“Your friends really like you a lot,” she said.
“I like them a lot, too.” He tried to get his mind focused on something . . . anything. “You should meet everyone else in my trainee class. At least twice a month we all go out together. I’ll find out when the next time is and let you know—and I’ll make sure that I don’t miss it.”
“It makes me happy when you talk about the future.”
On that note, there was a temptation to ask if he could move in, given that he wouldn’t have a place to live in fourteen days—and then maybe he could make a joke about how’s that for the future. But he stayed quiet on his drama. She had enough going on—
“Would you care if I were poor?” he blurted.
As Helania looked over at him and they were face-to-face, he figured this was the very definition of pillow talk.
“I didn’t know you were rich,” she said. “I mean, I’d guessed you were a member of the aristocracy by your accent, but I hadn’t really considered the financial repercussions.”
He squeezed her hand again. “Would you, though? Care if I didn’t have money?”
“Not in the slightest. I’ve never known what it’s like to be wealthy. So if you are not, it doesn’t change my situation in the slightest, and I’m happy where I am now.”
As Boone exhaled in relief, he was not surprised that her answer meant that much to him. “I’m so glad. Most of the females in the glymera are more interested in expense accounts and credit cards.”
“Your arranged mating.” She hesitated. “Why exactly did the female break it off?”
As Helania seemed embarrassed to have asked, Boone smiled in hopes of reassuring her that no subject was off-limits. “It wasn’t an issue of money. She was in love with someone else. That’s why. And guess what, he was a civilian, too. You’ll meet Rochelle someday. She’s remarkably down-to-earth considering where she comes from, and she was braver than I was when it really counted. She did us both a favor.”
“You would have mated her, then?” Helania paused. “And listen, if I’m getting too personal—”
“I have nothing to hide from you.”
As Boone felt the bed begin to shake, he looked down his naked body and half expected to find that a dog had snuck in and was wagging its tail against something—but nope. His foot was going back and forth incessantly, sure as if it were attached to someone else’s body.
By force of will, he made the thing stop and then focused on what she’d asked him. “As for my following through on the mating, I guess the way I felt was . . . I knew I didn’t love her, but given how the aristocracy is, if I’d pulled out of the arrangement, the shame falling on her would have been intense and lifelong. She never would have been considered by any other male for a mating, and her family would never have forgiven her for the social embarrassment. It would have ruined her life.”
“Just over a broken arrangement?” When he nodded, she seemed horrified. “That is cruel.”
“True enough. But the good news was, I got her out of it. I told my father, and through my sire, the rest of society, that she didn’t find me worthy. It was the way to keep the fallout from landing on her.”
“But what then happened to you?”
“Well, I’m a male.” He rolled his eyes. “So the rules are different.
Sure, I took some shit—’scuse my French—except it was not anything compared to what Rochelle would have had to deal with. It’s not fair, but there are double standards all over the place in the glymera, and they usually undercut the freedom and roles of females.”
“She must have been very grateful for what you did.”
“I think she was—and still is. But I mean, it was not her fault that we were put together, and it wasn’t mine, either. It was just the situation, and for the reality we were in, I would rather have sacrificed my reputation so she could be free to be with the one she loved than have her condemned to spinsterhood and ridiculed at every turn.”
Helania smiled. “That’s what your friends said about you.”
“Paradise and Craeg said you always do the right thing.”
As an image of that human male’s bloodied and sliced-open body came to mind, Boone thought, Not all the time . . .
“But after the arrangement was broken,” Helania prompted, “your father wasn’t pleased, right? You already told me there were issues in your relationship with him and I would assume . . .”
“He was absolutely furious at me. And that’s why I bring up the money thing. In two weeks, I won’t have a place to live and will be pretty close to penniless. My sire cut me out of his will. I just found out.”
Helania lifted her head again, and he had to admire the bright flush on her cheeks. Her high coloring, coupled with her red and blond hair, was so beautiful, he was in awe of her. And the longer he stared at her, the more lust surged under his skin, prowling, looking for a way out.
Meanwhile, all he could think of was . . . males really were pigs, weren’t they.
