“You honestly intend to sleep on the floor?”
“Yes.” Shane tried not to succumb to the playful outrage in Devon’s voice as he moved a pile of books to make space. “May I borrow that blanket?”
“We can both fit on the bed.”
“You’re bed is scarcely more than a cot.”
“It’s more comfortable than a cot. And you don’t need to fear me, you know. Your virtue is safe with me—until you wish otherwise.”
Shane straightened up and raised his eyebrows. “What in hell did you get up to in University?”
Devon laughed. “I learned a thing or two that had nothing to do with stock exchanges.” He paused to cock his head at Shane. “Is there—is there someone else for you? There isn’t for me. But if you’re spoken for, I’ll stop flirting.”
“Is that what we’re doing?”
“Flirting? I am. You’re being tiresome about it, as usual.”
Shane smiled despite himself—that seemed to happen quite a bit around Devon. “No, there’s no one else. And if there had been, I would have ended it.”
The boy frowned as he took a seat on the bed. “Why?”
“If a man is enslaved, his wife is treated as a widow. If I had a—a companion, this would have been the same situation. I’d never ask a free man to stay attached to me now. Or to form an attachment with me—and that goes for you too, Devon. Don’t waste yourself on a slave.”
Devon put his foot up on his knee, his elbow on his foot, and his chin on his hand. “Shane, we’ve always liked each other, haven’t we? I don’t think you minded me even when I was an annoying seventeen year old dogging you everywhere.”
“Well, you were an intelligent and interesting seventeen year old. That made you slightly less annoying.”
He grinned. “Thank you, I think. Meanwhile—we share a house now. And a room, apparently. We’re both devoted to my brother. We’re both devoted to my brother’s wife and children. Despite that devotion, we both understand and respect the need for quiet and solitude. Slave or free, you’re eminently suitable as a match for me.”
Shane folded his arms across his chest. “Your brother is hoping you’ll settle down with a wife and produce more Parrs.”
“Then Brock is going to be disappointed. I like being an uncle. I have no desire to be a father.” He paused. “I’m not—I’m not trying to force something between us. If you’re indifferent to me—”
“I’m not,” Shane paused, because another smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth. “You’ve grown ridiculously charming. You know that, don’t you?”
His eyes lit up. “I know I like hearing it from you.”
“Yes, well—Devon, I would need Brock’s blessing.”
“Look, I know, strictly speaking, that you belong to him, but—”
Shane knelt down in front of him, resting his hands on Devon’s leg. “I would need your brother’s blessing even if I were still his partner. Besides I think—let’s, ah, take some time and get to know one another again.”
Dev rolled his eyes. “I take it this means you won’t be falling into bed with me?”
“That’s exactly what it means.”
“Very well.” His voice took on the air of a martyr. “You can have some blankets. But when your back starts aching from that hard floor—”
“I’ll survive a little back ache.”
Devon leaned forward to brush his lips against Shane’s. Shane was too surprised to take evasive action.
“Or,” Devon said, smiling as he finished, “you can come to your senses and climb aboard.”
The floor was hard. And cold. But Shane had slept on worse, so he wasn’t tempted to take Devon up on his offer. Well, not much tempted. If they were to proceed, it had to be with caution.
Shane was capable of caution. True, he wasn’t exercising much when it came to Brock’s financial debts. But there was a good reason for that. Shane could either spend the next month locking antlers with Brock—and likely longer, considering how stubborn his partner was—or he could just fix the problem. It seemed more sensible to just fix the problem.
He sighed as he adjusted one of the blankets. He had known for the past few months that Brock had made the short list for a captaincy. And he had grown used to the idea of reporting to the man. That promotion hadn’t come through yet, but surely it was only a matter of time?
Of course, serving under Brock within the Watch and serving as his slave were two different things. Shane was not about to forget that. But it wasn’t serving Brock that chafed so much as the steady stream of humiliation all slaves endured: the slave tag that would hang from his neck; the need to carry a pass outside his home; the right and habit of any free person to call him ‘boy’—or worse. And that was just the beginning.
And Brock must think he deserved this. Not that Brock had wished this on him, but he did believe Shane was guilty.
Was Brock right? Did he deserve this? Would he have killed Harris himself if someone else hadn’t beaten him to it? But it shouldn’t matter. The law could only judge you on your actions, not on your intent.
But what about the dragon? How did Obsidian judge a man?
Shane should be able to answer that now, having stood before him. He shuddered, trying to rid his mind of those hungry eyes—eyes that pierced straight through him. Eyes that must have known how badly he wanted to cut Harris’s throat.
He shoved those thoughts aside. He needed to snatch some sleep. Tonight was only a foretaste, after all; the reality of his new life would begin tomorrow.