Brock glanced at Shane from across the dinner table. “Did you get all your stuff?”
“Uncle Shane brought me his other regimentals!” Alice beamed.
Cane rolled his eyes at his sister. “You’re wearing them, Allie. We ain’t blind.”
“I did,” Shane cut a piece of trout for Katie. He was getting used to sitting at the table with the toddler on his lap. “Here, have some fish.”
“Fish,” she repeated. Then she opened her mouth and accepted the bite from his fork.
“When is she going to speak in sentences?” Nance squinted at Katie as if her baby sister were an insect inexplicably foisted on the family.
“When she’s ready,” Emma answered. “Will you pass the biscuits, Devon?”
He obliged and then shot a glance at Shane. “We also stopped at the bank. We took care of some legal issues with Shane’s new standing.”
Shane froze for a moment, not sure why Dev was bringing that up over supper. “Yes. We, ah, set up my account so that you can draw from the funds as needed, Brock.”
“But Shane can still draw from them too,” Devon added, “unless you tell the bank otherwise, of course.”
Shane watched as Emma suddenly applied herself to her food. Brock, meanwhile, merely grunted.
“What are funds?” Cane asked.
“Brass.” Ian’s voice dripped with contempt at his brother’s ignorance. “Don’t you know anything? Da can take brass out of Uncle Shane’s bank accounts now.”
Cane’s eyes lit up. “Do you have a lot of brass, Uncle Shane?”
“Yes, he does,” Devon answered.
“So, then, Da has a lot of brass now?”
“It’s not polite to talk about money at the table, children.” Emma gave her sons a withering glance. “And that goes for you two as well, Shane and Dev.”
“Yes, Emma,” Shane winked at her. “My apologies.”
“Mine too,” Dev added, offering her his most contrite smile.
Brock, however, was subjecting both men to a searching glance. “You two have something else you want to tell me?”
“Not over supper.” Shane forced himself to keep his voice even.
Brock studied him for a moment longer, but then nodded and turned back to his food.
“Ah, actually, I think we should put this out in the open now,” Devon said. “Don’t worry, Emma,” he added. “It is about money, but not in a vulgar way.”
“Dev?” What in hell was the boy thinking?
“Trust me, Shane. Better now while the whole family is here.”
“So we can hide behind the cubs?” He should have seen this coming. For Devon, it seemed natural for everyone in the family to know each other’s business. It probably never occurred to him that Shane would want to keep this a private matter between himself and Brock.
He was going to strangle the boy when he got him alone.
Devon probably read his thoughts, but he grinned anyway. “Well, Brock can’t very well throw a punch at you while you’re holding Katie.”
“Punch,” Katie repeated in that quiet voice she used when she wasn’t sure of a word yet.
Brock put his cutlery down. “Whatever it is, you two had best come out with it.”
“Very well,” Shane said. “I paid a visit—”
“We paid a visit,” Dev corrected.
“—to Kellner and Sons. They were happy to accept payment for your debts.”
“The ones you incurred for my education, Brock.”
There was a long moment of silence around the table. “Ah, that’s good, isn’t it Da?” Ian finally ventured.
“Finish your food, Ian,” Emma said. “Brock, Dev and Shane—if you three wish to discuss this, please do it elsewhere.”
“No, they were right to bring it up now.” Brock leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “If they’re going to confess to going behind my back, they might as well do it when I can’t throttle Shane.”
Shane sighed. “Do you want to take this outside?”
“We will, don’t worry,” Brock assured him. “Finish your meal. Then you can hand Katie off to Devon. He now has the chore of keeping her entertained and quiet for the remainder of the evening.”
Tammy, who had been quiet all evening, suddenly piped up. “Pass the cider, please.”
Alice picked up the pitcher and passed it down, and the conversation gradually returned to normal.
Shane stood in the yard, waiting for Brock. It was pleasant enough out here. The moon was near full, providing enough light to see by. And it was warmer than last night, but still too early for mosquitoes.
