WILLIAM opened his eyes. Wooden boards ran above his head. He blinked. Pain swept through him in a torrent, ripping out a groan. Things swam out of focus.A door banged. A dim shape thrust into the room. William struck at it, but his arm fell limp."It's me, it's me," Gaston's voice said. A hand restrained him.William snarled."Come on now, friend," Zeke's voice said. "You're safe, it's all good. All good. Gaston, slide him back into bed, before he chokes himself. There we go.""Where is she?""Safe," Gaston said. "She's safe."Alive. Cerise was alive.A cup bumped against his lips."Drink," Zeke said. "You'll feel all better after you drink."The liquid spilled into his mouth. It tasted vile, bitter, and metallic. William tried to spit it out but somehow it worked its way down his throat into his stomach. Warmth spread through him, dulling the pain.Slowly his vision returned to normal, and he stared at Gaston kneeling by the bed, his face two inches away.There was something on his neck. William reached over. His fingers grazed leather."Hang on." Zeke reached over and unhooked something, lifting a large dog collar free. "Sorry about that. You went wolf on us a couple of times. Had to keep you put."William shook his head. His voice came out hoarse. "Where is Cerise?""She had to go home," Gaston said."Where am I?" He tried to rise, but they clamped him down."Settle down," Zeke told him. "I will explain everything to you, but you've got to lie still or we'll tie your ass to the bed. You got me?"Fine. William lay back down."They brought you to me four days ago. They had you in some sort of casket, and you were barely breathing. Apparently you were hurt bad, and whatever the casket did kept you alive, but you weren't getting any better. Cerise said that we had to get you to the Weird because the Mire didn't have enough magic, and if we left you where you were, you'd die."They put him in the Box. He'd died. He remembered dying and the mist and then nothing."We didn't have a lot of time," Zeke said. "You were hanging by a thread. The Hand's freaks were still after the Mars, and we had to move fast. There is only one way out of the Mire into the Weird and that's through Louisiana. We had to grease the Border Guard's hand. It took everything I had and all the money the Mars had. Wiped us out clean, but we got you and the kid out, because she didn't trust me alone. I better get reimbursed for this. We're in Louisiana now, in the country, in one of the Mirror's safe houses."Zeke reached to the table and lifted a square of lined paper. "Here. She wrote you a note."William clenched the paper in his hand, focusing on it with all of his will. The tiny scribbles solidified into words.I love you so much. I'm so sorry, I can't go with you. There are only fifteen adults left, and most of them are hurt. The Hand's freaks ran after you killed Spider, but they keep coming back. We've been attacked twice, and we don't have enough money to get everyone over the border. I have to stay behind to protect the kids and Lark.Live, William. Get better, get strong again, and find me if you can. Even if I never see you again, I regret nothing. I only wish we had more time.He read it again. And again. It didn't say anything different.He would find her again. But before he did that, he had to make her safe from everyone. Her and her whole damn family. Until he saved the lot of them, they would never let her go.The kid raised a cup and held it up to his mouth. "You need more of this tea.""No." Every word was an effort. "The Box?""He broke it," Zeke said in disgust. "Shattered the thing to pieces. When I woke up, it was burning.""Cerise told me to." Gaston bumped the cup against William's lips. "She said for you to drink this. It's good for you. It will make you better.""No."Gaston's face radiated grim determination. "You don't have to like it. You have to drink it. Don't make me hold your nose closed."William cursed and drank. There was only one man who could help him now. He had to get stronger so he could travel, and if it meant he had to chug the vomit-inducing tea, he would do it.By evening, he managed to keep down some broth. The next day he sat up, two days later he walked, and two days after that, he and Gaston crossed the border between Louisiana and Adrianglia, heading north."WOW." Gaston gaped at the two-story mansion, situated on a perfectly manicured lawn. "Wow. Is that all one house?"William grumbled. Gaston had never set foot out of the swamp. The entire way through the Weird, the kid would stare at things in amazement, get embarrassed, and then try to be a smart-ass about it. It was getting old."Who lives here?""Earl Declan Camarine, Marshal of the Southern Provinces.""Are we going to get arrested?""No.""Are you sure?"William growled at him.A window on the second floor burst in an explosion of glittering shards. A body hurled through it and a boy dropped into a half crouch onto the balcony rail, his crazy auburn hair blazing with red streaks like a shock of dark flame. Wild yellow eyes stared at William from a narrow face. The kid looked at least a foot taller than he