“What time is it?” she asked.
“In the afternoon? It only lasted three hours?”
“In the morning.”
Boone sat on the bed carefully, as if he were trying not to put all his weight on the mattress. As they stared at each other, she felt the opposite from what the previous night at Remi’s had been like with him: Instead of him being unusually easy to talk to, now she was tongue-tied worse than ever.
But she had to speak. “I’m so sorry.”
He recoiled. “For what? You didn’t have any control over any part of it.”
Okay, so that was technically true. But as soon as she thought of what Boone had looked like, drugged on the floor in front of her sofa, she still felt responsible.
Helania stared him right in the eye. “It is important for me to say this and for you to hear it. I did not know my needing was coming. If I had, I would have sent you away or not even let you in. You need to believe me.”
“Helania, I totally believe you—”
Boone shook his head in confusion. “Where is this coming from?
I’ve never doubted you about anything.”
Exhaustion made her more candid than she would have been otherwise. “I just want to make sure you know I’m not trying to force you into a mating or anything.”
“Whoa . . .” He leaned forward, as if he might be able to understand her better if they were closer together physically. “Why would I ever think that?”
“You’re a member of the glymera and have money. I don’t want you to think I’m looking for a free ride.”
“Are you—do you remember the conversation we had last night? About how I might be poor and I asked you whether that would be a problem?”
God, he was right, she thought. Her brain . . . nothing was working right up there. And yet it was still a good point to be clear on.
“I just think things need to be said out loud.”
Boone steepled his hands and rested his chin on the tips of his fingers. “Fair enough.”
They sat in awkward silence for a time, and all she could think about was how she wished the night before had ended differently. If only his emergency with that human woman had lasted a little longer, daylight would have kept them apart, and then none of this would have happened.
“Doc Jane would like you to come into our clinic,” he said.
Helania shook her head. “There’s no need to. This isn’t the first time for me. I’ve always been fine afterward.”
“You need to be checked out.”
“Why?” As he just stared at her, her thought process slowly came around. “I’m not pregnant.”
“We had sex right before it hit.”
“I’m not pregnant.”
“You may be.”
As they got quiet again, she realized she was being unreasonable, but she couldn’t back down. The idea that she might be responsible for another living thing? She refused to contemplate the possibility—and she felt like as long as she didn’t open that door mentally, then that outcome would not be part of her destiny.
She was a hermit who could barely take care of herself. How in the world . . .
“Do you need to feed?” he asked.
Helania looked up at him. “Feed?”
As he popped his brows—like he was wondering if her mental lapse was something medically significant—she shook her head. “No, I don’t have to take a vein.”
“When was the last time you did?”
“Before Isobel died. She had a friend who let us take his vein, but I haven’t been in touch with him since she passed.”
“I don’t need to more than once a year, really.” God, if that wasn’t shining down on how infrequently she left the damn house, she didn’t know what a bright light was. “I’m fine—”
“Helania, you need to be—”
“I’m not pregnant.”
“I’m not debating this with you.” Boone surged to his feet. “Tomorrow at midnight, you are going to be out in front of this apartment building, where I will pick you up so we can go into the training center together.”
“I don’t have to be checked out—”
“You do. Because if you are pregnant, then it’s my young and I am going to make sure that the both of you are taken care of on every level there is.”
As he stalked out of her bedroom, Helania stared after him. She wanted to call him back, but to what end? So they could argue over something that wasn’t happening? They had both just been through a version of hell, and what they needed was food, sleep, and a break. More talking was not the answer.
Besides, there was nothing to talk about.
She wasn’t pregnant.
Boone arrived back at his father’s house—wait, it would be Marquist’s house now, and he needed to remember that—in a foul mood. He hated conflict to begin with, and it turned out that that non-affinity was even more intense when it had to do with Helania.
Everything had gone badly around his departure from her.
But damn. She was so determined not to have his young that she wasn’t willing to take care of herself. What the hell?
