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Matt dropped the report on recent legal hearings in one of his uncle's larger villages into the 'Finished' stack with relief. Most of them had been small issues of straying livestock causing damage, property infringements, failure to meet legal responsibilities, and disputes between neighbours. In one case, a father was swearing that his daughter had been sexually abused; that was in blatant contradiction to the daughter's own testimony that she and the youth involved considered themselves betrothed and were making arrangements for their own household. Cohabitation with intent would certainly constitute a legally recognized marriage. Ordinary things that he had no need to get involved in.

Only two cases called for further investigation as part of his job, and neither was urgent.

Why can't people just see each other as people? he thought tiredly, a question he asked the universe frequently but had yet to get an answer for. Why should it make any difference whether your parents were both completely human, when it comes to being treated fairly and impartially?

Of course, he was biased, since his father was half alasir, as was the cousin he'd grown up with practically as a brother. The improbable quirk in the whole family was that his uncle, who was one of the eighteen human Lords who were one step below the human King, remained genuinely and openly fond of his siblings who had chosen another life, and of his mixed-blood nephews. That was considerable protection in a world fermenting with tension between fullbloods of two powerful races, a no-longer-powerful one, several relatively rare ones, and the inevitable crossbreeds.

Knuckles tapping on the open door of his office made him glance up.

His full-alasir cousin Shon crossed the room, not even having paused at the door, to hand him another dozen sheets of paper. “The reports came in from Elmford,” he said in alasiran—his own first language, and one of Matt's, so they tended to use it frequently despite Shon's command of human. “There's a siren one. A particularly bad one, so brace yourself.” He dropped into the chair next to Matt's desk. “It wasn't her.”

“Well, that's something,” Matt said, scanning the top page for details. Depressingly typical, at first, but this one did indeed turn nasty. “I would say we need to go check this one out personally and immediately. We can't wait for Kian to get back.”

“I already sent word to the stable to get the horses ready and to the kitchens to put something together we can eat on the way. We should be able to reach Elmford within four hours.”

Until three years before, Shon had been Heir to an alasir Lord in his own right; he had a formidable grasp of a wide variety of useful subjects, many of which Matt lacked any practical experience with at all. It was a perverse quirk of law and fate that Shon now officially lacked any status at all other than as personal guard to his several-years-younger mixed-blood cousin who happened to be born a sorcerer.

On the other hand, Matt was intensely grateful for him on virtually a daily basis, and not only because Shon's presence meant Kian could at times wander off to the woods he loved without worrying that his sorcerer almost-brother was going to impulsively run off on his own to confront a bad situation.

“Time to throw a few things together and get going, then.” Matt fetched a flat leather satchel from where it had been kicked under the desk, and shoved the most recent handful of papers in. “Have we had problems from Elmford before? Can you remember?”

“No more than the usual, I believe.” Shon rose and went to the shelves, chose one book, and flipped it open. “Several rapes of siren-blood that were acquitted despite clear evidence, on the usual grounds of doubt whether the siren-blood initiated it. One earlier instance of a magistrate declaring the rapist to be the victim of the siren-blood he raped. Several typical instances of violence involving alasir-blood. Oh, yes, that was the place with the woman who agreed to a hand-fast marriage with a quarter-alasir relay telepath after several months of courting, and the next morning set her male relatives on him because he bit her during sex.”

“Right. Isn't that the one thing about alasir that humans generally do get right?” Matt sighed and rolled his eyes. A taste for blood was generally the first thing humans thought of when alasir were mentioned. Being nocturnal by nature, quite possibly. Being obligate carnivores, like cats, much less often. Being readily identified by the tall rangy build, black hair, and extremely fair skin that tended to breed true for several mixed generations, frequently though not always with complete accuracy. But the involuntary reflex that demanded a mouthful or so of blood at the moment of sexual climax, and the voluntary option that did have a few limited biological advantages, those were generally exaggerated and distorted but nonetheless commonly known. “Maybe the world is just too stupid for anything we're working for.”

“Possibly. That is no reason to not work towards it.” Shon closed the book and handed it to him, to be added to the satchel with various other things Matt thought might prove useful.

“Until now, I was thinking of asking whether you'd like to spend a few days running the roads in the disputed lands. Lori passed on a rumour of a siren-blood mindhealer that spent the worst of the winter in Hope-of-Luck and put at least two people back together. One was a teenaged Exotic rescued from a rogue lifewitch's experiments, one was a siren-alasir who was kidnapped onto an alasir ship for over a month and was so badly abused he couldn't function at all.”