remembered."Jack!" Rose's voice called.Jack's eyes flared with feral fire. He hissed and leaped off the balcony, changing in mid-jump, shredding his clothes. A spotted adolescent lynx landed into the green grass and took off at a dead run, heading toward the trees.Wouldn't be able to pull it off in the Edge, William reflected. In the Edge, changing shapes took a few seconds, but in the Weird with magic full force, you could go furry with no pain on the fly. Jack spilled out of his clothes quickly. No pause, no awkwardness. The kid had practice going from dressed to furry. "Jack!" Rose ran out onto the balcony. She wore a peach-colored gown and her hair was up. "Jack, wait! Damn it."She saw them below. Her eyes widened."I'm here to see Declan," William told her.Two minutes later he sat in Declan's study. He'd left Gaston with Rose, who took him to the kitchen. The kid ate like a horse.Declan looked at him from behind the desk. He hadn't changed a bit: same hard eyes, same blond hair. Except he was growing it out again. He grew it long every few years to use as a power resource in case he had to sacrifice a part of himself to magic. Where William was leaner and taller, Declan looked like he could punch through walls. Judging by the look in his eyes, he wouldn't mind bashing his fist against a few bricks.Declan surveyed him. "Doing well?""Yeah.""Looking kind of thin there. My mother's always looking for a new diet. Maybe you can share some tips?"William bared his teeth. "Yeah. Shouldn't you be all fat by now? Is that some flab on your sides?""Fuck you."They looked at each other."Two fucking years." Declan spread his hands. "Two fucking years you're gone without a word. So. What can the Office of Marshal do for you?"William unclenched his teeth. It killed him to say it. "I need help."Declan nodded. "Tell me about it."Half an hour later William finished. It would've taken less time, but two minutes into the story he'd mentioned Nancy Virai, and Declan had turned pale and taken a big square bottle of Southern bourbon out of the cabinet. The bottle was half-empty now."So let me get it straight." Declan leaned forward. "You've got the journal.""Not on me."Declan rolled his eyes. "Give me some credit. You do have it, though?""Yes.""Chances are, the girl's father is still in Kasis. Once what's left of Spider's flunkies report back to their home office, the Hand will come after her, and they will want to use him as leverage. You want to save her, but she left you. And if you don't give the journal to the Mirror, they will skin you alive. You want to get the girl and what's left of her family out of the Mire, but you can't do it through the border with the Broken, because they have too much magic. Have I got it right?"Yeah, pretty much."Declan nodded his blond head and gulped more bourbon. "I'll need a favor in return."Figured. "What is it?""Jack. He's a good kid, but . . . he needs guidance. He needs understanding and I can't give it to him because I have no idea what goes on in his head."William nodded. "Fine. I'll help with Jack. I would've anyway.""I know, but you hate to owe anyone. This way we're even."Declan pulled a copper sphere from the corner of his desk and tapped it. The sphere cracked in the middle. The two halves slid apart, revealing a pale crystal. A spark of light flared within the crystalline depths and streamed in a ray of light to form a map six inches above the sphere."Louisiana. Border. Mire." Declan pronounced the words with crisp exactness. The map centered on the green blob of the Mire where it touched the border of the Louisiana."Kasis," Declan said.The map remained where it was."Blasted thing. Kasis Castle."The map slid to the Adrianglian border. A small dot of white glow flared on the boundary and grew into a gray castle. Declan scowled at it. "I've had a run-in with Antoine de Kasis before. The de Kasis family has treaties in place with both the Gauls and us that keep them out of our border squabbles. They were put in place a century ago due to some classified service the family provided to both Louisiana and Adrianglia. I never could find out what exactly they did. The treaties forbid any sort of military action on their land. The price of this sweet deal is complete neutrality from the Kasis family: they can't aid either Louisiana or Adrianglia."William nodded. "I wondered why the Mirror didn't just walk me into the Mire through Kasis. Now I know.""There is another reason. Antoine de Kasis is dirty. He's a Louisiana sympathizer, and he's very useful to them. His lands are the only way into the Mire without the bother of dealing with the Louisiana border guard. The Mirror has to suspect he's dirty, because if I know, they definitely know. However, they lack proof of his involvement. If they're holding the girl's father there, it's likely he's guarded by the Hand's agents, which would implicate Antoine. The Mirror won't like invading Kasis for two reasons. First, they know Antoine is dirty and they observe him in order to gather intelligence on the Hand's movements. If they take him out, there goes their chance to spy on the Hand. Second, if the