Octavian’s Undoing (Sons of Judgment, Book 1)
No good deed goes unpunished.
Riley Masters learns this the hard way when she finds a wallet and decides to do the right thing. But returning it will cost her much more than she bargains for.
Abandoned by her mother, raised by an indifferent father, Riley has accepted the fact that she would be alone always. She has no idea that a single act of kindness would propel her into a world where creatures that shouldn’t exist guard the human race from the demons that lurk in the shadows. That it will cost her the lives of those she loves while unearthing a destiny she never imagined with a man who is forbidden to love her. She finds passion, romance and the family she’d been searching for her entire life, but at what cost and what is she willing to sacrifice to find answers and happiness?
Octavian Maxwell has always known his place. He is a Caster, a Son of Judgment. His job is to protect the mortal world from the creatures plotting to destroy it. Instead, his world is shattered when a human girl walks into Final Judgment, a girl he has been searching for his entire life, a girl he is forbidden to ever touch. Being with her will break the oath he’s sworn to never love a mortal. But his heart has already found its mate and it refuses to let go.
Final Judgment… a place undetected, a gateway to evil and a legend that will undo everything anyone has ever known about our world.
The theory was that Hell could only be accessed through death. Riley disagreed. The door to Hell, in her opinion, was standing in line at the post office when the air conditioner was broken and the temperature had skipped mildly discomforting and gone straight to downright inhuman. Never mind the fact that the people ahead of her made her want to take a shower.
Granted, they weren’t so bad. They weren’t shouting or complaining that the woman at the only kiosk open was paying for her package in pennies, or that they’d been standing there in that cramped space for the last thirty minutes watching her lose count and start over. As lines went, they were a quiet lot, even the woman with the kid clutching at her hand. It would have been a relief if said kid hadn’t been enthusiastically digging for gold and wiping it on his mother’s skirt. Then there was the woman spitting bits of her nail out over her shoulder. The man behind her dressed entirely in black kept trying to dodge the bits of nail spittle from landing on him. But the nail-bitter never noticed. The worst was the man directly in front of Riley. The stench of him made her eyes water and the hairs in her nostrils scream in terror. She was seriously beginning to reconsider her decision to mail her electricity payment. It wasn’t like she needed power that badly. The pioneers lived without and they were fine.
“Next!” the frail little man behind the kiosk croaked as the penny-counting woman shuffled away, humming happily to herself as she snapped her considerably less weighty purse closed.
The nose picker and his mother hurried over and the line scuffled forward. Riley stayed where she was, putting a safe distance between herself and the sour aroma wafting off her companion. She wiped away the sweat accumulating across her brow with the back of her hand and sighed. It was not how she had imagined spending her afternoon. She mentally kicked herself for not thinking to bring a book along with her on the journey, but she was supposed to be job hunting, not wilting away in the unnatural heat. Thank goodness she’d already dropped her resumes off before hitting the post office. Something told her potential employers didn’t look too kindly on people who had taken a bath in their own sweat, fully dressed. She was too afraid to check, but she was sure her makeup was running and the sassy knot she’d stubbornly twisted her hair into was now fuzzy and mad-woman-ish. Nope. She was relieved she’d be going home afterwards and stripping down to her shorts and tank top. Granted, there was no air conditioner there either, but there was a shower and the freedom to kick her heels off.
“Screw this!” Sewer-Man griped, as he turned and marched past Riley to the door.
One down, three to go. It was like the TV show Survivors. One by one, the contestants were eliminated until only the very brave — or stupid — remained. Riley was prepared to go the distance on this one. Nothing short of someone releasing a plume of body gas smelling of peanuts was going to make her leave, and only because she was allergic and may require emergency medical attention. But to prove she had the female balls to make it to the final round, she scuttled up behind the man wearing black and breathed in deeply the fresh scent of rain, wilderness and pine. Surprise lifted her eyebrows as she eyed the wide shoulders and lean back with new interest.
