The butler knocks on the door of the den, then leaves me to wait. It’s Keaira’s older brother, Cashel, who opens the door, a few moments later. “Come in”, he says, not even a hint of a smile. His six feet of solid muscle completely fill the doorway, and he steps back only a bit to let me by. I have to squeeze to get around him—which I’m sure is intentional. The door closes, and I can feel him looming behind me, but I don’t turn. It’s a game—it’s his job to intimidate me, to make sure I don’t think to try anything. And I’m intimidated, no doubt about it—he could snap me in half—but there’s no point letting on. Not right now, anyway.
Aiden sits at a low table across the room, lingering over the remains of a late breakfast or an early lunch. He looks up from his paper. “Mmmm, it’s Tiergan, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Sir,” I reply, but remain where I am. I know the drill.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” he says, after a moment.
“Yes, Sir,” I say again, and cross the room, winding my way through the furniture groupings that fill the large space. Cashel’s heavy footsteps follow behind.
As I near him, I realize why he is so universally respected. And feared. He’s barely smaller than his son, despite his extra years, and something about the way he sits, the way he holds his paper—he’s still nothing but muscle. He must have been enormous, in his youth.
He lays his paper down and takes a sip from his mug. Coffee, from the smell. I stop a few feet from him. He looks me up and down, once, then meets my eyes with a hard gaze. Not angry, just . . . unimpressed.
I decide to get the point. “Sir, I am here to—”
“Yes, yes,” he says, and cuts me off with a wave of his hand, “I already know why you’re here. Faolan requested passage for you on the phone this morning. I’d have waived protocol altogether, except that he mentioned it would be you passing through.”
“You’re friends with my daughter, correct?”
Ah. Of course. I guess I should have realized it would come up. “Yes, Sir,” I answer carefully. I feel Cashel take a half step closer behind me.
A memory of Keaira’s voice surfaces in my mind. If she were here . . . she’d laugh, and tell me I should casually lean back against Cashel and hug him around the shoulders. Maybe look teasingly up into his eyes and call him “lover”.
I almost laugh out loud.
“Something funny?” Aiden asks, unamused.
I shake my head and force myself still. If she were here . . . . I guess that’s not something I need to worry about, any more.
Deep breath. Take your lumps. Arrange passage. Leave quietly.
He looks me up and down again while I stare over his head and through the window, out into the grounds. But there’s too many unhelpful memories there, too. I settle my eyes on a tree and wait.
“I knew your father well,” he says, and I find my eyes on his again. “I had a lot of respect for him. What he did with so little. Even fought me off his territory a few times.
“You don’t look like you could fight off a dog.”
Try me, asshole.
But he likely would. I keep it to myself.
“Pup, I don’t like you. You don’t know your place.”
“Yes, Sir,” I reply, as calmly as I can manage. But I lock eyes with him, and if it kills me, I, will, hold.
“I expect the best for my daughters, and, we both know you’re not it.”
Yeah, well, fuck you, too.
“You’ve been putting bad ideas in Keaira’s head.”
Now that’s off limits.
“Sir, nobody puts ideas in Keaira’s head except Keaira. Which you would know if you’d ever bothered to talk with her. You know, instead of at her.” The words are out of my mouth before I can pull them back. But then, I didn’t really want to pull them back.
He regards me impassively for a moment, but I know I’ve crossed a line. I don’t flinch. And I won’t. I tighten muscles and prepare to be hit.
But it doesn’t come.
“You’re braver than I’ve been told.”
Yeah, well, people underestimate me.
He continues to watch me calmly, but I refuse to relax. I’ve seen how fast Faolan or Cormac can move . . . and I suspect he can move even faster.
“Forget about my daughter, Tiergan. She’s not for you. Not until you are strong enough to take her from me.”
Like that’s ever going to happen—his implication is clear. It’s time to end this conversation. Now.
“Sir, I don’t think that will be an issue. She ended our relationship yesterday.”
“Good. Then it’s settled.”
“You’ll be heading to see Dugan, next. You know the way?”
“Fine. I’ll call him shortly to vouch for you. There’s two of you, correct?”
“Yes, Sir. Me and Brennan.”
“Faolan tells me you are in charge for this trip.”
“From what I’ve heard about you, I would have thought Brennan would be in charge.”
He smiles, but I’m beyond caring.
“Okay, Tiergan. Cashel will show you out.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
He nods. I turn and Cashel indicates I should lead. He follows me to the door, opens it for me, then pushes it shut behind.
I look around for something to hit, but there’s nothing convenient. At least, nothing that won’t make a lot of noise. I clench my fist, instead—hard—then release it, stalk to the front door of the house, nod to the guard, and let myself out.