Oh, good. Leander did everything he could to look relaxed and not like he was bracing himself.
“This is not exactly fair, you realize.”
“No. But it doesn’t have to be. Go. If for no other reason than he has to be uncomfortable out there waiting.”
Her body language was 100 percent different. She’d gone from acting like a teenager to acting like an adult; she didn’t flounce but stalk; she wasn’t sulking, she was considering. She walked up to Leander and held out her hand. “Hi. I’m Sylvanie.”
He shook her hand. “Hi. Leander.”
“Dad – my father says that you’re going to be my bodyguard.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He let himself smile.
“Is this something you want to do?”
“It’s better than where I was, ma’am.”
“Dad, if he’s going to be watching me, can I take him upstairs and, you know, get back to what I was doing?”
“You can take him everywhere, Sylvanie, and I suggest you do. Just don’t hurt him.”
“All right. Come on, let’s get to know one another, shall we?”
Leander followed her up the stairs.
Her bedroom matched her second personality more than her first. Up two sets of stairs and off in a corner of the house, it was sleek, simple, except for a stack of computer — like things in one corner, where the desk was completely buried by equipment.
She pointed to an armchair. Leander, after a moment, sat in it.
She pulled up a second armchair until her knees were nearly touching and looked at him. “My father thinks I need protection.”
“Your father… seems to think that you need protection, uh. That you’re going to need protection in the future.”
“Oh? So you’re, what, insurance?”
“I guess that’s pretty close.” He shrugged. “He asked if I was willing to bodyguard his daughter. To be bought to bodyguard you. I said yes.”
“Because he said you’d cooperate, he sounded like he cared, and I was kind of short on options.” He lifted his chin and looked her in the eye. “Bodyguarding you, even if you don’t cooperate, still beats where I was.”
“And if I cooperate?”
“Well, if you cooperate,” he cleared his throat. For some reason, he couldn’t get the image of a young girl out of his head, not this adult woman. “If you cooperate, then I think we can get along. I’m not hired – bought – to interfere in your life. Just to protect you.”
“Are you seriously okay with having been bought?”
Leander looked at her. She seemed sincere. She seemed offended, too, and it seemed like she was offended on his behalf.
“I.” He cleared his throat. “Miss, that’s a long story, and one that I don’t really want to get into. The short answer is: Your father asked me if I was okay with this.” He’d already said that. He’d keep saying it until it got through to her. “And I said yes, and I meant it. So. You have an agreement that you’ll give in to one serious thing a year? And that’s me. That’s what he said, at least. And he Owns me. So I do what he says. So the question isn’t, uh. It’s not if we’re going to agree to this, it’s how we’re going to work out the details.”
She stared at him for a minute. Leander looked back at her steadily. She was going to have to accept this, or his life was going to be difficult for a while.
At least it wasn’t turning big rocks into smaller rocks or… whatever the place he’d been would have sold him for. He was pretty sure either one of those would probably have still sucked more than an angry rich girl.
She looked away first. That startled him a little. “He didn’t give you to me.”
“You don’t want me. That would pretty much suck for me, miss.”
“Sylviane. My friends call me Sylva.” She looked back at him. “I’ve never had a Kept. That’s the word, right? In English?”
“It’s one of them. I mean.” He shrugged, trying not to feel like he had dirt under his fingernails. “I was bought and sold. Three times, at least that I remember. So ‘slave’ works, too.”
“Slavery’s illegal in the U.S.”
“Lots of things are illegal in the U.S. Hrn. Call it indentured servitude. House like this, you can’t tell me you don’t have servants.”
“How about boyfriend?” She leaned forward. “You’re supposed to bodyguard me, right? Do you think you could play overprotective boyfriend? I can get you into some of my classes, and the rest of the time, you could just like… hover? I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing anyway, right? Staying close? You don’t have to stand right next to me in, like, Stats?”
Leander coughed. “You’ll have to work that out with your father. I’m supposed to be within forty feet of you at all times.” He decided to skip the rest of that order for now. “Besides, what if you want to actually have a boyfriend?”
“Open relationship? All the rage. You can vet them and even hold them down for me.” She gave him a wicked look, like she thought she might shock him. He surprised himself by smiling back at her.