The call came from an unknown number, straight to voicemail. When he listened to it hours later, his heart dropped.
There was no return number, no way for him to protest. He called his assistant and had him rearrange his schedule for the next three days. “Something’s come up. Family matter.”
It was only a lie if you had a narrow view of what family meant. He told his pilot where to go, then told him to wait two days before returning without him. “I’m not sure how long this will take.”
That was absolutely the truth.
He straightened his tie, smoothed his sleeves one more time, and made sure his vest was properly buttoned. Her house was not so large as all that, but rather than screaming of new money, its old bones whispered it in every column.
He rang the doorbell, and had the always-slightly-unnerving experience of hearing nothing. He waited, hands loose at his sides. The first time, he’d rung it again. And again. Most people only did that once.
Her newest minion answered the door. The butler suit looked perfect and perfectly normal, unless you knew where to look. He didn’t look. He didn’t have to; he’d worn it, if only for an uncomfortable day.
He didn’t introduce himself. He didn’t have to. The butler bowed. “She will see you in the south garden room.”
“Thank you.” He nodded politely to the person playing butler, because it never hurt to be friendly, and headed to the south garden room.
The Gyrfalcon was waiting for him. She smiled and gestured him to a seat. A chair; this meeting was starting out better than he’d feared. He sat, making it a bow.
“So your message said, sa’ Gyrfalcon. It’s not a good time, though. My business…”
“Your business was a gift, no?”
“The seeds, yes, but…”
“A gift with strings, correct?”
He swallowed. “Yes, ma’am. A gift with strings.” But it had been five years, and he’d stopped waiting for the call to come.
“Your business is in a place where it could do well with you stepping back for a month or two.”
A month or two. He could live with a month or two.
“I’ve taken the liberty of sending some texts to your assistant. Everything will be fine, and, as long as you are discreet, nobody will suspect a thing.”
“I’m always discreet.” He dropped to his knees, the habit still there in his muscles. “We might as well begin now, then. Sa’ Gyrfalcon -”
“Not to me, darling, although your enthusiasm is notable. No.”
“No?” He swallowed. His former Mentor was a known quantity. He could trust her when she said his business would be fine; she’d helped him start it, after all. “Then…”
“There is a young woman, about your age. She wasn’t my student, but a cy’ra of yours did her a disservice. In turn, we are going to do her a service.”
“We.” His throat was dry. He stayed where he was. He’d made a deal, after all.
“We. One year under her collar, and your debt to me will be considered paid.”
“One year-! You said two months!”
“I said you’d be away from your business for a month or two. She understands that your business is important, and has promised to allow you to maintain it. As I said, as long as you are discreet, there should be no problem.”
She stood. She was a tall woman, taller still from this vantage point. “She’ll be here within an hour. We might as well get you ready, dear.”
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