“You look good.”
It was no surprise he was handsome, of course; for one, he was from Addergoole, where handsome was the norm, and for another, she’d picked him to be her Kept, which almost always meant that they fit within her two very specific types.
It wasn’t what she meant, in this case.
He smirked back at her and pretended to misunderstand. “Good genes.” He brushed away her response before she could say it. “I’ve been doing well. Doing good, too.” He ducked his head and grinned up at her through a sudden fringe of brown-black hair, a trick he’d excelled at thirty years ago and seemed to have been practicing. “Turns out your lessons stick.”
She sipped her water and studied him. “I’m not looking for someone to teach lessons to, right now.”
“If you were,” he teased, his smiled wide, “You’d be at Addergoole and not on a blind date, right?”
“Exactly. You know, there was a time when they tried to threaten me to stop Keeping people.”
“I can imagine. It was probably a little worrying for them, having someone they distrust scooping people up every year.” HIs smile turned a little crooked. “Not that your Kept don’t benefit.”
“Well, that’s the idea…. half the idea,” she admitted. “I like having Kept around, too.”
“I’d noticed.” It was his turn to sip his drink. “You know I liked being around, too? I mean, most of the time.”
“I guessed. I’m not good with – with emotions.” It grated to admit that, but if she’d learned anything with all the work she’d been doing with Leo, it was that. “But you didn’t seem miserable, at least.”
“I knew I wasn’t ready for the world, I just, well, didn’t think what I was ready for was a collar.” He shrugged a little. “It was a good year. And, like I said, you rubbed off on me.”
“Doing good, you said.” She eyed him thoughtfully over her cup. “What sort of good?”
“Oh, you know, building walls, mending fences, working as a diplomat-slash-small-town sheriff and judge. Pretty much I tell people that the black cow is Farmer Gonzales’ and the white cow is Farmer Jones’, and they both agree to let me make that decision, and the I do the same thing between Neihart Mt. and the next two city-states that aren’t, well, here. I do a lot of talking.”
“I don’t remember you being all that talkative.”
“I’m not, normally.” He smirked crookedly at her. “But it turns out I’m good at it, and they needed someone who wasn’t from around there. Since I’m from the East Coast…”
“Oh, dead gods, I didn’t strand you, did I?”
“Oh, hey, no. I never wanted to go home. And you offered to have your teleporter take me anywhere, remember?” He shook his head. “We’re good. I just wanted to stay here.”
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