It was nearing nine o’clock by the time Shane and Brock turned down Pike Street toward Brock’s home. His house was one of the larger ones on the block, but it still wasn’t big enough to house his already-large and still-growing family as comfortably as it should. But he couldn’t afford better.
Shane mulled that over. The two men had been quiet as they walked, but he judged it time to speak up. “Brock?”
Shane pulled his cloak more tightly around him. Summer was coming, but this late spring night was still damp and chilly. “Did the temple seize my assets?”
“No.” He started rubbing his hands together as they walked, presumably for warmth. “Per the contract I signed with Robin, they revert to me. But don’t worry about that. I don’t want whatever brass you’ve scrimped and saved from our miserable salary.”
Shane glanced over at him, surprised. “I thought you knew. I never needed the brass from the Watch. I took it, of course, but I have a private source of income that my parents left me.”
Brock shrugged. “Keep that too, then.”
“And do what with it? I was sentenced to slavery for life. I can’t buy my freedom.”
His partner—ex-partner, rather—stopped walking and turned to face him. “Enough. I’m not going to steal your fucking nest egg.”
Shane followed suit. “Ah, we’re talking about considerably more than a nest egg.”
“Whatever it is, we’re done talking about it. And that’s an order.”
With that, Brock turned on his heel and continued down Pike Street. Shane rolled his eyes at the back of the man’s thick, stubborn head and rushed to catch up.
Several lanterns shone from inside the house as Shane and Brock reached the door, and even outside they could hear the enthusiastic shouts of Brock’s cubs at play.
Shane grinned. “They’re up late tonight.”
Brock rolled his eyes as he opened the door. “Emma makes me do the dirty work of ordering them to bed.”
Shrieks of “Da!” and “Daddy” and “Uncle Shane!” greeted them. This was followed by a mad rush and a tangle of arms tugging at both men. Shane reached blindly into the chaos and ended up hoisting the youngest—Katie, who was just eighteen months—up into his arms.
Despite her tender age, Katie was the rowdiest of the crew, with her father’s penchant for attacking life head-on. That was ironic, since she had her mother’s fair coloring and gentle features. Shane let the cub climb like a monkey up onto his shoulders and turned as her mother approached him.
“Shane!” Her face was pale with shock.
He felt a twinge of guilt. She must have thought him dead by now. But he smiled as she reached him. “Emma.”
Shane did his best to embrace her in a gentle hug, careful to keep Katie balanced on his shoulders and equally careful not to press too hard against Emma’s stomach. She was in the family way yet again, and it was painfully obvious now: she had given up on stays and her apron was tied high.
They broke apart, but Emma kept a hand on his arm. “You’re here. Did you—what happened? I was preparing to tell the children the worst.”
“It’s a long story,” Brock cut in. “We’ll tell you about it later tonight.”
He was off to the side now, with one child grabbing at either arm: the two boys, Ian and Cane. The two older girls, Nancy and Alice, were moving past Emma now to hug Shane as well. They looked just as shocked and relieved as their mother to see him alive and well.
Their parents had probably told them, at least, about the murder and the trial. Or perhaps they’d heard the rumors circulating in the city.
“It’s time for bed,” Brock announced. “Where’s Tammy?”
“I’m right here, sir,” Tammy said, emerging from the back door that led to the garden.
Shane and Brock exchanged glances; she had no business being outside this late. She was one in a series of household slaves Brock had owned—he freed each girl once she found a husband—but she was by far the most trouble.
“Put these two boys in bed,” Brock ordered, untangling himself from them. “Girls,” he added, addressing Nancy and Alice, “up with you both. And Tammy?”
“Put yourself to bed as well. And you had best not let me catch whatever boy you were meeting out back un-chaperoned. Whoever it was, he’ll get a thrashing from me if I lay hands on him.”
She started to make a face but, catching Brock’s expression, thought better of it.
Meanwhile, there was a chorus of protests from the children, objecting to their father’s cruelty in declaring bedtime. But Brock stood firm. Shane watched as his cubs trailed up the stairs after Tammy.
Brock shook his head. “I don’t know how we’re going to find a respectable husband for that girl. I don’t suppose you want to marry her?”
“Tammy? Ah, no thank you. First off, I think she’d prefer a free man. Secondly, she’s not quite my sort.”
“You ought to change your sort. You won’t pass on your old-blood to future generations by shacking up with some pretty lad.”
“There are still plenty of Vasteke in the world to see to that duty.”
He grinned. “And what about the joy of children?”
“I’ll take the joy of playing uncle to your brood instead.”
Brock laughed and reached up to pat Katie’s cheek. “Keep hold of her. I’m going to go see what Nell saved us from supper.”
Shane nodded and watched Brock head off to sweet-talk Nell, a former slave of the Parr household who had decided to stay on as cook. Then he started walking around the room to satisfy Katie, who kept tugging at his hair. He frowned, however, as he thought back to Tammy.
He was now in the same boat as that slave girl—but without hope for eventual freedom.