As he came stomping up through the snow, he was hoping the front door was locked again. He wanted to take his entire body and break something down with it, leaving bloodstains on the wood and bruises on his flesh.
Unfortunately, the frickin’ thing opened right up.
Inside, he went straight back to the kitchen, following the dense, floury aroma of baking bread that permeated that whole wing of the house. As he passed through the polishing room and the pantry, he stopped in front of the butler’s suite of rooms. Everything was open, for once, and he walked into the sitting room/office area.
Well . . . look who had moved out.
Several discarded cardboard boxes and a roll of tape were in the center of the faded Oriental rug, and a stack of leather-bound books was sitting on the armchair by the fireplace, ready for relocation. The ledgers for the household accounts were still open on the serviceable desk, the ink pot and old-fashioned pen that the head of staff had always used in their ready position on the blotter. But the sepia photographs of what he had always assumed were Marquist’s sire and mahmen were gone. And so, too, were his personal effects from the side tables.
Going deeper inside, Boone entered the bedroom. Although he had been in the front office area before—back on the nights when he’d had to go to the butler for spending money—he had never proceeded any farther. Private space was private space. He had been taught that since birth. But given that the butler clearly was no longer butle’ing for the household, so to speak?
No reason not to look around.
The bedroom had a twin mattress on a nineteen fifties wooden frame against the far wall. The matelassé quilt was precisely arranged and folded up over the pillow. The night stand on the right had a single lamp on it, a coaster for a glass of water, and a charging stand that Boone was willing to bet had been forgotten in the rush to move up a floor and down many, many rooms to the best suite in the house.
Heading over to the bureau, he opened the top drawer. Well, what do you know. Rows of boxer shorts and undershirts. Next one was full of starched button-downs. On the bottom were a hundred pairs of bundled black socks.
Marquist had left his butler uniform behind.
To confirm this, even though it didn’t really matter to Boone and he already was sure of the answer, he crossed the bare wooden floorboards and opened the narrow closet door. Sure enough, there were about ten different black suits. Some overcoats. A heavy black robe.
Probably leaving it all for the next hire. And what a line in the sand, huh.
Once the staff, now on the hiring side of things as the estate’s owner. Boone stood there, staring into the closet, for a long while, and he supposed he was waiting for some kind of anger to take over. It really seemed like he should care more about this extraordinary turn of events.
Especially given the fact that he might just have the next generation of his bloodline to think about.
The longer he considered everything, however, the more he questioned what he had ever gotten out of this august background of his. Sure, the money had been nice, but none of it had been his. And the house was fine, if you liked museums and stage sets that were designed to impress. But he couldn’t say that there had been many other benefits.
Cursing, he left the set of rooms and went out to the kitchen. As he entered, the doggen who were busy preparing Last Meal stopped everything they were doing, each one of them freezing in mid-chop, mid-stir, mid-mix.
That was when the sadness hit him. He had known these wonderful, loyal males and females all of his life. Some had been hired by his mahmen. A couple had been inherited from his grandparents. And they were staring at him in a combination of panic and mourning.
“It’s all right.” He smiled at them in turn. “It’s all going to be fine. He’s going to have to keep you on, so nothing will change for you.”
Thomat, the chef, lowered his blade. “May we prepare something for you, my Lord.”
My Lord. The nomenclature that referred to the head male of the house.
“Thomat, it’s not like that.” Boone walked forward and stopped opposite the doggen, the counter that separated them a metaphor for their different stations. “But I thank you for the honor. You have been . . . all of you have been so wonderful to me.”
“This is your house, my Lord.” Thomat shook his head. “No one else’s. Now, it would be our pleasure to serve you.”
“I’m not even a guest here. I’ve been ordered by the King to stay under this roof for the next thirteen nights. So I will serve myself.”
When he offered his palm as a measure of respect, the doggen stared at it. Then Thomat stepped back from his side of the counter . . . and bowed so low, his toque nearly brushed the lamb he’d been trimming.