PEVA Sheerile sat leaning on the trunk of a slash pine and watched the dark water. Around him bronze-flicked feathers of rust ferns rustled gently, swayed by the night breeze. To the left a bush-brow owl hooted, trying to scare shrews from their hiding places. An old ervaurg lay in the water like a half-sunken log.Peva had staked out the stream early in the evening. The second fastest waterway to the Rathole from Sicktree, it would be the one he himself would've taken in Cerise's place. The Rat bitch was pressed for time. She had a court hearing in the morning, and since the Ridge-back Stream was the fastest and thus too obvious, and Priest's Tongue was too crooked and slow, she would pass this way. The night swamp being too chancy to travel by boat, she would try to creep in at first light, quiet and humble, thinking she was slick, and she would meet Wasp and her bolts. He patted the crossbow's walnut tiller. Wasp was thirsty, and Cerise had much blood to offer.It would be good to dump her body by the Rathole. With his bolt still in it. He tried to picture Richard's face, grief-shocked from its usual haughty calm into a slack mask, and grinned. It was high time that bastard recalled who he was - a mud rat, just like dozens of others all swarming, snapping, breeding in the muck of the Mire together. None better, none worse, all mongrel Edgers together. Yes, high time.In his mind Richard's face somehow morphed into Lagar's. The joy fled. Damn. He wondered what he would read in his brother's face when he showed him the body. On second thought, it would be best if Lagar didn't see her corpse at all. There was no need.The thing between Lagar and Cerise puzzled him. It wasn't like she would ever roll on her back for him. Hell, it wasn't like Lagar even tried. Never bought her presents or flowers or whatever it was women liked, but Cerise would pass by and Lagar would look. And there was that damn dance. Spinning by the fire, Lagar drunk, his eyes crazy, Cerise grinning. Wasn't that something? He pictured them side by side and had to admit to himself that if those two bred, they'd make a pretty litter.In another life.No, in another world. Even if they weren't feuding, it would be a warm day in hell before their mother would let someone like Cerise into the family. The old hag wasn't keen on competition. If she had her way, none of them would ever marry, unless it was to a slow deaf-mute.It was for the best, Peva decided. Kill Cerise quick, dump the body, and tell Lagar it's been done and done clean with no pain.A trace of movement flickered through the narrow break in the trees, where the stream made a sharp bend. He concentrated. A shadow darker than the others was sliding along the water. A boat, and before dawn, too. Damn. The brazen bitch had chanced the night after all.Instantly he was hot: his heart thudded, his mouth went dry. The excitement surged in him. He leaned forward, alert eyes fixed on the dark silhouette at the bow. His breathing slowed. Peva aimed. The figure on the cutter sat slumped over. Tired from the sleepless night. It was all too easy.He held her in his sight for a brief delicious moment. In that precious instant they were linked, he and his target, by a bond as ancient as the hunt itself. He felt her life, quivering like a fish on a line, and drank in the rush it brought him. Only two things made man equal to Gods: creating life and destroying it.Slowly, regretfully, Peva squeezed the trigger.The bolt punched the silhouette in the chest, knocking it to the deck."Back to the mud, Cerise," Peva whispered.Something whistled past him, smashing into the pine trunk with a loud thump. The night exploded with white light. Blinded, Peva dropped into a crouch, fired in the direction of the boat, and rolled into the ferns. A magic bolt. Damn.A whine sliced through the air. He heard two solid thuds: bolt heads punching the ground where he had sat a moment ago. Circles of searing white light swam before his eyes. Peva reloaded on feel alone.His heart fluttered as if a small bird were caught in the cage of ribs and now fought to escape in a frantic frenzy. He caught his breath and forced himself to slow down.Hugging the ground, Peva reached with one hand toward the area he had guessed the bolts had hit. His hand found a shaft. He pulled it free, letting his fingers explore the length of the bolt. Short shaft. He'd almost been hit with a short bolt.Cerise couldn't have him from ten yards with a short bolt. The bitch had help. She must've dropped a bowman off on shore, and Peva had given himself away with that shot.Peva's fingers touched the bolt head. Smooth, balanced. Professional. Too good for a casual bowman. Peva dropped the bolt before he cut himself on the razor-sharp edges. Feathery ferns brushed his face. He still couldn't see. To move was to die. To stay was to