Hand isn't there for some reason and if the Mirror's agents don't find any clear-cut proof of Antoine's involvement with the Gauls, invading Kasis would cause an international incident of huge proportions."William nodded again. "I have it figured out. I will use the journal as leverage.""That's a really dangerous game to play," Declan said. "If you get burned, William, there is nothing any of us can do.""Thanks, Dad.""My job is to warn. Here is the interesting thing. According to the treaties, if de Kasis is found to have violated his agreements, the realm that proves his wrongdoing gets to confiscate his lands. There isn't much land there, but whatever there is will become the property of Adrianglia. You need to buy that land from the government. They wouldn't sell it to you normally, so you have to make that part of your deal with the Mirror. It will give you access to the Mire, and you can smuggle your girl and her family out."William exhaled. "So all I need is to get the money to buy the place. Borrow it, steal it ..."Declan stared at him."What?"Declan braided the fingers of his hands. "Borrow it?"William shrugged."When Casshorn died, his possessions passed to you. You're his adopted son and his only heir. You own two castles, half of the Darkwood, a forty-mile stretch of Darron River, for the use of which you charge the shipping companies a sizable toll, and the land on which the city of Blueshire sits. They pay you rent. Why the devil would you need to borrow the money, you dumb bastard? You're richer than I am."William's brain screeched to a halt.Declan got up. "While you had your two-year-long pity party and hid out in a shitty trailer, playing with your toys and drinking beer, I had to take care of your financials. And if you think I don't have my own shit to deal with, you're sadly mistaken." He pulled several large ledgers from the shelf and dropped them in a stack on the table. "There you go. All yours now, Lord William Sandine. Have a go at it. Don't spend it all in one place and hire somebody good with money to manage it for you."WILLIAM sat alone in the silence of Declan's library. It had been twenty-four hours since he made the call to Erwin through Declan's scryer unit. He'd outlined the details of the deal. Erwin said nothing. He simply bowed and severed the connection.Declan insisted on both him and the kid staying in the manor, reasoning that if the Mirror didn't like the deal, they would be more reluctant to rain hellfire and meteorites upon the house of the Marshal. He even deployed his most effective weapon, in case things went really sour - two hours after the scrying took place, the carriage of the Duchess of the Southern Provinces pulled up to the front gates. William had met the Duchess before. He would rather go up barehanded against a rabid bear.The ache inside his chest gnawed on him. It started when he woke up and found out Cerise had left him. Over the next few days it grew stronger and stronger. She had left him. The rational part of him reassured him that she had done it to save him. But the rational part of him grew weaker and weaker. She had left him. Like so many people before. Even if everything went his way, even if he managed to pull it off, she could still walk away from him. And there wouldn't be a damn thing he could do about it.He got up and stepped onto the balcony. The sun was slowly setting. They would serve dinner soon - he could smell it from the kitchen.Voices came from below. William leaned over and looked down. Three kids, George's blond head, Jack's auburn mane, and Gaston's closely cropped hair. He'd barely seen the kids since he arrived. By the time he and Declan had hammered out and delivered the terms of the deal, he was dead on his feet and he passed out for about twelve hours."So what are you?" Jack asked, aggression vibrating in his voice.This ought to be interesting."Are you like William's kid or something?" Jack asked."Leave it alone," George said, his voice calm.Gaston leaned back a bit. "Who's asking?"This wouldn't go well"What do you mean, who's asking? I'm asking. Are you that stupid? What are you, some kind of inbred hick?""Here we go," George muttered.Gaston shrugged. "I tell you what, run along. I have no time for spoiled rich babies.""Yeah?""Yeah."Jack lunged forward. He was fast, but not faster than George, who stepped out of the way half a second before Jack struck. Gaston threw his hand up, and Jack ran face-first into his fist.That had to hurt. William winced. Gaston had fists like hammers. He wasn't quite sure what to do with them yet, but Jack wasn't hard to stop. He all but threw himself.Jack spun from the impact. A low feline growl tore from his mouth.Okay, that was about enough of that. William hopped over the balcony and landed between them. The jump almost took him off his legs. He was still too weak, but the kids didn't know it.William looked the boys over. In two years George had grown taller and filled out. He'd never be bulky, but he was no longer thin and sickly. His pale hair was cut in the same manner as Declan's when Declan kept it short. His clothes were meticulously