‘What is it?’
‘I suppose now you want to go all gung-ho and storm off after Diall.’ My muscles screamed their reluctance to do anything other than have a hot bath and go to sleep.
‘You’re right, that is what I want to do – but it’s not what we’re going to do. Both of us need to be fresh and alert for our next move.’ He ran a hand through his hair. ‘If we go out again now, we’ll end up making mistakes which could cost us dearly.’ He paused. ‘I’ll sleep on your sofa. That way if anything untoward happens at least there will be two of us to deal with it.’
I squashed down my sudden, inexplicable thrill of glee. ‘Brutus will want to talk to you all night.’
The corner of Winter’s mouth crooked up. ‘If I can handle you, I can handle a snarky cat.’
Famous last words. ‘I should tell you that my boiler’s broken so it’s pretty cold in my flat.’ I twiddled my thumbs. ‘And there’s no hot water.’
Something akin to despair crossed Winter’s face. ‘No wonder it was freezing when I was there before. I’ll fix it.’
‘I’m a witch of many talents.’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘And so, apparently, are you.’
I felt a twinge of suspicion. ‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Fairclough might only be Adeptus Minor,’ he said, ‘but she scores higher than almost everyone else in magical aggression. You did well to bring her down.’
I wasn’t blushing. Nope. Not even a tiny bit. I coughed. ‘Well, then. I’ll give this lot some food and we can go.’
For once, I woke up early without using an alarm clock. I wiggled my toes, enjoying the warmth both inside and outside my duvet, and listened. In the other room, Winter appeared to be having a fruitless argument with Brutus.
‘I’ve given you lots of attention. Now let me have some peace.’
‘The last time I did that you scratched me.’
‘Fine. But keep those damn claws to yourself.’ There was a pause followed by a hiss of pain. ‘You little bastard.’
I could almost hear Brutus sniggering. I grinned and pulled my aching body out of bed. If I thought I’d feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep, I was sorely mistaken. I hurt more today than I had yesterday. How was that even possible?
I yanked on some clothes and padded into the living room. Winter, whose hair was adorably mussed up, handed me a cup of coffee. ‘I hope you don’t mind,’ he said. ‘I made myself at home.’
‘Not as long as you bring me hot drinks,’ I said cheerfully. I was particularly enjoying the fact that he was wearing casual jogging bottoms and a tight T-shirt that he’d pulled from his gym kit in the boot of his car. It made a nice change from his immaculate suits. Not to mention that his new attire showed off a great deal more of his body than he normally displayed. ‘You can make me breakfast too, if you like.’
‘I would but all that seems to be in your fridge is a wrinkly apple and three slices of rather unappetising looking pizza.’
I immediately brightened. I’d forgotten about the leftover pizza. Yum. I took a gulp of coffee and headed into the kitchen to heat it up. Brutus followed me, giving me a baleful glare.
‘My sofa,’ he hissed. He was obviously annoyed that Winter had dared to stretch out and sleep on his territory.
‘It’s not your sofa. I paid for it.’
‘You really don’t need to repeat every single thing several times over, you know. I’m perfectly capable of hearing you the first time.’
He jumped onto the counter and, with his eyes fixed on me, pawed at the cup of coffee I’d just put down. Before I could stop it, it slid onto the floor. The cup smashed and I yelped as hot coffee splashed over everything, including me. Brutus twitched his whiskers and sauntered away while Winter, alarmed, ducked his head in. ‘What happened? Is everything alright?’
‘It’s fine.’ I grabbed a cloth and began dabbing ineffectually at the mess. In the end, I gave up. There were more important things to worry about. ‘Look, I keep thinking about sceptre. It doesn’t make sense that Diall or anyone else would go to this much trouble for it. Unless the ulterior motive was to kill you, stealing it was pointless. And frankly, there would have been easier and more reliable ways to put us both down than a sewage tsunami.’
Winter gave me a grim look. ‘I’ve been thinking the same thing.’
‘Do you think—’ I began, before hesitating and cocking my head. ‘Hang on. Can you hear that?’
Brutus, from the corner, arched his back. With dilated pupils, he leapt onto the floor and darted for the front door.
‘Don’t worry,’ Winter said. ‘I know who this is.’
Puzzled and more than slightly wary, I followed him. From the other side of the front door there was a faint scratching sound. Brutus was now on full alert, the fur across his spine on end and his tail puffed up like an old-fashioned feather duster.
‘Winter,’ I cautioned.
He turned and grinned at me, his features suddenly boyish. ‘Don’t worry.’
I watched as he unbolted the door. Brutus scarpered to the other end of the small hallway, his claws scratching the wood floor in his haste, although he was obviously determined not to hide. A moment later, with a small kittenish meow, a white, long-haired Persian strolled in, head butting Winter’s legs and demanding attention. My mouth dropped open. ‘Is that…?’
I scratched my head. ‘I thought you lived on the other side of town.’
‘She’s pretty smart. I called to her last night after you went to bed.’
This was some dedicated moggy. Despite her fluffy, delicate appearance, her temperament was clearly similar to Winter’s. She also had extraordinarily blue eyes to match his.
‘What’s her name?’ I asked, finding my voice.
‘Princess Parma Periwinkle.’
I tried very hard not to giggle. It didn’t work.
‘I’ve had her since I was ten,’ Winter informed me sniffily. ‘When my magic abilities first appeared. I was rebelling against my parents and I had a vivid imagination.’
‘Mmm.’ The fact that familiars live far longer than normal house cats means that their names are often amusing – but rarely on this scale.
Winter pointed at Brutus, who was still glaring suspiciously at the princess in question. ‘Like you can judge.’
True. ‘Is she here to stay?’ I enquired.
‘It makes sense. If I’m going to hang around here until this mess is sorted out, she should be here too. She can give Harold a break as well.’
‘Brutus and I are thrilled,’ I said drily. Actually, I was; it had been reassuring to know Winter was here all night. Plus, a problem shared was a problem halved and all that. The presence of Bell End and Alice in Eve’s flat bothered me less now that I wasn’t the only one who knew about them.
‘Anyway,’ Winter said, while Princess Parma Periwinkle made a move towards a very unhappy Brutus. ‘What were you going to say?’
My attention was momentarily diverted as I watched my cat decide what to do next. He threw me a look. ‘Bitch,’ he hissed. Then, seemingly without another thought, he flopped down on the floor and presented the new arrival with his belly.
Winter lifted an eyebrow. ‘You didn’t do that for me.’
Recovering slightly, I gazed at him mischievously. ‘I will if you want me to.’
Winter seemed on the verge of responding, his blue eyes darkening, then he shook himself. ‘We have work to do. There was something you were going to say.’
I took a deep breath. ‘Yes. But you’re not going to like it.’
His good humour vanished in an instant. ‘Go on.’
‘We can assume that the sceptre wasn’t the real target.’
‘If we assume that you weren’t the target either but just a bonus side scheme for entertainment…’ Winter’s eyes flashed ‘…then there’s another motive behind all this.’
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