DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Kim Harrison. No copyright infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My thanks to my beta for this one infinitlight. She was awesome enough to look over this massive fic for me, and I really appreciate the time, effort and level of detail that she put into looking over this. Also the number of times that she had to uncapitalize were and warehouse. Sorry, dude. My bad.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
CHALLENGE: Written for Epic Proportions 2009.

Return to the Hollows
By Jaina


Chapter One

It was midnight - the witching hour - my favorite time of day. The church was bathed in silence, which had been a rarity lately. There was no clatter of pixy wings, or sharp chatter of fifty-two pixy children arguing about who got to play with Rex. Bis guarded the rooftops, as still as the statues most humans had once believed gargoyles to be, surveying the church and the block beyond it carefully until Jenks was up again.

Ivy's motorcycle was parked outside. It was a good indication that Ivy was inside, tucked into the church that had become a sanctuary, and more importantly a home, for both of us. The stillness in the air, combined with the lateness of the hour, made me feel like a mischievous child up past her bedtime and reveling in every second of it.

I was reveling, at least, coming down off the high of a task well done. I had spent the last twenty-four hours with Al in the ever-after. It wasn't my first such trip - I had been going to him for lessons for the past year and a half, but tonight for the first time I had mastered jumping the lines by myself. The fact that my trip home had been completely Al-free might have also had something to do with my good mood.

We had reached an understanding since I'd become his student. That didn't mean I didn't feel a whole lot more comfortable now that I was free to come and go without having to depend on him, or any other demon.

I couldn't wait to share the good news with Ivy. She would be so happy for me and she might even be a little less grumpy, knowing that I was that much safer while I was with Al. It scared her that I had to go somewhere that she couldn't follow, somewhere that if I got in trouble, she couldn't ride in, motorcycle revving, and save my sorry witch ass. This might just make it a little bit easier on her.

I dropped my bag on the kitchen table, my grin widening as I imagined Ivy telling me to put it where it actually belonged, the next morning when we fixed breakfast together. Sometimes I delighted in annoying her neat-freak tendencies. My jacket got slung across my desk as I headed out of the kitchen and down the hall toward our bedrooms.

It was a little bit more difficult to pull off my boots as I walked. I felt ridiculous, tugging at the laces and hopping, one-footed, down the hall until I careened into the wall, breaking the deep silence of the church. I dropped the first boot to the floor with an echoing thud a moment later. The second one followed it almost immediately. I didn't bother to shove them out of the way. No-one would be walking down this hall to trip over them until Ivy and I were up again, and that was still hours away.

I nudged the bedroom door open with my toe as I pulled my old Were Now t-shirt over my head and let it fall to the floor. It took a little longer to work my leather pants off. Finally they pooled around my ankles and I stepped out of them, leaving me only in a bra and panties. Only a hint of light had it made into the room from behind the heavy curtains, but it was enough. Memory guided me the rest of the way to the bed.

Pulling back the familiar weight of the down comforter, I slipped in between the dark silk sheets. They felt pleasantly cool and smooth against my bare skin. It felt almost sinful to simply luxuriate in the sensation.

In the dim light I could just make out the shape beside me. Rolling over, and propping myself up on one elbow, I leaned over and pressed a kiss into the bare shoulder sticking out from under the sheet. I buried my face against the nape of her neck, and breathed in deeply, inhaling the scent that was uniquely Ivy's. It filled me and surrounded me. I didn't have a vamp's sense of smell; I couldn't read a thousand emotions just from a scent and it didn't trigger instincts instilled by a millennium of evolution, but it did make me finally and completely feel as if I were at home.

"Rachel?" Ivy's sleepy voice made me smile. She was so different like this, before she was fully awake and back to being her usual guarded, impossibly careful self.

"Hi, honey," I whispered against her ear. "I'm home."

She shifted slowly until she was facing me in bed, reaching out for me as she did. I scooted over, settling against her, the line of my hip brushing the curve of her stomach. We fit perfectly. Eyes still barely open, and heavy-lidded from sleep, Ivy tilted her head to find my lips for a sleepy kiss.

I pressed against her lips more hungrily. It suddenly seemed as if I had been gone for a lot longer than twenty-four hours. It was embarrassing how much I had missed her, and I spent the next few moments trying to show her just how badly that was.

The lazy kisses that we had been exchanging grew into something more intense, as I swiped my tongue over her lips. Ivy's hands tightened around me, pulling me closer, before running down the line of my hip to cup my ass.

When I finally dropped my head down on the pillow beside her we were both panting and breathless. Ivy shifted her weight until she was straddling my hips, looking down at me through a curtain of hair. I couldn't help the smile that traced its way over my lips. I loved seeing her like this. Even after being together for several months, the newness of this moment had yet to wear off. I still savored the closeness that we shared.

"Trent was here tonight." Ivy didn't sound very happy about it. "For several hours."

Come to think of it, I wasn't very happy about it either. I wrinkled my nose in irritation.


"I was going to ask you the same thing. He wouldn't tell me anything." Even though the light obscured her features, I could still hear the tension in her voice. Trent butting into my life rarely meant anything good. The times he had helped me out were far outweighed by the times that I had almost died because I had gotten involved in some scheme of his.

"I haven't seen Trent in months. Not since the party on top of Carew Towers at New Year's." The bastard. "I don't know why he would want to see me. We don't have anything to discuss."

Ivy shrugged, but seemed appeased by my comments. "He thinks you do."

I groaned and sighed. "I'll talk to Ceri tomorrow and see if she knows anything about it. If it's nothing life-threatening, I'll do my best to not get involved, okay?" Another thought occurred to me. "Why was Trent here so long?"

"He wanted to wait for you."

I laughed. Like that had ever stopped Ivy from driving off anyone she didn't want me to spend time with.

"You didn't scare him off?"

I felt her shrug. The tips of her hair brushed lightly against my shoulder as she tilted her head away from mine.

"I thought you might want to talk to him."

"Trent? No." I touched her shoulder reassuringly. "Trust me, if I want to do a deal with Trent, you'll be the first to know."

"Okay," Ivy agreed softly. Her hands were moving up my side, slipping around behind me. She brushed the edge of my bra and then fumbled with the clasp. I arched into the motion, all thoughts of Trenton Aloysius Kalamack gone.

As she worked at my bra, I ran my fingers across her cheek and then lightly cupped her chin, bringing it back up so that I could see the glint of her eyes in the dim light. I didn't have to be able to see fully to know that Ivy's pupils were so large that there was barely any brown visible around the edges.

"Did you miss me, dear heart?"

It was an endearment that Ivy only used on the most intimate of occasions and those two simple words always made my heart ache. Every time she said them it was as if she put everything she felt for me into those two simple words.

"I thought about you the whole time I was gone," I admitted in the quiet voice that the darkness and the moment seemed to call for.

"I missed you too."

"Al kept complaining because I was distracted." It reminded me of the good news that I had been dying to share with her not that long ago. Now it didn't seem very important at all. Hardly worth mentioning, in fact. It could definitely wait until morning.

I shifted underneath her, deliberately rubbing my body against hers. She stiffened in my arms.

"God, Rachel, you are such a tease."

I laughed and gently nibbled on the delicate tip of her ear. "It's not being a tease if you follow through."

"You're going to kill me one of these days."

"And you'll enjoy every minute of it," I joked back, out of habit.

Ivy's eventual death was a sensitive subject between us. Unless something very drastic happened, she would survive her first death. That much we knew. What happened after that was a subject that both of us had skirted carefully around each time it had looked as though it might come up. It certainly wasn't a conversation I wanted to have at the moment.

Ivy's breath was warm as it brushed over the scar on my neck. It sent an uncontrollable shiver racing down my spine. Her thumb brushed across the raised scar tissue - the scar she had given me - playing with the delicate flesh to watch me squirm beneath her touch.

"Can I..." she breathed, mocking playfulness in her voice as she asked the ritualistic question. "Will you give me this?"

It was a rhetorical question and we both knew it. There was no need for her to ask, though we both knew if I did say no, she would immediately stop. She had proven that to me, earning my trust the hard way, until our relationship had grown to be what it now was.

"Yes." No matter how rhetorical the question, I still made the effort to answer her every time, no matter how close I was to being lost in the ecstasy of it. I wanted Ivy to hear, to know completely, how much I wanted her. Any time she doubted, I wanted her to remember that affirmation.

The hint of tension that was there in her body every time, no matter how many times I'd already said yes, relaxed at the same time that excitement ratcheted up the tension in mine.

Ivy bent over my neck, her tongue sweeping gently along the scar she had left there. Just the feel of her tongue on my skin had me clutching at her shoulders. The first time we had done this, I had left bruises. Ivy hadn't minded. I had a suspicion that she liked it when I marked her body. Her teeth scraped over the sensitive skin that she had been focusing on.

"I think I'm the one who's in danger of dying," I gasped, trying to catch my breath in the maelstroms of sensation that she was pulling from my body. Ivy was a master at what she did and I didn't stand a chance.

"Now, we can't have that," Ivy purred dangerously.

There was nothing else like it, when she was like this, so completely in control and yet so attentive to everything about me. I had never had a lover like her before.

Ivy raised her head, letting the sensations that she was pulling from my scar fade to a low simmer, all the more intoxicating for their loss, and turned her attention to my lips. She kissed me like it was the last time and I lost myself in the feel of her.

Her nails scraping lightly along my stomach just above the line of my panties made me jump. I grabbed her arm convulsively as she smiled at me knowingly.

"That get your attention?"

"You've had my attention," I wailed plaintively.

"Oh, poor baby," she murmured against my lips. "Want me to kiss it and make it better?"

I laughed. "Okay."

Ivy pulled back as I leaned in. I frowned in confusion until I realized she was sliding down my body. Her mouth left a hot trail as she traced her way down. Her eyes, lost in darkness, met mine deliberately, as she slowly pulled my panties down until I was free of them and then she tossed them aside without a second glance as to where they landed.

I giggled. We had been finding clothes in all kinds of odd places. It had led to some embarrassing moments with Jenks, but on the whole we were both used it by now.

Ivy brought my attention back to her with a flick of her tongue. I hissed at her touch, my fingers clenching as they threaded through her long, silky hair.

My head fell back, my eyes dropping shut as she stroked and caressed. I scrabbled for something to hold onto, clutching at the silk sheets that were pooled around me. My world narrowed to the feel of Ivy's tongue, the strong, sure strokes of her hand, and the feel of her long, powerful fingers on my hip.

The sudden loss of Ivy's tongue against me made me whimper in anguish. So close. I tugged at her with the hand buried in her hair demandingly.

"So impatient," she murmured. Her thumb brushed over my clit and made my hips jerk. "You should do something about that, Rachel," she added.

I was growing less amused by the moment, especially when she caught my hand, and raised it back to my side and away from where I wanted it.

"Ivy," I whined.

"Do you trust me, Rachel?" she asked in a sing-song voice.

The question caught my attention even through my current frustration.

"Of course."

Her smile was predatory. "Good."

With her fingers, she found the rhythm that we had lost, bringing me just as close to the edge as I had been before. Her fingers clenched on my hip and in the next instant her teeth sank into the inside of my thigh.

It was honestly the last thing that I had been expecting, at least if I had been coherent enough to have expectations. It also sent me immediately over the edge, leaving me spent and breathless, even as Ivy continued to suck at the small bite that she had made.

I could feel the sensations within me building again as she continued to take blood from me. My fingers loosened and fell from her hair to trail downward until I cupped her neck, holding her to me and caressing her gently and waiting as she took what she needed.

I bit my lip, waiting for it - that one pure, shining moment that I savored above all else. It was the moment that made what I shared with Ivy about more than just an exchange of blood. There was a moment of perfection as our auras chimed, Ivy's pure aura, blending with my own, tainted one.

Better still, I could feel everything that Ivy was feeling. The things that she felt for me were overwhelming. The love and trust, need and devotion: I didn't know how to answer it, but to hope that this sharing worked both ways. It was so much more than just blood and sex.

"Oh, God, Ivy." I arched up against her as she continued to suckle at the bite she had made. I could feel her desire for more, to be closer. Without words, I consented. How could I refuse?

She was everything I wanted, my perfect partner and my best friend. It was amazing, I thought, that we had stayed floating in the moment of connection for so long. It had never lasted this long before.

Ivy's surprise echoed mine, for a moment before it was lost in out mutual desire. Our emotions seemed to echo and feed off one another in a way that I had never experienced before.

"Ivy?" My voice trembled.

Her fingers squeezed lightly. Trust me.

I had and I did. There was no question of that. I surrendered to everything that being with Ivy could mean, and lost myself in her.

When I woke, the room was still enveloped in a pleasant, comforting darkness. The only light shone in through the cracks in the heavy, leather curtains that Ivy kept in her room for just this reason.

I stretched and rolled onto my back, feeling the pleasant soreness in my muscles and a dull ache from Ivy's bite. I shut my eyes as a lazy smile drifted over my face. It was the feeling that I had come to associate with a recent bite. At first it had bothered me, Ivy's marks on my body. Not that I was ashamed of them, but it seemed tacky, like I was just any other shadow.

Over time Ivy had convinced me differently. She had shown me that she didn't respect me any less in the morning for taking my blood the night before, and the reverent way that she would kiss the bite in the light of morning was enough to erase the rest of my doubts. Ivy was honored that I would let her so close and trust her so much.

Now I savored the dull ache of a fresh bite, holding it close as a reminder of what had created it. The first time that Ivy had wanted to make a new mark on my body, she had come to me and asked me. It was a first for me. There was a novelty in asking if I wanted a scar in a certain in place or not. When I had expressed surprise that she would ask, Ivy had answered that it was my body and I had the right to dictate what was done to it. It was just one of many discussions that we'd had.

There were a lot of preconceptions that I'd had about vamp relationships and just as much that I hadn't known. It was just one of a myriad of other details that made up a good blood balance. And to think that I had so blithely told Ivy I'd wanted to enter into one. It was no surprise she had almost laughed in my face at the idea. I'd had no idea what I was getting myself into.

However, now I did. And last night's bite had not been agreed upon beforehand. I shifted again to find a more comfortable position. Not that I was complaining, mind you. Last night had been wonderful, somehow more than anything that Ivy and I had ever shared before.

The thought drew a smile to my lips. The ecstasy of the night before had faded, but I was still left with the glow that only good sex and deep sleep could leave you with. Rolling over, I snuggled closer to Ivy, running my hand down her shoulder and pressing a kiss to the base of her neck.

I threw a leg over hers and winced as the pressure on the still fresh bite. Ivy shifting as she woke distracted me and I looked down at her.

"Good morning," I said as I leaned forward to press my lips gently against hers.

Ivy's hand came up to cup my face and hold me close. She didn't let go, her thumb stroking across my cheek, even as I slowly sat back, gently breaking the kiss.

"A very good morning, indeed."

Her other hand traced down my body, until her fingers were gently stroking over the small bite mark on my inner thigh. Ivy pulled my leg up and leaned over until she could place a light kiss on the sensitive flesh. I shivered at the memory of her lips suckling at that skin just hours before. I was suddenly wet all over again.

When my eyes opened, she was staring at me warily.

"Are you upset with me?" Her eyes dropped again. "I wouldn't blame you if you were. I should have asked. We should have talked about it. I just...I got caught up in the moment. It's not an excuse," she said, looking back up at me quickly. "I'm sorry, Rachel."

I reached out to put a finger to her lips, before she could say anything else.

"I'm not angry, Ivy."

And it was true, I wasn't mad. It was actually a little bit strange. Not that I hadn't enjoyed what we had done. I had, very much, but our relationship worked best when there were rules. I had learned that from Ivy. Control was just as important as letting go on occasion. Ivy needed that control and so did I. That control kept me alive and let our relationship work.

"I'd rather talk about it first next time, but-" I couldn't stop the flush that heated my cheeks. "I really enjoyed last night."

Ivy smiled shyly. It was this side of Ivy that had drawn me in, the shy, vulnerable side of her that only I was allowed to see.

I wrapped my arms around her and held her close.

"Rachel?" Ivy's voice was hesitant.

I pulled back enough to be able to see her better.

"Yeah, babe?"

"This is going to sound weird, but does something feel...different?"

The pause as she searched for the word that she wanted, struck me as odd. Unlike me, Ivy always knew what she wanted to say and spoke very precisely.

"Different, how?" But even as I asked the question, I got a sense of what she meant.

Something did feel different. I felt connected to her in a way that was just more. It wasn't just connected in the emotional sense but in the literal sense. On impulse I focused for that half-second necessary to use my second-sight.

There was a thin line of gold, falling away from Ivy's aura and connecting to mine. The realization of what it meant hit me an instant later. What I saw made me stop breathing.

"Oh, God, Ivy. I'm bound!"


Chapter Two

My heart was hammering so fast in my chest that I felt lightheaded. I jerked back from her, almost falling off the bed as I scrambled to put distance between us. Suddenly I couldn't seem to catch my breath. I was panting for air, but I still felt breathless.

"Rachel." Ivy gently touched my shoulders, steadying me.

I jerked away from her roughly, lost in a panicky haze of fear and confusion.

"Look at me, Rachel," Ivy coaxed me gently. "Please." Her voice cracked with emotion and that was enough to get my attention.

I rarely saw Ivy so undone and it was never a good sight. Her uncertainty had managed to seep through my confusion and fear and I focused on her.

Her eyes were the first thing I noticed. I had spent years focusing on what they could tell me about her mood, what she was thinking and feeling. Now they were the richest brown and filled with sadness and worry.

I licked my lips nervously and tried to get my breathing back under control.

"Why did you say that, Rachel?"

"Because it's true!" I blurted it out as if it should be obvious.

"Rachel, I didn't bind you. I would never..." she fell back heavily onto her heels until she was curled away from me on the bed.

We were separated by several feet of the bed. It suddenly seemed like a much greater distance than it had a few moments before, and far too close all at the same time.

"You have to believe me, Rachel. I would never bind someone without their consent." Ivy sounded desperate now, a wild look beginning to blossom in her eyes. "And I would never ask that of you."

At any other moment, I would have gone to comfort Ivy. Every ounce of me screamed to go wipe that look from Ivy's face. I wanted to so badly, and yet what I knew held me back. As much as I wanted it not to be true, as much as I desperately hoped that I was wrong, I knew it wasn't.

Dread formed a sickening knot in my stomach.

"You said-" I swallowed, and tried to speak past the lump in my throat. "You said once, that you could tell if I was bound. Am I?"

There was a long moment of silence. It sat between us awkwardly as I waited, hardly daring to breathe. If I was wrong - God help me if I was wrong. I would owe Ivy a thousand apologies, but I wasn't wrong.

When I opened my eyes - I didn't even remember shutting them - Ivy was sitting absolutely still and staring at me.


I knew the moment she said my name. Just the sound of her voice was all the confirmation that I needed, that I had been desperately hoping she wouldn't give me. "I'm so sorry."

"How?" I frowned, rubbing at my forehead before I wrapped my arms around my waist. The gentle, comforting warmth of the room was gone, and I was suddenly cold. Goosebumps dotted my skin. "How did this happen, Ivy?" I waved my arm, begging for an explanation. "This doesn't just happen."

"No," Ivy agreed, "It doesn't." She bit her lip and then leaned forward. "I don't know how this happened, Rachel."

"You have to! You were the only freaking vamp here! The only one who's ever touched my blood!" I was yelling by the time I finished, but, Turn it, I needed to know what was going on. Things didn't just happen. There had to be a reason.

I stood up abruptly, so fast that I barely kept my balance, and wavered on my feet. Ivy was there in an instant, steadying me.

"Are you okay?"

I glared at her in disbelief.

"No, I'm not okay."

Ivy grimaced.

"That's not what I meant." She hesitated, as if marshaling her thoughts, and then continued. "Rachel, if you were bound-"

"I'm bound, Ivy. I think we already covered that."

I wanted to clap a horrified hand over my mouth even as the words left it. I had always tried not to deliberately wound Ivy and this was the most direct assault I'd ever delivered.

There was also a part of me that had still not quite wanted to believe it, even after I had seen it, known it and had it confirmed by Ivy. This couldn't be happening. It had to be a horrible nightmare. I'd had plenty of those; this was just another horror that would fade from memory on awakening. Please, let it be nothing more substantial than that.

Ivy flinched at my words and I could clearly see the pain that I had inflicted in her eyes. She looked away, searching for something before she spoke to me again.

"If you were bound, than it means you lost a substantial amount of blood last night. You need to eat some brimstone. Get your reserves back up."

The words were like pouring gasoline on a roaring bonfire.

"I can take care of myself, Ivy," I snapped. "I don't need you to tell me what to do."

"I'm not trying to tell you what to do, Rachel." Her voice softened. "I'm just worried about you."

"Because your shadow's your responsibility, right, Ivy? Have to be a good little vamp and take care of your pet or it might look bad?" Words spilled out of my mouth in a torrent. "Well, I don't need that and I don't want that." I banged my fist into my thigh without thinking and gasped as it hit sore flesh. "I won't be your pet," I said, as my eyes smarted with tears.

"I don't want you to be." Ivy sounded defeated. "Please, just let me help you, Rachel. I just want to make sure you're okay. Then we can figure this out...together."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" I demanded. "You'd finally get what you always wanted."

Ivy straightened into a wire-tight ball of angry living vampire.

"No, Rachel, what I always wanted was you, not this." Her words fell flatly into the room and we both stood in silence.

I couldn't stand the pleading look in her eyes any longer. What I needed the most, I couldn't have. Without that, all I wanted was to no longer be in this room with Ivy.

"I have to go," I said, sharply. "I need to get out of here."

Bending over, I began to collect my clothes and then cursed as I remembered the slow and leisurely strip I had performed, leaving the clothes that I had been wearing spread across the church.

Pulling the sheet up around myself, I turned my back on Ivy and walked across the hall to my own room. With a minimum of fumbling through my drawers I managed to throw together a presentable outfit and headed toward the kitchen table and my keys.

To get away, to just be somewhere other than where this nightmare was unfolding, was all I wanted.

I stopped short as I opened my door and started to step out into the hallway. Ivy hadn't come into my room, but was standing in her doorway, arms folded across her chest.

"I can't do this right now, Ivy," I said, and moved to step past her.

Moving with vamp speed, she got in front of me. I glared at her bitterly.

"Promise me you won't leave, Rachel." Ivy swallowed heavily; her hands were clenched into fists at her side. She wasn't threatening me, but she was terrified of what this might mean for us.

I couldn't think that far into the future, couldn't process more than the moment in front of me. I opened my mouth to reassure her, and then for the first time, I thought about it. Wondered - what happens now? What if this wasn't all just some nightmare? If this was my new reality, what would I do? Would I become one of the people that I had always despised?

"I can't promise you that, Ivy." I whispered. I didn't know what to say after that. I wouldn't lie to her. I had no idea where we stood now. "I have to go," I added. The thought of getting away, and having time to think and breathe, was impossibly tempting.

Brushing past Ivy, I padded down the hallway toward the kitchen. Seeing my spell pots dangling from the rafters in the kitchen where I had painstakingly hung them, made me think of Jenks and his children. This would change everything. That much I did know. Nothing would ever be the same again.

I blinked and focused on finding my keys amidst the chaos of my desk. I was always better with a goal, and getting out of here was as good as any other right now.

Ivy was hovering just out of sight behind me. I was incredibly aware of her even as she watched in silence. I could feel the waves of desperation pouring off her almost palpably; I did my best to ignore it and her. If I didn't, I wasn't sure what would happen. I would probably come apart completely, and at this point I wasn't sure that I could get it back together. There was only so much that one witch could take. I didn't want to find my breaking point.

So I continued to ignore her as best as I could, no matter how much I knew it had to be hurting her. Finally I felt the metallic bundle of my keys under a discarded pile of mail. I clenched my fingers around them as if they contained my salvation and pulled them up out of the mess.

Finding them was a relief, out of proportion with what I had accomplished. Finally, I could breathe just a little bit easier. I straightened and made myself turn to face Ivy.

"I'm sorry, Ivy." Part of me couldn't believe I was apologizing to her. That part was stifled by the other half of me that could see how horrible Ivy felt. "I just can't be here right now."

"Will you come back?"

It was the same question that she had been asking, the same one that we had asked one another a hundred times since we had begun living together. It had always seemed like we could weather anything just as long as we both agreed to call the church home.

For the first time, I hesitated before I answered. In the end, though, I did answer. Ivy and I were connected, and we had been since long before now. I didn't believe in fate or destiny, but we were inevitable. What was comforting was now claustrophobic. No matter what I wanted, Ivy had a permanent claim on me that I could never deny or change.

Not trusting myself to speak, I turned away and walked toward the door.

"Don't go." Ivy's words hit me like a blow to the solar plexus.

I froze. As badly as I wanted to put one foot in front of the other and leave, I couldn't. If I had needed any more proof, I had it now. I was well and truly bound to Ivy Tamwood.

I couldn't move. I wasn't paralyzed. There was nothing physically wrong with me, but something had been taken from me. My free will. Whether she had intended to or not, Ivy had done that to me and now she was using it against me, stopping me from leaving me. It was more than I could stand.

Pressure built behind my eyes and I felt a scream growing in my throat. Closing my eyes, I struggled to keep my voice calm as I spoke.

"Let me go, Ivy." It was half-command and half-plea. What I needed most was to be anywhere but here right now.

"I'm not stopping you, Rachel." I couldn't see her face, but she sounded confused and a little bit hurt. "If you want to go that badly, then go."

The words were like magic - were, actually, magic. I could start moving again and I did, walking out the church door without a backwards glance. It wasn't until my car was squealing out of the driveway and onto the road that I felt like I could breathe again.

For once I wasn't paying attention to how fast I was driving or where I was going. The I.S. could kiss my ass today. If they decided to pull me over right now, they would get more witch than they wanted to deal with. Pulling onto the interstate out of habit and a desire to feel the wind burning against my face, I considered just letting go. I had filled up my gas tank before I had left on my run yesterday and now I still had an almost full tank. It would just be so easy to keep going and leave my problems in the dust.

Tears blurred my vision and I blinked futilely, trying to force the unwanted moisture back. I hit the gas pedal harder and pushed my car faster, regardless of the danger.

By the time I got to David's I was a mess. I couldn't see my face, but I knew it would be pretty bad. I'm not a pretty crier and when I'm angry my pale skin gets even redder. Confused, afraid and angry was a very bad combination for me, but unfortunately it was one I also knew a lot about. My life the past few years had been far from sunshine and roses. It was more like a skull and crossbones.

This was worse though. Before, I'd always been able to turn to Ivy. Even when Piscary had claimed her and pulled her back under his thrall, she hadn't been actively against me, but a pawn in his game. This felt like a betrayal from the one person that I had counted on.


The worry in David's voice was immediately obvious. I was just happy that he had opened the door. There were people who wouldn't for a sobbing, pissed off witch who looked as bad as I did at the moment. I'm sure his neighbors would give him a talking-to or at least some judgmental stares later for consorting with the crazy girl.

David didn't wait for me to explain, however. He simply held open the door and stepped back.

"Come on in."

He wrapped his arm around me as soon as I was inside and guided me to the couch. His whole apartment smelled like him, rich and earthy with a slightly musky scent underneath it all. It was as solid and comforting as the man himself.

"Are you hurt? Has someone found out about the Focus?"

I shook my head to both queries, but couldn't bring myself to look up at him, even though I knew I was worrying him. I didn't want to tell him that I was stupid enough to have let myself get bound. Knowing David's feelings on inter-species dating, I had come here anyway. He had been accepting of my relationship with Ivy; it just wasn't something that he wanted to explore himself. This was just the last in a long line of stupid things that I had let happen to me and I wasn't sure that I could explain it. I didn't even know how it had happened myself, and I had actually been there.

"Should I call Ivy?" David's voice was gentle and soothing, as though he was trying not to upset some fragile balance while he drew me out of my shell.

"No," I spoke sharply, reaching out to snag his wrist as he started to open up his cell phone. For once, having Ivy here was the last thing that I wanted. The safety of her arms had been tainted forever. In an instant she had gone from my best friend and when I allowed it sometimes protector, to the thing that I feared the most in the world. It just wasn't fair.

"Don't call Ivy."

"Okay," David accepted my statement without comment, but I could see the questions that he wasn't asking written all over his face.

"Is someone after you, Rachel?" He stood up, suddenly looking every inch of the alpha male were that he was. "Because if they are, they won't get through the pack. You're my alpha female and I won't let anyone treat you that way."

I smiled for the first time in what felt like days. David's protectiveness was like a balm, and it calmed me more than the soothing voice that he had adopted ever would. I could take care of myself (most times, most days, when I wasn't being a very, very stupid witch), but sometimes it was nice to know that if I couldn't, I had friends who were willing to do it for me.

