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He blinked a couple times, and a small smile ghosted across his lips. He shook his head and pulled me closer. “You’re…dangerous, Penny Bristol.”

“Takes one to know one, am I right? Now let’s get this last spell done. I need food and I’m going to order the whole menu. Clyde owes us, the secret-keeping jerk. We could’ve been killed.”

“He did warn us subtly. It’s just too bad I don’t do subtlety that well.”

“You and me both.”

I turned in his arms, keeping my body flush with his, and thought about the spell and the necessary steps and the vibrating power stone in my belt that was begging to help with this. It was getting bored, and I was holding it up.

“The red beryl is a little pushy,” I muttered, dragging it out as Emery held up the sheet of paper in front of us.

“God, you’re weird.”

“Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, or I’ll tell my mother.”

“Please don’t.” I could hear the smile in his voice and see the sudden lift of magic in the air.

Twenty minutes later, I was sweating and shaking. A complex weave draped in front of Emery and me, intricate and intense. I added to it from one side, and Emery added from the other. We melded them into one in various places, keeping them apart in others. When the shadows crawling across the floor blended into the darkness, we finally forced the spell into two separate capsules, since one would never hold all of that power.

I sagged into Emery. “I hope you are getting paid a lot of money for this.”

“That is on—”

“Ah!” I sprayed out a series of red bursts of magic toward the deep and velvety voice in the corner of the warehouse.

The shape of a man moved forward so fast it blurred, my surprise zaps narrowly missing him.

A sheet of magic dropped down in front of us, a retaining wall of sorts, meant to keep us at bay. Working together, Emery and I counteracted it easily, ripping through it. A well of power rose between us, ready for us to form it.

“Calm yourselves,” the man said, standing in front of the door of the warehouse with his hands up. One hand flicked, and bright light showered down on us.

I jerked back and blinked. Fire licked up my middle at the surprise.

“No, no, no, no.” Emery snatched my hands and held them low. “That’s Darius. Don’t release that survival magic. You need to work on controlling it.”

My heart battered my ribs. Calming, I resumed my sag. “Well, they need to work on announcing their presence, the sneaky buggers.”

“Miss Bristol, I am happy to make your acquaintance.” Darius swaggered toward us, confidence and arrogance plain in his movements. With close-cropped black hair and hazel eyes, he was every bit as much of a heartthrob as the other vampire. And he probably turned every bit as ugly when he got riled up. A perfectly tailored suit outlined his powerful body, but despite his size and strength, he moved with the lithe grace of a dancer.

He was more lethal than Clyde—I could see it in his movements and the intelligent cunning of his eyes.

A shiver rolled through my body, and I desperately shoved down my welling magic, which was eager to strike out at something so obviously dangerous as this vampire.

“Hi,” I said evenly. “How long were you creeping around in that corner?

“Just the last five minutes or so. I didn’t want to break your concentration.” Darius switched his gaze to Emery. “Mr. Westbrook. So good to see you again. I hear you’re in town on business?”

“Yes,” Emery replied.

“Fantastic. I’m glad you could stop in and visit us.” Darius made his way to the table, pausing to glance at the two round rubber casings on the ground that contained the beast of a spell. When he reached the table, he bent to survey the other spells we’d completed. “I see two distinct groups.”

“Penny did the ones on the right. They’ll be just as strong as mine, but more”—Emery scratched his nose—“more effective, I think. She adds something to her spells that speaks more closely to nature. It…fuses her spells with their surroundings, somehow. I haven’t figured out how to duplicate it.”

“Just tune in to the world around you.” I shrugged. “That middle-tiered mage in the guild did it. There’s no reason you can’t.”

“Penny hasn’t been trained in the traditional ways,” Emery told Darius. “It shows. In a good way. Those spells are powerful.”

“I have no doubt.” Darius turned to survey me, his eyes holding the experience of a few lifetimes. “I have heard a lot about you, Miss Bristol. We have…friends in common.”

“Clyde is calling himself my friend after last night? That’s forgiveness for you. I might like him a little better for it.”

Darius clasped his hands behind his back. “Mr. Regent has a grudging respect for you, though I don’t think he’s eager to be in your company.”

“Ah. Yes, that sounds a bit more like it.” I pulled up some concrete and had a seat. I was tired.

“No, I was referring to Reagan Somerset and Callie and Desmond Banks. You and I were in that church together in Louisiana. Sadly, I didn’t get the opportunity to meet you. I was otherwise engaged.”

Emery’s eyes widened and he shifted, looking down at me.

“I have a special relationship with Reagan…and the Bankses,” Darius said, also looking down at me. “It seems you do, too. The Bankses wish to train you, is that correct?”

“Yes. And I was going to agree, but something came up.”

“The guild, yes. You’re a natural. It seems everyone agrees. So. What’s next, Miss Bristol? Mr. Westbrook? How can I help?”

Emery put a hand in his pocket. “Easy. You can help us break into the records room in the guild.”

Chapter Thirty-Four

The long game.

Penny’s mom had said it, and the vampires lived by it. Emery needed to get on board. He couldn’t just live for the moment anymore. He had to think ahead.

Just after midnight, Emery stood with the rest of their thrown-together team, nestled in a patch of trees near the guild entrance. The area was completely covered by cameras. Fencing stretched away on both sides, leaving a space for entering and exiting cars, separated by a guard station in the middle. To the casual, non-magical observer, it would seem like any large business, not horribly worried about someone sneaking over the fence, but concerned with security all the same.

To the magical eye, however, the place looked like Fort Knox, with a couple of different spells protecting the entrance, and the ward and various other spells stretching out to the sides. It was set up to keep people out, and as he and Penny had discovered earlier, there was an even better setup to keep guests from overstaying their welcome.

“Here we are.” Darius, smooth and self-assured as only an elder vampire could be, squeezed a casing. The magic wafted out and draped around Penny, shimmering as it settled onto her skin.

Emery pulled the elements needed and re-created the spell easily, protecting himself. It was a badge, of sorts, and it would apparently get them into the front entrance.

“How did you get that spell?” Emery asked, draping the spell over the half-dozen mid-level vampires standing around them. Darius had called in a crew to help.

Emery was either aligning himself with a powerful ally or a formidable enemy. He hoped their relationship didn’t go sour.

At least he was in the same boat as Penny, who had already unknowingly aligned herself with Darius. That had come as a shock. But Emery was happy to know she had a powerful dual-mage team interested in training her. He’d looked them up in the hours before this heist kicked off, in the time they’d been allotted for rest. The pair was powerful and influential in New Orleans. They had no interest in the guild. And since Darius wanted to keep Penny under his wing, she would be protected and well looked after—better than Emery could manage, at any rate. Darius had extremely deep pockets—he could move Penny and her mother anywhere in the world without a problem. He’d keep her safe from the guild.

“Mr. Regent tortured it out of a guild member who had affected his business,” Darius said. “It is useful information.”

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