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“Hopefully. Point out the house that is behind yours.”

A couple of minutes later, after checking to make sure the coast was clear, we crossed to the side of the house behind mine and let ourselves through the gate of the fence. A small dog rushed forward, able to sense us even though we were covered by the invisibility spell. It stopped ten feet away, not at all pleased.

I draped a sound-deadening spell over it.

“All those spells in your head, and you use the one I stole from my brother.” He clucked his tongue. “Shoddy.”

The teasing lightened the heaviness on my limbs, but didn’t relieve the shaking. I didn’t know if I could duplicate everything I’d done last night. Half the things I did were spur of the moment. What if nothing came to me this time around? What if I let Emery down? Lives would be lost. The people I loved would be hurt.

“Easy does it, Turdswallop,” Emery whispered as we slowed by the back fence on the other side of my yard. “This is the worst part. It’s understandable that you’re anxious.”

I gulped and nodded as he stepped up onto the bottom board running parallel, clung to the top one, and slowly lifted his head over. He dropped back down quickly, before pushing back up a moment later. Then farther up still. The spell clearly worked, and also, there was someone in my backyard.

He lowered back down as I palmed my chest. This slow approach might kill me.

“Three of them in the backyard. They have a table of casings.” His brow furrowed and he looked down. “I really wish I’d called in my favor for this instead of when I first got here.”

“What?” I asked.

He shook his head and looked into the yard. “I can…” Streams of magic spewed from our belts, then all around us. “I can create a type of tornado. It’ll be powerful. It should scatter their casings.” He paused. “Hopefully.”

“They can’t see us.” I hopped from one foot to the other. My breath came in pants. “Let’s just sneak up, zap them, take their stuff, and bust into my house.” I swatted my braid from over my shoulder. “Let’s do it fast.”

His spell ground to a halt and a smile graced his face. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Because you are the world’s worst planner, obviously. Come on.”

His body shook with chuckles, and he bent with his fingers entwined and palms up, ready to give me a boost.

“I’m good,” I said, gesturing to the fence beside me.

“You’ll probably slip and scrape your face. Take a hand.” He shook his hands at me.

“You better not start on the overbearing train. I’ve got one mother. I don’t need two.”

Despite my talk, I took the boost, not wanting to admit he was probably right. It had happened a few times before.

I climbed up to the top and threw a leg over. When he was in the same position, I nodded and threw the other leg over after it. He dropped down right beside me.

A mage in a purple robe drew her penciled-on eyebrows together and looked right at me. Her gaze slid away and she eyed the top of the fence.

“It seems suspicious that she hasn’t called,” an orange-robed mage said from beside her. “She and that other natural are planning something, mark my words. And do you know which way they’ll come through? The back.”

The female mage shifted her weight and rolled the casings between her fingertips, one in each hand. “Which is why we’re here. The Baron doesn’t think they’ll be here until dark. They hit the guild last night really late with a bunch of vampires. Seems likely the vampires helped them, at any rate. They think she’ll do the same thing tonight. The Baron is bringing in more people.”

“I heard the Chancellor’s anxious to capture them. He wants all that power at his disposal.”

“It depends on how much the girl cares about her friend. She doesn’t have a smart phone—”

My foot crunched in the grass. I froze. Streams of magic drew up from around us, and Emery’s energy wobbled. He was planning something nasty.

“What?” the male mage said, bracing.

“Nothing. Thought I heard something.” The woman scanned the backyard, not seeing us even though we were fifteen feet away. Thank God most mages couldn’t see magic. “The Baron was going to cut off the friend’s finger and send the video, but the girl has one of those old-school flip phones. She can’t get video.”

“Oh, so that’s why they can’t find her. She can’t access Facebook or apps or anything.”

“Yeah, she can’t check in anywhere. They’re still planning to do it when the reinforcements arrive. They’ll just record the whole thing on her answering machine. Should be any time.”

My fear for Veronica turned to rage. The energy brewing between Emery and I changed again, pulsing and swirling, ready for action.

Emery let loose his spell. I ran forward, my own spell surging up and out. Two blasts of magic hit the mages, our spells combining at the last moment and piercing their chests. I was grabbing bland beige casings off the table before their bodies hit the ground, stuffing the spells wherever they would fit.

Thank you, Darius, for insisting on the color coding.

Emery plucked at my sleeve, running for the back door of my house. I sprinted ahead and got there first, throwing my shoulder into it with everything I had. I smashed into the door…and bounced off. I staggered, and my butt hit the ground as Emery barreled into it next. Wood splintered and a crack resounded through the door. Emery crashed through.

“I need to start working out,” I muttered, grabbing his proffered hand and following him inside. “We have to hurry. We can’t let them cut off her finger.” I sprinted to the front of the house as my phone buzzed.

Dread choked me as I dug it out, worried I was too late.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

A call from my mother.

I let out a shaky sigh as Emery looked out the front window and swore.

“Where are you?” my mother demanded as soon as I said hello.

“We’re in the house. We just got in.”

“Okay. Get ready. I’ll meet you there.”

“No. Wait! Mother—” But the line went dead.

“What?” Emery asked, stepping away from the window.

“She said she’s going to meet us here.”

Shouting filtered in from the way we’d come. The crash must’ve brought someone around. But it didn’t matter. The ward didn’t require a door. It would still protect the house and us inside of it.

“They’ve almost cracked the ward,” Emery said. “I can see the exact place where they need to unravel it. As soon as they get out of their own way and discover it, we’re wide open.”

The sound of a car drew closer. Shouts erupted from the front of the house this time. Emery got to the window first, swore again, and started back-pedaling.

“Your mother is nuts. Watch out!” He swung me up over his shoulder and ran as an earsplitting crash shook the house. The roof groaned and the walls trembled. Cracks ran down the cream-colored walls.

Emery stopped at the foot of the stairs, breathing hard.

“Barbra Streisand’s hand-me-downs, what in the holy hanging dong was that?” I wiggled out of his grip as more shouting drifted into the house.

“Joe was right—we need to work on your swearing.” Emery grabbed me with one hand, catching a handful of leather, and took out a casing with the other. “Your mother just rammed the house with her car.”

A door banged somewhere. I stood paralyzed, trying to process the situation, when my mother came barreling in, her shotgun over her shoulder and a mad-dog look on her face.

“What are you standing around for?” she barked. “They’re about to come in after me.”

“How did you…” I followed behind her like a puppy dog. Emery did the same. Some things couldn’t be helped when it came to my mother. “Did you ram the house with your car?”

“No. I rammed the house with your car. Well, actually, I just parked it in the garage. We’ll need a new garage door. And a new ping-pong table. It didn’t fare so well. But thank goodness for two-car garages, right? Now.” She set the gun down and trudged into her office. In the corner, she moved the potted plant out of the way, bent down, and pulled up a doorstop that didn’t have a door to stop. A click sounded behind me. I turned and my mouth fell open as my mother wrestled the desk out of the way, pushed aside the tapestry, and shoved a hidden door inward.

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