A noise; shoes scraping against the floor. The urge to open my eyes was overwhelming. The sound of my heart pounding in my chest reverberated in my ears. It definitely didn't help the steady throbbing that was making me nauseated. Surely they could hear my heart racing. It was so damn loud.
Damn it back to the Turn, but I was so dead. I breathed out, slowly, deeply, and forced myself to keep doing that, mimicking the patterns of sleep. It might also keep me from puking. That would be good.
I needed to buy more time. That stupid witch had hit me in the head with a spell pot. Knocked me out cold.
The limp relaxation of sleep was hard to fake when you were boiling with anger. No time for that. There was one thing I could do and one thing I could do well.
Rhombus. I thought the word just like I had a dozen times before. There was no pull, no surge of power. Nothing. Rhombus. I thought it again, more urgently. I had worked with Ceri so long to make this skill effortless, and now it was useless. A sudden sinking realization hit me and I shifted my wrist a fraction and felt something cutting into my skin.
My heart fell to my stomach. They'd been smart enough to put a zip strip on my wrist, stopping me from using line energy. Damn it, where had the bad guys gotten zip strips from? It wasn't fair!
I risked opening my eyes. Light still streamed in through the windows. I couldn't have been unconscious for long. Someone paced through the kitchen doorway. I caught a glimpse of dark-brown hair.
"Son of a Were!" I hissed the curse as quietly as I could. That was Brian freakin' Rafferty! My own client had set me up. What was going on?
It didn't really matter though. What mattered was getting out of here in one piece, then I could focus on kicking his slimy ass all the way back to whatever rock he'd crawled out from under.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flicker of light. With a glance toward the kitchen to make sure that no one was watching me, I turned to look out the window. For a second there was nothing and then the brightly flashing, unmistakeable colors of pixy wings caught my attention. Jenks!
Relief flooded me. If Jenks had my back, there was no doubt I could get out of this. Just as suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone again. He was probably looking for another entrance. The voices drifting out from the kitchen suddenly got louder and harsher. Unfortunately, not loud enough for me to hear what they were saying from my current position.
Using the furniture and the occasional handy wall, I did my best to get closer to the kitchen doorway without being seen. Pressed back against the wall, I could feel how close they were. Only a few thin inches of plywood and insulation stood between me and them. Not ideal circumstances, but at least I could hear the conversation now.
"We should kill her now."
Of course, being able to hear the conversation didn't mean I'd like what they were saying. I recognized those strident tones as Patty's even after only speaking to her for a moment before she'd knocked me unconscious. I waited for the reply.
"I'm just saying that maybe we should show a little initiative." Brian Rafferty, the sneaky, stinking human. "We might be able to get some information out of Morgan before we kill her. He might appreciate that." I could hear the emphasis on that unnamed he, and wondered for one dizzying second if Trent was really still that pissed at me. I thought Ceri had worked out that little problem for me.
Patty's soft, scoffing laugh made it past the thin barrier of the wall between us. "The undead aren't likely to offer you a pat on the back; they're more likely to kill you for not doing exactly what they said. I'm not taking any chances with my life. You might be a wanna-be ghoul; I'll just be dead."
So Patty was really a witch. Looked like Rafferty hadn't lied about that. Nice to know, but not necessarily useful.
The soft voice next to my ear scared the crap out of me. I was barely able to stifle a shriek of surprise as I whirled around. Jenks had snuck up on my blind side as I was pressed against the wall, listening as hard as I could.
Jenks darted back in to land on my shoulder, and didn't waste any time on apologies for scaring me.
"I need your blood." His voice in my ear was so soft I had to strain to hear it. No way the witch or the human in the kitchen was going to overhear him. I wasn't a pixy however, and they would hear me.
I settled for giving Jenks a confused look that I hoped demanded to know what the Turn was going on and what he needed my blood for.
The brief, curt shake of his head was a blur of motion and color out of the corner of my eye.
"No time to explain, witch. Use this." He dropped something, intending for me to catch it in mid-air. I could only watch in horror as it hit the - thankfully carpeted - floor.
I tried to glare at him and gesture toward my bound hands, but couldn't manage it with him so close.
"Oh, sorry," Jenks muttered, before he dove down behind me and got to work on the zip strips with his tiny, but extremely sharp sword. I kept very still while he worked.
As soon as he was done, I bent over to pick up the finger-stick that he'd dropped and wondered where Jenks had managed to find it. Abruptly remembering we were in a witche's house it suddenly seemed obvious. I was glad Jenks couldn't read my mind.
Not wasting any more time, I pressed it down on my finger. There was a quick stab of pain and then blood welled. Jenks' wings were a blur of motion as he dove towards my fingers. His small, slim body blocked my view but as he moved away the blood was no longer on my finger.
He stopped, hovering for just a second in front of me. "Your bag is on the kitchen table. You should be able to get to it when I distract them. Hurry, though."
Great. Cryptic pixies. Just what I needed. I turned back to the kitchen doorway and wondered just how long it would take Jenks to get his distraction ready. And what exactly he was going to do. It would have to be one hell of a distraction to let me get to my bag and my splat gun in the kitchen.
