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Lover At Last

By:J. R. WARD

PRELUDE


Qhuinn, son of Lohstrong, entered his family’s home through its grand front door. The instant he stepped over the threshold, the smell of the place curled up into his nose. Lemon polish. Beeswax candles. Fresh flowers from the garden that the doggen brought in daily. Perfume—his mother’s. Cologne—his father’s and his brother’s. Cinnamon gum—his sister’s.

If the Glade company ever did an air freshener like this, it would be called something like Meadow of Old Money. Or Sunrise over a Fat Bank Account.

Or maybe the ever-popular We’re Just Better Than Everyone Else.

Distant voices drifted over from the dining room, the vowels round as brilliant-cut diamonds, the consonants drawled out smooth and long as satin ribbons.

“Oh, Lillie, this is lovely, thank you,” his mother said to the server. “But that’s too much for me. And do not give Solange so all that. She’s getting heavy.”

Ah, yes, his mother’s perma-diet inflicted on the next generation: Glymera females were supposed to disappear from sight when they turned sideways, each jutting collarbone, sunken cheek, and bony upper arm some kind of fucked-up badge of honor.

As if resembling like a fire poker would make you a better person.

And Scribe Virgin forefend if your daughter looked like she was healthy.

“Ah, yes, thank you, Lilith,” his father said evenly. “More for me, please.”

Qhuinn closed his eyes and tried to convince his body to step forward. One foot after another. It was not that tough.

His brandy-new Ed Hardy kicks middle-fingered that suggestion. Then again, in so many ways, walking into that dining room was belly-of-the-beast time.

He let his duffel fall to the floor. The couple of days at his best friend Blay’s house had done him good, a break from the complete lack of air in this house. Unfortunately, the burn on reentry was so bad, the cost-benefit of leaving was nearly equal.

Okay, this was ridiculous. He couldn’t keep standing here like an inanimate object.

Turning to the side wall, he leaned into the full-length antique mirror that was placed right by the door. So thoughtful. So in keeping with the aristocracy’s need to look good. This way, visitors could check their hair and clothes as the butler accepted coats and hats.

The young pretrans face that stared back at him was all even features, good jawline, and a mouth that, he had to admit, looked like it could do some serious damage to naked skin when he got older. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. Hair was Vlad the Impaler, spikes standing up straight from his head. Neck was strung with a bike chain—and not one bought at Urban Outfitters, but the link that had previously motivated his twelve-speed.

All things being equal, he looked like a thief who had broken in and was prepared to trash the place on the hunt for sterling silver, jewelry, and portable electronics.

The irony was that the Goth bullcrap wasn’t actually the most offensive part of his appearance to his fam. In fact, he could have stripped down, hung a light fixture off his ass, and run around the first floor playing Jose Canseco with the art and antiques and not come close to how much the real problem pissed off his parents.

It was his eyes.

One blue. One green.

Oopsy. His bad.

The glymera didn’t like defects. Not in their porcelain or their rose gardens. Not in their wallpaper or their carpets or their countertops. Not in the silk of their underwear or the wool of their blazers or the chiffon of their gowns.

And certainly not ever in their children.

Sister was okay—well, except for the “little weight problem” that didn’t actually exist, and a lisp that her transition hadn’t cured —oh, and the fact that she had the personality of their mother. And there was no fixing that shit. Brother, on the other hand, was the real fucking star, a physically perfect, firstborn son prepared to carry forth the family bloodline by reproducing in a very genteel, non-moaning, no-sweat situation with a female chosen for him by the family.

Hell, his sperm recipient had already been lined up. He was going to mate her as soon as he went through his transition—

“How are you feeling, my son?” his father asked with hesitation.

“Tired, sir,” a deep voice answered. “But this is going to help.”

A chill frog-marched up Qhuinn’s spine. That didn’t sound like his brother. Way too much bass. Far too masculine. Too…

Holy shit, the guy had gone through his transition.

Now Qhuinn’s Ed Hardys got with the program, taking him forward until he could see into the dining room. Father was in his seat at the head of the table. Check. Mother was in her seat at the foot of the table opposite the kitchen’s flap door. Check. Sister was facing out of the room, all but licking the gold rim off her plate from hunger. Check.

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