Yanking down her gag, I asked, ‘What are these for?’
‘I’m a keen cook.’
‘Yeah,’ she sneered. ‘Really.’
I tossed the bags to the side. Whatever spell she’d been planning, it was obviously dubious. I’d look it up later. I could only surmise that it was designed to harm Eve in some way – and that made me very pissed off. ‘Who are you?’ I demanded. ‘Are you with the Order too?’
‘What’s it to you?’ she snarled, meeting aggression with aggression. ‘Who the hell are you anyway?’
This woman was all fire and brimstone. No doubt she was smarting at being taken down by someone half her size. Deciding to try a different approach, I pasted on a wide-mouthed smile. ‘I’m Ivy,’ I beamed. ‘Pleased to meet you.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Let us go. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.’
I was already sorry. Goodness only knew what I was going to do with this pair. There were spells I could use to encourage verbosity and elicit the truth about why they were here but they took time to prepare and I didn’t have the right herbs. I doubted Eve had them hanging around her flat either. Those kind of things were generally only used by Third Level Order geeks because their inherent danger precluded all but the most skilled from not leaving their subjects as drooling vegetables. Civilised society tended to frown upon such actions.
I could call the police and let them deal with the problem but they’d probably pass the couple over to the Order. And until I knew why the Order had sent them in the first place, or whether they were working alone, I wasn’t going to trust any witch, from the Ipsissimus to Adeptus Exemptus Winter to the newest Neophyte.
I left them where they were and wandered out of Eve’s flat into the corridor. Harold was at the far end, his pupils dilated and his hackles still raised. ‘I know,’ I soothed. ‘But you don’t need to worry. The nasty people are all tied up and won’t hurt you.’
He didn’t even blink.
‘I don’t know who they are,’ I continued. ‘But until I do, I don’t want them to get away. Eve wouldn’t want them to get away.’ I raised my eyebrows pointedly. ‘They might have hurt her.’ Harold just stared at me. ‘It would be fabulous if you could stay inside and keep an eye on them. Only for a day or two.’ I paused. ‘For Eve.’
His nose twitched. For a moment it was touch and go whether he’d turn tail and run or do as I asked. Fortunately, he chose the latter and padded slowly towards me. He slunk back inside, hissed once in the burglars’ direction and settled down on a nearby cushion.
I clapped my hands. ‘Perfect.’ With Harold watching them, I’d have the time to work out what to do with them. Alternatively, someone else might come looking for them and I’d get a better idea of who they were. I grinned. Delegation was a wonderful thing.
It was the loud thumping which eventually woke me. I blearily opened my eyes and realised I was still on the sofa. A trail of drool drooped from the corner of my mouth to the cushion next to my head and my neck was aching.
I hauled myself up and rubbed my eyes. It was still dark so there was no earthly reason why anyone would be at my door – unless it was the police wanting to know why I’d tied up two people and was keeping them hostage in my neighbour’s flat.
Yawning and squinting, I pulled the duvet round me and went to unfasten the lock. Winter was standing there with a glower on his face. He looked immaculate, without a hair out of place. Irritatingly, he was also wide-awake and raring to go. ‘Come on,’ he snapped. ‘We need to leave.’
I stared at him.
‘What’s the matter?’ he enquired. ‘Have you lost the ability to speak?’
‘My brain doesn’t compute the words that are coming out of your mouth,’ I told him, wiping the side of my face to rid myself of the worst of my saliva.
‘I’m speaking English,’ he said icily.
‘You said to meet you at dawn. It’s still dark.’
He gazed at me as if I were mad. I was starting to think I might be. Maybe this was a hallucination. I poked him in the chest to double check that he really was there. Bloody hell, his body felt rock hard.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Just checking,’ I mumbled. ‘I hoped you were a figment of my imagination.’
‘Clearly I am not.’
‘Clearly.’ I turned on my heel, leaving him where he was, and stumbled into my bedroom. I flopped onto the bed and heaved my duvet over me. I had barely a moment’s grace, however.
‘Get up,’ he ordered from somewhere overhead.
‘It is time to get moving. I didn’t say I’d meet you at dawn, I said we were starting in the gym at dawn. If I left you to your own devices, you’d show up several hours late. This way, by the time we get there the sun will be rising and we’ll be bang on time.’
Not only was he an early morning freak, it also appeared he was Mister Pedantic. I didn’t even bother answering. I needed more sleep. A moment later, I heard his footsteps as he walked away. Excellent. Normal people did not wake up at this hour. Winter needed to realise that I wasn’t going to be pushed around. I sighed happily and snuggled further in. Then the duvet was whipped off and something very wet and very cold splashed across my face.
‘What the—’ I sat up, spluttering. It happened again. Coughing and choking, I leapt out of bed towards him, droplets of water flying everywhere. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’
‘You’ve got ten minutes,’ he said shortly, placing the now empty glass of water on the bedside table. ‘Then we are leaving.’
‘This is my house!’ I howled. ‘Who do you think you are?’
‘Our work is very serious. We could be given an assignment at any moment, Ms Wilde. We need to be ready.’
I drew myself up, thoroughly pissed off. ‘It’s not our work. It’s your work. I’m the one saving your skin by helping out, so I think it’s time you showed me some respect. You can’t barge into my home and chuck cold water all over me just because you’re a sado-masochistic bastard with a hard-on for self-flagellation. This is assault!’
A muscle jerked in his jaw. ‘I think you’re taking things too far. You’re hardly in any pain.’
‘What about psychological damage?’
‘At this rate, I’m the one who’s going to be psychologically damaged from our relationship. Besides,’ he added with the faintest touch of smugness, ‘you’re now obviously wide-awake. Change your clothes and let’s get a move on.’
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him to go shove it. If my bed hadn’t been soaking wet and my neck hadn’t hurt from crashing out on the sofa, I probably would have done but I could hardly go back to sleep now. Instead I counted to ten and crossed my arms. ‘You can’t treat me like this,’ I told him, forcing myself to breathe deeply and calm down. ‘I’m not in the Order. I’m not your minion. You know very well I’m doing you a favour by helping you out.’
His expression shuttered. Maybe, just maybe, he was starting to realise the error of his ways. ‘Would you have made it to the Order gym by dawn if I weren’t here?’
‘I might have.’
Winter all but laughed in my face. ‘If I wasn’t here, you’d sleep for the next three hours. This is the best time to be awake. Your body is at its optimum energy levels. The earlier in the day we train, the faster we can accelerate your progress.’
I held up my hand to stall his pointless excuses. ‘Neither of us wants to be in this situation but I understand we have to make the best of it until the binding can be removed. But I’m not an army grunt and you know this will go much better if we can get along. You seem to have decided that everything will fall apart unless you chivvy me along all the time. We’ve not even started working together yet and I’m already beginning to hate you. If you want to drag me around kicking and screaming everywhere you go, you’re going about it the right way. If you want my cooperation and help then you’re going to have to change. Maybe I would have made it to the gym by dawn, maybe I wouldn’t. But you decided I was going to fail before I even had the chance to try.’