“Tell me something,” Boone said as he took care to settle back into his father’s chair and cross his legs comfortably at the knee. “Where are the keys to this desk?”
A mask of professionalism slammed down on the butler’s hostility, closing off the emotion. “I do not know.”
“You’ve been in charge of this entire house for how long? You were my father’s right-hand male—and you don’t know where the keys are?” Boone indicated over his shoulder, to a painting entitled Grand Champion Altamere’s Bespoke Beauty. “How about the safe that’s behind here.”
As the butler registered surprise, Boone smiled coldly. “Yes, I know it’s there. Are you going to tell me you don’t know the combination?”
“These are private areas of your father’s—”
“My father is dead. They are mine now. Everything under this roof is mine.”
There was a possibility that that was a lie. It was a good idea to test the butler to see if he knew anything, however.
Marquist’s eyes narrowed. “This is still my master’s house.”
Boone gripped the arms of the chair, ready to get to his feet and throw the butler out. But he stopped. Until he found that will, he needed to keep the male around—and there was a larger reason to lull Marquist into a false sense of security: Boone had never understood the relationship between his sire and this butler. The two had been closer than master and servant should ever have been. With Altamere gone, there was finally an opportunity to get to the bottom of it all. And if there had been any improper transfers in favor of Marquist? Gifts? Benefits?
Then Boone was in a position to find that out and get the shit back. Not because he cared about the monetary value, but as a matter of principle.
There was also a part of him that hoped the butler did something really stupid.
Easing back again, he drummed the blotter with his fingertips. “I’m doing the Fade Ceremony two hours before sunrise tomorrow.”
Marquist’s brows flared. “However is that possible? The post does not work that fast and the guests will not—”
“Email invites are instantaneous. One click and they land in people’s inboxes. Just like magic.”
The butler’s evident horror made Boone think of being in the morgue and standing over the dead female’s battered body. Now that was horrific. How invitations to a party went out to a bunch of people? Even if it was for a Fade Ceremony? Not even close.
But try telling that to someone who enjoyed using social propriety as a cudgel.
“You cannot be serious,” Marquist stammered.
“There’s no reason to wait on the ceremony.”
“Where is the body now—”
“I had the remains cremated and the ashes are right here.” He leaned across the desk and plinked the urn with his forefinger, a little tinny sound rising up. “This is what we’re going to do the ceremony with.”
Marquist stared at the container in disbelief. And when his eyes finally returned to Boone, the vile rage in them was a shock. Who knew the male had it in him?
“Your father never approved of you.”
Boone gasped and put his hand over his sternum. “No . . . really? Oh, God, I’m heartbroken. All these years I thought I was his model son.” Dropping the act, he leveled his stare across the desk. “Do you think his opinion matters anymore?”
“He did not deserve you.”
“Nor I him. We were a curse to each other, but that’s over now.” Boone made a dismissive motion with his hand. “Go. I’m done with this conversation—”
“You are not your father.”
“And you can leave this house anytime. Aaaaanytime. Matter of fact, keep this attitude up, and I’ll lock you out of this place so fast, it’ll make your goddamn head spin.”
* * *
Across town, in a suburban neighborhood of seventies-era apartment buildings, Helania sat in her two-bedroom, basement-level flat by herself. Overhead, the humans who lived above her were starting their day, the muffled footfalls making a circuit between what she imagined was their bathroom, their bedroom and their kitchen.
Same layout she had. Except one of her bedrooms hadn’t been used in eight months.
The sofa she was parked on was old and worn, and to mask the age, she and Isobel had put a king-sized duvet cover over the cushions and the arms. Homemade needlepoint pillows of flowers and plants crowded where you could sit, but none of that was permanent. Her Etsy store did fairly brisk business, so there was always turnover here in her own apartment. Always bolts of velvet and boxes of batting and bowls of tassels, too.
But the side hustle to her main online editing gig wasn’t just a nice supplemental income. It had kept her sane after her sister’s killing.
Sometimes, the only thing that kept her in her skin during the daylight hours was filling in blocks of color with wool yarn, the repetitive nature of her box stitch forcing her mind to focus on something other than the murder of her blooded next of kin, her roommate, her best friend.
Her only friend.