"It's okay, David." I managed to choke back a laugh. Things were certainly not okay. "Ivy and I had a fight and I just needed to get out of the church. And I didn't know where else to go." I looked down at myself and shrugged. "I really wasn't planning on going out."

"Okay." David didn't sound quite convinced, but he did let the subject drop.

He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand and then looked at me again. For the first time, I noticed how bedraggled he looked. He was wearing thin sleep pants and no shirt. It was an indication of just how upset I was that it had taken me this long to notice his lack of a shirt. David had a great upper body.

He was also barefoot and he had gone way beyond a five o'clock shadow. I had probably woken him up. For Inderlanders it was early hours yet. And he still hadn't kicked me out of his house. A wave of gratitude spread through me. I had gotten luckier than I knew when David had hatched his crazy plan to form a pack with me.

"Since we're both up," he added. "You want some coffee?"

The adrenaline that I had been running on since I'd realized what had happened had been slowly draining away since I had sat down on the couch. Now I felt almost as bad as I had when I was running for my life across Trent's estate with he and Quen hot on my tail.

"Coffee sounds amazing," I said with a small smile. "Thank you."

David's answering smile said that he knew the thanks were for more than just the caffeinated breakfast beverage, but he didn't belabor the point. He just offered me a hand up and guided me toward the kitchen in silence.

David's sparse kitchen couldn't have been more different from the one at the church. It was sparse and cramped, and while it was clean it definitely looked rarely used. There was also no room for a kitchen table or anywhere else to sit. I hopped up on the counter and waited while David went about making coffee.

I swiped at my runny nose and wiped the tears from my face with the corner of a sleeve. David politely ignored me, giving me a chance to pull myself together again until he finally held out a cup of coffee to me.

He leaned back against the counter opposite and looked over at me steadily.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

The no-pressure question made my breath catch in my throat. It was so simply stated, I didn't know what to say to him.

I laughed bitterly. "Not really." I fiddled with the mug between my hands and looked back up at him. "I think I really screwed up this time, David."

"So go back to Ivy and apologize."

I shook my head. "I can't."

"Hmm." David sipped his coffee pensively. "It looks like you have a problem then."

David was more right than he knew. What was worse, I had no idea what to do about it. David let me spend the day at his place without complaint, but finally I couldn't stay any longer. He had left me to my thoughts for most of the day. I had spent the time pacing back and forth across his living room. Thinking things through and forming a detailed plan of action really wasn't my style. It was more Ivy's. I tended to fly by the seat of my pants, skirting danger and hanging on to the edge of the metaphorical cliff by my fingernails. It had worked for me so far, at least as far as anything ever worked for me.

By the time the day had slowly drifted through my fingers, I still hadn't come to any conclusions, but a certainty that this time, as much as I wanted to, I couldn't simply avoid everything. I had to go back home to the church and Ivy. I owed it to her.

And besides, running away from things had never worked for Ivy and I. It always made things worse between us and better when we talked them out. I wasn't sure how this could be made better. I had never heard of anyone being un-bound. As far as I knew, it was permanent and I wanted nothing to do with it, not that I had a choice about it anymore. Being bound to Ivy made me something that was no better than a slave and I had fought tooth and nail to keep Al from doing that very thing to me, only to be captured by Ivy.

That she loved me just made it worse not better.

I was sure that she would be kind and she would try. There was no doubt that Ivy wanted an equal relationship with me, but the conclusion that I had finally come to was that there was no possible way that it could work. The scene in the hallway had proved that. Ivy had controlled me completely and casually and there was nothing I could do to prevent that.

It left us nowhere.

It was dark when I got back to the church. Night had fallen on the drive back from David's house and the light was on in front of the church. Looking up, I thought I could catch a glimpse of Bis up on the rooftop. He took his guard duties seriously and he was damn good at them or Jenks wouldn't have trusted him.

This time, though, the danger wasn't from outside the church but within.

Glancing over, I looked to see if Ivy's motorcycle was still there. They were. Part of me was surprised. Running away was what Ivy did best, at least when it came to issues between us. Another part of me wasn't. Ivy had grown and changed just as much as I had in the past six months.

My pace slowed as I neared the door. I was dreading going inside, but I had to face this. I ran my fingers over the sign next to our door and smiled as I remembered how proud I had been when I'd hung it. That had been one of the best solstices of my life.

The smile dropped from my face as I opened the door and stepped inside. This time I kept my keys, and had nothing to drop in the kitchen. Instead I headed for the living room, looking for Ivy.

She was sitting, curled up in her armchair, her knees pulled tightly to her chest with her arms wrapped around them. Her face was barely visible from behind her knees, but there were obvious tear tracks on the parts of her face that I could see. Her eyes followed me as I moved into the room.

I sat down on the couch across from her and fidgeted with my keys. After several interminable minutes of silence Ivy finally spoke.

"You came home." Her voice was hoarse and croaky. From a day of crying, my brain supplied.

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

"Thank you," Ivy breathed the words so softly that they were barely audible.

"I'm scared, Ivy," I admitted into the silence that followed.

I didn't think it was possible for her to look more stricken.

"Of me?"

I shrugged and looked away, not able to meet her eyes.

"Ivy...I'm bound to you." The words still sounded wrong every time I said them. "I never wanted that."

"I know."

"Then why?" The question that I had been wanting to ask her all day slipped out.

Ivy stood up abruptly, her frustration obvious in the tense lines of her body. "I don't know! I didn't. I mean..." She shook her head. "I don't know, Rachel."

She stopped pacing and bent down in front of me. Ivy started to put a hand on my knee, and then stopped, her hand hanging awkwardly in the air before she let it drop back to her side.

"I didn't intend to do this, Rachel. You have to believe that."

"It doesn't really matter, does it?" I shrugged. "It's done."

She closed her eyes and turned her head away.

"I'm glad you're okay. I worried about you today."

Her soft admission made me shiver. I knew Ivy cared about me. That had never been in doubt. She started to stand up and I caught her wrist, keeping her there.

"Do you think we can make this work?"

Ivy froze. "I want it to. Nothing's changed for me. I still want me to be me and you to be you." She reached out hesitantly, to push a strand of hair back behind my ear. A fingertip trailed across my cheek. "I love you, Rachel. I just want to be with you."

I nodded and wrapped my arms around her shoulders, pulling her as close to me as I could. Ivy responded immediately holding me back just as tightly. For just a moment, I let myself relax into her and remember the safety and comfort that I had found here, with her.

"Me too," I murmured softly, against her hair.

Eventually we let go of one another. Ivy stood and held a hand out to me.

"Come to bed?"

I flinched, before I realized the comment was a question.

"We both need some rest," Ivy added.

I tried to smile, panic beginning to tug at the corners of my mind again.

"Yeah, babe, I'll be there in just a few minutes."

"Okay," Ivy smiled tiredly and leaned over to press a chaste kiss to my lips. I tilted my head up to meet her and smiled until she was gone from the room. I waited in my chair until I heard the bedroom door shut behind her.

My hands were shaking as I stood and headed for the backyard of the church. I glanced at Jenks' stump and thought about going over there. I wondered if Jenks knew what had happened. Probably not, or he would have been waiting for me when I got in. I grimaced. The last thing I needed right now was for Jenks to tell me how much of an idiot I'd been.

Gritting my teeth, I headed across the yard and toward the line that cut across the graveyard. With one last backwards glance, I stepped into the line.

I felt the power surge as the view of the ever-after flared up around me. Tapping the line, I closed my eyes and then practiced a skill that I had only just learned from Al. There was dizzying sensation of impossible speed and being everywhere and nowhere at once.

For a long second, I panicked, unable to gather my thoughts, and then I did. Everything expanded just as abruptly as it had contracted and I was there.

My legs weren't willing to hold me and I fell over on the floor, gasping for breath. Al always made it look so smooth and cool. It was far from that, but I supposed a millennium of practice could do that for you.

I stood slowly and dusted myself off, beginning to look around. This was the first time I had showed up at Al's apartments unannounced and I wondered what I might find here, taking Al by surprise like this.

"Rachel Mariana Morgan."

Even now, Al drawling my name out like that could still send a chill down my spine.

"Al." I tried to sound tough. I mainly just sounded tired.

"What are you doing here, my itchy-witch? You aren't due back for another week, and we both know how prompt you are."

I grimaced and looked down, not quite able to believe what I was about to do. But it was my only choice.

"I need a favor."

Al folded his arms over his chest and pinned me with a knowing look.

"Oh, what have you gotten yourself into this time?" He sounded gleeful. "But even for you, my favorite student, favors come at a price." He pointed a gloved finger at me. "You should know that."

"I need a place to stay for a while." I got the words out as quickly as I could.

Al stared at me, his smoked glasses falling down his nose until I could see the blazing red of his eyes.

"Are you serious?" He waved his hand. "Of course you're serious. You don't have that good of a sense of humor." He stared at me. "Why? Surely there are plenty of places in your world for you to stay." He began to move, circling around behind me. "No, there must be another reason for this."

I shook my head, knowing, even as I did, that Al would get his way. I had no other choice. Beggars can't be choosers.

Al smiled winningly.

"Tell me, and I'll consider your favor."

For an instant, I considered not telling him. I could still leave and go somewhere else. I swallowed. There was a choice, but it was really no choice.

The moment I had flinched at Ivy's simple question, I had know that there was no way we could make it work. Ivy could control me completely with just a word or gesture and even if she never intended for it to happen, it had already changed our relationship completely. It was no longer a relationship of equals.

Leaving had been the only thing I could think to do. There was nowhere in my world that would be far enough for me to get away from her. Irony of ironies, the ever-after was the only place where I stood a chance to get my life back - the only place where there was a chance that it might be mine. All I had to do was get out of this conversation without Al owning my soul.

"I tell you; you let me stay."

"Tsk, tsk." He waggled a finger at me. "You should know better than that, love. What's in it for me? You're the one asking for a favor."

A thought occurred to me.

"If I turned up dead, just how much trouble would you be in with Newt?" I asked as blandly as I possibly could.

Al blanched. I hadn't thought it possible in the spelled disguise that he was wearing, but apparently Ceri stirred a better potion than I had given her credit for.

"You're not my responsibility. Newt would have to remember your existence for that to even be a problem." Al tried to feign nonchalance and didn't quite pull it off. "And you're not dead yet."

I crossed my arms, knowing he was exactly where I wanted him now.

"But I will be if you don't let me stay with you. And then..." I paused for dramatic effect. "Newt will kill you. It might not be that day, or the day after. But some day, Newt will remember. You will never know when. And then one day, when you least expect it, she will kill you." I smiled bitterly. "You can't stay on your guard for centuries."

Al glared. "Tell me."

I swallowed hard. "Ivy bound me."

The look on Al's face as he circled around behind me was full of delight. He brushed my hair off my shoulder, and exposed my neck.

"There's no bite here."

My face flamed. "She didn't bite-" I swallowed the rest of my sentence. "It's none of your business, Al."

"Oh, but it is my business, now that you're here." Al looked at me knowingly. "And I think we have much to discuss."

The speculative look on his face left me chilled. What had I done?


Chapter Three

Fifteen Years Later

The dull ringing of the phone slowly invaded my consciousness. There was no way to know how long it had been ringing before I had realized what it was, and rolled over, fumbling to answer it blindly.

"Rachel Morgan, Independent Runner," I slurred into the phone, my voice still fogged with sleep.

There was a brief moment of silence on the other end and I was about to hang up and roll back over. A quick glance at the clock told me that it was only nine o'clock. Still pretty early yet for a witch and far too early for me. I had only gotten to bed a few hours earlier.

"It's been a long time, Ms. Morgan."

I was drifting in that space between sleep and being fully awake. The words startled me. When I processed what had actually been said, that surprise turned to a jolt of worry.

"Who is this?" I demanded into the phone, suddenly awake.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up, rested my head on my elbow and eyed the industrial carpet under my feet. It looked shabby and worn, I thought, and I gripped the phone tightly. It wasn't doing anything to make this room feel any more like a real home. Of course it was just one in a very long line of motel rooms. No matter how different they were, they were all very much the same.

"You don't recognize my voice?" the person on the other end said mockingly.

I tapped a line without thinking about it. By now, it was my automatic response to feeling threatened. There was very little I could do to someone over the phone, but it was better to be prepared than caught off guard. I had learned that the hard way.

"After all, I would think you'd recognize the voice of the human you pimped ketchup to for years? Or are there too many people who fit those conditions now for you to remember your first?"

"Glenn?" I blurted out his name in disbelief. It had been years since I had spoken to him.

"The one and only," he said cheerily. "Long time, no see, Rachel."

I shook my head, still in shock at hearing Glenn's voice. I had never expected to see or hear from him again after I left the Hollows, although it wasn't that odd considering what I did these days. Glenn had always seemed like a career FIB guy, and since I spent most of my time consulting for them.... It was probably more surprising that I hadn't run into him before, come to think of it.

"You can say that again." I cleared my throat. "Although on second thought, don't." I'd almost had enough time to start thinking again. "What's up, Glenn?" I asked, suddenly wary.

"Can't a detective just look up an old friend after a long time with no ulterior motive?"

I wouldn't have bought back it then and I didn't buy it now. I said as much.

"You're right," Glenn admitted, without any hesitation. "I need some help, Rachel."

"No!" I blurted the answer out without even taking a moment to consider it.

"You might want to hear me out first," Glenn said mildly.

"I'm not coming back to the Hollows, Glenn. You can just forget it right now," I added, getting up to pace around the room, and picking up the clothes that I had dropped the night before as I had fallen into bed.

"We've had a lot of deaths lately."

"What's new," I scoffed as I tugged my jeans up first one leg than another, hopping a little as I tried to do it one-handed.

"They're all witches."

I rolled my eyes. "Get to the good part, Glenn or stop wasting my time." I paused. "Actually I'd take a look at Trent for that."

"Still, Rachel? I thought you'd let that one go by now."

"Not likely," I snapped back, chewing at my lip. "But if that's the best you've got, it's not going to work."

"Oh, that's not all," he added. "They all have green eyes and red hair."

"Sounds like a serial killer," I commented, as I pulled my t-shirt awkwardly over my head. I let the silence hang in the air, making it clear that I still wasn't interested.

Glenn's sigh was audible even through the phone line.

"They have one more thing in common; they all look a lot like you, Rachel."

This time the silence was different. I sank back onto the bed.

"What are you saying, Glenn?" I finally asked, tiredly.

"I'm saying that I think there might be a connection there."

"I've been gone a long time, Glenn. You said it yourself. Why would there be a connection?"

"I don't have to tell you that you made a lot of very powerful enemies here."

"You think someone's targeting witches who look like me?" Not good. Not good at all.

"It's a possibility," Glenn admitted slowly. There was another pause. "Rachel, you're a very hard person to track down."

That was comforting to know at least, especially since I had put a lot of effort into becoming just that over the years.

"And, honestly," Glenn continued, "I wouldn't have bothered you if I had any other options. But I think your presence could break open the case."

I gritted my teeth as he waited for my response.

"I'm not coming back to the Hollows, Glenn," I said firmly.

"If you don't, more witches will die, and those deaths will be completely on your head." Glenn's calm statement of fact hit me just as hard as he'd obviously meant it to.

There was nothing else I could say to that. I didn't have any choice.

"I'll call you when I get there," I said with a sigh. Everything inside me was screaming that this was a very, very bad idea but I couldn't say no. Not to Glenn.

"Thank you, Rachel," Glenn managed to keep most of the smugness out of his voice. He had gotten what he wanted.

I promptly hung up on him. I was going back to the Hollows for the first time in years. The thought made me slightly nauseated. I wasn't sure how I was going to get through this. In and out as fast as possible would be my best bet. With any luck, I wouldn't even see Ivy.

"Glenn, you'd better be sure about this," I muttered underneath my breath. He couldn't hear me. He wasn't even there, but I was still cursing him in his absence. Not only had he gotten me back to the Hollows, but he had also told me to show up at this party. It was a gathering of all of the city's most powerful and dangerous men and women.

And here I was in the midst of it. Serving notice that I was back, and that something would be done about these murders. Whoever was responsible would be taken down.

I wasn't sure that I still had that much of a reputation around the Hollows, but being the only witch to leave the I.S. without dying was something no one else had managed to do again. Even happening as long ago as it did, people still remembered it. That was what I was counting on. Well, that and the kick-ass dress that I was wearing. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it the right way.

I had spent a long time getting ready that afternoon. It had required a shopping trip to get a new dress and several hours of primping. The pinkie ring that my father had given me to cover blemishes sat on my hand. My dress hugged every curve of my body, and fit like a glove. The smooth black material fell from a thin halter around my neck to emphasize my less than generous cleavage. A slit ran up the left side and ended dangerously high on my thigh.

For once, I had managed to do something with my hair, spending hours and a half-dozen amulets to tame it down before I piled it up on my head, leaving curling red tendrils hanging down around my face.

A thin black choker circled my neck, drawing attention to it since I was safely off limits. Over the years, I had learned that it drove vamps - both living and dead - crazy. I wasn't above taking advantage of it, especially not tonight.

The final addition to my outfit had been a spray of the perfume that I had spent years trying to find. As far as I had been able to determine it was the last bottle in existence, and I had paid a price for it that I still didn't like to think about. Still it had been worth it. It was the twin to the only bottle that Ivy had ever bought me that proved to be absolutely effective in masking my scent. It was exactly what the night called for.

I was counting on the element of surprise.

A waiter held out a tray and pulled me out of my reverie. It was time to stop messing around and get my head in the game. The important guests were just starting to drift in and I had a full night of mingling ahead of me.

Across the room, I saw Glenn gesture toward me to the man he was speaking to. I straightened and smiled as the man turned away from Glenn and strode towards me. Distractedly, I grabbed a glass of wine and sipped before the man got to my side.

The slightly musky scent identified him to me as a Were almost immediately.

"Ms. Morgan, a pleasure to meet you." He enfolded my hand in his and bent over it slightly.

He had to be the smoothest Were I had ever met. That didn't bode well.

"I'm John Weston." The name didn't mean anything, but the way he said made me think he expected it to.

I tried to smile as if I knew what was going on.

"Nice to meet you too."

"I can't believe the opportunity hasn't arisen before now. Your Alpha only has the best things to say about you, but I've never managed to see you around the Hollows."

I smiled blandly. So that was how this man knew me. He knew David, and that meant pack business. If I had to guess, I would say it was definitely antagonistic business.

"The Hollows is a big place," I demurred.

"Indeed it is," he agreed. "But I should think that we will be seeing more of one another soon. Especially if you're going to be spending more time here in the Hollows."

"Mmm," I made a non-committal noise and wished for Glenn to come rescue me. I definitely needed to call David in the morning and find out what the Turn had been going on in the pack in my absence. Especially if this guy was going to make it my business.

Something tugged at my subconscious, and I looked away from him, trying to figure out what it had been. Weston kept talking, his voice droning on and on, but I was no longer paying attention.

"Excuse me," I cut into whatever he was saying. "I think I see a friend of mine."

There was no one of course, but I wanted an excuse to get away from him and focus on the strange, familiar feeling that was growing with every moment. It was so nebulous I couldn't make sense of it, but it was definitely there. I found a relatively private spot, leaned up against the support pillar and focused. For a second my vision blurred and then I was surveying the room with my second sight.

Out of habit the security spells caught my eye. I made a mental note of them although I had no intention of being in a situation where I would need to know about them tonight. Other than that, there was nothing odd going on that I could see, and the overlay of the demon world was making the room look very strange.

Reluctantly, I let go of my second sight and took another sip of wine. Just about to turn away and see if I could find Glenn in the crowd, a caught a glimpse of a tall, ebony-haired woman entering the room.

My breath caught in my throat. Ivy. Somehow I hadn't thought about seeing her here tonight. I should have expected it, really. If she was still a part of Rynn Cormel's camarilla, she would certainly have moved up in the ranks by now. Ivy was a power player and for tonight this is where they would be gathering.

She looked good. I swallowed, my mouth suddenly dry. She hadn't seen me yet. I was far enough back in the crowd not to be immediately obvious, so I allowed myself a moment to take her in. Gone, at least for tonight, was the bad-ass runner Ivy that I had known and loved. The pin-striped suit she was wearing was form-fitting, but made her look more like a professional business woman than a runner. Only the low cut suit jacket and the thin chain of gold drawing attention to her neck hinted at something darker, and more dangerous beneath that restraint.

Her long, dark hair was falling gently down her back and stopped just below her shoulders. She was just as lithe and slender as I remembered, still moving with that subtle strength and grace that was an integral part of her. I let myself take in her features. They were still that mixture of delicate yet strong that I remembered. She looked more mature, calmer, and more comfortable in her own skin than I remembered, but hardly any older. She looked just as beautiful, though.

As if she could feel my eyes on her, Ivy glanced across the room and looked directly at me. The surprise of seeing me there seemed to hit her like a visible blow, emotion rippling across her face, before she masked her expression once again.

Dread and excitement mixed into a heady rush of anticipation and nausea that left my palms sweating and my heart racing. I gripped the wine glass in my hand just a little bit tighter, as Ivy began to walk across the room toward me. Knowing she could hear my heart pounding in my chest only made it race faster. The heat of a faint blush slid across my cheeks.

Turn it, she wasn't still supposed to make me feel this way. Time and distance were supposed to have weakened the hold she had on me, not left it unchanged.

"Ms. Tamwood," A man wearing a police dress uniform bearing the insignia of a captain stepped up between us. "It's good to have you with us this evening. I see you've met Ms. Morgan. She's the consultant that we brought in to assist us with the witch murders."

Ivy didn't bother to acknowledge the man. Her eyes never slid away from mine as she held a hand out to me.

"Ms. Morgan." Her voice was a low purr that I felt down to the tip of my toes.

My hand slipped around hers. The scent of incense surrounded me. I had to concentrate to keep my eyes from drifting closed and simply soaking in the sensation. Her fingers squeezed around mine briefly before she let go.

"Ms. Tamwood," I returned the greeting as calmly - I hoped - as she'd greeted me.

If I hadn't lived with Ivy for years, if I didn't know her so well, if we hadn't been what we were to one another, I wouldn't have noticed the rim of black that flashed around her brown eyes for a moment as our hands connected.

I didn't realize that we had been standing in complete silence until a young boy came up to stand beside Ivy. He held out his arm, which Ivy calmly slipped her own arm through, as he stared at me and the tableau that Ivy and I made.

He stood almost to her shoulder as he leaned in to ask her a question.

The only part of it that I caught was the last word.


My heart stopped for an instant and then my gaze flashed from the boy to Ivy and back again. When I looked, it was obvious. The stamp of Ivy's features were obvious even on his more masculine ones. I looked down, trying to take a deep breath and compose myself.

Ivy smiled fondly down at the boy. She let go of my hand to caress his cheek. The sudden gesture surprised me almost more than the knowledge that my Ivy now had a child.... I had never seen her so casual with her touch.

"Marion," she spoke with a small tight smile. "This is Rachel Morgan. She was my partner when I left the I.S. and my very good friend."

And so much more. But then, there had always been so much that Ivy and I had left unsaid.

Marion straightened almost imperceptibly, trying to stand taller. I was still trying to get over the shock of his name. Was it possible that Ivy had... No, that was ridiculous. Sometimes a coincidence was just a coincidence.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Morgan." He spoke in a strong, clear boy's voice filled with nothing but respect. I wondered what Ivy had been telling him about me. I was still notorious in vampire circles as the woman who had brought Piscary down.

"It's nice to meet you too, Marion," I said with a smile. My gaze flicked back to Ivy. "If you'll excuse me? I think someone's calling me."

Ivy smiled politely, but the knowing look she gave me declared that my excuse was bullshit. With her hearing, she would have been able to hear anyone calling me far better than I could.

"Rachel." It was the first time that she had called me by my given name all night and it froze me in place as solidly as if she had bespelled me. "I'd like to talk to you later." She hesitated. "About the witch murders."

I let out the breath I hadn't realized I was holding when she added her final few words.

"Yeah," I managed to fumble the words out. "Yeah, that would be good." I paused, uncertain of how she would take it, but unable to deny myself. "Ivy."

She nodded, not seeming at all unhappy with the way I had skipped the formalities and gone back to at least some level of our former familiarity.

The thought warmed me as I turned away and dove back into the crowd. It had happened. I had seen Ivy for the first time since - well, for a very long time - and we had both been surprised. No death. No blood. No nasty scenes. It had gone much better than I'd had any right to expect.

Now why did that leave me feeling so sad?

I should have known that Ivy wouldn't let me go so easily. She never had.

I stood holding a glass of red wine in my hands and not drinking it. The FIB captain that had brought me to this shindig had insisted on getting it for me. He was unaware that I couldn't even drink the stuff without getting a migraine.

I leaned against the wall and watched the couples mixing on the dance floor. I would only have to stay a little bit longer before I could leave. This was simply me, serving notice to some of Cincy's best, brightest and most likely to commit - or order committed - the recent spree of witch murders.

A light breath of warm air danced across the skin of my neck and made me shiver. I let my eyes fall closed and breathed in deeply, savoring the smell of incense and Ivy.

Knowing it was bad, but unable to help myself, I tilted my head until it was touching the wall, leaving the clean line of my neck even more vulnerable and exposed than before.

"Tease," Ivy muttered from behind me.

"You know it," I responded just as quietly. This was as close to a quiet, private moment that we would get all night.

She leaned closer. I could feel her warmth against me, in a line down my back, paralleling my body.

"You're wearing my perfume."

I stiffened. She was almost right. It was the same kind, if not out of the same bottle that she had bought me years before. Unfortunately, I'd had to leave that bottle behind in the church that day with the rest of my things. I bent my head forward as I remembered Kisten telling me that it was quite the turn-on for a vampire.

"You knew you'd be seeing me." It wasn't a question.

I grimaced at the hurt in Ivy's voice. Apparently, I still hating hearing that. "Ivy," I sighed. "I wasn't sure, but I thought it might be a possibility."

I didn't need to turn around to know that pheromones were pouring off Ivy without her conscious control, her eyes slowly dilating from brown to pitch black. The sensations flooding through me felt oh-so-good and made me glad I was already leaning against the wall as my knees went weak.

While I could still think, my mind flashed back to the image of Ivy standing in front of me earlier in the evening.

I spoke the only thing I could think of. "You have a son."

"I have an heir," she corrected me immediately. And then I could think again, the wash of pheromones fading with the change of subject. "I have a son," Ivy corrected herself, echoing my words with an almost reverent tone.

That did it. I couldn't restrain myself any longer. I had to turn and face her.

"I never thought-"

She smiled. It was disconcerting. I could see the pain and hurt beneath it, but this Ivy seemed so much freer and happier than I remembered.

"I didn't either." She looked down. "Especially after Kist died. But my mother needed an heir." She hesitated and then looked back up, into my eyes. "After you left I didn't have a reason to refuse her, anymore."

"You don't look like you regret it," I observed softly.

"Do you regret it, Rachel?" Ivy countered with the same tone.

I winced. That was the question, wasn't it? Did I regret leaving the Hollows? Leaving her? Some days, with every breath I took, but I still thought it was the right thing to do. Even more so, now.


Ivy's body language shifted almost imperceptibly. Only someone skilled in the language of Ivy would have noticed the subtle ways that she was suddenly putting distance between me and her. Ivy would always put herself out there for me; it didn't mean she liked to be hurt, any more than anyone else did.

"Where are you staying?"

I shrugged. "My stuff's at a hotel right now." I grimaced. " But I'm working on finding someplace else. With my job, it's too dangerous for me to be staying in a place like that where a lot people could get hurt."

Ivy glanced down at the inside of my wrist. "Who do you owe favors to these days, Rachel?"

I drew back, insulted. Ivy knew I didn't deal in demons, even if sometimes they seemed to deal in me.

"None of your business, Ivy," I snapped back.

She flashed me a smug smirk and I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at her. I had grown up in the past few years, a little bit at least.

"You know," Ivy spoke slowly, "I know a place you could stay if you need it."

I shook my head rapidly. "I'm not staying at Tamwood Estate, Ivy. No way. I'm supposed to be investigating here."

Ivy folded her arms over her chest. She was starting to look pissed.

"Are you saying that I'm under investigation?"

"No," I answered quickly and decisively. "But your mother is one of Rynn Cormel's most trusted lieutenants and I can't even give the appearance of impropriety."

Ivy frowned, but I could see that she was slightly mollified by my assessment of the situation. Not that I didn't have my doubts about Ivy's mother, but she wasn't at the top of my suspect list - at least for the moment.

"Actually I was going to offer the church. It's not rented at the moment."

Whatever I had been about to say, it died unsaid in my throat. Ivy was offering me the church. The closest thing I'd had to a home since I had moved out of my parents' house. Only Ivy would know how much I wanted to stay there and only Ivy would offer it.