die, too - eventually the bowman would figure out where he hid. He felt the bolt coming, felt it speeding along that same ancient connection he had savored earlier. Peva dashed to the side, fired two shots at a wide angle, and reloaded again.The blinding fire in his eyes began to dim. He saw the ferns, dark strokes against the bright haze. A few more breaths and he would have his vision back. He had to buy some time. To the left, a dim outline of a large cypress loomed, its base bloated and thick enough to shelter him.Peva Sheerile wouldn't die in the swamp today.CERISE halted in the sea of rust ferns. Peva died on his knees, hugging the cypress. William had pinned him to the tree with two bolts, one through the neck and one through the chest. Death turned Peva's face into a bloodless mask. She looked into his eyes, hollow and sad in the moonlight, and felt guilty for no reason.Cerise looked away. That was the dumbest thing. The man would've killed her without a moment's thought, but she'd known him for so long, it was almost like family dying. What would it be like when one of the family did die?She swallowed. Now wasn't the time to lose it.William walked out of the ferns, sliding bolts into a leather quiver. Cerise tensed. She'd watched the whole thing from the boat, hiding behind the body of the Hand's spy. She'd guessed that Peva would set up an ambush somewhere along this route. Lagar would give him plenty of people, but Peva, the arrogant snob that he was, would send them off to cover other routes, so he could get the kill all by himself. She and William did the simple math: one man was easier to take down than several. They'd set the corpse up as the rolpie driver, she stayed low, steering, while William had trailed the boat along the shore for the past mile. The moment Peva showed himself, William would take him down. Except it didn't quite go that way."You made him run," she said, keeping her voice neutral.William gripped the bolt in Peva's back. The dark shaft was deep in there. Only the fletch and about an inch stuck out. It would take a lot of strength to pull it out. He strained and the body released the bolt with a wet sucking sound."Did you have fun playing with him?""I didn't do it for fun." William wiped the bolt on Peva's back and examined the sharp head. "I fired the flare bolt to blind him and then ran him around on an off chance he had some help hiding in the bushes. When he didn't flush out any friends, I killed him."He reached for the second bolt. The shaft had gone clear through Peva's neck and into the tree, at least three inches. She probably could've stood on it and it wouldn't have budged. Mikita with all of his strength wouldn't be able to wrench it out.William's fingers closed on the bolt. He put his foot against Peva's back and grunted, his face jerking with strain. The bolt popped out of the cypress. William sniffed it and grimaced. "The head's bent, but the shaft is still good."William wasn't human. Couldn't be.She'd suspected it before, the first time at the Alpha house, because he was dead certain it was empty. The fight with Kent made her wonder, but the battle with the hunter had settled it. The way William had moved sent ice down her spine - too fast, too expert - but the look on his face cinched it. They were facing a human altered beyond what she would have guessed possible, and William had looked ice-cold, as if emotion was beyond him. She would've settled for fear or anger, but what she saw was the ruthless calculation of a cunning predator. He surveyed his prey, decided that he would win the fight, and proceeded to do so. And now she had indisputable proof. His strength wasn't beyond human limits, but it was beyond his lean body.Cerise took a step back.William went very still.She had to settle it now. "You lied to me."His eyes were clear and cold. Calculating. "Fine, here is the truth: I did enjoy it. He wanted to kill you and I killed him instead. I didn't tell you, because I don't want you to be scared of me.""That's not what I meant.""What did you mean?""Your story about the lost ring and searching for it is pure bullshit.""Ah. That."He jerked the crossbow up. A black bolt stared at her.Cerise clenched her sword. Magic sparked deep in her, singing through her body, and leaked from her eyes and the fingers of her right hand onto the sword. A brilliant point of white ran along the blade and died.William's eyes glowed like two amber coals. She met his gaze and flinched. No emotion reflected in the amber, only intelligence, cruel in a way the eyes of a hunting Mire cat were cruel. She saw no worry, no softness, no thoughts at all, only waiting. He seemed barely human now, not a man but some feral thing, knitted of darkness and biding his time for an opportunity to pounce.William glanced at her sword. His upper lip rose, showing her his