Twisting around, she looked at the closed door to the left of the bathroom. On the far side of it, there were twelve cardboard boxes of various sizes, all of which were filled with Isobel’s clothes, and toiletries, and mementos, and books, and . . .
Helania had taken Isobel’s things off the walls in there, off the shelves, off the bureau, too. She had emptied the closet, emptied the drawers, emptied the blanket chest at the foot of the bed. She had stripped the bed, packed up the sheets, folded up the blankets. But that was as far as she had gone. She had intended to give it all to charity. She still did.
Not yet, though.
Maybe . . . not ever.
It was hard to part with the inanimate objects her sister had chosen and worn, collected and kept. As much as Helania told herself that none of it was Isobel, and as much as her logical side believed that, her heart would not budge.
She might as well have been giving away parts of the body.
Rubbing tired eyes, she leaned back into the sofa cushions and closed her lids. It didn’t take her long to picture that male, the one with the dark hair and the black clothes and the aristocratic inflection to his voice.
The image that persistently invaded her thoughts was of him standing in that cut of illumination between the two buildings, his breath leaving him in puffs of white, his big body poised, his eyes staring into the darkness.
Directly at her.
When they had gone back into the club and sat on those folding chairs with the Brother, he had looked at her the whole time. Part of her wanted to believe—needed to believe—that it was just part of the questioning, the investigation, the job he had been sent by the Brotherhood to do.
A professional obligation.
But another, deeper, more worrisome side of her . . . wondered about things that should not have been on her mind at all.
Things like maybe he had stared for another reason.
“You have got to stop this,” she said out loud.
Upstairs, there was a resounding thump!, which was good news. That was the outer door to the humans’ apartment shutting. Things would quiet down now.
Another image of that male popped into her head. It was of when she had first seen him down in that basement corridor. He had been backing away from the open door to the storage room where that female had been killed, his head turned away from the cell phone in his palm, his eyes squeezed shut as if he were trying to wipe something out of his mind.
Perhaps a picture of that murdered female.
You can trust me. I won’t hurt you—
As her phone went off with a text, she frowned and glanced over at her cloak. The black folds were hanging on a peg by the door, next to her parka and her yellow rain slicker. Getting to her feet, she wondered who the wrong number was looking for.
It was not someone reaching out for her.
Both parents gone. Sister . . . gone. No extended relations. And as for friends? Isobel had been the social one, and after her death, all those people who had orbited her sister’s charismatic center had spiraled off in search of another sun around which to circle.
Maybe it was the Brotherhood.
Helania dug into the cloak and took the burner phone she used out of the hidden inner pocket. It was a text from an unknown number:
I just wanted to apologize if I didn’t handle things as well as I could have tonight. I’m worried I made you feel uncomfortable by racing after you. I am very sorry. Please do not be deterred from sharing things with Butch or anyone else. All that matters is that we find out who is hurting these females. Thank you for reading this, Boone
Helania froze where she stood.
Then she looked over to where she’d been sitting and wondered if he’d somehow picked up on the fact that she’d been thinking about him.
Back on the couch, she read the message through two more times, noting that unlike the texts she’d used to get from Isobel, there were no abbreviations. No emojis. No text grammar. It was more like an email. Or a handwritten letter.
Abruptly, she realized she was sitting forward with her phone cupped in her hands.
Like she might do something with it.
Like she might reply to him.
Her heart rate jumped into a higher gear, and she felt a flush hit her face. As her fingertip floated across the phone’s screen, she watched from a distance.
No text. Nope.
Things were ringing.
She slapped the phone up to her ear, shocked that she had put a call through. She had no idea what she was going to say or why she was calling him. Especially as she was just a civilian, and he was not only clearly an aristocrat, but also someone who was affiliated with the Black Dagger Brotherhood—
“Hello?” a male voice said on the other end. “. . . hello?”
Helania cleared her throat. “Hi.”
There was a sharp intake. “Helania?”
“I got your text.” Like he didn’t know that? “And I, ah . . .” She looked around her apartment as if the cheap furniture and galley kitchen could throw some syllabic suggestions her way. “I just wanted to reassure you that I—look, it’s an awkward situation. You didn’t do anything wrong. I was . . . it’s just hard. This whole thing is hard.”