I waited as Eve headed off towards the car park then turned back to my taxi. I was going home to order a curry, crack open a bottle of wine and not think about Raphael Winter. Not once.
I turned on the engine, forgetting that my For Hire light was still on. Before I’d even put the taxi into gear, someone had opened the door and got into the back. ‘I’m off the clock,’ I grunted.
‘It’s good to see you too, Ivy,’ Tarquin’s smooth voice murmured.
I gritted my teeth. This was why I should have stuck to my instincts and stayed as far away from the Order as possible. If I’d had anything to do with it, my floppy-haired foe would have been hung, drawn and quartered for his machinations to get rid of Eve. She’d let his meddling pass, however, believing he deserved a second chance.
‘Get out, Tarquin.’
‘Your light is on.’
I switched it off. ‘No, it’s not.’ I turned my head and gave him a hard look. Unlike the other witches I’d seen tonight, he appeared as rested and unruffled as it was possible to be. ‘Piss off.’
In response, Tarquin clicked his seatbelt into place. I rolled my eyes. Why me? I flicked my fingers into a simple rune and the seatbelt immediately undid itself.
Tarquin tutted. ‘Now, now. The law is very clear, Ivy. I’m a paying customer and you have to take me to where I want to go. Otherwise,’ he shook his head in dismay, ‘I’ll be forced to make a formal complaint against you.’
Seriously? ‘Tarquin, don’t be a complete plonker. Just get out of my taxi.’
He folded his arms. ‘No.’ He met my eyes. ‘I’m not lying, Ivy. Either you take me to where I want to go or I will complain.’ He smirked. ‘In writing.’
I wondered whether he really thought that was supposed to scare me. ‘I think I’ll cope,’ I said drily. ‘I’m going home.’
‘Perfect.’ His smile grew, revealing whiter-than-white teeth that must have cost a pretty penny. ‘So am I.’ He leaned forward. ‘And now we live in the same building so you have no reason not to drive me there.’
I stared at him. ‘Pardon?’
‘To my building?’
He gestured towards me with open palms. ‘Why would I do that? I’m on the fourth floor. Flat C.’
The family who’d been living there had indeed moved out last month. I gazed at him with narrowed eyes. Tarquin never did anything without a reason – and that reason always served his own interests. The building where Eve and I live is lovely, but old-money people like Tarquin don’t live there. It is neither pretentious, nor stupidly expensive nor up-and-coming. ‘Have you fallen on hard times?’ I could only hope.
He laughed. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Father just thought it was time that I stopped relying on the family. I’m striking out on my own.’
I watched him carefully. I doubted that was all there was to it. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed likely that his new address was about giving the appearance that he was an everyman in the hope that the Order seniors would look favourably upon him.
After the kerfuffle and corruption surrounding Order promotions, they probably wanted to make it very clear to the world that their system was based purely on merit. They didn’t want to be seen promoting someone from a wealthy, well-connected family. Affirmative action, Order style. Tarquin was slumming it because he was worried that his privileged position wouldn’t permit him to get to Second Level until the dust settled. It probably didn’t hurt that he’d moved to the same building where Eve lived, given that she’d already been promoted beyond him.
‘Where’s your car?’ I asked. He prided himself on showy numbers that wouldn’t look out of place on a racetrack. There was no way he’d have given up whatever swanky vehicle he was currently driving. His postcode, maybe. His car? Never.
‘It’s in the garage.’ He wrinkled his nose. ‘I may have wrapped it round a tree last weekend.’
I wasn’t even slightly surprised. ‘Plonker,’ I dismissed.
He didn’t argue with me, he simply leaned forward, a familiar smile tugging at his mouth. When I was a teenager, he’d managed to get me to do just about anything he wanted with that expression. But I wasn’t a teenager any more.
‘Come on, Ivy. I want to talk to you so let’s make bygones be bygones. We could be friends again.’ He placed a certain emphasis on the word ‘friends’ which made me grimace in disgust.
‘Been there, done that, got expelled,’ I said.
He leaned back and shrugged as if it were entirely my loss. ‘Fine, then. But you will drive me home. I really do want to talk to you.’
Tarquin was probably enjoying the chance to order me around. As tempting as it was to turf him out, it was more tempting to take his money. It wasn’t as if I had to go out of my way to get it either.
I pursed my lips. Fine. There was no way I was going to put up with his inane chatter for the whole journey back, however. I sketched out another rune, putting up an invisible barrier between him and myself. It would effectively block out any noise and I could drive home in peace. I’d already tortured myself enough for one day.
When we finally pulled up outside my block of flats, Tarquin’s lips were still moving. I didn’t think he’d stopped talking for more than a few seconds during the entire journey. I congratulated myself on my forward planning and released the spell.
‘…and that’s when I told him he was wrong,’ he said with a dramatic flourish.
‘Excellent,’ I murmured. ‘That’s fifty quid.’
He looked startled. ‘How much?’
‘Fifty quid,’ I repeated, silently adding on a tax for the benefit of customers like him who annoyed me.
Tarquin shrugged and handed over the money. I wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t a tip; in my experience the wealthier the customer, the less generous they were likely to be. It made me feel less guilty about charging him far more than I should have.
I got out of the car. Tarquin didn’t move. Tapping my foot, I glared at him through the window. ‘Get a move on then.’
He looked startled. I wondered whether he’d been waiting for me to open the door for him like some kind of private chauffeur. As if. Belatedly getting the message that I wasn’t going to bow and scrape, he pushed the door open himself and got out. I locked up the taxi and spun away. My duty was done.
‘So did I do the right thing?’ he asked, calling out from behind me.
I ignored him and picked up my pace. He had to get the message sooner or later.
I marched ahead. Unfortunately, Tarquin’s legs were far longer than mine and I’m rather unused to moving quickly. He caught up within seconds, grabbing my elbow and swinging me around. ‘Get your hands off me,’ I hissed.
He dropped them as if he’d been burned. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered. ‘But I do value your opinion. Just let me know what you think and I’ll leave you in peace.’
Obviously I still hadn’t the faintest idea what he’d been wittering on about. I sighed. ‘Yeah, sure. You did the right thing.’
He looked relieved, which surprised me. ‘Really? That’s great.’ He took a step forward and gazed down at me. ‘Thank you.’ For a moment he seemed sincere then he reverted abruptly to type. ‘You could come up to my place and I’ll show you my gratitude in person,’ he purred, drawing even closer. He reached up and brushed the back of his hand against my cheek, his touch feather-light.
Ick. Ick. Ick. My fingers itched to draw a rune that would teach him never to come near me again. Instead I told myself to stay calm and coyly looked up at him through my eyelashes. I pushed onto my tiptoes until we were nose to nose. ‘Tarquin,’ I breathed.
He tilted his head, his hair falling across one eye, and deepened his own voice to a husk. ‘Yes, Ivy?’
‘I think I’ve made it clear,’ I said softly, ‘that I despise you. Don’t ever come near me again. Don’t get in my taxi, don’t even say hello to me in passing if we meet in the corridor. I’m a far better witch than you and if you bother me again, you’ll regret it.’