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Darius nodded. “Done. As I said, my interest in her has many facets. As does my interest in you.”

“I know. But you’d be surprised at how much harder she’s going to be to manage.”

“Oh, I doubt it. Not compared to…” He paused, and his face softened before a confused scowl crossed his visage.

Emery didn’t want to know. Whatever gave a vampire pause was not something he wanted any part of.

“Anyway.” Emery stepped away. “I’ll be off. I’ll stay with a friend tonight and meet you tomorrow night for the handoff. You have my number?”

“I do.” Darius looked at him for a long moment before shifting. “Keep your head down.”

“Don’t I always?” Emery smirked and turned, then strode for the door.

He didn’t get very far when someone much scarier than a vampire could ever be stepped into his path.

He threw up his hands. “I’m leaving. I told her goodbye. I told you I’d leave, and I am. Penny is safe from me. She’s free to find someone with some worth, like you said.”

Penny’s mom, whose first name she still hadn’t divulged, stared him down with all the fire he occasionally saw spark in Penny’s eyes right before she did something crazy. “She found someone with worth. She just needs that someone to express it.”

Emery stared at her stupidly, gobsmacked. That had not been what he’d expected.

“Listen.” Ms. Bristol shifted and gingerly switched the hand still holding the envelope from earlier. “My daughter is a lot like her father was. She always sees the best in people. She can be timid, and she can wreak havoc, but she is true to herself. When it comes to her principles, or matters of the heart, she is immovable. Stubborn as all get out. She believes in you. She trusts you. And I would have to agree with her sentiments. Now it’s just you who has to believe in yourself. You who has to trust yourself. If you could do that, then you would be deserving of her, and her of you. It all comes down to you.”

All he could do was stare and blink. Of all the unexpected things these last few days, this was probably the most surreal.

“Now that that’s out of the way.” She glanced around him and lowered her voice. “Where did the vampire get this?” She indicated the envelope.

“Stole it, and a lot of other records, out of the guild’s records room. They are surely sorting through everything and scanning like mad.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Can’t be a coincidence that they picked out a random Sheriff’s file.”

“I suspect not. He wants to know more about Penny.”

Her lips tightened. “Well, if he thinks getting one over on her is going to be easy, he doesn’t know very much about me.”

He couldn’t help a wry grin. “I suspect not.”

She harrumphed. “Well, then.” She patted his shoulder. “Take care, Emery. Don’t forget about us.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He waited for her to disappear into the hallway before he headed for the door.

Chapter Forty-Three

“Ready to police the neighborhood?” Veronica asked, standing on my porch with a red pen in hand.

“Go get ’em all, ladies.” My mother handed me a black pen and nodded seriously. “There’s a lot of work to be done.” Her pat was more like a shove.

With an annoyed scowl, since my mother was still very much herself, I followed Veronica down the walk of my new neighborhood. Two weeks after the magical battle involving guns, hostages, colorful robes, and naked people (which somehow didn’t appear in any newspapers or result in an extended police investigation), we were squared away in a temporary home near Duval. It was a pretty small rental, but thanks to the new identities that Darius had arranged for us, no one knew who we were. The guild wasn’t actively looking for me yet (more like licking their wounds and rebuilding their compound), so for the moment, we could just breathe.

The lull also gave me time to work up the courage to tell my mother I’d be leaving for New Orleans as soon as she was safely settled somewhere.

“Here’s one already!” Veronica jogged toward a missing cat sign featuring a shocking lack of commas. “Oh, I keep forgetting to tell you. My dad says you’re banned from our new home.”

Veronica’s family had also needed to move. They were in the witness protection program, vampire-style. Which meant they thought they were dealing with the cops, but were actually dealing with walking corpses.

“I can’t really blame the guy. You and your parents went through hell on my behalf.” I walked beside her as we moved on.

She shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. That didn’t stop me from telling him I was moving out soon, though.”

“Oh? Where are you going?”

She gave me a funny look. “With you, dummy. To New Orleans when you finally get up the courage to tell your mom. I told you. I can edit anywhere.”

“Oh.” I frowned at her. “I might be staying with someone, though. I’m going to learn…how to better…tell fortunes.”

“To do magic. Don’t act like I didn’t see you doing magic, Penelope Bristol. I saw freaking monsters running around! I told you, I was just inside the doorway. My hands were tied, but I could see everything.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Stop saying ‘oh.’ I’m coming. Face it.”

“Oh…kay.”

She nudged me, laughing. “Anyway, has Emery contacted you?”

I’d told her all about the sexy, handsome, supremely hot-bodied man who’d fought by my side—her words. She’d become fascinated by him and his quest for vengeance (though, thankfully, she contained her swoon out of respect for me).

My hand drifted to my jeans pocket. The letter I’d found on my nightstand crinkled as my fingers pressed against it. I carried it everywhere.

I’ll think of you always. -Emery

My heart swelled. Then I thought about what my mother had said the next morning. “If you love him, set him free. If his heart is truly yours, it won’t stay gone for too long before it finds its way back to you.” She’d paused, letting that sink in, before ruining the moment. “Just don’t wait too long. You’re not getting any younger.”

Heat prickled my eyes and I shrugged with one shoulder. “No. I don’t expect him to. He’s fighting some demons right now. He needs to sort himself out.”

“A troubled hero. God, that’s hot.” She threw a finger up at me. “Do not tell me not to—”

“Don’t say the Lord’s name in vain.”

“Gah!” Veronica put her hands up into claws. “You hate being like your mother. Why do you say it?”

I laughed, but my laughter was cut short by the sight of someone skateboarding down the center of the sidewalk, right for us. “I can’t help it. Oh my gosh, it can’t be… It can’t be, can it?”

“I do not believe it. That is Billy freaking Timmons! What the heck is he doing here?”

“I thought my dad said you moved to these parts,” he said when he got closer. His stupid face wore a big sneer. “You should be in jail, whack job.”

“Why are you here?” Veronica demanded.

“I work downtown. I figured you’d keep up with your nerd-fest. Look at you. You’re such losers.”

Veronica pointed at his skateboard. “You took the bus in order to stalk us and call us losers on a skateboard? How can you possibly have all this confidence?”

“Whatever, jailbirds.” He flipped us off and pushed off on his skateboard.

“That is such bull.” I stared after him, in complete disbelief. Magic tingled my fingers, begging for release. No one was around.

In a blast of frustration, I sent a magical lasso—one of my own creations—after him, catching his legs and yanking. His legs flew out from under him and he fell forward, hitting the ground face-first and skidding.

“Oh sh—” Veronica covered her smile with her hand, her eyes wide.

I looked around worriedly, not able to help laughing. “Hurry, let’s get out of here. I don’t want to get in trouble.”

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