She estimated he was roughly six-three and about a hundred and ninety pounds, with dark neatly cropped hair cut short in back and left shaggy in front. His hips were narrow, made narrower by the black t-shirt he’d stuffed into the waistband of his black jeans, jeans that molded a little too distractingly to his extremely well formed backside. Riley cocked her head and stared for just a moment longer — her well-earned treat for the day — before continuing on downward over long legs and abraded army boots. She couldn’t see his face, but she was seriously liking his back, a back that seemed to tense the longer she studied it. The hands at his sides tightened into fists, knuckles white against his golden complexion.
The nose-picker and his mom left and the nail-biter took their place at the counter, shouting a bit too excitedly, “I only need a stamp!”
Thank God! Riley thought, as she exhaled – although standing behind Tall, Dark and Gorgeous had its own perks. Her gaze drifted downward again. It was her way of thinking that if she had to waste more time standing in line, she may as well take in the good view.
But her sightseeing ended when the nail-biter, letter and stamp in hand, hurried away and Riley lost her treat. She smothered her sulking by organizing her mail, making sure the checks were inside and the addresses were written on the envelopes clearly and correctly. All of that took her a full two minutes, which seemed to be enough time for Mr. Sexy to finish his business and turn to leave. Riley jerked her head up, hoping to catch a glimpse of him as he stomped past her, but the dude moved fast. There was a solid punch of air as he charged straight past her and out the door.
Riley’s shoulders drooped. What a crappy day.
“Miss?” The clerk waved at her from behind the counter.
Feeling even more miserable, Riley shuffled forward and dropped her letters down on the counter. She bought her stamps, shipped off the bills and left.
Outside in the crisp autumn air, Riley moaned shamelessly. She closed her eyes and let the breeze wash over her, gelling the sweat to her skin and unplastering her only nice blouse from her spine. It was the last scrap of her pride that kept her from stripping out of her clothes right there and letting nature cool her skin. Instead, she adjusted the strap on her purse and started around the building to the parking lot. She couldn’t have taken more than a handful of steps when her foot treaded on something squishy.
For a split, horrific moment, she was certain it was a dead rodent, something that had fallen out of a nearby tree and was now embedded with her shoe print. It was the only image she needed to make her run away without looking back. Curiosity and the need to sleep without nightmares of flattened road kill under her shoe, forced her to take a peek, just one, just so she would never have to wonder again if those shoes needed to be burned.
It was a man’s wallet, black with soft, worn leather. Relief pulsed through her as she swooped down and scooped it up, surprised by its weight. She glanced around, hoping to catch sight of the owner, but she was the only one there. Part of her wondered if she should take it to the post office and leave it with them. Maybe the owner would retrace their steps and return for it. She started to turn back, even as her fingers flipped it open to the flaps. No picture. No driver’s license. But there was enough cash and credit cards to buy a small island. The thing was stuffed full of fifties and hundreds. Nothing less than twenty dollars in bills, no loose change here, and somehow, there was still room for a packet of matches, a receipt from the post office for stamps and an unwrapped condom in silver foil. Someone had tucked several business cards to the same place into one of the slot.
Carefully, she withdrew one of the cards and read the fine, loopy print. “Octavian Maxwell.” It was followed by an address.
It surprised her that the address was on the same stretch of highway as her house. More so, that she had never noticed a turn off anywhere between her house and that place. She wondered again if she should just leave it with the post office clerk, but decided against it. It was on her way for one thing, and for another, she doubted anyone who got their hands on all that cash was going to return it. Hell, even she was tempted. There was enough money to keep her afloat for months. It was enough to help ease the load until she could find a job. Even a handful of the bills would have been enough. But she’d lost money before and no matter how much of it you had, losing any hurt. Besides, for all she knew, this could be all the money the person had and they’d been on the way to the bank or something. It could make all the difference in that person’s life. It sucked, but she’d never be able to sleep at night if she didn’t return it. She’d drop it off and go home and sulk about the money she could have had.
