Well, well, well . . . didn’t this make a guy feel better about all the attention Boone had been paying to that female who was connected to the club deaths. Maybe he was merely being a concerned citizen with her. Clearly, the male had deep history with this lovely lady who had just come in—and he really cared about her, too. He seemed upset that she was obviously shaken by his father’s death.
Rhage leaned in and whispered, “Do I see love in the air over there?”
“They’d make a wicked good couple,” Butch said.
“True that,” V agreed. “I totally see the connection.”
Rhage rolled his eyes. “He writes one Agony Aunt column with my Mary, and he’s an expert on relationships.”
“I still think we should have used the barbecue sauce.”
“Mmmm, barbecue,” Rhage said with a sigh as he crunched into the chocolaty center of his lollipop. “I’m hungry.”
Butch had to laugh to himself. One good thing about his closest friends? You could depend on Rhage always wanting something to eat and V suggesting bodily harm as a conflict resolution and Tohr telling everyone to calm down.
It was good to know where things stood in this dangerous and confusing world they were all in.
I must have gotten through the Fade Ceremony.
This was the thought that went through Boone’s mind as he signaled to the doggen on the periphery of the parlor that it was time for the food to be brought in and served. Yes, indeed . . . somehow it was apparently appropriate for the hors d’oeuvres to come out and the drinks to be offered and the conversational hour to commence.
As the doggen bowed and retreated to the kitchen, people stepped out of the horseshoe that had formed around the urn—and Boone found it impossible to remember what prayers he had said in the Old Language, what recitations had been repeated in a chorus by the assembled, what words of honor he, as the only son and next of kin, had paid to the now late, great Altamere.
“That was a marvelous service. You were most appropriate.”
He glanced down at the older female who addressed him. Whoever it was had on a black cocktail dress, three strands of pearls, and white kid gloves. Which meant she was pretty much interchangeable with all the other females of her generation in the room.
Who is she, he thought with panic.
Something came out of his mouth in response, some string of syllables, and hey, they must have made sense to her because the female said something back. And then she launched into a story, her carefully painted lips enunciating her words with deliberation as if she were used to, and expected, people to hang on her every sentence.
Meanwhile, Boone couldn’t translate a damn thing in any language he knew. Couldn’t feel his legs, either. Couldn’t feel . . . any part of his body.
In the back of his mind, as the parlor and its crowd of people seemed to retreat even further from his senses, he wondered if he’d had a psychotic breakdown. Maybe none of this was real? What if he were actually alone in this room and his brain had just sketched these people in from memory, figments of a hallucination that was even more frightening because none of it was under his control: He couldn’t stop this female from talking, and he couldn’t make them all leave rightthisminute—
Oh, God, now his mouth was moving again. What was he saying?
It must have been “appropriate” because she reached out and gave his forearm a squeeze before taking her leave. There was no time to catch his breath. A male stepped up and offered his hand for a shake—and Boone was amazed that he could actually clasp that palm.
Considering the pair of them were standing seven thousand feet away from each other.
Cartoon characters. Everyone around him was not just twodimensional; they were drawn rather than photographed, outlined in a simple fashion and filled in with primary colors so as to appeal to a young’s undiscriminating eye. They had no scents, no perfume or cologne, and their choice of cocktail, of wine, of seltzer . . . of caviar or canapé . . . of cigar or cigarette . . . was like a whisper at a concert, something that barely carried over the din from the main stage.
Beneath his suit, he perspired under his arms, and the collar and tie that had fit him just fine up on the second floor, before things had gotten underway, became now tight as a piano wire in a murderer’s hand.
He couldn’t breathe.
“—yes, but of course,” he heard himself say. Because you could use that phrase as a response to almost anything in the glymera.
Do you miss your father? Yes, but of course.
Are you keeping this house? Yes, but of course.
Is the will settled yet? Yes, but of course.
Whether he was answering truthfully didn’t matter. In fact, he could barely tell who he was speaking with, much less what they were inquiring of him—and that included when what appeared to be his fellow trainees and the Brothers and the other fighters came over to pay their respects and say goodbye.
As they left, he knew he couldn’t stand this one more goddamn minute—
“Boone. Look at me.”
