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Emery finally draped the protection spell over Darius. “All good.”

The vampire nodded and looked around at the well-dressed and hard-faced crew. Penny started and glanced down at her utility belt. She tugged out her phone and her face crumpled. Darius’s phone chimed a moment later.

He took it out and flicked the screen. “Yes?” His eyes darted to Penny.

Emery’s heart sank when he saw the look in her eyes. “They know who I am. They want me in their control.”

“They’ll be passing this up the chain of command,” Darius said, lowering his phone. “They’ll organize and actively pursue her. Let’s get this done and get her out of town.”

“I’m staying with Emery,” Penny said defiantly. Her eyes flashed fire. “Wherever he goes, I go. My life is tied with his.”

Emery’s heart ached. He wished that could be true. Wished his life was what it had once been. But there was no point in telling her that her naive, misguided feelings for him were just a result of the danger bringing them together. She wouldn’t believe him. Hell, he didn’t believe him. But he couldn’t let her give him something she couldn’t give to anyone else, not when he knew he’d have to walk away from her—for her own good.

“They’ll be in early today. Someone might even be on their way here now.” Emery stalked forward. “Let’s get this done. Are you sure this spell will keep us protected within the compound for an extended period of time?”

“The longest tested is twelve hours.” Darius glanced at a female vampire on his left. She nodded and took off, running at an inhuman speed. “That will be more than enough time for us to figure out if we have a shot—or if we need to reconvene and come up with different spells.”

“We don’t need different spells. I have what I need.” Emery watched the woman reach the guard station, rip the door open, and duck inside. He’d worked out the counter-spell in the hotel room after Penny had fallen asleep. She’d offered to help, but needed the rest. He was used to doing without.

The vamp stepped out of the station, glanced their way, and continued on, running into the compound.

Emery started to jog. Penny easily met his pace, unbelievably fast and agile. The vampires sped up, too, though they still looked like they were out for a Sunday stroll.

Passing the guard station, Penny gasped. “Did she kill them?”

A vampire peeled off from the group. A glance back said he was hiding the bodies.

“Yes.” Darius didn’t spare the scene a glance. “The guild is a cesspit of corruption. Judgment is on their doorstep.”

“Good grief, you don’t pull any punches, do you?” she muttered, flinching when they passed through the ward. “What were you doing in that church in New Orleans, anyway? I didn’t see you. Where were you?”

“I was tied up in the back.” His voice held a roughness that made Emery glance his way. There was a story behind that statement.

Penny must’ve also picked up on it. “Doing what?”

“Fighting magical werewolves. Why do you keep looking up?”

“Dizzy said one of those werewolves got loose.”

“So I heard. What is so interesting about the sky?”

Penny looked down at her feet as they jogged through a spacious area between the buildings. They passed a small shack with a large, steaming cup of coffee painted on the front. The windows were all dark and a padlock secured the doors.

“Do you feel the larger ward from before?” Emery asked, jogging by her side. “The one connected with the ground?”

A man in an orange robe lay facedown on the grass. Darius’s female vampire helper was fast and brutal, not to mention excellent at her task. Clearly she’d had a lot of practice.

The vampire on body duty peeled off to take care of it.

“Not like before,” Penny said. “It’s there, but it isn’t pressing. It isn’t watching.”

“What is this we are speaking of?” Darius asked.

Emery quickly filled him in as they all turned, heading to the back corner of the compound. Another two bodies lay off to the side, one with the head facing the wrong way. Another vampire darted out to help the first remove the bodies.

“Throwing up is probably bad form, right?” Penny’s eyes widened at the sight of the body. She wiped her face, not getting an answer.

“I want to know what spell they are using for that ward,” Emery said. “It is enormous if it covers the whole compound like a dome, and extremely effective.”

Turning another corner, they found the ruthless female vampire standing in the path, her hip cocked and face placid. Darius slowed as they reached her.

“They have a small crew guarding the destination while two high-tier mages set up what looks like a spell,” she said. “Two Sheriffs, the high-tier mages, and three middle-tiered mages as backup. Their eyes are alert and hands full.”

Darius turned to Emery, the question silent: What’s the best course of action?

Either that, or Can you give us enough magical cover to defeat them?

He wasn’t great at reading “vampire.”

Emery thought for a moment. “This place isn’t on high alert, so they either don’t know it’s me, or they’re overconfident in their abilities. Putting up another couple of spells is just a precaution, probably an attempt to derail any trespassers until they can meet with the Regionals and figure out if they need to overhaul the spells.”

“Will you be derailed?” Darius asked.

“No.” Emery took Penny’s hand. “Especially not when working with Penny. Let me go first. I can distract them with a couple of spells. Then unleash the vampires.”

Darius nodded and shifted, opening the way for Emery to pass.

“Love the new look.” The female vampire gave him a feral grin, her eyes sparkling with lust. “It suits you.”

“Good gracious,” Penny muttered, staring at the woman. “There would be worse ways to go than with her hanging off your neck.”

He stifled a bark of laughter. “Her kind aren’t my type.”

“Well, no, not if you want to keep your life, but still.”

They paused at the corner. “Dig out that rock, Turdswallop,” he whispered, then couldn’t help but grin when she narrowed her eyes at the name. She was so easy to tease. He loved it. “Do you remember any attack spells from the lists earlier?”

“I remember all of them. For some reason, when it comes to magic, I have a photographic memory.”

He’d said it before, but he’d say it again. “How much easier would life be if I had your brain?” He took a breath, readying for the charge. “Hit them with everything you’ve got. I’ll take the ones on the right. You take the ones on the left. Keep them busy so the vampires can do the dirty work.”

“What if I kill them?”

“Then you can pretend it was the vampires, and your conscience will be clear.”

“Good call. Yes, I’ll go with that. Because I think those spells are going to be nasty.”

Emery agreed. He wanted the book from which Darius had gotten them.

“Here we go.” He sprinted around the corner. She was at his side a second later.

They ran straight down the path, through the middle of the circular benches. The group at the front of the records building tensed. They all started talking together, their hands out and up, ready to loose their spells. The high-tiered mages in purple straightened from where they’d been crouched and then turned, their hands going to their satchels, full of raw ingredients.

Why they didn’t use casings with spells for quick release, Emery didn’t know. Arrogance, probably. That would cost them their lives.

Magic rose from Emery’s belt. Penny was already weaving, fast, efficient, and perfect, like she’d been doing it all her life. He finished his own weave a moment later, still charging toward the clustered group of mages.

“It’s the natural and the girl,” someone shouted.

Their movements grew more harried, their fear evident.

Penny’s weave darted out in front of her. His loosed a moment later. Invisible knives slashed at the two mages in front of Emery, lines of red opening up on their robes. The people on Penny’s side shrieked and grabbed at their heads. Their screams turned piercing as they writhed in agony.

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