She stuffed the wallet into her purse and hurried to her prehistoric Toyota and climbed in. The thing grumbled like an old man being asked to move, and puttered out of the parking lot at a snail’s pace. Riley flipped the radio on, drowning out the car’s protest with Skillet belting about Monsters as she followed the address to the outskirts of the city, along the industrial stretch of highway reserved mainly for delivery trucks. She kept her speed under the required limit, not wanting to miss this mysterious turn stated on the card.
When it materialized, almost quite literally, Riley almost missed it. She slammed down on her brakes, thankful no one else was behind her as she twisted the wheel and pulled onto the shoulder to gape.
She’d driven down that road a million times. She lived a single block further up and yet not once in ten years had she ever noticed that opening. Yet, there it was, so either she wasn’t very observant of her surroundings or it had appeared by magic. She went for the first, because magic did not exist.
Carefully, she eased into the bend, keeping her foot light on the gas as she maneuvered the tight wind deeper into a stretch of wilderness she wasn’t all too comfortable navigating. The dirt path carved deep into the unknown, guiding her, seemingly compelling her forward without an end in sight. It felt like hours before the thin, bare trees finally parted, revealing an opening paved in gravel, weeds and dirt. The surrounding trees loomed like gangly giants all around, reaching up to the heavens, choking the blue and sunlight with creeping shadows. It was no wonder nothing grew there. Every bush, plant and shrub was dead, barren and wilted.
Riley shuddered as she pulled up in front and cut the engine. Aside from her car, there were a number of very shiny, very expensive looking cars crouched like hunched mammoths throughout the wide clearing-turned parking lot. She climbed out, slammed her car door closed and faced the monster of a house looming like something from the Addams Family before her.
The place was a jungle of vines climbing over dark stones and stained glass. Columns of granite loomed with massive force over curved stairs leading onto a broad porch. With the four turrets, several levels and the sheer height, it was impossible to judge just how many floors actually created the place, but it was a thing of horror movies. She wondered briefly if she’d find wind chimes fashioned of human bones hanging from the drain pipes and if a creepy Frankenstein butler would be answering the door.
Riley second guessed her decision to continue the handful of steps from where she stood near the safety of her car to climb the marble steps to the grand opening. But move she did, crossing the distance until she stood before the doors.
It was a thing of legends, ten feet of solid bronze stamped into mahogany. Sunlight spilled pale fingers down the precise design, tracing the grotesque figures immortalized in the metal. It took some squinting and two full steps back to fully take in the image.
It was a bird, majestic wings sprawled from frame to frame in flight. Its feet were buried in the disemboweled bodies of men crawling from fiery pits. They clawed at the bird’s legs, trying desperately to untangle themselves from the flames tearing flesh from bones. Over the bird’s head, men stood on clouds, brandishing bows and arrows aimed below. Above the door, the words Final Judgment were burned into smooth oak. Riley swallowed thickly, wondering what the hell kind of place she’d stumbled across. Then she spotted the umlaut carved into the plaque just beneath the sign.
“All shall be judged,” she read quietly to herself. “Lovely,” she muttered, exhaling.
Well, she’d come this far. Turning back now just seemed like a waste of time. Plus, she still had to return the wallet, which was weighing heavily in her purse.
Resigned, she knocked loudly, not trusting the person on the other end to hear her, judging by the massive size of the house. She tapped her fingers against her thighs, waiting. Seconds turned into minutes and she tried again, using her fist this time. When nothing happened again, she glanced at the cars darkening the driveway and frowned. She turned to the house and tilted her head back, taking in the massiveness of it.
Hesitant, she reached for the bronze handle and twisted. The door swung inward to a soundless emptiness that seemed to echo through the grand chamber crafted from stone and wood.