"Jenks' kids still live there. They keep the garden up, but no one's living in the church itself right now."

"I'd love to," I blurted. "I mean, I can even make rent these days."

Ivy shook her head. "Not necessary. I've been holding the place in trust for Jenks. He'd want you to stay there."

I suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe. It happened anytime the subject of Jenks came up.


She nodded. I could see her gaze track across the room.

"Be careful, Rachel. I don't want to have to go down to the morgue to identify you."

I shook my head. Some things never changed, I thought, as Ivy walked away.


Chapter Four

It was disorienting to wake up in my own room at the church. It looked exactly as I had left it. Rented out, my ass. At the time, I had figured that Jenks would either take care of my stuff for me or give it back to my mom. And honestly, I'd had bigger issues to worry about.

I turned my head on the pillow and surveyed the room. Sunlight filtered through the curtains. They looked a bit thinner in spots and there were tears in them that I didn't remember, probably just from age. The top of my pressboard dresser had been cleared off. I wondered idly if I opened the top drawer, would I find all of the bottles of perfume that Ivy had bought for me? The only one that I had regretted leaving behind was the one that completely masked my scent, and so I'd replaced it. It reminded me of her every time I wore it, which wasn't often. I told myself it was because I knew how expensive it was, but the truth was, it had made me feel closer to Ivy in a time when I had felt impossibly alone.

Everything was still there - even the furniture hadn't been rearranged. Not rented at the moment. Riiiiiight. Not rented ever was more like it. Ivy had preserved our home exactly as it had been - and had it lovingly maintained by some of Jenks' fifty-four kids, I'd be willing to bet.

My eyes drifted to the closet and I flinched minutely, as I had a flash of Newt possessing me as she tried to search the church for something. I still didn't know what she had wanted, even after the years that I had spent with Al in the ever-after. I had done my best to avoid Newt, even as I had become more and more skilled in and knowledgeable of demon magic.

After Newt had killed Minias, dealing with her had become an even dicier prospect and only the most skilled - or overconfident - of demons sought her out. Minias had, had centuries to learn how to handle her, and despite his occasional failures he was better at it than most demons had given him credit for. Now the rest of the ever-after was behind the learning curve and having to catch up fast.

It had made for some very tense dealings that I had wanted as little to do with her as possible. I was all too mortal and if Newt could kill a demon, then it would be even easier for me to die. My best hope was to stay clear of her and hope that without any reminders, she would forget all about me. It was entirely possible, if not very probable, that I could be dead of natural causes by the time Newt remembered me. A witch's lifespan was nothing compared to a demon's, after all, and if she forgot about me for another century or so I would be in the clear.

Okay, so I wasn't likely to be that lucky, but it was something that I could deal with when the time came. I had enough things to worry about at the moment, not the least of which the witch murderer here in the Hollows.

Pushing back the covers, I got out of bed, and walked over to where I had dumped my bag the night before. I dug through it until I found a comfortable pair of soft, old jeans. I would save the leather pants for later when it looked like I might need them to save my ass (or other portions of my anatomy, for that matter) from skin grafts.

Once I was dressed I opened the door to the hallway. I hadn't looked around the night before. I knew where everything was and I was more exhausted than I had thought. I hadn't been prepared to see Ivy last night, and the sight of her had dragged up a lot of things that I usually tried not to think about. It made it harder to lie to myself.

Now I looked around, giving the ceiling a careful glance. There was really no reason that I should be embarrassed about what I was about to do. It wasn't anything illegal, or even something Ivy had asked me not to do. She had given me free run of the church with no questions asked. I still didn't want even an errant pixie to catch sight of me, though.

As quietly as if I still shared the church with a moody vampire, I walked down the hall and opened the door to the other room - the room that had been Ivy's and, later, ours. It had never been something that we had discussed, but when I had wanted to be with Ivy, I had always gone to her and we had always seemed to end up in her room. It seemed obvious now that Ivy had been trying to let me set the boundaries of our relationship, unwilling to push me too far. My hand crept to my neck, finding my old scar involuntarily.

Touching it now, was like touching any other non-vamp scar. Being bound to Ivy meant that only her touch, her caress, her bite could effect me anymore. Running my fingers back and forth over the thin ridges of the scar had become a habit, like worrying rosary beads.

The realization of what Ivy had done seemed ironic now, given the way that our relationship had ended. I rubbed at my eyes, trying to erase the exhaustion and tension that left them aching and dry. Finally, I couldn't stall any longer.

The door creaked a little as it swung inwards and I held my breath, as if expecting someone to jump out at me. No one did. The inside of the room was darker than mine, sheltered by the leather curtains that still hung in her windows.

I reached out to my left, and flicked on the light switch, not even having to fumble along the wall to find it. I swallowed thickly as the room was illuminated. It looked exactly as I had left it, too.

I stepped fully into the room, and breathed in deeply. My eyes fell shut as I caught a hint of a familiar scent. It smelled like incense and redwoods. What Ivy had, one day, shyly, called "our scent". The thought of a scent that was uniquely ours, made up of the combination of both of us, had filled me with a happy warmth. It felt like stepping into my mom's kitchen and smelling that combination of herbs and spices, the metallic tang of her copper spell pots, and whatever pie or cake she had been baking that day.

My fingers trailed down the door frame until they hung loosely at my side, as I let my eyes fall closed. We had made so many memories in here both good and bad.

My skin burned where Ivy's fingers trailed across my skin. My breath hitched, and I stiffened as her lips brushed across my scar. I arched back into her touch, feeling the line of her body pressed against my back. Her arm tightened around my stomach, pulling me closer, into the circle of her embrace.

"Rachel," she murmured, her lips brushing against my neck sending all new shivers racing through my body.

Lazily, I shifted, turning within her arms until I was facing her. I pulled one hand up from between us to rest over her heart. I could feel the steady thump of it speed up under my hand. The knowledge of what I was doing to her brought a faint smirk to my lips.

Even now, I couldn't quite believe I was here - in bed - with Ivy. I never thought we would be here, but then, I had once thought that I would never let Ivy taste my blood, and my objections to that were long gone.

Ivy shifted slightly, her leg slipping between mine, and I pulled my attention back up to her face. She looked just like I had once imagined, smiling easily at me, her face open. The sight of her like that made my chest painfully tight and tears began to well up in my eyes.

"Oh, Ivy," I breathed, trying to get a hold of my rapidly shifting emotions. I tried to cover what I was feeling, by leaning forwards to press my lips to hers. My hand cupped the side of her face, pulling her closer to me. Her tongue brushed tentatively against my lips. Without hesitation, I deepened the kiss. It lasted until Ivy pulled gently away from me.

"Rachel?" Concern filled her voice as she saw that I was crying.

I sniffled ungracefully. I hated it when I cried. My usually pale skin got all blotchy and puffy and red, leaving me looking I had gotten on the wrong end of badly-mixed acne correcting spell.

I blinked and ducked my head. I felt Ivy gently touch my chin and bring my head up back to face her. She slowly wiped the tears from my cheeks, and lightly touched her lips to mine.

"What's wrong?"

I shook my head, blinking until I could get the tears to stop. This was not the way I had ever thought we would spend our first morning together.

"Nothing's wrong," I said softly. "I'm sorry." My voice broke as I apologized. I meant it for every time I had unknowingly hurt her and put her through so much pain.

"It's okay," Ivy said with admirable calm for a woman who was being cried all over. There was a hint of bewilderment in her eyes, but for once she didn't push, and pulled me closer instead.

I dropped my head to her shoulder and breathed in slowly. My hand dropped to her side, and traced back and forth over her abdomen. The absent motion calmed me. Unbidden, a thought popped into my mind. It was short, simple and full of meaning.

I loved Ivy.

My hand stilled and I considered the thought. It was true. I did love Ivy and I had for some time, but only now did I realize that I more than loved Ivy. I was in love with her.

The words were on the tip of my tongue. Something was holding me back, though. Now wasn't the time.

A faint knock on the church's front door forced my eyes back open. I didn't have time for this trip down memory lane. I couldn't afford it; I had a witch murderer to catch.

Quickly I ducked back into my room and snatched my splat gun from my bag. It was only loaded with sleepy-time charms at the moment, but there was no telling who would be on the other side of that door when I opened it.

It was wonderful to be back home and back in the Hollows, but with it came all of my problems. And all of my enemies, several of whom would be none too happy to see me back here.

Stepping to the side, I leaned flush against the wall and then threw open the door. No flaming balls of ever-after flew through - no gun shots, no spells. Of course, whoever was out there could be waiting for me to step into view. Assassins didn't get paid as well when they racked up collateral damage.


It sounded like Glenn, but then there were potions that could alter voices to sound like someone you trusted. Anything was possible, and witches that looked a lot like me were getting killed here in the Hollows on a regular basis. If Glenn's theory was right, then it was likely that someone was trying to kill me and these poor witches were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Few people who had known me knew that I was here now - only my mom and David, really - and even fewer knew that I was staying at the Church again. If someone was out there, then they had likely been watching me and that was never good.

"Gotten paranoid, haven't you?"

I still didn't reply. There was the sound of movement, someone coming closer. I tensed and got ready to move.

"How about this? If you're Rachel, you'll know this is true. If you're not," he mumbled almost under his breath. "Then this will definitely make all the papers." He raised his voice again. "You took me to Piscary's Pizza and made me eat my first tomato sauce. After that you got me hooked on all kinds of tomato products."

He hesitated, and I smirked. It was Glenn all right, but part of me wondered just how far he would play this out to convince me that it was really him.

"My favorite," he blurted out just loudly enough to be heard, "Is- was the spicy ketchup."

Unable to restrain my smug grin, I stepped out from behind the door. "Glenn, you naughty, naughty, human, you. What would the fine human citizens of the Hollows say if they found out that their beloved, straight-laced FIB detective couldn't get enough of the ketchup?"

Glenn glared.

"You didn't have to let me go on that long!" he said with disgust.

Smiling, I stepped back and waved him into the church. The neighborhood still looked quiet and sleepy at this early hour, but, as always, a dangerous edge lay underneath the calm of the Hollows. Anyone could be out there, watching us at this very moment. And I didn't like to be vulnerable.

"Just a precaution, Glenn."

"You really are paranoid, aren't you?"

"It's not paranoid if they really are out to get you," I muttered defensively. "And I'm still alive."

Glenn sobered immediately, the hint of teasing in his manner gone to be replaced completely by the serious FIB agent.

"What happened to you, Rachel?" He waited, like he actually expected me to answer his question.

I simply tucked my splat gun into the waist of my jeans, and turned my back on him, walking into the kitchen.

"You want some coffee?" I called over my shoulder, ignoring his question.

Reaching over the counter without thinking, I stopped when everything was exactly where I had expected it to be. It was eerie, the way that this place was so perfectly preserved.

"It has something to do with Ivy." Glenn's quiet voice was much closer than I had expected him to be.

I tensed, freezing for a moment before I lowered the two mugs I'd taken out to the counter.

"She was under investigation for two years, you know. After you left."

I hadn't known that, actually.

"Everyone thought that she had killed you."

"What?" That time I did react, spinning around to face him. "What are you talking about? Ivy would never-"

I bit my lip and cut the rest of my sentence off. Ivy had bound me. There was no denying it. It was something I lived with every day. For years I had managed to push it to the back of my mind, and now it was back. The knowledge that if she so much as crooked her finger, I would come running to her without the slightest hesitation was something that I couldn't escape.

"Would never what?" Glenn pressed. "Tell me what happened, Rachel."

"You brought me here to solve your murders, Glenn, not look in to something that happened years ago. Back off and let me do my job."

Glenn took the coffee mug that I held out.

"Okay," he said finally. "I'll let it go - for now. But I will find out what happened some day," he added, warningly.

"Let me know when you do," I muttered under my breath as I turned away. What exactly had happened that night was still a mystery to me, even if the end results were plenty obvious.

"What do you know about these murders that you didn't tell me on the phone?" I asked.

"Funny you should ask," Glenn said. "There was something pretty strange about the first murder."

"How so?"

"Ley line symbols."

"What kind of symbols?"

Glenn shrugged. "We don't know."

I wrinkled my nose. Of course he didn't know. He was human and he was FIB.

"We checked with all of our ley line specialists and brought in several outside consultants." He paused, and saw that I still wasn't impressed. "I even asked Ceri Dulciate if she knew anything about them."

"Really?" Now that was interesting. Before I had become Al's student, Ceri had taught me most of what I knew about Ley line magic. She had also spent a thousand years in the ever-after twisting curses for Al. If she didn't know...well, that was very interesting.

"Do you have photos?" I asked and then shook my head. That wouldn't do. Sometimes the relative position or the even the inner shape of the building could have a great deal to do with what the symbols meant. They were really more of a guide to creating the gestures necessary for the spell and, especially with more advanced, magics context was everything. "Actually, I think I need to go see this. Is the scene still intact?"

Glenn looked at me as if I'd had my brain fried by a little bit too much line energy.

"Of course. But I can't go check it out this morning. I have to give the mayor a status report."

"Glenn," The whine in my voice was full of disappointment. When had he become so much the consummate politician.

"I'm sorry, but I can't postpone this again. The public is putting on a lot of pressure on us to find this killer."

"Then let me do my job and find him - them," I amended when Glenn gave me a look. Really, I wasn't still after Trent. I hadn't forgotten anything that he had done from keeping me locked in a cage, to killing a man in front of me, and using people's families to control them. "Give me the address," I continued. "I'll go check them out myself." I smiled at him winsomely. "I promise, I'll even be a good little witch and not disturb your scene."

Glenn stared at me and I could see he was seriously considering it. Finally he dug a small sheet of paper out of his pocket. He held it out, still looking at me seriously.

"Fine. But don't make me regret this, Rachel."

"Hey," I called out, already heading to grab my stuff. "You're the one who tracked me down, remember?"

It was probably a good thing I couldn't hear what he said in answer to that.

I drove past the giant, sprawling warehouse deliberately, the first time I passed it, and then circled around the block. It was amazing how many times a criminal would still be watching the place where the crime had occurred, even long after it had happened. And besides, I wanted to get an idea of the area around the building.

It was an industrial area, all warehouses and abandoned factories. For the most part the area looked deserted. Trash was strewn across the street and grime clung to the buildings.

This might have once been an active industrial area, but it had changed a lot since then. Most of it was the result of neglect and disrepair. The rest was deliberate. It was a perfect place for some of the city's less desirable elements to use. I made a mental note to find out which section of the city's seedy underbelly claimed this particular portion of it.

Years before, Ivy had been one of my best sources for information. Now...well, now I wasn't sure where we stood. Last night had been unsettling in its familiarity. I had felt so comfortable with her, even as the knowledge of what had happened lingered between us.

I pushed that thought aside as I stepped out of my car. It wasn't the time or the place to deal with the mess that I had made of my life. I walked around the side of the building until I found an entrance. Yellow FIB tape criss-crossed the entrance, barring the way.

I pushed the tape aside as I ducked underneath it and jiggled the handle of the door. It refused to move and looked rusted shut. Wondering why Glenn hadn't given me the key, I pulled out my cell phone. There was no service.

"Great," I muttered, "Just great." Digging in my bag, I pulled out a small kit. It was completely illegal. Well, the tools themselves weren't exactly illegal, but Glenn would definitely have confiscated them if he had seen me with them and what I was about to do was definitely...a creative interpretation of the law. Glenn had given me permission to go in, after all. Just not the keys to do it with.

Several minutes later - I had gotten a little rusty, apparently - I had the door open. Slipping the tools back in my bag, I opened the door and stepped inside. It was completely dark, only broken by the thin light coming through the windows at the far end. On this side of the building it was barely visible. Reaching into my bag, I pulled out a flashlight. I always kept one in there as part of my survival gear.

I began walking around, trying to get an idea of the interior of the building and searching for the symbols on the walls. It was not a small warehouse and it seemed as if it could definitely take a while to find what I was looking for. I hung the flashlight around my wrist on its thin cord. It swayed back and forth, casting uneven shadows on the wall. It would highlight a patch of the wall and then swing away again, leaving me in darkness.

It wasn't the most efficient way to search, but right now I was just trying to get a feel for the building. Context was often very important in magic, just as much as the ingredients and symbols used. The wall was cool and a little bit rough under my fingertips. Suddenly, pain blossomed in my foot.

"Turn it!" I swore, as I hopped awkwardly around, trying to pinpoint whatever it was that I'd stubbed my toe on.

The light swung wildly, giving me a glimpse of movement. It was all the warning that I got. Instinctively I threw the light in his face, and in the process lost my concentration on the ring of light. The ley line energy drained back into my chi in an instant, and the light vanished.

Out of the darkness, something slammed into me. I couldn't breathe. There was no air. I snatched wildly, grabbing for whatever had hit me. I connected, and dug my nails in, planting my feet and yanking back on my attacker.

The throw, one that I had used countless times and practiced even more failed me. My attacker didn't move. Oh shit did not even begin to cover it. I was flying through the air before I could even try to take another breath and then slamming back into the ground.

Not good, not good. My thoughts raced through my mind as I scrambled for anything that I could use as a weapon. I caught the edge of my badge as I tried to pull myself away from the direction I thought my attacker was in. I jerked back as I ran into the wall behind me, and slowly let out a breath.

This guy could see in the dark. That meant he was either a vampire or a were. Either one could handily kick my ass without magic and in the dark, I didn't stand a chance. Thank goodness it wasn't full dark yet, or I would really be in trouble.

Right, like I wasn't already up to my ears. I would give my left arm for Jenks right now. I bit my lip. Think, Rachel. Not the time to be dwelling on Jenks.

A gust of air brushed across my face; suddenly, my breathing sounded far too loud. I crouched, pushing myself off the floor. I took a deep breath and held it, before letting it out slowly. My best chance was to get outside. I ran.

I hadn't taken more than two strides when something caught me around the waist. I lashed out, aiming above me, and hit as hard as I could. The blow jolted up through my arm.

There was a sharp groan. Snapping out a kick, I aimed for where I thought his leg would be. There was a painful-sounding crack. The hands around me tightened. Continuing to struggle, I kicked out again. This time I didn't connect. I was starting to feel faint, my strength was slipping away. In desperation, I tried to tap a line. Nothing. There was only one line running near by. It was faint and old. Barely a thread of power.

Each time I tried to tap the line, it seemed to fall away, slipping through my fingers like water. It was frustrating and unbelievable. I was not going to die because the stupid ley line was withered and ancient. It was just not going to happen.

Something - maybe it was determination or adrenaline - suddenly surged through my veins. It was an almost tangible sensation - like the cold burn of the injections that I used to take for my Rosewood's Syndrome. It electrified me, and I slammed my foot back again, hoping to connect. This time when I did, something underneath my foot gave way. A scream of pain echoed in the room. I had never felt so strong before.

The arms around me loosened and I hit back, again and again. A moment later, we both hit the floor, the heavy weight of my attacker on top of me. I shoved myself up off the ground, hard enough to throw my attacker off me, and raced towards the door.

I was there almost before I knew it and then I was stumbling out into the too-bright light. As my eyes adjusted to it, I blinked rapidly, trying to restore my vision before something else hit the fan. Glenn. I should call Glenn. My mind was on autopilot now, telling my body what it needed to do without any conscious thought from me.

That was why I was a little bit surprised when I looked up and saw three more of them standing in front of me. I didn't need my second sight to see that they were Weres. There was something primal in the way they moved and the distinct scent of them. In David, it only added to the way he looked, increasing the sense of power and charisma around him. These guys just looked like they were ready to beat something to a pulp - namely me.

Oh, goody.


Chapter Five

The smell of antiseptic was overwhelming. It was so strong that the stench of fumes almost seemed to waft through the air, like something out of a low budget cartoon. I blinked, trying to block out the too-bright light and groaned. Everything hurt.

Fairy farts, what had I been doing? It wasn't just that I felt like I had gotten run over by a pack of pissed-off weres, which now that I thought back, wasn't that far from what had actually happened, but that every muscle in my body - as well as quite a few that I hadn't known were there - was screaming with dull, nagging pain. It felt like my first, worst week of being a runner - when they had put us through as many grueling workouts as they could. By that point, I'd had a few years to work on regaining my strength and recover from the weakness that Rosewood's syndrome had left me with, but it had still been hell. There was no way I wanted to go back to that.


I ducked instinctively at the loud noise, and then shot Glenn a glare, before sinking back into the lumpy pillows.

"Turn it, Glenn," I muttered in disgust. "Do you have to yell?"

He shot me another look which translated to roughly "What Are You Talking About, Rachel?", which was weird because Glenn was yelling. It wasn't my fault this time. I wasn't acting like the crazy witch. He was being the weird one.

"Do you remember how you got here, Rachel?" His voice was still obnoxiously loud. Maybe he thought my hearing had been damaged? But at least he was speaking lower than he had before.

"Of course I know how I got here," I shot back quickly. "I.... Well, I mean...." I paused and then smiled triumphantly. "I was at the warehouse." It was coming back now. "There were weres." Weres...warehouses. It seemed like something that should be in a child's nursery rhyme.

"How many?"

Glenn wasn't looking at me any more. Instead he had a pad and pen out, ready to jot down my answer.

"Three. No, four," I corrected myself quickly. Couldn't forget the one inside after all.

"What did they want?"

I recognized the questions and what he was doing. They were easy leading questions, meant to take my mind through what had happened one small step at a time, to bring back as many details as possible. Glenn was acting like, well, he was acting like I had been the victim of a crime.

I shook my head and instantly regretted it. It made my head swim and my eyes water. I blinked again, forcing the irritating moisture back, and tried to regain my focus.

"They didn't say." None of them had been big on talking, actually. Which was a little bit surprising. Most thugs, when they ran into someone who looked like an easy target, liked to rub it in, instill fear into their victim to make their job easier.

"Do you think it's related to the witch murders?"

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes in his direction. "I haven't had time to piss off anyone else in town."

Glenn's raised eyebrow said it all. He didn't need to actually bring up my talent for making powerful people very angry. I ignored it and asked what I had been wanting to know.

"What happened to the weres?"

Glenn sighed. "By the time we got back to the warehouse only one of them was still there. The one inside the building. We picked him up and brought him back to be held for questioning."

"Good." At least something had gone right today. I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. "How soon can I talk to him?"

"Hold on, Rachel," Glenn said quickly, putting his hand on my shoulder to hold me in place. "You can't just get up and leave. The doctors need to check you out."

"Why? I feel fine."

Well, except for the way my entire body ached and the weird sensitivity to - pretty much everything, actually. Noise, light, touch, smell - everything seemed more heightened, but Glenn didn't need to know that, did he? I would be fine, and besides I had a job to do.

"Because you were unconscious when you showed up in the middle of Tamwood's office. They need to do some more tests to make sure that you don't have a head injury before they can let you go."

I froze. It felt as if someone had just poured a bucket of ice cold water over my head.

"What are you talking about, Glenn?" I demanded.

Glenn sighed. "I was hoping that you could tell me. Tamwood brought you into the emergency room. She said she was sitting in her office and you just appeared out of nowhere on her floor, looking a little bit beat up and bleeding. That's when she called the ambulance."

I struggled to remember what had happened. I remembered the three weres outside of the warehouse; staring them down, seeing the cold determination in their eyes. I had tried to call on the nearby ley line to subdue them, but it hadn't had enough power. The panicky feeling of desperation came back to me all too easily. It was so strong, I could almost taste it.

Then what happened next came back to me abruptly. I had kicked their collective were asses. It shouldn't have been possible. I wasn't fast enough or anywhere near strong enough. I'd had my own ass handed to me by weres enough times to know that. Three against one should have turned me into one giant Rachel-burger, not just left me slightly bruised-up in the hospital.

Still, I couldn't remember what came after that. Why I would have gone to Ivy's.... From Glenn's description of how I had gotten there, it sounded like I had jumped the lines. It wasn't something that I did frequently. It tended to really freak out the I.S. and the FIB, but I knew how. Several years under Al's dedicated tutelage had certainly seen to that.

"I need to go see Ivy." The words left my mouth before I realized what I was thinking.

Glenn was looking at me with way too much interest. It was the same look that he had given me back at the church when he had been prying into why I had left, and what Ivy had to do with it. It wasn't a look that I liked very much.

"They're still not going to want to let you leave."

And, okay, maybe I was getting a little bit tired of Glenn being overprotective.

"Are you holding me here in custody, Glenn?" I asked, as I glanced around the room, searching for my clothes. I didn't want to accidentally flash Glenn while I was hunting around for them.

"Of course not," he said quickly. "Turn it, Rachel. Don't be stubborn about this."

I gave him my best smile and grabbed the small bag and pulled out my jeans.

"Unless you're going to arrest me, you can't stop me," I pointed out. "I'll come by the station after I talk to Ivy. I want to ask that guy you found at the warehouse some questions." I stopped, a thought hitting me suddenly. "How did you know to look at the warehouse?"

"When I heard you were in the hospital, I decided to backtrack your steps. You always seem to find more than your share of trouble."

"And I never even have to try," I said sweetly.

The Tamwood estate was just as big and sprawling as I remembered. If anything, it only looked more foreboding now. Or maybe that was just the nerves talking. I couldn't help but be slightly nervous, thinking about the last time I had seen Ivy. I couldn't deny what I had felt around her and now I was deliberately going to her home to seek her out.

The only thing to do was to walk up to the door and knock. Except that it wasn't that easy. It couldn't be. The gates were locked. My hands were shaking as I hit the button for the intercom.

There was a long pause.

"Do you have an appointment?"

"Uh, n-" I cut myself off mid-word.

Maybe my brain had gotten more jarred than I had thought, for me to answer so honestly. Saying no would be the quickest way to get tossed on my ear and I didn't know how else to get a hold of Ivy. Well, there was always jumping through the lines, apparently, but I wasn't ready to try that again.

"Yes, I do," I said confidently. "Ms. Tamwood is expecting me."

There was another long pause and then the gates swung inwards. I hit the gas, moving the car forward. I was incredibly conscious of the gates closing behind me. My nerves intensified and my breathing sped up embarrassingly.

Jenks was right, so right. I was really and truly an idiot. Last night had been something. Seeing Ivy there had brought back everything that I had felt for her - the way that one look from her could melt my heart and make me want to never let her go. It had dulled the edges of the fear that had gripped my heart for years, and now I was practically serving myself to Ivy on a golden platter.

She wanted me; she always had, and now there was nothing but the purity of her heart to stop her from taking what she wanted. I knew, had known from the moment she'd made me stop on my way out of the church, that she could control me in every way. It was terrifying, even if it had been an accidental gesture on her part. But I couldn't live in the constant fear of that. My freedom was one of the things most dear to me and I wouldn't give it up for anyone, not even Ivy.

That was what I was thinking when I stepped out of my car and walked towards the door. It swung open before I could go to knock.

Ivy stood in the doorway, wearing another business suit. It was still jarring to see her dressed that way. She looked like a different person entirely. Her hair fell softly around her face. One tendril had drifted across her eyes.

"Come in."

I swallowed. Not time to chicken out now. This was what I had come here for, after all.

"Thank you."

I stepped inside as Ivy pulled the door shut behind me.

"Would you like something to drink?" Ivy offered politely.

It seemed so odd to be here with Ivy like this, being offered a drink in her home like I was a stranger.

"No. No, thanks." My hands pressed into my thighs, damp with sweat. I clenched them into fists and shoved them into my pockets.

I followed her into the living room. She still moved with that same fluid grace. The sway of her hips was entrancing in its familiarity.

"Rachel?" The surprised, prompting tone of her voice jerked me out of my daze.

"What?" I blinked in surprise, trying to yank my attention back to what was actually going on, not whatever dangerous path my thoughts had been trailing down.

For the first time I wondered how much effect being near Ivy would have on me. Of course, I wasn't immune to her. As much as I had thought I was, I could see now that I never really had been. She'd always had this hold over me that we had never really been able to explain.

In the past, it hadn't really bothered me. It was easier to put it down to love, than to look for another explanation. Ivy had loved to tease me about the way I had fallen for her without even realizing it, and I hadn't minded at all. I had been so in love with her that I had leaped without looking. I hid a grimace. And just look where that had gotten me.

Here, after years of being in a self-imposed exile from the Hollows and Ivy. Here, in Ivy's sprawling home, watching her sink into a comfortable seat on the couch and feeling like the scared young runner I had been the first time I had walked into my I.S. office and realized that my partner would be a living vampire, and a very powerful one at that.

I gave myself a mental slap to snap myself out of my reverie and took a seat across from Ivy. The leather cushions enveloped me as I sat back, surrounding me with Ivy's scent. Maybe coming here hadn't been the best idea.

