Leander let Sylviane lead him out of the park and out of Ellie’s line of sight. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “We didn’t use your whole hour yet, and I’m worried that if we don’t go home, she’s just going to follow us around trying to figure out how to get into your pants. Which, uh. I don’t mind if you sleep with some of my friends, but I’d really rather you not sleep with her. She counts coup.”
Struck by an urge he didn’t quite understand, Leander leaned down and in so he could murmur directly into Sylviane’s ear. “If I am your boyfriend,” he pointed out, “I shouldn’t be sleeping with any of your friends, or even people who just think they’re your friends… should I?”
She turned to look at him, her face just a breath away from his. “No,” she agreed quietly, “not unless we’re both in agreement that we’re going to do a little playing around. If you find someone really delicious, I won’t stand in your way.”
“If I find someone really delicious, I still need your father’s permission to leave you alone,” he pointed out, “or you’re going to be the one holding her down while I find out where she’s ticklish.”
She chuckled a little and brushed her lips very lightly over his cheek before leaning back, giving him space. “Now I have to admit, that sounds like a very fun image. Maybe we’ll be that sort of couple, then. Or at least look like that sort of couple.” She squeezed his hand. “What would you like to do for the rest of your hour?”
“That doesn’t involve letting Ellie know we weren’t heading home to dinner?” He shrugged a little. “How about just… sitting somewhere. A couch. An armchair. Something comfortable and… I don’t know. Just comfortable.”
She regarded him for the space of several heartbeats and then smiled. “All right then! This way.” She tugged on his arm, leading him with a little hop and skip back to her house.
Leander followed. He didn’t have a choice, of course, but he wanted to know what she had up her sleeve and why that had gotten him such a strange look.
“You’re going to have to be careful,” she warned him, just as they got back to her father’s house. “If you are this easy to please for the first couple weeks, I might get spoiled. And then when you actually want something difficult – I don’t know, to go outside of the neighborhood or something! – I’m going to be all confused.”
“I’m not the one that’s supposed to be being pleased,” he countered. “You are. Or your father is, and that’s by keeping you safe.”
She put one hand on the door as if to open it, then stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. “You’re a sweetie. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy, too, you know.”
She pushed the door open and walked in, clearly waiting for him to follow. Leander followed – what else was he going to do? – and then followed her again, down the hallway, off the living room, into a cozy-looking den that seemed completely out of sorts with the rest of the downstairs.
“This is family-only.” Sylviane plopped down on the left hand side of a cozy two-person couch and patted the cushion near her. “We don’t let strangers in here and we lock it whenever Daddy is having a party.”
“Should I be in here, then?” He cleared his throat and sat down next to her, leaving a bit of space between them, although the couch didn’t allow for much of that.
“What? Of course you should! You’re in charge of keeping me alive, you’re supposed to go everywhere with me; I’d say you count as family!”
Leander stared at her. She was, as far as he could tell, completely serious. “I’m your father’s slave,” he pointed out in a low whisper. “Most people don’t consider slaves to be people, much less family.”
“Then they’re idiots. Look, you’re not a slave, you’re Kept. Right? You said the words?”
“I said the words,” he agreed reluctantly. His hand went up to the collar – necklace? He hadn’t even looked yet. – around his neck. He hadn’t had a lot of choice, since he’d thought at the time that death wasn’t the better option. But he’d said the words.
“So that means you’re as much family to my father as me. More so. You’re under his name. What?” She shrugged cheerfully at him. “I’m not just another pretty face, you know.”
“I-…” He cleared his throat. “I’ve never thought about it like that, I guess. So uh. Family?”
“Well, family like a son-in-law,” she teased. “Look, my dad did not buy someone as – sorry. But it’s true – handsome as you and order you, what, to stay near me?”
“To stay in your presence or within forty feet of you unless you specifically request privacy,” he quoted.
“See? He didn’t do that and not expect you to end up sleeping with me, don’t you think? I mean… if you want to.”