At first glance, there was nothing welcoming about the place. It was dimly lit by flickering candles mounted on the stone walls and hung from the iron chandelier overhead. The floors were glossy hardwood that appeared black in the gloom. The only occupants were the square tables and iron chairs scattered throughout the place, interrupted only by a square dais rising from the ground. A neat pile of firewood rested in the center, unlit, but ready to be so at a moment’s notice. A solid oak bar loomed at the far corner with shelves of alcohol lining the wall behind it in brightly colored bottles. There was another counter on the opposite end with an old fashioned register on top and a rectangular window cut into the wall behind it. It was an odd set up, but it made sense, seeing as how it appeared to be a restaurant and bar combo. The only problem was that she was the only one there.
“Hello?” she called, crossing over the threshold tentatively and moving to the counter with the window. She strained her neck to try and see into the back. “Is anyone—?”
“Yes, someone is.”
Riley released a startled scream before she could stop herself. She whipped around to confront the smooth voice behind her. Her hand flew to her heart as it hammered frightfully in her chest.
“Geez!” she blurted, staring at the man who stood there serenely.
As handsome went, the man took the cake. He was downright gorgeous with a headful of glossy black hair swept back from an elegantly classical face, topped with a square chin, rugged jaw and prominent brow. He stood dominating her tiny frame by a full foot, bringing him to a little over six feet tall with a build made for the cover of romance novels. It was concealed by a neatly tailored suit of rich navy that complimented his striking good looks and tan features.
Riley felt her jaw slacken.
The man smiled, apparently amused by her reaction. “I apologize. I sometimes forget how quietly I walk, a fact my wife berates me over constantly.” He moved around her to stand behind the counter. “Are you here for lunch? Or can I help you with… something else?”
Maybe it was her imagination, but the way he said something else made her cheeks flush.
She shook her head, more to clear it than anything else. “No, I’m looking for someone.”
His dark eyebrows lifted, interest now plain on his face. “Are you? And who might that be?”
Riley dug into her purse for the card she’d stuffed there. She unearthed it and held it up to read. “Octavian Maxwell? Is he here or do you know him?”
Something like mild confusion blended with interest behind his features. “Are you an acquaintance?”
Riley met his gaze levelly. “No, we’ve never met. He was at the post office earlier today and dropped his wallet. I’m just here to return it.”
There was no concealing the outright shock on the man’s face. She could have announced she was part alien from the planet Uranus. “You… you brought back his wallet?” There was an accusing tone in the question, like he was appalled that she would dare bring Octavian drugs.
It was Riley’s turn to look bemused. “Uh…” She pulled out the wallet and held it up for the man to see. “I think it’s his. I mean, it had his business cards inside…”
The man stared as though she held a deadly cobra. “So you did…” He quickly seemed to catch himself and his smile returned, full and cheerful. “Well, isn’t that thoughtful of you. I’m afraid my son isn’t here at the moment, but I can take it—”
Riley took a quick step back, clutching the wallet to her chest. “I’m sorry and no offense, but I’d like to give it to him personally. There are some very important things inside and I’d feel better knowing he got them. Not saying that you wouldn’t give it to him, but…” She hastily stuffed the wallet back into the safety of her purse.
Straight, white teeth flashed in a brilliant smile. “I understand. In that case.” He circled around the counter to face Riley fully. “Why don’t you stay for lunch? We don’t get very many visitors during the day. Most of our patrons prefer the cloak of darkness.” He smiled as though he’d made a private joke. “I’m sure Octavian will be back shortly.”
Riley thought of the measly handful of coins at the bottom of her purse, barely enough to cover a cup of coffee, and shook her head. “That’s really nice of you, but I—”
He waved her excuse away. “Nonsense. It’s on the house. Think of it as our way of thanking you for your… kindness.”
“It was really no trouble. This place is actually on my way home, so…” she trailed off, letting him fill in the blanks.
“Nevertheless.” He guided her with a gentle hand to a nearby table. “I insist.”
