CERISE slumped in a chair, painfully aware of William waiting next to her like a dark shadow. He didn't seem to want anything, he just . . . stood guard over her. It was absurd - she was in the family house - but for some odd reason it made her feel better.Across from her, Richard leaned against the wall, watching William with sharp eyes. The rest of the family mulled about. People came and went. Cerise didn't pay much attention to them."How strong are you, William?" Richard asked."As strong as I need to be," William answered.Richard's face showed very little, but she had been reading his expressions since they were kids and she found concern in the minute bend of his mouth. Something about William deeply troubled her cousin.The door swung open, and Ignata stepped out, wiping her hands with a towel. Cerise rose from her chair."Mikita has two broken ribs," Ignata announced."What about Aunt Pete?" Erian asked.Ignata squared her shoulders, and Cerise knew it was bad. "Mom lost her left eye."The words punched her. Cerise rocked back. She should've dumped the damn body into the river. First Urow, now Mikita and Aunt Pete. Urow and Mikita would recover, but eyes didn't grow back. She'd managed to disfigure her aunt for life.Ignata pulled at the towel, twisting it. "We aren't out of the woods yet. The cadaver was full of tiny worms. When the body exploded, both of them were showered with bone shards and decomposing tissue. The worms are circulating through their bloodstream. So far all of them seem to be dead, but I don't know if that will persist.""Transparent worms?" William had a look of intense concentration on his face, as if trying to remember something."Yes," Ignata said."The parasites will activate only when the temperature of the body drops below 88.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Do you know how to purge malaria?"Ignata nodded. "And we have Chloroquine.""What's that?""It's a type of medicine people in the Broken use to stop malaria.""Give it to them," William said.Ignata pursed her lips. Her gaze found Cerise."Do it," Cerise said.Ignata turned and went back into the room.Cerise glanced at William. "Did you know the body would explode?""No.""But you knew about the worms?"William nodded. "Sometimes the Hand does it to keep the altered bodies from being examined by their enemies.""Why didn't you warn me?""My memory doesn't work that way. If you'd asked me specifically about worms or if the Hand ever infected their operatives with parasites, I could answer."That wasn't the way normal memories worked. William had done something to himself, Cerise was certain of it now. He was enhanced somehow, just like the Hand's freaks. Either he was one of them or he'd made himself like them in the name of revenge.Cerise wished she could open his head and search it. Since that wasn't possible, she would have to settle for going with her instincts, and they told her he wanted revenge, yearned for it, the way a man dying of thirst yearned for a drink. When he spoke about Spider, his whole demeanor changed. He tensed, his eyes focused with predatory alertness, his body ready as if it were a coiled spring. She wanted to find her parents with the same desperation.And now it had cost her aunt an eye. How the hell was she supposed to live with herself after that? How many more injuries would it take?Often wrong, but never in doubt. Right. "Richard?""Yes?""The Hand has a tracker. They may track the body down the river. Let's put some sharpshooters on our side of the wards. If they show, maybe we could even out the score.""Very well." Richard turned, stabbed William with a long look, and left the room, Erian in tow."You're still winning," William said."Urow is hanging by a thread, my aunt is blind in one eye, and my other cousin has two broken ribs.""Yes, but they're still breathing."Good point. So why didn't it make her feel any better?Ignata reemerged, carrying a box. She set it on the table. "Wallowing in self-hatred or self-pity?""Right now it's hatred for the Hand," Cerise told her. "When I switch to self-pity, I will definitely let you know. I should've dumped the body overboard.""Oh, please." Ignata rolled her eyes. "Mom had the time of her life playing with it. I've told her again and again: wear the damn goggles. Kaldar stole those special for her. I told her, Mikita told her: wear eye protection, Mom. But no, the lot of us are apparently stupid. We don't know anything, and she can see just fine, and when she wears her goggles, the lenses fog up ..."Ignata pulled the towel off her shoulder and threw it across the room."It helps to throw something heavy," William said.Ignata waved him off. "You, hush. Look, Ceri, we all make mistakes, and we pay for them, especially if they're made out of arrogance."Ignata plucked a vial from the box, and the scent of dirty socks and rotten citrus spread through the room. Valerian extract."So as much as you'd like to own this particular mistake, it belongs to my mom. She owns it all by her own