“My Lord?” his father’s butler prompted.
He cursed. “Tell him I have to get dressed first.”
“As you wish.”
Oh, he didn’t wish. Not fucking at all.
A good half hour later, Peyton meandered down to the first floor, and he took his sweet frickin’ time making it over to the closed doors of his father’s study. At any moment, he expected the butler to jump out from the pantry with a stopwatch and—
“He has been expecting you.”
Peyton looked over his shoulder at the hall monitor. The doggen was looming as only an old-school servant of a Founding Family dressed in a uniform could, his average height pumped up to LeBron standards thanks to that holier-than-thou attitude.
“Yeah,” Peyton drawled, “you mentioned that before. That’s why I came down.”
Man, if that doggen’s disapproval was any thicker, it would qualify as a coat of asphalt.
“I shall let him know you’ve arrived,” the butler murmured as he stepped forward and knocked. “My Lord?”
“Send him in,” came the muffled response.
The butler swung open the carved panels, revealing a grand expanse of mahogany, Oriental rugs, leather-bound books, and brass chandeliers. Long and tall, the room had an upper story of shelves accessible by a curved set of brass steps and serviced by a walkway with an ornate rail that went all the way around the second level.
As Peyton looked up at that gold-leafed balustrade, he was reminded of when he’d been young and convinced that a giant king’s crown had been imported from somewhere and installed in the family’s house.
Because he and his bloodline were just that special.
“Peyton. Sit down.”
He shifted his eyes to his father. The male was sitting behind a desk that was as big as a king-sized bed, his back straight, his hands linked on the blood-red blotter. Peythone was dressed in a dark suit and had a tie knotted precisely at his throat, the button-down and the pocket square white. A discreet Cartier watch peeked out from the French cuffs, and the cuff links were gold with Burmese rubies.
When his father indicated the vacant chair across from the desk, Peyton realized he hadn’t moved.
“How are you, Father,” he said as he walked forward.
“I am well. How kind of you to ask.”
“What is this all about?”
“Actually, I’m good right here.” As he stood to the side of that chair, he crossed his arms over his chest. “What can I do for you?”
“You may sit down.” His father nodded at the silk-covered seat. “And then we can talk.”
Peyton looked around and got absolutely no support from the portraits that hung in front of the books, the softly crackling fireplace, the seating arrangements of armchairs and side tables.
Grinding his molars, he moved around and slowly lowered himself into the chair. The way he saw it, he might as well face the music, whatever it was—
“Must you wear those clothes in the house.”
Peyton glanced down at himself. The leather jacket, heavy combat pants and steel-toed boots were standard issue in the training program.
If you could only see all the weapons underneath, he thought.
“What do you want from me, Father.”
Peythone cleared his throat. “I think it’s time to discuss your future.”
And what future is that exactly? he wondered. As a feature on Intervention?
When his father went no further, Peyton shrugged. “I’m in the training program. I’m a fighter—”
“We both know that’s a diversion—”
“The hell it is—and you wanted me to go into the program.”
“Because I had hoped it would turn you into—”
“Someone like you? Yeah, ’cuz you’re such a hard-ass.”
“Watch your tone,” his father bit out. “And permit me to remind you that your life is not your own. It belongs to this bloodline you are a part of, and as such, it is incumbent upon me to steer you in the proper direction.”
Peyton leaned forward in the chair. “I am—”
His father talked right over him. “And accordingly, I have someone I would like you to meet. She is from a suitable family, and before you worry, she is widely considered a great beauty. I am confident that that part of all this will be to your liking. If you are smart, you will consider her fairly, without regard to any rebellion you might feel compelled to pursue as a result of my bringing this forth. I have your best interests at heart here, and I implore you to see that.”
Implore? My ass you’re imploring any of this, Peyton thought.
“Of course, if you fail to conduct yourself in a proper fashion”—his father smiled coldly—“I shall be forced to reduce your allowance.”
“I have a job.”
“Being a soldier does not pay for this.” His father motioned around the study in such an expansive fashion, it was clear he was referring to the entire estate. And maybe half of Caldwell itself. “And somehow, I don’t believe you would fare well without this standard of living. You are not that hardy.”
Peyton looked off to the side, to a portrait of a male in nineteenth-century court dress. It was his father, of course. All of the portraits were of his father, each stage of Peythone’s life displayed as if he were challenging anyone to argue with his station.
“Why do you think so little of me,” Peyton murmured.
“Why? Because I have lived through feast and famine. Wars both human and vampire. I moved across the great ocean and established our base here before any of the other families did. I am the head of this great bloodline and have conducted myself with honor throughout the centuries, remaining faithful to your mahmen, and giving her you as a gift of my loins. I hold three doctorates from human schools and am a certified expert in the Old Laws. I am also a virtuoso violinist and speak twelve languages. Tell me, what have you done? Have I in some way missed your vast accomplishments, having noted only your ability to consume vast quantities of alcohol and whatever else you do in that room I provide you with under my roof? Hmm?”
Peyton let all that stand and considered getting up and walking out. Instead, he said softly, “May I ask you something?”
His father offered his palms to the lofty, vaulted ceiling. “But of course. I welcome any inquiries.”
“Why did you want me to participate in the training center program.”
“It was about time you brought some honor to this family. As opposed to burden.”
“No…” Peyton shook his head. “I don’t think that’s it.”
“Do they teach you to read minds there, then?”
Peyton got to his feet. “I think you made me go because you thought I was going to fail—and you were looking forward to adding that to the list of things you could lord over me.”
His father did an excellent impression of offense. But the light in his eyes…oh, there was a nasty little light in there, and that was the truth, wasn’t it.
“Of course not. Don’t be dramatic.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Peyton said as he turned away.
With every step he took toward the door, he felt worse: In his mind, he saw Paradise’s expression as he had told her he loved her. Then he enjoyed that close-up of Novo lying there like she was enduring him. And the capper was that face of his sire’s, the deep-seated dislike he had never understood simmering just below the fine patrician bone structure, which looked exactly like Peyton’s own.
When he got to the door, he said over his shoulder, “I’ll meet the female. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll be there.”
His father positively recoiled in surprise, but Peythone recovered soon enough. “Very well, then. I shall have it all arranged. And I trust you shall comport yourself with appropriate dignity—by my standards, not yours.”
“Sure. Fine.” He let himself out. “Whatever.”
As he re-shut the doors behind himself, he was surprised at what he had agreed to. But then he figured…why not try his father’s way. He didn’t like the guy, didn’t respect him, but shit was not going so well with Peyton in the Captain Kirk chair. All he’d managed to accomplish in the past five years was liver damage, THC cravings, and unrequited love.