Brock set his lantern down on the little table by the bed and then turned to the fireplace. He got down on his hands and knees to blow on the coals and then fanned them into a respectable fire that could be fed another log or two.
Once the fire was up to scratch, he pushed himself up to his knees and turned to grin at his wife. “Well, there’s one good thing about this mess. I can order Shane to chop all the firewood from now on.”
She smiled back, and for a moment he could only think how beautiful she was, sitting there on the bed, her belly bulging through the thin linen of her shift. But then she crinkled her brow and bit her lower lip—and that meant she was preparing to ask him to do something he wouldn’t want to do.
He got up, sat down on the bed, and started stripping off his boots, stockings and garters.
She reached over to toy with the club of his hair. “Do you still think Shane is guilty?”
“But wouldn’t he have confessed? Especially at the trial, when he was under oath?”
He sighed. “I think if we’d convicted the wrong suspect, then yes. He wouldn’t have let someone else pay for his crime. But apart from that? No.”
“But you trust him here, don’t you? I can’t really imagine it, but you don’t think he’d ever go into a murderous rage—”
“No. Shane’s rage burns cold, not hot.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Sweetheart, I know Shane’s capable of plotting to murder a man like Harris. That bastard—he raped and killed at least three little girls.” He paused, remembering the sight of the bodies. “We know it was him, we just couldn’t prove it to the satisfaction of those measly-balled judges at Ironbound. And he would have done it again.”
Emma fell quiet, presumably mulling that over. “If that man would have kept on murdering innocent little girls,” she said at last, “then I’m glad Shane killed him.”
“Fine. But you see why I can’t trust Shane when it comes to taking justice into his own hands. But I’d trust him with my life. And with your life, and with our children’s lives—”
“And your brother’s?”
Brock stood up again and unlaced the back of his breeches. He could see where Emma was leading him now. “Yes, of course. That doesn’t mean I want him sleeping with Dev.”
He was facing away from her now, but he heard her settle back more comfortably against the pillows. “Dev’s not a child anymore. And, besides, if Shane is going to—if there’s no hope for an appeal, don’t you think it would be best for all of us if he takes to your brother?”
“Brock, if they form an attachment, it will bind Shane to our family.”
“Shane is already family.” He let his breeches fall to the floor and stepped out of them.
“Well, this would make him feel even more so. And if he’s going to be with us for the rest of his life . . .”
Brock pulled off his shirt and exchanged it for a sleeping gown. “Emma, I’m hoping Devon has outgrown that sort of thing.”
“Shane never outgrew it.”
“Well, who in hell knows with Shane? Maybe all that snake blood of his rattled his brain.”
She rolled her eyes. “This is Halcrest, Brock. People won’t think any less of Dev here—”
He sat down and leaned across the bed to kiss her quiet. “If Dev and Shane were nobility, you might be right. The quality can sleep with whomever they’d like. So can the theater folk. But for the rest of us—believe me, Shane has paid a high price for his tastes.”
“Even in the Watch?”
“Especially in the Watch. Do you remember when I brought him here that first time? When he was, uh, injured?”
“Of course. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night.”
“No thugs on the street did that. It was fellow cadets.”
“Brock! How could they—why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because Shane refused—it doesn’t matter now. Emma, it took him years to earn the respect of the brethren. And along the way he had to beat the shite out of the ones who hassled him.”
She cocked her head at him. “Why do I think he might have had your help on occasion?”
He grinned. “Only when he was outnumbered. When it was one-on-one—” He broke off and shrugged. “Well, it was better to make sure the other men knew he could handle himself.”
She gave him an exasperated smile in response, no doubt thinking back on all the times he had come home bruised and bloodied, wondering which could be blamed on the regular line of duty. He was hoping that would distract her, but no such luck.
“Dev will never join the Watch, Brock. Maybe he won’t have those hassles.”
“I don’t care. We’re still not going to push him into Shane’s arms.”
“I’m not saying we should. I’m saying—just don’t interfere. Don’t forbid anything. Let whatever happens between them happen.”
He must not have looked convinced, because she gave him her best pleading look. “Please, Brock? Remember, you’re not supposed to refuse me anything now,” she added, patting her belly. “Not while I’m in the family way.”
He rolled his eyes, and then leaned over again to kiss her on the nose. “We’ll see.”
Shane stayed in his room, waiting until the house was quiet. He didn’t bother to undress—not beyond shrugging out of his regimental coat. Then he crept downstairs and lit a lantern from the dying embers of the main fireplace.
