Erramun was pretending he wasn’t shifting uncomfortably in his seat. Senga swallowed a sigh and looked at him. “I might be young.” She let a little acid drip into her voice. She had been around her family, after all, and it had been a long day already. “But I know a thing or two about the collar, and I’ve been on both sides of it. A collar isn’t a collar isn’t a collar, any more than a nice chain necklace isn’t a leather dog collar isn’t a bar of steel wrapped around your neck.”
She saw the flinch he tried to hide at the last one, and took a mental note. “Did my great-aunt know?” she asked, a stab in the dark but worth it with the way he was reacting, “someone had kept you as a slave before?”
He eyed her. She could see the way his shoulders turned slightly toward her, even as she kept most of her attention on the road. Traffic in this part of town could be deadly, even without the added threat of nearby family. “I don’t have to tell you that,” he said, slowly but with an implied threat. “You haven’t given me any orders to honesty.”
“Depends if you want me to be polite or honest.” He was inching towards facing her. She kept her eyes on the road.
She snorted. “You’ve met my family. Which do you think I prefer?”
She almost missed the way his hands curled into fists on his lap. “I don’t like guessing games.”
“I don’t play them. I’m not the sort of bitch my cousins are” It wasn’t quite an apology, but she wasn’t feeling very apologetic.
“What sort of bitch are you, then?”
Apparently, neither was he.
She coughed to cover a laugh and let the traffic flow around them, pretending for a moment like getting the car to the right-most lane to turn onto her side street was taking all her attention. “I’m the sort of bitch who’s more honest than you want with friends and never honest at all with enemies.”
“And what about with your bound servants?”
“Well, I suppose we’re going to have to find out. It’s been a while since I had one, and the last one was a volunteer. It’s a bit of a different situation. What about you? What sort of bitch are you?”
It wasn’t a nice question. She didn’t think he’d appreciate her being nice.
“I’m not generally anyone’s bitch. Mirabella knew that. I think she’s fucking with me, giving me to you. I’m not sure why else she did it.” He shrugged. “You still haven’t ordered me to honesty.”
“You still haven’t told me if she knew you’d worn a collar before.”
Both of his hands went to his neck. “I’m not wearing a collar now.”
“No. You’re not.” This part of the drive often actually did require concentration. She handled the five-way intersection, sped up to avoid the oncoming tractor-trailer, and braked to turn into her driveway. “Except you are.” She tapped his chest, feeling a little daring but, hey, she Owned him now. She was going to have to get used to touching him eventually. “Metaphorically.”
He growled. She growled back at him, and was pleased to see he looked startled. She’d practiced that growl. “I’m yours,” he muttered. “That’s different.”
“How, exactly, is it different?” She parked the car and turned in her seat to look at him. “The collar is the symbol of being Owned.”
“Make up your mind!” He glared at her. “If a collar isn’t a collar isn’t a collar, than if I’m not a slave, I’m not collared.”
“This is going to be a long conversation.” She shook her head and resisted the urge to pinch her nose. “Did my Great-Aunt Mirabella know you’d been collared before?”
“Yes,” he muttered. “She did. Happy now?”
“Not yet, but it’s a good start, thank you. This is my house, or at least it is ‘till we take possession of Monmartin Hill Manor, which will probably take a little time. Let me show you around, and then we can go get your things.”
“Joy.” He let himself out of the car and slammed the door. His shoulders were tight and he looked like he wanted to punch something.
She was going to have to deal with this sooner rather than later. “Hey!” She caught his attention with a nice snap of her voice. “Nobody said you could play rough with my things.”
He sneered at her. “Nobody said I couldn’t, either.”
“Oh?” Not too much she wanted to do on the driveway, in front of potential witnesses, and he probably knew that. “And here I was thinking you were happier if people didn’t tell you, too much, what to do.”
That caught him by surprise. Good. She took a few steps towards him. He didn’t step back, but from his expression, he was thinking about it.
“You’re collaring me. That means you get to tell me what to do.”
“Get to, yes. Starting with let’s have this argument inside, shall we?” She tilted her head at the front door. “My team’s home. Welcome.”
“Crew, team, family.” She started inside, waiting at the doorway for him.
She watched him consider doing something like running away, and watched the moment when he lost that argument with himself. It made him angry, or angrier, at least; his jaw tightened and he stomped as he came towards her.
She stepped in and let him come in after her and look around. The place was, she knew, nothing special – it looked very lived-in, and like the people living there were busy people without a lot of money. “I can see why you need a Kept,” he muttered.
“Yeah, we talked about having a housekeeper come in once a week, but decided that around here, that might stick out. Besides, now it turns out we’re moving, anyway.”
He eyed her in obvious surprise. “You’re going to move your whole team?”
“Have you seen the Monmartin Hill house? I could put my whole team in one bedroom of that place and still have room left over to throw a party. Just you and I – even if the staff is still there and wants to stay there – we’d rattle around in there like mad. Besides, I like my team being where I know where they are.”
“Controlling much?” He sneered it like the insult he meant it to be.
“Needy more than controlling.” She grinned back at him like he’d paid her a compliment she was dodging. “I’m a bit clingy. I suppose it comes of being an orphan. So, until we move, this is the house, and upstairs is my bedroom. Kitchen, dining room – well, in theory.” The cheap table they’d picked up at Goodwill houses three computers, seven monitors, and three file boxes, as well as at least one cat. “We eat through here in the living room. Chitter lives downstairs, prefers the basement or just likes the sound buffer. Allayne and I have the upstairs, and Ezer when he’s around.” She strode through the living room and up the stairs.
Erramun followed, although she wasn’t entirely sure why. “But now you’re moving.”
“Well, its not every day someone gives you part of the family fortune back. This is my room. It’s yours, too. Ah.” It wasn’t a big room, by any stretch of the imagination, but sh’d gotten a nice big bed and put it in one corner. Dresser, chest, gun case, and a free-standing punching bag took up the rest of the room. “Well. I never planned on sharing the space. I guess we’ll move soon.”
Erramun looked around the room dryly. “I might be able to hang myself up in the corner there,” he offered. “By the dresses and other things that don’t seem to fit you at all.”
“Har, har.” She was just glad he hadn’t offered to put himself in the gun case. Maybe he thought she kept makeup in there or something. “How long do you think it’ll take for you to pack up your stuff?”
“Oh, maybe twenty minutes.” He looked around her mess again with a wider smirk. “I travel light.”
“One of us ought to.” She was not going to take offense. “So, let’s-”
“Senga! Sennnnie! How did it go-oh?” With all the class and delicacy of a freight train, Allayne crashed into the room.
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