was good to go, what was the problem?

“When will you be doing the Fade Ceremony?” Novo asked. “We want to be there.”

“I haven’t gotten that far.” Speaking of which, where was the body? Who had his stepmahmen’s? “But I’ll let you know.”

He had no brothers or sisters, no grandparents, no aunts or uncles who were still alive after the raids. But he had a couple dozen cousins in the glymera, none of whom he knew well at all because he had kept such a low profile socially. Benign estrangement aside, however, he was willing to bet that all of them would want to show up for Altamere’s ceremony.

They would surely come, if only to gawk, assuming the news of how the death had occurred would hit the gossip phone tree—and how could it not? His father had been attacked in front of over twenty other members of the aristocracy, and all of them, evidently, had survived.

And as for Boone’s stepmahmen? He had to assume that her family would take care of, and honor properly, her remains. She had, after all, come from a very good bloodline with plenty of proud heritage of their own.

As if his father would have mated anybody lesser than he.

“I’m going to keep the ceremony low-key,” Boone heard himself say. “You are all welcome to attend, but I understand if—”

The gonging sound that echoed around the foyer was a surprise, and at first, his congested brain didn’t know what the interruption was caused by.

“That’s the front door,” he mumbled.

Getting to his feet, he was aware of a tensing throughout his chest and shoulders, although that was not because of whoever might have arrived: He didn’t want to go the rounds with the butler.

But Marquist didn’t make an appearance.

As Boone opened the heavy panels, he exhaled in a combination of surprise and curious relief. “Oh, it’s you. You didn’t have to come . . . but I’m glad to see you.”

“I just heard.” Rochelle’s pale eyes were just as lovely and warm as they had been a year before. “I am so sorry.”

There was a long pause. And then they both moved at the same time.

Even though he had not seen the female since the night their arrangement had ended, and in spite of the fact that it was totally improper, Boone opened his arms wide, and in a similar breach of protocol, Rochelle stepped in against him. At first, the contact was light, but then they were holding each other tightly. Like his father’s house, she smelled the same, Cristalle by Chanel perfume and the expensive French soap she had always favored. She was dressed in the same style, too, wearing an Escada suit that tastefully set off the subtle curves of her figure.

It was black. For mourning. And as most aristocratic females only wore color, he knew she had changed for him before she’d came over.

As they eased back, he noticed absently there was loose snow on the crown of her blond chignon.

“Oh,” she said with a start, “you have guests.”

Boone glanced over his shoulder and saw his fellow trainees leaning forward in their various seats and staring out of the archway at him—at him and Rochelle—with wide, interested eyes.

“Come meet my friends,” he said. “You already know Peyton and Paradise, of course.”

As he drew her in beside him, it felt natural to walk into the elegant parlor with her against his hip. But the fact that he was still armed, and so were the people on those sofas, was a reminder that his life had diverged greatly from Rochelle’s since their arrangement.

She had stayed in society, yet he hadn’t heard she’d been mated? Then again, he was out of every thing, for the most part.

He was so glad she’d come, though.

“Everyone,” he announced, “this is Rochelle.”

“You don’t have to make me tea.”

As Boone spoke up, he stared across the kitchen at Rochelle. She was over at the sixteen-burner stove, putting a copper kettle on an open flame. He was over in the alcove of windows, at the table where the staff sat and took their meals. There was no one else around. Marquist had clearly announced the passing to the other staff and the doggen had all retired unto mourning for their master, as was proper.

Meanwhile, the butler was probably polishing Altamere’s shoes with his own tears.

Man, their relationship had had some blurry lines, hadn’t it.

“Boiled water is the only thing I know how to make,” Rochelle said.

The other trainees had left shortly after her arrival, as if they were hoping Boone needed privacy with the female. He was going to have to take care of that after nightfall. When he went back to work.

He would set them straight that there was nothing going on.

“And even so,” she murmured, “I may burn this kettle.”

“Don’t worry, I’m no great chef, either,” he murmured as he rolled his shoulder, testing out its range of movement.

“Where is your china?” She pivoted around and measured a square mile’s worth of cupboards. “So many places to choose from.”

Boone shrugged. “Let me help. We should be able to find it together.”

When he went to stand up, she shook her head. “You stay put. I’ll do the sleuthing.”

She worked her way around the cabinets, opening up the doublesided, paneled doors, inspecting all manner of spices, mixing bowls, cooking equipment. She finally found some mugs above one of the three dishwashers. They were fine porcelain and ornamented with a handpainted gold-and-maroon pattern. They were rarely used, however. Boone’s father had not approved of them, calling them unforgivably coarse.

In a tone that suggested their height and their contours were an offense against the laws of nature.

“Are these okay?” Rochelle asked. “They do not have saucers, but I can’t seem to find anything else.”

“They’re perfect.”

“And I even located the tea.” She smiled as she returned to the stove. “Do you take honey or sugar?”

At least the condiments were easy to get a bead on. They were cloistered on a silver tray on the counter, ready to be portioned out in the way the master of the house had preferred things—

Wait, she had asked him something, hadn’t she?

“I can’t remember,” he said. “It’s been so long.”

He had no idea what was coming out of his mouth. But she didn’t press him, and the next thing Boone was aware of was a fragrant, steaming mug in front of him, with Rochelle taking a seat across the table.

“So how have you been,” he said as he took a test sip. “How are things with your male?”

He was trying to make simple conversation, but the way her eyes teared up made him regret the attempt at pleasantries.

“Oh, Rochelle.” He shook his head. “What happened?”

“It just didn’t work out. In spite of your very valiant attempt to help us.”

As she dabbed at the corners of her eyes with her pinky, careful not to smudge her makeup, he reached across and touched her arm.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.

“It’s all right.” She took a deep breath. “It just . . . wasn’t meant to be.”

The pain in her face was so difficult to witness, and in that moment, he hated the aristocracy. Undoubtedly the male had heard about the broken arrangement and hadn’t wanted to deal with the baggage.

“The glymera is a bad place,” he muttered.

“I’m very sorry about your father,” she said roughly.

He opened his mouth to share that sentiment out of a sense of propriety—and couldn’t get the lie out. “Thank you. It was rather unexpected.”

“Life is unexpected.”

“Too true.”

If anyone would have told him a year ago that the pair of them would be sitting here, unchaperoned, after his father’s death, with him now a soldier and her unmated? He’d have you’re-nuts’d the person.

As the silence stretched out, he wanted to ask her more about her male, and he had a feeling that she wanted to know more about what had happened to his sire. But they were both lost in their own mourning, grief like a third wheel who was taking up all the conversational airspace in the room.

The two of them just sat across from each other, the tea she had made them both untouched and gradually losing its warmth.

Until it was stone cold.

* * *

Dawn crept up slowly on Caldwell, the sun’s rays ushering in the start of the workday for the human population, the end of the work night for vampires. The fact that the glowing bastard’s arrival took a while was the only thing good about winter as far as Vishous was concerned.

He got back to the Brotherhood’s crib from that LARPers club downtown just in time, and as he re-formed at the mansion’s cathedral-worthy front entrance, his retinas burned and his skin prickled under his leathers. Overhead, the sky was thick with clouds, but that didn’t mean shit considering the stakes at play. You got caught outside? One slice of blue heaven peeking through all the overcast and you needed to get the barbecue sauce and an urn for your ashes.