teeth. My, my, Lord Bill, what big fangs you have. That was all right. She wasn't Red Riding Hood, she wasn't scared, and her grandmother could curse his ass so hard, he wouldn't know which way was up for a week.William nodded at her blade. "That's what I thought. You cut through bones like butter, because you stretch your flash onto your sword.""And it's such a nice flash, too. All pretty and white." And it will cut you to pieces."Won't do much against a bolt in your chest.""How do you know I can't shield myself with the flash?"The thing that was William chuckled low. "You can't do it. It would be nice if you could, but we both know you can't."Bull's-eye, William. Blade flashing took years of training and every ounce of her concentration. As long as she flashed, her blade would cut through anything, but she could only do it for a split second at a time. Flash defense was beyond her. He'd just pegged her for a one-trick pony, and he was right.Still, there was no reason she couldn't bluff. "So eager to die?""If you can stop my bolt, show me."Oh, crap. Cerise tensed, ready to dive into the stream behind her the moment he fired. "Any time."William just stood there. The amber eyes tracked her every twitch, but he showed no sign of moving.It dawned on her that if he were going to fire, he would've done so already. "You won't shoot me, will you?"William growled. "If I do, you'll be dead."And why would her being dead bother him? True, he thought she was pretty, but she wasn't naive enough to think that would stop him.Cerise took an experimental step back.The crossbow shifted a quarter of an inch. He was aiming for her legs. "Don't move.""Let's part our ways here, William. You go one way and I go the other.""No.""Why not?"He said nothing."What if I run?"He leaned forward. "That would be a mistake, because I would chase you."Oh, dear Gods.His voice was wistful and tinted with an odd longing, as if he were already running through the dark woods in his mind. The tiny hairs on the back of Cerise's neck rose. Whatever she did, she couldn't run, because he would love to chase her and she wasn't quite sure what would happen at the end of that chase. By the way he looked, he wasn't quite sure either, but he was pretty sure he would enjoy it.A small part of her wanted to find out what it would be like to be chased by William through the Mire woods. What it would be like to be caught. Because he wasn't looking at her as if he wanted to kill her. He was looking at her as if he had something completely different in mind. All she had to do was dash into the woods. The thought of it sent tiny shivers down her spine and she wasn't sure if it was alarm or excitement.She was in over her head. Just a smidgeon.Cerise raised her eyebrows. "I've lived my whole life in this swamp. What makes you think you could catch me?"William grinned, baring white teeth, and chuckled in his wolfish way. The quiet raspy sound made her shiver. In that moment Cerise knew with absolute certainty that he would stalk her, chase her, and catch her. She wouldn't get away. Not without a fight neither of them wanted.Cerise glared back at him, right into those fiery eyes. He leaned forward a little, the hungry thing inside him focused on her completely.He wanted her. She could see it in his eyes, in the way he held himself, loose and ready. It would take the slightest trigger, a smile, a wink, a hint, and he would close the distance between them and kiss her.Warmth washed through her, followed by the prickly needles of adrenaline. One step forward. That was all she had to do. A month ago she would've taken that step without a moment's pause.A month ago she wasn't responsible for her family. Now was no time to be selfish.If either of them forced a fight, she would kill him, and she would regret not knowing why. Dealing with William was like playing with fire: no right way to do it."What would happen if you caught me?" Besides her slicing him to ribbons. Or losing all her sense."Run and you'll find out."William took a small step forward.Cerise jerked back. If he touched her, she would have to make a decision: to cut or to seduce, and she didn't know which way she would go.The fire in his eyes sparked and died a little. "Nothing . . . untoward."Cerise swallowed. She was wound so tight, the muscles in her legs hurt. Untoward? What the hell did that mean, untoward? "Can you just answer the damn question straight?" Her voice vibrated a note too high. Damn it.William sighed. The feral edge slipped away. His shoulders dropped slightly. He put the crossbow down. "I won't hurt you. Don't be afraid. If you have to go, go. I'll be good and won't chase you down. Straight enough for you?"He meant it, Cerise could see it in his face. He thought she was scared of him and he backed down.Tension leaked out of her. Suddenly she was tired. "And what will you