Page 67

That last one was bullshit, of course. The bottom line was the kid had been never been anything but perfectly loyal and an all-around stand-up male. And meanwhile, he’d been royally screwed over by his sire and by that butler—and sometimes, fuck it.

You just wanted the good guy to win in the end.

“Call me if you need me,” Butch said to them.

Pivoting away, he was striding out of the room when something caught his arm. As he turned around, it was Helania.

“Your sister is really proud of you right now,” she whispered. “You’ve helped give yet another group of people a measure of comfort and the kind of resolution they need to move on.”

Butch’s breath caught. And he didn’t know what to say in return. But that didn’t matter. Helania wrapped him up in a hard hug, and sometimes that communicated everything, didn’t it.

As he lowered his head and embraced her in return, he felt, deep inside his chest, the lingering pain he always carried with him . . . lift a little more.

This one was for you, Janie, he thought to himself.

Then again, every killer he’d ever found had always been for her.

* * *

As Boone watched Helania and Butch hug, he was reeling from what the Brother had said about the will. But he supposed Butch was right. With Marquist dead and no other beneficiary named . . . he was the next of kin.

Getting to his feet, he made like he’d gone vertical just to stretch his back, but that wasn’t why he’d stood up. He was looking around the parlor with new eyes and had the sense that he was trying on for size the idea of staying put.

Except that was crazy. He didn’t want any part of this glymera bullshit. He hadn’t been a fan of it before, but after what Rochelle and Helania had been through? He was so not interested—

Through the archway, he saw the staff of the house still clustered together in the foyer, Thomat and the dozen or so doggen standing in that clutch they’d formed. And they were all looking at him. They had clearly heard what Butch had said.

Because there was hope in their faces.

Loyalty . . . for Boone . . . in their eyes.

“I think they want you to stay,” Rochelle said softly.

As Helania came over to him, he opened his arms, and she eased right up against him. They stayed there as Marquist’s remains were removed, the big front door opening, the storm’s gusts sweeping in and replacing the warmth with cold. But then the Brothers said goodbye, and Boone watched through the parlor window as the surgical van pulled away and proceeded out the drive.

In the wake of the departure, there was the strangest silence in the house, an emptiness that was at once shocking . . . and liberating.

“How’d you like to have something to eat?” Helania asked him. “That’s what I was trying to do before . . .”

“Everything went off the rails?” he murmured.


Rochelle stood up. “I think we should try the whole hot-cocoa thing over again.”

“Maybe it’s bad luck?” Boone offered. “We could give something else a shot.”

“Nah, I’m not superstitious,” his friend said as the three of them started to walk out of the parlor.

In the foyer, Boone paused and looked at the staff. “Thomat, I think everyone needs a good meal. Some food. Some drink. And by that, I mean . . . the whole household. Together.”

As he met the chef’s eyes straight on, he was aware that he was laying down a rule. A new operating system. A fresh way of conducting things in the house.

And if the chef didn’t agree? Then Boone realized with total clarity that he would walk away. Sell the house and the stuff. Cut a clean break with the sick, twisted, toxic legacy he’d been born into.

Thomat looked around at the other staff. There was some whispering. And then the chef bowed deeply.

“My Lord, we would find that most agreeable. Perhaps we shall adjourn to the kitchen and communally decide upon a menu?”

Boone smiled slowly and put his arm around Helania’s shoulders. “Good deal. That’s . . . that’s just the way I’d like it to be.”

Falling into a loose group, everyone headed through the dining room and out into the polishing room and the pantry. As he passed by the opened door of the butler’s suite, he leaned in and closed it firmly.

An hour later, they were all seated around the dining room table, passing silver trays and porcelain bowels around, the eclectic meal of leftovers and easy-make sides created by all hands, everyone served by each other, all plates filled with the same food.

Boone sat at the head of the table, with Helania not at the far end, but right beside him. Rochelle was down in the middle, sitting between Thomat and one of the maids. Everybody was talking, and there were occasional laughs, although Boone was aware that they were all still recovering from the extraordinary turn of events.

