‘I’ll drop you back at your hotel.’
I tried a weak protest. ‘But we need to talk to Bellows and find out what he knows and what else he’s been up to. It’s vitally important.’
‘I’ll do that,’ he declared decisively. ‘You should rest.’
There was a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach, even though this was exactly what I wanted. ‘Okay.’
We continued a bit further until we reached the Hook and Eye. It was dark although it was barely ten o’clock. The inn and its environs seemed remarkably quiet considering how many of the crew were staying there. I guessed none of them felt like partying after seeing Belinda Battenapple almost die at the jaws of a rotting zombie.
I slid off the bike, released my hold on Brutus, took off my helmet then gestured at Winter to do the same. ‘Thank you for doing this, Rafe,’ I said.
‘It’s my job. I’m the one who dragged you into this in the first place.’
‘I’m glad you did.’ I reached up and touched his cheek. His hand covered mine. ‘We’ve still not had that chat yet.’
He gave me a small crooked smile. ‘There will be time later when you’re feeling better.’
Mmm. ‘I want you to know,’ I said aloud, ‘that I’ve fallen for you. About as hard as it’s possible for anyone to fall. You’re still the most irritating man I know. You still spend too much time working. You need to learn the value of kicking back and relaxing.’
He grinned at me. ‘Maybe you can teach me how to do that.’
I didn’t smile back. ‘Maybe.’
‘When Bellows is brought to justice and we find out whether he’s the necromancer or not, you’ll feel the same kind of satisfaction I do at a job done well.’ He leaned into me. ‘We make a pretty good team.’
I closed my eyes tightly. ‘We do.’ I put my arms round his neck and kissed him. He groaned slightly, pulling me further against him. I could have stayed like that forever.
Winter’s arms tightened round me, his mouth left mine and he trailed kisses along my jawline. ‘You were embarrassed,’ he said. ‘In fact, you were more than embarrassed. You were horrified.’
I frowned at him, not sure what he meant.
‘The morning after, when we woke up together,’ he explained. ‘I wanted to give you a way out so I said we should forget it ever happened. But I’ll never be able to forget it.’
‘Me neither.’ I took a deep breath. ‘And I wasn’t horrified. I was a bit shocked to start off with but when I woke up properly I knew it was one of the best nights of my life.’ I was lying. It was the best night of my life. I touched Winter’s cheek.
‘You’re the laziest person I’ve ever met, Ivy Wilde,’ he whispered in my ear. ‘You’re also the smartest, most beautiful and most wonderful person I’ve ever met. I don’t think I’m in love with you, I know I’m in love with you. We have nothing in common but I don’t think that matters. You’re always there in my thoughts. Always.’
Tears pricked at the back of my eyes. I was being selfish. I should be telling him that we weren’t meant to be together, that it would never work. At least that way he’d find it easier to move on if this went down the way the Ipsissimus thought it would. But I couldn’t do that. I genuinely didn’t think I was capable of it. I wanted him to know the truth about how I felt, if nothing else.
‘I better go and get some sleep,’ I said softly. ‘You don’t need to see me up. I need to maintain some sense of decorum.’
He smiled. ‘I’d never associate you with decorum, Ivy.’
‘It’s virtually my middle name.’
He tucked a loose curl behind my ear. ‘I’ll come and check on you first thing in the morning,’ he promised. ‘If there’s anything you need in the meantime, don’t hesitate to call me. Trevor Bellows can wait. He’s not going anywhere.’
Unable to trust my voice, I simply nodded. Then I turned on my heel and went inside the main door, aware that Winter was watching me go. I held my breath until I heard the bike’s engine rev and tear off again down the road. Only when I was sure he’d gone did I get to work.
I strode through the narrow corridor to reach the hotel bar. Fortunately, it wasn’t entirely deserted. Making a beeline for the group at the back, who were all nursing their drinks and looking glum, I did my best to smile and appear happy. This wasn’t the time to exude anything other than brilliant confidence.
‘Ivy!’ Barry got to his feet as I approached. ‘I’m so glad you’re alright!’
I stretched out my arms expansively. ‘You can’t keep a good witch down.’ It was probably just as well I wasn’t a good witch.
‘Come and join us.’
‘Actually,’ I said, ‘I’m pretty busy. I just need a few favours.’ I glanced at Amy. ‘Have you lost anything recently?’ I enquired.
Her fingers briefly touched her collarbone. ‘My necklace. I lost it, er…’
‘When Trevor Bellows tried to assault you?’
She blinked rapidly, her cheeks colouring and her eyes filling with dismay. Well, now I knew that Mazza definitely hadn’t been lying.
‘That should not have been allowed to happen,’ I admonished Barry.
‘I … I … didn’t know.’
Amy shot him a look. Obviously he had known. He’d probably been as scared for his job as she had been but that didn’t make his silence right – but it did make it more understandable. Slightly.
I forced my anger to a simmer to avoid it spilling over. ‘We’re going to make this right for you, Amy,’ I told her. Something in my expression must have convinced her I was telling the truth because she bit her lip and nodded.
I flicked my attention to Moonbeam. ‘How’s your mother?’
His nose wrinkled. ‘Furious. That vial was about the only thing keeping her sane. Now that it’s gone and she looks her age…’ His voice trailed off.
‘Just how old is she?’ My question had no bearing on anything important; I was simply curious.
He shook his head. ‘If you want to avoid being knocked unconscious again, you wouldn’t ask.’ He sighed. ‘Tarquin has told me that even if he could, he’s been forbidden from giving her another spell. I don’t know what we’re going to do.’
‘Is Enchantment going to continue?’
Barry’s shoulders drooped. ‘That’s the million-dollar question. Certainly not this series. Not now. Preparations are already underway to ship this lot of contestants home. The only silver lining is that they’ve all signed binding non-disclosure agreements.’ He raised his eyebrows meaningfully at me as he said this. I shrugged. I was probably going to be a corpse in a few hours so what did it matter? I’d tell the devil if I saw him. I doubted he’d care.
‘Give me your car keys,’ I said, without further preamble.
Barry reached into his pocket, automatically doing as I’d instructed. Then he paused. ‘Hang on. Why should I do that?’
‘Because you were my producer, Barry. You were supposed to be looking out for me and I almost died.’ That was something of an exaggeration but I needed transport.
‘Are you going to give them back?’
‘Sure.’ I couldn’t have sounded less convincing.
Amy nudged Barry and he exhaled resignedly. ‘Fine. Here you go.’
‘Great. I need my phone back too.’
‘It’s in our room with the rest of your things,’ Amy said. ‘I took them all back after…’ She swallowed.
‘Thanks. One final thing – has anyone seen Armstrong?’
Moonbeam let out a humourless smirk. ‘He got back just before you did. You walked right by him.’ He pointed over to the bar.
I followed his finger. Slumped in the corner was the familiar figure of Enchantment’s director. He no longer looked despotic or even fully conscious. The best word I could think of to describe him was crumpled. I’d have felt some sympathy for him if I could have found the time.