CERISE stretched her legs and drank more juice. Her whole body ached like she'd been beaten with a sack of rocks."How are we doing?" Ignata asked from the other end of the room."We're fine." Cerise glanced at her. The skin on Ignata's face seemed stretched too tight. Dark bags clutched at her eyes. Catherine had hid in her room the moment they entered the house. Cerise sighed. If she had any sense, she would've hidden also. She tried, but the anxiety made her stir-crazy, and once she took a shower, she came down to the library, where Ignata ambushed her with ickberry juice to "replace electrolytes," whatever that meant."What a day," Ignata murmured.Erian shouldered his way into the room and sank into a soft chair, his eyes closed, his arm in a sling. "What a week."Ignata turned to him. "Why are you still awake? Didn't I give you some valerian half an hour ago?"He opened his pale eyes and looked at her. "I didn't drink it.""Why not?""Because your valerian has enough sleeping tincture in it to put an elephant to sleep."Ignata covered her face with her hands. "You know, if you had to hire a doctor, I bet you'd listen to her.""No, we wouldn't," Cerise murmured."Where is the blueblood?" Erian asked."With Kaldar.""I noticed something." Erian turned in his chair. "He's got a memory like a gator trap. There are over fifty of us, and he hasn't confused a single name yet."Cerise scooted deeper into the chair. That was all she needed, a family discussion about Lord Bill."I like him," Ignata said. "He saved Lark." A smile stretched her lips. "And Cerise likes him, too.""Don't start," Cerise murmured."It's about time, too. It's been, what, two years since Tobias ran off?""Three," Erian said.Kaldar walked into the room, followed by William. Their stares connected and Cerise's heart skipped a beat.Kaldar dropped into a chair, stretching long legs. "What are we talking about?""We're trying to decide when you're going to marry Cerise off," Erian said.Kaldar leaned back, a little light playing in his eyes. "Well ..."Cerise set her glass down with a clink. "Enough. Have you figured out which house my mother is in?"Kaldar grimaced. "Not yet. In case you forgot, Blue-rock is in the middle of a pretty big lake. It takes time to find the right house. We'll know tomorrow. I've got guys on it.""What guys?"Kaldar waved his hand. "If I tell you who I sent to spy on the house, you'll bust my balls about how dangerous it is and how I shouldn't put children in peril. It's being handled, that's all you get.""Now, wait a minute - "Something thumped against the window.Cerise grasped her knife. Kaldar was on his feet and moving to the window along the wall, dagger in hand.Another thump. His back to the wall, Kaldar leaned to glance outside, sighed, and slid the glass panel up.A small animal scrambled onto the windowsill. Fuzzy with mouse fur, it sat on its haunches, looking at them with enormous pale green eyes.Oh no.The beast waddled to the edge of the windowsill. Its bat wings fluttered once, twice, it took the plunge and glided to the table. Tiny claws slid on the polished surface, and the creature flopped on its butt, skidded, and crawled back to sit before her, whiskers moving on the shrewlike nose.No escape now. "Emel, you almost gave me a seizure.""Sorry about that," Emel's voice came not from the beast but from about three inches above its head. "I don't have full control of this little fellow yet. I just made him a couple of weeks ago, but I was sure that under the present circumstances anything larger than him would get shot down."The beast scratched its side with a tiny black foot."I'm so sorry about Anya," Emel said."Me, too." A pang of guilt stabbed her. Anya had volunteered to run the stinker to the house. If it wasn't for Lagar's gator traps, she would still be alive.The bat shivered. "Someone summoned Raste Adir to the clearing in front of Sene. Was it you or Grandmother Azan?""Me. Grandmother is sleeping."The beast sneezed and curled into a tiny ball. "Very well done," said Emel's disembodied voice. "You held it a touch too long, but other than that, very well done."His praise filled her with absurd pride. At least she had done something right. "Thank you."Richard slipped through the door, followed by Murid and Aunt Pete, her missing left eye hidden by a black leather patch.The beast fell asleep, its tiny ribcage rising and falling with smooth regularity."Did you know that most of the Sheerile estate has been blighted?" Emel continued. "The house is crumbling into dust, and the entire place is raining yellow pine needles. Grandmother didn't have anything to do with that, did she?"Smart bastard. "Emel, you know perfectly well that blight magic takes a life. All of us care too much about Grandmother to let her throw herself away like that. She's just sleeping. We lost a lot of people today, and it took a toll. Kaitlin was probably so mad that she lost the feud, she sacrificed herself to blight the place.""I thought as much. Of course, you do remember that aiding a casting of the blight is punishable by death, according to Mire law."And he would be heartbroken if the Mire militia dragged her off. Unless he got