Yevgeny Bartrev had been any number of things. He had been a bastard, a conniver, a distrusted cad, a playboy, a liar, and a thief, among other things. He had been a gentleman, a veteran, a businessman, and a pillar, albeit crooked, of the community. One thing he had never been was poorly-prepared.
Ellehemaei were slow to age, long-lived, and hard to kill, but, as Yevgeny had known, that did not mean they were immortal. They could succumb to disease, they could be poisoned, and they could be killed. He had left, therefore, detailed contingency plans in place for his death. Many of those, he had left as triggered commands in Tyrus’s mind. Those commands had allowed Tyrus, newly released from Keeping and reeling with it, to function in the days immediately after Yevgeny’s death. They ended at the side of his grave, tossing the first handful of dirt in to clatter dryly on the coffin.
The Ellehemaei funeral had been days earlier, a quick, quiet affair with about fifty fae from the surrounding areas saying their prayers and paying their respects. Today’s ceremony was for Yevgeny’s human associates, the burial for the human authorities. But that didn’t stop the Ellehemaei from attending this ceremony, of course, nor had it been intended to.
And it didn’t stop the vultures. Nothing Tyrus had been able to do had stopped them, only put them off, delayed them. “My master left orders…” had held for a while. He was out of orders, now. For the first time in just over five decades, he had no orders, and no-one telling him what to do.
Those around him wanted to change that. One was coming over now, Iman Fournier, a Grigori who had been close with Yevgeny through the time Tyrus had served him. “How are you managing?”
“I survive.” He put on a false smile. Iman did not appreciate insubordination. “Mr. Bartrev left me enough to allow me time to get back on my feet.” Evvy had left him more than that, but nobody needed to know the extent of his inheritance.
“About that. I spoke to Yevgeny before his death, and he mentioned he’d considered passing you to me on his death. He wanted you to be well-cared-for and protected. It’s a dangerous world out there, which he has sheltered you from for all these years. I could protect you, in turn, for Yevgeny’s sake.”
Liar. His Evvy had planned everything. He smiled for Iman, however. “It’s a kind offer. Give me some time to consider it?”
“Please do. I’ll come call in a week. You must have a great deal of moving to take care of.”
None at all, as a matter of fact. “Thank you. You’re too kind.”
Iman was barely gone when “Valdez,” an Argentinian Daeva, made its pitch. Pleasure, education, wealth. It was amusing, that they thought so little of his Evvy. That they thought he was so easily bought, and didn’t think about what he really needed.
Others called, over the next weeks. He saw them all, mostly in the little cottage on the side of the grounds that Yevgeny had used as a guest house. He didn’t invite any of them into the main house, not at first. Let them think he was living here. Let them think the main house was on the market.
Iman Fournier was the most insistent. “You’ll need to move on, Tyrus. You’ll need to take a new Keeper. You’re young, and others will assume Yevgeny confided in you. You’re going to need protection. You can’t put it off too long, or someone will push you into it.”
The thing was, Iman was right. Yevgeny Bartrev had been an incredibly influential man, and an incredibly wealthy man. People would want to know how much of that he had taken to his grave, and how much he had entrusted in his young lover. People – old, powerful, rich people – would be pounding on Tyrus’ door for decades to come. That was a long time to stay behind one’s threshold and hide.
“There is something,” he told Valdez, “that you could do for me. And I’d be willing to return the favor, of course.” He knew what Valdez liked, because his Evvy had. He could arrange for the Daeva’s most obscure pleasures to continue to be met… and all he asked in return was a phone number.
Phone number led to a meeting in a seedy downtown bar. And over cheap whiskey and bad vodka, he laid out his offer.
“I need protection,” he told the woman, the Ellehemaei. Half-breed like him, she was nearly as old as his former master had been. She might not have status, but she had power.
“Can you afford me, kid?” Lucrezia’s smile was sharp but not unkind. “I don’t come cheap.”
“I’m aware. I wasn’t looking to contract you on a short-term basis.”
She hisses over her drink, her shoulders tightening. “Kid, you seem like a nice sort, and Valdez spoke well of you, but you really can’t afford me for that.”
“You misunderstand, I apologize. I’m offering to Belong to you, not the other way around.” He gulped his drink down. “You protect me, and in doing so, gain access to everything my former master left me. With provisions of course, to protect me, and to protect certain of his assets.”
The woman – Valdez had hired her as a bodyguard on more than one occasion – stared at him over her drink. “You’re serious.”
Tyrus didn’t smile. He stared at his drink, hoping he was making the right decision. “You’re strong enough to take it. Me. But you didn’t come acting like it was your right.”
She stared back at him, and then, wordless, lifted her drink. “Cheers. Let’s go back to my place, and we can talk.”
He held up his drink. “Let’s go back to mine… while it’s still mine.”
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