“The usual improbable miracles, then,” Shon said, getting up. “As soon as we create a miracle of our own, we can go.”

“Sooner or later, we're going to catch up with her instead of just tracking down stale leads.”

“Eventually,” Shon agreed. “But until then, as long as these stories keep appearing, we know she's alive and more or less intact, and therefore that there is still hope.”

Lord Jordan having a rather less biased and more accurate view of his mixed-blood nephews and their alasir cousin and the relationship between them, all three had rooms that were substantially the same, side by side in a quiet hall. They separated there long enough to do a hasty packing job.

Probably they'd be there at least two or three days, so Matt tossed extra drawers and knitted socks in his pack, and a shirt of extremely fine bleached linen with black embroidery around the neck and sleeves, very like the one he was wearing now. Everything was about where you fit in on multiple axes, and clothes were an annoyingly prominent way of demonstrating that.

The currently-fashionable highly-fitted knee-length breeches and short jacket were ridiculously impractical in the Northern climate other than high summer, unless you could stay indoors all the time and afford to pay a fortune in heating, and they restricted movement to a considerable degree. They were nonetheless popular with hangers-on and aspiring upper-class men, as well as highborn and high-level magic-users who might legitimately have little need for free range of motion. The men of the Jordan House, from the Lord on down, tended to prefer the simpler and relatively timeless option of full-length trousers with the usual drawstring waist and hip-length tunic with elbow-length or forearm-length sleeves over a linen shirt. The fit, however, was more customized than most could afford, and the quality of the wool and linen and the quality and colour of the dyes and embroidery was beyond the reach of any but the wealthy.

Because Matt was going to have to deal with upper-class townspeople on this one, he rolled together trousers and tunic of shades of strong deep blue and stuffed them in his pack, and traded his current casual grey trousers and undyed tunic for equally-expensive intense greens.

Who cares I'm going to be on a horse for the next four hours in warm weather? he thought wryly. Must look the part as representative of the House.

Shon and Kian, at least, could get away when working with the Jordan guard uniform. Over goldenrod-coloured wool trousers and a plain shirt went a jerkin, made of many layers of quilted linen with an outer facing of tooled leather dyed rose madder red; thin plates of horn were embedded into it over particularly vulnerable areas, and even with the sleeves removed for summer temperatures, a flap still protected each shoulder. It was essentially the same armour used across the entire North, other than the expensive chain sometimes worn by highborn or high-level military officers—though the poorer-quality versions lacked one or more features and were correspondingly less protection.

Matt had been tempted more than once to simplify his life and follow suit, only swapping the armour for a straightforward tunic.

He laced his boots back on, snatched up his cloak, and rejoined Shon in the corridor to go down to the manor's stable-wards door.

Tied to the rail were two horses. Both were tall and sturdy, bred for endurance along with the intelligence Jordan horses were known for. One was a wheat-gold buckskin with walnut mane and tail and dark legs; the other was a liver chestnut, dark brown with a reddish tone that showed most strongly on her legs and muzzle, a white star on her forehead. Their tack matched, simple but elegant and perfectly fitted: halter with lead-rope for when they had extended stops, and over it a bridle. The long contoured saddle was designed to be adaptable and comfortable for horse and rider under varying conditions and long hours or, less perfectly, two riders or one with substantial packs. That of the chestnut already bore a compact but bulging pack strapped into place.

Next to them on the rail perched a red-tailed hawk. Those were common enough all over the North, though finding one on a horse-rail, not so much—nor the electric-pale shimmer of its eyes at close range, nor the complete lack of alarm from the horses.

Matt reached out to stroke the hawk's breast gently; she rubbed her head against his hand. “Horse,” he said, willing it as well as saying it.

Jori hopped to the ground, her form already dissolving into a blur of dense electric energy. Within a few heartbeats, the hawk was gone, replaced by a striking dapple-grey mare with flaxen-yellow mane and tail and flaxen feathers on her ankles, less tall and more solidly-built than the other two horses. She was already wearing a hackamore, a bridle lacking a bit, and a saddle of similar style to the other horses, but all of hers was spotlessly white leather, richly tooled and ornamented with gold.

Matt gave the grey an affectionate scritch around her forelock. “I'm sorry I've been so busy. The way things are going, I should start sending you with Kian when he goes wandering so you don't get bored.”

