Winter took a deep breath. ‘Of course I would be.’
‘Is there a problem here?’ Barry shouldered his way between us and glared at Winter as if he’d compromised my honour.
‘Everything’s fine,’ I snapped. ‘I just hate having this man around.’
Barry pulled back his shoulders. ‘Leave Ivy alone,’ he said to Winter. ‘She’s not with the Order and she’s no concern of yours.’
I raised an eyebrow. It was rather sweet of Barry to come to my defence like that. Winter nudged me with his elbow as if in warning, so I did my best to play my part. ‘Yeah, Adeptus,’ I said. ‘I’ve got nothing to do with you any longer.’
‘As long as you’re on this television show, Ms Wilde,’ Winter said with what I thought was a tad too much sneer even for Barry’s benefit, ‘then you’re my concern. Everyone here is my concern. Magic is not something to be played with like a toy.’
‘Oh, I’m well aware of that, Adeptus Exemptus Winter. I have just as much respect for magic as any of you Order geeks do.’
‘Geeks?’ A line marred Winter’s forehead as he bristled. ‘If a geek is someone who works hard and has respect for others then, sure, call us that.’
Barry coughed. ‘Maybe we should go.’
Both Winter and I ignored him. ‘It’s always work with you, isn’t it?’
‘Hard graft is not something to disparage, Ms Wilde.’
‘Ooooh.’ I flounced. ‘Look at you and your big words. And here was me thinking that army intelligence was an oxymoron.’
A muscle throbbed in Winter’s jaw. ‘I’m a damn sight more intelligent than Tarquin bloody Villeneuve.’
‘I know that!’ I shot back. ‘But given he has the smarts to equal a plank of wood, that’s hardly surprising, is it?’
He took a step towards me. ‘Is that how you like your men? Weak and stupid so you can run rings around them and wrap them round your little finger? Does it make you feel good to flaunt yourself in their faces and have them pant after you?’
I jabbed my finger in his chest. ‘You don’t get it, do you? The only person I want panting after me is you and you don’t care! All you’re interested in is the bloody Order and your latest assignment. When you look at me with those ridiculous blue eyes of yours all I want you to do is—’
Barry grabbed hold of my arm. ‘Uh, Ivy,’ he interrupted. ‘I don’t think this is a good idea right now.’
I shook Barry off. Winter stared at me. ‘What?’ he asked softly. ‘What do you want me to do?’
My mouth was suddenly dry. ‘I, er, I…’
‘This is our sixty-second countdown!’ Clipboard Lady yelled. ‘Everyone get to your places and shut the hell up!’
Barry took my arm again, all but dragging me back to the group of contestants. Each and every one of them was gazing at me open-mouthed. I wasn’t interested in them, though; I was only interested in Winter. He was watching me like a hawk, with his expression completely shuttered. Arse.
I couldn’t even pinpoint when our play-acting had become real. Or was he still making it all up? It hadn’t seemed that way. I thought he was coming around but maybe I was mistaken. Or maybe he was starting to feel a little of what I felt for him. I shook myself. That was silly. We were complete polar opposites. And yet … he continued to watch me, ignoring the flurries of activity around him.
‘Well,’ Lou fanned herself. ‘That was something. That was something indeed. I don’t blame you. He certainly is gorgeous.’
And intelligent. And quick-witted. And sensitive. And … arse. Arse. Arse. I wondered how badly it would reflect on us if I just ran back over and dragged him away from here so we could talk properly. Screw Enchantment.
Something batted my leg. I looked down to see Brutus sauntering away. I took a deep breath. We were here to stop any more murders and to find out who was disturbing the dead. I shook myself mentally. I had to sort myself out. But Winter was still bloody well staring at me.
Belinda’s dulcet tones filled the air. Regardless of why she’d been interrupted yesterday, her script hadn’t changed. She stuck word for word to what she’d said last time. ‘It’s Friday and we are here in the stunning Highlands of Scotland for the most epic, most unique and most special series of Enchantment every created. Twelve new contestants are waiting in the wings and all of them have special skills and abilities. All of them want to win the coveted Trophy of Spells. And all of them know that,’ she paused for dramatic flourish before she launched into her catchphrase: ‘Magic. Is. In. The. Air. Welcome back to Enchantment!’
The gaggle of producers herded us closer to the stage. I caught one last flash of Winter’s sapphire eyes before I was swallowed up in the crowd of contestants. It was too late to do anything now. Story of my life.
Given that the show was pre-recorded I hadn’t expected it to be seamless but I wasn’t prepared for the stopping and starting that went on. Bellows fluffed his lines on three separate occasions and had to restart. A dark cloud momentarily passed across Belinda’s sculpted cheekbones and she had to be re-shot. At one point, Brutus darted across the stage. Considering how heartily Bellows and the rest of the crew laughed, however, I had a feeling that part wouldn’t be edited out.
With all the delays, I was convinced that I had plenty of time to sneak away and find Winter again. That was until one of the make-up artists who came up on stage to re-touch Belinda’s foundation gave her a small mirror to hold, and she dropped it accidentally. It smashed into umpteen pieces. Surely even Winter wouldn’t be able to ignore that kind of omen.
Once all the opening scenes had been covered, the contestants were brought up on stage one by one. Barry’s explanation about why they had been given the chance to get to know each other first now made sense. Each of my supposed competitors was on their very best behaviour, offering happy smiles into the cameras and hamming it up for all they were worth. I was fascinated by how well they each fitted into their assigned roles. Maybe the producers were cannier than I’d given them credit for and they really did have amazing insights into each person’s character.
I glanced down at my own costume and grimaced. I hoped not.
Mike bounded up onto the stage and flexed his muscles, flashing a toothpaste grin to an almost simpering Belinda. Harriet, who was still taking every opportunity to throw me the evil eye, all but shuffled over when it was her turn. Her shoulders drooped and she spoke in a hushed voice: The Mouse indeed. The trouble was that, in my experience, it was the quiet ones who you had to watch out for.
Rachelle, a beautiful young woman of Haitian descent, swayed her hips and murmured fake voodoo incantations to elicit a gasp. Shoto, the token Asian, spoke of Zen’s role in creating powerful magic spells. Lou blushed and told everyone she was just a housewife who’d discovered a talent for magic when she’d burnt some cupcakes in the oven and managed to reverse their dodgy appearance. Although when Belinda prodded her, Lou admitted that they’d still tasted of charred sponge.
I hopped from foot to foot. ‘I need to pee,’ I told Barry.
‘You’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘It’s just a nervous reaction. Once you’re up there, it’ll go away.’
I thought of all the coffee I’d downed before Amy and I left the room that morning. ‘Nope. I really do need to pee.’
‘There’s no time.’
Barry rounded on me. ‘Listen,’ he said. ‘I need you to stop being so difficult and get with the programme. Literally. I’ve never had a contestant of mine in the final and I think you could be the one to do it – if you play your cards right. But all this running off and causing problems isn’t going to endear you to anyone. If you want to do well, you need me on your side.’
I blinked at him, astonished. Barry had a lot of hidden depths. ‘Good for you,’ I told him. I was aware it probably sounded patronising but I meant it. ‘I still need to pee though.’
‘Tough.’ He gave me a little shove. ‘You’re up.’