"Are you going to make showing up to see me unannounced and with no explanation a habit? I just ask, because if you are, I can set aside some time in my schedule for it."

I glared. Ivy had always been able to set off my temper like no one else. She slipped under my skin so easily.

"Don't worry. I just need some questions answered and I'll be out of your hair for good."

Was it my imagination or did her eyes narrow at that? I swallowed. Apparently I was still pretty good at sticking my foot in my mouth where Ivy was concerned.

She leaned back a little bit further into the couch, her lips pressing into a thin line. I took that as a gesture to get on with it.

"Glenn said you brought me into the hospital?"

For the first time, I noticed the faint lines that crinkled the skin at the corner of her eye and creased the corner of her lips.

"You appeared at my office unconscious." Her easy, welcoming expression was gone now. "An explanation would be nice, Rachel."

I grimaced. "I was hoping you could explain. I don't remember anything. I was wondering.... Did you - Is there some way that a vamp can call their shadow to them?"

Ivy stood so quickly that the movement actually looked jerky. For the first time, I couldn't read the expression on her face. Gone were the hints of the woman that I had known, replaced by a blank facade. It was even more effective at creating distance than the air of danger she had once cultivated.

"You're going to come here, and accuse me of-" She bit off what she had been about to say and began to pace in front of the couch. "You came to me, Rachel. You barged back into my life with no warning. I didn't ask for this, so don't blame me." Her hands trembled at her sides with suppressed emotion.

I was on my feet almost as quickly as she was.

"I'm sorry, but I don't know about any of this."

She folded her arms across her chest. The look in her eyes was hard to decipher, but mostly just made me want to look away. I stubbornly held her gaze.

"Who's fault is that? I wasn't the one who ran away."

I flinched and looked away, finding the window that looked out over the sun-dappled grounds. The breeze swayed lightly through the trees, and the well-manicured lawns looked especially inviting.

"Yeah, that's right," I snapped back. "You were the one who bound me against my will."

I was holding my arm so tightly it was almost painful, but I couldn't loosen my grip. My nails bit into the skin. Only the thought of drawing blood - a habit so deeply ingrained in me to avoid - made me relax, fractionally.

Ivy stopped pacing in mid-stride. She looked stricken. Her usually ivory skin was suddenly deathly pale.

It was the first time that it had been said. Now it was out there, standing between us. I tried to feel defiant, but the only emotion that came was a great weight of exhaustion.

Ivy looked away, turning her head as if she had heard something from another room. Her eyes still seemed haunted as she glanced back at me.

"I didn't have anything to do with you coming to my office today." She paused. "I think you should go now."


I didn't know what I wanted to follow that with. Part of me wanted to rage, to demand to know why she had done it, why she had bound me to her. I had trusted her completely and she had betrayed me, just as thoroughly. Seeing Ivy look so sad and hurt had triggered something in me, though. That look of pain and vulnerability had always gotten to me, made me want to hold her in my arms and make it all better, even when that wasn't possible.

Even worse, I hated the conflict between the emotions that I was feeling. How was it possible that I still cared for the woman who had tried to rip my life, my freedom of choice, from me? It wasn't.

"Go, Rachel," she said softly. "Just go."

I swallowed one more time and headed for her door. Once upon a time, I would have pushed Ivy, pushed her into anger to see what she was hiding beneath it. I would have followed her and kept arguing and bothering her until she told me what she was upset about. Sometimes it had ended with both of us angry and sulking in our own rooms. Other times it had ended with us together, neither one of us upset anymore and caring very little about why we had argued.

Then I had known just how far I could push Ivy, before it would blow up in my face. Somewhere in the intervening years I'd lost the knack for that subtle dance that we had slowly made into an art form.

I drove for a while, just letting the wind whip my hair into a flurry of red tangles. It would be almost impossible to deal with in the morning, but at the moment I didn't care. I just wanted to drive and not think. It was moments like this that I missed Jenks the most.

I screwed my face up and tried to push away my morose thoughts. Being back in the Hollows was getting to me, and making me think about things that I had pushed away for years, like Ivy and what had eventually happened to Jenks. Pixies didn't live forever; I had known that, but somehow it had always seemed like Jenks might be the exception to that rule if I just wished hard enough.

I missed my friend and confidant - the one who could point out all the stupid things I was doing and make me listen. Most of all I missed knowing that someone had my back, no questions asked.

It made my decision for me. I took the next exit off the interstate and wound my way through the city, eventually making my way into a residential area. It took me about half an hour to find the right street and a little bit longer after that to find the address that I was looking for.

I parked the car and took in the house. Like many of the houses in the Hollows occupied by an Inderland family, it was completely boring and normal. It looked small and neat, the paint wasn't chipped or fading, but not precisely new either. It was just right.

The only thing that made it stand out was the garden. Flowers spilled out of window boxes and trailed down the wall. Blooms filled the flower beds and the thick aroma of a multitude of herbs spilled out across the yard.

If I was at the right address, then the people inside likely already knew that I was there. Quen was one security-conscious elf, after all. It was his job, and it was even less likely that he would take a chance with the life of his wife and daughter than with his employer.

It had been my idea to come here, but I wasn't sure that I was ready to go inside. Part of me had wanted the comfort and familiarity of seeing Ceri. That same part of me was afraid that seeing Ceri would only make me feel worse. Nothing had gone right with my return to the Hollows so far. I didn't want to see the disappointment in her eyes, too.

Getting out of the car, I slowly made my way up the walk and knocked lightly on the door. Silence stretched. Maybe no one was home. It wasn't like I had seen a car in the driveway. Of course, the last time I had seen Ceri she couldn't drive, but maybe that had changed. There was no telling what inventions of the new millennium she had figured out while I was gone.

The door swung open just as I was fixing to head back to the car. A teenage girl with a fragile build and a belligerent expression stood in the doorway. Her fine nose was vaguely upturned. The fine points of her ears were almost hidden by her long, sun-bleached blond hair.

I swallowed, realizing almost immediately who this girl was. Ray. The little girl that had been named after me after I had gone into the Ever After with Trent and retrieved a sample of Elf DNA before they had been infected by the demons. It was also how I had ended up as Al's student, but that wasn't really anyone's fault but my own.

Turn it, but the little girl that I had known had gotten so big.

"Is, uh, is your Mom here?" I couldn't believe I was stuttering like an idiot. There was no reason to be nervous. Yeah, right. Ceri was going to be pissed with me too.

Only my Mom would have been happy to see me, and that was only because she was always happy to see me. She had to be. She was my mom.

The look on Ray's face went from belligerent to suspicious in an instant.

"Did someone send you here?"

"No." I hoped I didn't sound as bewildered as I felt. "No one sent me. I just came to see her. She's an old friend."

The door slammed in my face with enough force to rattle the frame. Some instinct, long ingrained from a life mostly spent dodging trouble, made me abruptly step back away from the door. It was fortunate, because a spell hit the door with a wet splat, passing directly through where I had been standing. It hit the door in spots, hissing and fizzling as it ate into the wood, and letting out a disgusting smell.

"Hey!" I snapped angrily as I hit the ground, ducking any further incoming spells. I had my magnetic chalk out of my pocket instantly, drawing a rough circle around me on the sidewalk.

I didn't even need to say the word out loud to send the sheet of ever-after whirling up around me. The red and golds of my aura were stained with nasty smears of black. It turned everything on the other side of my circle hazy.

"What the Turn?" I demanded, gesturing wildly with my hands. "Why the hell are you shooting spells at me? I didn't do anything, damn it!" I stomped my foot indignantly and tried not to think about what I was going to do if this wasn't a misunderstanding.

Circles were great and all. Nothing could get through them, but eventually you had to come out. It was all a matter of when. And the person on the outside always had the advantage.

Okay, so I had known Ceri probably wouldn't be happy with me, but I really had not expected this level of unhappiness. Usually Ceri's tantrums were loud and visible, but all flash and little real damage. The spell that had just been slung at me had been serious.

Every second I lingered in my small, self-made prison, I grew a little bit angrier. I would not stay trapped in my own circle. I would not be caged.

I was reaching in my bag for my splat gun when the front door was noisily thrown open in front of me.


Ceri was standing on her steps, barefoot and with her hair in disarray, as if she had been running. Her hand was down at her side, but I recognized the tension in her stance and the slight curve of her fingers. She wasn't throwing any curses yet, but I didn't have to tap a line to know that she had already done the same. So why was she holding back now?

"Look, Ceri, I understand that you're upset, but what were you thinking?" Okay, so I hadn't really meant to yell, but I couldn't help it. I was pissed off and more than a little bit freaked out. "I wouldn't have been worth fairy farts if I hadn't moved," I fumed. "That's just, just..." I fumbled for a word that was tantalizingly out of reach on the tip of my tongue.

Ceri's eyes narrowed in consideration as she came slowly down the steps, wariness written in every line of her body.

"Take down the circle," she said with such authority that my hand was almost touching the thin sheet of ever-after before I could stop myself.

I raised an eyebrow challengingly.

"Promise not to blast me again?"

"Are you a demon?"

I recoiled from the not-completely-unfamiliar accusation. My heart sank and I felt sick. I had heard that accusation from a lot of people - even one or two demons - but never from Ceri. She had always maintained that I was not a demon, that I was still a witch. To hear it from her....

"You said I wasn't," I said hoarsely. "Not really."

But now she was looking at me with relief in her eyes.

"Rachel, it really is you." There was wonder in her voice. "Isn't it?"

"Yeah," I said carefully. "Yeah, it is. What the hell was that, Ceri?"

"Oh, that was Ray." She waved her hand casually behind her.

I felt energy flow back into the nearby ley line and relaxed a little bit more.

"She overreacted when you said you were an old friend. She knows about my circumstances, of course, and that generally 'old friend' means demon. She wasn't taking any chances." Her face grew serious and her gaze looked far away. "As her father taught her to."

I brushed the back of my knuckles against the nearest part of my circle. It fell away instantly. I tensed, long habit making me wary of being vulnerable. It had kept my ass above ground more than once. This time, however, it turned out to be unnecessary. No curses or potions came flying my way. I let out a slow, uneven breath.

I swallowed and tried to think of something polite to say.

"I didn't mean to startle her."

Ceri shook her head, brushing away my concern. A smile slipped over her features.

"Rachel Morgan." She looked me up and down. "What are you doing here?"

"Uh, can I come in?" I asked awkwardly. This wasn't really a conversation I wanted to have in her front yard.

"Oh!" Ceri exclaimed as if she had forgotten where we were. "Of course, come on in. Would you like some tea?" she asked as we went inside.

The walls were done in a rich, dark wood, with bare wooden flooring. Some of the boards creaked lightly underfoot. The whole house was covered in little hints of Ceri. There was a spray of flowers on the table by the door, but when I looked closely, they were made up of herbs that brought luck and protection.

The rooms were decorated with Ceri's usual understated elegance. In the midst of it all were bits of technology and minutia, an iPod lying discarded on the coffee table, a skateboard tucked into a corner, a backpack beside the couch; objects that had been completely foreign to Ceri before. They stood out against the background, but still seemed a part of it.

It had been a long time since I'd been in a home that felt so comfortably lived in.

Ceri led me to the kitchen. I braced myself against the counter and watched as she puttered around. I heard her muttering over the kettle and I smiled appreciatively as I heard it whistling and signaling its readiness. I had watched Ceri make tea dozens of times before and she still followed the same patterns. A thousand years of habit didn't fade overnight - or even over several years.

When Ceri handed me the dainty cup of tea, I held it gingerly until I took my first sip. Then I closed my eyes in bliss.

"Perfect," I said with a smile as I opened my eyes, just in time to catch the slight smile on Ceri's face.

"Mmm," she made a noise of careful agreement. "It's good to see you, Rachel."

"It's good to see you too, Ceri."

"But somehow, I don't think you just came to see me for the tea and company."

My smile froze and slipped away. Gently, I sat down the tea cup and straightened.

"No, I didn't. I need your help."

Ceri's frown wasn't what I was expecting.

"I'm not sure I can help you this time, Rachel." She wrung her hands nervously. "I owe you everything for getting me free of Algaliarept, but I have a family now - children - to consider. Your life is dangerous. I cannot become involved in anything that will endanger my children." Her voice had gone from warm and welcoming to cold and hard in an instant.

Until this moment, I hadn't realized just how many of my hopes had been pinned on Ceri and her help. I had been prepared for her to be angry at me, but not for her to refuse to help me at all. I thought of Ray and the danger that I had brought to Ceri's door without thinking. Just showing up here could place them in danger, and although I had been careful, it was possible someone had followed me.

Ceri was right.

"I should go," I said abruptly, fiddling in the depths of my bag for my car keys.

"Rachel, wait." Ceri laid a hand on my arm, forestalling me. "Tell me what you need and then we'll see."

I shook my head. "No, you're right. If someone even thinks that you helped me, you could be in danger."

Ceri's hand tightened around my wrist. "Rachel Morgan." Her voice was stern and demanding. "Tell me why you came here."

I flinched, thinking about the ruins that were supposed to have been in the abandoned warehouse. I hadn't had a chance to see them, but Glenn had said that they'd already shown them to Ceri with no success. Ceri had no reason to lie to Glenn, so there was no reason to ask her about them. On the other hand, there were questions that I suddenly wanted to know the answer to and Ceri could probably answer them for me.

I nudged a chair out from the kitchen table with a bump of my hip and sank down into it. Biting my lip, I looked up into her eyes.

"What happened to Ivy?" I spoke quietly.

For a moment, Ceri looked startled by my question, and then she sat down across from me.

"You mean, after you disappeared?"

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak again. It had been hard enough to get that first question out.

Ceri's knuckles whitened as her hands gripped the opposite elbows tightly.

"She was scared and desperate." She let out a short, harsh breath of air. "We all panicked when you went missing. Ivy, Jenks, and I were especially worried. We thought you might have done something to anger Al, and he might have - punished you."

Knowing Al as I did now, I wondered what Ceri had hesitated to say, what she knew him to be capable of, and yet, still hoped that I didn't.

"We spent the first forty-eight hours searching for you, in all of the places that we could think to look. That's when your brother got involved."


Since when had Robbie cared? Okay, that wasn't true. Robbie had always cared. That was the problem. He had never been willing to let me live my life the way I wanted. He had tried to protect me as best as he could, the only problem was that his ways of protecting me were often more like smothering me.

"What did Robbie do?" I asked, my voice croaking with emotion.

"He contacted the FIB and the I.S. to file a missing person's report. Glenn got assigned to the case. He volunteered, I think," Ceri said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "But he was determined to find out what had happened to you." She paused again. "Rachel, you have to understand. Ivy was very frightened; she was desperate to find out what happened to you. She wasn't quite - she wasn't herself."

Wasn't herself? What did that mean?

"When it looked like you wouldn't be found, Ivy lost control," Ceri said bluntly. "Jenks was the only one who could be around her, who she wouldn't try to attack. Finally, we were afraid that someone might seriously be hurt; we called Rynn Cormel."

My fingernails were biting into my palms so hard that I wondered distantly if they had drawn blood. My foot was jiggling uncontrollably, sending barely noticeable shivers through the whole table.

Ceri was looking at me directly. "If she'd already been dead, I think she would have walked out into the sun."

A small noise slipped out of me. My eyes burned, but I couldn't blink, couldn't look away, couldn't stop listening to what Ceri was saying. I had left. It was the only thing I could have done, wasn't it? If I had stayed, what would have happened? We would have tried to make it work, but in the end it couldn't have. It wouldn't have been an equal relationship. As much as she would have tried to make it work, Ivy would have had all of the power. One word and she could control me. I would have become a willing prisoner. It was my worst nightmare.

"Then it got worse." Ceri's words startled me out of my tangled thoughts. "Glenn got permission to search the church. There was blood - your blood - on Ivy's sheets."

My hand flew to cover the scar on my neck. With no vamp pheromones in the air, it was just another scar, a bump of raised skin under my fingers.

"We shared blood that night," I murmured, whether to myself or Ceri, I wasn't quite sure. I looked back up at her. "We had a blood balance. She didn't take anything I didn't offer."

Except that she had. I had trusted Ivy and she had gone too far. She had done more than just take my blood, she had bound me to her and made me her shadow. We hadn't discussed it and I couldn't live with it. What it was not, however, was illegal. Ivy and I were both consenting adults in a relationship.

Ceri shrugged. "Jenks told them that. We all did. Your mom cursed generations of Glenn's ancestors for idiots. It was quite impressive. Unfortunately it was the only substantial lead that his investigation came up with. Ivy was accused of murder."

"She was what?" I blurted out, my jaw dropping. "That's crazy. Ivy would never-"

"She almost ripped your throat out once." Ceri said sharply and then sighed. "Unfortunately, Nick Sparagmos was caught by the FIB right before this happened. He offered to testify to past actions, in exchange for a lesser sentence."

My head was spinning. This was all so insane. It didn't seem real.

"How did - I mean, she isn't in jail now," I said desperately.

"No," Ceri agreed. "No, I'm not sure what happened exactly. There was a very public trial. 'Witch Murdered By Her Rich Vamp Lover'. It was all over the papers. It dragged on for over a year. With her parents' lawyers, Ivy was finally acquitted, but she was still devastated. She was barely coping with it."

Ceri took a small sip of her tea, and looked at me with sympathy. It was worse than if she had hated me. She didn't know that I had left voluntarily, although by now she definitely had to suspect it. How she could still feel pity for me when Ivy was the one who had been through so much....

"Tell me," I said, knowing that I needed to hear the rest of it, even though I was pretty sure that I didn't want to.

"It wasn't a good idea for Ivy to be alone in the church, so her father convinced her to go home. Her parents had supported her through the whole thing, so when her mother suggested that she refocus her life on the duties that she owed to her bloodline, Ivy agreed. She had her son nine months later, providing her mother with another heir, in case something should happen to her."

"What changed? Did she get married?" I asked. I needed to know, because the Ivy that I had seen since I had come back hadn't been the broken, ruined woman that Ceri was describing to me.

"No, nothing like that. I'm not sure who fathered her child, but I don't think that was important to Ivy. It wasn't about finding someone to spend her life with. She wanted a child. That's all. And that's what changed. She had her son, Rachel," Ceri said, as if it were obvious. "It might have been to please her mother, initially, but she found that she truly loved him. At first, she focused on raising him, but gradually, she began to take an interest in other things again. She slowly began to take a greater share of activity in the Tamwood family business and now she runs most of it, with only minimal input from her mother."

It was too much information. I was on overload, and I didn't know how to process it all. Once I would have gone to Jenks or Ivy to complain about it or for them to distract me from it. Now I couldn't talk to either of them, and I was shaking again. Tears were burning behind my eyes and I knew that if I stayed sitting in Ceri's lovely kitchen for much longer, I would lose it completely, and I couldn't do that.

"I have to go," I said abruptly, standing up so quickly that my chair grated noisily against the floor. I barely heard Ceri's protests as I bolted for the door. I didn't slow down until I was back in my car, and that was only for long enough to jam the keys in the ignition and get it started again.

I had to get out of here.


Chapter Six

"Well, well, my itchy-witch. What have we here?"

I rolled my eyes, my back turned to Al. I would have done it even if he could see the gesture. He was my teacher now; he couldn't kill me, because Newt would kill him. Not, it suddenly occurred to me, the best insurance a girl could wish for. Newt's memory and sanity were both notoriously spotty.

I wrinkled my nose, as much from my less-than-pleasant thoughts as from the spell that I was attempting to stir. Attempting being the key word. I had followed all of the directions, Turn it, and it still wasn't coming out right. Resisting the urge to thrown down the spoon and stalk off, I bit my lip and tried to take a deep breath to calm down. It didn't really help.

I had thought that learning from Al would be exciting and different. I mean, it was demon magic and I was the first non-demon in a hundreds of years to be able to kindle it with my blood. It turned out that learning demon spells was just as boring and irritating as sitting in a college class room and learning them from a respected professor, with the added bonus of spending time in the ever-after.

There was no way I would have lasted this long here, sharing Al's rooms and learning from him, if I wasn't more scared of going home than I was of being here. Al could kill me. Hell, just spending some quality time outdoors on the surface could kill me if I spent enough time there, but that still terrified me less than the thought of going home. Home was Ivy - had been Ivy. Now Ivy owned my soul, and not in the pleasant, wonderful, made-for-romantic comedies way, but the "could control me for the rest of my life completely and utterly" way.

I bit my lip again. This time biting back the tears that threatened to well up in my eyes. I would not let Al see me cry. Would not.

"This spell doesn't work," I said peevishly, clanging the spoon against the edge of the pot to free it from the last few drops of the potion.

I pivoted in front of the stove (Yes, they had stoves in the ever-after. Cauldrons over an open fire were so last century) and glared at Al indignantly. He responded with a long-suffering sigh.

"It would work, if you prepared it properly." He tutted annoyingly, bringing his hands to his lips in a gesture of mock-surprise. "But perhaps something is distracting you?"

My fingers curled around the spoon in my hand, tightening until my knuckles went white from the pressure. The urge to throw it at Al was almost overwhelming. He knew what had happened and why I was here. He had forced me to tell him, before he agreed to let me stay.

Not that he had any objections to me being in the ever-after. Al was generally in favor of anything that put me more in his control, but he had also spent millennia conning witches, elves, human,s or anyone else who could manipulate ley line magic into becoming demon familiars. He had an unerring instinct for ferreting out information that people would prefer to hide, and using that knowledge against them. Now he had something else to hold over me. As if the secret of my blood wasn't enough.

Despite our new and somewhat more equal relationship, I'd never had any doubt that Al would use that information against me in a heartbeat if the need arose.

Still beggars couldn't be choosy, and for now things were going well enough.

"Maybe your crappy handwriting," I tossed the insult out without much feeling, but backed it up by crossing my arms defiantly over my chest, and nodding my head in the general direction of the instructions on the counter.

Al gasped and laid a hand over the crushed velvet of his suit where his heart should have been. That is, if demons had hearts.

"You wound me, Rachel."

He picked the up instructions from the counter, eyeglasses suddenly appearing on the bridge of his nose, giving him a professorly air. They weren't as dark as his usual sunglasses, but they still had a smoky tint that mostly hid the glare of his slitted, red eyes. I had gotten used to them - mostly - but they still creeped me out a little. I was glad that he seemed to prefer shades most of the time. The reading glasses, however, were pure Al. It wasn't like he needed them. Who had ever heard of a near-sighted demon?

He thumped the sheaf of papers decisively with one knuckle.

"Here's your problem, my dear." The endearment made me glare, but Al seemed not to notice as he peered at me over the top of his glasses. "You stirred it improperly."

I snagged the directions back from Al, and glanced over them quickly.

"I did not. I did exactly what they said. Two turns and then wait until it comes to a boil, then stir steadily for the next minute." My other hand unconsciously sketched the motions through the air.

Al's gloved hand fell on top of mine and dragged it in the opposite direction. I'm not sure what was more startling, Al touching me, or the fact that I've forgotten the obvious. This was demon magic; stirring widdershins was a must.

For a second, I thought I was going to throw up. Then I yanked my hand away and stumbled back against the counter. This went against everything I had ever been taught about magic, everything my father had spent long Sunday afternoons showing me. It wasn't that I hadn't known. I had, but I hadn't really known.

"I need some air."

Al tilted his head towards the window, looking out over the ever-after. He smiled and the icy fingers of something dangerous ran down my spine.

"Certainly. Looks like a lovely day out. There's not much burnt amber in the air today. You can almost see the sun, if you tilt you head and squint really hard."

Normally I would have tried to humor Al. This time I didn't even make an effort. I just walked outside. The air still made my skin crawl. My lips twisted into the bitter approximation of a smile as I remembered Ivy handing me Mr. Fish the first time I had gone with Al for a lesson. There had been no time to bring him with me, when I left the church.

Idly I wondered what had happened to him. He hadn't been a wishing fish, but he had been a hardy little guy. He had managed to stay alive through years with me. That was something, around me. Would Ivy be taking care of him now? Or was he lost, now, too? My fists clenched at my sides. I shoved them in the pockets of my hoodie and started walking again.

A slight breeze rifled through my hair, sending it dancing around my face unless I tilted my head just so. It made me feel defiant, walking with my face jutting up at the sky. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend I could feel the sun's warmth on my face.

It just wasn't the same.

I opened my eyes and blinked against the blurriness in my vision. I tried to take a deep breath; it caught in the back of my throat and I coughed loudly. Why had I come out here? Because I didn't know what to do, and my first instinct when I wasn't sure what was happening was to do something. Anything. It was just that there were no running trails, or backyard gardens here where I could go to work through my frustrations.

It seemed like wherever I turned, I ran into another wall. Frustration was almost choking me - worse than the polluted air. I folded my arms over my chest and tried not to think about the person that I most wanted to talk about this with. Thinking about how wonderful and safe it felt to be wrapped in her arms was nothing but sticking a knife into my own heart.

Remembering rainy afternoons when neither of us had runs, spent curled up on the couch in the living room pretending to watch tv, but really unable to take our eyes and hands off each other was futile. I couldn't afford to think about the way Ivy had looked at me. The tenderness in her eyes was always my undoing, even more than when her arousal was clearly visible. She had a way of looking at me as if I weren't merely the center of her world, but the entire world.

It scared me and made me go weak in the knees. Wherever we were, that look made me pull her into my arms and hold her tightly against me. I had to breathe in her scent, and reassure myself that she was real and mine and never going anywhere. I had been alone for years and once I had found Ivy, I had never wanted to be alone again.

It had never occurred to me, when she was holding me so tightly in her arms, and I was surrounded by her warmth, that we could hurt each other this badly. I ached to be back with her. It was more than a feeling or an emotion. It was a physical sensation, like an earache or throbbing muscles.

My breath caught again. There was nothing holding me here. I had spent so many twenty-four hour periods with Al by now that if I left, I would be caught up on our bargain regarding the time I spent learning from him, for years. With all of that intensive practice, I had managed to master jumping ley lines much faster than anyone had expected, myself included. I could tap a line right now. There was a wide, deep, incredibly powerful one not twenty yards to my left.

In less time than it would take me to blink, I could be standing in our bedroom in the church. I would be waiting when Ivy got home just after dark. She would be mad, of course. There would be yelling and arguing and banging and stalking around the house angrily. It might last for an hour or even two, but I would be wearing one of her shirts, and nothing else.

The sight of all that bared skin, and her scent completely, irresistibly tangled up with my own would be more than Ivy could resist. The sex and the sharing of blood would be begrudging at first, angry because she couldn't stay angry with me for much longer, because she knew she would eventually give in and let me off the hook. When it was over, she would roll over so that she could cradle me in her arms and she would hold me so tightly that it almost hurt, but I wouldn't mind.

Her hands would be gentle and reverent as they skimmed over my body, cupping, stroking and caressing until Ivy had reassured herself that every part of me was hers. I'd wriggle and squirm in her embrace, laughing as her nails scraped across the back of my knee and tickled. I would love every minute of it, reveling in just being with her.

She would run her fingers through my frizzy red hair and I would bat at her fingers playfully, telling her to stop, that she was only making it worse. She would drop her hands then, of course, and a little pout would steal across her lips. It would be too cute to resist and I would have to capture her lips with mine, kissing her again and again, until I made that pout disappear.

That of course, would lead to more sex, but different this time. Slow and gentle where it had been fast and rough. I would look into Ivy's eyes as she came in my arms and shudder at the way she had given herself over to me completely, the utter trust that she had placed in me.

We would relax in one another's arms, content to drowse in the moment, not thinking about anything in particular. Eventually my stomach or hers would growl and I would stand up, knowing that Ivy was watching every step I took as I wandered around the room looking for something halfway decent to wear. I wouldn't want to scar Jenks' kids for life. Again.

I would smile at Ivy flirtily over my shoulder, as I headed towards the kitchen to search for something that I could bring back with me and feed to Ivy in bed. That's when she would say it.

"Don't go," with a hint of pleading in her voice. "Come back to bed," she would say with a teasing smile that promised all manner of things if I would just rejoin her.

And I would freeze in the doorway, because she had said it. Because I had no choice; I would do whatever she wanted.

I blinked, the fantasy I had created shattering in front of my eyes. I couldn't go back. It would never be the same, no matter how badly I wanted it to be.

Walking back in Al's quarters, I paused, hearing the low murmur of voices from the other room. Immediately I pressed myself back against the wall. I had Al's protection here, and Newt's, but I was still a witch among demons. Al's friends also didn't have the best reputation. Many of them had been in the familiar trade for just as long as he had.

On my second lesson with Al one of those 'friends' of his had captured me and tried to drag me to a demon market for sale to the highest bidder. Al had tried to stop him, to explain to his friend what I was, and why I was more valuable as an ally than a prisoner. (I didn't think it was a good idea to tell Al that I was never planning to have those little demon babies that he was hoping for, especially since I had been with Ivy then.) That was the problem with demons that dealt in familiars though. They were competitors, and not above stealing a potential familiar to sell for their own profit.