clean.Jack wore a ripped-up shirt. His nose was bleeding. His eyes shone every time he turned his head. The kid was strung up too high."What the hell are you doing?" William asked.Jack wiped the blood from his nose. "Nothing.""Why the hell would you run at him? He outweighs you by sixty pounds."Jack looked away."He's also taller than you by eight inches. First order of business - make him shorter."William dropped down and swiped with his leg, knocking Jack's feet out from under him. The kid was fast, but he wasn't paying attention. His legs went one way, his head went the other. He fell into the grass and bounced back up, hissing like a pissed-off cat."Your turn," William said. "Go for it."Jack lunged at Gaston's legs. Gaston tensed and jumped, catching the lower branch of an oak.Jack rolled up. "What the hell?""Did you expect him to stand still for you?"Gaston grinned."Go on," William said. "Try to get to higher ground."Jack scrambled up the tree, trying to get a drop on the older kid. They squared off in the branches, kicking and talking shit.William and George watched them."How have you been, George?""Good, thank you. I'm really glad you are back," George said. "Will you stay?""I don't know."George sighed and for a moment he looked just like the weak, pale kid William had met two years ago. "I wish you would stay," the boy said. "It would be better for everyone. Especially Jack."THE dining room was huge, William reflected. His whole house would fit into it. It was also mostly empty. The Duchess had pulled Rose away to her rooms for some sort of female reason, and it was only Declan, him, and the kids sitting at the enormous table.George sliced his food with surgical precision, as if he'd spent the entire two years in the Weird taking etiquette lessons. He was meticulously clean. Both Gaston and Jack were filthy, smeared with dirt and covered with scratches. Jack had stuffed some wadded paper up his nose - Gaston had tapped him again - while his ward sported a shiner where Jack managed to kick him."What happened?" Declan asked.Jack bared his teeth at him. "We fell.""Together?" Declan said.Gaston looked at his plate."Tell him," William said."He made a comment about hicks. Then I made a comment about spoiled babies. Then he ran into my fist and we had words."Declan looked at Jack. "Why the hell would you run at him? Should've gone for the legs."Jack opened his mouth.Nancy Virai walked through the door.Declan choked on his steak.Erwin followed Nancy, wearing the familiar apologetic smile.William started to get up."Don't rise on my account."Declan rose anyway and bowed. "Lady V. What a pleasure. Please sit down."Erwin stepped out from behind Nancy and held out a chair. She sat, and he positioned himself behind her chair.Nancy's sharp eyes fastened on William. "If you are wrong, the assault of Kasis will cause a diplomatic mess.""I'm not wrong," William said."Ten years. That's my price for this foolishness."William blinked. "Ten years?"Nancy rested one long leg over the other. "If I do this for you, the Mirror will have the use of your services for ten years. And of course, you will turn the journal over to us.""Don't do it," Declan cut in.Nancy turned to him. Her raptor eyes stared at him for a second. "The Mirror appreciates Earl Camarine's zeal in offering advice to his friend. However, from where I am sitting, it seems that Lord Sandine is, in fact, wearing his big-boy pants, as they say in the Broken. He's capable of making that decision on his own. Yes or no, William?""Gustave lives and I get to take the Mars out of the Mire. They will receive Adrianglian citizenship."Nancy tilted her head. "Does the girl mean that much to you?"He bared his teeth at her. "Take it or leave it, Nancy.""No," Declan repeated.Nancy smiled. George drew back. Jack hissed."You have your deal. Earl Camarine, the wards of the House of Camarine, and the ward of the House of Sandine, will bear witnesses to this agreement on their honor."Declan dragged his hand across his face."I understand the Duchess is in residence," Nancy said."Yes," Declan nodded. "She would be sorely disappointed if you left without speaking to her."Nancy smiled again. "I wouldn't dream of it."012WILLIAM left for Kasis the next morning, Gaston with him. Declan decided to come at the last minute. It felt off, William reflected. Almost as if they were back in the Legion.Before they left, Jack came by his room. He looked younger somehow, timid and dejected. "Are you coming back?"William nodded. "Eventually.""Okay, then." Jack opened his mouth to say something and closed it."How's it going?" William asked.Jack looked at his feet. "I don't want to go to Hawk's."Fury flashed through William. "Are they talking about sending you there?"Jack shook his head. "No. Just . . . I can't do anything right. It's always Jack, Jack, Jack. Jack ruined that and Jack broke this. I'm trying, but it's not working.""You won't have to go to Hawk's," William said. "If it comes to that, I'll take you with me."Jack froze. "Promise.""I promise.""Don't take too long to come back.""I won't." William reached over to the table, to