He blinked . . . and finally saw someone properly. Rochelle was standing in front of him, and she was tugging at his sleeve with her gloved hand as if she had been attempting to get his attention for a moment.
Focusing on her face, he heard himself say, “I need to get these people out of the house.”
Rochelle removed her dark sunglasses. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying, and he was touched that she cared so much about his father’s passing.
“Come with me,” she said. “You need a break from all this.”
She grabbed onto his suit’s sleeve and pulled him through the thinning crowd. As they left, everyone stared at them—yes, but of course—because of their history. And if he’d been in his right mind, he would have told his friend not to expose herself to the gossip.
Especially given that she led him right into the males’ room out in the foyer.
Rochelle shut them both in the onyx expanse and eased him down into the leather settee by the marble hand sink. Putting her Longchamp bag aside, she pulled a monogrammed towel from a hanging rod and waved it in front of his face, the breeze she created cooling his flushed cheeks.
Absently, he noted that Rochelle had no mascara on and her eye shadow was smudged.
You are so kind, he thought.
“Do you want to loosen your tie?” she asked him.
“It’s not appropriate,” he mumbled. “We come out of this bathroom with my tie off? They’ll assume we had sex.”
Shit, that was blunt.
“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean to be crude.”
“Well, I don’t care what they think,” Rochelle said sharply. “And if you do, you can always re-knot it.”
Boone shook his head, even though he didn’t know what exactly he was responding to. He didn’t know anything. The good news, however, was that he gradually came to feel like Rochelle was actually standing in front of him. And soon on the heels of that revelation, he started to feel his feet and legs again: The numbness that had taken him over receded from the bottom up, his torso eventually reawakening, too, his shoulders coming back online, his head returning to regularly scheduled programming.
As he exhaled long and slow, Rochelle eased off with the fanning. “Your color is more normal now.”
“I don’t know what happened in there.”
“Panic attack.” She sat down next to him. “It happens.”
“Not very manly.”
“It’s not a question of strength. Anyone can feel stress.” Moving her purse into her lap, she took out a pack of Dunhill cigarettes and a gold lighter. “Do you mind?”
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“If you’d rather I didn’t—”
“No, no. It’s fine. I don’t care.”
As she went to light up, her gloved hand trembled. “The aristocracy frowns on females who smoke.”
Boone propped his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face. “It was really good of you to come.”
“I wouldn’t have missed this.”
“You really are a female of—” Boone frowned. “You’re crying.”
Stupid comment to make. Like she didn’t know? And yet she seemed surprised.
“Sorry.” She took the hand towel she’d used on him and put it on her eyes. “And you keep your handkerchief. I’ll use this.”
As he stared at her, he thought about that male of hers. The one who hadn’t stuck around. Who had failed her.
Who needed a good beating for deserting someone as worthy as she.
“It’s a Fade Ceremony,” she said as she took a deep breath. “I’m supposed to tear up.”
Getting to her feet, she walked into the toilet room and bent down to tap her ash into the bowl. As she straightened, she flipped a switch to activate the fan overhead and smoked with her head tilted back, her exhales directed toward the ceiling above her.
They stayed there, him on the settee, her in the doorway by the toilet, until she finished the cigarette and flicked the filter into the loo.
Flushing things, she said, “Shall we return to the fray—”
“I met someone,” he blurted.
Rochelle’s brows lifted. “You did?”
As he measured the even cast to her voice and the open expression on her face, he realized he’d brought the subject up because he hadn’t wanted to mislead her. He was glad to see Rochelle and touched that she cared so much about his sire’s death—and maybe if he hadn’t met Helania, he might have tried to start something with her.
But Helania had changed everything.
“That’s wonderful.” Rochelle came back over and reached into her purse. Taking out a roll of Certs, she offered him one first. “When did this happen?”
He took the mint because it gave his hands something to do. And actually, as wintergreen filled his mouth, it woke him up some.
“Very recently.” He purposely did not count the matter of hours, versus nights or months, it had been. “I feel . . . I think I’m in love with her. It sounds crazy, but it’s where I’m at. I’m in love.”