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Saxton stared at the other male as Ruhn bowed low. “Sire.”

There was a pause. And then Saxton offered his palm. “Please. Just Saxton.”

Ruhn stared at what was outstretched in confusion. “My … ah, my hands are rough.”

“But of course,” Saxton murmured as he dropped his arm. “Would you care to review this and give it your signature?”

As things got quiet, Mary stepped up. “Are you sure you want to—”

“Yes,” Ruhn said. “There needs to be clarity in the event decisions have to be made or if she is unable to communicate in a medical crisis.”

For some reason, Mary got teary again. And then she remembered his limitations. “But you need to know what it says.”

“It says you are her parents, right?”

“That’s correct,” she whispered.

“Then I shall sign.”

“It really is prudent,” Saxton interjected. “So let us go into the library and you two should come as well.”

“This way,” Mary said as she started across the depiction of an apple tree in full bloom. “Rhage?”

“Right behind you. Bitty, give the grown-ups two secs, ’kay? Go find Lassiter and kick him in the butt for me, would you?”

“On it!” the girl said as she tore off in search of the angel.

Once inside the library, Mary shut the doors—and saw that Ruhn was staring at the tree. “Oh, that’s our Christmas stuff. I’m human—or I was. You know. Ah, long story.”

Which made her think of something—

“Would you read the papers to me?” Ruhn asked her. “Please?”

“Oh … yes. Yes, of course.” She took the document from Saxton and they all sat in front of the fire. “This is …” She had to clear her throat as she held the pages out in front of Ruhn. “This is a release of all your … parental rights to Bitty.” She pointed to places. “See, this is your name. This is her name. This text here states that forevermore, you will not make any claim to any custody of her, physical or otherwise, or claim any benefits that may accrue to her, or be a party or consulted about any decisions that affect her life. Do you know … I mean, once you sign this, it’s done. It can’t be undone.”

Ruhn stared at the paper and then pointed to his name. “That’s my name, right there.”

“Yes.”

“Hers … is here.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

He looked at the words for a while. “Funny, this is the only time our names will ever be together.”

Mary swallowed a knot in her throat. “Ruhn, you don’t have—”

“Does someone have a pen?” the male said.

Saxton, who seemed to be holding in some kind of emotion, put a gold one out. “Here, use mine.”

Ruhn took the writing instrument and seemed amazed by it. Then he appeared worried. “I can’t … I don’t really have a signature. I don’t know how to write my name.”

“Any mark,” Saxton said in a soft voice, “will suffice. And I will witness it as your own down below. You want to put it here.”

Ruhn nodded as the lawyer pointed out a line three-quarters of the way down the second page. And then Bitty’s uncle bent down over the document.

He was there for quite a while. Much longer than the two secs it took for most people to scrawl their name.

When he sat back up again, Mary covered her mouth with her palm.

“That’s me,” Ruhn said, pointing to the small sketch he’d made of his face. “That is my mark.”

It was an absolutely beautiful rendering of his features. And everyone grew silent.

“It’s all I know how to do,” Ruhn explained.

Saxton pinched the brow of his nose. “No, no … it’s perfectly lovely. And perfectly sufficient.”

Saxton did his thing, notarizing the document, and then the lawyer was standing up. “I shall go file this at the Audience House.”

“Come back, though,” Mary said. “Please? We’re going to have a little welcome party at the end of the night, and you should come if you can.”

The attorney looked at Ruhn briefly. “All right. Thank you, I shall.”

On the bus ride in to the training center, Axe sat in the rear, far away from the others. Peyton, meanwhile, stayed up front, choosing a seat close to the partition that separated them from the butler driver.

Elise’s cousin hadn’t looked back as he’d gotten on the bus. Didn’t look back as they made the trip north.

But he also didn’t get off when they stopped inside the parking area and everybody else went in for class.

“You waiting for me?” Axe said when they were alone.

Now the male turned. “Yes.”

“I don’t need to attack you from behind, you know. I can do that right in your face.”

“I know.” Peyton shifted his legs around and put his elbows on his knees. As he stared straight ahead, his mood was hard to read. “I’m guessing you heard Elise came to see me last night.”

“Oh, she let me know it, all right.”

“I didn’t say anything about you and Novo.”

“Well, good for you. Elise told me how much she hates liars, and considering I’ve never fucked Novo, at least you’re clean on that one.”

“That’s your concern, not mine.”

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