the money first, of course. "Yes, I remember."A sound of a throat being cleared issued from above the creature. "There is the matter of the eel," Emel said. "I wasn't confident my message would get through to you.""What are you implying?" Kaldar stopped cleaning his fingernails with the tip of his dagger."Nothing offensive. Simply put, all of you had a very difficult day, and I'm sure the eel was the last thing on your mind. However, the problem remains unsolved. The law clearly says that if you purposefully destroy property belonging to another, you must pay restitution. As you know, since we are related by blood, the eel would not have attacked you unprovoked. So, either you provoked it or you did nothing to avoid it. I understand that another person was involved in the altercation, but the fact remains: you are allowed passage through Sect-held property, but he was not. The eel was simply doing its duty. Since you were present at the scene and can't claim ignorance of our traditions, the Sect holds you responsible for not taking care of - ""How much?" Cerise asked."Five thousand."She reeled back. Kaldar's jaw hung down. Erian's eyes snapped open. Ignata nearly dropped her glass.Cerise leaned forward. "Five thousand dollars? That's outrageous!""It was a fifty-year-old animal.""Which attacked me in the middle of the swamp in an unmarked stream!""There was a marker there. We're just not sure what happened to it.""This is unfair!"Emel sighed. "Cerise, you and I both know that you are perfectly capable of avoiding mud eels, especially one of this size. It was hard not to notice the thing - it was fourteen feet long. However, your points are valid and you're my dear cousin, that's why it's only five thousand and not seven as it would've been for anyone else.""We can't do five thousand," she said flatly."I'll go as low as four thousand eight hundred, Cerise. I'm sorry but anything less would be an insult to the Sect. And even so, the missing two hundred will have to come from my own funds."Gods, where would she get the money? They had to pay the Sect. It was too powerful. Making an enemy of it would mean that their livestock would start dropping dead. First the cows and rolpies, then dogs, then relatives."If you do not have the lump sum, we can set up a payment schedule," Emel suggested. "Of course, there would be interest involved ...""Three payments," she said. "No interest.""Within three months, the first good-faith payment due by the end of this week.""You're forcing me to choose between clothes for the winter and being forever in debt to the Sect. I don't appreciate that.""I'm sorry, Cerise. I truly am."The creature awoke. "I very much care about all of you," Emel said. "The Sect does not wish me involved in this affair with the Hand. But I'll try to help the best I can. I will find a way."The beast took to the air and vanished into the darkness outside.Kaldar slammed the window closed."Where are we going to get the money?" Ignata murmured."My grandmother's jewelry," Cerise said. She thought of the elegant emeralds set in the pale white gold, thin like silk. Her link to her mother, the last link to the life that could've been. It felt like ripping a chunk of herself out, but the money had to come from somewhere and that was the last reserve they had. "We'll sell the emeralds."Ignata gaped. "They are heirloom pieces. She meant them for your wedding. You can't sell them."Oh, she could. She could. She just had to have a good long cry before she did it, so she didn't break into tears during the sale. "Watch me.""Cerise!""They are just rocks. Rocks and metal. You can't eat them, they won't make you warm. We have to pay the debt and the kids need new clothes. We need new ammunition and food.""Why can't he pay?" Erian nodded toward William. "He killed it.""He has no money," Cerise said. "And even if he did, I wouldn't take it."William opened his mouth, but she stood up. "That's it, the debate is over. I'll see y'all later."She headed outside onto the verandah before she broke to pieces.OUTSIDE the cold night air wrapped around Cerise. She took a deep breath and started down around the balcony, to the door leading to her favorite hiding spot.A dark shape dropped onto the balcony in front of her. Wild eyes glared at her. William.How in the world did he get ahead of her? She crossed her arms on her chest.He straightened."You're in my way," she told him."Don't sell them. I'll give you the money.""I don't want your money.""Is this because you're still pissed off about Lagar?"She threw her hands up. "You stupid man. Don't you get it? Lagar was trapped like me. We were both born into this, we couldn't leave, and we knew we would eventually kill each other. What we wanted made no difference. At least he could've run away, but I'm stuck here because of the family. I didn't love him, William. There was nothing there except regret.""So take the damn money.""No!""Why?""Because I don't want to be obligated to you."He growled.Quick steps approached. They both turned.Aunt Pete came running from around the corner. "Cerise?"Dear Gods, couldn't they leave her alone for just a moment? Cerise heaved a sigh. "Yes?""Kaldar's