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“Mother…” I gritted my teeth. I couldn’t very well tell her not to shoot people out of the window. What other option did we have? But I really wanted to, because people her age shouldn’t be in car chases and shootouts. It just wasn’t normal.

Then again, what in my life was?

“Here—turn right here, Penny!” She stuck her hand up between the seats and jabbed a finger.

“It would be faster if I took the next block,” I said.

“Listen to you mother. Turn here.”

My tires screamed around the next turn. Trees flashed by. Someone honked.

Emery’s gaze beat into the side of my head. I made the next turn, his steady focus starting to distract me.

“What?” I asked.

“I’m trying to think of a way to use your power. If we merged our survival magic, we might be able to…do something.”

“That kind of merge is only possible if you become dual-mages.” My mother rolled down the window. “And there is no way I am letting my daughter tie herself to a scruffy derelict with no future plans and no income. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a lovely boy, just as long as you marry someone else’s daughter. No offense. Penny, in two miles, you can start to slow down.”

Emery frowned back at her. “A little late on the no offense,” he muttered.

“Okay, Mother, please don’t… I don’t know. Just don’t…” I couldn’t think of a good warning that would in any way matter.

“That’s the thing with advanced mages,” my mother roared over the rushing wind whipping our hair. “They think with their magic or their genitalia, not with reality. Guns trump magic every time.”

I could see her struggling with the gun in the rearview mirror. She moved it around her bust before shifting. I let off the gas and swerved a little, hopefully giving our pursuers the impression I was afraid of taking the slightly windy road at high speed. The black car shot forward, pulling up beside me in a moment.

I felt a pump of power and intent. Mine.

“A spell is coming,” I yelled back at my mother. “Hurry.”

“Are they trying to kill or capture?” Emery asked over the cacophony of air and cars.

“I’d bet capture. They want us.”

“That’s someone higher up. Kill them if you can.”

“I don’t have the right gun for that.” My mom pumped the gun and pushed it out of the window. The black car swerved, the reaction of the surprised driver. He didn’t get a chance to slow down before the boom of the gun discharging.

I winced at the shock of the noise. A tire popped and the remaining tires squealed. The car careened and the front corner of the bumper knocked my rear fender.

My back end tried to fishtail. I cranked the wheel and let off the gas, eyeing the approaching curve of the road. The tires caught as the other car broke free and kept turning, the front wheel ruined. Sparks flew up from metal on road. The car hit a small dirt berm, jumped up, and rammed into a tree.

I ripped my eyes back to the road, coaxing my car straight in time to safely make the curve.

“I wish I could take these things off,” my mother said, I assumed about her breasts, as she wrestled the gun around her bust again. It wouldn’t be the first time she made a comment like that. She bent the gun and pulled out an empty shotgun shell from one of the two barrels. “Ow! Dang it. That was hot.” She threaded another shell into its slot.

I ripped my eyes back to the road a second time.

“Two months ago, I was wondering if there was something else out there. Now I’m hoping there isn’t.” I took a deep breath.

“We don’t get to choose what we’re given, but we do get to choose what we make of it,” my mother said, clicking the gun back into place and looking behind her.

“You got to choose what I was given. Bad choice.” I wiped the back of my forearm against my wet forehead. “Very bad choice. Daddy should’ve made you use your crystal ball.”

“I did. If you had learned your trade since childhood, you would’ve easily broken through all the wards set up around the house, gotten into the secret room, and rooted through your daddy’s books. Then you would’ve created havoc, since you have a gift for creating havoc, and everyone would’ve known what you were before you hit eighteen. It has been a month since you started researching this side of your life. And look where we are.” My mother leaned forward, pushing at my seat. “One month.” She leaned back. “At least now you’re old enough to run over people. Think about your ability for defense at ten. Or twelve.”

“I hate to agree with her, since she doesn’t need any help dominating an argument, but I have to,” Emery said quietly. “Yours was a precarious situation. My brother and I were trained. We were guided along a certain path. The second we veered from that path, we were targeted. Look at my life now. You’re better off, Penny Bristol, trust me.”

“There you go. Do you see?” My mother patted Emery on the shoulder. “This is why I told you to stay away from my daughter.”

A laugh rode a surprised breath, and Emery turned to glance behind him. When he turned back to me, a full smile took up his face, and all the planes and angles softened. Sometimes his high, sharp cheekbones and narrow nose looked almost too severe to be handsome, but now, with that boyish smile and the delighted sparkle in his eyes, he was breathtaking.

“She is a trip,” he said, shifting in his seat to get comfortable.

That was putting it mildly.

“Did the cards say you were supposed to come with us?” I asked my mother, still out of breath. I took my foot off the gas, slowing way down. The last thing I needed was to get pulled over by the cops after hitting someone with my car—for the second time—especially since my mother, who still wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, had a loaded shotgun across her lap.

“No. They said we needed to split ways, but they didn’t say when. You didn’t really think I was going to stay in that house with the guild’s higher-ups roaming around, did you?” My mother shook her head. “Madness. You’d better wise up if you hope to stay alive, Penny.”

“Okay, but…why did we take my car, then?” I asked, looking at her in the rearview mirror. “Yours is bigger. Not to mention nicer. And it goes faster.”

She huffed. “It also costs more to fix.”

Emery glanced over at me with a grin before looking out the window. “I have a place we can stay in Seattle. It’s small. It’ll be tight quarters, but we should be okay for a few days.”

“Count me out.” My mother put the shotgun at her feet. “Drop me off at Merna’s house. I’ll stay with her until things cool off.”

My stomach clenched with anxiety. Parting with my mother would ease my stress in a million ways. But I couldn’t deny her value. She was cunning enough to keep an enormous secret from me for my whole life. Loyal to a fault, handy in a tight spot, and totally fine with shooting people. All those qualities would undoubtedly be useful in the days, weeks, or months to come.

Then again…she was my mother. What a trial it would be to live in a tight space with her.

When we all stepped out of the car in front of Merna’s house, my mother slapped her hands onto Emery’s shoulders and gave him a hard stare. “She is my everything. I do not want to let her go with you alone, but I have no choice. This is the most logical place for us to split.”

His brow furrowed. “I’m not getting a warning. This parting is not a dangerous thing.”

The movement was slight, but it was there. The tiny sag of her spine. The increased lines around her eyes. Her jaw tightened, and she nodded. “Please bring her back to me.”

“I will, ma’am.”

She patted his shoulder. “And clean yourself up. You’re a mess.”

I got a tight hug, another tight hug, and then she batted her tear away. “Penelope, you are as easygoing as your father, which can be a wonderful thing. But not when you are defending yourself. In those times, you need to be more like me. You need to go at the enemy with everything you have. Fight with tooth and nail. Have no fear of tearing down the world around you so that you can get away. Do you understand me?”

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