He heard the back door open and turned to find Brock approaching him. The man wasn’t in a talking mood. Well, why would he be? Shane knew that his pride was hurt. He didn’t want his partner rescuing him from financial disaster.
So Shane was prepared when Brock took a swing at him. It was a powerful punch, but a slow one. Brock wasn’t disguising his intention, and normally Shane would have blocked him easily. Instead Brock’s fist slammed into his nose and Shane barely stopped himself from reeling backward.
Brock stood there, dumbfounded, as the blood splattered. “What the—Shane, why didn’t you block me? Or duck? Or try for a gut-punch?”
Shane swallowed and then squeezed his nostrils together to staunch the bleeding. “We’re not two equals who can settle our differences with fists anymore,” he managed.
“Brock, think! I can’t throw a punch at my master. Things are different now.”
He rolled his eyes. “Suddenly you’re a stickler for the rules? Come here.”
Shane complied, accepting the arm Brock put over his shoulders as well as the handkerchief he offered him. “Think how an outsider might react. You don’t want a reputation for keeping a dangerous slave—”
“Shh. Come over here and sit down.”
Brock led them to the bench that hunched against the back of the house. Shane went without protest. He didn’t even bother to disentangle himself from Brock as they sat.
“Is your nose broken?”
“I’m not sure. Doesn’t matter—I don’t reckon there’s much we can do about it.”
Brock sighed and pulled him a little closer. “Lean your head forward—that’s it. How did you know who my creditors were?”
“I sneaked a look at your books.”
“You—why in hell did you go behind my back like that?”
Shane closed his eyes. “It was that or spend at least a month locking antlers with you about the funds.”
“You should have locked antlers. Damn it, Shane, that’s what always gets you into trouble! You disagree with the law, or a captain or anyone or anything with proper authority over you and you take matters into your own fucking hands. How many times have I watched you do this?”
Shane felt Brock’s fingers massaging his hair and his scalp. That took some of the sting out of the lecture. But Brock knew him better than anyone else did, so his words still cut deep. No wonder the man thought he was guilty.
Brock kept his arm around Shane and kept massaging his scalp. His partner rarely allowed him this much contact. He wasn’t a tactile man by nature. Was that some old blood trait? Probably not. Shane had been born and raised in Halcrest, after all. He didn’t know much about his Vasteke heritage.
But that wasn’t the only reason Shane tended to pull away, Brock wagered. It was a misguided attempt to protect him from any ill rumors. But he didn’t care what the likes of Will Talon insinuated about the two of them.
“I’m sorry,” Shane said softly, keeping his eyes shut. “Not for paying your debts—that was the right thing to do. But for doing it behind your back instead of . . . instead of arguing with that thick, stubborn skull of yours.”
“I wasn’t drowning, you know. I would have handled it.”
“Well, now it’s handled.”
Brock swallowed a retort and decided to turn the subject. “I gathered up all my notes on Harris’s murder.”
“Good. I want to see them.”
“You can’t investigate, Shane. You don’t have the authority anymore.”
“Does pouring over your notes count as investigating?”
“No, but acting on them does.”
Shane fell quiet. “Will you admit that I might be innocent, even if your gut says otherwise?”
“Of course. Hell, I want to prove you innocent. Find me something I missed or misinterpreted, and I’ll petition to reopen the investigation.”
“As it happens, Brock, I’d rather it not be you.”
That took a moment to sink in. Brock felt himself stiffen. “Why not?”
Shane shifted so that he was facing him. “We’re too close. The white heads won’t give enough weight to any new evidence you find.”
“That’s true,” Brock owned. “You have a solution?”
“We ask someone who’s not so close to me to help comb through your notes. Better still, someone who’s made my life miserable in the past. And then, if we find good cause, we ask him to petition the white heads.”
Brock grimaced. Suddenly he knew just who his partner had in mind. “Shane—”
“We ask Will Talon.”