She snorted at him, and nudged him with her nose.

“We need to go sort out a bad situation,” Shon told her, fastening his own pack and his long riding coat behind the saddle of the buckskin and sliding what resembled a slightly unusual staff into its rings on the side. “Before an innocent siren-blood woman suffers any more than she already has. Elmford.” He untied the chestnut's lead and knotted it to a ring on the buckskin's saddle, then untied the buckskin's lead and tossed it across her shoulders. After a quick check that everything was secure, he swung up into the buckskin's saddle and gathered up the reins.

Matt hastily added his own pack, his sorcerer's cloak, and the leather satchel behind the grey's saddle, and mounted. The hackamore and reins were sometimes useful for subtle communication, but not really necessary. Jori knew the way at least as well as he did. Probably better, since she saw all the roads and settlements from above in her hawk form.

Not truly tireless, she did have far more stamina than a true horse. If Shon switched between back and forth between buckskin Butterfly and chestnut Rose, they could keep up a rapid pace all the way to Elmford, without Matt needing to use magical means that would leave him paying for it afterwards.

They reached Elmford after dark, which in high summer meant it was fairly late, but neither particularly cared. Matt could see nearly as well in the dark as a full alasir, and so regularly got distracted and forgot to go to bed until well past midnight that the whole Jordan Manor was used to his odd hours; though Shon had adapted with good grace to the necessity of an inverted schedule much of the time, he preferred the dark. The moons were both bright enough that the horses had no trouble seeing the road and their footing, and light levels seemed largely irrelevant to whatever Jori's primary senses were.

When the lights of the town came into sight, Matt reached behind him to pull his cloak free so he could toss it around his shoulders white-side-out, fasten the throat-clasp, and slide his arms through the side-slits. He often thought that he was going to redesign it, against all tradition, to include about half as much actual fabric, but he had to admit, it did create a dramatic impression, and that could be useful. His sorcerer's medallion normally stayed under his shirt and out of the way, but he pulled it out so it rested against his tunic: a silver hexagon with rounded corners, deeply engraved with a six-sided star, set with white opal in the centre.

The only places likely to have a concentration of people who were still awake were the local taverns and inns, so they went to the best of the former. Matt unstrapped the leather satchel that held the reports; Shon hitched the mares to the rail, drew his unusual staff from Butterfly's saddle rings, and fell into step a stride behind Matt and to one side.

Showtime.

Whatever he might think of all the trappings, and no matter how real and sweeping the authority his uncle had given him, people could still find a way to thwart him if they put their minds to it. Respect was different from power or authority, and that he had needed to learn to command, if not for himself then at least for his job; both his mixed blood and being not yet thirty tended to work against him. Much more inclined to simply treat everyone as equals, he'd been finding that a hard lesson, learned mainly from Shon. The lives of people who had no one else to stand up for them depended on it, though.

The heavy wood door swung easily open on well-oiled hinges, admitting them to a large room, brightly lit with wax candles and oil lamps and not one hearth but two. Around the occasional beams supporting the second floor with its private dining rooms, a number of tables were arranged, rectangular ones of well-sanded oiled wood around which six chairs fit comfortably for dining, or more for drinking and socializing.

At this hour, respectable women were for the most part in their own homes, but the predominantly male crowd did include a few aside from the serving maids. All the customers here were well-dressed, though the revealing styles worn by three of the women suggested their source of income might be considered less than respectable by some.

Matt had met all three and considered them more respectable than many of the town's officials, no matter how they made a living. Besides, all three had distinctly red hair, and siren-blood by nature found it all but impossible to load sexual activity with all the extra weight that humans insisted was intrinsic and inescapable.

One of the red-haired women caught his eye, and flashed him a quick relieved smile, though she hardly missed a beat in laughing with the group of men she was sitting with. Neither of them was much of a telepath, but enough for brief and slightly fuzzy contact.

*I'm glad you're here. You're going to help Petra, right?*

*Of course I am. Talk later?*

*Yes.*

Multiple pairs of eyes were tracking him. Visibly alasir-blood, the opalescent shimmer of his cloak unmistakably marking him as a sorcerer, his visibly alasir-blood companion in Jordan colours, they knew who he was before he said a word.

He found an empty table, and seated himself in the chair at one end. Shon, formally, stayed on his feet, behind and beside, grounding the metal-capped base of his staff and clasping both hands around it loosely, just above the oval metal disc that looked like it was embedded across the grain a foot from the upper end.

