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Crap on a cracker.

He hadn’t meant for us to sleep in the same bed. And now he probably thought I was throwing myself at him because of his new look.

“I didn’t mean sex,” I blurted, immediately making the situation more awkward. I wanted to go stick my head in a toilet and flush. “I mean—ha ha. That came out too blunt. But I just thought you’d meant we’d sleep, you know…like last night. I mean, but with more space. Because of the lock issue. The locks here, not last night—”

His constipated expression dropped away until his eyes were laughing again. His shoulders relaxed. “I knew what you meant, Turdswallop. I just didn’t know you’d be up for it. Or even leaving the door open. But this is better. If anything should happen, we won’t have to waste precious seconds running to each other.”

He’d just wanted to sleep with the door open. Our own beds, with an open door between them. But here I was, trying to take a running leap and dive into his bed. “Oh. The door. Ha ha. Right. That’s cool—”

“Let’s use this room. It’s the vampire room. It’ll have better fortifications.”

“This is the vampire room?” I asked, looking around as he slipped into the bathroom. It was bigger than mine, but not by much, and the setup looked just as luxurious—plush bed, check; fireplace, check; and stylishly decorated dressers, check. “Why is my room adjoined? Is it for a lesser vampire or something?”

I pulled back the duvet on the bed. Down, and delightful. I loved snuggling into a bed, and this setup would absolutely provide.

“Your room is for the blood source.” Emery emerged from the bathroom in a pair of boxer briefs and a white T-shirt. I averted my eyes in case I embarrassed myself further.

“I spoke to my mother.” I climbed into the bed and sighed as I sank into the plush mattress. “Oh, this is good. Vampires sure know how to live.”

“They have a lot of practice.” Emery pushed the door to my room wide open and glanced in. “If they come in on your side, we’ll have more time to hear them.”

“My mother says that as soon as they confront my father’s ward, they’ll know exactly who I am. They’ll know my lineage, that he had been lying when he said I got my mother’s magic and not his, though I have no idea how, and the race will be on.”

“The race is already on.” He hesitated at his side of the bed, looking at the duvet.

“What?” I asked, already making a pillow fort for my head.

A troubled expression crossed his face before he gingerly pulled back the covers and slid into the depths. His sigh matched mine from a moment before.

“Nice, right?” I punched my pillows so they were the optimum level of fluffy.

He grabbed a pillow, and I could see he planned to put them all away so he could sleep as he always slept in the many places he substituted for a real bed.

“No.” I put my hand on his arm to stop the lunacy. “No, you need to remember what a bed should feel like. This no-pillow ballyhoo is doing yourself a disservice. Get out. I’ll deal with this.”


“Get out.” I shoved him with all I had, getting one of his butt cheeks off the mattress. As expected, he got the message. “There is an art to cloudlike sleeping. Just like a spell, there are lots of ingredients.”

“You’ve been making spells your whole life,” Emery said, watching my face. He really should’ve been watching my hands so he could remember how to re-create this setup. Once he tried it, it would change his life, I was certain. “Your organization, your ingredients, your way of doing things…the motions of magic have been expressing themselves, even if your actual magic has not.”

I gave my creation a test lie. “Oh yeah. This is the stuff.” I rolled out and readjusted it before gesturing for him to take my place. “Hurry up, I’m tired.” I shoved him down. His eyes were glued to mine and a little smile played across his lips.

For a guy who hadn’t laughed much in the last few years, he sure seemed to find a lot funny.

“So even though I couldn’t express my real magic, I found ways to express the nature of it.” I tucked him in until the covers were snuggled up to his face and his body was cocooned. “There. What says you?”

His stare still held mine. “It’s hot.”

“Tough. You’ll learn to love it.” I peeled away with a laugh and made my own cocoon. “So anyway, no, the race isn’t on yet. They aren’t actively looking for me or you; they are looking out for you. They aren’t hunting—they are preparing. My mother says that’s a big difference.”

Emery’s head moved against the pillows. “Yes, it is. We don’t have much time, but we do have some. I don’t want to wait for Darius to do recon, but we’ll get a few hours of sleep first. Then we’ll check out the compound. I want to see what spells I’m working against. Clyde was right. I need the record room. Everything I need is sure to be there.”

“And then?”

“And then I’ll make a store of spells, using your increased power to help, and go back and peel that room open like a can of sardines. They have a natural working for them, but she has no imagination. No drive. I don’t need to overpower her spells; I need to outthink them. Given my training over the last three years, that won’t be a problem.”

“Maybe it’s not that she doesn’t have drive or imagination—it’s that she doesn’t want to be there in the first place. Maybe she doesn’t have any other options.”

I heard movement before Emery’s fingers wrapped around my wrist and pulled.

“Don’t disturb the cocoon!” But it was no use—he was sliding me toward him while scooting toward me. We met in the middle and he pulled me to his chest.

“That will not be your life. You will get to choose your own future, do you hear me? I made a promise and I will see it through.” His breath rustled my hair. “Somehow,” he whispered.

I truly hadn’t been thinking of myself. The life of that other natural would never be mine. Could never. I’d lived in someone else’s shadow all my life. My mother had been looking out for me, and I was grateful for her protection, but those days were done. I’d never again be someone’s captive. I was ready to stand in the sun and make my own shadow.

Let the guild come. They’d rue the day they’d tried to rule me.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

“You ready—” Emery cut off as he stood in the doorway to my room.

I buckled my utility belt around my waist, then pulled at the leather vest covering my long-sleeved shirt. My leather pants hugged my legs in claustrophobic ways, but in addition to looking badass, they’d protect me against spells and other nasty things. If the guild only attacked me with half of the artillery I was imagining, I’d be just fine.

“I’m good.” I rolled my shoulders before flicking my braid to my back.

Emery nodded, his gaze intense, before turning away.

He wore similar leather apparel, and I had no idea where Clyde had gotten it on such short notice, but it couldn’t have been easy. The stuff fit like a glove, and Emery’s size and build weren’t exactly common.

“I have a bunch of herbs and stuff in this belt.” I tapped my belt as I sauntered into his room. “And my power stones. One didn’t want to come along for the ride, though.”

He glanced at my belt. “Open the flaps.”

I did as he said, unbuttoning each compartment and pulling the leather away. His eyes moved from one compartment to the other before he pulled away and nodded. “You have different elements—ingredients—than I do. When we’re there, leave those compartments open. I’ll need them. As I go through the various spells, feel them out as best you can. Learn what the different herbs and stones can do. Also, leave those power stones behind for now. Otherwise I’ll rob them of their strength.”

I frowned, bracing my hands over the stones. I thought about taking them out, but a strange vibration crawled across my palms. “Nope, they stay. They don’t want to go.”


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