boys came back. They found the house where the Hand is holed up and took pictures." Aunt Pete wheezed. "Hold on, let me catch my breath." She thrust the photographs out.Cerise took the pictures and held them up to the weak light filtering outside through the window. Big house with a glass hothouse on the side. Kaldar's guys got really close. She would have to speak to him about that - no need to take chances.Aunt Pete pulled the pictures from her hand and slapped one on top of the stack. "Never mind all that. This one, look at this one!"The photograph showed the close up of the hothouse, taken through a clear glass pane. A two-foot tall stump of a tree jutted sadly through dirt. The tree's stem was blue and translucent, as if made of glass. Borrower's Tree, one of the Weird's magical plants.Cerise glanced up.Aunt Pete huffed. "You know what this tree is used for. Think, Cerise."Cerise frowned. In small quantities, Borrower's tree was harvested to produce catalysts that bound human and plant. William had said the Hand was full of freaks; some of them probably had grafted plant parts and needed the catalysts. It did look like a fairly sizable tree, and it was cut down to a nub, so they must've needed a hell of a lot of catalyst.The only reason to have that much catalyst would be to actually transform someone through the use of magic. But who would Spider transform? All his guys were already as transformed as they were going to get. It had to be the captives. But it wouldn't make sense to graft anything on them; no, he had to be doing very specific things to achieve mental control over them, in which case it would be . . .The pictures fluttered from her hand. Cerise rocked back. "He's fusing my mother!"The world went white in a moment of rage and panic. Her head turned hot, her fingers ice-cold. She froze, like a child trapped in a moment of getting caught. Memories streamed past her: mother, with her blue eyes and halo of soft hair, standing by the stove, a spoon in hand, saying something, so tall . . . Going outside to the porch hand in hand; fixing her hair; reading together in a big chair, her head nestled against her mother's shoulder; her mother's smell, her voice, her . . .Oh, my Gods. All gone. All gone forever. Mother was gone. Mother, who could fix anything, couldn't fix this. Fusion was irreversible. She was gone, gone.No. No, no, no.A crushing heaviness swelled in Cerise's chest and tried to drag her down to the floor. She clenched against the pain, her throat caught in a tight ring, and forced herself to walk away, half-blind from the tears. "I have to go now. So nobody will see."Hands swept her off her feet. William carried her off, away from Aunt Pete, away from the noises from the kitchen, to the door, and up the stairs, and then into her little room. Her face was wet and she stuck it into his shoulder. He gripped her, his warm arms cradling her, and sank to the floor."They're fusing my mother." Her voice came out strangled. "They're turning her into a monster and she would know. She would know what they were doing. The whole time.""Easy," he murmured. "Easy. I have you."Mother's beautiful smile. Her warm hands, her eyes full of laughter. Her "I have the silliest children." Her "sweet-heart, I love you." "You look beautiful, darling." All gone forever. There would be no good-bye and no rescue. All the deaths, all the scrambling, it was all for nothing. Mother wasn't coming back to her and Lark.Cerise buried her face in William's neck and wept soundlessly, pain leaking out through her tears.CERISE opened her eyes. She was warm and comfortable, resting against something. She stirred, raised her head, and saw two hazel eyes looking at her.William.She must've fallen asleep, all tangled up in him. They sat on the floor, where he first landed. He hadn't moved."How long have you sat here?" she asked."About two hours.""You should've put me down."She wiggled a little, but he kept his hands where they were. "I don't mind. I like holding you."Cerise leaned back against him and put her head on his shoulder. He stiffened and then hugged her tighter to him."Do I look like a mess?" she asked."Yes."That was William for you. No lies.The soft light of the lamp fell gently, illuminating her hiding room. It looked so pitiful now. Pictures of dead people on the walls. Threadbare chairs. This had been her spot since she was a child and now she saw it, as if for the first time. It would've made her sad, but there was no sad left in her. She'd cried it all out."I'll have to explain it to Lark." Her heart cringed at the thought. "And I don't even know if my father is dead or alive."Her voice trembled. William hugged her tighter."You've seen Lark's tree?" he asked quietly.She nodded. "The monster tree.""What happened to her?"Cerise closed her eyes and swallowed. "Slavers. I don't even know where they came from. We never could figure it out. Someone had to have let them in across the border. Celeste, my second cousin, and Lark, she was called Sophie back then, were taking wine down to Sicktree by river. Lark wanted to buy Mom a birthday present ..."She choked a little on the words."So Celeste took Sophie