“Your list,” he said.

Amaranthe waited for him to expound. He did not.

“You think I’m dedicated for being here, an hour before dawn, training with you? Even though I told everyone to take the week off because we’ve been working so much lately?”


Figuring her pride had kept her on her feet a respectable length of time, she sat down on the closest bench.

“You don’t think I should be following my own orders and enjoying a relaxing week? I could be sleeping in or maybe planning for a day at the beach. It is summer, after all, and the weather is finally good. Yet I’m here with you, torturing myself. You don’t think I’m crazy?”

“In general, or for training?”

She scowled suspiciously at him.

A clank drifted up from the sand-covered floor of the arena below. A yawning man in city worker’s overalls shambled out of a maintenance door carrying a lantern. He headed toward the towering machine that controlled the Clank Race, a steam-powered obstacle course with a tangle of climbing walls, swaying nets, rocking platforms, and swinging axes. The contraption occupied half of the arena floor inside the running track, and boxing and wrestling rings took up the other half. The worker patted his pockets, cursed, and walked back inside.

“The athletes will show up soon to start training,” Amaranthe said. As a junior, she had competed in a smaller version of the Imperial Games, and she missed training for something as innocent as medals and honor. “I suppose we should go.”

“Yes.” Sicarius offered a hand.

Surprised, she gazed at it for a couple of seconds before clasping it. He pulled her to her feet gently and held the grip for a moment.

Amaranthe swallowed. A couple of months earlier, he had admitted he cared for her, but he had also said it would be a bad idea for them to act upon such feelings. Outwardly, she had agreed with him; inwardly, she kept hoping he would be overcome by emotion—or she would settle for lust—and tug her into his arms for a passionate kiss. Unfortunately, she could not remember having too many men overcome by lust because of her presence. Perhaps it was because she always wore her hair in a practical bun and donned utilitarian clothing more suitable to mercenary life than an evening out. Anyway, Sicarius wasn’t the type to be overcome by...anything.

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