lonesome self and she knows it. If she had worn the goggles, she'd have gotten away with a couple of broken ribs like my brother."Ignata counted off ten drops into a glass and poured some water into it from a bottle. "Drink. You need sleep."Cerise took the glass."I wouldn't," William murmured.Ignata fixed him with her glare. "You - be quiet. You - bottoms up. Now."It was only valerian, and arguing with Ignata was like trying to reason with a pit bull. Cerise gulped the water in one big swallow. Fire and night rolled down her throat."What did you put in this?""Water, valerian, and a very strong hypnotic. You have about five minutes to get to your room and shower, or you'll pass out where you stand.""Ignata!""Ignata-Ignata-Ignata!" Ignata waved her arms. "When was the last time you ate or slept? What, nothing to say? You have tonight to sleep, tomorrow to rest, and the day after tomorrow you're going to take our posse to the Sheeriles, and after that, I won't have time for you. I'll be busy patching up everybody else. So you just go on! Shoo! And take your blueblood with you." She pointed a long finger at William. "You, walk with her and make sure she doesn't pass out someplace on the stairs."Cerise sighed and headed up the stairs. William followed her."She's mad," he said."No, she is trying to keep it together and not cry. Her mother and brother could've died. There isn't much she can do, so she's bossing me around."He frowned. "You mean, in revenge?""A little, yes. My father used to tell me, 'When you're in charge, everything is your fault.' She blames me a little." Her feet grew heavier with each step, as if someone slowly poured lead into her bones. "She'd never admit it even to herself, but she blames me.""So that's what it's like to have a large family," he said.Now her head grew too heavy. Her eyelids tried to close on their own. She stopped by the door to her room. "Something like that. You haven't seen the worst of it. Did they give you a room?"William bared his teeth. "Yes. Kaldar showed it to me."He said Kaldar's name like he wanted to strangle him."I'm not mad at you about the worms," she told him, trying to force her thoughts into a coherent pattern. She yawned. "I'm sorry, I'm very sleepy.""That's okay," he said. He was standing a little too close."What kind of blueblood says okay, Lord Bill? You need to work on your cover some more." She yawned. "You would make a horrible spy. Promise me that while I'm asleep, you won't injure any of my cousins, not even Kaldar."William looked at her."I'm exhausted and miserable. Promise me. No snapping people's heads off their necks, no broken bones, nothing to make me regret taking you to my family.""You got it," he said."Thank you.""You're welcome.""The little girl says there is a monster in the woods," he said.Something lurched in her chest. "It's her."William was looking at her."It's Lark," she said, her chest hurting. "She thinks she's the monster."William's arms closed about her. She should've said something. She should have pushed him away. But she felt so tired and so down, and his arms were strong and comforting. He held her to him, and the dull ache gnawing at her receded. It felt so nice, that she just leaned against him. He dipped his head. She watched him do it but didn't realize why he was doing it until his lips grazed her mouth."Sleep well," he said. "I'll watch your family for you."He let her go.Cerise closed the door and stared at it for a long moment, unsure if they had really touched or if she had imagined it. She got nowhere and sat on her bed to pull off her boots. She got the left one off, and then the bed turned upside down and fell on the back of her head.WILLIAM awoke to the darkened bedroom. The air was cool and a narrow sliver of moonlight sliced through the draperies to fall at the floor. For a moment he lay still, looking at the ceiling, his arms behind his head.He'd kissed Cerise and she let him. His memory had preserved the moment with near perfect recall. He remembered everything: the tilt of her face, the angle of her hair, the puzzlement in her dark eyes, the feeling of holding her against him, the delicate trace of her scent on his lips. He would kiss her again, even if her entire family lined up to shoot him while he did it.William rolled off the bed, moving on quiet feet, and tried the door handle. Still locked. They had shut him in like he was a child.He smiled, pulled open his backpack, and fished out the night suit. He stripped and pulled on the pants and the shirt. The fabric, stained with dark and light gray, clung to him like a second skin. The first time he'd seen the thing, complete with a hood and a face mask covering everything except his eyes, he'd told Nancy that as far as he knew, he wasn't a ninja. She'd told him to wear it and like it. He still wasn't sure if she had even known what a ninja was.William had to admit, the suit had a certain logic to it. True night was never just black; it was a shifting ethereal mix of shadow and