One of the serving maids was already on her way over.

“Wine, m'lord?” she offered.

“Please. And I need to speak to any of the town's officers who are around, even if they have to be pulled out of the private rooms. If they aren't here, ask someone to go fetch them.”

“M'lord... is this about Petra?”

“Yes.” *One of the sirens asked me as soon as we came in if that's why we're here, too,* he said privately to Shon, who wasn't any kind of telepath, but shared blood and deep familiarity went a long way.

*Given her job, many people would know her. And it was too brutal even to excuse by the normal twisted reasoning. I think people are likely to be unsettled by it.*

“The reeve's upstairs, although not officially,” the maid said. That might explain where the one human harlot was. “I'll tell him myself.”

“Please. You can tell him it was on my orders.” He didn't want her in trouble for it.

She swirled off. In this tavern, the serving girls were dressed respectably, in full-circle wool skirts and laced wool bodices, more often over fitted blouses of bleached or pastel-dyed linen than the more casual loose drawstring-necked chemise of unbleached linen. Colours tended to be solids rather than shaded or pattern-dyed or brocade, usually not the more expensive ones and sometimes from second- or third-batch lots with less intensity, but dyed evenly and in pleasant hues. Hair was always gathered into respectable nets, pinned with combs that might be carved wood or might be copper or occasionally even silver-plated. The management wanted them dressed well enough to be acceptable to customers of both sexes using the premises for business or pleasure, and the serving maids were strictly off-limits for pleasure as business.

That last was rather underscored by the fact that all were entirely human.

Why go after a good human girl with those sirens around to do what they're best at? Matt sighed to himself.

One of the other maids brought him a bronze goblet of wine. He took a swallow mainly because he was going to have to talk a lot.

The reeve was a human man in his fifties, the girth of his waistline suggesting a sedentary lifestyle; he was, in fact, one of the wealthiest landowners in the town, who leased out small properties both residential and business-oriented. Matt shared his uncle's misgivings about conflicts of interest with a man like that having too much additional power, but he'd been consistently elected by the town's collective landowners and skilled tradespeople since long before Matt had fallen into this job five years before. Mid-brown hair was both greying and receding, which he made no vain efforts to hide. Possibly he thought it added to his façade of wise father-figure.

Currently, he was not pleased with the interruption, though he was savvy enough to hide it behind a mask of courtesy.

“This is a dreadful hour to be out riding,” he said heartily. “Surely it could have waited until tomorrow?”

“It isn't that late for some of us,” Matt said. “Especially when there's a job to do. Could you explain to me please why the men she named are not in cells?”

The reeve sighed, not wasting time pretending he didn't know exactly what brought Matt here. “Where are they going to go? They're all respectable local men with homes and jobs. Four of the five are married. What's the point of locking them up on the word of a siren-blood crying rape?”

“She's not crying rape. She was beaten, with several bones broken.” It was a considerable effort to keep his voice even and not let the anger turn it into a snarl. “Because she refused to submit sexually to your five respectable men. If she weren't siren-blood, they would probably have been tried and heavily sentenced before I ever heard about it. Instead, she's in a bed she can't get out of and your respectable local men are running around free.”

“But she is a siren, and they're always looking for sex. All five said when they got near her, she started the conversation and they all found within moments that they could only think about wanting her.”

“That is not how siren fascination works.” I've explained this how many times? Just to this man, let alone others? Just keep your voice calm. Don't shout it. It won't help. “All three factors have to be in play for there to be any noticeable effect at all. Pheromones are only released under emotional or physical stress, neither of which is plausible for her walking home after having dinner in a public place with a companion following work. The vocal effects tend to be cumulative and only work at the same time as the pheromone release. Psychic projection is the only one of the three that's under direct conscious control.”

“Some of them learn to do it all deliberately,” the reeve said curtly.

“A very strong half-siren telepath can often learn to trigger the other effects deliberately,” Matt admitted. “But Petra is by all report only a quarter siren. She's a strong enough telepath that it was one factor in her being hired to work in the town hall administration, but that suggests that she's not strong enough to get a job primarily as a telepath. And having a more active sexual nature than the average human does not mean that every single siren-blood of either sex is completely indiscriminate and irresistibly attracted to every single individual they see. Most of what you and others think is siren fascination is that they lack most of the inhibitions that human society believes are natural and proper. The rest is your own projection.” He crossed his arms on the table, met the reeve's gaze flatly. “Is the reason you were upstairs with, what's her name, the human one, Reba, because all three of the siren-blood ones refused to have anything to do with you after ordering the release of those men, even under threat of losing their jobs?”