a basket of snacks someone left in his room, plucked out a square of chocolate wrapped in foil, and handed it to Jack."A smart kid once told me it helps," he said. "Wait for me and don't do anything stupid."FIVE days later William stood on the balcony of Kasis Castle and looked over the vast field of cypresses dripping silvery moss. Just two miles south, the boundary offered passage to the Mire.The attack on Kasis had taken less than an hour. Four of the Hand's agents were killed in the Keep, and Erwin's people found enough damaging papers to keep them happy for months. Nobody in their right mind could claim that de Kasis was neutral.Antoine de Kasis died resisting apprehension. He didn't resist very much, William reflected. He'd been pissed off and hurting, and de Kasis died under his knife before offering any real resistance.Two hours later William traded the deed to Kasis for the copy of the journal. The journal was missing a couple of crucial pages, but his memory wasn't that perfect and most of the research was there and Nancy was pleased. If she suspected he held anything back, she didn't let it show.While William exchanged the journal for the deed, Erwin briefed Gustave and escorted him back home, with a detachment of the Mirror's agents to keep the Mars safe during their evacuation. It was better this way, William reflected. He wasn't sure what the man would think of him.Three days had passed now with no word from Cerise. She was only a day away in the Mire. He'd done everything he could. She couldn't be with him because of the threat to her family. He had taken care of it. William grimaced. He'd thought about going back to the Rathole, but decided against it. He knew the way she thought. If he showed up, after saving her father and her family, she would have to be with him whether she liked it or not. So he sat here, alone, and waited. Waited for her to decide if she wanted him or if she didn't.SHE came to him in his dreams. Her face was smudged, but he knew it was her, because he could smell her scent and hear her voice, soothing, calling his name. When he awoke, the wild inside him snarled and howled, abandoned, hurting, and so alone he wondered if he would go mad. So every morning he came to the damn balcony and stared at the Mire. It wasn't up to him anymore. All he could do was wait.CERISE raised her face from her arms. Outside night had fallen on the Mire. Familiar quick steps ran up the stairs leading to her hideout."Can I come in?" her father asked from the stairway.She nodded.He came and sat in a chair across from her. He was thinner than she remembered. Older. He'd been home for almost two weeks now, and she still woke up convinced that he was missing."The packing is almost done," he said. "We're leaving the Mire the day after tomorrow."She looked away. She'd packed nothing."Do you need help with your things?" he asked."I'm not going."Gustave frowned, wrinkles gathering on his forehead. "So you plan to abandon all of us? Grandma, your cousins, me. Sophie."Cerise glanced at the soft chair, where Lark curled up, asleep.She didn't have an answer, so she just looked away."Tell me about it," he said.She shook her head. "No.""Do you think I wouldn't understand?" he asked softly. "They took your mother away from me. Ripped her out of my hands. That was the last time I saw her, terrified, dragged away. I know what it feels like, Ceri. I do."She swallowed. "He didn't come for me. I love him. I thought he loved me, but he didn't come for me.""Maybe you should go to him," he said gently. "He might be waiting."She shook her head. "I talked to the Mirror's people. He lied to me again, Papa. He told me he had nothing, but apparently he's rich. He's related to the Marshal of the Southern Provinces. It's a big deal, from what they say. He told me he was a bounty hunter, that he was normal, that he had nothing, and I believed him. Why is it I always believe him? Am I stupid?""Men lie for many reasons," Gustave said. "Perhaps he wanted to make sure that you love him for who he is, not for his money.""He told me he loved me, too. How do I know it's not another lie?"Gustave sighed. "The man came to get me out of Kasis. He didn't owe that to us, Ceri. He came for me because I'm your father."She shook her head. "He knows where the house is. It would take him a day to get down here. If he wanted to, he would be here already. He's changed his mind, Papa. He decided he doesn't want me, and I'm not going to beg. I won't be showing up on his doorstep in all of my Mire glory, asking him to come and lift me from the mud. I have some damn pride left."Gustave sighed. "I want you to start packing tomorrow."She didn't answer. What was the point of talking anyway?He sighed again and left. Cerise waited until he closed the door and then cried quietly, curled up in her chair.ANOTHER gray day. The view from the balcony looked much the same.William shook his head. She wasn't coming. He had to clench his teeth and move on.Steps echoed behind him. One of Declan's deputy marshals, on loan until William could get his own people sorted out. He had no idea how to do