darkness, of dappled gray and deep indigo. A man wearing solid black stood out as a uniform spot of darkness.He drew the line at the hood and the mask, though. A man had to have standards, and he had no desire to cover his ears or to breathe through a cloth. Besides, it made him look like a total idiot.Since Cerise went to bed, he'd been passed from one relative to another, with Kaldar checking on him every half an hour or so until he was ready to wring the man's neck. Kaldar had the slick easy charm of a talented swindler. He said whatever popped into his mouth, laughed easily, and talked too much. During the evening William had watched him steal a hook from Catherine's basket, a knife from Erian, some sort of metal tool from Ignata, and a handful of bullets from one of Cerise's cousins. Kaldar did it casually, with smooth grace, handled the item for a couple of moments, and slipped it back where it came from. William had a distinct suspicion that if Kaldar was caught, he'd just laugh it off, and his demented family would let him get away with it. They knew Kaldar was a villain. They didn't care.William found a small box with camo paint, and darkened his face, splaying the gray, dark green, and brown on in irregular blotches. That done, he slid his knives into his belt and swiped up the Mirror's crossbow. He loaded it with two poisoned bolts from the quiver, careful not to touch the complicated mechanical bolt heads. The toxin was potent enough to take down a horse in mid-canter. The bolts' heads were too large and oddly shaped, and his accuracy would suffer, but it didn't matter. The crossbow was a weapon of last resort, to be used at close range, when death had to be guaranteed.Someone in Cerise's family didn't play by the rules. Someone had told the Hand about Urow. He was sure that many locals were aware that the Mars had a thoas relative, but only a family member would know that this thoas went to pick up Cerise in Sicktree.If there was a traitor in the family, he would have a direct line to Spider or someone on Spider's crew. And given that Cerise had just arrived home with some strange blueblood in tow, the traitor should be dying to tell Spider about it.The traitor would wait until most of the house had gone to bed for the night, and the Mars seemed to suffer from a critical inability to be quiet. The giant house buzzed like a beehive for most of the evening. It was close to midnight now, and Cerise's noisy family had finally settled down.William strapped the sleeper to his wrist. It was a complicated gadget, all clockwork gears and magic, embedded into a leather wrist guard. Four narrow metal barrels sat in a row on top of the sleeper. William pulled three thin wire loops from the underside of the wrist guard and threaded them on his index, middle, and ring fingers. He spread his fingers. The barrels rotated around his wrist like chambers on a revolver. If he flexed his wrist, driving the heel of his hand forward, the lowest barrel would fire, spitting a small canister armed with a needle. The canister held enough narcotic to put a large man into a deep sleep within three seconds.It was an elegant weapon. He would miss the Mirror's toys when this was over.The traitor would head for the Mire. He was sure of it. First, he had already learned that nothing that happened within earshot of the Mar house stayed private. Second, Lark mentioned a monster in the woods. Cerise said Lark thought of herself as a monster, but he wasn't sure she was right. The kid might've been confused. She might've seen something in the fog and the trees she couldn't explain to her sister. Some of the Hand's agents had enough enhancements to give a grown man nightmares, let alone a child. If Lark had found an odd, scary creature in the woods, he wanted to meet it.He had a very simple plan: keep watch, identify the traitor as he or she left for the woods, then follow their trail to the wonderful presents that waited on the other end. He might get a drop on the Hand's agent and follow him to whatever deep dark hole Spider claimed as his lair in the swamp.Perhaps he might even let the Hand's agent see him, William decided. Then they would have to have a conversation. Maybe some bones would even get broken. He chuckled soundlessly.The window slid open without a sound. He eased through it onto the long balcony and crouched down, moving away into the deeper shadow by the rail.The moon dipped in and out of ragged clouds. In the distance an old gator voiced a lazy roar. The wind smelled of water and the mimosa-tinted perfume of night needle flowers.It had been a while since he'd hunted, and the night was calling.Below, past the rail, the yard lay empty. William sat still, quiet and patient.Minutes stretched like honey.A faint shiver troubled the cypress branches to the left. A boy with a rifle. No older than twelve.Another stir, to the right. A young woman in the pine. Judging by the distance between the trees, a third look-out probably waited on the opposite