Riley sat as he hurried back to the counter. He returned a moment later with a plastic encased menu. She thanked him, but didn’t touch it until he left her with a polite inclination of his head. He disappeared through the swinging doors behind the counter, leaving Riley alone in the eerie room.
She glanced at her purse resting on the table in front of her and wondered what kind of person carried that amount of cash around and how the hell did one not notice losing it? She’d go out of her damn mind if it had been her. Granted, she’d never had that much money in her life to lose, but even misplacing ten dollars was a big deal. She remembered washing a pair of jeans with five dollars in the pocket once. She’d been devastated when she’d pulled out the torn and crumpled bits of paper from her pocket the next day. It hadn’t been much, but it had been enough to pay for a loaf of bread and a carton of milk. No, that had not been a good day for her. So she could only imagine what Octavian must have been feeling at that moment.
“Have you decided?”
Riley jumped and smacked the underside of the table with her knees. “Jesus!”
The man, having mysteriously materialized mere feet away from her, smiled sheepishly. “Forgive me.”
Riley offered him a slight smile. “You should consider becoming a ninja.”
The man exhaled heavily. “Such a beautiful dream that would be, if only I had the legs for tights.”
Riley giggled before she could stop herself.
The man smiled. “Have you decided?” he asked again, gesturing with his chin towards the menu.
Riley passed over the untouched menu. “Just coffee, please.” A safe choice. It just didn’t feel right ordering an entire meal for free when she hadn’t really done anything to deserve it.
The man’s brows drew together in a frown. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like something to eat? Not to brag, but I make an amazing turkey club.”
Riley chuckled. “No, thank you. I ate before I came,” she lied, praying her stomach wouldn’t make a liar out of her. The delicious scent from the kitchen was killing her and it was pure luck she hadn’t started drooling or thinking about the last time she’d eaten anything.
“If you’re certain.” The man’s gaze was thoughtful, like he knew she was lying, but couldn’t call her on it.
She watched him walk away and slumped in her seat. She turned her gaze out the window at the parking lot and watched the wind play through the treetops. The knotted branches swayed, parting just enough to allow a small flutter of sunlight to poke through before it was smothered. Riley wondered what kind of people opened a restaurant in the middle of nowhere where no one could find them. Images of cannibals masquerading as restaurant owners played through her mind. A chill swept up her spine, making her shudder. Her gaze swept over the room, wondering if it was too late to leave before she was chopped up and served as that evening’s Riley soup.
“I’m coming out!” came a voice from the kitchen, moments before the doors swung outward and the man strolled through carrying a silver tray the same silver color as his eyes. It was laden with a coffee pot, a cup, a dispenser for cream and a small bowl of sugar cubes. He set it down before her and nimbly poured her the drink.
“Will there be anything else?”
Riley eyed the dark brew, remembering a scene from the Texas Chain Saw Massacre where the girl had been drugged after drinking something she was given. She shook her head. “No, thank you.” She fidgeted. “Maybe I should come back. I promised my friends that I would come right back after dropping off the wallet. They’re waiting for me at the end of the road.”
The man, if he sensed her lie, did nothing more than give her an indulgent smile. “I’m positive Octavian will be here at any moment. I apologize for taking up so much of your time, but of course you are more than welcome to come back at any time, if you wish.”
Feeling silly for being so paranoid, especially when he was being so nice, Riley shook her head. “I can wait for a little longer.”
The man inclined his head. “Stay for as long as you wish.” He took a step back and clapped his hands together once. “Are you sure there is nothing else I can get for you?”
She started to give her head another shake when she thought of something. “You wouldn’t happen to have this morning’s paper, would you?” she asked.
“I do.” He left, returning a moment later with the paper. He set it down next to her cup. “Enjoy.”
Thanking him, Riley turned to the paper and flipped it open. She pulled out a pen from her purse and went to work scouring the Help Wanted section.
