Devon yawned as he walked down the main stairway. Although ‘main stairway’ was, perhaps, too grand a term. It was as narrow and creaking as the so-called ‘servant’s staircase’ in the kitchen.
Emma smiled from her spot at the table, where she was sitting sideways with her feet up on the chair next to her. “Is Katie asleep?”
He grinned as he sat down opposite her. “She finally nodded off, after about half an hour of coaxing. Fortunately, I don’t think the rest of your brood will last much longer.”
“Thank Merune.” She allowed herself to slouch in relief. “Don’t you dare mention my poor posture or lack of stays,” she added. “I plead my bulging belly here as an excuse.”
“Believe me, I wasn’t going to say a word. Ah, how go things between my brother and Shane?”
She bit her lip and wiggled her toes. “I think there have been fisticuffs, but I don’t think there’s been murder.”
Dev frowned. “But Shane can’t roughhouse with my brother anymore. A slave can’t fight his master. Doesn’t Brock realize that?”
“I don’t know. I—I’m not sure how those two are sorting it out.”
He rolled his eyes. He should be used to this by now. He came from a family with a long history of using their fists to settle their differences. His uncles were masters at it; their brawls were legendary. But Devon had never seen the point of brawling. Not when tactful but honest words could solve so many more problems.
Emma hadn’t grown up with so much brawling in her family—but then Brock had married above himself. Her father was a prosperous merchant, albeit one with so many daughters that her dowry had not been as generous as it should have been.
What about Shane? Devon furrowed his brow. He seemed to enjoy roughhousing as much as Brock. Yet he, too, was theoretically from a more civilized merchant family—one with a much larger fortune than Emma’s, as it turned out.
He pushed that thought aside and strained his ears, listening for any sound of a jaw cracking. But Emma was right. He could make out two voices wafting in from outside, so obviously neither man had murdered the other. There was nothing for it. Devon yawned again and leaned back in his chair, figuring it best to wait and talk to Brock after he and Shane had settled their disagreement.
Devon sprang up from his chair when Brock and Shane walked inside. Shane’s nose was swelled up and bloody. “What happened?”
Shane grinned. “We settled our differences.”
“It’s my fault.” Brock shook his head. “I didn’t realize that Shane—I thought it would be a fair fight.”
Emma sighed and struggled to her feet. “Here, let me get you a cool, damp cloth, at least. I don’t know where we can find ice at this time of night . . . .”
“A cool cloth will suit fine,” Shane assured her.
Devon walked up to him and put an arm around his back. Shane put his arm over Dev’s shoulder in return and leaned into him. Brock narrowed his eyes at the pair of them, but then shrugged, apparently deciding not to comment.
“Let’s get you settled upstairs,” Dev said, ignoring his brother—at least for the moment. “I’ll bring the cloth up in a bit.”
Devon insisted on undressing Shane. Shane smiled a little ruefully at that, but decided that being babied by this charmer might not be the worst of fates.
“I’m sorry for the blood on your waistcoat,” he ventured as Dev unbuttoned it.
“Our waistcoat,” Dev paused to run his hands over it. “I reckon we can treat our clothes as interchangeable now. Besides, it’s Brock’s fault. I ought to—” ”
Shane took hold of his chin. “Don’t even think about it, cub.”
“Cub, is it?” Devon’s doe-brown eyes lit up at the challenge. “You need to stop underestimating me. I’m not a child. And I currently outrank you.”
“Well, that last is true. Plan on teaching me a lesson?”
“I do, as it happens. But first I want to know why you’re not furious with my brother. I am.”
Shane released him. “Don’t go charging down there on my behalf.”
“Why not? Your nose is still swelling—I’ll wager it’s broken.”
“Probably, but don’t blame Brock. I couldn’t hit back, but I should have ducked. I just—I needed him to understand that things are different now.” He paused to shrug out of the waistcoat, but then he tossed it aside and placed his hands on Devon’s shoulders. “Don’t fratch with your brother over this. He and I will be locking antlers over other matters. I’ll need you on my side.”
“What other matters?”
Shane let go of him and sat down on the bed. “Have you met Lieutenant Will Talon?”
Devon frowned. “Once or twice, I think. One of my uncles helped train him.”
“That’s the one. He despises what he calls ‘cock-sucking sodomites,’ so he’s never been a friend of mine. In fact, there was an ugly, ah, clash between us back when I first joined the Watch. But that’s ancient history, and apparently Will’s more outraged with Brock just now than with me.”
“For arresting you and testifying against you?”
Shane locked his fingers together and nodded. “Yes. He’s sees that as a betrayal of a fellow watchman. I think he might be willing to comb through Brock’s notes on the Harris murder with me—and if we find anything, he’d be the perfect man to petition the white heads at Ironbound to reopen the case.”
Dev took the seat next to him. “Because, unlike Brock, no one would accuse him of being prejudiced in your favor?”
“Right. But Brock’s not so certain about asking Will. He’s allowing it, but—you know how he is. I may need you to help keep the peace if Will agrees.”
Devon peered at him. Shane had the uncomfortable feeling that the boy was seeing far more than he wanted him to. Well, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dev was the grandson of a watchman, the son of a watchman, the nephew of two watchmen, and the little brother of a watchman. He should know when someone was telling him only half the story. It was in his blood.
“Brock doesn’t usually hold a grudge about ancient history.” Devon cocked his head at Shane. “So why would he object to asking this man?”
He swallowed. “It was a nasty altercation. Will was the aggressor. But this was back when we were all cadets. Even Brock doesn’t think Will would pull something like it now.”
“A nasty altercation? Why aren’t you giving me any details?”
“As I said, it’s ancient history.”
Devon rolled his eyes. “Are you going to be like Brock—parsing what you tell me when it comes to Watch business? I know Brock doesn’t tell us the half of it.”
Shane felt his face heat up. “Look, that altercation was a humiliating experience for me, so I’d as soon not dwell on it. But, ah—Brock tells Emma considerably more than half of what goes on in the Watch. If I end up as a consultant or some such, I’ll do you the same courtesy.”
“Thank you,” Dev said, still piercing him with his eyes. “Let’s get you into bed, and then I’ll go have a word with my brother.”