Shane stared at Devon, looking for a way to evade the question. He couldn’t find one. Damn. The cub had grown almost as straightforward and to the point as his brother while he was off gaining an education. “Listen, my assets officially belong to your brother now. But he’s stubborn and thick-headed—”
“As we already established—”
“—so he refuses to accept a single copper. But his accounting book here proves that he’s heavily in debt.”
A shadow passed over Devon’s face. “Because of my schooling.”
“In large part, yes,” Shane agreed. “Brock probably considered that an investment.”
But Devon waved a hand. “Don’t sugarcoat it. My education cost him a fortune—a fortune he didn’t have.”
“It doesn’t matter. As I said, my assets belong to him. He has more than enough now to pay these debts. Hell, he can also purchase a larger house, buy a few more household slaves, provide his girls with decent dowries and his boys with decent commissions or their own university educations.”
“What’s the size of your assets?”
Shane blinked. “Excuse me?”
Devon blushed. “I meant—you know what I meant.”
“Three thousand drakes a year.”
“Three—what? I must have misheard you.”
Shane shook his head. “Three thousand a year. My parents invested wisely before they died—”
“Wait. Just a moment. You’re saying that three thousand is the interest you make per year?”
“What’s the principle? No—don’t tell me. I’ll work it out for myself eventually. Right now, I don’t think I want to know. Shane, if you have that kind of brass, why on earth were you working for the Watch? And living in that miserable flat of yours?”
“I love the Watch, Devon. I did good work there. I wasn’t the sort who was cut out for University—”
The cub held up a hand to cut him off. “Very well. I’ll accept that you have a genuine calling for police work. But that flat?”
“I never needed anything fancier. I just—I just wanted a small place where I could withdraw from the world at times.”
“Oh, I can understand that. To be honest, all I want is a small, private room in my brother’s home—a bigger home, I hope, once he comes to his senses and accepts some financial assistance from you. That way I can be a proper uncle to my nieces and nephews, but still hand the brats back over when I need time to myself.”
Shane grinned. “Exactly.”
“You see? Look how nicely our desires collide. We’re clearly meant to be. I’ll be happy to share my little room with you.”
“That would make it far less private.”
“Not at all. We can be alone together. But we can argue the point later. What do you intend to do about my brother’s debts?”
“Pay them off immediately without his knowledge or permission.”
“Excellent. I’ll help. Not financially, I mean. I haven’t a copper to my name yet. But with the logistics. Cover your trail until the deed is done—that sort of thing.”
“I knew what you meant. Brock is going to be furious.”
“Of course.” Devon paused to give him a mischievous smile—a smile Shane found surprisingly enticing. “You’ll be disobeying his direct orders, Shane. He’s going to strangle you.”
Shane snorted. “Probably. But you’ll be in just as much trouble.”
“No I won’t. I’m going to swear that you twisted my arm and forced me to go along with your diabolical plot.”
“Will you? Good. Smart boy.”
After five children—seven, counting the twins who hadn’t survived their first month—Brock had developed a niggling instinct for something or someone out of place in the house. That instinct was urging him out of sleep. There were voices coming from downstairs, he realized. Familiar, non-threatening voices, but Brock intended to investigate just the same.
He yawned and opened his eyes. After letting them adjust to the darkness, he crept out of bed, cringing as his feet touched the cold wood floor. He reached for his breeches and pulled them back on. Then he glanced at the fireplace: it was still burning, but barely. He fed it one more log before continuing downstairs, leaving his sleeping gown un-tucked.
“And you want to be part of this—this stock exchange?” Shane was asking.
His voice was low, but Brock could make it out. He could see the flickering of candles and lanterns now, and he caught a whiff of tobacco.
“Yes! Shane, you have no idea how this will transform the way we all do business—”
“Oh, I have a very good idea. It will be a nightmare. People selling their little portion of a company on a whim, the value of said companies fluctuating faster than anyone can keep track of them—”
Brock heard his little brother—what was Devon doing here?—laugh. “It will be chaotic, yes. And we’ll develop some basic regulations—”
“Dev?” Brock cut in as he reached the last step.
Devon, who had been sitting at the table, jumped up and turned to face him. “Brock!”
Brock closed the distance between them and drew his brother into a tight hug. “What are you doing home?”