Apparently Al had done it, more than once. Color me not surprised. But it had backfired here. I suppose I should have been grateful that Al got me out of that one, and I was. Kind of. But it was his fault that I had ended up on the demon auction block in the first place! Seeing them actually fight it out over me, well, it had been terrifying, worse than anything I had ever seen before.

After that I had learned my lesson, no coming out while Al's friends were around. There was always the chance that I wouldn't be so lucky next time, and even if Al did try to save me, I would be just as dead if I got caught in the crossfire.

There was only one problem. They were between me and my room. There was no way for me to get there without being seen.

"Please, Algalierept, don't tell me you've gone soft with this - this witch. What are you thinking, man? The price you could get for her on the open market. Why, no-one has seen anything like her in ages."

"More like no-one has ever seen anything like Rachel Mariana Morgan," Al said smugly, not - I noted - without a hint of pride.

So nice to see that he was taking credit for me these days. I rolled my eyes.

"All the more reason, old chap. What you could make off her could keep you comfortably into old age."

Al tutted, but he said nothing. China clinked faintly and I recognized the sounds of Al serving the tea. I slowly crept closer to them, careful to keep out of sight. Taking a deep breath, I waited until there was silence and then risked sticking my head out to see what was going on.

Al was reclining in the overstuffed armchair he favored, wearing his usual crushed velvet suit and sunglasses. Thankfully neither of them were in their true forms. I shivered. I had only stumbled on Al once in his true form and it had given me nightmares. I never wanted to see it again.

Al's index finger was idly tapping the rim of his tea cup as he looked over it at the demon sitting across from him. I couldn't see his eyes of course, but he seemed to be studying him. Finally, he lowered his tea cup to rest on the saucer and then carefully set them down on the table in front of him. Steepling his fingers in front of him, Al looked contemplative. Something in the way he looked wanted to make me take a step away from him. It screamed danger.

"You know, Yugrtpletier, your problem is that you have a failure of imagination. You lack a certain vision that it takes to make a demon great."

Yugrtpletier was pissed. I knew that because his cup of tea was now visibly boiling in his hand.

"I'm not the idiot who let his familiar escape and teach a witch how to spindle ley line energy."

Al waved his hand dismissively. "And that would have been the end of a lesser demon."

So nice to know how Al viewed these events. I had been the one to save his ass. He would be so much demon bait right now if it weren't for me.

"But not for me," Al continued. "No, I had a plan. I persevered. I saw something that no-one else could see."

No-one but a certifiably insane, memory deficient she-demon.

"I saw the potential in Rachel Mariana Morgan. More than the fact that her blood can kindle demon magic or that she could birth the next generation of demons. Oh, so much more. What has escaped everyone else is that Morgan is more than all that. She is power, and the demon who controls her is the demon who will wield all of that power."

My jaw clenched. Okay, this had been amusing, watching Al's idle boasting to his friend. Now this was being not so amusing. Al was really starting to scare me.

It seemed that Yugrtpletier was beginning to feel the same way. He laughed nervously, and shifted awkwardly in his chair. He was actually squirming with the desire to get out of there, I realized, but he was desperately trying not to show it.

"What - what do you mean?"

Turns out, hearing a demon sound scared didn't make me feel good. It just made me more worried.

"I mean that through Morgan I will control the entire ever-after. No one will dare risk harming her, when they know that's she's capable of creating more demons." Al leaned forward quickly. "A new demon has not been born in five hundred years. Not even Newt would risk destroying that opportunity. This could be our only chance as a species, and I will be there to guide and protect Morgan. I will be the one that she trusts."

Yugrtpletier was shaking his head. "They will never allow you to do this."

Al's laughter boomed out so loudly that I shrank even further. "My dear boy, they already have. They just don't realize it yet."

Yugrtpletier stood quickly, so forcefully that it sent his heavy, over stuffed chair skidding away from him. It banged into the wall with a dull thud.

"They might be ignorant, Algaliarept, but I am not. I will not let you get away with this."

"Let? You can't stop me."

When he tapped the line, I felt it. He pulled on it so deeply that I felt it resonate through my body. It brought me to my knees, and left me gasping for breath. I couldn't imagine the power he was drawing, if just being near the line that he'd tapped had done that to me. Whether I knew how to spindle ley line energy or not, it would have shattered my fragile human brain in an instant.

"Oh, but I can."

I barely had time to realize how much trouble I was about to be in. I dived away from the wall, just as the room exploded behind me.

Two demons fighting was a lot like a pissing contest between volcanoes, it turned out. There was a lot of indiscriminate destruction, a lot of fire and explosions and a lot of noise. There was also just as much chance of being hit by friendly fire, although at this point I wasn't sure that either side qualified as friendly to me.

Spells gone awry splattered on the walls all around me. I ducked behind a chest and tried to shield myself as best as I could. Unfortunately I was the most fragile thing in this room right now, and I wasn't particularly fond of the thought of dying by accident. I could, of course, strand myself in a circle. It would keep me safe for a while, but it would also make me a sitting duck when they finally got tired of each other.

Not a pleasant thought, and apparently I needed to be getting out of here. Now. I stood up, only to drop back to the floor almost instantly. A blast of pure ley line energy passed so closely above my head that it sent my hair whipping around my face. With an explosion that showered debris in every direction, it took out the wall behind me, and sent pieces of the ceiling raining down.

Damn it back to the Turn, what were they thinking? I was the only one in the room who couldn't go insubstantial to avoid getting injured. I glanced behind me quickly, as a nasty thought hit me, looking to see if Al and Yuri were still occupied or if I was their target now.

Just my good luck kicking in, it seemed. Al and Yuri were still facing off like old western gunfighters, slinging spells at each other like bullets had flown at the OK Corral.

Shattered bits of glass and wood dug into my hands and knees as I crawled across the floor. Dust was thick in the air and it was getting hard to breathe. I grabbed the door handle just as a particularly loud explosion rocked the building. The minute that my feet were over the threshold I started running blindly. It didn't matter which direction I was going in, I just wanted to be away.

I kept going until I was panting for breath and couldn't force myself to go any further. The harsh air of the ever-after wasn't helping, but the fact that I had more or less stopped running since I had come here hadn't helped any. Anger at my stupidity in allowing myself to get so out of shape was burning inside of me.

I doubled over trying to catch my breath, knowing even as I did so that it was the wrong thing to do. At the moment, however, I didn't really care. What was one more mistake in the string of mistakes that I was making? With the back of my hand I swiped at the sweat that was burning my eyes.

I couldn't go back. That much was clear. Al, who I had been depending on - stupid, stupid, stupid witch - had betrayed me. Or maybe he had always been playing me. I should have known that Al never did anything unless something was in it for him. And I had played right into his hands. Even better, his demon buddies were after me now, too.

I wondered what odds the bookies back in the Hollows would give me for staying alive now?

There was no doubt that I needed to get out of the ever-after right now. At least back in the real world I would be safe during the daylight hours. What I did after dusk, well that had always been a bit dicey, but surely the church wasn't the only sanctified safe haven that I could find? There had to be other demon practitioners who had tried to escape the notice of the demons who were after them. I couldn't be the first to try to run far enough away to out run a demon's reach. And if there were others who had done it, then I definitely could.

Looking through my second sight was almost a habit now. Al had drilled it into me when I had first started to come to him for lessons. Walking around the ever-after without it was like being blind and as the weakest link on the food chain, I couldn't afford that.

It only took me a moment to spot a ley line and walk over to it. As I stepped out into it, I felt that familiar tingle surge through me. I waded farther in. Standing in it like this, I didn't even consciously have to tap the line. Jumping ley lines was a great thing, but my lessons hadn't progressed past knowing how to jump to a location that I was already familiar with, and now it didn't seem like they would. But that was okay. There was still one place that I could go.

Home. Or the closest thing to it since I had left the church.

I closed my eyes and concentrated. No matter how many times I did this, it never felt any better, although it did get a little easier to concentrate on my destination and hold myself together.

I stumbled as my feet hit the ground and took several staggering steps before I got my balance. I sucked in a lungful of air, savoring the pleasant, crisp scent of air unmarred by the pervasiveness of burnt amber. It was the first clear breath that I had taken in months and it was wonderful.

Straightening, I looked around, wondering if anyone had seen my abrupt appearance. It was dark, probably just after midnight from the way the darkness lingered. Above the stars sparkled brightly as they often did in this small suburb, not quite dimmed by the lights from across the river.

The soft night air blew gently across my skin as I started walking as quickly as I dared. I didn't want to arouse suspicion. The last thing I need was for some over-zealous neighbor to call the FIB on me.

My pace quickened as I came to the hedge. Glancing around and seeing no-one, I slipped into the yard, sticking to the deepest of the shadows as I made my way to the backyard.

As stealthily as I could, I slipped around to the back door. I had learned a small spell from Al that would muffle the sound of someone's steps. I murmured it softly before I stepped onto the porch. My hand was on the screen door, about to pull it open when the sound of someone's voice drifted out.

I froze, and for the second time today pressed myself up against a wall to listen more closely.

"I'm sorry, Alice. I should have called before I flew out here."

Ivy's voice. I jerked back so sharply that I almost stumbled. The next second my brain caught up with my fight-or-flight instinct and I carefully pressed myself back against the wall. Spell or no spell, if I started running right now, Ivy would hear me and come after me.

It was almost a second later that it occurred to me to wonder why the Turn Ivy was at Mom's house. I slid down the wall until I was squatting by the base of the door. Now I could see that the door was open, although the screen door was still in place.

No light drifted out from the house. Only the faint light from the moon shone through, and reflected off the entry way mirror. I stopped breathing as I caught of glimpse of Ivy in the mirror before she moved away into shadow again.

"You know you're always welcome here, dear." There was a slight pause. "I've been keeping Inderland hours since Donald started staying here more often."

I let out a surprised sound, clapping my hand over my mouth an instant too late. My eyes were squinched tightly shut, as though if I couldn't see them, maybe no one could see me. There was no response from inside, at least not to me.

"Rachel would be happy for you, you know. She would want you to be happy with Takata."

My mom's knowing chuckle echoed out from the room. Missing her was almost a physical pain in my chest. How had I gone weeks or even months without going to visit her when we both still lived in the Hollows? Now it was even worse.

"Rachel, bless her heart, is thoroughly freaked out by me living with Donald, but she does her best to be happy about it, because she wants me to be happy."

I risked another glance in the mirror. There was a hint of a smile on Ivy's lips. I resisted the urge to fold my arms over my chest indignantly. I was happy, wasn't I? Happy that Donald was living with Mom. I shuddered. Okay, so maybe I wasn't completely happy, but I was glad that she had someone with her, while I wasn't around. What I didn't want was for her to be alone. She had been alone for too long.

"She was always so bad at that."

I almost jumped as Mom's voice startled me out of my thoughts.

"Hiding the things that she didn't want to know, or want anyone else to know."

Another glance. Ivy's hands were clenched tightly at her sides. She was shifting back and forth, rocking from the balls of her foot to the back of her heels. Everything in me screamed to go in there and wrap her in my arms. I couldn't though, I just couldn't.

"She thought I didn't realize she was in love with you for years. The silly girl. She didn't know that everything that she did screamed it."

"Alice." Ivy's voice cracked in mid-word. She was pleading with her to stop.

I couldn't take it anymore. It was like listening in at my own funeral. Huck Finn had made it sound like fun, but it wasn't fun, not at all. It was more like torture.

I stood up, my fingers running against the nicks and grooves in the door frame, wondering how they had come to be here. This wasn't the place that I had grown up in. It was only home by virtue of Mom's presence.

I didn't want to hear any more.

"You believe me, don't you, Alice?" Ivy had stopped pacing and pivoted sharply on her heel to look at my mom. "You know I wouldn't...Rachel?"

I had missed part of what she had said, as Ivy had turned her head, but I knew what she was asking. How dare she ask my mom to believe that Ivy hadn't bound me! It wasn't fair. Ivy had bound me and she knew it. Why was she trying to convince Mom otherwise? Fairy farts! If Ivy had convinced her that she hadn't bound me, who would believe me? And even if someone believed me, what would it matter?

People got bound all the time. It wasn't a crime, especially since the victim never could prove that it had been against their will. Funny, that. Even if the FIB did try to protect me, what could they do? They didn't have the skills to go up against a vampire and come out of it successfully. Ivy had proven that, herself, in the their own offices.

In the mirror, Mom had gotten up, finally moving to where I could see her. Even with her hair up and more stylish clothes she looked old, older than she had ever looked.

I almost gasped again as she wrapped her arms around Ivy and held her. Ivy stood stiffly in her arms, but Mom wouldn't let her go. She rubbed loose circles up and down her back until Ivy just dissolved in her arms. She slumped as if she was a marionette whose strings had suddenly been cut, and buried her head in Mom's shoulder.

I couldn't see her face, but her back heaved as she sucked in deep breaths, her chest heaving, until she began to let out huge wracking sobs.

My fingers bit into the palm of my hand so hard that warm blood welled up, making my palm sticky with it.

"It's okay, dear," Mom murmured soothingly. "It's okay."

Ivy sniffled. "No," she said between sniffles. "It's not."

She sniffled again, more loudly and then froze, tension running through her body. Gently, Ivy separated herself from Mom and took an uncertain step back. She turned slowly away from Mom until she was looking directly into the mirror.

I felt like a scared rabbit caught in the headlights as I looked directly into the pure black depths of Ivy's eyes. She stared and stared. It felt like an eternity. I couldn't move; I didn't want to move. Then she blinked and the spell - not spell - but something stronger than any magic, was broken.

I jumped away from the door as if it were on fire and ran, as fast as I could. I gave up any pretense of trying to be quiet and just ran as flat-out fast as my feet could take me. I ran until I couldn't think anymore. Then I stopped running and looked around.

I hadn't been out here to visit Mom more than a few times and it took me quite a while to find my bearings. The nearest Greyhound station wasn't that far away, but it wasn't on the best side of town. It was fortunate that I was a bad-ass runner, then wasn't it?

The few crumpled bills that I had in my pocket wouldn't get me far, but they'd get me somewhere away from here and that was a start. I would get more when I got there...somehow. It didn't matter. I just needed to leave and the ever-after was definitely out this time.

The bus window was cool against my forehead. My breath fogged where it hit the glass. I closed my eyes and tried not to think about any of it. Not Mom, not Al, not Ivy.

Eventually I slept. It wasn't easy or peaceful.

The ring of the phone startled me so badly that I jerked and slammed back into the headrest.

"Yeah," I demanded curtly, letting my eyes fall shut as I tried to catch my breath.

"Rachel, where are you?"

I frowned and wrinkled my nose, and then opened my eyes.

"Why? What's going on?"

Glenn sounded more than a little aggravated with me. "We're waiting on you to question the were. How soon can you be here?"

I cranked the engine of my car and smiled. I was here for a reason, to do my job, not to dwell on the numerous ways I had screwed my life up. An uncooperative were I could deal with.

Oh yeah, it would be a piece of cake.


Chapter Seven

Ducking to slip the strap of my bag across my chest, I took a deep breath before walking into the FIB headquarters with my head held high. I was a runner - a damn good one - and they would show me the respect that I had earned. Despite the many complications in my life, I was good at my job and a professional. That was why Glenn had called me back here; I wanted to prove that he was absolutely right in doing so.

"I need to see Captain Glenn," I said to the petite woman sitting at the desk.

Even after all of these years I had half-expected it to be Rose, sitting there. When the woman held up a finger as she turned to answer the phone, I caught a faint whiff of redwood that jerked my senses to attention. The woman sitting in front of me was at least a warlock. I wondered if the FIB knew or even if they cared these days. I hoped that all she was doing was answering a phone though, because whether or not the FIB cared, the I.S. would not take kindly to her working for their human rivals.

I smiled. I couldn't help it. Either way it took guts for a warlock to work for the FIB, and I couldn't help but like a woman with guts. Her lips quirked as she finished her conversation and hung up the phone.

"Thank you for your patience, Ms....."

My smile grew just a little bit wider. "Morgan. Rachel Morgan."

The look on her face changed instantly from one of polite attention, to recognition. She knew my name. Not surprising. I had done more than a few things to land myself in the papers before I had left the Hollows.

"Ms. Morgan. Captain Glenn said to send you back to the first conference room as soon as you got here. He's waiting for you to begin."

"Oh," I said, startled that Glenn had left instructions for me. This was going so much more smoothly than my previous FIB visits. Maybe Glenn was waiting to start the pissing contests over turf and what exactly I would be allowed to do when I got there. "Thank you." I glanced around, at the much-changed surroundings. "Could you point me in the right direction?"

"Of course," she said cheerfully, scribbling on something before she stood. "Down the hall to your right. Third door on your left."

"Thanks," I said with a smile.

She held a card out to me, and I took it without thinking as I turned to head down the hall. It was only after I had taken a few steps that I looked at the card.

It read "Claire Wallace, Administrative Assistant". Below it was printed various contact numbers. The cell number was circled in the bright pink sparkly pen that she had been using at her desk. I shook my head again at the ways the FIB had changed. Rose would never have used a sparkly pink pen.

It was a moment later before it occurred to me to flip the card over. It read "Call me" in loopy letters. I frowned and then flipped it back over as if the front would provide a further explanation. She was either hitting on me, not an impossibility, or she wanted to tell me something that she didn't want her colleagues in the FIB to overhear. Either possibility was full of complications, even if she just wanted to talk about what it was like to be a witch in human law enforcement.

With a sigh, I shoved the card in my back pocket to be dealt with later. There was no time like the present to procrastinate.

I came to the door that I had been directed to and glanced through the small window. Inside I caught a glimpse of a tight, dimly lit observation room. Through there I could just catch sight of what was obviously a two way mirror and beyond that a table and chair where the were sat.

I gave the door a few quick raps with my knuckles and then let myself in. I wasn't going to wait out in the hall like some errant schoolgirl.

Glenn didn't seem to be upset when he saw me though, just beckoned for me to join him.

"This is him?" he asked. "We need an official confirmation of his ID before we can start asking him questions."

I shrugged. "It was dark when he jumped me." From behind, with no warning. I smirked when I caught a glimpse of his smashed nose. "That certainly looks familiar though," I said, pointing to his damaged face.

Glenn laughed, actually laughed. "Good enough for me. Let's go."

I caught his arm. "Who are you and what have you done with Detective Glenn?"

Glenn shrugged and looked slightly bashful. He couldn't quite meet my eyes.

"When I was a detective, I spent all my time following the rules to the letter."

I raised an eyebrow, thinking of a certain ketchup habit that I had helped to foster.

Glenn glared, but still managed to look slightly embarrassed.

"Well, almost all the rules." He shook his head. "When I got promoted to Captain, I realized that I was expected to be a stickler for the rules now, and I had missed my chance to break them all." He shrugged. "Now when I have a chance to bend them a little, I take it."

I grinned and shook my head, playfully poking him in the shoulder. "Captain Glenn, respected FIB officer, finally corrupted. I can't believe it."

Glenn glared. "I could still throw you in lockup if you'd like, Morgan. I'm sure there's something in your past that was slightly questionable."

Instead of flinching as I might have once, I laid a hand over my heart and protested my innocence. "Me? Involved in questionable activities? Why, Captain Glenn, never!" Okay, so maybe the Southern accent was a bit much.

Glenn just rolled his eyes.

"Can we get back to the case?"

"Sure," I replied easily. "Has he told you anything yet?"

Glenn shook his head. "Nothing. Not even his name. We're running his prints right now to see if that comes up with anything, but we won't know for a while."

I took another look at the were on the other side of the two-way mirror, and started digging through my bag. I kept a good supply of un-primed amulets most of the time and I knew there had to be one more truth amulet in here. My hand closed over it triumphantly a moment later. It didn't take me long to prick my finger, activate it, and slip it around my neck.

I glanced over to see Glenn watching me with an steady smile.


He shook his head. "Nothing. You ready?"


"What's your name?"

Silence. Well, a truth amulet wasn't going to do me much good if he wasn't saying anything at all. Still, I had picked up a few things over the years. I didn't have to just rely on magic. I wasn't a one-trick witch.

"It's only a matter of time, you know," Glenn said conversationally beside me. "We're running your prints and I bet you already have a record. Don't you think so, Rachel?"

I deliberately let my gaze rake up and down him.

"Oh, yeah." I went back to fiddling with my nails, but I kept a steady eye on him from underneath the edges of my long hair.

A soft knock on the door startled me, but I didn't take my eyes off the guy across from me. Glenn shot me a quick look and then went to answer the door. He was scowling slightly at the interruption. As soon as he was out of sight, I leaned forward across the table, splaying my elbows out and propping my chin on my fingers. I gave him a shit-eating grin.

"The FIB can't find their ass with both hands and a map."

The guy blinked in surprise; a corner of his mouth tugged up like he wanted to smile.

"That's the good news," I continued. "The bad news is..." I paused dramatically, working this for all it was worth. "I'm not FIB. My name is Rachel Morgan."

His eyes widened slightly. He knew me, all right. Whether because he had specifically been sent there to hurt me or because my reputation preceded me, I didn't know. But now I had leverage. Occasionally, being a witch with a nasty reputation for dealing in demons and an aura covered in black smut came in handy, like when you needed to terrify someone for information.

"So you know what I'll do if you don't answer my questions. I'll give you a hint: It's not leave you alone in this room until you're bored out of your mind."

He blinked again and bit his lip. He was about to crack. I could see it. I just needed to apply a little bit more pressure.

"Rachel." Glenn's voice snapped me out of my tight focus.

I shot the were one last dark look, before I turned to Glenn with a scowl of my own. I had been close. Now I just might have to start over again, if this break gave him a chance to regroup.

"What's up, Glenn," I asked, looking up at him.

He didn't look annoyed at my scowl, just grim. Oh, that wasn't good.

"We have another murder."

The ride down to the station was quiet since I had insisted on bringing my own car. I didn't want to be stranded there until Glenn was ready to leave. I had learned a long time ago that I wasn't nearly patient enough to wait while Glenn jumped through bureaucratic hoops and attended to the minor details of a crime scene. This was especially true when I had already done everything that I could do and I was itching to go track down my next lead.

The scene was already busy when we got there, nearly overflowing with people. I parked haphazardly near Glenn's car and watched the crowd for a minute. It was a small, sleepy suburb on the Hollows side of the river. Usually these neighborhoods were the quietest. Murders didn't happen here, or if they did the FIB certainly wasn't called in. Something must have scared these people badly, or we wouldn't be here.

The late afternoon sun was fading, and the dull oranges and muted pinks of dusk were upon us. Soon it would be full dark and this neighborhood would experience a sudden upswing in activity. I wondered idly if tonight was a full moon. It might explain why those weres had been so aggressive today. I made a mental note to find out as I got out of the car. Full moons were something I usually kept track of - it paid to stay well informed in my line of work - but I'd been pretty busy lately.

I could see Glenn, up by the line of the security tape. He was standing with one hand on the tape and scanning the crowd, probably trying to see me. I tried to push my way through the crowd with minimal fuss. It wouldn't hurt to take a look at all of the people in the crowd. Often the criminal was drawn to return to the scene of the crime for some voyeuristic look at the damage they had caused.

"Hey, Glenn," I said softly, as I stepped up behind him.

He jumped slightly, and shook his head as he held up the crime scene tape for me to step under.

Turning to take one last look at the crowd, I froze, halfway bent over as I caught sight of a very familiar face. What in the Turn was Ivy doing around here? I had taken a step towards her before I brought myself to an abrupt stop. I could ask her later, if it turned out to be important. Not here, not now, not in front of all of these witnesses. Besides, even if she did know something, there was no way that Ivy would be willing to talk with all of these people milling around.

"Rachel?" Glenn questioned.

"Coming," I said softly, turning away with Ivy.

Breaking eye contact with her felt almost like a physical loss. It had to be some effect of the binding between us, but it was one I had never heard of before.

The medical examiner was bent over a huddled form that I assumed was the body. I was about to take a step towards the body when Glenn caught my elbow.

"Uh, Rachel, I know I asked you to come look at this, but you don't actually have to look at the body." He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and wouldn't look at me. "You could just take a look at the scene, and tell us anything that you pick up from that."

My eyes narrowed. "I appreciate the chivalry, Glenn, but this isn't my first body."

He knew that. He had shown me more than one or two himself, so what was the problem now?

Glenn stopped rubbing and stroked his hand over his goatee before he looked at me.

"It's pretty bad, Rachel. Worse this time than any of the others."

"I can handle it, Glenn," I said, a little bit more sharply than I had intended.

What I needed was to see the body, not to have Glenn get all over-protective on me.

"Fine," he said in a clipped voice, almost sounding hurt. "But don't say I didn't warn you."

He let go of my arm and I brushed past him. I almost wished I hadn't rushed past him as I rocked to a stop an instant later. Glenn was right. It wasn't pretty.

Blood was everywhere, so much of it that I was amazed it had all come from one person. Even in the fading light, I could see that it had already turned dark, almost black.

After a minute, I forced myself to take a step closer and bend over. I held my hand up without looking back. A moment later Glenn slapped a flashlight into it. I clicked the light on and fell back on my heels. I barely managed not to fall on my ass in the process. Her torso was just so much raw meat. It had been shredded, destroyed with an incredible amount of malice, by something very, very powerful.

I swallowed, looking down at the asphalt under my feet and trying not to see the blood all around, and took shallow breaths until I didn't feel like throwing up so much.

Then I made myself look at her face. It was mostly unblemished, except for the splattering of blood across her cheeks and forehead. They were like gruesome freckles. Her green eyes were widened as if in shock at the last thing that she had seen, whatever that might have been. Her hair was a bright red, dyed, most likely. It wasn't a shade found in nature.

The urge to throw up was back. I stood up and backed away, almost running into Glenn as I did.

"He had something to do with this," I said without preamble.

"Who?" Glenn said in surprise.

"The guy you have locked up."

"Rachel, he couldn't have-"

I shook my head. "He didn't actually do this. We know that, but he knows who did it or why they did it. He knows something about it, though, and I'm going to find out what it is."

"I have to finish up here, so...."

"Do you mind if I talk to him?"

"Sure, I can have Frescetti go with you."

I shook my head. "Alone."

Glenn's eyes widened. "Rachel, you can't-"

"Can't what, Glenn?" I smiled bitterly. "I promise I won't leave one mark on him. Well, not one more than I've already put on him."

Glenn shook his head, like he couldn't quite believe it. His eyes flicked past me to the woman lying on the ground and then back.

"Don't hurt him."

"Got it," I said sharply, already striding away, in a hurry to do this before Glenn changed his mind, or someone had a chance to do this again.

When I walked into the interrogation room, the guy's head was down, resting on his arms. From the sound of his slow, heavy breathing he was asleep.

I wanted to kick him. He didn't deserve to catch a nap while that woman lay dead on the cold ground. Mindful of my promise to Glenn, I slammed my hand down on the table as hard as I could.

Turned out, that was pretty hard. The fabricated wood cracked.

"Wake up!" I snapped. "Get up."

His head jerked up, and he fell back in his chair, so quickly that it tipped him back on the floor. He scrambled to his feet as I stalked toward him.

"I am done playing around. Tell me who you work for."

He was up against the corner now. I could see the fear in his eyes, but he still kept his mouth shut. I was starting to wonder if this guy could even talk.

I grabbed a fistful of his shirt and yanked him towards me.

"You know who I am?"

His eyes widened gratifyingly.

"You've heard the rumors that I deal in demons?"

He nodded, the first time that he had responded to me so far. Good. Now we were getting somewhere.

"Well, they were right."

I tapped a line. It wasn't hard. There was a major artery flowing right under FIB headquarters. I wondered if they even knew. It was a little bit harder, bringing a passenger. It had been years since I had done it, when I was practicing with Al, but I had learned a lot since then. I was a much more skilled witch. I concentrated, and we jumped.

The next instant I was sucking in an acrid breath of burnt amber, and too-dry air. I shoved him away from me, and sent him staggering until he tripped over his own feet and fell. He stared up at me in shock.

"Welcome to the ever-after," I said, spreading my arms wide and inviting him to take in the scenery, such as it was.

Familiar, haunting wails echoed across the landscape. With the fall of darkness, the minor demons who haunted the surface were just beginning to become active. Soon they would start prowling for real. Anything left here when they arrived would not be alive for much longer.

"Are you insane?"

"What do you think?"

He was shivering now. His entire body shaking with fear, now that the reality of his situation had had a chance to sink in. I squatted down, so that I could look into his eyes. His breath was hot against my face and he was panting like he had just run a marathon.