on a boat to trade a case of wine for some trinket. They shot Celeste in the head. Dropped her with one bullet. She fell overboard and Lark went after her. The slavers hit her with an oar when she came up for air, knocked her right out. They took her down into the Mire to their camp and put her in a hole in the ground. The hole would flood in the evening, and she had to sleep sitting up, up to her knees in water, so she wouldn't drown. We turned everything upside down looking for her. We searched with dogs everywhere."His arm braced her, pulling her closer."She says the second day one of the men got into the hole with her. Probably wanted to molest her. He might have done it, at least partway. Lark can flash a little. She isn't quite there yet with aiming, but it's a strong white flash. She flashed him through the eyes.""Fried the brain," William said."Yeah. The slavers left the body where it was and stopped feeding her. It took us eight days to find her, and then only because of Grandma. She had gone off into the swamp a week before - she does that every year - and when she came out, she called Raste Adir the way I did today. Used one of the slaver corpses we had put into the freezer. I should've done it, but back then I didn't know how."Cerise swallowed. "When we found the camp, it was full of holes and children. Some were dead - the slavers didn't take good care of their merchandise.""Did you kill them?" William's voice was a ragged snarl."Oh, yes. Left nobody alive. I would've tortured every single one of those motherfuckers if there was time. When we pulled Lark out of that hole, she was weak but alive. She could stand by herself. Seven days without food, she should've been weaker."Cerise closed her eyes. Telling him was like ripping a scab off a wound."You think she ate the body?" he asked."I don't know. I didn't ask. I'm just glad she's alive. She came back odd, William. At first it was the hair and the clothes, and then it was running away to the woods and not talking. And then there was the monster tree. Mother was the only one she trusted. Now only I'm left.""There is a real monster in the woods," he said. "It went after Lark and I fought it."She raised her head. "What do you mean a monster? Was it one of the Hand's freaks?"He shook his head. "I don't think so.""What did it look like?"William grimaced. "Big. Long tail. Looked like a giant lizard sprinkled with hair here and there. I cut it and it healed right in front of me."Damn it.He looked at her. "I don't know what it is, but your Grandmother does. She was singing it a lullaby in Gaulish."Grandmother Azan? "And you kept it to yourself?"He raised his free hand. "I wasn't sure if this was a pet, friend of the family, some distant relation, maybe another cousin . . . let me know when I'm getting warmer."Cerise pulled herself free of his arms. "It's not a family pet or a relative! I don't know what the hell it is. I've never heard of anything like that.""Ask your grandmother.""She'll be asleep. She did some hard magic today, and it will take her a few days to recover."Cerise slumped forward. His hand ran down her back, kneading the tired muscles, the warmth of his fingers soothing her through her shirt. He stroked her like she was a cat. "So will you be pissed off if I kill it?""If it comes after us, I'll cut it to pieces myself," she told him.His hand strayed lower and he took it away. He was back in control. The fierce creature she'd seen that morning hid again.Cerise leaned back against him. His arm wound around her waist, pulling her closer. He was strong and warm, and sitting in his arms filled the sore empty spot inside her with quiet content."When I was twenty, I met a man," she told him. "Tobias.""Do you have his picture on the wall, too?" he asked, and she sensed traces of a growl in his voice."Top left corner."He turned. His face grew grim. "Handsome," he said."Oh, yes. He was very pretty. Like a movie star from the Broken. I was so in love. I would've done anything for him. We were all set to marry. He was almost part of the family. Dad even let him handle some of our business.""And?"A familiar cramp gripped her heart. She smiled. "I found a discrepancy in the books. Some money had gone missing from the sale of the cows. Tobias took it.""Did you kill him?" William asked."What? No. I cornered him and he tried to deny it, but I guess I must've been too scary, because in the end he told me all about his master plan. He was going to get as much money as he could and take off for the Broken. He tried to lie and tell me he did it for us and that he was going to convince me to come with him, but I could tell he was lying. It was always about the money. It was never about me.""What did you do?" William asked. She couldn't tell by his voice what he thought about the whole thing.She grinned. "Well, he wanted to go to the Broken. Kaldar and me, we put him in a sack and took him down through the boundary. Kaldar stole a car, and we drove him down to New Orleans, to the big city, and left him, sack and all, on the courthouse steps. The Broken is a funny place. They really don't like it when you show up there with no ID." She tilted