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He screamed: apparently trying to rip off someone’s chin really hurts. I held on with left hand, avoiding the swinging knife, and let go with my right hand so I could reach upwards. I jabbed two fingers into his eyes, jamming them into his eye sockets. I didn’t blind him permanently – he jerked away too quickly for that – but he wouldn’t be able to see much for the next few minutes. There was still hope.

He flailed around, still clinging on to that damned blade. Until I got him to drop it, we were all in danger. I danced round, lunging for his hands and trying to grab the knife handle so I could wrestle it from him. Blinded as he was, he still worked out what I was doing and slashed the weapon at me again, this time managing to cut my cheek. I yelped. Then Blackbeard’s free hand snaked out, grabbed a hank of my hair and dragged me over.

‘You little bitch,’ he hissed. ‘You thought you could fool me? You thought you could best me? I might well die this day but I’m going to take you with me. And as many of your little witch friends as I can manage.’

There was a loud thud. For a moment, Blackbeard stood stock still then he keeled over, knocking me to the ground in the process. Behind him stood Tarquin, holding a bloodied rock in both hands.

‘I did it,’ he breathed. ‘I’m a hero.’ He looked at me with what was supposed to be a disarming smile. ‘I saved your life and saved the day.’

Arsing hell. I scrambled away from both Blackbeard and Tarquin and rolled over. Maybe that damned glass had been a real mirror after all.

‘I saved everyone!’ Tarquin shouted. ‘I killed the serial killer!’

I lay on my back, panting like a dog. From the wall of the crèche, I heard Eve groan. ‘What the hell?’ she said. ‘What happened?’

‘I won!’ Tarquin shouted. ‘I’m the best!’

Warm, sticky blood coated my skin where Blackbeard had cut me but I could already feel it congealing. I was going to live. More importantly, so would everyone else. Although maybe I could still grab hold of Blackbeard’s knife and slide it into Tarquin’s ribs when no one was looking.

A shadow fell across my face and I squinted upwards. When I saw Winter’s familiar sapphire eyes frowning down at me, I gave him as wide a grin as I could manage. ‘Ipsissimus Winter,’ I said. ‘How lovely to see you. I would get up but I’m not sure my legs can hold my weight.’

He put his hands on his hips. ‘You bloody idiot. What the hell did you think you were doing taking on Blackbeard single-handed?’

‘Eve helped. I wasn’t on my own.’ From the side, Tarquin continued to crow. ‘Besides, the real hero is over there.’

Winter rolled his eyes and snorted. ‘Dragging Eve into your foolish schemes is not likely to help your cause. At the rate you keep flinging yourself into danger’s path, I’m going to have tie you up to keep you out of harm’s way.’

‘I’m sure we’ve had this conversation before,’ I said. ‘I quite like being tied up. You must have spotted my furry handcuffs by now, Rafe.’ I wasn’t lying; it was a lot of fun abandoning yourself to someone else. Especially if they were Raphael Winter and they were going to do all the hard work. So to speak.

Winter sighed but there was a glint in his eyes at my words. Then he looked around soberly. ‘You shouldn’t have done this. It’s not your job to save me, Ivy.’

‘It wasn’t Ivy who saved you. It was me!’

Before Tarquin received a sharp slap, someone had the sense to pull him away. I breathed out and raised myself onto my elbows. ‘Someone’s got to try and rescue you, Rafe. Especially with all these young witch women throwing themselves at you like you’re some kind of rock hero. I need to stamp my mark. Unfortunately, Tarquin beat me to it.’

A look of exasperation crossed Winter’s face. ‘Can you stand up?’

I pretended to make the effort. ‘Oh,’ I groaned. ‘I don’t think so. You’ll have to carry me.’

‘Fireman’s lift it is, then.’

Whoa. ‘I’m getting up! Bloody hell.’ I used his hand to bring myself upright. Then I looked around; there was a great deal of blood. And mess. ‘The Order aren’t going to bill me for this, are they?’