“I heard about Shane’s trial—I still can’t believe I found him alive. And that you didn’t write me.”
“I’m sorry, little brother, but there wasn’t anything you could have done.”
“I know, I know. But I’m here now.” Devon kept talking as they broke apart. “And with the permission of my professors, don’t worry. I had already finished my examinations when I heard.”
Shane grinned from the other side of the table, where he was smoking that short clay pipe he favored. “He’s been regaling me with the fruits of his education. Wait until you hear what they’ve been teaching him up there . . . .”
“You’ll be proud, Brock, don’t worry,” Devon insisted, still laughing as he resumed his seat.
Brock grinned at Shane’s skeptical look. “Will I? I’ll take your word for that, Dev. What time did you get here?”
“About an hour ago. I came by mail coach—we were held up for the better part of the day near Gerald’s Landing.”
Brock took his own pipe down from the mantel and filled it with Ancoran burley. Then he took one of the candles from the table, puffing quickly as he lit the pipe to get it started. Shane took the candle from him as he finished and placed it back in its holder.
“You were up, Shane, when he arrived? Good thing. I love you, little brother, but if you had banged on that door and woken up Katie . . .”
“I didn’t have to bang. The door was unbolted.”
“It was,” Shane confirmed. “I was wondering about that. So you do normally bolt it?”
“Of course.” Brock paused to swear under his breath. “Tammy.”
Devon looked confused, but Shane understood immediately. “Here.” He stood up and handed his pipe over to Dev. “Keep that going while I check upstairs—she sleeps in the nursery?”
Brock nodded. “Katie’s been sleeping through the night, but Tammy’s supposed to be there just in case.”
Shane nodded back, reached for a lantern, and then disappeared up the steps.
Devon put Shane’s pipe in his mouth and started smoking it. “You think Tammy sneaked out?”
“Yes, I do. And I don’t know what kind of boy she’s seeing—except that he doesn’t come to the front door.”
His brother looked like he was biting back a grin.
Brock cocked his head at him. “What?”
“It’s something. You’re trying not to laugh.”
“I know. Laughing would be wrong, because it’s not actually funny. It’s just that—well, if this were a case for the Watch, you’d have cracked it by now.”
Brock rolled his eyes. “True. Maybe Shane will help me investigate—”
“Tammy’s gone,” Shane hurried down the stairs and put the lantern back. “All your cubs are accounted for. Should we go after her?”
“No. I have no idea where to start looking. I’m going to wait up for her.”
Shane sat down again as Devon passed him his pipe. “What will you do to her?”
“Nothing,” Brock answered.
“Emma will decide on her punishment.”
“Ah. Probably wise.” Shane puffed on his pipe again.
“You’d strangle a male slave who went against your orders, though,” Devon put in.
“Hardly that. I’m not a monster, you know.”
Devon shot Shane a look that seemed to be half amused and half encouraging. Shane shot him a warning look in return. Brock didn’t bother trying to figure out what lay behind the glances—he just thought back to Emma’s words and tried not to mind this sudden understanding between them.
“Shane,” Devon said suddenly, “have you picked up your things yet? From that miserable flat of yours, I mean.”
“No. This all just happened today. My, ah, change in residence and change in status, I mean.”
“I know. But if you’d like, I’ll go with you tomorrow to gather everything.”
Shane gave him a thin smile. “I think I need your brother’s permission. And a written pass.”
Brock cringed. “You do, I suppose. I’ll write you a pass to move around the city—one that will cover you indefinitely. And yes, you should get your stuff and take care of your flat. Meanwhile, I’ll have to register you and acquire a slave tag for you.”
Brock watched Devon open his mouth to say something, but apparently the boy thought better of it. He reached out and put a hand over Shane’s instead, giving it a pat. There was no pity in his eyes, which was a good thing. Obsidian knew Shane wouldn’t want any.
“Why don’t you two head up to bed?” Brock nodded toward the staircase. “I’ll wait up for Tammy.”
“Ah, since Devon’s home, I should probably sleep down here. I can set up some blankets by the fireplace.”
Brock shrugged. “You can sleep on Devon’s floor just as easily. We’ll fit another bed in there soon.”
“That’s fine with me,” Dev put in.
Shane narrowed his eyes at Brock. He looked suspicious of his sudden indifference to the sleeping arrangements—suspicious and maybe a little wary. “Very well.”