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“I have to get going, but I’ll talk to you tomorrow, love. Kiss the kids for me. Goodnight.” Pulling the phone from the crook of his neck and his shoulder, Blair stared down at the open suitcase in front of him. Everything had its own neat pile, organized within an inch of its life, and yet it still looked wrong. The fact that it was even happening, he guessed. That he was leaving his apartment in a confusing mixture of willing and unwilling, for some amount of time he had never really been told. A week, a month, indefinitely. He had been auctioned, pawned off into the hands of the highest bidder—someone he knew only for having an attractive face and a fine etiquette. With a penchant for getting under Mara’s skin in the kind of way that he silently wished he could for well over a year now. He had always planned on going into this neutral, but a new anticipation rippled its way under his skin. He zipped the case, breaking the silence with that harsh noise of closure, and hefted it off his bed to head for the door. Mara was standing in his doorway. Blair jumped, reacting with a short, mental curse as his heart pushed upwards into his throat. The woman leaned her elegant frame against the doorway, unmoving. Her face was passive, stoic, the only emotion betrayed in the quiet burn in the back of her eyes. Had he not known her better, he would have missed it entirely. She could have saved herself the trouble and not pawned him off, if she was going to be this reluctant about letting him go. (She should have thought twice about inviting the one person she seemingly wanted to impress but had no taste for otherwise.) “You’re all set to leave, then,” she spoke, commenting more than questioning, voice low, a flowing stream in the winter. She was amazing at manipulation. An extra word here, a tone change there, and she could pull guilt out of a bloody sociopath. Blair swallowed and held his place. He had nothing to feel guilty about. She did this to herself, just like she always did. (Funny, how it had never stopped him before.) “Er, yeah, I think I’ve gotten everything I’ll need for now,” he answered after a hard swallow, eyes flicking down to the case by his side and back again. Anxiety clutched at his stomach, at the doorway half obscured by this woman. Older in look, older in age, older in experience. There was only one way out. He stepped forward, closing the gap between them. She stopped him (of course she stopped him) as he came into line with her, his feet pausing in their desperate march as a hand snaked up and under his chin. Delicate and cold, her fingers caressed his tensing jaw, ghosting down to land on the two teeth marks on his neck. They pushed just a little too hard against skin a little too tender, and he winced. “I’ll miss you, love. Next time you’re around, I’ll take you to Berlin with me,” she murmured, close to his ear, with a warmth that couldn’t quite pierce her words. So she was flying away again. There’d be no loneliness in her future, no time for silent pining with extravagant parties and foreign donors lining up at her door. They always did. The only thing that had ever really surprised him was her faithfulness. At least, what he saw of it. (It’s not always that bad, he told himself. She has her good moments. You’ve seen them.) “Sounds nice, I look forward to it,” he answered coolly, warmer than her still, eyes half-lidded while the tiniest of smiles tugged at his lips. He had picked up a lot in these last couple of years. Fingers released, and Blair had to keep from tripping over himself as he headed for the stairs, desperate, hoping that there was a car already there. There wasn’t, but its headlights flashed through the living room window as he reached the door. He opened it, strode out, and didn’t look back. He could imagine it easily enough, anyway. Mara, in the door, scowling—maybe even snarling—looking onto the vehicle and the vampire inside that was about to take her favorite quarry. It was too dark for him to see into the windows of the vehicle, but the chill on his back said enough on its own. The driver exited, grabbed his suitcase after a polite requested, and opened the back door for him. He slid in, nerves rattling, splitting apart as he let all the tension out of his body at once and looked over to his left. To his new…owner, for lack of a better word. Tired as it was, he offered him a smile. It was real this time.
He thinks he's so fucking charming. Danny lifted his glass to one of the servers circling the room, eyes fixed on the girl across the dance floor as he blandly thanked the man and sipped from a now full glass of wine. There was nothing special about her, really, he thought. Pretty in a generic sort of way, with waves of auburn hair pulled back and piled high upon her head, brown eyes and a smattering of freckles across her nose. She could have been anyone among the crowd, her blue dress too simple for the lavish occasion, the white jewels in her hair downplayed by their diminutive size. Is that what he wanted, then? A princess who would fade into the background? That critical eye turned to the young woman's escort -- arguably too old for her, but so was he, he supposed -- his smile so broadly visible even from across the ballroom that Danny could all but hear the rasping bass of his bemused chuckle as the girl continued with whatever anecdote she'd decided to drawl for his entertainment. Scowling, he drained his glass in a single draft and left it sitting lonely on a table linen. Daniel Renaud was the only son of the wealthy and contemptuous Duke of Eshen, Andrew Duvall, and an illegitimate one at that. The product of an extramarital affair that had resulted in divorce, Danny had spent the better part of his life in and out of his father's home and his favor, not to mention his line of inheritance. That summer, however, as King Henry's eldest daughter Marie came to debut, he had found himself an opportunity to close the gap between himself and his father's title once and for all, convincing the old man to grant his support just long enough for Danny to work his way into Marie's affection. He had not, however, accounted for the likes of Nathaniel Crane. After a week at court, his father's handful of strings pulling him a small room in the palatial south wing, Danny had descended to breakfast with the royal family, only to find his seat taken by the handsome and charming Crane, younger brother to the Duke of Winship. Danny recognized him only by reputation then, but in the month since, he had quickly grown to detest his presence in every instance. Even more so, now that Marie seemed to have taken a stronger liking to the man, and had begun politely declining Danny's various invitations over the last few days. Crossing the room, he wandered between the guests with a casual smile, but a purposeful step in his long stride that carried him toward the King himself, engaged in boisterous conversation with a handful of noblemen near one of the tables piled high with food. Danny slowed his gait, slipping past a server with a silver tray of oysters and bumping gently into Henry's arm before immediately apologizing, his please for excuse met with laughter and a gentle clap on the shoulder. No, he thought, he would win this one way or the other. "How are you tonight, Daniel?" "Excellent, of course, Your Majesty is a gracious host." "And your father? His health is still in decline?" "Unfortunately--" liquid blue eyes dropped solemnly and he clasped his hands in front of him "--I am not sure how much longer he'll be with us." Henry squeezed Danny's shoulder gently. "I'm sorry to hear that. He's a fine man." "He is." Danny brightened visibly at the touch, regarding the King with an endearing smile. "I owe him very much. And you, Your Majesty, for the opportunity to share this time with you." Carefully, his hand rose to cover that of the King's, his expression wistful and soft. "I have treasured it so."