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As if Marissa could read minds, the female put her head in the open doorway. “Anything?”

Mary smiled at her boss and her dear friend. “Nothing. I swear, I have never been more excited for May to get here.”

“I’ve always had a good feeling about this, you know.”

“I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’m staying quiet.” Mary focused on the calendar again. “Hey, I’m not going to be in tomorrow night. Bitty’s got her physical exam scheduled.”

“Oh, that’s right. Good luck—and it’s too bad you have to go all the way in to Havers’s.”

“Doc Jane says she just doesn’t have the appropriate knowledge base. Pediatrics for vampires is a thing, apparently.”

Marissa smiled gently. “Well, my brother may be complicated for me personally, but I have never questioned his ability to provide good care to his patients. Bitty couldn’t be in better hands.”

“I’d really rather just keep her with us at the training center’s clinic. But at the end of the day, what’s right for her is all we care about.”

“That’s called being a good parent.”

Mary looked at her bracelet. “Amen to that.”

THREE

“Elise! Do not tell me you have been to university!”

As her father came charging out of his study, he looked as much like a raging bull as a whip-thin, utterly distinguished aristocrat could—which was, actually, not like a bull at all, but more like a European prince trying to flag his butler down. Felixe the Younger did have, however, a highly uncharacteristic flush to his face, and he had failed to button his evening jacket as he had rushed from his desk at her.

If he’d been a commoner, he would have been picking up pieces of furniture and throwing them around as he carpet-bombed the air with variations on an f-word theme.

And as she faced off at him, from out of nowhere, she heard that line from M*A*S*H: Winchesters do not sweat, we perspire. And Winchesters do not perspire.

Or something to that effect. You had to love Charles Emerson Winchester III.

“Explain yourself!”

There were a couple of ways to handle this, she supposed. Deny, deny, deny, but with a backpack hanging off her shoulder, those pesky snowflakes all over her, and the fact that she’d previously told him she was going to stay in and read? Hard sell, for one thing; for another, she detested lies. Another option was walking away, but that was a total no-go—she had been raised properly, and that meant that she couldn’t be rude to her elders.

Annnnnd that left her with door number three.

The truth.

“I’vebeengoingbacktoschool.” As her father frowned and leaned in toward her, she put some volume into her voice and slowed things down. “Yes, I have been going to school again.”

Her father fell silent in shock and she studied him as if he were a stranger. He had a patrician face, the even features distilled by good breeding to the point that you were aware he was of masculine derivation, but the sexual affiliation was at a whisper, not a shout. His hair was dark, whereas hers was streaked with blond, and his eyes were pale gray, not blue. But their diction was identical and so were their good posture, their moderated affect … and their sense of values.

So, yes, she did feel as though she had done something wrong. Even though she was past her transition, arguably of age especially if you applied a human standard, and had done nothing more reckless than sit in a quiet library for three hours grading papers.

“Are you … have you … how can you …” It was a while before her father could get through an entire sentence. “I forbade you to go there! After the raids, I explicitly told you that it was unsafe and that you were not to be permitted to go! And that was before …”

Elise closed her eyes. That last sentence wasn’t finished because it was That Which Was Not Discussed.

Allishon’s name hadn’t been uttered since the night word had come unto the household that she had passed. They hadn’t even had a Fade ceremony for her.

“Well!” he demanded. “What have you to say for yourself!”

“I’m sorry, Father, but I—”

“How can you possibly be so delinquent! If your mahmen were still alive, she would be apoplectic! How long has this been going on?”

“A year.”

“A year!”

At that moment, the butler came scurrying in from the back of the house, as if he had heard the disturbance and was concerned some crazy person had broken in to the mansion for which he was responsible. When the doggen got a gander at her father? He backed off fast as a mouse before a cat.

“You have been going for a year?” her father hissed, his voice shaking. “How have you—you have been lying to me? For that long?”

Elise shucked her backpack and put it between her feet. “Father, what was I to do?”

“Stay here! It is dangerous in Caldwell!”

“But the raids are over. And even when they occurred, the slayers were hitting vampire targets, not human ones. It’s a human school—”

“Humans are savages! You know exactly how much damage they do to each other! You see the news—the guns, the violence! Even if they were not targeting you as another species, you could get caught in the crossfire!”

As Elise’s eyes drifted to the high ceiling, she searched for some correct combination of words to make this all go away.

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