The Witch With No Name
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No problem, Jenks said as he got over his huff and set the spell on the counter. You guys never look up, and Jrixibell had a pencil lead stashed up there already.
Jenkss wings seemed to slow their hum at the reminder of his youngest daughter, now out on her own and raising a family. Jax, too, had left again after only a few weeks. I intentionally bumped into Trent as we clustered over the scrap of paper, and I relaxed at the scent of cinnamon and wine hiding under Trents aftershave. Jenkss sketch was more precise than Landons, having none of the crossed-off instructions and with the ingredients in order. Even better, it would be harder to link this to me since it was in Jenkss handwriting.
Im not liking the spiderweb, Trent said, frowning as he used one finger to hold the paper from moving from our breath. Its the only thing that doesnt match from what I remember when Bancroft taught it to my mother.
You know it? I exclaimed, following that through to an uncomfortable conclusion. You know how to strip an infants soul from it and paste someone elses on it? Why did you make me go through that? But what disturbed me most was why he knew it at all.
Trent was grinning when he looked up. His expression flashed to panic as he guessed my thoughts. Oh, Rachel, I was ten when I heard it, listening at a door where I shouldnt have been. Im sorry. I didnt even remember it until seeing this. He hesitated, and I frowned when he touched my arm. Really, I didnt. But I dont remember the spiderweb.
My shoulders eased, as much from Trents obvious distress as from Jenkss shrug. Maybe you should skip that part, Jenks suggested as he took it and rolled it into a tube.
Maybe, I said, when Trent ducked his head and winced. Arent spiderwebs supposed to be for protection, though?
Protection through concealment. Trent dropped back to lean against the counter in thought, looking especially yummy when he crossed one ankle over the other. I think its okay. I probably just forgot. His focus shifted to me. I still think giving an undead a soul is a bad idea, but if you dont, Ivy will suffer. Be careful what you wish for, yes?
Because it might come true, I said softly. At this point, I honestly didnt care if they all died out, but having seen the chaos in Cincinnati when the undead had been sleeping was a stiff lesson to swallowor whatever.
I jumped when Trents arm went around me. Well see it through, he said, and Jenks rose up with the charm, presumably to hide it. No matter what it takes. Soon as we get the charm prepped, well go collect Felixs soul. Its probably still lurking about the ley line at Eden Park. We could have this done by the end of the weekend, no problem.
Somehow I didnt think it was going to be that easy. Thank you. I turned into him, head falling to his chest as he wrapped his arms around me and held me, grounding me in a way that no one had for a long time. I felt his certainty, but my doubts lingered even as I soaked him in.
I hadnt wished for Trent in my life, but now that I had him, I was more confused, more heartbroken than Id ever been. Trent was willing to sacrifice everything for me, but I didnt know if I could let him.
Ellasbeths light perfume lifted from Trent in the tight confines of his car. My head hurt, but if it was from that, or Cormels vampires tailing us, or Nina fidgeting in the back, or that I was on my way to Eden Park to capture a masters soul with an elven black charm that Landon had given me, I didnt know.
So much to choose from, I whispered, my grip on the wheel tightening as I glanced at Trent. He was slumped against the window, eyes shut and chest moving slowly in the faint light reflected from the twilight-gloomed sky. My irritation eased, and I stifled the urge to rearrange his hair. He looked charmingly vulnerable when he slept, and because of his nature, I often caught him catching a few winks around noon and midnight. It made me feel loved every time.
The scent of angry vampire was growing stronger, and I opened a vent. Behind us, Cormels thugs accelerated to close the gap as we neared the interstates off-ramp. The window would have been better, but that wouldve woken up Trent for sure.
I shouldnt have left Ivy, the nervous woman said, expression tight as she looked out the window. The car following us was almost on my bumper, and I flicked on my turn signal way ahead of time hoping theyd back off a little. Cormel knew where we were going, and I thought the escort was a bit much.
They might try to kidnap her, Nina said, her motion vampire fast as she fiddled with her hair, pulling the heavy wash of rich black out of its thick clip and redoing it. He said he wouldnt kill her. He never said he wouldnt kidnap her.
Grimacing, I took the curve off the interstate, pumping my brakes to get the vampires behind me to friggin back off. Trent took a deep breath as I slowed for a stoplight, blinking himself awake. His flash of confusion vanished as he sat up, looking entirely accessible in his rumpled, relaxed state.
Kalamacks security has too many holes, Nina muttered, and Trents smile vanished.
I didnt mean to fall asleep, he said as he looked out at the shadowed Cincinnati riverfront and placed himself.
I like it when you do. Eyes forward, I eased into motion when the light changed.
Trents hand landed on my leg with a contented pop. I let go of the wheel to take it, giving his fingers a squeeze even as I kept them right where hed put them. My pulse quickened, but it wasnt from his touch. The distance that hed always kept between us had graduallyalmost shylydissolved over the last three months, evolving into a surprisingly tactile nature. Casual touches and meaningful looks had become as natural as breathing. But it was different now because I wanted it to last forever.
And burn my cookies if I didnt think he sensed the change when he cocked his head and leaned across the space between us, whispering, What?
The thought was still painfully new, and I shook my head, flustered. Nothing.
His eyebrows high in question, he glanced at Nina as if she might be to blame for my mood, and I shook my head, staring straight out the front window as we wound through Eden Parks outer drive. I wished things were different, that my life was easier. But then I might never have had the chanceto see Trent slumped against his car door, smiling as he opened his eyes and found me watching him. Good with the bad, I thought, hoping they would equal out in the end.
Leaving her alone was a bad idea, Nina said again, stewing as she filled the car with the scent of unhappy vampire.
