‘I’ll be tired out! I’ll need to sleep!’ I shook my head. ‘Nope. I’ve changed my mind. Get the Ipsissimus back here. I’m going to stay at home instead.’ I patted the sofa. ‘I’ll stick to the original plan and watch it from here then report in afterwards by telephone.’
The tiniest smile played around his lips. It was the first time since he’d shown up tonight that he’d looked at me with anything other than irritation, annoyance or downright disdain. ‘You did say you were willing to put in the effort.’
I growled at him. ‘I can change my mind. It’s a lady’s prerogative.’
‘Too late. We’re counting on you now, Ivy.’ There was a faintly mocking edge to his words.
I narrowed my eyes. ‘Have I done something to annoy you?’ I asked. ‘We were getting on well last time I saw you.’ I softened my voice. ‘Very well.’
‘What could you possibly do that would annoy me?’ Winter’s fleeting amusement vanished and he glanced down, pretending to inspect the map again.
‘You keep looking at me like … like…’ I fumbled for the right words. ‘Like I’ve disappointed you or something.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ Winter stood up. ‘I should go. There are still lots of preparations to put into place before filming starts.’ He pointed at the folder. ‘And you’ve got homework to do.’
No. I wasn’t going to let this go. ‘Winter, just tell me. If you’re angry that we slept together then I’m sorry. I didn’t do it to try and compromise you or your position.’
His jaw clenched. ‘I am not angry that we slept together.’
Hope flickered. ‘You’re not?’
‘I’m not angry at all, Ivy.’
I remained still. ‘Yes, you are.’
Winter’s expression shuttered. For a long drawn-out moment he didn’t say anything. Finally he took a deep breath and gazed down at me. ‘I just don’t understand why you’re carrying with that Villeneuve fellow after everything he’s done to you.’
I stared at him. ‘Pardon?’
‘It was obvious what was going on tonight when we showed up. The very fact that he’s even living here…’
I felt a flash of sudden understanding – and glorious happiness. ‘I didn’t know he’d moved here until tonight. He got into my taxi and demanded I drive him or he’d make a formal complaint. There’s nothing between us. There never will be.’ I tilted my head. ‘Were you really jealous?’
Thinking about it now, it was clear how compromising the scene had probably appeared, considering I’d been a hair’s width away from Tarquin when the Ipsissimus and Winter showed up. Not to mention that it had probably looked like I’d been whispering sweet nothings into his ear.
Winter turned away from me. ‘Why would I be jealous?’
A massive smile split my face. ‘I can’t imagine.’ I touched his arm. ‘There’s nothing going on between Tarquin and me. I promise, Rafe. You’d know that if you’d been in touch since last month.’
He grunted in response. I hoped he was going to say something else, or at the very least turn back around and face me. Unfortunately, Brutus took that opportunity to stroll back in.
‘In a minute.’
‘Food. Food. Food. Food.’
‘I should go,’ Winter said quickly. He glanced over his shoulder. ‘I’ll see you next week, Ivy. Read through the files before then.’ He hesitated then turned round, leaned down his head and kissed me gently on the cheek. ‘Take care.’
I was left standing in my own living room with my skin burning and my thoughts awhirl. Now what was I going to do?
I took Brutus with me. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Eve to look after him while I was away so much as I didn’t trust Brutus with Eve. He was none too impressed at being shoved into his cat carrier like an ordinary cat, although he did cheer up somewhat when I informed him that we weren’t going to the vet. What I neglected to tell him was just how long it was going to take us to get to Tomintoul. All these witches around and not one of them had ever managed to make a broomstick fly. One day, perhaps.
In any case, so that I could maintain the fiction that I was a poor non-witch willing to work nonsensical hours for the minimum wage I took the train, ostensibly travelling on my own. It was a long trip up to the north of Scotland, with several changes. It was nice to just sit back and relax. With the cart coming by every hour or so selling all manner of junk food, not to mention tea so strong you could stand up a spoon in it, I decided there were far worse ways to pass my time. Until, that was, someone came along and sat beside me after we’d passed Crewe.
I’m not averse to people. While I’m aware that my apathetic tendencies can sometimes be mistaken for misanthropy, I’m really not that bad. I’d not be much of a taxi driver if I were. However, when I end up sitting next to a man who spreads out his legs almost as wide as they’ll possibly go, squeezing me against the window, before falling asleep with his head dropping uncomfortably onto my shoulder, I happen to get rather tetchy.
I twice attempted to shove him away from me but, despite my best efforts, he stubbornly remained put. Even worse, when I sharply nudged him the second time, he just started to snore. It wasn’t a delicate little wheeze either. No: this man sounded like a warthog on a mission to wake up the devil.
Brutus appeared equally disgruntled by his presence, edging out a sharp claw from inside his cage to swipe at the space-hogging fiend. He had as little effect on the man as I did which, given just how sharp my familiar’s claws were, was quite something. I shook my head. This simply wouldn’t do. I’d have knocked my lukewarm tea off the little tray table onto his lap if it didn’t seem like a terrible waste of a good drink.
What I really needed was something organic. I’d dabbled in herblore for a week or two after my magical binding was removed, not because I enjoyed that particular strain of magic but because Winter was rather fond of it. In the end, however, it became too irritating when I never had the herbs I required to hand and I soon abandoned my efforts.
I dug around in my jacket pockets on the off-chance that there were a few sprinkles of something still lingering around. Unfortunately they were empty apart from a twisted sweet wrapper. Then I caught sight of the crisps trodden into the floor under the seat in front of me. Not perfect but, if I got lucky, they’d be one of the more pungent flavours. I was hoping for cheese and onion. The discarded corner of an egg mayo sandwich or a few lost scampi fries would be better, but the train was just a bit too clean for that. I’d have to work with what I had.
I stretched out one toe, arching it past Brutus’s carrier and snagging a few of the crumbs. Bringing them closer to me, which was no mean feat given just how little space I had to work with, I began drawing out the rune I required.
It didn’t take long for the magic to do its job. I’d barely finished the rune when the most godawful reek began to rise. Rotten vegetables with an extraordinary odour of foul fish. It appeared whoever had been sitting here before me had gone one better than cheese-and-onion crisps – they’d been munching on prawn cocktail flavour. Not my snack of choice but it was perfect for this scenario.
The smell grew into a cloud of foul air. My annoying companion choked in mid-snore and opened his eyes. Yep. It was pretty disgusting. I turned my head in his direction and looked as embarrassed as I possibly could. ‘I’m so sorry,’ I said. ‘I have a dodgy tummy and simply the worst case of wind.’
The corners of his mouth turned down and he looked faintly nauseous.
‘Don’t worry,’ I assured him. ‘It’s contagious but it rarely lasts for more than a few hours. By mid afternoon I promise you won’t be able to smell a thing and the odds of you catching it from me aren’t too bad. Five to one at worst.’ I paused. ‘Well, maybe three to one.’
The man’s mouth tightened and he let out a guttural grunt. Then, without a word to me, he grabbed his bag, stood up and walked away to find another seat, preferably in an entirely different carriage.