"You're going to listen very carefully, because I'm about to offer you a chance to save your life. You don't take my offer, I leave you here for those demons to catch up with you." I didn't need to illustrate my threat any further. His eyes widened even more, and he was already nodding.

"Anything," he blubbered. "I'll tell you anything you want to know, just take me back. Please, take me back."

I shook my head slowly. "Not until you tell me what I want to know."

Another demon wailed, closer now. I kept my attention focused solely on the Were in front of me.

"Okay, okay," he said looking around wildly. "My name is Mike Carter and my pack was hired to stop you. My Alpha thought the warehouse would be a good place to rough you up and scare you a little so that you'd leave town."

Too simple, too easy. And anyone who knew me well enough to send a pack of weres after me knew that a few minor scare tactics wouldn't work.

I dusted off my hands and took a step back. "Well, I think you'll enjoy your time here - as short as it will be." I faked a look of deep concentration, and hoped it didn't come out more like constipation. It wasn't like I spent hours practicing in front of a mirror.

"Wait, wait! You said you would take me back."

I rolled my eyes. "And you said you would tell me everything. Guess which one of us lied?"

I caught motion out of the corner of my eye. Not close, but definitely moving in our direction. I stabbed a finger behind me.

"See that? That's a very hungry minor demon, who's spent centuries on the bottom of the demon hierarchy. You do not want to be here when he gets here. This is your last chance."

He swallowed and went a shade of pale that looked especially unnatural in the odd light of the ever-after.

"It wasn't personal," he blurted out abruptly. "My pack has nothing against you, Rachel Morgan. My alpha was contacted to do a job, and the reward was something that he couldn't refuse."

"Details," I said sharply, deciding to focus on that later instead of pointing out just how personal this actually was. "Who contacted your pack leader and what did they offer?"

He looked behind me again and for a moment I wasn't sure if he would answer. He still looked terrified.

"Promise me that you'll protect me."

I looked at him like he was crazy. "You tried to kill me this morning."

"You have to promise. Otherwise, he'll kill me."

I gritted my teeth. "The FIB will protect you to the best of their abilities." Hopefully with you in a very protective jail cell, I thought, but did not say.

"Not the FIB," he said sharply. "You. You're the only one who can."

I couldn't stall here. I had pushed him as far as I could. My only options were to actually torture him, which I wouldn't do, or to leave him here. Neither would help me.

"Fine. Now tell me."

"Trent Kalamack hired us in exchange for the location of the Focus, a statue that contains an ancient curse, that it's said will bring power back to the weres. With it, the packs will quickly rise to prominence over vampires."

Idiot! Could he not see that it would throw the entire world into a war? Did he not even care? I was so angry that for an instant I was tempted to leave him here. I took two quick steps toward him and grabbed a handful of his shirt before I could change my mind.


Chapter Eight

"David!" I spoke quickly the moment he answered the phone.

This was my fifth phone call in as many minutes. The moment I had heard what the were pack had been looking for I knew that I needed to call David. I was responsible for the fact that the Focus was inside him, and I wouldn't let him get hurt on my behalf. Later, I could worry about Trent trying to kill me. Again. My first priority was warning David and making sure that nothing happened to him now.

My pack status was Alpha Female Emeritus at the moment. Nothing more than an honorary title, but it still meant something to me. I had called him when I knew I would be back in the Hollows for a few days and we had agreed to meet for lunch sometime, but neither of our schedules had allowed it so far. I had wanted a chance to catch up and see what was new in his life, but it didn't seem like that was going to work out today, either. We both had more important things to do.

"Rachel? What's the matter?"

"You need to be careful. Trent Kalamack told one of the rival were packs that you have control of the Focus and they're going to be coming after you."

David let out a sigh. It sounded like one of relief.


"It's okay, Rachel." He sounded resigned, calm. "We've been preparing for this day for years. I knew it was coming. We're ready."

I wasn't so sure. I had been attacked enough times to know that no matter how well you thought you were prepared, you usually weren't really prepared at all. The best laid plans and all that.

"If I can help-"

"No," David said in a clipped voice. "This is were business, Rachel. We can handle this." He paused, "I know you're worried, but you've trusted me with this for over a decade now. I promise I won't let it fall into the wrong hands."

"Okay." What else could I say? "If you need me, you have my cell."

"I'll call," David promised, and then hung up.

I stared at the phone in my hand, feeling vaguely unsettled as I snapped it closed. David would do the best that he could, and at least he had a warning now. I would have to trust that he could take care of his end of the problem. This wasn't something that we could go to either set of authorities about without making the situation much, much worse.

That just left Glenn.

I had told him that I would come back inside and fill him in on what Mike, my new found were friend, had told me. There was only one problem with that. It would involve me telling Glenn about Trent's involvement, and that wasn't something I was prepared to do. I had gotten so close to Trent only to have him slip through my fingers far too many times to involve the FIB again. Trent was the one who had made this personal. He was the one who'd been having witches murdered to draw me back to the Hollows.

I had always known, somewhere deep inside, that it would eventually come to this between Trent and I. He wasn't content to have me outside of his control and I had managed to stay outside of his control for years, refusing every job offer that he had given me before I had left the Hollows. Apparently he had finally decided that there was only one way left to control me.

Well, Trenton Aloysius Kalamack was about to discover that I was more witch than he could handle.

Instead of walking back into the FIB offices, I walked away.

I had one advantage when it came to Trent. In the years that had passed since I had left the Hollows, I developed a lot of my skills that had been woefully lacking when I left. Spells that I wouldn't have contemplated at the time were a matter of course now. That was why I wouldn't be sneaking back into his office for a second time. Trent had had the intervening years to refine his security, too, and I did not feel like being turned into a mink again. There was every chance that it wouldn't work out so well for me another time.

A block away, I glanced in the rearview mirror to make sure that no-one was behind me. When I didn't see any lights, I flicked off my own headlights, and down-shifted, until the car was creeping along as quietly as possible. Finally, I killed the engine, my hand hovering over the key for several minutes as I sat and waited to see if anyone was coming.

The shadows from the tall trees that made up the edge of the woods on Trent's property were long and deep in the barely-there light of the moon. In the darkest part of those shadows the car was almost invisible. Or that was what I was hoping, anyway. This was also the clearest shot I could get of Trent's office. The faint glow of distant lights was visible between the dense trees and undergrowth. That was what I was focusing on.

I drew blood with a fingerprick and let a drop fall onto the amulet. The moment the blood hit it, the amulet began to glow faintly. It crackled so loudly that I almost dropped it. All the sounds around me were suddenly amplified. Crickets chirped in my ear. The thin creaking of branches was as loud as cracking ice in the middle of a frozen lake. I could have sworn I heard an owl's wings as it flew through the night air. Damn, this spell was good.

Even so, I was wincing as I fine-tuned it, trying to get it positioned exactly right. Leaning to get just the right angle, my arm was dangling awkwardly outside the car when I finally caught a snippet of something that sounded like voices. I froze, faint tremors beginning to run through my arm as I held the awkward position, and strained to hear more of what was being said.

"We have a problem, Sa'han."

I held my breath. I knew that from this distance there was no way that they could see or here me, but it sounded like I was standing right next to the person speaking.

"What is it, Jonathan?"

I made a face at the mere mention of his name. Jonathan was my least favorite of Trent's henchmen, although Quen was scarier.

There was a sound like someone clearing their throat.

"Our sources inside the FIB have reported that the werewolf that was captured at the warehouse disappeared for some time, although he was never seen entering or leaving the interrogation room. No note was made of it, perhaps because Morgan was with him both before and after he disappeared."

Tink's contractual hell, their informant was very good. I wondered about the receptionist that had flirted with me, my mind skimming through everyone that had so much walked past me in the halls while I was there. Really, it could be anyone. Trent's reach had always been frighteningly impressive. Especially at the times when that reach had stretched to include me.

"So Morgan may have had time to make him talk?"

"We have no way of knowing how much his alpha told him about what he was going to do."

"I don't like to rely on luck to make certain that things turn out in my favor. The were needs to be taken care of, Jonathan."

There was a delicate cough. "Won't his alpha be upset, sir?"

"If he was careless enough to let this happen, then he will simply have to deal with the consequences of his actions."

"Of course." There was a slight pause. I closed my eyes tightly, willing him to keep talking and my arm to stop aching. "What do you want done about Morgan in the mean time, Sa'han?"

"Nothing, yet," Trent said decisively. "It would be unwise to make her aware that she is the true target of these attacks until we're ready to finish what has been begun. For all of her foolish actions, she has proved surprisingly skilled at keeping herself alive over the years. I'm not ready to risk scaring her into disappearing completely for a second time." The venom in Trent's voice was surprising.

"What about Tamwood?"

I blinked, so startled that I almost lost my grip on the amulet in my hand. I fumbled with it for a few seconds until I held it securely again.

"Do not approach Tamwood." Trent's voice was no longer the same calm, mellow tone that he used whether he was threatening to kill someone or raising money for the city's orphanage. It had risen dramatically, as he snapped the words out. "We were fortunate that Morgan never thought to wonder what had happened to Tamwood. She blamed what happened on Tamwood's lack of control and didn't think to examine outside influences. If we try to get at Morgan through Tamwood for a second time, she may suspect something, and I do not want that." Trent sighed. "It would have been better if the plan had worked completely, and Tamwood had eliminated Morgan for us, but at least this way Morgan's fear of Tamwood will keep them from working together."

I heard what Trent was saying. I understood the words. What I couldn't accept was the meaning. It was obvious, so obvious, now that I had practically had it spelled out for me. Of course, Ivy wouldn't have bound me of her own will. She loved me, and it was why she had refused time and again to attempt a blood balance with me while Piscary was still alive. She had been terrified that he would use her to harm me, so why would she harm me herself?

It made no sense. Hot tears tracked down my face as every assumption that I had held onto for over a decade came crashing down. Every bit of anger that I had held onto to keep my heart from breaking completely fell away as I realized that Ivy had been every bit as much of a victim as I had been. It wasn't her fault that I had been bound to her, and I had done what she had always feared the most. I had left her alone.

It was a testament to Ivy's strength that she had managed to rebuild her life. I bit my lip hard and swiped at the tears on my face. I took a deep breath and struggled to get my breathing back under control. In my distraction, I had let my arm slip from the precarious angle that I had been holding it at, and I had lost the sound from Trent's office.

I cast back around for the spot that I'd had, hoping to hear something else. I had found out more than I ever expected, if not what I had come here hoping to find. Unfortunately there was nothing incriminating yet, at least nothing that I could take to Glenn to get a warant. It was all talk with nothing to back it up. Conversation, after all, that I didn't have a recording of and shouldn't have been listening to in the first place.

Trent still had quite a few things going for him. There was only one thing working in my favor. I knew what he was doing. He was trying to kill me. I wasn't sure why yet, but it certainly wasn't the first time someone had tried to kill me and not even the first time that Trent had tried it. Now that I knew what he was doing, I could stop him and when I did, I would make sure that he would end up in jail for it for a very long time.

He had already ruined my life; it was the least that I could do for him in return.

My heart was pounding so fast that I felt lightheaded. My throat was dry. Maybe all of the moisture had migrated to my palms. They were damp and sweating as I clenched one hand into a fist and raised it to knock on the door. I certainly hadn't expected to be here for a second time.

I'd barely had time to knock before the door swung open. I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, I had been buzzed in at the gate, but when the door opened it wasn't who I had expected at all.

"Marion." I swallowed and to my dismay, swayed slightly on my feet. I reached out quickly and steadied myself on the door frame.

The shape of his brown eyes was so familiar. After all, I had looked at them for years in his mother's face. His eyes, however, were full of suspicion.

"You were here earlier."

"I was." There was no reason to deny it.

I wondered what Ivy had told him. Did he know about the relationship that we had once shared? I winced inwardly, thinking about how weird it had been when I had found out that Takata was my father. This was nothing like that, of course, except that I was his mother's former lover, and as I knew run in's with your parent's ex were always awkward.

"Is Ivy here?"

Stupid, stupid question, Rachel. Where else would she be at this time of night, with her son at home? It wasn't like Ivy was a runner anymore. She kept respectable Inderland hours now.

He nodded but didn't say anything else. He was watching me, his head tilted so that he was staring up at me from underneath a fringe of dark hair. I glanced away, taking in the room around me. The framed pictures that hung on the wall, even in the entryway. I stepped away from him, drawn to a particular photo, not realizing how close I had gotten to it until my finger was running down the edge of the frame.

"That was taken on my tenth birthday." His voice from just behind my shoulder made me jump. I hadn't even heard him move.

"It's beautiful," I whispered. Ivy was standing in the sun, a nearly blinding smile on her face as Marion ran toward her.

"I know who you are."

Marion's words sent a shiver down my spine. I realized an instant later that he was pulling an aura. He was trying to be intimidating. Slowly, I turned to face him.

"Okay," I said with a calm that I didn't really feel.

"You left her."

I swallowed, feeling the breathtaking agony of Trent's revelation hit me again.

"I did." It was more complicated than that, of course. But the kid was right. That was what it all boiled down to. I had left.

"She's been miserable."

I smiled, tipping my head towards the picture behind me. "She looks pretty happy to me."

"She loves me," he blurted out, sounding young and slightly embarrassed by the statement. "She tries to be happy for me, but she's not really. Even when she's as happy as I've ever seen her, there's still a layer of sadness underneath it." He took a deep breath and glared at me. "You should leave. You're just going to hurt her more. That's all you ever do; Jenks told me."

If I had thought that Trent's revelation was awful, this was worse. Hearing about Jenks' disappointment, knowing that he had died angry with me was awful. And maybe, Jenks wasn't wrong. So far, I had done nothing but hurt Ivy.

"I'm going to make it right," I said, my hand clenching into a fist at my side.

His head snapped up like I had hit him and I realized abruptly that my nails had dug into my hand so hard that they had drawn blood. Marion took a faltering step back. For an instant his eyes went black, and then he blinked. Just as quickly, the darkness was replaced by rich brown.

"How?" he demanded.

It wasn't a sound, or a smell, or anything that I could consciously identify, but I suddenly knew without looking that Ivy had entered the room.

"Marion," she spoke softly. "It's okay."

"It's not," he shot back defiantly. "It's not okay, Mom."

She walked to his side slowly, and wrapped an arm around him, pulling her close to him. Ivy brushed the hair back from his forehead and kissed it lightly. He squirmed back from it, but not from her. She leaned closer to him, and spoke softly. The low murmur of her voice was the only sound in the room.

Her eyes met mine across him. Marion nodded slowly and looked up her.

"You'll be okay?" That protective determination was back in his voice, but it was calmer now. It made me glad that he cared about Ivy so much.

"I'll be fine," Ivy reassured him, as she let him go and stepped back. "Rachel isn't here to cause trouble."

"No," I said, my voice breaking over the simple word as I watched Ivy. "No," I repeated more firmly. "I'm not."

Marion shot me one last warning look before he backed out of the room. When he was gone, Ivy let out a deep breath and walked away from me, pacing the room until she had reached the window. She stared out into the shadowed grounds.

"Ivy...." Now that the moment was here, I wasn't sure what to say. I'm sorry seemed so small and inadequate. It seemed impossible to convey what I was really feeling. "The were who attacked me told me that Trent had-"

"Rachel," Ivy cut me off sharply. "Why are you here?" she asked tiredly. "I asked you to leave earlier."

"I know. I know," I repeated more slowly. I had actually forgotten about that in my hurry to get back here. "I wouldn't have come back if it wasn't important," I said desperately.

Ivy rolled her eyes and turned away. "That seems to always be your story lately."

"Just let me explain, Ivy. Please," I begged her.

If she hated me, if she still wanted me to leave and never come back after I had a chance to explain what I had discovered, I would understand. I had hurt her so badly, worse than I had ever hurt her, even before we had become a couple. My stomach sank, as I held my breath and waited for her to speak.

"What is there to explain, Rachel?" she asked, still sounding so very tired. "What difference will it make?"

"All the difference in the world!"

Ivy blinked, taken back by my sudden outburst. She looked up at me from under the thin fringe of her bangs.

"It won't change the fact that you're bound to me."

I flinched. It was an involuntary response that I hadn't quite managed to control yet.

Ivy looked as if I had slapped her. "See," she said softly. "You're still scared of me. That's the last thing I've ever wanted. Just let me go. Please. We don't have to see each other ever again. It will be the best thing for both of us."

With the incredible strength of will that Ivy had always shown in spades, Ivy pulled herself up until she was standing once again with her usual regal bearing.

"No," I blurted out. "No, that would not be the best thing."

Throwing out what little common sense I had, I crossed the distance between us and reached out for Ivy's hands. Her long fingers were icy cold and limp against my skin. I squeezed lightly, hoping that she would look at me, or respond somehow. Ivy shutting me out was suddenly worse than anything else. It was what she had done to Piscary. I had always wanted to help her, to save her from people like Piscary who had hurt her, and now I was hurting her just as badly.

"I went to Trent's tonight," I said in a rush, hoping that she would at least listen to me. "I overheard him talking to Jonathan. Ivy, he said that he did something to you, to make you bind me. It wasn't your fault."

Ivy's breath caught, and her fingers tightened until they were painfully gripping my own.

"What do you mean?" she asked in a whisper that I had to strain to hear, even as close to her as I was.

I let go of one hand, and reached up to brush a lock of hair that had fallen across her face back behind her ear.

"I mean, that it wasn't your fault. Trent did this to us, Ivy. There was nothing you could have done."

Her first choking sob caught me by surprise. Then her arms went around me and she held me tightly. Her fingers twisted into the thin fabric of my sleeves as she held on to me like a drowning women. The first sob was followed by another until tears were streaming down her face.

I had only seen Ivy break down like this once before; then I hadn't known how to comfort her. Now I knew and I could. I wrapped my arms around her waist and buried my face against her shoulder. I held her just as tightly as she was holding me, as her body shook against mine. I rubbed soothing circles on her back and just let her cry.

"It's okay, Ivy," I whispered into her ear. "I promise. It will be okay."

"You." She sucked in a breath. "Can't." Another breath. "Promise that."

"No, I can't." I said regretfully. "But I can promise that I won't ever leave you without knowing everything that's going on, again."

"Don't say that unless you mean it," Ivy said sharply.

"I mean it," I countered immediately. "I shouldn't have to promise it; I shouldn't have run away." I held her tighter. "I should have trusted you."

Morning light was seeping faintly in through the heavy curtains on the windows. Ivy shivered against me. I ran my fingers lightly up and down her arms, feeling the goosebumps on her bare skin. I pressed a kiss to the top of her shoulder and then gently laid my chin on it as she leaned back against me.

Sometime during the night, after our harsh words, and tears, we had ended up like this. Neither one of us had wanted to move, so in the end we had simply stayed. My hips were sore and my legs stiff, but there was no way that I would say anything about it or try to move. It might break this moment between us. My arms slipped further around Ivy's waist, and I flattened my hands against her stomach.

"What do we do now?" Ivy's voice sounded loud as it broke the silence.

"I'm going to take down Trent." For the past hour, he had been consuming almost as much of my thoughts as Ivy.

"And after that?"

Ivy had always liked a plan. Me, on the other hand....

"I don't know." I touched her shoulder, and then her chin, turning her face towards me.

I couldn't help the little smile that slipped over my lips when she looked at me. The rich, deep brown of her eyes was startling, and for a second I found myself lost in them. My breath caught and then quickened, my heart beginning to race. Her eyes flashed black in an instant.

Her lips quivered. Would she...

And then Ivy blinked, and looked away.

"Ivy," Her name fell from my lips like a sigh.

I rested my forehead against her shoulder, and relaxed when she gently touched my arm. My bravery had faded as I looked into her eyes. It wasn't fear that she would hurt me. It had been a very long time since Ivy's black eyes had scared me. Instead they meant love and lust, desire and arousal. Although, whether they still meant love after all this time, there was no way to know. That was what had made me look away from her - shame.

Ivy had been just as much of a victim of Trent as I had. She had no idea why she had bound me, since that had never been her intention. She had loved me as I was. And in that part of the plan, I had been Trent's unwitting accomplice. I had hurt her far more deeply and thoroughly than he ever could have, even if he had killed her twice.

"Ivy," I repeated her name again, hoping desperately that she would understand. "I don't know what's going to happen when this is over with Trent."

"I don't either, Rachel." She paused and I felt her shift. "Look at me, please."

I swallowed and looked up. The pain in her eyes broke my heart.

"The only thing I ask, Rachel, is that you say goodbye."

It was as much rebuke as I would ever hear from Ivy, and it landed perfectly on target. Knowing Ivy, it had taken a lot for her to just ask for that much.

I nodded and bit my lip. The last thing that I wanted to do right now was think about leaving. Looking over at Ivy's slim form, curled beside me on the floor, I wondered what she would say, if I told her that I was thinking of making the Hollows my home again. Would she be happy about that? Or had we hurt one another too badly to ever be friends - or even friendly acquaintances - again?


I jumped and squeaked at the sudden interruption. Marion appeared at the door, glancing around the room, expression puzzled until he spotted us.

"Mom, what are you doing on the floor?"

Ivy smiled, a full real smile, that tugged at my heart for an entirely different reason.

"We were just discussing a few things," she said, and held out a hand to him.

She pressed the other to my knee, keeping me still and beside her when I went to jump away from her.

He took her hand, braced his feet and helped her to her feet. I knew she could have easily used her living vamp strength to rise in one graceful motion, but she let him work a little bit to help her up like any normal kid. It made me smile too, and I was still smiling as Ivy held her hand down to me.

My fingers curled around her own without hesitation. Ivy drew me gently to my feet, and if I wasn't quite as graceful as she had been, I was certainly far away from a clumsy, middle-aged housewitch. When her eyes slipped away from mine it was a loss that I could almost feel.

She draped her arm around Marion's shoulder, and ruffled his hair affectionately.

"How would you like to stay with your Aunt Erica for a few days?"

His first reaction was a wrinkled nose, and I couldn't help but laugh. He looked so much like Ivy with that one gesture, down to the same wrinkles.

"Sorry," I muttered when he caught me looking and turned sulky. "Does she still talk like she used to?"

"All the time," came Marion's aggrieved complaint. "She asks me a question and then doesn't even lets me answer."

While her chatter could get annoying, I had always found it easy to spend time around Erica when I didn't want to talk. There was no need to, and no way to get a word in edgewise even if I had wanted to. It was comforting in its own way. Obviously, Marion didn't appreciate that just yet.

"Be nice," Ivy chided gently. "I know she lets you get away with murder."

His eyes lightened with mischief for an instant as he glanced up at her sharply.

"I do exactly what she says," he protested.

Ivy pinned him with a knowing gaze that made him flush and look down, and then gently squeezed him on the shoulder.

"Why don't you go pack a few things? I'll have some breakfast ready when you get down here then, I can take you over to Erica's."

"Okay, Mom," he said with a grin. Despite what he had said about Erica, he didn't seem too upset about going to see her. Something told me that she hadn't changed much in the intervening years, and I had a feeling that Erica spoiled him horribly. She probably made a pretty awesome aunt.

Ivy turned her attention back to me when he was out of sight. "I need to make sure he's safe with Erica, before we can start."

"Safe? From what?" Besides the usual. Growing up the child of a very prominent living vampire was no walk in the safe, well lit park. More like the nasty, overgrown park at midnight on the night of a new moon, where there were lots of shadows for the extremely dangerous monsters to hide.

"I have responsibilities now, Rachel. Marion is my first priority. Always." Her voice held an icy edge that wasn't directed at me.

"I know," I said quickly. "I wouldn't want it any other way, but I don't know what that has to do with-"

"If you think I'm letting you go after Trent alone, with no one to back you up but Glenn...." Her voice trailed off at the slightly guilty expression on my face. "Without even Glenn," she corrected herself, with a shake of her head. "It's not going to happen, Rachel. Trent is going to pay and we're going to do it together."

"Okay," I said simply. It felt like a demon had been sitting on my shoulders and now he had been banished. What had seemed daunting now seemed completely possible. With Ivy and I working together, nothing had ever been able to stop us.

"Partners?" Ivy asked, holding her hand out to me. She said it confidently, but the hesitance in the way she moved revealed her vulnerability.

"Partners," I agreed, taking her hand.

With that gesture, something fell into place. It felt like coming home.


Chapter Nine

I took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Ivy was due to swing by the church any time in the next half an hour. If I was going to do this, I needed to get it done now.

I gave the liquid in my largest copper spell pot one last stir - clockwise, and not widdershins - and then let the thin droplets of liquid run back down the spoon and fall back into the pot. It was hell to get it off the counter, once it had dried on. I had learned that the hard way. No one ever mentioned that tidbit to up-and-coming witches.

Dusting my hands off, I grabbed my bag from where I had slung it down on the table and pulled on my jacket. Hopefully I wouldn't need my jacket or my bag. It should just be a quick in and out, but I had also learned better than to go into a situation like this one unprepared.

Making sure I'd turned the stove off, I took one last look around the kitchen to make sure that I wasn't forgetting something and then walked out into the graveyard. The graves weren't as well tended as they had once been. Weeds grew up a bit higher around the bases of the headstones, but across the yard the herb garden was larger than I remembered, and obviously well tended.

I made a mental note to go out and re-introduce myself to the pixies tonight, assuming I made it back to the church in one piece. Ivy had said that Jenks' children were tending the church now, but I hadn't seen any of them inside yet. Of course it was warm enough that they were probably still staying in the huge stump out back, but it still felt rude staying here without saying hi.

When I reached the ley line that ran through the graveyard, I stepped into it without hesitation, already prepared for the heady sensation of all that power. I closed my eyes and jumped myself through the lines. It was like simultaneously being compressed into a size that no one's body was meant to take and stretched to the breaking point. Saying that it was uncomfortable was a massive understatement.

I landed off balance and almost fell onto my face in the interrogation room. Not my most impressive entrance, I decided, as I brushed my knees off and stood.

My were friend was staring at me with wild eyes.

"What the Turn are you doing here? I told you everything I knew!" He complained. "Are you going to get me out of here soon? Kalamack is going to kill me when he finds out. You have to help me; you can't just leave me like a sitting duck."

I could, actually, and he knew it. That was why he was so scared. But he was safe, for now. Safe enough, at least, as long as no one but me knew that he had been indirectly working for Trent. Of course, he had been in FIB custody for over a day now. Someone, his alpha, at least, already knew that, and the more time that he spent here the more likely it would be that he would talk. I was willing to bet that if his alpha had consented to killing witches for Trent, then he wouldn't waste much time debating whether to clean up a loose end like an errant packmember that had gotten in over his head.

For a second, I thought about telling Glenn everything, but there was no way that he would let me get the evidence that was needed to put Trent away. I couldn't let him stop me or this would all be in vain. I just had to make this quick before anyone could get to Mike, here.

"Actually," I said, ignoring his pleading. "I need your help with one more thing."

He looked sulky and scared. So, he tried to sound angry. "You didn't say anything about it earlier," he growled, crossing his arms over his chest. He didn't quite succeed. Instead of looking angry or intimidating he still just looked scared.

"I didn't know earlier," I retorted, taking a stab at being patient. "I need a lock of your hair."

"What?" He looked confused now. "What do you need my hair for?"

"You don't need to know," I said definitively. "All you need to do is say that I can have the hair. "

"You need my permission."

I rolled my eyes. Now he decided to try and play tough. Just what I needed.

"No, actually, I don't. I don't need your hair or anything else. I can just walk out of this cell and forget you're even in here, or that you told me anything useful." I glanced down at my watch. "How long do you think it will take Kalamack to get someone in here? I'm thinking twenty minutes, tops. He usually works pretty fast, but he'll probably want to make it look like you were'd out and tried to escape. That could take a little bit longer." I held up my finger and thumb, close together to give him an idea of just how little time I thought he had left.

He swallowed, looking suddenly pale and much younger than I had originally guessed.

"Take it, Turn you."

"Thank you," I said sweetly, and pulled the ceremonial knife out of my bag.

He fell out of his chair, stumbling to get away. It looked way nastier than it actually was. Although the depictions of sunken skulls along the handle weren't very ambiguous.

"I'm not going to kill you. If I wanted to do that, I wouldn't have to actually do it myself," I reminded him.

He swallowed and sat down. "Looks like a hell of a knife to be doing nothing with," he muttered.

"I'm not doing nothing. I'm going to be giving you a haircut. Don't move," I added as I stepped closer. With the knife in my hand, he might be tempted to try something stupid, thinking he could overwhelm the witch and find someway to get the Turn out of here. I wasn't going to let that happen. Not only would it be humiliating, but it would completely ruin my plan.

I grabbed a handful of his hair and held it up, giving it a harder yank than was strictly necessary, just in case he needed a reminder about who was actually holding the knife here. Then I concentrated enough to let my second sight slip into focus. I could see the smeary edges of his aura in the air around us, flaring out around my hand where I held his hair.