Shes not alone, I muttered, thinking that between Quens security and Cormels promise, she ought to be safe. My mood lifted when we passed the town houses and then where Id left my car yesterday and I saw it waiting. It hadnt been towed, but it wasnt as if we could stop and get it. Frustrated, I cracked my window, neck tingling as the draft pushed everything to the front. Ivy is fine, I grumped, glad when Trent opened his window as well and the cloud of pheromones finally found a way out. And if Ivy wasnt fine, I was going to spend tomorrow polishing my stakes and amulets.
I had to believe that Ivy was okayat least until midnightand I didnt mind at all that Nina wasnt with her, the edgy vampire coming with us to be the bait in the Felix-soul trap. I had a lingering concern that Nina was out for what was important to Nina, not Ivy. That she loved Ivy wasnt in question. What shed do to keep her was.
Trent sat up as we wound up the long drive to the overlook and the limited parking. Head down over his phone as he texted, he said, Not very subtle, is he?
My gaze flicked to the rearview mirror and the big black car. There were at least five heads in there, maybe more. Ninas slow growl made me more nervous than the car did.
Where does he get off interfering like this? the woman said, clearly feeling threatened.
I met Trents eyes in concern, thinking the woman was a dangerous roller coaster of emotions without Felixs finger in her thoughts, all the power and expectations hed left in her out of control and beyond her emotional limits. Trents slight twist to his lips said he agreed with my unspoken desire to get out of the car, and I took the first parking spot I could find. There were a few people up here walking their dogs, feeding the ducks, or just enjoying the first shadows spilling over the Hollows. Wed have to take the footbridge to get to the ley line, just on the other side of the tiny twin ponds. The memory of being here almost exactly twenty-four hours agofighting for Ivys lifeflitted through me.
They promised midnight! Nina fumed, head almost touching the ceiling. If theyre following us now, what makes you think Ivy is even safe?
Nina, shut up! I shouted, and her eyes flashed black.
Trent smiled at my frustration, and I hit the brakes hard. His head swung and he reached for the dash, but his amusement was undimmed as Nina bolted from the vehicle, her heels snapping sharply on the pavement as she strode to the car following us.
What are you doing? she demanded, hands on her h*ps as she stopped them right in the middle of the road, her knees almost touching the front bumper.
Ivy is fine, Trent said, but I wasnt convinced. Shall we set up? Weve got a few minutes until Jenks and Bis get here.
Trent turned to Nina, standing in the headlights, her silhouette obvious and shapely as she reamed them out. Is that Felix or Nina?
Nina. It would have been easier if it had been Felix, but Id swear that Felix hadnt taken her over. Nina was beginning to show the power Felix had taught her. It made her dangerous, more unreliable. But we had no choice.
Sighing, I dropped the keys into my shoulder bag as I got out. Trent moved a little slower, his motions gracefully methodical as he collected the briefcase that held the equipment to capture Felixs soul. My stomach was knotting as I stood between the car and the open door, breathing in the new night as Cormels vampires got back in their car, tires smoking as they backed up to the farthermost reaches of the long, narrow parking lot. They werent leaving, but at least we had some space.
Nina didnt move, remaining in the middle of the street in her business skirt and collapsing hairstyle. I could tell by her bowed head and shaking hands that she was trying to bring herself back down without the help of Felixs steadying hand. This was why master vampires seldom dropped into the living, and never to the extent that Felix had over the past few months. The reminder of what theyd lost tore at the dead. The connection unbalanced the living, forcing them to deal with emotions they had no practice in handling. The longer it went on, the more addictive and dangerous the experience was. Ivy had promised to keep Nina alive, a thin hope that was likely to fail and cement in Ivys mind anew that she deserved nothing good in her life.
Pity sifted through me as Ninas hands slowly unfisted. How many times have I seen Ivy do that? I wondered when Nina looked at the sky and closed her eyes as if in prayerjust like Ivy coming back from the edge of control.
The goons at the end of the parking lot had gotten out, shouting at everyone that the park was closed and to leave, but I think it was Nina shaking silently in the middle of the street that made the most impact. No one wants to be around when a vampire loses it. Sure, theres compensation and apologies, but that doesnt go very far if you get bitten. A vamp scar is forever, fading in time but able to flair into full potency if properly triggered.
Trent slammed his door, and I yanked my hand from my neck, not even realizing Id covered it. My head jerked up when Bis flew overhead, wings flashing as he awkwardly slid to a halt on one of the shadowed picnic tables. His eyes glowed red as they found me, and the cat-size gargoyle resettled his leathery wings. His skin had gone entirely black in embarrassment for the ungraceful landing, and the white tuft of fur on the tip of his lionlike tail stood out like a beacon as it flicked nervously.
Pleased, I ambled over, smiling as his skin returned to its usual pebbly gray. If Bis was here, Jenks wasnt far behind.
Nice of you to wait for me, snot breath, Jenks snarled, clearly out of breath as he dropped heavily down onto my shoulder in a wash of silver dust.
Bis shrugged, touching his wing tips together over his head and flushing again.
I see we got a posse, Jenks added, tugging on my ear as he settled himself. Bis, Im more tired than a pixy on his wedding night. You check around. See if we got vampires hiding under that lame bridge.
Grinning to show his black teeth, Bis took to the air. I pulled the hair out of my face and looked to see Nina and Trent, the woman nodding at his soft question. There was a whiff of honey and pollen as Jenks replenished his energy, the scent mixing with the more earthy smell of ducks and the nearby barrel of garbage. Hed probably tried to impress Bis by flying the entire way instead of hitching rides.
The vampires had begun throwing stones at Bis. I took a breath to yell at them, only to snicker when Bis caught one and threw it right back, making them scatter and swear.