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.”Stranger things had happened.—We climbed the stairs, my legs heavy and achy like I’d just finished a marathon.I gripped the rail, pulling myself up one stair at a time.Ethan did not look impressed by my efforts.“I think the blood loss took a toll,” I said.“Yes, the laceration and your utter unconsciousness clued me in to that.”I couldn’t help but laugh.“You sound like me.Maybe sarcasm can be transmitted by blood.”“God forbid,” Ethan said.“You’ve more than enough for both of us.”“Would it be wrong to wear pajamas to a guard meeting?”“It would be inappropriate,” Ethan said.“But I think you’re more than excused from leathers or a suit tonight.”“Sweatpants?”“You’re dating the Master of the House.”I took that as a “no” on the sweatpants.I made it up the stairs, and he opened the doors to the apartments.The lights had been turned on, a tray of blood and healthy snacks on the side table.Luc must have given Margot a call about my unfortunate encounter with the chef’s knife.Maybe, as House chef, she felt bad about the choice of weapon.The snack called to me, but the shower called louder.I turned on the shower and peeled away my dingy clothes.I pulled off the jacket and placed it across the vanity.It had been a birthday gift from Mallory only days after I’d become a vampire and been appointed Sentinel of Cadogan House.It had been through a lot in the last ten months, and I wasn’t keen to part with it.“You’re all right?” Ethan asked, stepping into the room.I gestured toward the jacket and smiled sadly.“I hope Mallory got a good deal on this jacket.I’m afraid it’s toast.”“This is Chicago.There are other leather jackets to be found.”“I know.But this one was meaningful.It was a gift—and it was before Nebraska.”“So much was,” Ethan said.“I doubt Mallory will fault you for destroying it tonight.She’ll be glad it protected you.At least somewhat.”I nodded.“In fairness, I didn’t mean to destroy it.I got dragged into someone else’s war.”“Isn’t that always the way?” Ethan said philosophically.“I don’t mean to be dismissive of your melancholy, but we’re short on time.Shower, please.I’m going to give Breckenridge a call while you’re underwater.”I didn’t argue about either option.When I was naked, I climbed into the shower.The water was deliciously hot, but it stung the gash across my stomach.The wound was closed, but it had now begun to ache and itch as it healed.I scrubbed blood and dirt and ash from my pale skin, then emerged from the shower and towel-dried my hair.Ethan stepped into the doorway.“Now that’s more like it.”“Sir, you’re a dirty old man.”“I’m a dirty old vampire.There’s a difference.”Since time was of the essence, we switched places.I turned the shower over to Ethan, deposited my clothes in the laundry drop—maybe the staff could have some luck rehabbing the jacket—and headed back into the bedroom to find something appropriate to wear.Sweatpants and pajamas were out, but Ethan hadn’t mentioned jeans.Personally, I’d have preferred some slouchy yoga-style pants, but the meeting would be in mixed company, and I might as well try not to embarrass my boss in front of another House.I opted for the softest jeans I could find and a fitted Cadogan House long-sleeved shirt.I brushed and dried my hair, leaving it loose.A pair of much-loved Puma sneakers—too light to wear in winter, but perfect for in-House movement—and lip gloss to combat the effects of winter, and I was ready to go downstairs.“Ready?” he asked, meeting me at the door.Like me, he’d changed into jeans, but the relaxed dress didn’t minimize the power and authority in his posture.He was still the Master of his House, even when other Masters had moved into his abode.“Let’s go,” I said, then glanced back longingly at the bed and the cozy duvet and pillows.“I’ll see you again soon,” I promised, and closed the door behind us.—As we descended the stairs, we passed Grey House vampires heading upstairs.They carried large duffel bags bearing the Grey House logo, and they were led by Cadogan House vampires wearing black CADOGAN AMBASSADOR badges.“Cadogan ambassadors?” I asked Ethan.“Helen’s idea.She thought it a good idea to appoint vampires to represent the House at unusual functions.She expected we’d have more of those functions since we’re no longer part of the GP.She did not anticipate this, I imagine, but it’s helpful all the same.Actually,” he said, pausing on the second-floor landing, “let’s visit the ballroom and library.I’m curious how they’ve arranged the beds.”We walked down the hallway toward two of the House’s most glorious rooms—the very grand ballroom, and the two-story library.The doors to both were open, and Grey House vampires were beginning to stream inside.We hit the library first.Normally, a bank of tables filled the center of the main floor.Tonight, they’d been moved out of the way.That space, and the rows between the shelves, were filled with cots.Cotton dividers hung from simple racks in the open areas to provide privacy.“There are too many vampires breathing on my books in here.”We turned to find the librarian, shorter than either of us and with a rakishly thick crop of dark hair, giving the evil eye to the Grey House vampires who were arranging suitcases, phones, and shoes in the small spaces around their cots.“They’re breathing on your books?” I asked.“Do you know how much carbon dioxide and water a single vampire breathes into the air every day? And now it’s all contained in this room, sinking into my pages.”The librarian was very, very particular when it came to his job and his books.He prided himself on the scope and organization of the library, and he didn’t take kindly to the exhalations of vampires.“I’m sure the collection will be fine,” Ethan said [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]