do here, alone in the swamp?"He shrugged. "Find a way out."Yeah, right. He would wander for days in the Mire. She had no doubt he would survive, but he wouldn't make it out anytime soon."Here is what I know: you're fast, you know about the Hand, and you're trained to kill with your bare hands. You look like you've been doing it for a while and it doesn't bother you. I think you like it. And your eyes, they ..." She raised her hand to her face."What?""They glow."He blinked. "I'm wearing lenses to keep that from happening.""Well, they aren't working.""No?"She shook her head. "You got screwed.""No point in keeping them in, then." He sat on a log, pulled his lower eyelid down, fished a lens out, and tossed it into the mud. The second followed. He raised his head with obvious relief, like a kid who was told he could get out of his church clothes. His eyes were actually light hazel, and when he blinked, the amber glow rolled over his irises like fire.In her head, Cerise walked over to him, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him, looking right into those wild eyes. And in her head it would have to stay. For now."Better?" she asked."Much." He sat there, blinking, crushed that his scheme had fallen apart. He looked . . . sad. One moment he was some sort of hellspawn with glowing eyes, the next he was a sack of gloom, and all of it looked and felt completely genuine.She should've walked away, except that he knew the Hand, knew it better than anyone she could think of, probably better than anyone in the Mire, and she needed his knowledge desperately. Yes, that was it.Stop, she told herself.The path to becoming a flash fighter was paved with years of training, but it started with one simple rule: never lie to yourself. It meant accepting your true motivations, owning your emotions and desires without pretending they were noble or evil. It was easy to understand but hard to follow. Just like now.She had to admit and accept the reality: William with his amber eyes and his wolfish laugh, crazy, lethal William, made her head spin. He was like a dangerous puzzle box full of razor blades - press the wrong switch and the blades would slice your fingers to ribbons. And she was the fool who couldn't wait to press the switches and find out the right one.Cerise exhaled. She wanted him, fine. No use denying it. But that alone wasn't enough to let him into the house. Now that she admitted it, she had no trouble putting it aside."A man like you wouldn't be out in the Mire looking for some trinket, William. You lied to me, and I almost took you to my house, where my family lives. I can't afford to be lied to.""Fair enough," he said."Still, you could've killed me when I slept. You didn't. You helped me hide from the Hand, and you saved my cousin. Level with me, William. Why are you here? Are you working for somebody? Tell me."Tell me because I don't want to leave you in this swamp. Tell me so I know we have a chance."If you can't, no hard feelings. We'll go our separate ways from here. I'll even draw you a map to get you back to town. If you can't tell me why you've attached yourself to me, just say nothing. But don't lie to me, or I swear, you'll come to deeply regret it. I may work together with you, but I won't let you use me or my family." Cerise raised her chin. "What will it be?"HE had to lie.Cerise was a granddaughter of Louisiana bluebloods. They killed his kind in Louisiana. To her, he was an abomination.In his head, William had somehow managed to gloss over that fact. But now it stared back at him. He would have to be very careful, William decided. She was scared enough as is. He would have to hide who he was until she was used to him.He didn't mean to scare her, but damn, she would be fun to chase. He would give her a head start. And when he caught her, he would make sure she wouldn't want to run away again.But she didn't run. She just stood there, waiting for his answer.The Mirror would have to be kept out of it as well. The Hand was one rock, the Mirror was the other, and her family was caught in the middle as they clashed. Cerise would think he would use her - and he would - and she knew that in the greater scheme of things, a few Edgers mattered very little.He had to lie.That's what spies did - they lied to get what they wanted. He had to be slick about it, because if he failed, she would wander off into the Mire, leaving him holding the severed end of their conversation, and he wouldn't do a damn thing about it. It would be a low thing to hurt her. She was protecting her family. If he had one, he would do exactly what she was doing.He had to convince her that he was working for himself, out on his own personal goal of revenge. And that he was human.William looked at her. "The man who took your parents is called Spider. I'm here to kill him."Cerise blinked. "Why?She had to