When she just stared at him, he felt like a royal idiot.
She was getting her Ph.D. in psychology for fuck’s sake. What did he know?
“Or not,” he muttered. “I don’t know what I’m talking about—”
Elise cut him off by kissing him. “God … you are so smart.”
“I am? I mean … yeah, I’m an Einstein. Whatevs.”
She laughed. “No, really, you’re spot-on. I’ve just never thought of it like that.”
For a long moment, he stared at her. Until she prompted, “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Axe kissed her, but then moved back. “You probably should go.”
“I think you’re right. If I’m going to spend the night with you, I want it to be on honest terms. And that is not going to happen over the phone with my father—and not just because I left that GPS-riddled cell of mine at home.”
“If he kicks you out, you can stay here with me. And I’m only half joking about that.”
“You are very sweet.”
The snort he let out was an ugly sound, the kind of thing that he tried to keep down, but couldn’t catch. And yes, she laughed at him—which made him resent the noise less.
But then Elise sat up and, tragically, began putting her clothes on. When she was back in order, she knelt down and pulled one of the blankets over his nakedness.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay here alone? I’m worried.”
“If what we just did together didn’t kill me, I guarantee you I’ll make it to sunset.”
“I’ll be fine.”
She kissed him and then went over to the fire, restoking it for him.
“You don’t need to do that,” he said.
“Too late.” She smiled at him over her shoulder as she poked at the logs she’d added. “You know what I’m doing right now?”
“Looking hotter than what’s going on in that hearth?”
“I’m trying not to ask when I’m going to see you again.”
“I got an easy answer for that. Four a.m. tomorrow.”
“Is that a date?”
“You better believe it.” He wadded an old sofa pillow up under his head. “Call me when you’re home safe?”
“Always. Where’s your phone?”
“Oh … shit. I have no idea. Probably back at the training center with what was left of my clothes. And I don’t have a landline.”
“Well … I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself.”
There was a long, long pause.
“Go,” he told her. “So I know you’re safe before the sun comes up.”
Elise nodded and then she was gone, the front door closing behind her quietly.
In the wake of her departure, he thought, God … the house was so empty.
The following evening, as Elise got dressed to go to see Peyton, her thoughts were on Axe, not either of her cousins. She was worried about him having been okay through the day. How his wounds were doing. Whether he’d let the fire go out and turned himself into a Popsicle.
He had to get that heating system at the cottage fixed. The weather was going to get a whole lot worse before it improved. In, like, May.
The problem was, it felt a little too stalkerish for her to just show up at his house and be all, Hey!, just wanted to see if you’re still breathing! Besides, in the middle of their sexual marathon, he’d mentioned that he had to get his stitches out at the clinic, and surely if he failed to turn up there, someone would go looking for him.
“Damn it,” she said as she left her room—with her phone and its GPS tracker going strong.
She had skipped First Meal. There was just no way she could sit between her father and her uncle and make small talk, not only considering what she had done with Axe, but also in light of what she’d seen in her aunt the night before: Even with all her schooling and self-actualization, she wasn’t capable of shelving that much emotion.
Maybe she was her sire’s daughter after all, not wanting to share.
Down on the first floor, she knocked on the closed door to her father’s study. When she heard his greeting, she opened it and went in. He was at his desk, in one of his suits, looking like a posed Dunhill model.
For an ad in Life magazine, circa 1942.
“Good evening, Father.”
He looked up from his paperwork. “Oh, hello, dearest.”
“Father, I’m going over to see Peyton, son of Peythone? His sire and his mahmen will both be there. The purpose is to discuss Paradise’s birthday party? It is coming up and he and I will be planning a small event, at his home, in her honor?”
For the first time in so long, Felixe actually smiled. Really, truly smiled. To the point where he even had to put his gold pen down on the blotter. “Oh, darling, I think that is marvelous. I think that is just splendid.”
“I thought you would be pleased.” With effort, she kept the judgment out of her voice. “I’m not sure how long it will take.”
“Oh, do enjoy yourself. I shall see you at dawn, then.”
With a brief bow, she exited, the center of her chest aching because she would have loved to have had that reaction from him to her studies, her work, her real plans. But no, he was happy she was throwing a party.
She told herself it was just his way, his generation, all he knew.