It was a guess, but it hit home. All senses alert, he saw the flicker of discomfort, the hint of anger.

“I was upstairs discussing business.”

“Yes, I'm sure. The way you've handled this one runs completely counter to the mandate from Lord Jordan that all justice in the Jordan province will be delivered without regard to race, sex, income, or other extraneous factors. I'm taking over personally. I want those men arrested now. Before I decide to consider you and others to be accessories complicit in a violent crime.” He heard some of the anger starting to creep through, felt the sense of warning from Shon, and stopped there.

His uncle Rob had given him a frightening degree of authority, insisting that he trusted Matt not to abuse it but that he wanted him able to do anything he needed in a situation without delay. Which meant he was answerable to no one but Lord Jordan personally, could command and overrule any magistrate or town official, and had the right to hold his own hearings and pronounce summary verdicts and sentences on crimes of property and person.

Which meant the reeve had no choice but to obey.

The reeve's expression went from anger to apprehension to resentment to carefully neutral, all within the space of a breath. “Yes, of course. I'll see to it.”

“Thank you. Shon, could you assist?” *I'll be good while you're gone, I promise. I don't trust him.*

*Don't get killed. Kian will never forgive me.* Out loud, Shon only murmured a soft assent.

The reeve didn't particularly care for that, but there was nothing he could do about it.

Once they left, Matt beckoned the helpful serving maid back over.

“Thank you. Dealing with him directly is definitely more efficient than needing multiple steps. Do you suppose you could find someone to take our horses around to the stables and find me a room for whenever I might get a chance to sleep?”

“Of course, m'lord. And...” she hesitated. “It's not my place, but thank you. A lot of women have been feeling less safe.”

“With them still loose, not much surprise. Siren blood is an excuse. It's too easy to invent more excuses.”

“Yes, m'lord. And I know Petra. There's no chance she invited anything. There's a journeyman butcher she's in company with often these past two years, no one else anyone's seen.”

In company with. That was actually mixed-blood slang, a noncommittal statement about observed behaviour without judgement either way on what might happen unobserved. It always intrigued him when mixed-blood words and phrases appeared in “respectable” settings.

It was in fact possible there'd been no one else, if he was able to keep her satisfied; at the very least, she was clearly too discreet to solicit the attention of five men in a public street.

“I'm going to do my best to make sure everyone can feel safe again,” he said gently.

“Thank you, m'lord. Should I find you something to eat? The kitchen is closed but there's always something around.”

“Later, for my guard and myself both.” The Jordan Manor cooks had provided them with food they could eat in the saddle, semicircular pastries stuffed with dense minced meat and only enough vegetable matter for flavouring. “Right now, there are other things I need to do. The report doesn't mention where Petra currently is. Do you know?”

“No, but Arilai might.”

“Could you ask her if she has a moment?”

“Certainly, m'lord.”

He took another swallow of wine, and pulled out the reports to scan through the details again on Petra's current condition.

“Nail them to a wall.”

There was nothing of the smooth seductive purr he'd heard Arilai use to potential customers in it, only rage.

“I take it you're sure they're guilty,” he said, looking up as she sat down next to him—that she circled around rather than sitting in the chair the reeve had been in was probably not an accident.

As much as he had to appreciate the lush curves under a low-cut blouse and a bodice styled and laced to emphasize her natural assets, her fiery-red hair falling in thick loose waves completely unrestrained, her green eyes outlined dark by artifice but the blush of her lips entirely natural, he knew very well it had nothing to do with siren fascination.

It did, probably, have something to do with her being siren, but only because of another siren.

“You want the real story?”

“I would very much like that, yes.” And because she knew he understood sirens, he had a pretty good chance of hearing facts that no one else in authority would.

Arilai's version matched comfortably with what he already knew.

He'd met Petra several times. He remembered her as a briskly competent woman probably a bit older than him, always dressed respectably and impeccably. Only the auburn hair really suggested her siren grandparent's blood.

