For no good reason, and probably a bad one, it was hard not to notice how close they were. The cozy couch was sizable for two—provided one of them wasn’t as big as Ruhn…and their thighs were nearly brushing.
You’re here to do your job, he informed his libido. Not ogle your guard.
Minnie came in with a tray, and before she got far, Ruhn was up off the sofa and taking the weight from her.
“Where may I put this?” he asked.
“Oh, right here. Please.”
Ruhn delivered the tea to the coffee table, and as he bent down, the firelight caught in the longer hair on the top of his head and made it flash with highlights like new copper in moonbeams.
What would touching it be like—
“Saxton?” Minnie said.
As he snapped to, he saw that the female was staring at him in inquiry and he took a gamble. “I would love some tea. Thank you.”
“It’s Earl Grey.”
“My favorite.” He forced himself to focus and happened to look in the direction of the hearth. “I must commend you on those Delft tiles around the fireplace. They are extraordinary.”
Minnie smiled as if he had just told her her young was the most brilliant thing on the planet. “My Rhysland, he brought them over from our home in the Old Country. He purchased them from a master human over there, and they had been around our hearth since 1705. When he decided that we must go across the great sea to find a better life here, he knew I was heartbroken to leave, and he removed them without my knowledge, packing them with care. It took us fifty years to be able to afford this land, and then another ten before we could build this house, but my Rhysland…” As her eyes watered, she took a handkerchief out of a pocket in her dress. “He did not tell me what he was about, and he installed them here as a surprise. He told me they were a bridge to our future, a tie that brought our past with us.”
While Minnie sought to compose herself, Saxton leaned in to examine the tiles to give her some privacy—and then he was just plain captivated. Each of the white tiles had a little whimsical scene in the center done in blue, the depictions of windmills and landscapes, fishing boats and people at their work, executed in a breezy, painterly style and set off with decorative swirls in the corners. The overall effect was delightful—and they were worth a fortune. These were from the period of the masters.
“Do you take sugar, kind solicitor?”
Saxton nodded. “Yes, thank you, madam. Just one.”
A porcelain cup was passed over to him, and he stirred the cube in the bottom away with a tiny silver spoon. Ruhn declined the tea, but took a big piece of cinnamon coffee cake.
“That looks delicious.” Saxton nodded as a slice was offered to him. “I skipped First Meal.”
“One has to eat.” Minnie smiled. “I always tell my grandchildren that. Even though they are well past their transitions and living their own lives, I took them in when my daughter tragically passed upon the birthing bed. One never ceases to be a parent—are either of you mated with young?”
Saxton coughed a little. “I am not. No.”
“And you?” Minnie asked Ruhn.
“Well,” she announced as she sat down in a rocking chair with her own tea. “We should rectify that, shouldn’t we. You know, my granddaughter is unmated and quite lovely.”
As Minnie indicated an oil painting behind her, Saxton dutifully looked over. The female was indeed quite lovely, with long, dark hair and even features. The eyes were objectively arresting, a keen intelligence radiating out from them, and the smile suggested she was kindhearted but no fool.
“She hated that old-fashioned gown I made her put on.” Minnie smiled. “My granddaughter is of the modern era, and that dress is one that I wore long ago when I was her age. I made it for when I first met Rhysland and kept it safe. I suppose I hoped that it would help her see the value in settling down with a good mate and living the life I have. She has other plans, though—which is not to say she is not virtuous.”
Saxton glanced at Ruhn. The male was likewise examining the portrait, and for some reason, whatever opinion he was forming seemed terribly important. Did he find her attractive? Did he want to meet her? As an unattached male, with an invitation from the head of the household, it would not be inappropriate for him to engage in a supervised meeting. He was not an aristocrat, and neither were Minnie and her clan, but there were still rules of conduct to be considered.
“You mention that you have other grandchildren?” Saxton asked. “I was aware only that you had a granddaughter.”
Minnie grew pensive. “Rhysland and I also have a grandson. But we have not been as close to him.”
“What do you mean? And forgive me if I am prying, but I am curious as it relates to your issues with this house.”
There was a long pause. “It is not that I do not love my grandson. There is, however, a side to him that I struggle to understand and accept. He seems to rather prefer the easy road, and this was something that brought him into much conflict with his grandfather.”
“I am sorry. Relationships can be complicated.”
“Yes, I fear my grandson is about to discover exactly how true that is.” Minnie put her tea aside and rose to her feet. “But that is his journey, not mine, to take.”
The older female walked across the room, tilted a lampshade off-center and righted it…then moved an amethyst geode up and back on a side table…after which she straightened a throw pillow.
“Please tell us what is happening with your house, Minnie,” Saxton said softly. “We’re here to help you.”
“That is what my granddaughter told me. But I believe this is much ado about naught.”
“Both your granddaughter and your neighbors don’t seem to think so.”
“Are you referring to Rocke and Lyric?”
“Oh, they are such fine people.”
Saxton looked at those blue and white tiles around the fireplace. And then refocused on the female. “Minnie, we will not let your property be taken from you unlawfully, whether it is by humans or vampires.”
“You serve the King, though.”
“And do you think Wrath, son of Wrath, is not powerful enough to reach into the human world? I assure you, he is.”
“My hellren always said that humans were best left to their own devices.”
“Forgive me, madam”—Ruhn put his coffee cake down, half eaten—“but that is only true if they are abiding by their own rules.”
She smiled and went back to the rocking chair. “That’s exactly what Rhysland would have said.”
“Tell us,” Saxton prompted gently.
It was a while before the female spoke. And when she did, it was as if she were relating the facts to herself—trying them on as if to determine whether the reality others were seeing was in fact what was happening.
“My beloved hellren went unto the Fade two years ago. My granddaughter, who lives closer to the city, told me to sell the house and come live with her. That would be such an intrusion, though, and moreover, this is my home. How could I leave him—I mean, it. The—subdivision, I guess is what the humans call it—next door was built right around then. I remember when I couldn’t sleep during the days, listening to the hammering and all the trucks going in and out on the road. I was first approached about selling this property maybe six months thereafter. The humans liked what they were building and the houses sold well so they wanted to expand.”
“Who came unto you?” Saxton asked.
“A man named Mr. Romanski. Or, no…wait, it was a lawyer or someone representing him? I can’t remember. They sent me a letter first. Then they called—I’m not sure how they got the number. And when I replied to neither, they called again. More letters. Then people started knocking on the door during the day when I was downstairs. Rhysland had installed a little camera at the front entrance just before he passed unto the Fade and so I could see the human men. First it was only one. Then they came in pairs. It was once every other week. And then more frequently.”
Saxton shook his head. “When did it escalate further?”