‘Don’t worry,’ he said drily. ‘We have insurance.’

Just as well. I stumbled slightly, falling against him. Maybe I did need some help. ‘Ipsissimus Collings,’ I began.

‘We’ve found him.’ Winter’s voice was grim. ‘He put up a hell of a fight.’

I bit the inside of my cheek to keep the tears at bay. It almost worked. ‘He was a good man.’

Winter nodded. He didn’t say anything but I knew it was only because he couldn’t trust himself to speak. I put a hand on his arm and squeezed.

The air in front of me shimmered and Clare’s face appeared, although it was remarkably transparent. Just like Ipsissimus Collings before her, she was already being called away. Her time here was up. Funnily enough, she didn’t look in the least bit sorry about it.

‘Thank you, Ivy.’ She turned her face and glanced away as if someone was shouting her name. A smile spread across her face. ‘I have to go but I had to say thank you. All of us thank you.’

‘You’re very welcome,’ I whispered. ‘I’ll make sure no one forgets you or the rest of your coven.’

She blew me a kiss then there was the now familiar flash of bright light. The witches around us gasped. Even Tarquin fell momentarily silent.

‘And just like that,’ I said quietly, ‘she was gone.’

There was a loud snort. ‘How many times do I have to tell you, woman? There’s a queue! We need to be orderly about this!’

I smiled at Ipsissimus Grenville. ‘Would you like me to help you now? You can pass over next. You’ve been here for long enough.’

His eyes widened fractionally then he wrung his hands and looked away. ‘I would like that.’ He sighed. ‘But I will stay until all the others are taken care of.’

I raised an eyebrow. ‘All of them? That could take years.’

‘Yes.’ He nodded to himself. ‘But you’ll do it. We both know you will. I have full trust in you.’ I blinked. ‘Besides,’ he continued, ‘you’ll probably need my help.’

‘You’re not going to let me get any peace, are you?’

Grenville roared. ‘My dear! Peace is for wimps!’

‘I’m a wimp,’ I pointed out.

Winter pressed his lips against my temple. ‘No, you’re not.’

‘I’m not like you,’ I protested. ‘I’m not even like Tarquin.’

‘Thank goodness,’ he murmured. ‘Besides, we all know you’re much better.’

Arse. At this rate everyone would know all of my secrets. I’d have to work harder at being lazier. Much, much harder.

Epilogue

There was a shaft of sunlight hitting the bedroom floor. At this time of day, Brutus always found it something of a dilemma. Was it better to lie in the shade but on the comfort of the bed, or to lie in the sun but on the hardness of the floor? Both spots had a lot of merit and it was a difficult choice. However, this was the sort of problem he enjoyed toying with; lately, there had been challenges of far larger import – none of which he had appreciated in the slightest.

He’d just about made the decision to choose the sunshine when the door opened and a witch walked in. Excellent. Brutus immediately flopped onto his back and rolled around in the manner that humans seemed to adore. The witch crouched down and gave him a fuss, just as Brutus wanted. He could definitely get used to this kind of lifestyle. The more minions at his beck and call, the better.

Then the witch went back to the door and heaved in a vacuum monster. Brutus shot a wistful glance at the sunbeam and skedaddled. Ivy might enjoy someone else cleaning the house on a daily basis but did they have to do it every damn day? He missed having dust bunnies to chase after, and he was no match for the vacuum monster, much as he tried to kill it when it was sleeping in the cupboard.

With some regret, Brutus abandoned the bedroom and padded off in search of another place. He was tempted to head for the garden; not only would there be plenty more sunny warm spots where he could curl up, there might be the added bonus of birds. He was feeling slightly peckish. Unfortunately, he was also fairly certain that he’d seen Princess Parma Periwinkle stroll in that direction. That was all very well but if she was running an errand for the man, she’d no doubt try to draw him into her plans.

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