“A touch to the right, mes chers neveux,” I said. “The school’s mismatched architecture can be rather deceptive, but I want the sofa directly beneath the painting.”
“Your dorm room is sooo amazing,” Caspian said, after helping Anders push everything into place. My nephews were quite useful for carrying and moving furniture, though Caspian’s elder vampire brother was by far the stronger of the two.
“Of course, mon petit chou,” I said. “I’ve lived with Maman and Papa during my time at the Institute thus far, but I wanted the ‘traditional college experience’ before I graduate. It’s certainly no castle, but it will do for now.”
“It suits you, Miss Blackwell-Straud,” said Anders.
“Oh, none of that butler nonsense here, s’il vous plaît,” I said. “I enlisted you two as my nephews, not hired help. It makes you sound like my professor–or your great-grandfather Thaddeus.”
“Ooh, I hope the place I get to work at for my first-year butler academy internship is as nice as this,” Caspian said. “You’re gonna write me a letter of recommendation, aren’t you, Aunt Belle?”
“Going to,” corrected Anders, though he didn’t particularly sound like he had his heart in it, unlike his father–and my brother–Leopold. He’d already attended the Lyons Butler Academy for a couple of years, so perhaps the novelty had worn off.
Poor, dear Anders. He never dated (I had my ways of finding out), most likely because a butler academy was no place to meet a young lady. I had higher hopes for Caspian, but when I asked him what kind of man he liked, he presented me with a dozen photographs of Hamlet Richardson and added, “But without a temper.”
Clearly he was fond of older men–I hoped he didn’t fall for an instructor, le pauvre cher. Only heartbreak lay in store for a student-teacher match.
“Have you heard that ma charmante Lani was admitted to the Institute?” I asked them. They saw her far more often than I did. “I can’t wait to take her under my wing. She’s so terribly quiet, but her friend with the untamed mass of curls will be with her. I’d best purchase a dozen new brushes…”
“…Ellie’s coming here?” asked Anders, suddenly interested.
“Is it Ellie? Oh, and I’ve been calling her Ella all this time…”
“But she’s human.” His voice grew louder. “You’re certain?”
“I see…I’m glad she’s doing well.”
Such a strange look crossed my serious-minded nephew’s face.
“Do take Gaston for a walk, won’t you? Mon beau chien requires exercise, and I have a very important academic matter to attend to.”
It was so very convenient having so many nieces and nephews to do my bidding.
As for my “important academic matter”…
“Très bon, mon professeur préféré,” I said, running my fingers through my sleeping professor’s hair. “You didn’t even attempt to lock the door this time.”
He looked so very different when he was sleeping. If it weren’t for the snoring, I might describe his face as serene.
“Your future paramour may not be fond of the snoring,” I said softly. “Something to work on, perhaps.”
Professor Graves’ head snapped back, accompanied by a sharp intake of breath. “Miss Blackwell-Straud, this is not appropriate–”
“I know all about propriety,” I said dismissively. “Half my family are butlers, you know. But I shan’t tell a soul about the snoring–not even you-know-who.”
“…I don’t know who. Please put an acceptable distance between your body and mine immediately, Miss Blackwell-Straud.”
“But I’m your favorite research assistant, Professor Graves,” I said. “Our relationship is far closer than a mere instructor and student’s.”
“It isn’t,” he muttered. “And you’re my only research assistant, a position you achieved via outright extortion.”
“Such an unromantic way of describing the start of a beautiful relationship,” I said. “Oh, who could possibly be at the door?”
“Valerian?” called Professor Rexx. “I hope I’m not coincidentally interrupting your one and only office hour.”
Professor Rexx thought he was being quite clever and discreet, but I followed the Path of Love and Beauty. Therefore, I knew the truth behind these little rendezvous: Professor Rexx was deeply in love with the oblivious and standoffish Professor Graves.
A demon in love with the warlock who’d summoned him from the depths of eleven hells and sealed their pact with blood…très romantique!
Professor Graves avoided anyone else’s company–with the exception of my own–but I daresay he tolerated Professor Rexx’s quite well. Perhaps he was merely too shy to express his true feelings.
“What a surprise to see you here, Belle,” said Professor Rexx. “Apologies for interrupting.”
“Non, it’s no interruption at all, truly,” I said. “Have you brought any of your work to show Professor Graves?”
“Last time, you said one of your favorite hobbies was firing and glazing fine porcelain…”
“Miss Blackwell-Straud,” interrupted Professor Graves, “office hours are now over. Rexxanathostrazor’mol, I will speak to you in private.”
“I don’t mind having her around, Valerian,” said Professor Rexx.
Of course le pauvre cher felt more comfortable in my presence; I helped soften the blow of Professor Graves’ ever-so-harsh words. I liked to think I offered encouragement merely by being in the room.
“I have no other obligations,” I said. “I’d be delighted to stay as long as you need me.”
Professor Graves brought his hand down on the arm of his leather chair. “Out. Now.”
“Terribly sorry, Professor Rexx,” I said. “I’m afraid you’re on your own. Best of luck, beau diable.”
I returned to my “dorm room,” as normal university students call it. Gaston was waiting for me, naturally. Had my nephews given him a bath after his walk? How thoughtful.
Perhaps Professor Graves and Professor Rexx were making a new “pact” at this very moment. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself, enjoying the potential fruits of my romantic labors.
“Nobody laughs like that,” said my beastly nephew. “It’s creepy.”
It had been to great surprise–and disappointment on my part–that Sly had successfully applied to the Institute a couple years after I’d gained part-time admission. My nephew had never shown any interest in his fae heritage beforehand, and his grades had been quite abysmal from all accounts, and yet here he was. Papa’s influence, I suspected.
He plopped down on the sofa, the force of his derriere moving it ever so slightly out of place. “You check out the latest batch of freshman chicks? Damn.”
“Non.” Should I let this line of conversation proceed…?
“You know how I’m all about ass, right? Well, shit, this one chick, I swear I could see her ass from space. I just wanted to grab those cheeks and spread–you know what hot dogging is?”
“I believe I would like to remain in blissful ignorance, s’il vous plaît.”
“Just think of what a hot dog bun looks like, is all I’m saying, and how you have to slide that dog right in–”
“The only food I eat consists of delicate, flaky plasmafruit-infused pastries,” I said. “So I’m afraid this topic of conversation is lost on me.”
“All you gotta know is I’m gonna fuck the shit out of her,” Sly said. “Not literally, even though I’ma do it in the ass. Hey, you’re always going on about manners and love and shit, but you don’t even pretend to be interested in what I got going on.”
“Amour?” I scoffed. “Non, this is little more than luxure–lust. Entirely different.”
“Hell, haven’t you ever wanted a guy to just fuck you until you can’t think about anything but dick?”
“Non, bien sûr que non! Where is the romance in such a thing, Silas?”
“…You’ve seriously never gotten laid? Shit, that explains a lot.”
“Amour is a selfless thing,” I said, even if he could never understand such a concept, “and I prefer to dedicate myself to the love lives of others.”
“Yeah, well, have fun with that. Or don’t, since it’s not like you’re getting any action.”
Non, a bête mauvaise could never truly understand.
Still, I hoped that one day, he would find a lovely young lady who would teach him the truth of amour…and that her heart would survive the lesson.