that."M'lord, Gustave Mar is here."Great. "Show him in, please."A few moments later Gustave joined him on the balcony. Lean, dark. Like Cerise. Same eyes, same posture.Gustave bowed."Don't," William told him. "Here." He pulled a chair from the small picnic table and sat in the other chair himself. "What can I do for you?""I came to thank you for saving my family. And for helping Genevieve and sparing my daughter that burden. I don't know what is proper to say, but I want you to know, I'm grateful. If you need me, I'll be there. All of us will be there."William nodded, uncomfortable. "Thank you."They looked at each other. Silence stretched."A drink?" William asked.Gustave exhaled. "Yes."William went inside and brought out a bottle of wine and two glasses. He filled the glasses. Gustave sampled his. "Good wine.""Not as strong as the one at your house.""Ahh, yes. I will miss that. We may have to make excursions into the Mire to gather the berries.""Better bring a small army," William said.Gustave grimaced. They drained their glasses and William refilled them."How's the moving going?" William said to say something."Good," Gustave said. "A bit slow. There are only fifteen able-bodied adults left, and half of them are injured. Cerise is doing the best she can. We should be about done. The end of this week will be our last dinner at the house. We would be honored if you joined us. We're easy to find from here - just follow the river. I know it would mean a lot to my daughter.""She doesn't want to see me," William said.Gustave rubbed his face. "You're right. She doesn't want to see you. That's why, ever since I've returned, my daughter is snarling at everyone and everything. She's not sleeping. She is not eating. And let's not forget the crying. She never was a crier. Even as a child.""What are you saying?"Gustave rose. "I'm saying that my daughter thinks you've abandoned her. She thinks that you don't want her anymore, that it's all over, and it's breaking her heart. She is too proud to come and beg, and I have gathered that you are too proud to come and get her. The Hand and the feud ripped away my wife, William. She was my life . . . my everything. They almost destroyed my family. I hate to stand by and watch this cursed mess crush my daughter as well. Think on it. Please."He left.Ten minutes later William left for the Mire.THE Rathole was as he remembered, William decided, flicking his furry ears. He lay downwind of the house by the roots of a large pine. He'd gone to ground here for about an hour. The Mirror's people guarding the house spotted him but let him be.Cerise was inside.He kept trying to catch her scent, but it just wasn't there.If he went in and she told him to leave . . . He wasn't sure he would. He didn't know what the hell he wanted. All his plans ended with "Get to the house." Now he was at the house, and he wasn't sure what to do about it.The screen door opened. Lark ran down the steps. She wore jeans. Her shirt was clean and her hair was brushed out. She carried a stack of clothes in her hands.She turned and headed straight for him.William sank deep into shadows under the pine trying to look smaller.She stopped a few feet away. "I can see you, you know. You're as big as a horse."William whined at her. Go away, kid.Lark put the clothes on the ground. "She's in the inner yard. Dad said you can go around over there through the door in the side, so you don't have to go through the whole place."She turned and left. William sighed and pulled the wild deep inside him. Pain racked his bones and then he was human again. He slid his clothes on and went to the side door, through the hallway, and into the inner yard.The flowers still bloomed in the small garden along the wall. The weapon rack was out, and past it, Cerise practiced just as she had on that morning four weeks ago. All that was missing were Kaldar and Gaston chatting on the sidelines and Grandmother Az perched on the stone bench.Cerise's blade sliced through the air with refined grace. So beautiful . . . So, so beautiful. So fast and deadly and . . .She saw him. Her cuts gained a new vicious edge.He had to be smart about this, but he didn't know what to say. He would do anything if she still wanted him."Hello, Lord Sandine," she said. "Thank you for saving my father. We owe you a debt."William strode to the weapon rack and chose a seneschal blade. It was the biggest, longest, heaviest sword on the rack. It would take him ages to swing it.Cerise battled the air with lithe quickness, still preternaturally fast in her strikes.William cleared his throat. She turned and looked at him."A deal," he said. "We fight. If you win, I'll walk out of here and never bother you again. If I win, you'll come away with me. You'll be my mate and you will live with me always."He almost cursed. Smooth, right.Her sword pointed at him. Cerise looked at his weapon. "You'll lose. I'll slice you to ribbons."William swung his bulky sword, warming up his wrist. "That's fine.""You are a stupid, stupid wolf.""Less talk, more fighting."They clashed in a clang of steel.Cerise dropped her blade and threw her arms around his neck.