her face up. "Would it bother you if I'd killed him?"He looked at her. She must've thawed a little, Cerise decided, because she had to force herself not to lift up and kiss him."No," William said. "But I know it would bother you."She snuggled closer to him. "Your turn.""What?""Your turn to tell me a story about yourself."William looked away. "Why?""Because I told you mine and asked you nicely."William growled under his breath. Amber rolled over his eyes and vanished. How in the world hadn't she put two and two together before?"There was a girl," he said. "I met her in the Edge. I liked her. I did everything right. I said all the smooth things, but it didn't work. I don't know why, but it just didn't. I guess, she didn't need another fixer-upper in her life. She had two brothers to take care of, so she went off with my best friend. It was good for her. He's steady, and he always knows the right thing to do and does it."She winced. "You're not a fixer-upper."He bared his teeth. "Don't kid yourself. You saw me this morning."Cerise took a deep breath. "Do you like me the way you liked that girl?""No."It felt like a slap in the face. He was in love with some other girl. And the idiot didn't even want him. How could she not want him? He ran into an open field to save a kid everybody shunned.Cerise bit her lip. She wouldn't be a consolation prize; she had some damn pride left.But before she cut him loose, she had to be 100 percent clear where they stood. If it cost her a tiny bit of pride, that was fine. Nobody but the two of them would ever know."How is it different?"He rolled his head back, sable hair falling down on his shoulders. "With Rose I knew what to say. I could take a step back and talk to her. I remembered all the crap from the magazines. It was easy.""And with me, it's hard?" Why? Because she was a swamp girl? And how did the magazines fit into it?William looked away from her. "I don't like it when you're away. If I don't see you, I can't settle down. If I see you talking with another man, I want to claw his throat out. And none of the things you're supposed to say fit."Oh, this had to be good. "What sort of things?"He sighed. "The lines. Like 'You're my everything,' or 'Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?' "She lost it and laughed. She sounded hysterical and broken, but she couldn't stop.He sighed again. "Why are you laughing?"It was that or crying."Cerise?""Are you going to ask me if my daddy was a thief, because he stole the stars and put them in my eyes?"He pushed away from her. "Forget it."The laughter finally died. "It's called the rending, isn't it?" she asked. "The thing you did this morning? Your kind does it when you become overwhelmed - "He lunged at her. A blink and he pinned her to the floor, his big body bracing hers, his eyes on fire.Excitement zapped through her. She felt her muscles tighten in all the right places.Now or never.Cerise bit her lower lip. "Well, this is quite a predicament, Lord Bill."William snarled. She stared straight into his eyes, at the savage thing he hid inside. "Wolf," she whispered. "I think you are a wolf.""When did you know?" His voice was a ragged growl, as if she was talking to a beast."For a while now. Yesterday when you found me here, I was reading a book about changelings, because I knew."Cerise caught her breath. Her heart was beating too fast, as if she were running for her life. Anxiety washed over her in a cold wave. The world, which had been so stable a month ago, had fallen apart around her and she couldn't even hold on to the pieces. What if she was wrong? What if it was just wishful thinking? If she misread the need she saw in his eyes, and he turned her down and walked away from her now . . . She would handle it - she knew she would, because she had no choice - but thinking about it, imagining it happen, clenched her throat shut. She struggled to make the words come out."You have to be very careful now, Lord Bill. You're in terrible danger."He stared at her, obviously not understanding. She searched his face but found no answer. Gods, it felt like torture.Cerise forced her lips into a smile. "Nice changeling boys like you shouldn't play with swamp girls.""What?"She raised her head to his ear. She felt as if she were standing on the edge of a cliff. One step and she would plunge or soar. "You'll get bewitched."His eyes widened, the molten amber in them churning with violent intensity.She kissed him. Her lips pressed against his, asking, demanding. Kiss me back, William. Kiss me back!He opened his mouth, and she slid the tip of her tongue inside, licking his. He tasted just like she imagined he would: delicious and wild, and she kissed him harder.He jerked her to him. His mouth locked on hers, taking over the kiss. He kissed her as if he was making love to her already, as if he had only one chance to seduce her and this was it. She gripped his rigid body, sliding her hands around his muscular neck, running her fingers through his hair, feeling the smooth, silky strands slide under her fingertips.He pulled her up. The muscles bulged on his back as he lifted her higher off the floor and kissed her again, thrusting his