chapter one

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It's six months after some kind of a beginning, with a lover who's a master, and a master who's a wolf. And Penn is still a slave.

As nominal and technical as you like, as you might choose to define it, but it's still the paperwork that counts, to Penn. And sometimes it seems to him that paperwork constitutes most of what he has to deal with, even now. Now that he's the acknowledged favourite, unacknowledged lover of the master. Of Ree, Renally Hotstaat, alpha and master of the Hotstaat pack.

Take tonight, for instance. Tonight there's a dinner being held, in honour of the birthday of the old dam and former Alpha of the Hotstaat pack, Renally's mother. Her name is Charity Hotstaat, Old Dam of the Hotstaats, and that's only the beginning of the irony where she's concerned. Her name, Penn intends, by that.

And when he thinks to himself that the dinner is being held, he laughs and corrects it. Because this is all on him, and it's supposed to be an honour. But in fact it's just another stress, a burden on his back. If he can't get the guest-list and the table-settings and the seating arrangements just right, exactly right, then Grand Dam Charity Hotstaat will not be pleased.

She has her eye on him quite enough of the time already. That eye, it seems to Penn, is a beady and a disapproving one, without him cocking up her birthday celebration dinner and being held responsible for it.

So, sitting at the desk of his office, set off to one side of the library and newly re-furnished, re-equipped, with his name proudly emblazoned in a little gold sign outside in the hallway, Penn struggles, with phone-calls to invitees who've sent no RSVP – how rude – and with the menu and insufficiencies in the kitchen supplies for it, with the flowers and decorations which are in the wrong colours, damn it, not the colours he ordered. He feels like banging his head against the handy wall.

(He has his own phone, in his own office. It's an unheard of luxury, for an upper servant in a country house in 1929, or even a minor member of the clan, still less a slave. It's a signal of the regard in which he is held in certain quarters, and he knows that it's a perk that's been noted in others.)

The final insult's when Mrs Barrolas, the head cook, sends a messenger boy up from the kitchens. The lad tells him that there's not enough strawberries yielded and ripe in the glasshouses, and what to do? For the Dam Charity won't accept cherries or raspberries as substitute, and should Mrs Barrolas send one of the garden boys over to the next county's pack, or to market, to scavenge for further supplies?

One more petty detail, and it's definitely fixable, solvable. But it's also the ultimate straw on this particular dromedary's back. Penn slumps down and puts his head on the desk, covered with his arms, and groans a bit.

That, of course, is the cue for Fionicca, the Hotstaats' butler, to knock lightly upon the door. He comes in immediately, without waiting for permission to enter. They're on rather friendly terms, at this point, Penn and Fi. And although Fionicca is technically and clearly senior to Penn, in actual fact there are... Well, there are other factors at play in the game. These factors mean that every member of staff knows better than to treat Penn as just another member of staff, and certainly not in line with his technical level of seniority, which is pretty much zilch. Everyone – or everyone who needs to – knows it. Nobody acknowledges it openly.

He's the master's favourite. And as such, it's the wisest thing for anyone to be mindful to treat him with civility, and not to cross him. Not that Penn is a grudge-holder, a record-keeper except officially, or vindictive. But without a longer track-record as part of the staff, who's to know that?

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