Not a native of Elmford, she'd accepted a job in the town hall, thanks to the recommendation of the local relay telepath who had met her elsewhere and heard good reports about her. Lacking the range to be a relay telepath herself or any other particularly noteworthy gift, she was nonetheless extremely useful in the right setting for her ability to read deception and intention in combination with with her excellent organizational skills, her high literacy, and her sympathetic demeanour. Her job, typically, involved dealing with townspeople seeking assistance with anything from land ownership questions to registry of birth and death to taxes, either supplying assistance herself or getting the appropriate settlement officer involved. Not a glamorous or exciting job, but a dependable and vital one that would allow her to be independent, always deeply important to siren-blood.

“To keep her job, she plays by human rules about sex. Mostly. She's had the odd moment of weakness, but she's careful and she doesn't do it with anyone who lives in Elmford. She has a lover who keeps her happy most of the time anyway. She comes in here for a meal sometimes, and if it's a slow night for us and she's alone, sometimes we keep her company. Maybe afterwards, quietly, just friendly, you know sirens. She's not one of the ones that gets a position with some respectability and decides that makes her superior to all other crossbreeds. You know the type, I'm sure. We thought you probably would be, at first.”

“I devoutly hope someone will thump me with something heavy if I ever do. I've met a lot of them.” Strength or skill as a sorcerer or telepath was one of the most reliable ways to gain acceptance and status in fullblood society, and frequently the strongest gifts in both turned up in crossbreeds. He'd met a nauseating number of crossbreeds who abandoned their own heritage or worse as soon as they stopped needing the support of the mixed-blood community as a whole. “So she's smart and discreet. Soliciting five local men in the street, which would quite possibly lead to losing her job or at least to public disapproval...”

“It just wouldn't happen.”

“It never did sound very plausible.”

“Just between us...”

“Absolutely.”

“She told me, confidentially, that she was feeling uncomfortable around Wilmot Tanner. He approached her multiple times, at work and in the market and on the street and once here, hinting not very subtly that he wanted her. He's married, and his wife had their first child maybe a month after the first time. Petra turned him down. I heard her the time he did it here, she was polite but very firm and very clear and suggested that he talk to me or the others. He let it go before he got thrown out, but not much before.”

“Oh gods.” Human believes all sirens want sex constantly and indiscriminately, siren-blood keeps refusing sex with him, now his ego is all bruised to go with stress at home.

Arilai nodded. “She didn't report it to anyone, because he hadn't done anything, really, and who'd believe her that it wasn't her gaming him? But she was really nervous.”

“Then she's found beaten badly and violently raped and unconscious, somehow no one heard anything, she finally wakes up and gives the names of the people responsible, one of whom has been harassing her... and they're given a brief preliminary hearing and released because, well, she's a siren and she must have asked for it, and probably they were her victims and she got what she deserved.”

“That's it.”

“I'm not getting the impression that it's a popular decision, releasing them.”

“Most people in Elmford forget she's part siren at all. She doesn't, but they do. So a lot of women are scared, especially any that have met Petra and have trouble imagining her gaming them. Mixed-blood women, especially the siren-blood ones, are watching behind us wondering who'll be attacked next. If they can get away with not just the usual rape but with almost killing her...” She trailed off.

“They won't. I need to make sure I have all the evidence there is and that I haven't missed anything, but I'm not leaving Elmford until I make this right. As right as it can be. Do you know where Petra is? I'll wait to go talk to her, but I do need to.”

“Clear it with the boss and I'll take you there myself right now. She's sleeping a lot but not well, she's in a lot of pain. We're taking turns sitting with her as much as we can to help, but we can't while we're working. Now or tomorrow won't make a difference, and she'll feel better knowing someone's on her side.”

“I can't take sides.”

“Of course you do. You take the side of anyone who's been hurt against the people who hurt them. You mean you wait until you have proof of who was hurt and who did the hurting. That's not the same thing.”

He smiled. “I need to wait until Shon gets back before I go wandering around Elmford. Then I'll certainly steal you away. And thank you.”

Judging siren ages was always hard; they tended to ripen and then stay there, with all the appeal of youth and maturity both. For just a moment, as her eyes met his, they looked very old. “I wish there'd been someone like you around when I was younger.”

“I'll do my best.” It was a promise he'd made, and continued to make, to a lot of people on Jordan lands, mostly crossbreeds and others who didn't quite fit and fell to the bottom.

Because it just isn't right. No one should be doomed to a life of abuse and victimization.

And because even though Jordan lands are one place my beloved stays well away from, maybe what I do makes the world just a little bit safer for her. Just maybe, she'll hear and she'll stop running and let me help.

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