tongue into the heat of her mouth. She was out of breath and she didn't care.His rough, hot hands stroked her, touching everywhere, under her clothes, caressing her neck, her back, her butt, until she wanted to arch her spine like an eager cat. His mouth found a sensitive spot on her neck, and a light electric shock burst from her neck all the way down to her toes. She gasped, and he kissed her again in the same spot, nipping the skin."Oh, Gods."His eyes shone with want and predatory satisfaction. "The name's William. It's a common mistake."She slid her hands over his chest, feeling the hard muscle under the skin. "Jackass."He laughed that raspy wolfish laugh that made her crazy. His hand slid between her legs, stroking her thigh in just the right way, and she unbuttoned her shirt with feverish speed, eager for the feel of his body on hers. He jerked his own shirt off, grabbed her, and kissed her again with a deep guttural growl, thrusting his tongue into her mouth, the taste of him turning her light-headed."Don't leave me," she whispered."Never," he told her.The last cold shreds of fear melted away inside her and only happiness and need remained.His hand cupped her butt, and he moved her closer, the hard bulge of his erection digging right between her legs through the fabric of their jeans. Cerise grabbed onto his big shoulders and slid lower, grinding against him.His hand slid up her back and suddenly her bra was off. William looked at her with his crazy amber eyes. "You drive me mad."Yes! He had no idea how long she had waited for him to say it. "Don't blame me. You're already mad," she breathed and kissed his perfect jaw, tasting the light scrape of stubble. He smelled so good, clean and strong and male. "Mad, mad wolf.""Look who's talking."His hand slid over her nipple, sending a shocking burst of pleasure through her, so unexpected, she almost jerked back. He dipped his dark head and licked her breast, sucking on her nipples, first soft, then harder, lifting his head just enough to let the cold air touch them and sliding the sensitive buds into his mouth, again and again, until she was ready to scream.And then her belt was undone and her jeans were halfway down her butt."She's probably up there," Kaldar's voice said from below. "I'll go and check.""Ceri?" Lark's voice called.They had to stop. Damn it all to hell. "William!"He kept going. Oh no, no, she couldn't let her little sister barge in on her while her jeans were around her knees. Especially not now, not today, not before she had explained that their mother was dying."William!" Cerise barked.William's fingers slid under the band of her panties, teasing their way down."Stop!"Someone's steps approached the door.She punched him in the head.William startled, as if shaken awake, and rolled off her. She jerked her jeans back in place.The door swung open.William rolled to his feet and dashed across the room, to the balcony and over the rail. She sprinted left and landed in her chair, tugging her bra in place and buttoning her shirt.Kaldar came up the stairs. "Cerise?"She yawned. "Yes?""Here you are." He dropped into the other chair. Behind him William pulled himself back up with one arm and landed on the balcony's rail."Aunt Pete panicked everybody. She thought you might have done something rash."William stood on the rail. The damn thing was two inches wide. He padded along it like it was solid ground and made some shooing motions at Kaldar's back.She tried to ignore him. "I never do anything rash."William mouthed, "Bullshit.""She saw you leave with the blueblood."Cerise raised her eyebrows. "I had myself a nice long cry and then I fell asleep in the chair. Did you expect to find me on the floor, making out with him half-naked?"William nodded several times, a big grin painted on his face."I wouldn't put it past you," Kaldar said. "Or him. Who knows what the hell he might do?"William made a cutting motion across his throat."He might kill you if you're not careful," she told him."Who, Will? We're the best of friends."William rolled his eyes."Thick as thieves, I'm sure," she mumbled."If you do decide to make out with him, try to get caught," Kaldar said. "Easier to rope him into marriage that way.""I'll keep that in mind."Kaldar looked like he'd bitten into something sour. "The fusing, do you want to talk about it?"And just like that all sexy thoughts fled from her head. "Not right now.""You will have to talk about it with the family tomorrow," he warned."I know. I'll speak to Lark before we go to bed." Cerise got up. Kaldar did, too. William dropped straight down off the rail, and she almost gasped. "Let me grab my hair tie. I left it outside. I'll be right down."She walked on the balcony, aware of Kaldar's gaze on her back. William hung off the edge, his feet pressed against the wall. He didn't look like he was straining.Yes, she was definitely over her head. But when William held her, she felt happy and safe. Everything was falling to pieces, and she wanted to be with him so badly, even if only for a couple of minutes of bliss."Tonight," she mouthed. "My room."He grinned a happy feral grin. Cerise turned and went with Kaldar downstairs.