“I just don’t understand,” she said. “How could a father disinherit his own son over a situation like that.”
“That is the glymera for you. And there were some other things, too.”
Like him maybe, possibly, not having a blood relationship to Altamere. And he would have given that whole sordid story airtime, but he suddenly was tired of talking about his father. It felt as though the male had already taken up way too much space, and besides, with his sire being dead and the will’s amendment being what it was? Boone wasn’t inclined to expend a whole lot of energy on what was now an inthe-past kind of thing.
Helania lifted her head up and looked over at him. “Was that why you went downtown tonight? To clear your head?”
Boone thought about Syn’s red eyes glowing in that alley. As well as what he himself had done to that human.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m still off rotation, but I needed . . . I just had to go out and be by myself for a little while. Walk the streets. Get some cold, clear air. After I left the King’s Audience House, I had to get everything out of my head, even if it was only for a little bit.”
Of course, the mechanism that had worked best was killing that woman’s assailant. And Syn was all too correct. Boone had needed that release before he could trust himself to be around anyone. Including, if not especially, his Helania.
“And again,” he murmured, “it was when I was walking the streets that I ran into that human woman.”
Helania laid her head back down on their pillow. “As I said before, she’s lucky she found you. And so am I.”
Boone kissed the top of Helania’s head and smiled up at the ceiling of her bedroom.
They were quiet for a time, and yet neither of them was still. Helania’s body kept shifting against his own, as if she were in search of a comfortable position and being denied that prize, and he was the same, fidgeting this way, that way.
It seemed ironic that in the midst of their mutual discomfort, he decided that he really did love her.
He loved Helania.
Yes, the timing was not the best. Yes, it had happened quickly. But when you knew . . . you knew. And the next step was to tell the person—
Helania let out a soft snore, and when a second one came, Boone closed his eyes again and told himself to follow suit. There would be time for revelations later. And maybe something downright romantic, with roses and candlelight.
Or maybe he’d chill and keep it to himself for a little while. Like a week. Tops.
Assuming he could keep his happiness to himself.
A short time later, exhaustion claimed him, his consciousness draining out and being replaced with a dense void of thought, emotion, and dreams. But as he fell off that cliff, there was a smile on his face.
He couldn’t wait to tell her he loved her. And do it properly.
At first, Boone didn’t know what woke him up. He wasn’t even sure if he had roused from sleep. He felt as though he were floating, everything fuzzy and far away, both his body and wherever he was more ether than substance in the manner of a dreamscape. And yet something was very, very real in the midst of the haze . . .
His name. Across a vague and shifting awareness, he could sense his name being called from far away.
Something . . . was calling him home.
A sense of needing to rush sharpened his thoughts, the urgency making him try to run—except he didn’t seem to be connected to any corporeal form: He had no limbs to command into action, no feet to pick up, no arms to pump. Further, there was no solid ground upon which to ambulate.
Had he died and gone unto the Fade?
Who was calling for him?
Desperation made his heart pound, and it was then that he felt the heat. There was a fire somewhere close by, the burning so intense, surely it would melt the skin from his bones—
Boone shot up right, a great breath exploding out of his mouth as he ripped free of the dream—or had it been a nightmare?
Looking around frantically, he saw a dim bedroom that was mostly empty. Barren walls. Sheets tangled around his calves.
It was a split second before he recognized where he was, and as soon as he did, the last dregs of his confusion washed away and he reached for his female . . .
He was alone on the bed.
A tortured moan answered him from somewhere else in the apartment, and stark terror had him leaping all the way across to the open doorway, his feet not touching the floor at all. Except Helania was nowhere to be seen in the living area or the kitchen, the couch and the chairs around the little table empty—
Abruptly, he looked down at the front of his hips and recoiled. He was painfully aroused, his erection jutting from his hips with such force, it stuck straight out.
He was on the verge of an orgasm even now.
A feeling of dissociated dread came over him as he realized he was panting and flushed. Lifting his hands, he noted the sheen of sweat that was all over his skin, and as he inhaled through his nose, the scent in the air caused his alarm bells to go off even more loudly.