Under my breath, I muttered the words that I had learned from Al long ago and drew my knife through the chunk of hair that I was holding up, separating it from his head. It would leave a weird chunky spot missing from his hair, but hopefully no one would question him about it. There was always the possibility that it had happened during the fight.

I didn't relax as the chunk of hair came away in my hand. I was holding my breath as I drew it away, and slipped the knife back in my bag, reaching for the small pouch instead. The smeary colors of his aura still danced around my hand. Things like hair, fingernails, even patches of skin could be used in the darker flavors of earth magic, but in most cases the aura of the person didn't remain with these things once they had been separated from the person's body. In this case, separating it as I had, with special preparations, had separated a small portion of his aura along with it. It was that chunk of his aura that I needed to complete the spell that I had been brewing.

I opened my hand and let the strands of hair rain down into the open pouch beneath them. When the last one had fallen off my palm, I pulled the strings on the bag and made sure that it was tightly sealed.

Blowing out the breath I had been holding, I stepped back, almost giddy with my success. "Thanks," I called out as I jumped the lines back to the church.

The sound of an engine sputtering in the front yard caught my attention immediately. I grabbed for my splat gun, tucking my bag protectively behind me as I scooted along the lines of cover in the backyard until I could see who had pulled in the driveway.

When I saw Ivy getting out of the car, I relaxed and stepped out of the soft shadows that the warm morning sun were throwing across the ground.

"Is Marion okay?" I asked, genuinely worried about him. I could only imagine how important he was to Ivy.

"Yes," Ivy said with a smile. "He's fine. Believe it or not, he loves spending time with Erica."

"Something tells me that she's not the strict one," I guessed.

Ivy laughed. "You've got that right. She'd give him anything he asked for."

I had a feeling that Ivy spoiled him a good deal herself. I knew enough about Ivy's childhood and what Piscary had done to her, to know that she would try to give her child the best life that she possibly could.

"Will he be okay?" I asked a little bit more quietly, suddenly feeling guilty about accepting Ivy's help. She had bigger responsibilities now. Biting my lip, I wondered if I had pushed her too far. We weren't friends now; we had been through too much together for that simple label to apply, but there was no way that we could slip back into the simple comfort of lovers. Too much water had passed under the bridge for that. We had hurt one another too badly to even consider it.

"Yes," Ivy said calmly, but with an edge in her voice. "Erica will die twice before she lets anything happen to him."

"Good," I said firmly. "I'm glad he'll be okay."

Ivy nodded too, but it was an abstracted gesture, full of a distance that couldn't be bridged.

"Come on inside," I spoke to break the odd moment of silence between us. "I was just finishing up a spell when you pulled up."

Ivy's shoulder brushed against mine as we walked up the short path to the doorstep. I shivered as Ivy stopped in front of the brass plaque next to the front door.

"This was the best solstice gift that I've ever gotten, you know," Ivy said softly. From barely a foot away her brown eyes looked liquid and full of emotion.

"I thought you said I was the best solstice gift you'd ever gotten," I teased, the words slipping out of my mouth before I thought. My hand flew to my mouth, clamping over my lips as if it weren't already too late to hold in the words I very much wished I could take back.

It had been a joke between us; one that Ivy had liked to tease me with around the holidays, once we had become a couple. I had heard it so many times that I hadn't thought before I retorted with it. Hesitantly, I reached out and touched Ivy's arm.

"I'm sorry," I said quietly. "I didn't mean-"

"It's okay," she said calmly, with serenity that only Ivy could muster. She squeezed my hand, but let go quickly. "I know you didn't mean it." She bit her lip and looked shy. "I meant it, though. You were the best thing that ever happened to me, Rachel, and I loved this sign too because it meant that I was a part of something that I could believe in."

Her words took my breath away. She'd always had that power over me, even before I'd realized I was completely in love with her. I was no good with words or discussing emotions, though, and we had already reached our quota of hard conversations for the week, possibly for the entire month.

"I miss Jenks," I confided through the lump in my throat.

"I do, too."

Somehow the mention of Jenks eased the moment, and we slipped inside the church with relief.

"Do you have any coffee? I can't believe I'm up this long before noon," Ivy groused as she headed towards the kitchen.

I followed her, trailing after her with a smile at her familiar complaints about the hour of the day. Ivy had never been a morning person, and it seemed like that, at least, hadn't changed.

"I haven't made any yet," I called after her.

"What are you working on?" Ivy asked over her shoulder, as I headed towards the stove.

"Just an amulet that we'll need," I said evasively. I wasn't ready to tell Ivy about my plan just yet. I had a feeling she wouldn't like it.

"It looks disgusting."

I jumped and almost dropped the silver ladle that I was holding into the pot, as Ivy's voice came from just behind my shoulder. She had moved with that eerie vamp quite that annoyed me so much when she used it to surprise the hell out of me just like now. I shivered as the warmth of her breath ghosted across my ear.

"Well, it's a good thing you're not going to be the one using it then," I said lightly, setting the spoon down after I gave the hairs another good stir and turned to face her.

It was a mistake. If her proximity had been distracting before it was impossible to ignore now. She wasn't quite pressed up against me, but only a hair's breadth separated our bodies. She was close enough now that I could reach out and touch her. I had a sudden urge to reach out and clasp my hands behind her neck, letting my fingers play with the fine silky hairs at the nape of her neck.

I blinked and shook my head, trying to drive that distracting thought away.

"You okay?" Ivy asked, her voice in that low, gray silk timber that made me want to kiss her so badly.

Once it had been okay for me to kiss her; when just the sound of her voice had been enough to make me crazy, in a very good way. Now it was frustrating beyond belief. Not that I wanted to kiss Ivy. I mean, our relationship had ended years ago. It was just a reaction; a habit I hadn't quite broken. Like my stupid comment on the steps.

It wasn't my fault that Ivy was still an incredibly attractive woman. I just needed space.

"Coffee," I blurted out. "I need coffee."

Was I just imagining the small sigh that slipped past Ivy's lips as she took a step away from me? "It should be ready," Ivy said softly as she walked over to the table and sank into her old chair.

Here in the church, we were falling back into many old habits.

"I have a plan," I said, when I had poured myself a steaming cup of coffee. Ivy's smile of faint pride warmed me through and through. "Yeah, yeah, I know." I waved her smile away, even as I cherished it. "But you're not going to like it."

"Oh?" Ivy asked, as she leaned back in her chair, and crossed her arms in front of her chest.

"Just hear me out first," I said warningly, as I began pacing around the kitchen.

"Okay," Ivy agreed slowly, unhappiness already beginning to creep into her voice. "What's so bad about this plan?"

"Nothing," I blurted. "Well, nothing's wrong with the plan. It's a good plan, and it's going to work, but it's a little bit dangerous."

Her brow furrowed, and her lips pursed into a thin line. "I'm not some tame vamp, Rachel. I can do this. Just because I haven't officially taken a run in a long time, doesn't mean I haven't kept my hand in. I'm just as good as I was then."

"That's not what I meant," I said quietly. "I wouldn't want anyone else watching my back."

The words lingered in the silence between us, until Ivy broke eye contact and took a sip of coffee.

"You're stalling."

I let out a choked laugh because she was right.

"Okay, you asked what this spell was? Well, it's a disguise amulet. For a very specific disguise. I'm going to impersonate the were that jumped me in the warehouse yesterday. I bought most of the earth charms that I'll need for it, but I have to add a few finishing touches."

"All right," Ivy said slowly. "What are you planning to do with the disguise amulet?"

I took a deep breath. This was the part that she was not going to like.

"I'm going to go to Trent's house and tell him the truth."

"The truth?" Ivy prompted me.

"I'm going to tell him that Rachel Morgan took me to the ever-after, and threatened to leave me there if I didn't tell her everything. I told her everything and struck a deal with the FIB to let me go. I felt bad about ratting him out, so I came to warn him that the FIB had him under surveillance."

The humor had dropped from Ivy's face. Tension showed in the lines of her face. Her jaw flexed and tightened.

"If he believes that - and that's a pretty stupid thing for anyone to do - then he's going to try to kill you."

"I know," I said slightly surprised that Ivy was taking this so calmly. "That's what I want him to do."

Ivy blinked. "What?" She demanded. Her voice carried an edge that almost cut across my skin. She had risen from her seat, and her hands gripped the table tightly enough that I wondered if it was about to break under the stress.

"You're going to be recording this the whole time. When we have enough documentation to prove that Trent is both connected to the witch murders and that he made an attempt to kill someone to cover up what he did, then we'll arrest him."

"You're right," Ivy snapped. "I don't like this plan. Have you thought about what will happen if you misjudge the timing, just by an instant? One second too late and you're dead. Too soon and the whole plan is blown wide open."

"I can deal with anything that Trent can throw at me," I said firmly. I didn't like that she doubted that the arrogant Cookie bastard could take me.

"What about Quen?" she continued. "Can you take care of Quen too?"

"We can handle it," I insisted. "I learned enough from Al to match anything Quen's got." Okay, that was probably stretching the truth. Quen was one of the best ley line practitioners that I had ever seen, and he wasn't afraid to get a little bit of smut on his aura while he was at it. On the other hand, I had access to demon magics that he couldn't use, even if he'd known they existed. "You'll be there to back me up. We can deal with it."

Ivy wasn't satisfied yet. "What if he has a gun, Rachel? An amulet can't stop a bullet."

It wasn't quite true. There were some amulets that could do something similar or act as Kevlar, but I wouldn't be wearing one. The more magic that I was wearing going in, the easier it would be for Trent and Quen to spot them and realize that something was wrong. My were friend wouldn't own amules and especially wouldn't wear any to a meeting with Trent Kalamack. It would be an immediate giveaway, and there was no way I was going to tip Trent's hand.

"Trent won't have a gun," I said firmly.

"You don't know that," Ivy pointed out grimly. "This isn't a good plan, Rachel. You're taking too many risks, for something that isn't worth it."

"Sending Trent to jail for the rest of his life isn't worth it?" I demanded, surprise and anger making a nasty mix in my chest. "I don't need your help, Ivy. You wanted in."

"And you're being blind and stupid, as usual. Wake up, Rachel. You don't always have to do something the way that's most likely to get you killed."

"This isn't going to get me killed. It will work," I insisted.

Ivy paced away from the table, her back to me as she made the circuit to the window and then back.

"Let me use the disguise amulet instead of you," she said finally. "At least I'll have a chance to get out of the way if Trent or Quen start shooting."

My heart stuttered at the thought of Ivy getting shot. There was no way that I was letting Ivy take a bullet for me. Especially not when she had a son to come back home to. If I made it back and Ivy didn't, there would be no way that I could ever look Marion in the eye and tell him what happened. No, I couldn't let Ivy do it. The time when I would let Ivy stand in front of me and protect me had passed. I shook my head.

"It won't work. The amulet is custom made. It would look completely different on you than it does on me."

"So buy another damn amulet," Ivy snapped.

"No," I contradicted her. "We don't have time. If we don't do this soon, then Glenn-" I bit my lip and wished I could suck the words back into my mouth. I hadn't intended to let Ivy know that this plan wasn't entirely FIB sanctioned. Ivy, however, knew me all too well.

"Glenn, what?" Ivy asked slowly. "Why is this time sensitive?"

I swallowed and took the plunge. "If we don't act soon, then Glenn will either make a press release stating that he has a suspect in custody for the witch murders, which would blow our cover with Trent, going in. Or Glenn will be coming back here looking for me, and if he finds me, he'll tell me that we don't have enough evidence to go against Trent; that I'm crazy, and I need to just leave things alone. And that will blow the only chance that we have, Ivy."

She shook her head as she resumed pacing. "You are crazy," she muttered under her breath. "So Glenn has no idea that we're doing this?"

"That's why it's so important that we have proof of everything that Trent's done. Once we have that, then we can turn him and the evidence over to the FIB."

Ivy shook her head again and then looked over at me. "You could have told me that you didn't have Glenn's approval for this," she said pointedly.

I swallowed. "You're still going to help me?" I couldn't quite believe it. Ivy had always disapproved of my wilder plans, and now she had more to lose than ever before.

"Of course, I'm going to help you. I meant it when I said that I wanted Trent to pay. But," Ivy held up a hand. "We're going to need to make a few changes."

I wrinkled my nose, even as I reminded myself that compromise was the name of the game. "What did you have in mind?"

"I want to see Kalamack," I demanded.

"And why would Mr. Kalamack wish to see you? He's a very busy man."

"Just tell him that Mike Carter is here to see him," I said confidently. "He'll want to see me."

"Of course, sir," Jonathan agreed blandly. His usual smug disbelief was covered by a sincere smile. "Just a moment."

He disappeared into the other room, leaving me alone in the outer office. I glanced towards the stack of papers on Jonathan's desk. Once, it would have been tempting to go through the things on his desk. I would have, if Ivy and I didn't already have a plan, but there was no way that I wasn't already under surveillance. Using my second sight to check for spells and amulets scattered throughout the room would tell me exactly what we were facing, but it was too risky.

I couldn't do anything to tip off Trent that I wasn't who I was pretending to be. Once I had the proof we needed, then Ivy and I could focus on getting out of here. As the minutes slipped by, I tried to keep from fidgeting as I grew more and more nervous. I knew Trent was deliberately keeping me waiting, but the more time I waited the better chance that he would see something that could tip him off.

I tried to remember Ivy's advice as I shifted on the couch. She had laughed and shaken her head, looking disturbed when I had first put on the disguise amulet and walked through the kitchen. The sway of my hips in a man's body had actually made Ivy laugh. It was worth it.

"Mr. Carter, please come in."

I stood quickly, and strode toward the door to Trent's office.

"Thank you, Mr. Kalamack," I said, holding my hand out as I approached Trent.

He took my hand and shook it with a brief, perfunctory squeeze, then gestured for me to have a seat.

Instead I held my arms in front of me and spread my legs into a 'tough guy' stance.

"I'll stand."

A brief look of annoyance passed over Trent's face as he sank into his chair. It was just a momentary tightness around his eyes. Only someone who had as much practice as I did at annoying Trent would even notice.

"As you like," he said diffidently, steepling his fingers in front of him. "What can we do for you, Mr. Carter?"

I shifted uncomfortably. "I'm here about the situation with Ms. Morgan." The muscles in Trent's jaw jumped.

"Of course, it's lovely that Ms. Morgan has returned to her home town to help the FIB find the witch murderer, but I'm not sure what you mean by a situation," Trent deflected artfully.

I coughed, and looked down. "Mr. Kalamack, sir, my alpha sent me here to apologize. He said you were a reasonable man and that you would understand."

Trent straightened, a hint of interest showing in his features for the first time. "I'm flattered. What did he think I would understand?"

The dumb act was getting old. Time to cut to the chase.

"We tried to, uh, intercept Ms. Morgan this morning, like you said," I said, trying to sound good humored, if a little bit slow. If Mike's alpha really had sent him here, it would be for only one reason: to get rid of him for his failure. Mike would have to be a little bit slow on the uptake not to realize that. "But she fought back when we got to the warehouse. The FIB put me in custody for a while, but they let me go a few hours ago."

"And you came here?" Trent demanded irritably.

"Like I said, my alpha wanted me to give you a heads up." I was sweating now. Fortunately, it worked in my favor, for once. "You see, Morgan dumped me in the ever-after."

Trent blinked. "She did what?" he asked slowly.

"You have to understand!" I said my voice growing higher and more nervous. "She was going to leave me there and feed me to the demons. I couldn't let her do that to me, man."

Trent rose slowly from his chair, and nodded at someone behind me. I tried not to flinch, and to ignore the subtle itching between my shoulder blades. The soft sound of the door snicking shut behind me set my teeth on edge.

His hands braced on the edge of the desk, he finally looked up at me.

"What did you tell her?"

I shivered involuntarily.

"Nothing. Nothing, I swear."

Trent stood, folding his arms over his chest. "Do not lie to me. You are here. Obviously, you must have done something to convince her to bring you back."

"She just wanted to know who I was and why I was involved."

Trent's silence was loud.

"I didn't want to tell her!"

The door behind me swung open. I jumped at the sudden noise.

"Sa'han," Quen bowed as he entered and his eyes tracked me as he circled around to Trent's side of the desk. His eyes never left me as he spoke softly to Trent, his body angled to keep himself between Trent and I all the time.

My heart pounded in my chest as though I was a rabbit running from a wolf. If anyone could see through my disguise spell, or detect it, it would be Quen.

Trent gave Quen short nod and leaned away from the other elf.

"Mr. Carter was just about to finish explaining what obvious lies he told Rachel Morgan about me, weren't you?"

"They weren't lies," I shot back, temper getting the best of me. "They're the truth. You contacted my alpha and had him start murdering witches to bring Morgan back to this city in exchange for the Focus. Then you told him to bring you Morgan from the warehouse, yesterday morning."

Trent scoffed, "And then that was screwed up as well, yes. But there's no need to worry. We'll have this entire mess cleaned up, very soon."

He raised his hand and made a flicking gesture with his wrist. I turned, careful to keep Quen in my peripheral vision, to see who was coming through the door.

Ivy's was struggling in Jonathan's grasp, her arms held pinned behind her back. I tried to keep the urge to jump to Ivy's defense off my face. I knew she wasn't struggling quite as hard as she was making it look. She should be able to get free of Jonathan any time that she wanted to, unless he had become a lot more proficient since the last time that I had seen him.

"Tamwood," Trent spoke her name reflectively. "I didn't expect to see you here." He smiled. "I was under the impression that Morgan had ended your association some years ago. Not that you left her much choice in the matter. I can understand the urge to control Morgan, but quite a stupid decision on your part to let her slip away after you'd made the decision."

Ivy blanched, her head dropping to her chest. When her eyes rose again slowly to meet Trent's, they were the purest black. She had stopped struggling against Jonathan as she focused on Trent.

"I'm going to kill you, Kalamack. Slowly. After I make you my shadow."

Trent laughed. "You know, I've never understood your loyalty to Morgan. She never returned your feelings and she used you at every opportunity."

Trent's words hit me like a sucker punch. The urge to tell him where he could stick what he thought about our relationship was overwhelming, but all I could do was bite my tongue and hope that Ivy knew it wasn't the truth. I winced inwardly, knowing even as I did that Trent was almost right. Our relationship hadn't been repaired overnight, with my realization of what had actually happened. Years had still passed and the pain that both of us had suffered hadn't healed overnight. If either of us still even wanted a relationship - and Ivy had a life and a child now, completely separate from me - there was still no way to know if it would actually work.

"She loved me," Ivy said simply. "That's all I ever wanted."

"Must not have been very much; she did leave you." Trent looked reflective. "It makes me wonder why you're here. My sources say that Morgan has been seen going in and out of your estate several times in the last few days. If you're willing to tell me what she wanted, I would be more than happy to forget that you were trespassing on my property. As a favor to your mother and Rynn Cormel, of course."

Ivy's eyes flicked to me and then back to Trent.

"There's nothing to tell."

"Let me be the judge of that."

Ivy's gaze went to a point just beyond his shoulder, her lips pressed into a thin line. Her silence had a finality to it that Trent couldn't miss.

He sighed, as if momentarily put out.

"Very well, I suppose we'll do this the hard way. You give me no choice." His gaze flicked to Quen.


I couldn't complete the thought as light exploded around me. I tried to move and felt energy crackle around me, holding me in place. Quen had moved so quickly that I hadn't even seen it, his fingers twitching as he cast a ley line spell.

Energy crackled and leapt around my hand, as I tried to tug it away from my side, but nothing happened. I could still tap into the energy stored in my chi, but that was my last resort and I wasn't quite ready to tap into it yet.

Trent was staring at me when I looked up.

"You didn't really expect that to work, did you? Sneaking into my office has never been your best bet. That's right," Trent added, as he took in my surprised expression. "We knew it was you the moment you came into the office. We were just stalling to see if you'd brought anyone else with you."

I looked towards Ivy. I couldn't help it. She was watching Trent, but as if she could feel me looking at her, her eyes flicked over to meet mine. Her pupils were dilated, but there was still a thin ring of brown surrounding them. For a moment, the rest of the room disappeared. Trent, Quen and Jonathan went away as I sank into her gaze.

A sweet sadness filled me as I looked at her, not my emotions but hers. I tried to smile at her. If this really was about to be it, then I wanted her to know the way I felt about her. It was Ivy, and no matter what had happened between us, beyond everything else, I had never stopped loving her. I hoped she knew that.

Instead of responding to Trent, I turned to face Quen.

"You know this isn't going to hold me for very long."

Quen gave one of those small, bowing nods. "Perhaps, but perhaps you're overestimating your capabilities."

I rolled my eyes. "I can't believe you're still working for this guy." I jerked my eyes towards Trent. "Haven't you gotten tired of following his dishonorable orders yet?"

"He's my Sa'han," Quen repeated, unruffled.

"Oh, right, I forgot."

"Enough," Trent cut in. "Finish this, Quen."

A brief flash of displeasure moved over Quen's eyes. It was nice to know that he wasn't happy about killing me. That would be a comfort, I thought sarcastically. Instead of his face, though, I focused on his hands.

His fingers flickered, and I lashed out with the energy spindled in my chi. There was no finesse or focus, just blunt force. Ivy was a blur of motion out of the corner of my eye. I lunged towards Trent. I slammed into him and together we hit the floor, knocking the air out of my lungs. Pain exploded as he shoved my head into the corner of the desk, as I scrambled to pin him down.

I planted my knee in his stomach and caught him up short, leaving him gasping for air. I fumbled for the zip strips in my back pocket. My head swam. Thick fingers closed around my throat and yanked. My legs flailed for traction, for anything I could kick against, for anything. The fingers tightened around my throat until I couldn't breathe.

"Stop," Ivy pleaded, sagging against a tall office chair. Her face was bruised, and a thin line of blood trickled down her chin. It looked like her own, and not someone else's. Her free arm was circling Trent's neck, holding him back against her body. She could snap his neck with one twist of her arm. "Just stop it. I'll kill your precious Sa'han if you hurt her. Let her go," she repeated.

Quen hesitated. His fingers loosened from around my throat just enough that I could wheeze in a breath, and not die while he was making up his mind.

"Sa'han?" Quen questioned Trent, his focus never leaving Ivy.

"Kill her," Trent gritted out, around Ivy's painfully tight grasp.

I thrashed in Quen's arms, but he held me in a secure grip.

"I'll rip his throat out," Ivy warned.

"She's bound to you, is she not?" Quen asked slowly. "Command her not to come after my Sa'han, and I will let you both leave in exchange for his life. Your safety will be guaranteed for the night, to live for anther day."

Ivy gazed at him, weighing her options. Quen's hand closed around my throat, his grip tightening. I gagged and choked, coughing desperately for air. My throat burned and my vision blurred. I tried to catch Ivy's eyes, pleading silently with her not to do it. I didn't want to be alive if it came at the price of being under her control. It wouldn't work. It wasn't worth it.

"No," Ivy spoke decisively, meeting my eyes cleanly. "No, she wouldn't want that, and I won't take that away from her."

Shock was practically radiating out from Quen. I felt him nod slowly from behind me.

"You honor her."

Ivy nodded, never taking her eyes from mine. "I do."

My vision was so blurry, I could hardly make out her eyes, and my legs felt like heavy, flimsy lumps.

"You're going to kill her."

"No," Ivy said simply. "I'm not." Without any warning, she crumpled to the floor, falling inwards and dragging Trent down underneath her.

Strength and energy surged up within me. Twisting my wrist I drove my shoulder into Quen. The sudden motion startled him enough to loosen his grip on my throat. I dove at him like my life depended on it, even as I fumbled out for a connection to the ley line that I knew ran deep and true through Trent's property. Without hesitation, I took it in and poured it through Quen.

He screamed as the pure energy poured into him. I didn't let the onslaught up, until I had him pinned on the floor, zip strips binding his wrists and ankles together. Only then did I stop and look up for Trent.

He had crawled out from under Ivy and was staring at me.

"You can take me in, but you don't have any proof. There is no evidence," he crowed. "Your word against mine, and it won't be you that they believe."

"You're right," I said, taking a step closer to him.

My confidence surprised and confused him.

"You're not going to kill me."

I tilted my head at him, considering his statement.

"Maybe," I said slowly, thinking of Ivy on the ground, aching to go to her, but knowing if I did that I would be wasting the chance she had given me.

He was circling away from me. Moving toward his desk, I realized. He must have something behind it.

I stepped into his path, moving faster than I had known I could move. He stumbled back, his fist lashing out at my jaw. I caught his hand mid-blow, and twisted it around, slamming his face into the wall and putting pressure on his arm until he grunted out in pain.

"On the other hand," I pointed out smugly, "I could just take the video of this entire incident to the FIB and see who they believe. What do you think about that, Trent?" I goaded him one last time as I slipped another set of zip strips around his wrists, and pulled out my cell phone.

It was going to take a lot of explaining, but somehow I had a feeling that, underneath all of his bitching, Glenn wouldn't be too upset when he got here.

Now all I needed was to make sure Ivy was okay. Then everything would be fine.


Chapter Ten

Over the years, I'd had plenty of practice at sneaking out of hospitals. With Mom's help, I had pretty much become an expert on the subject by the time I was twelve. Sneaking into a hospital was a little bit more difficult, especially when you looked like you needed to be in the emergency room already.

There weren't words to describe how badly my throat was hurting. I hadn't had a chance to find a mirror yet and see how bad the bruises were. From some of the looks I was getting from nurses and orderlies, I had a feeling it was pretty bad. The limp didn't help.

Ivy was in Room 206. I had gotten that much out of a nurse who felt sorry for me. Unfortunately she hadn't felt sorry enough to let me go up to the second floor. It had taken me twenty minutes just to wait for her to get distracted by someone else. Then I had discovered that Ivy was in a private room. Of course. That also happened to be directly in front of the Nurses' Station. It was the worst possible combination for sneaking in.

But I wasn't going to let a little thing like a few nurses stop me from seeing Ivy and making sure she was okay. I'd had a hard enough time getting away from Glenn. Pissed off didn't even begin to describe his mood when he had gotten to Trent's office, but at least he hadn't immediately let Trent go. He had gritted his teeth long enough to read Trent and Quen their rights and have them escorted down to FIB Headquarters. Then he rounded on me, yelling at me for going behind his back and for tagging Trent - again.

He had calmed a little bit when I showed him the recording Ivy and I had been able to make. He wasn't familiar with the spell - a variation of the amulet that I had used to listen into his office - but it was a common, if very difficult spell, and after verification from the Witches' Council that it had been properly made and not tampered with, it would be admissible evidence.

That had made Glenn slightly more willing to not throw me in jail and keep Trent there instead. He still hadn't wanted me to go. Finally, I hadn't been able to listen to him complain about my etiquette and inexcusable actions any longer. I had to know what was going on with Ivy.

As tough as she was, she had been lying on the floor, still and unmoving, when I had gotten to her. Not caring what Trent or Quen had thought, I had held her in my arms, stroking her damp hair back off her face, and begging for her to not die on me, reminding her that she had a son who depended on her and she couldn't let him down.

She was still in my arms, growing colder with every passing moment, when the FIB and an ambulance had arrived almost simultaneously.

"Ma'am!" The voice from behind me cracked like a whip. "You can't go in there! Stop, Ma'am." Something primal in her voice made me freeze with my hand on the door to Ivy's room. Part of me wanted to pretend that I hadn't heard her and force my way inside the room, but I didn't want to get completely thrown out of the hospital either.

If security was watching out for me, it would make things even more difficult.

I pivoted slowly on my heel to face my nemesis. She looked stern and disapproving. I wouldn't sway her by pleading my case and begging. She was immune.

"Only family can visit, miss," she said firmly. She pointed down the hall, frowning. "You'll have to wait in the lounge."

I knew it wouldn't work, but I had to try. "I have to see her."

The thin line of her lips compressed even further.

"Miss -"

"It's okay." Marion's voice quivered as he stepped out from behind the nurse, but he was standing tall and straight, facing her displeasure bravely.

"Oh?" the nurse prompted him, skeptically.

"I'm her son. Ms. Tamwood's, I mean," he stammered, choosing now to act nervous. "Ms. Morgan is her shadow. Shadows count as family. You have to let her in." He leaned on the word with childish emphasis. He didn't know that this woman didn't have to play by the rules, didn't have to do anything. His knowledge of that would only come with time and experience, but hopefully it wouldn't come today.

His small, slightly clammy hand found mine, as he smiled brightly. I could only imagine how it looked, but I tried to smile back, like I had met this kid more than three times, like I really was his mother's familiar shadow and someone to be trusted.