ask that. William looked away at the river, trying to keep the memories under control. "Four years ago he slaughtered some children. They were important to me.""Were they your children?" she asked softly.He exhaled slowly, as the wild in him howled. "No. I don't have any family.""I'm sorry," she said.William almost snarled. He didn't want her to feel sorry for him. He wanted her to see that he was strong and fast and he could take care of himself. "The first time I got to him, he broke my legs." William got up, shrugged off his jacket, and pulled up his T-shirt, showing her the long scar that snaked its way up his back. "This was the second time. He had something on his knife, some sort of poison."She took a step closer. "And what did you do to him?"William smiled, remembering. "I beat the shit out of him with a boat anchor. Would've done him in, but he knocked me into the water and then the damn boat blew up. I was bleeding a bit by that time from the cut and my throat had closed up from the poison, so there wasn't much I could do about it.""So you're thinking the third time might be the charm?" she asked.It better be. "I'll kill him this time," he promised. Thinking about ripping Spider apart laced his voice with a happy lupine growl.She took another step forward. Getting closer and closer. Another step and he would be in her striking range. She was sneaking up on him."How did you know Spider is in the Mire?"He had to give her more information or she wouldn't believe him. "The man in Sicktree. The taxidermist.""Zeke?""He works for me."Her eyes went wide as saucers. "How?""Zeke has contacts in the Weird." Technically that was true. "People know I'm looking for Spider and will pay for the information." Also true. "He let his people know that Spider is in the Edge, and they got in touch with me." True again. The trick to lying was to tell the truth."So when the two of you went to the back ...""He was explaining to me all about you and the Sheeriles.""Sonovabitch. And I stood there like an idiot, waiting for the two of you and thinking, 'He sure is taking his time. Zeke must be milking him for every coin he has.' You made me feel ..."He took a wide step and stood next to her. "Yes?"She looked up at him. Want. Want the woman, want, want, want . . ."You made me feel stupid." Her voice went soft. "Are you even a blueblood?""Technically.""What does that mean?"William smiled. "It means they call me Lord Sandine, but aside from that, I've got nothing. No power, no land, no status. I've got some money saved from the service, and most of it is on me right now." Well, that was an outright lie. The Mirror had supplied him with money."So you were a soldier?"She didn't catch him. William nodded. "I was."Her posture was still wary, and her eyes tracked his movements. But she no longer looked like she was about to bolt into the wilderness. He was going in the right direction."What unit did you serve in?""The Red Legion.""The red devils?"He nodded again. "Look, I want to kill Spider. The only lead I've got right now is you. Spider wants you, which means you're my bait.""Don't I feel special." She cocked her to the side. "How do I know you didn't make the lot of it up?"He spread his arms. "You could ask Zeke, who'll tell you the same story. If you've got a way of learning things outside the Edge, you could ask about the Massacre of Eight in the Weird. But all of that takes time. You need me, Cerise. You don't know how to fight the Hand. I do. We're on the same side.""Is there anything else you need to tell me?"Every time I look at you, I have to put a leash on myself. "No.""If you lied to me, I'll hurt you," she promised.He showed her his teeth. "You'll try."She sighed. "You worry me, Lord Bill. You're trouble."He won again. William hid a laugh. "You should be worried, and I am." He folded the arms of the crossbow and headed toward the boat.She put her hand on her hip. "Where are you going?""To the boat. You called me Lord Bill again. That means we're cool."Cerise slapped her forehead with the heel of her hand and followed him."Fine. I'll take you with me. But only because I don't want to run into the fight blind."They walked to the boat side by side. He breathed in her scent, watching the way her long hair shifted as she moved. She was graceful and she stepped so carefully, picking her way along the mud, almost as if she was dancing. It finally sank in - he'd spend the next few days under her roof. In her house, filled with her scent. He would see her every day.She would see him every day. If he played his cards right, she might even do more than see. He had to stay cool and bide his time. He was a wolf. He had no problem with patience."I just want to know one thing," Cerise said."Yes?""When you kill Spider, are you going to chop off his head and have Zeke stuff it to make sure he's really dead?"