side of the house. They faced out, watching the Mire. None saw him.A door closed shut with a quiet thump up ahead.He slipped along the balcony, staying in the shadows, and sank down by the rail again. The spot gave him a view of a narrow slice of the front balcony and most of the staircase.Measured footsteps, followed by a barely audible second set. He'd learned that second sound very well by now. Kaldar. Ugh.The wind fetched their scents for him. Yeah, Kaldar and Richard. Those two were on the top of his traitor suspect list. Kaldar had the air of a man who always needed money but never had enough. The Hand paid well. When they didn't murder their hirelings, that was.Richard was a different story. William had picked Catherine's brains while sitting in the library and listened to the family's chatter for the entire evening until he'd pieced together the family tree. Grandmother Az had seven children. Of the seven, Alain Mar had been the oldest. Alain had three children, Richard, Kaldar, and Erian. When the Sheeriles had shot Alain in the market place, Richard was seventeen, Kaldar was fourteen, and Erian was ten. The family reins passed to Gustave, Cerise's father. Cerise's parents had taken Erian, because his brothers had been too young to take care of him.Richard smelled like a natural alpha. Rational, calm, respected, from what little William had seen. People looked up to him, Cerise included. But Richard wasn't in charge. Cerise was. Why?He liked Richard for the traitor. The bulk of Cerise's relatives consisted of her cousins, their children, and relatives by marriage, but only the core of the family knew about Urow meeting Cerise. He'd managed to narrow it down to eight people: Cerise, Richard, Kaldar, Erian, Murid, Petunia, and Ignata.Catherine mentioned that Richard's wife had left him about a year ago. Spouses didn't seem to last among Mars.If he had a wife and she left him, he would feel powerless, William decided. He would try to find the biggest, baddest asshole and take him down. It wouldn't matter if he won or lost the fight. Either way, he'd replace the emotional hurt with real physical pain, something he could deal with, something that did eventually get better. They were similar, Richard and he. They both kept things contained inside. He'd sat next to Richard during the evening for a few minutes. They didn't say a word to each other, sharing a calm silence. Richard had shown emotion only once. They'd both watched Kaldar slip the knife back into the sheath on Erian's belt, and Richard had permitted himself a long-suffering sigh.Maybe Richard wanted to prove to everyone that he wasn't as powerless as his wife had made him feel."The man carries military-grade explosives in his pack," Richard said quietly. "They came from the Weird. The magic aftershock was so strong, my teeth hurt.""Cerise said he used to be a soldier." Kaldar's tone was light. "William's obviously on a hunting expedition. As long as he hunts the other side, we win."They were talking about him. Ha!The two men stayed silent for a long moment."I didn't hit that door," Richard said."Hm?""The door to the Bunker. It was all him. He knocked it out, before I hit it. I barely grazed it.""So you're sore, because you missed out on a bruise on your shoulder?" Kaldar asked."After we got Mikita out, I looked at the Bunker. One of those big storage shelves had fallen against the door. The weight of the door plus the shelf ...""Richard, I told you today that you're like a mother hen." Kaldar took a few steps down the stairs, coming into his view. William stayed still."You have to loosen up, brother. You're so tense, you'll get the lot of us killed.""The man is dangerous."Kaldar raised his arms. "Of course he's dangerous. You've got to have balls to come out after the Hand. They hunt; they don't get hunted. Besides, you know she wouldn't have brought him here if they didn't reach some sort of agreement. She trusts him and I trust her.""She's young. Don't tell me you can't see what's going on. I saw the way she looked at him when he dragged her up the stairs. Her parents are gone. She isn't thinking clearly."Kaldar turned on his foot on the stair. William had to give it to the man - Kaldar had balance."Richard, how old do you think she is?""She's ..." Richard didn't finish."Yeah," Kaldar said. "She is twenty-four. And you're thirty-three. In your head you must still be a teenager, while she and Erian are toddlers. They grew up. We all grew up. I come here more often that you do. Gustave runs the family, but Ceri runs the house.""What do you mean?"Kaldar heaved a sigh. "I mean that our dear uncle Gustave drove the Mar family ship right into the ground. He has no head for business. You could give him a free crate of guns from the Broken, and he'd manage to sell it at a loss. Genevieve's too busy, she's dealing with Lark and trying to keep the rest of the kids fed and watered, but when it comes down to it, she just doesn't want to deal with money. Can't say I blame her. I