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Balthazar shot a look over his shoulder. “He penetrated her, you mean.”

“Not just that. It was the full bifta, as they say.”

The Bastard came back over to the table with a frown on his face.

“You’re sure about this?”

Butch fished around the papers on the table and pulled the report out. “Yup, this just came over to me and it’s right here.” He turned the top page of the autopsy document back and got to the notes. “Semen was found in the vagina, and Havers was able to determine by examination of the tissue that it was after death. I’m going to ask Syn to give me a sample, and if he refuses, I’ll have to force the issue. Maybe that’ll finally give me the concrete evidence I need.”

“Wait, you’re sure. About the semen?”

Butch tapped the page. “It’s in the report. And though I have a dim view of my brother-in-law in some respects, I’ve never had a reason to doubt his clinical findings.”

“Well, because if it happened after she died, then Syn wasn’t the last male with her.”

Frowning, Butch put the autopsy report back down. “What makes you say that?’

Balthazar exhaled a plume of smoke. “Because he can’t ejaculate. He never does. So if you’re sure that the sex happened afterward, then there was another person with the victim that night.”

The following evening, Boone materialized from Helania’s apartment to his father’s house. As he stood in the cold, he looked at the study window that he’d broken with the garden hose and its holder. The sounds of two workmales talking inside the house were carried through the hole Boone had made, the flimsy tarp that had been temporarily hung offering scant filter of what was being said.

Chatting aside, they were making progress. The broken, jagged panes of glass had been removed, and were in the process of being replaced one by one. By dawn, he was willing to bet, it would be all fixed.

Then again, Marquist always had been efficient at getting things done, hadn’t he—

Helania’s springtime scent was the first announcement of her arrival, and right on its heels was her physical form as she materialized beside him. Courtesy of her having fed from him, she could track his whereabouts anywhere, so he hadn’t had to give her an address.

As she looked at the mansion’s formal entrance, her eyes widened. And then she took a couple of steps back in the snow and stared up, way up, at the house’s refined and elegant exterior.

Her expression turned to flat-out shock. “When you said you lived in a big place . . . I had no idea.”

Boone shook his head and went over to open the heavy door. “It’s still just a roof and four walls at the end of the night.”

Stepping inside, he held the great oak panels wide and waited for her to join him. As she approached the doorway, she was careful to stomp the snow off the treads of her boots, and when she came across the threshold, she didn’t go far.

Her eyes bounced around the foyer, moving from the stairwell with its carved balustrade to the parlor where he’d had that Fade Ceremony to the open archway of his sire’s study. And the entire time she surveyed the grandeur, Boone felt like he wanted to apologize for the show of wealth.

“This is not me,” he heard himself say. “I am not this house.” Helania looked at him, and it was a while before she spoke. “But this is where you’re from. This is the world you live in.”

“Well, it’s not anymore.” Boone shrugged. “Come on, let’s grab a car so we can start looking for that house and get out of here—”

“Where is your room?”

“Upstairs. But it’s not important.”

“Oh. Okay.”

As he held out his hand, she came to him, and he led her through to the back of the house. Passing through the polishing room, she lost her momentum as she eyed the silver trays that were lined up and the uniformed doggen who was rubbing them with a pink paste that gradually turned gray.

“Oh, my Lord!” The maid dropped the sponge she was using and bowed low to Boone. “It is my honor—”

“It’s okay, not to worry, it’s fine—” Boone cut himself off and wished he could get the doggen to stand up straight again. Turning to Helania, he said, “I’d like to introduce my—”

“Friend,” Helania said as she put out her hand. “I’m his friend.”

The doggen stared at the palm that had been offered to her with utter shock. Then she glanced at Boone in confusion. “My Lord?”

Boone stepped in and discreetly lowered Helania’s arm. “You’re doing a wonderful job, Susette. Thank you so much. We’ll just be going the now.”

As he whisked Helania away into the pantry, she tugged at his sleeve. “What did I do wrong? I don’t understand?”

Boone paused in the staging area with all of its counter space taken up with stacks of porcelain dishes. As he eyed the dinner plates, he wondered, given those trays that were being worked on in the other room, whether Marquist was going to try to throw himself a congratulatory party.