Helping himself to more mashed potatoes, he looked at Helania. And found himself wondering whether she was with his young. That was the only way he would feel better about things. If they had a—

Frowning, he stopped that thought by remembering what she’d said about them getting mated. Talk about a no-win situation. He was in love with her. He had realized that in so many different ways and so many different situations, but he was trapped by the prospect of the pregnancy. If he told her he loved her now? If he asked her to mate him? She’d already made it clear she’d just see it as him meeting a duty. And the problem was . . . even though she might not have noticed herself, he could sense a very subtle change in her springtime scent.

He had a feeling . . . that she was with his young.

“Are you okay?” she asked as she reached out and took his hand.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” He forced a smile. “These potatoes are great.”

“They’re how we made them in my family. The cream cheese makes all the difference.”

“You don’t say,” he murmured, rubbing the hollow pit behind his sternum. “Cream cheese. Who’d have thought.”

* * *

As Helania followed Boone down a long, formally decorated hallway, she looked at all the closed doors and lost count at sixteen.

Incredible, how big the house was.

Finally, he stopped. “So this is my bedroom.”

“I’m excited to see it.”

“It’s nothing fancy.” He caught himself and then laughed a little. “I mean, it’s not like—oh, whatever, let’s just do this.”

As he opened the door, she stepped inside to—“Wait, is this a living room?”

“It’s the sitting area of the suite.”

“Oh.” She shook her head ruefully. “Wow. Okay—”

She stopped talking as she looked through an archway on the far wall. Called by what she saw, she walked forward into a dream bedroom. The bed was Boone-sized, for real, a huge king that was draped in monogrammed sheets and covered by a duvet that had some kind of a seal on it in the center. But none of that was what had gotten her attention.

It was the books.

Lining the walls, set into shelving, there were hundreds of books, some modern, some old, some bound with leather, some with cloth. As she stepped up to read the spines, she smiled to herself. Her solution to being quiet had been movies. His clearly was reading.

And she loved that they had introversion in common.

“This is amazing,” she breathed as she glanced over her shoulder. “I had no idea you . . .”

She let the sentence drift as she took in his somber expression—and his sad eyes. Without having to ask, she knew where he’d gone in his mind, and she thought about what Rochelle had told her by the door, right before things had gotten really crazy.

With so much answered tonight, there was still one very open issue. And it was a big one for the both of them.

But she also knew the solution. Had known it . . . pretty much all along, even though she’d been afraid to admit it.

Crossing over to him, she took Boone’s hand and led him to his own bed. As they sat down together, he stroked his thumb on the inside of her wrist . . . but he would not look her in the eye. And that sadness of his was a heartbreaker.

Helania swallowed hard. “I’m so glad I met you.”

He made a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat.

“And I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me in these last couple of . . .” Nights? God, it felt like years. “. . . you know, since I met you. About Isobel. And the case.”

Her words were failing her. Her brain wasn’t working right.

But her heart knew exactly where she stood.

Shifting over in front of him, she got down on one knee and captured both his hands in her own. Staring up into his surprised eyes, she smiled—and suddenly found every syllable she needed.

“Do you remember when I told you I didn’t want you to ask me to mate you?”

He closed his eyes and stiffened. “Yes.”

“I said that I would never be sure whether it was out of duty and obligation.”

“You did.”

“I said that I wanted to be chosen.”

He exhaled and popped his lids. “No offense, but we don’t need to rehash it all. That was a painful conversation I will not forget anytime soon—”

“Well, I’ve decided something.”

He put his hand out to stop her. “We don’t know if you’re pregnant. So there’s nothing to decide. But I want you to know, if you are, then I am—”

“I love you, and I want to know if you’ll be my hellren.”

Boone blinked. Then jerked back in surprise. “What? Wait, what did you—”

Helania smiled. “I’m asking you. See, it’s different this way. No obligation on your part, as we don’t know for sure if I’m pregnant, and I’m doing the choosing. I’m choosing you. I’m telling you that I love you and I want you and—”

That was as far as she got.

“I love you, too,” Boone said in a rush as he came down onto the carpet and kissed her. “Oh, God . . . yes, please, I will mate you. I don’t care if you’re pregnant—” He yanked back. “I mean, I do care. I really want you to be.”