wouldn't want to do it. So three years ago they dumped the accounts onto Ceri. She balances the books, she pays out our allotments, and she picks up our expenses. Why do you think she's been going with me to the Broken? She knows how bad it is, and she's pinching every penny, looking for some sort of angle to get us more money. We're clawing out of the hole Gustave put us in, but it's slow going. And there are too damn many of us, and everyone keeps having emergencies that bleed the money.""I had no idea." Richard's voice was clipped.William grimaced. He had no idea either. Money wasn't something he had in abundance, but he knew it had to be rationed. Back in the Legion, his food and gear were free, so what money he had, he spent on leave, on booze, books, and women. The first few months in the Broken turned his world upside down. He'd almost gotten himself evicted before he learned to pay bills first and spend on other things later. He'd seen enough of the Mars - their clothes were patched, their equipment was old, with the exception of a rare piece here and there, but everyone looked well fed. To keep the horde of Mars in line, Cerise would have to squeeze every cent.Kaldar kept going. "They make a pretense of Gustave still approving everything, but trust me on this, it's all her. If you go into her room, wake her up, and ask her how much money we have, I bet you she'll tell you the balance down to a penny. If any of us are thinking clearly, she is it."Richard's voice gained an icy haughtiness. "I'll speak to Gustave, once we find him.""And say what? That it doesn't sit well with you that our funny baby cousin is scrounging for change to keep us in this oh-so-rich style we've become accustomed to?"Richard didn't answer.Kaldar's face jerked. "When I found out, I asked Gustave about it, and he looked at me like I'd sprouted a water lily on my head. She was twenty-one then, and when Gustave was twenty-four, he'd taken over the family.""It's not right," Richard said.Kaldar shrugged. "She works hard, Richard, and the Hand just pulled the rug out from under her feet. If this blueblood makes her happy, I'm all for it. She hasn't gone out with a man in three years, since that asshole Tobias. Now, that isn't right. Sure, the timing stinks. Trust me, if the blueblood bastard fucks up, I'll be the first in line to slit his throat. But until then, he's her guest, and you and I will be making him feel welcome.""And if she falls for him and he leaves her? Last time I looked, Weird nobles weren't in the market for exile brides.""Then at least she would've lived a bit," Kaldar said. "She's allowed her mistakes. You and I both made plenty. We're the big fucking rock around her neck. She can't leave until the family is on its feet again, and by then she will be your age. Let her have some fun. She could die tomorrow. We could all die tomorrow."Kaldar walked off down the stairs and turned left, angling toward a smaller building. A few moments later Richard's retreating steps told William he had gone inside.So they knew Cerise liked him, and Kaldar, at least, was all for it. William made a mental note to find out about Tobias.William gave Richard a few seconds to make his way from the door, crossed the front porch, and dropped into the grass, pressing against the wall, hidden from the sentries.He heard a tiny noise and turned toward the thicket of ickberry bushes flanking the cypresses. A long shoot covered with thorns shivered, then another.William leaned forward. Heat surged through his muscles, making him fast and focused.The shrubs shook, as if taunting him, and a big square head thrust through the leaves. Two brown eyes fixed on William from across the clearing.Idiot dog.Cough pushed through the brush and trotted toward him, not so much walking but falling from paw to paw. If the lookouts decided to follow Cough's course, they'd run right into him.William bared his teeth. Go away.Cough kept coming, a lopsided canine grin on his furry face and not a thought in his head. If the dog could hum, he'd be singing "La-la-la!" in tune with his footsteps.Cough sauntered over to him.William pressed against the wall. No bullets. So far, so good.Cough clenched, and vomited something chunky onto the grass.Terrific.The big dog sat on his haunches and looked at William with a perplexed expression on his face."Well, eat it back up," William hissed. "Don't waste it."Cough gave a tiny whine."I'm not eating your puke."Cough panted at him."No."A lean shape leaped off the porch and ran past them into the woods. William caught a glimpse of dark hair and small brown boots. Lark. Why would a child be sneaking out into the woods in the middle of the night? Was she meeting "the monster" there?Cough got up and trotted after her.Good idea. William peeled himself from the wall and sprinted across the clearing. As he passed the tree with the sentry, he looked up and saw the kid asleep between the branches, the rifle leaning on his lap.Finally something was going his way.