Riley jumped and struck the underside of the table with her knee for the second time in a matter of twenty minutes and nearly upended her cup. She grabbed for it and steadied it before snapping her attention to the woman standing a short distance away, dressed beautifully in a salmon pink business suit and matching shoes.
She was breathtaking. Hands down one of the most beautiful women Riley had ever seen in her life. She was six feet of legs and perfect curves, topped with a flawless peaches and cream complexion. Her mane of corn-silk blonde curls hung in a thick, glossy cape down the center of her slender back, stopping inches from grazing round hips. Just being in the same room as her was a serious blow to any woman’s ego.
The woman grimaced guiltily. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Riley, still dazed by the woman’s beauty, shook her head. “I think I’m beginning to get used to it.”
The woman laughed, pushing a blonde curl behind her ear. The candlelight caught the gold hoop in her ear and glinted. “You’ve met my husband.” It wasn’t a question, but an amused fact. “I’m buying him a bell for Christmas.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to suggest the woman buy herself one, too, but she kept it to herself. Riley couldn’t figure out how the woman managed to make it all the way across the room in heels that were no less than seven inches, without making a single damn sound. She hadn’t been concentrating on the newspaper that hard, had she?
“I’m Kyaerin Maxwell.” The woman moved forward, slim hand extended.
Riley hurried out of her seat to accept it. “Riley Masters.” She tilted her face and frowned. “Karen?”
The woman shook her head, still smiling. “Close, but more like Ki-ren.” Kyaerin gave her hand a shake, a squeeze and released. “It’s nice to meet you, Riley. What brings you to our neck of the woods?”
Riley gestured to the window. “I live down the road, but I’m here returning a wallet that was dropped. I think it belongs to your son, Octavian? He dropped it at the post office.”
Kyaerin’s look took on the same slack-jawed appearance her husband had given Riley. “Is that so?” But unlike her husband, hers melted away quickly to a sweet, genuinely happy smile. “Well that is awfully kind of you. Not very many people would go out of their way—”
“It wasn’t out of my way,” Riley insisted. “Like I said, I live just down the road. It was on the way.”
Kyaerin waved away her explanation with a flick of her dainty wrist. “Even then, most people wouldn’t bother, especially with the substantial amount of cash that had been inside. He was supposed to go to the bank this morning,” she said when Riley studied her, curious as to how she knew what had been in the wallet. “It was his turn to deposit this week’s float. Octavian will be so grateful you returned it and saved him a tongue lashing.”
Riley laughed weakly. “Really, not a big deal.”
Kyaerin’s laugh was the soft tinkle of bells. “Well, we’re grateful nevertheless.” Her gaze dropped to the paper in front of Riley. “What kind of jobs are you looking for?”
Startled by the abrupt change of topic, Riley faltered for a second before responding. “At this point, whatever I can find.”
Kyaerin moved to pluck up the paper and examine the circles Riley had made. Her pert little nose crinkled into one of disgust. “Warehouse worker? Waste management? Goodness.”
Riley laughed. “Like I said, whatever I can find.”
Kyaerin folded the paper none too gently and tossed it down on a nearby table. “Those are not jobs for a young lady. As it so happens, my husband is looking for someone to help out around here full time. I could put in a word if you like?”
Work at the Addams Family Mansion?
“Oh no, that’s okay. Thank—”
Kyaerin wasn’t listening. “You would be doing us yet another favor, I assure you.”
Wary, Riley frowned. “What would I need to do?” Because if she had to lure people into the basement and hang them by their feet as their blood drained… even a desperate girl had to have limits.
“We need a waitress to help during the evening rush. You’d have to get meals and drinks. Nothing too strenuous.”
That didn’t sound so bad, except… “I’ve never waitressed,” she confessed.
“It’s very simple,” Kyaerin insisted. “You’ll be trained before your first shift. The pay is reasonable and you’ll get every other weekend off.”
Now isn’t the time to start turning down jobs, especially one that is offered, the voice in her head chided.
