”They’re Fams, they’re intelligent,” Walker said.
“Yes.” Danith looked around, lowered her voice. “Not as intelligent as cats or foxes or dogs, but sentient.” She went over to a big box on the counter at the end of the room, cooed. “Here they are. Adorable.”
He peered into the box and found a huddle of small housefluffs piled together and sleeping. Most women would want one. For himself, he was glad he had an adventurous fox on the way.
“My Fam won’t eat it, will he? Since Sedwy will be my liason to all of you scary nobles, explaning FirstFamily customs, I don’t want to irritate her.”
Danith lifted a small brown housefluff with long ears edged in cream, held it close to her body and stared up at Walker. “She’s going to explain customs to you?”
“Oh, good. Someone I can ask when I get confused. Even if T’Ash knows stuff, he never explains.”
“Always glad to be of service. Take the housefluff. You know any good Grove names?” Danith asked.
“Not off-hand. You know those FirstFamilies are weird. Never paid much attention.”
“That’s fibbing, Walker. You probably know every secret this household has and a lot about the Blackthorns.” She tilted her head. “Know more about the Hollys than they’d care for, some about the Furzes. All FirstFamilies.”
“And you are all weird.”
“Not me, commoner, like you.”
“Just go on believing that.”
The door opened and T’Ash stepped in. “You’ve been flirting with my woman all morning long, Clover. The All Councils’ Clerk got tired of waiting for you and left. Your cuzes are still entertaining the other noble reps. Get them all out of the Residence. Take the bunny and go away.” T’Ash’s lip curled at the housefluff. “Sweet pet.”
“Fam!” Danith corrected.
“Fam,” T’Ash said automatically.
Thank you, said a tiny voice. The housefluff opened its eyes.
“It’s not my Fam,” Walker said. “I have a fox.”
“I’ve told you T’Ash,” Danith said.
“Yeah, yeah,” T’Ash said. “Take the thing.”
I am a she, the housefluff said.
“She’s a gift.” Walker stretched out a hand and Danith carefully set the animal in it. His hand was bigger than the Fam. He’d never felt anything so soft. “For a lady. I think this lovely housefluff will be perfect.”
“I think so, too.”
“Wait,” T’Ash said. “Danith, you have a waiting list for Fams.” He looked into the box, rolled his eyes. “Even housefluffs, but Walker gets two?”
Walker stroked the small animal and she relaxed in his palm, seemed to hum with pleasure. “I’m special.”
“Walker’s special,” Danith agreed. “And people who are elevated to Noble class usually get gifts. This can be his. Unless you want to choose something else for him?”
“No. But hurry it up. Walker can get those folks out of our home.”
“Just go in and scowl, they’ll leave,” Walker said.
“I want the house back to normal,” T’Ash grumbled.
Danith put her arms around him, hugged. “That’s not possible. Walker is gone. Our son is growing up, he’s finished his First Passage.”
“Hate to lose you, Walker,” T’Ash said.
“You’ve still got me as a friend.” Walker offered his arm for a grip.
“Good.” T’Ash took it, squeezed, not quite painfully. Removing his arms from his wife, he said. “In the Family dining room five minutes. Later, Walker.” He smiled, inclined his torso. “GrandLord Clover.”
“Later, T’Ash.” As soon as the man had left, Walker said, “Danith, you’re sure this little one is right for GreatMistryss** Grove?”
“I think she needs something young and vulnerable to take care of. Something innocent.” Danith glanced at him. “Especially since she’ll be dealing with you.” Danith paused, brows raised. “You don’t want to ask about her?”
Of course he did. He smiled. “I’ll ask her myself.”
Danith poked him in the abs. “I know that smile, Walker Clover. You’ve talked me into more things with that smile....”
“Good to know.”
“Hmmph.” She opened a drawer and pulled out a square pouch with a long strap. “Carrying case.” She handed it to him.
“Couldn’t Sedwy just put her Fam in her sleeve pocket?”
“I saw the gown she was wearing. Long, elegant sleeve pockets aren’t good for carrying fragile Fams. The pouch is softly lined and will be comfortable for our Fam. It will also minimize the smell or stains of any unexpected accidents.”
Danith stepped tiptoe, kissed Walker’s jawline. “Take care.”
“I will. I do.”
“I know.” She gestured him from the room and bent toward the housefluff box and Walker pretended not to see the sheen of her tears as he left.
His own footfalls were heavy as he went through the Fam adoption room, then out into the office suite, down the corridor to the Family’s quarters. “Residence, where are the Groves?” he asked the house.
“In the main sitting room. They have excellent patience.”
“I, too, am sad to see you go."