There were only two large rooms down here: one that served as a parlor and dining room, and one that served as a kitchen. Brock’s desk was tucked away in a corner of the former.
Shane felt a twinge of guilt as he stared at the desk. He had no right to go through Brock’s ledgers. But there was no other way to find out just how badly off his partner was.
No, they weren’t partners. Not anymore. Brock was his master now. Which made what he was about to do even worse.
He hung the lantern from the hook over the desk, sat down and opened up the first ledger. Brock’s notes were straightforward. Shane read through them, frowning as he realized that the man was even deeper in debt than he had suspected.
A noise at the front door disturbed his research. Interesting. There was only one person he could think of who had a right to enter unannounced, especially at this hour. “Devon?”
The lantern light flickered on the intruder. And it was Devon, weighed down by a bundle of clothes and a haversack. He moved the same way Brock did, even though the two brothers didn’t look much alike. They shared a prominent nose, but Devon was skinnier and several inches shorter. His hair was a light, curly brown instead of black and his face—well, he was prettier than Brock by half.
“Shane?” Devon froze, his voice uncertain.
“Yes.” He spoke in a loud whisper that, hopefully, wouldn’t wake the household. “What are you doing home? I thought there was another week until the end of the term.”
“What am I doing home?” Devon threw down the bundle and the haversack as he rushed over to the desk. “I would have come sooner, but I only just heard about the trial. Brock didn’t even write me, I had to wait for Halcrest’s papers up there—”
“Shh,” Shane said, hoping he would quiet down. “Brock knew there wasn’t anything you could do. There was no point in distracting you.”
“No point? When you might have been dead?” He sucked down a lungful of air. When he spoke up again, his voice was quieter and calmer. “Why are you still alive? That is, I mean—I want you to be alive. But why didn’t they execute you?”
Shane turned back to the desk, closed the ledger and put it away before responding. There was no point in trying to hide what he’d been doing; the best he could hope was that Devon was too distracted to notice. Finally he turned back to the boy, and related the story for a third time.
Devon digested the tale in silence. In fact, it was a long while before he spoke up again. “Did you murder Harris?”
“Do you think I’m capable of that?”
Shane smiled. “Good. You’ve grown up some. As it happens, however—no. I didn’t murder him. I went in search of him, and found him with his throat cut. And it wasn’t cut clean. It looked like the work of an amateur.”
Devon furrowed his brow. “You would know how to cut a throat.”
“Yes, I would.”
“Um, how would you go about it, exactly?”
Shane stepped behind Devon and loosely took hold of him; this was just a demonstration. “You push your victim’s head down, like this. He’ll bleed out fast this way, believe me. Amateurs pull the head back instead. But that makes the job harder and messier—and it gives the victim a better chance of surviving.”
Devon swallowed. “I see. But, ah, won’t it be messy regardless?”
“If I slice you this way—” Shane used his finger for a pretend knife—“I’ll get the least amount of blood possible on myself.”
Devon leaned back against him. “But you might do a sloppy job of it to cover your tracks.”
Shane gave him an appreciative grunt as he released the boy and gently pushed away from him. “You’re thinking more and more like your brother.”
“To some extent.” Devon turned to face him. “But I believe you, Shane. I don’t think you did it.”
“Thank you.” He wasn’t sure why it mattered, but somehow Devon’s confidence in him made a difference. It loosened some knot inside him that had been tightening since the moment Brock arrested him. He cleared his throat and then managed a teasing smile. “It means quite a bit, since I don’t think you’re speaking from some mad infatuation now.”
“Oh, I’m still infatuated with you.” There was no trace of shame in Devon’s voice. The blushing, awkward seventeen year old was gone, replaced by a much more tranquil and confident twenty-two year old. “But it’s not a blind infatuation anymore. I have my eyes wide open now.”
“Keep them that way.”
“I will. And as for Brock—my brother is stubborn, Shane. You know how he is when he gets an idea, or a suspect, in his head. Don’t be angry with him. We’ll bring him around.”
“I’m not angry with him. And he’s right more often than not about a suspect. And he, ah—he has good reason to think me guilty.” He should still believe his partner, Shane thought, but he didn’t voice that. He probably didn’t need to. “At any event, that’s why I’m now your brother’s slave instead of a meal for Obsidian. Satisfied?”
“Not quite. What’s so fascinating about Brock’s financial records?”