Riley forced a bright smile. “That would be wonderful. Thank you so much!”
Kyaerin left her, moving with a graceful swagger through the doors behind the counter. The click of her pumps faded as the door swung closed behind her. Riley dropped into her seat, nerves warring with dread. She was so not dressed for an interview. Her clothes were rumpled from the heat and her makeup was smudged and faded. She didn’t even want to think how bad her hair looked. But she was never one to back out of an opportunity, even if it was being offered purely out of gratitude for the safe return of their week’s earnings. A job was a job.
Hurriedly, she unhitched the clip from her hair and let the copper strands tumble around her shoulders. The usually straight strands fell in waves that she quickly combed out with her fingers. She dragged her knuckles beneath her eyes, rubbing away as much of the makeup smudges as possible before using a napkin to scrub the faded lipstick from her lips. She was reaching for her purse to reapply when the kitchen doors swung open and Kyaerin hurried out, followed by her husband. Riley plastered what she hoped was a confident smile on her face and rose to her feet to meet them.
“Kyaerin tells me you’re looking for a job,” the man came right out and said, extending a hand to Riley even though they’d already met.
Riley took it, giving it a buoyant shake. “I am. I have resumes in the car if you—”
The man waved the offer away. “Later. Let’s just talk for now.”
Riley sat, counting to ten in her head and willed her nerves to quit shaking.
“Let’s start with your name.”
She learned the man’s name was Liam Maxwell. He and his wife owned Final Judgment, a diner and bar; a business that had been family owned for years. Their sons helped when they could, but they had other responsibilities that kept them busy and they needed an extra hand to pick up the slack. Riley listened as Liam spoke, describing the type of job required of her and the hours she would need to put in. When they got to the salary she would be getting every two weeks, Riley nearly fainted. True, she’d never had a waitressing job in the past, but she was pretty damn certain no other waitress was getting that much in a single night, not including tips.
“Our customers are very generous,” Kyaerin said when Riley’s eyes widened. “You could make anywhere between fifty and a hundred dollars a night. Sometimes more.”
Now, Riley wasn’t stupid. She knew a sugar coating when she heard one, but even if the tip earning was greatly exaggerated, the facts remained that she’d be earning enough in one week to pay the rent and most of the bills and all she had to do was wait tables.
“This all sounds a little too good to be true,” she admitted.
Liam smiled at her kindly. “I won’t lie to you, it won’t be all champagne and roses, but you seem like someone who picks things up quickly.”
“I am,” Riley said, struggling to keep her voice even. “I’m not afraid of hard work.”
“Fantastic,” Kyaerin said, glancing at her husband.
Liam nodded. “I have a question though.”
“How old are you?”
It took a great deal of effort not to grimace. This was the part that scared a lot of potential employers away.
“I turned nineteen last week,” she confessed after a split second hesitation. “But I don’t drink or smoke and I don’t party.”
Liam chuckled. “Well, then maybe you can teach our sons a thing or two. Lord knows they do enough of all that. Regulus, is eighteen. We usually keep him in the kitchen to help Gorje during rushes and serve drinks during the evenings, but he isn’t permitted to mix or pour the drinks himself. Octavian or Gideon do most of the bartending.” Liam squinted at Riley. “So I’m guessing you’re looking for part-time employment, am I correct?”
Riley shook her head. “Full-time, if possible.”
Liam’s eyebrow rose questioningly. “No school for you?”
It took a bit more effort not to let it show how much the question bothered her. “I’m taking some time off from college.”
Liam nodded like it made sense, but made no comment. His gaze shifted over to his wife, who had remained mute throughout most of the transaction. They said nothing for several minutes as they did that weird eye communication thing only couples could pull off.
At long last, he trained his attention back to Riley, and smiled. “When can you start?”
Bottling back the bubbling squeal building up inside her, Riley opened her mouth to respond when the front door opened and three boys scuffled in, carting a dead body between them.