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Spoiler(cliquez pour révéler) He leaned closer, his lips almost touching my hear. " I don't need to see your face or smell you. I could tell it was you by the way you rode your horse."

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“So, does my grandmother know you love her?” He blinked, taken aback.

“Of course I love her. We all love her.”

“I’m not talking about the love of a friend or a loyal subject.” Namtur stared at me for a second, grabbed a newspaper from the desk, squeezed it into a tube, and hit my head with it.

“Evil child!” Wap! “Shameful!” Wap! “How do such ideas even enter your mind? Must your mouth speak every stray thought that flitters through your head?”

I laughed and leaned out of the way. “You protest too much, Great Uncle.”

“Your grandmother is my sworn sister!”

“But not blood sister.” Namtur waved his newspaper.

“Not another word!” I held up my hands.

“I’ll stop if you do me a favor.”

“You dare? After the inanity you blabbered?” He tossed the newspaper onto the table. “What is it?”

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She reached into her desk and took out a small flag made out of a rag tied to a chopstick and a tiny pitcher. She thrust the flag at me. I took it. “What’s this?”

“That’s your war banner. He has been in his office with his butt glued to his chair since this morning. He canceled all his meetings. Nobody can go in. He’s waiting for you. Wave your banner.” I waved the banner.

“Why?” Stella picked up the small pitcher. “I’m going to sprinkle milk on it like the Mongols did before battle. That’s all I can do to help.”

“That’s so nice,” Namtur said. “You’re such a thoughtful friend.” I held the war banner out, and Stella sprinkled some milk on it. Then I turned around and marched to Nick Feldman’s office.

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“What’s your name?”

“Don’t tell her, Cephus,” the girl whispered and clamped her hand over her mouth. Cephus just looked at her for a second.

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Derek had removed his jeans, folded them in half, and was carefully placing them on top of his boots. I would strangle him. I would hit him in that smug handsome face with a brick. You think you got scars, buddy? Just you wait. The hodag reared, trying to pin me with its bulk. I threw myself into a roll, sprang to my feet, and stabbed Dakkan between the beast’s fat toes. The hodag howled. Derek gave me a thumbs-up.

“Dead!” I danced back, avoiding the hodag’s strikes.

“What?”

“You’re a dead man!”

He held out his hand. “Tag me in.”

“Eat dirt.”

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Derek made me lose it. I kept going over our conversation in my head. It was the way he had looked at me. The way he sat, the way he smiled, the way he spoke. Everything he did reminded me of what I’d left behind. Somehow, he bypassed my armor and got an honest, instinctual response out of me. I hated that so much.

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He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m hungry. I’m going to get up and find something to eat, so you can get out in privacy. Use this opportunity to think about…” I stood up. The last shreds of my discarded skin fell into the bath. Derek stared at me, caught mid-word. I tossed my hair out of my face, flinging water and loose petals back into the tub, stepped out, and walked past him to my closet to get dressed.

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“Fear isn’t the only thing that can make a heart flutter.”

“What else is in your heart, orphan child?”

“Rage.”

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Faint sounds came from beyond the broken window. A light rustling of the hedge, a scrape against the stone. Three, two, one… Ascanio jumped through the open window and landed by the rug.

“What, no combat roll?” I asked. He pivoted to me, his eyes flashing with a ruby glow as they caught the light from the hallway. For a moment he looked ready to pounce, then he straightened, his expression nonchalant.

“You again. We keep meeting like this. It must be fate.” Oh no, the return of Mr. Smooth.

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“My patience is an infinite lake. Feel free to drown yourself.”

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