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I could. I was soaking wet. I removed my cardigan, about to dab down my shirt a bit, before realizing how… ahem… clingy my t-shirt had become. I quickly replaced my cardigan and handed the towel back to him.

“I’ll, uh, sort myself out downstairs.”

“Okay,” he said. “I can manage things from here, I think.” He nodded toward the door.

“Okay. If you need anything, just call for Tom. I’ll be back soon.” I cast him one last sheepish grin before exiting the bathroom.

As I hurried down to the ladies’ room, I reached up to touch my cheeks. They felt on fire. I could only imagine how close their shade was to a tomato’s.

Grace

I ended up hurrying back home to change, realizing the stupidity of thinking I could change in the ladies’ room. I would have nothing to change into down there. While I was in my apartment, I also packed up some clothes in a suitcase for the journey. Not just for myself, but also for Josh. I ended up rummaging through my father’s wardrobe, since I figured that they were roughly the same size, and I knew my father wouldn’t mind.

If we were going to be staying at a hotel, Josh needed to look presentable. He shouldn’t be rolling around in hospital pajamas. Looking through my father’s collection of clothing, I wondered what would suit Josh. I ended up picking mostly plain, safe, and easy clothes—jeans, T-shirts, as well as a number of sweaters and two coats. But as I spotted one of my father’s tuxedos, I decided to pack that, too. If we would be staying in a hotel, there might be an occasion to wear it. I also was sure to bring my notebook, of course, along with my toothbrush and a few other travel items.

By the time I’d finished packing, ironically I realized that I’d gathered way more clothes for Josh than I had for myself. But that was okay. I doubted I would run out of clothes.

Then I stopped by my grandmother and aunts’ treehouse. I’d wanted to tell them where I was going and say goodbye, but they weren’t home, so instead I left a note before returning to Meadow Hospital. When I arrived at Josh’s room, Shayla was already in there with him. He just couldn’t help but crack another grin at me as I entered, and despite myself, my cheeks flushed yet again. Ugh.

Shayla looked from me to him, a smile forming on her lips. “All right?” she said. She was standing by her own suitcase, planted at the end of Josh’s bed.

“Yeah,” I said.

It seemed that she had already brought more suitable clothes for Josh—at least for traveling there. He was wearing black pants and a thick puffer coat with woolen gloves. His hair was dry already… and still, he looked too pale.

“Do you think we should try to give Josh something to eat before we go?” I asked Shayla.

“Already tried,” she said. “We can try again this evening.”

The three of us exchanged glances. “So are we completely ready to leave?” I asked.

“I am, if you two are,” Shayla replied.

I moved to Shayla with my suitcase while she seated Josh in his wheelchair. Then she caught my wrist while placing a hand on Josh’s shoulder, and the hospital room surrounding us disappeared.

London—or at least Central London—was one of the few places in the world that had managed to remain unscathed by supernaturals. This was thanks to the wealth of the city, and the extremely high security measures the IBSI had put in place at its borders.

As Shayla, Josh and I hit solid ground, we found ourselves standing in a narrow street, enclosed by high brick walls. The temperature was icy, and it was raining buckets. Shayla quickly led us to the end of the street, where we emerged into a broad avenue, lined with old-fashioned brick buildings. She pointed to one of them on the opposite side of the road—a tall, swanky-looking hotel with an exterior of white brick. I realized that this would actually be the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel before—at least within my memory.

I gripped the handles of Josh’s wheelchair and we crossed the road—not without getting splashed by a double-decker bus zooming past. Arriving at the bottom of the steps leading up to the hotel, I was about to suggest that Shayla magic Josh’s chair to the top when she pointed to a winding ramp. “My magic needs to go into hibernation for now,” she said beneath her breath. “Remember, we don’t want to attract unnecessary attention.”

Pushing Josh up the ramp and entering the revolving doors, we emerged in a posh, circular lobby. Before approaching the reception desk, Shayla pulled out three US passports.

“You are Jane Simpkins,” Shayla informed me, “and you, Josh, are Joshua Madison. I am Beatrice Dare… In case anyone asks, we are Josh’s caregivers, and have brought him to London on a sightseeing trip—not that it’s anybody’s business what we’re doing here.”

We moved to the desk, where Shayla asked if they were any rooms available—a single room and a double twin room, to be exact. The receptionist confirmed that there were. Shayla planted the IDs on the desk and requested a booking of two nights. My jaw dropped at the price, but Shayla barely batted an eyelid. She pulled out a wad of notes and handed them over to the receptionist. She really had come prepared, even with the right currency.

One of the hotel staff led us to an elevator. He took us to the fifth floor before leading us to two rooms, numbers fifty-four and fifty-six, side by side.

Shayla dismissed the man and watched him leave down the corridor before turning to us.

“Well,” she said, eyeing me. “Where would you like to sleep, Grace? The twin bedroom, of course, is for Josh and one of us, so that we can keep an eye on him. I don’t mind either way.”

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