The loud boom sent me instinctively diving to the floor and covering my head. That would be Jenks' distraction. Yelling, curses and accusations drowned out the sound of my heart pounding in my chest. I barely had time to stand before I heard the back door slam.
It was exactly what Jenks had been hoping for. I didn't waste any more time. I jumped up and turned the corner into the kitchen. Bad luck brought me face to face with my new favorite witch. Not wasting time, I raised my fist and slammed it into her face. She hit the floor with a satisfying thud. I dove for the table, fumbling with my bag for just an instant before I was able to wrench my splat gun out of it.
I nailed her with a sleepy-time spell just to make me feel better and then headed for the back door. Brian Rafferty had a thing or two to explain.
Standing to the side, I nudged the back door wide open with the toe of my boot. No spells or bullets came flying in through the door, so I stepped outside. Rafferty was dancing. No, my first impression changed with a supremely satisfying realization. Rafferty was doing his best to dodge the variety of missiles Jenks was hurling at him. Rafferty's best, however, wasn't anywhere near good enough.
I dropped him with another sleepy-time spell.
"You always ruin my fun, Rache," Jenks complained loudly, pelting Rafferty with one last flying missile before flying back over to hover next to me.
"Ruin your fun?" I asked indignantly. "Blowing up something isn't enough fun for you?"
Jenks' grin was a scary combination of enthusiasm, mischievousness and certainty. "That was just the appetizer."
I laughed, and winced as it made me notice the way my head was throbbing. "Was there anyone else around?"
It wouldn't do to get caught out by their backup.
"No one," Jenks said triumphantly.
Backup...that reminded me of something.
"How did you get here?"
Jenks rolled his eyes.
"We might have had a fight, Rachel, but I'm still your backup." He grinned ruefully. "Besides, Ivy would pluck my wings off one by one if I let you get seriously injured." He perched his hands on his hips in his favorite Peter Pan pose. "I followed you. It took me a while, but I made it in time, didn't I?"
"Yeah, you did." I blinked. I'd had a lot closer calls, but this could have gone a lot worse if Jenks hadn't shown up when he did. "Thanks, Jenks."
He flushed, his wings turning bright pink, as he waved off my thanks.
"Don't mention it, witch. Really," he added. "Let's get back in there before those sleepy-time spells wear off. We have a lot to ask these two idiots."
It turned out that those two idiots weren't quite as stupid as they loooked. Or as Jenks suggested, maybe we weren't scary enough. For a minute I contemplated calling Ivy to get her intimidating, living vamp-self over there to scare them into confessing, but that would require an explanation on my part of what had happened. It was something I really didn't want to have to do over the phone.
In the end, we called the FIB to come pick them up. It was unusual, but the fact that one of them was human made it possible. Glenn came as part of the team of officers sent to pick them up. I hadn't asked for him, but neither Jenks or I was surprised when he showed up.
Apparently someone, probably his father, had decided that I was now permanently Glenn's problem. Of course, I could think of worse people to be stuck with. Denon, for starters.
Glenn accepted my 'run gone wrong' story with skepticism, but with Jenks' support and no contradictions from either Patty or Rafferty (who still weren't talking), he would likely accept it. He didn't have any other options, and besides it was the truth.
I still wished we'd been able to get more information out of them, but short of doing something illegal we didn't have any other options. I was simmering with the slow burn of frustration by the time that Jenks and I slipped back into my car.
I closed my eyes for a moment, after Glenn's car had pulled away, and let my head sink back against the headrest.
"Ivy's not going to let you live that down, you know."
My jaw clenched and I refused to open my eyes.
"Can we not fight about this now, Jenks? I know you don't approve. You don't have to rub it in."
"Rachel-" The uncharacteristic somberness in his tone caught my attention. "I'm sorry."
Jenks was almost as bad with apologies as I was. I opened my eyes. He was zipping back and forth through the air in front of me in a nauseating blur of color and motion. Pixy dust fell across my lap and spilled onto the seat. It would be almost impossible to get out - worse than cat hair.
"My daughter's getting married."
"I know." What that had to do with Ivy and me, I didn't know.
Jenks hovered long enough to shoot me a disgusted look.
"Jih is my oldest daughter. She's the first one to get married." He couldn't quite meet my eyes anymore and I could see him flush slightly with embarrassment. "I'm worried about her. What she's doing is different. Mattie and I had it so hard when we first got married. I don't want her to have to go through that too." He shrugged. "But I can't keep her at home forever. She would hate that, and Mattie wouldn't let me anyway. She has to live her own life. No matter how much I might be worried that she's going to get hurt. She has to make her own mistakes. Doesn't mean I don't still love her."
It was quite a speech from Jenks, and it managed to reduce me to speechlessness. In his roundabout way, Jenks was telling me that he was worried about me and wanted me to be happy. I turned to look away from him and swiped at the moisture sliding down my face with the back of my hand, hoping that the fading light would hide the gesture from Jenks.
I swallowed and struggled to speak past the knot in my throat.
He nodded without a word and perched on my earring with a familiar grin. I could feel the relief that we were no longer fighting stealing through my body. It was so great that it was like a physical sensation.
"Let's go home to Ivy," I muttered with a soft sigh.
It had been a long day already and it wasn't over yet.