Good luck with that, Boone thought as he refocused on Helania. “Have you ever met a doggen before? Apart from Fritz?” he asked.

“And I don’t mean to be disrespectful, I really don’t.”

“Um . . . no. I’ve never even been in a household like this.”

“Okay, so, doggen are very old school and all they want to do is take care of their family. They don’t believe they are on our level, and so for you to offer your hand, they don’t know how to handle being acknowledged like that. It’s unfathomable to them. I personally have never agreed with it, but they have chosen their way, and it is an argument I haven’t even tried to broach out of respect for their traditions.”

“Oh. I didn’t know.”

“It’s all right. It’s forgotten.” He smiled darkly. “Besides, it’s out of my life now, too, so we don’t have to worry about it.”

Pulling her into the kitchen, he figured the explanation had good timing given all the doggen who were cooking and preparing Last Meal. As Boone checked out the quantities, there wasn’t enough to suggest other people were coming over, but he wondered how long that would last.

“Where’s the master of the house?” he asked Thomat, who was over by the stove.

The chef bowed. “I believe I am looking at him, sire.”

Boone wanted to roll his eyes but stopped himself. “Marquist, I mean.”

“He is upstairs, being attended to by a trainer and then a masseuse. Then it is my understanding that he has a tailor coming by, followed by a cobbler.”

“Getting himself all done up. Guess my father’s clothes didn’t go far enough for him and he’s given up his nights of shining shoes, huh.”

“It is an abomination.”

Boone let that one lie where it landed. “I’m taking my car out—oh, and this is Helania. My friend.”

As Thomat bowed in the direction of the female, she tucked her hands under her arms, and said, “Pleased to meet you.”

“It is my honor.” The chef straightened. “If there is aught that you require, mistress, please let me know.”

“Thank you.”

When Helania glanced at Boone, he gave her a subtle thumbs-up.

“We’ll be back in a couple of hours, Thomat. To pick up some of my things.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

It was on the tip of Boone’s tongue to suggest the male not use that term anywhere in Marquist’s earshot, but he figured that went without saying. Or perhaps the chef didn’t care.

Might be an interesting grudge match, Boone thought. Former butler versus current chef?

All things being equal—and they weren’t—he’d bet on Thomat.

Leading the way out into the garages, Boone flipped on the caged lights that hung over the lineup of half a dozen cars. As Helania inhaled sharply, he was reminded that he should be impressed by the display of wealth. But it was what he was used to.

“The Bentley’s mine,” he said, pointing down the row.

“Which one is that?”

“The gold one. Four down. It has all-wheel drive.”

The Continental GT Speed was owned by him, and as he got behind the wheel and double-checked that the keys were still in the center console, he realized he could sell it and get some money out of the thing. It had to be worth over a hundred thousand, which was enough to put a down payment on something small on the outskirts of town.

Of course, in this fantasy, he had Helania moving her stuff in with his, and the two of them waiting out the eighteen months before their young arrived in the kind of mating bliss that books were written about.

Ah, fiction. So much better than reality.

Helania got in next to him and shut her door. “Wow.”

As she ran her fingertips over the burl ash panels on the dash, he wondered why he’d never particularly paid attention to them. It was really nice wood, and it should be noted.

Instead, he’d only gotten the car ’cuz he’d needed wheels and his cousin knew a guy down in Manhattan who could get him one delivered in twenty-four hours.

The color hadn’t mattered. Nor the interior. Nothing about it had seemed particularly significant . . . when in reality, it was a beautiful car, expensively made.

Rich people had a knack for ignoring the wealth that surrounded them, didn’t they.

Hitting the garage door opener, Boone craned around and reversed out into the snow. “So where should we start?”

Helania stared out the window at the mansion as they K-turned in the courtyard and he headed them out to the road.

“It’s just a house,” he muttered. “And I don’t mean that like I’m criticizing you for looking at it like that. It’s more a case of my not liking what the place represents.”

“I don’t mean to be . . . agog, I think the word is. I’ve just never seen anything like this outside of the movies. I mean, it’s way bigger than Jake Ryan’s parents’ place.”