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FOUR

Sometimes it was better to just walk away.

Not that Elise necessarily felt any better about the confrontation with her father. But at least, as she sat up in her bedroom, staring at her reflection in her vanity mirror, there was consolation to be had that things hadn’t gotten even worse.

Which, considering the stuff she’d said to him …

What came next? Her lighting their house on fire?

She’d meant every last word, though. None of it had been for show or distraction. And maybe if they’d been a different kind of father and daughter, the hard things she’d laid out would have opened the door to greater closeness, and forgiveness, and a mutual grieving.

Instead, there had been anger on both sides, and now her father was going to petition the King to make her a sehcluded female. If she’d thought she’d had problems before? Assuming the petition was accepted—and given his station in the glymera, why wouldn’t it be—she would have less than no rights. She would be a physical possession of her father’s, like a lamp or a car. A toaster oven.

A fricking couch.

As far as her father was concerned, the issue was closed. She wasn’t going to university anymore, and she was going to accept punishment for lying in the form of that guardianship. Done and dusted.

In the background, the details of her room became oh, so glaring, the silk brocade drapes, the canopied bed, the French antiques and the hand-painted wallpaper like a set for a Merchant Ivory film.

You know, something Keira Knightley would be in, wearing a corset and a cascading hairpiece.

None of it was Elise’s style. Hell, she didn’t even know what her style was.

As her cellphone started to ring, she took it out of the coat she still hadn’t bothered to take off yet and looked at who it was.

“Thank God,” she said as she braced her head in her hand. “I need you.”

“Hey, I’m in the middle of training. Are you okay?” Peyton’s voice was hushed, as if her cousin had cupped his hand around his mouth.

“No. I’m not.”

“Look, I can’t really talk now. I’m playing dead in an alley.”

“What?” She knew the guy was into some kinky things, but really? “Where are you?”

“Like I said, in an alley,” he whispered. “I just got killed in a field exercise and I’m waiting for my punishment. Meet me in an hour.”

As he gave her an address downtown, she shook her head even though he couldn’t see her. “No, you don’t understand. While you’re playing dead, I’m under house arrest. I’m stuck here.”

“What?”

Guess two could play at the surprise, surprise! game. “Long story. I can’t get away to see you—”

“Of course you can. Just crack a window and ghost out. I’ll see you in an hour.”

The connection was cut off, and Elise took the phone away from her ear as if she could will her cousin back on her cell.

Peyton had been the one to come and tell the family what had happened to Allishon. And although Elise had been forbidden to be in the room or hear any of the details, he had visited her afterward and told her if she needed anything, she could always come to him.

He’d probably meant that more in terms of dealing with Allishon’s death, but Elise didn’t feel like she had anywhere else to turn.

When her phone rang again, she answered immediately. “I’m serious, I can’t leave.”

“I’m sorry?” a male voice said.

“Troy! Oh, jeez. I, ah, was expecting someone else.”

“I just wanted to know …” Her professor cleared his throat. “You know, that you got home okay. And I was, I was sorry we were interrupted.”

“Well, you’re a popular guy.” Elise took a deep breath and really wished she could go back to worrying about something as simple as when they were going to go out. “You’re bound to be approached in the library.”

“Hey, are you okay? You sound off? Is it because—”

“Home problems. Nothing to do with you.”

“You know, you’ve never spoken about your family. I mean, I know you’re not married—but other than that …”

He had a nice voice, she thought. And his human accent was exotic in her ear. But it was so hard to switch gears from the very real trouble she had with her father to something as frivolous as dinner.

Which was clearly where he was headed.

“I don’t even know where you’re from,” Troy prompted when she didn’t say anything. “I’ve never been able to place your accent. European, I know, but …”

As he went quiet again, clearly hoping she’d fill in the details, she said, “No, I’m not from the States, it’s true.”

“How long ago did you come here?”

Oh, I was born in Caldwell. Just into a different species from you entirely.

“Am I prying too much?” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“No. It’s just … my father found out I was going to school and he’s really angry at me. I’ve been sneaking around behind his back, and when I came home tonight, I got caught.”

“He doesn’t want you to get your degree?”

“No, not really. He’s very …” She tried to think of the human word. “He’s very traditional. Old school, you know. The only reason I got to go at all was because my mother talked him into it, but she passed during my freshman year and there you have it.”

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