Any other time I would have protested like hell at being called Ivy's shadow, dismissed as something less than a person. At the moment, I was happy to take advantage of it, if it would get me inside that room.

"Is that true, miss?" the nurse asked, her voice raised as if she were speaking to someone too stupid to understand what she was saying.

I bristled, but the warm hand clutching mine tightly was enough of a reminder to make me nod my agreement. "Yes, it is."

With a dismissive shake of her head, she gave in.

"Fine, then. Go on in. But she needs complete rest and quiet. No exertion," she said pointedly, her disapproval still written plainly across her face.

I squeezed Marion's hand tighter, willing myself to hang on to my temper.

"Thanks," I muttered under my breath before I reached behind me for the door to Ivy's room. I pushed it open, without taking my eyes off the nurse, and scooted Marion in ahead of me.

Letting out a breath of relief as the door closed, I took a deep breath before I faced Ivy. Her skin was an unhealthy shade of gray, and her long features were drawn tight.

I moved toward Ivy and stopped, glancing down as I realized that Marion hadn't let go of my hand yet.

"She'll be okay," my voice keyed to a whisper by the somber quiet that permeated the room. This was a place where laughter seemed to be impossible.

Marion swallowed, but didn't let go or look up at me.

"C'mon," I encouraged, gently leading him closer to the bed.

"You don't know that," he said, so softly that I could barely hear him.

"You're right," I agreed, startling him into looking up at me. His wide brown eyes always made me think of Ivy. "But I do know that your mom is the strongest woman I know, and she's going to be fine." Suddenly realizing something else, I looked back over at him. "Hey, why are you here by yourself? Shouldn't you be with Erica?"

A sudden surge of hot anger welled up in me. Erica had always been bright, loud and innocent, where Ivy was serious and cautious, but I never would have suspected her of being careless where her nephew was concerned. Ivy would pitch a fit when she found out.

Marion shrugged. "She had to go call Grandmother and calm her down. It's still light out and she was flipping out about not being able to leave the house. I said I wanted to stay with Mom and she let me."

My anger cooled - slightly. Erica had probably thought him safe in the middle of the hospital, but the ease that I had snuck up here had disproved that. I would just have to stay and make sure that he was safe, until Erica came back. I owed Ivy that much.

I pulled up a chair and sat beside Ivy, silently offering him a corner of the chair. He declined with a shake of his head and pushed himself up onto the foot of the bed, drawing his knees up to his chest, and tucking his chin behind them. I dropped my eyes and studied the long fingers of Ivy's hand as they lay limply by her side.

As if thought brought motion, I found myself drawing my thumb up over the back of her hand and across the sweep of her knuckles.

"Wake up, Ivy," I said softly, bending over so that my lips were by her ear. "Please wake up. For me and for Marion."

If I was hoping for some Sleeping Beauty moment, it wasn't going to happen. Ivy stayed stubbornly unconscious, and I sighed, resigning to a night of staying at her side, at least until the rest of her family arrived and kicked me out.

"Okay, then," I said softly. "Sleep, lazybones. See if I care."

"Her eyes fluttered," Marion's excited voice broke in.

I looked over at him sharply. "Are you sure?"

He rolled his eyes. "Of course, I'm sure."

"That means she can hear us." I grinned over at him. "Talk to her."

He shot me a doubtful look, but he eased forward.

"Mom?" His voice quivered like he was hoping she would answer him that easily. "Mom, wake up." His voice hitched. "Please? Grandma is really upset." He shot me a quick glance, and then whispered. "I miss you."

His quiet, halting words pierced my heart with their aching simplicity. Turning my head, I swiped at the tear that had slid down my cheek and hoped that he hadn't seen it.

The door creaked and I stood without thinking, sliding into place between Marion and whoever was coming in. Relaxing when I saw that it was Erica, I sank back down into a seat on Ivy's bed.

Erica looked startled when she saw me, her eyes going wide. I braced myself for her reaction - positive or negative - it would be loud.

"That was fast." The first words out of Erica's mouth weren't quite what I had expected. "That was really fast. Since when can you move like that?"

Irritated by her sudden interest in something so trivial, I shrugged. "I don't know. Just motivated I guess." I paused, glancing behind me at Marion. "What did the doctors say?" If Erica wasn't kicking me out just yet, I would take advantage of it while I could.

Her eyes flicked to Marion as well. "They're still consulting," Erica said slowly. Translation: they had no idea what was wrong with Ivy. "It seems like deep exhaustion, maybe. But they're not sure what might be causing it and they're worried about the underlying cause. Did Ivy get hit by any spells or curses?"

The fight was still a blur in my head, but slowly I shook my head.

"No, I don't think so. At least I didn't see her get hit with any." I remembered the way that she had slumped over onto Trent, and frowned. "Actually, Erica, something did happen."

For once, Erica listened attentively while I talked, describing everything I could remember about what had happened.

"Maybe he did something to her," I said slowly. "But he never touched her and I would have felt it if he had used a ley line to attack her."

Erica shook her head quickly, a look of relief flashing over her expressive face. She grasped my arm and squeezed excitedly.

"He didn't do anything to her." She rolled her eyes. "I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier, but it was Ivy." She drawled her sister's name out slowly. "I can't remember her ever having a shadow before you. At least not one she was willing to bring around and introduce to family."

I frowned, not liking being relegated to being a mere shadow, like something that was less than a person. It was one of the things that I had hated most about what Piscary had done to Ivy. Pushing my irritation away, I focused on what Erica had been saying.

"So, what's wrong with her?"

Erica's eyes wouldn't quite meet mine, her fingers fidgeting with the hem of her shirt.

"How much did Ivy explain to you when she bound you?"

"Nothing. It wasn't like we had planned it."

"Normally, this is supposed to be explained." Erica sighed. "Damn it, Ivy is not going to like this." She paused and looked directly up at me. "The connection between a vampire and the person bound to them is very strong. It usually favors the vampire, but it's a connection that can work both ways. Just like we gain something from the bond with our shadows, usually our shadows gain some of our characteristics, like speed and strength. At times this sharing can even be done consciously, or if there's great need, and the vampire is willing it can be done without any conscious thought, just the need. What Ivy did was give you her natural speed and superior strength. You needed that to fight Quen."

It was a lot to process. All the things I hadn't known were leaving me reeling, and wondering what else I didn't know about this connection between Ivy and me. I remembered the burst of strength and speed that I'd had when I was fighting the group of weres in the warehouse. It had been unusual enough for me to notice it. Had the connection that Erica was talking about been involved? Is that why I had apparently thrown myself through the lines to wherever Ivy was? I had so many questions, and not nearly enough answers.

"So why did she pass out? And why hasn't she woken up yet?"

Erica bit her lip. "I think she gave you too much."

"Too much?"

Erica shifted on her feet. I could see her wondering if she should tell me more.

"Ivy isn't dead," she blurted the words out quickly. "She's not as powerful as an undead vampire, so when she gave you all that she did, she gave you too much of herself. She doesn't have enough left to keep her own heart beating. If something doesn't change, she'll die. I've seen it before," she added softly.

Her words left me reeling. Ivy, dead? That couldn't be right. Ivy had just passed out. She would be fine in a couple of hours when she came to, wouldn't she?


It was only when Erica caught my arm, her fingers pressing tightly into my skin, that I realized I had been falling, my knees going out from underneath me. I looked up at her.

"She's really dying?"

"If nothing changes," Erica said. "But you can change that."

"How?" I asked quickly, clinging desperately to the brief hope that she had given me. "I'll do whatever it takes."

Erica shook her head. "It's nothing like that. You just have to give her back some of what she gave you."

"Okay. How do I do that?"

Erica opened her mouth and then closed it. For a second time she started to speak and then shook her head. "I can't tell you how, Rachel. It's not a formula. I've heard it described many different ways. You just...do it."

"Great," I muttered, "Just freaking great. So you're telling me that Ivy's going to die, because I don't know how to do something you can't even describe? It's not fair!"

"Mom's going to die?" Marion had been so quiet behind us that somehow I had managed to forget he was even there.

My head hit the wall hard enough to hurt as it lolled back. Darkness gave me the illusion of blocking out everything around me for a brief instant. Then I opened my eyes and turned to face him.

"No, she isn't," I said firmly. "Ivy isn't going to die." I took a deep breath, and hoped to hell I wouldn't regret this for the rest of my life. "I promise."

He looked so scared and small, sitting at Ivy's feet. I knew what is was like to sit with a parent in the hospital and watch them slip away, knowing that there was nothing you could do to keep them there. I would do anything to keep him from facing that. I wrapped him in my arms, carefully. Part of me expected him to pull away, so I was surprised when he fell against me, wrapping his skinny arms around me tightly.

I brushed his hair back from his face and pretended not to hear the brief, muffled sobs that he let out. When he finally let go, Erica was waiting.

"Why don't I take you home for a little while? You need to get something to eat, and we can bring some things back for your mom. It will give Rachel a chance to concentrate."

Marion didn't look convinced. Instead he gave me a pleading look.

"I won't let anything happen to her," I said softly, hoping that it was a promise I could keep. I didn't know how, but I wasn't going to let Ivy go.

I paced back and forth around Ivy's bed, racking my mind for anything I might have seen or heard that might tell me how to do this. Nothing was springing to mind. With each circuit around her bed, I eliminated more and more possibilities, and Al kept springing to mind. He was my last resort, but if I had to, I would go to him for Ivy.

I stopped pacing, and sat down again. Thin beads of sweat had broken out on Ivy's forehead. The nurses had taken her temperature the last time they had come into the room, and they had said she was running a fever. It was just another sign that her body was straining to keep her alive.

I brushed a lock of slightly damp hair back away from her face, and cupped her cheek. That simple touch reminded me of how Ivy had once used her aura to shield mine, when a banshee had stripped it away, leaving me vulnerable.

She had helped me then, and now I had no idea how to return the favor. We had stumbled upon that by accident. If only it could be something so simple. I closed my eyes and concentrated. When I reopened them, I was seeing double, my second sight laid over the room. It was dizzying, knowing that the solid hospital bed was underneath me, but simultaneously seeing nothing but air, and the ground two stories below me.

I forced myself to focus on Ivy. Her aura was as pure as I had remembered it, and between us lingered that faint chord that I had only glimpsed once before, just after she had bound me to her. The connection between us was vibrant, and seemed almost alive. I tried to will energy, life, from me to Ivy through that connection, but nothing felt any different. Sighing, I gave up and let my second sight slip away. It had been a long shot. There was nothing wrong with Ivy's aura. It was something deeper and more integral that was missing.

I lingered on Ivy's face, tracing the lines of her face with my eyes. Unconsciously, my fingers followed the line of my sight, stroking down her cheek, cupping her chin, and brushing across her lower lip. My thumb traced the softness of its perfect shape.

Bending over, I pressed my lips gently to hers, my eyes falling shut involuntarily. Her lips were still against mine, even as I savored the sweetness of them, pouring everything that I felt for Ivy into that simple gesture, hoping that in some small way she could feel me and understand.

Hot tears were rolling down my face when Ivy's lips moved under mine. I jerked back startled, but I had only gotten a hair's breadth from her when long fingers threaded gently through my hair, guiding me back down to her.

Forgetting for a moment my surprise, I was only aware of how glad I was that she was alive. I caught her lips, tasting them again and again. I couldn't get enough of them and of her. Her tongue swiped gently against my bottom lip and I opened to her without hesitation, deepening the kiss.

The heat of her mouth was intoxicating, and the feel of her hands running through my hair, and at the small of my back, pulling me closer to her, was driving me crazy.

When she fell back on to her pillows after several long, exquisite moments, my chest heaved as I panted for breath. My heart was racing and I felt like I had just been run over by a hyperactive were under a full moon.

Ivy's eyes were closed, but I could see the steady rise and fall of her chest, slightly faster than it should have been.

"Ivy?" I asked tentatively, suddenly afraid that this had all been a fevered dream, that she really was still dying on me.

"Yes?" She said breathily, rolling her head so that she could look over at me.

Relief flooded through me, and I let my head fall to rest on the rail of her hospital bed.

"Nothing," I said thankfully. "Nothing. I just wanted to make sure you weren't going to die on me."

Ivy let out a small chuckle. "You're good, Rachel, but not that good."

I snickered as I sat up, flashing her a huge smile.

"That's what you think, Tamwood. It's been years."

Ivy regarded me under hooded lids, staying silent long enough for the moment to slip from silly to serious.

"We could change that," she offered finally. "If you want."

The enormity of what she was offering caught me off guard. I was just so damn relieved to have her back. She wasn't going to die on me tonight.

"I - I don't know, Ivy."

Her thumb stilled where it had been making aimless circles over my knuckles. Her eyes never leaving mine, she delicately picked my hand up and brought it to her lips. The dry warmth of them pressed into my hand briefly before she let go.

"Just think about," she said softly. "Please, Rachel."

I nodded once, and stood up, brushing my hands against my pants and then shoving them in my pockets. Hopefully she wouldn't even notice the way I had been shaking.

"I should go call Erica," I added, jerking my head back toward the door. "She just took Marion home and he's really worried about you."

She was silent, so finally I turned to leave. Indecision gripped me for an instant. I wanted to kiss her goodbye, hug her and reassure myself one more time that she was okay, but it wasn't fair. Not when I wasn't sure. Finally I pivoted on my heel and forced myself to walk away. Way to look like an idiot.

"Rachel." Ivy's voice stopped me just before I had pulled the door shut behind me.

I swallowed and turned back to face her, not sure what I would say if she asked me again. Not because I was bound to her, but because she was Ivy.


"Thank you."

I tilted my head quizzically.

She smiled, and it was genuine even if I could see the sadness behind it. "For everything."

I shook my head, words deserting me. How she could still thank me after everything that had happened between us, was amazing. No matter how many years I knew her, Ivy would always continue to amaze and astound me in the best possible ways, and I just continued to screw it up.

It was too much. I turned and walked away.



David was sitting on a bench in the park. The sun shone down behind him, throwing his face into shadows. I smiled, glad to see him, despite everything that had brought us here. David stood as I approached, and hugged me briefly before backing away.

He looked away, his eyes darting from here to there, never staying still as he took everything in. I tugged at the lapel of his suit and then gave it a quick pat.

"You're looking good these days."

David smiled and looked proud.

"Business has been pretty successful," he admitted. "And the pack has been flourishing." He paused and looked down at the ground. "You could have told me, Rachel. I know making you part of the pack started out as an agreement in name only, but we would have protected you, if that's what you needed."

I sighed and sank down on to the bench, burying my face in my hand. Fairy farts, I was just so damn tired. I hadn't had much sleep in the past few days, and it was starting to show.

"I appreciate that," I said slowly. "Really, David."

I didn't know what else to say. Weres' were mostly a match for vampires, but not always. In retrospect I hadn't been thinking very clearly, driven by panic. The only clear thought I'd had was to put as much distance between Ivy and I as possible. It had seemed like the only way to stay safe.

It made me wonder what would have happened if I had stayed. Could Ivy and I have found a way to make it work? We had already forged a relationship that nearly everyone had thought was impossible. There was no way to know now, of course. I had thrown away that opportunity.

"What are you going to do about the Focus?" I asked softly, knowing that David would have made sure that there was no one around who could overhear us.

He spread his arms wide, smiling faintly. "There's nothing to do, Rachel. They won't be able to find it."

I knew that, Turn it. David had taken the Focus inside himself, after it had proven to be way too much curse for me to handle, but they didn't know that.

"It doesn't matter if they won't be able to find it," I hissed. "They know your pack has it and they want it. They're not just going to give up. They will keep coming until they find it. If they're willing to make a deal with Trent Kalamack to kill witches in order to lure me back to the Hollows, they aren't just going to ask nicely and then politely go away when you won't give it to them."

"I know that," David said firmly, "But this is a were matter, Rachel. And I can handle it. I won't let anyone destroy my pack."

David had changed a lot from the lone wolf who had never wanted a real pack. He was an alpha in more than just name now, and as stubborn and blind as one could be, too.

"It's not just our pack," I emphasized the word, reminding him that once I had been just as much a part of it as he had. "That I'm concerned about, David. I trust you with the Focus, but if this falls into the wrong hands, it will completely throw off the balance of power between vampires and weres. It will be chaos - bloody chaos."

"I know that," David said quietly. "I've had a long time to think about that and prepare for what might happen. But this isn't your responsibility. It's not your job to decide and try to enforce what Inderlanders can and can't do."

I looked at him blankly. He was starting to piss me off. "I'm not saying it is. But I'm an Inderlander too, and whatever happens will affect my life. I don't want to have to deal with an all-out war between vampires and weres, and that is what will happen if you let this get out of hand."

"And I'm telling you that until the Focus is outside of my control, this is all conjecture." He paused and looked at me speculatively. "Do you have any better suggestions?"

"Let me hide it."

"You tried that already, Rachel, and it didn't work so great. Besides, I don't want to be hidden."

I shook my head quickly. "Not, you. It."

David looked at me sharply, his easy charm fading in the face of his concern.

"You can really do that? Take this thing out of me?"

"I think so," I nodded. "I've learned a lot, David. And there are places I could hide it that no one could find it."

David sighed, and sat down heavily beside me. Silence lingered as he sat, deep in thought. Finally he looked over at me. His answer was written all over his face.

"No," he said simply. "We have a plan. It's probably best if you don't know the particulars, but we have some evidence prepared that they'll just happen to stumble upon. It will point them in a different direction." He held up a hand to forestall my protests. "It will make it appear as if Trent's information was valid at one time, but out of date now. By the time they get done chasing their tails, the lead they'll have is Kalamack and, since he gave them bad information, they won't be very happy with him at all."

I sat back and folded my arms over my chest. I wasn't happy and it wasn't what I had been hoping to hear, but it was what I would have to settle for. I could probably restrain David and remove the Focus from him without his consent, but I really didn't want to. David was a friend, and something more. Through the pack we had a true connection, and I did not want to betray that. For now I would have to be content with what he was offering.

"Okay," I said slowly. "I don't like it, but do what you have to do. If you ever need any help with it, for any reason, just give me a call."

David nodded, the crow's feet around his eyes relaxing slightly as his tension eased, but then his brow furrowed.

"You can be a pretty hard woman to get a hold of, Morgan. Does this mean you're going to stick around for a while?"

I let out a shaky breath, letting my thoughts slip back to the person they had been circling since I woke up. Ivy. I shook my head. "I don't know. I'm thinking about it."

David smiled. "What's to think about?"

I shrugged, not really comfortable talking about it. Then again, Jenks was gone, and my mom was on the other side of the country. I didn't really have anyone else here to talk to. Well, except for Glenn, and it would just be weird talking to him since he and Ivy had dated at one time.

"Ivy," I said simply.

"Ah," David said knowingly, and then fell silent again.

I waited a moment, expecting him to say something else. "That's it?" I demanded. "No words of wisdom?"

David laughed at my outburst. "What do you want me to say, Rachel? I don't know what to tell you. I'm not in your shoes, and I don't know what I would do if I was. Anyone who says that the decision is obvious, hasn't had to make that decision. But," he continued slowly, "I do know you and I know Ivy. And even when the two of you were nothing more than friends and roommates, you had something special. Just don't forget that."

David stood, rebuttoning his suit jacket with one hand and holding the other out to me. I didn't really need it, but I let him help me, not refusing, either, when he used it to pull me into another hug. His strong arms pulled me to him tightly. I inhaled the rich scent of him for a moment and allowed myself to relax in the familiar, savoring being wrapped in an embrace that felt both comforting and safe.

I smiled faintly when he finally let me go and stepped back.

"Take care of yourself, David."

He nodded. "Give me a call, if you end up staying. We'll do a late breakfast someday."

I watched him walk away. We hadn't really settled anything, but somehow I still felt better. I was grateful for whatever insurance-greedy instinct had led me become a member of David's pack. It was a good one.

"She's coming!" Marion's excited shout echoed through the living room, and left me grinning broadly.

I took one last glance around the room and decided everything looked good enough, not that there was anything I could do about it now. I glanced down at the grinning boy and reached out to ruffle his hair.

"Then I think that means it's time to hide."

His grin turned mischievous as he sank down behind the large couch, and tugged on my hand until I was sitting next to him.

"Do you really think we can surprise Mom?" He asked. "She always knows," he added solemnly.

Her sense of smell did make Ivy one of the hardest people to surprise that I had ever met, but I had also worn the perfume that she had given me years ago. It completely masked the scent of the wearer, so there was no trace of me in the house, and I had carefully parked my car around the back.

"We are absolutely going to surprise her," I said giving his hand a conspiratorial squeeze. Whether it would be a pleasant surprise or not, would be the question.

I hadn't seen Ivy since I had walked out of her hospital room. My first instinct had been to run. It had been so tempting to step into the first ley line I passed and disappear, going across the country, or even across the world, running from my problems yet again. I had thought about it and realized that I didn't want to run again. I had let my fear dominate my actions for too long and that had made me into a shadow of my former self, more than Ivy ever had.

I wasn't cured overnight. There would always be a small part of me that was terrified of Ivy Tamwood. Not Ivy the vampire, or Ivy the person who had bound me to her, but Ivy the woman that I loved. I had run because I was terrified of what it would mean if I committed to her completely, if I fell in love with her without reservation and she realized that I wasn't what she wanted, and discarded me, like a used-up paper cup.

Slowly, over the past week I had discovered that I was more scared of running away now, of wasting the second or third or fourth chance that I had been given and regretting it for the rest of my life. I wanted to run toward something now, instead of away from it. That was why I was here with Marion, helping him to throw a surprise welcome home party for Ivy.

That, and I was quickly discovering that I couldn't refuse the kid anything.

The front door creaked open. Marion tensed beside me, and looked over at me. I grinned and nodded. He sprang up from behind the couch.


I popped up next to him and echoed his declaration in a slightly quieter tone. Marion was already dashing around the couch, and throwing his arms around Ivy. She caught him at the last moment, bracing herself against the onslaught, and wearing one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen on her face.

"Welcome home, Mom," he muttered with heartfelt enthusiasm.

She squeezed him back, and kept her arm around his shoulders even when he let go.

"Thank you, Marion." She wrinkled her nose. "They let me out just in time. I was about to break out."

"Mom," he complained good-naturedly, clearly finding the idea of his straight-laced mother breaking out of the hospital impossibly hard to believe. "You wouldn't have broken out. That's against the rules."

"She helped me break out of a hospital once," I offered with a smile.

Marion turned to me with wide eyes, glancing back and forth between Ivy and I until she nodded.

"Mom! That is so cool."

I couldn't help but laugh at the reverent tone in his voice.

"Don't get any ideas," she warned him, but she was smiling the whole time. She glanced around the room, taking in the banner that Marion had made himself, and the balloons and streamers scattered around the usually formal room. "You did a great job with the decorations, too."

"Rachel helped," Marion added, with a child's sense of fairness.

Ivy looked over at me and I grinned, even though my stomach was quivering.

"I can blow up balloons with the best of them," I said with a laugh.

"Thank you for helping Marion," Ivy said neutrally, still smiling but guarded.

"I wanted to," I said, hoping that she could hear more than what I was saying in my words. I desperately wanted a chance to talk to her alone.

"Are you leaving the Hollows soon?" Ivy asked politely. "I'm sure there are other branches of the FIB that want you to consult for them."

"There are," I admitted, "But I was thinking of staying for a while."


"Yeah, I think I've been gone too long. I miss the Hollows." You. I swallowed roughly, trying to ignore my nerves and the way my heart was racing. Surely Ivy could hear it.

"Are you going to re-open Vampiric Charms?"

"I, I couldn't really," I stuttered. "It wouldn't be 'Vampiric Charms' without you, or Jenks," I added quietly. "I would probably keep consulting for the FIB." I shrugged. "Running is what I'm best at."

Her lips quirked in an ironic smile. "So you're not planning to settle down and open up a little charm shop?"

I let out a surprised laugh at that. I hadn't thought about that old dream in years. "I don't think many witches would be interested in buying their spelling supplies from a witch who used to be shunned. Even one whose name was cleared eventually."

Ivy's lips quirked again, but this time with humor. "You might have a point."

Silence fell awkwardly between us. Marion saved the moment. Oblivious to the tension all around him, he burst out laughing at something Erica had said and then glanced back at us over his shoulder, giving his mom a brilliant grin.

"He's a pretty amazing kid," I said softly, knowing that he could still hear, but saying it anyway.

Acros the room, his cheeks flushed and he looked away quickly.

"He is," Ivy agreed with me, more comfortable now that we were back on neutral ground. Then she turned to face me. "What are you doing here, Rachel? I appreciate you helping him, really, but I don't understand why you're here."

"I have to ask," I said boldly. "Did you name him after me? Or was it just a coincidence?"

Ivy flinched, and inwardly I winced. I wanted to know the answer. More than that, I needed to know the truth, but I hadn't wanted to hurt her any more.

"It wasn't a coincidence," Ivy said in a strangled voice. Pain blazed in her eyes. "I thought we were going to share a life together and I wanted to have children with you, Rachel." She waved her hand. "I know both of us were scared of having children for different reasons, but whether they were biologically our children or not, I wanted children with you. I was going to give him my father's name. I had it all planned out until they put him in my arms. And then when I looked at him, I just felt this pure love. It was so incredible that I can't describe it. It was like nothing I had ever felt, even with you. I just couldn't stand it that you weren't there to share that with me, so I gave him your name, because I was stupid enough to want to have you connected to us in some way. Is that what you wanted to know, Rachel?" she demanded.

"Yes," I croaked. "That's what I wanted to know, Ivy." I swallowed. "Will you tell me one more thing?" I kept going before she could speak. "Is there any way I could be a part of your life again?"

Moisture glinted in her eyes, as she hugged her arms more tightly around herself.

"No, Rachel, I don't think so. I moved on. You broke my heart, but I did it, and I survived. I don't want to go back to just being your friend."

I nodded, feeling more hollow than when I had been shunned.

"What if I didn't want to be your friend?"

"What?" Ivy asked, confusion showing across her features.

I dropped any pretenses that remained. "I don't want to be your friend, Ivy. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. As your lover," I clarified, "Or maybe if I'm really lucky, your wife, your partner and equal. That's what I want. I love you."

Ivy was staring at me blankly, too stunned to even react. I could feel Erica's and Marion's eyes on me from across the room. They weren't even pretending to do anything besides stare at us openly. I ignored them and focused on Ivy. My breath caught with every rise and fall of her chest. She would change my life completely with whatever she said next.

"I can't change the past, Rachel." She sounded scared now. "You're still bound to me. Accident or not, it happened and you can't ignore it, no matter how much we both wish it hadn't happened. It did and it won't go away just because we want it to," she added harshly.

"I know that," I agreed. "I've thought about it and what it will mean, a lot. Look at me, Ivy," I pleaded, resisting the urge to reach out and touch her. When her eyes were focused firmly on mine, I spoke. "I trust you. Completely. You could have done what Trent asked, and made me do what he wanted, to protect me and you didn't," I said softly. "I trust you to let me make my own choices, just like you always have."

I stepped closer, until the distance between us was almost completely gone.

"And I will promise you this. I will never run from you again, no matter what happens."

"Running is what you're best at," Ivy echoed my words hollowly.

"From everyone but you," I whispered, reaching out hesitantly to touch her cheek. "No matter how far I run I can't escape you, and I don't want to try any more. I miss you too much."

Her head curved into my faint touch, and I slowly slid my hand up until I was cupping her face.

"Do you promise?" Ivy asked roughly.

"I promise," I said firmly. "You're my home, Ivy. My true home, and I never want to leave again."

Her arms reached out and wrapped around me tightly, pulling me to her. I buried my face in her shoulder and drank in the scent of her like a dying man in a desert. I held her just as fiercely. For long moments we just clung to one another, not quite believing it could be true, but neither of us willing to let go.

Ivy gently nuzzled my cheek, and I tilted my head back enough that I could look at her. There was still a hint of doubt in her eyes.

"I promise," I whispered again, running my hand along the curve of her neck, and pulled her head down gently.

When my lips met hers, she met me hungrily, tasting my lips again and again, claiming them until I was breathless. Thoughts of Marion watching nearby flickered through my mind, bringing with it embarrassment, but in this moment, I couldn't refuse Ivy anything. I didn't want to.

"I love you," I breathed, between kisses, the words echoing the emotion in my heart, but not nearly powerful enough to express everything that I was feeling.

Ivy rested her forehead against mine, and held me tighter. I didn't mind. I had a feeling that it would be a very long time before my craving for her touch began to ease. Impulsively I kissed the corner of her mouth and then drew her into a lingering kiss that lacked some of the desperate urgency of moments before. This held the slow burn of promise, and the steady rise of passion.

"I love you, too," Ivy said when we finally eased apart. "Welcome home, dear heart."

The End

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