"If the spel on these gloves means I get to be this close to a pretty girl, I'm total y stealing them,"Archer had said, waggling his eyebrows at me.
We'd laughed again, and Archer had just been a boy I liked, and I'd thought the only secret between us was just how much I liked him.
This time when I closed my eyes, it was to keep tears from spil ing onto Jenna's shoulder. "Yeah,"I final y said. "That was a good night."
Jenna and I hung out in the garden until early evening. Once we were back at the house, she went in search of Vix while I decided to go hang out in my room for a while. As I climbed the stairs, Lara met me coming down. "Oh, Sophie, I was just looking for you,"she said, forcing a ginormous brown book into my hand. "Your father wanted me to give this to you. He asked that you read as far as you can tonight."
I read the title stamped on the cover: Demonologies: A History.
"Oh. Um...yay. Thanks for this."I tried to lift the book in a kind of salute, but it was way too heavy for that. In fact, when I got back up to my room and tossed it on the bed, the mattress creaked in protest.
I opened my laptop and mindlessly surfed the Internet for a while, but my eyes just drifted over the screen without reading anything. There was something else on my mind.
Snapping the computer shut, I walked over to the nightstand and opened the drawer. I stared down at the coin, but before I could pick it up, Jenna came flying into my room, Vix in tow.
I slammed the drawer, hoping neither of them noticed my pounding heart.
But Jenna's attention was on the book on my bed. "Wow, Soph, that's some heavy summer reading right there."
"Yeah,"I said, walking over to pick it up. I winced slightly as I hefted it into my arms. "Just some demon homework from Dad."
"We were just about to head down to dinner,"Jenna said. "You wanna come with?"
I glanced back and forth between the two vampires. I'd had Jenna al to myself for most of the afternoon, so it's not like I minded sharing. Stil , seeing them beam at each other and throw "we"around reminded me just how crappy my love life was. "Nah, I actual y think I'l just chil up here tonight. Get started on some of this reading."
Jenna raised a pale eyebrow. "Sophie Mercer, turning down food for homework?"
"Yeah, it's the new, lamer, more Britisher me."
Jenna and Vix laughed at that and, after making me promise to hang out with them tomorrow, practical y waltzed out the door. I felt like there should have been rainbows and rose petals in their wake or something.
Ugh. That was catty.
Jenna deserved rainbows and rose petals, I reminded myself as I flopped back on my bed, Dad's book bumping painful y against my sternum. After everything she'd been through, Jenna had earned an eternity of nothing but good stuff. So why did seeing her with Vix make me want to brain myself with Demonologies: A History? I looked at the nightstand again and sighed. Then I opened the heavy book and tried to make myself read.
For the next few hours I made a valiant attempt to get through Chapter One.
For a book that was supposedly about fal en angels running around and creating havoc with their super-awesome dark "magycks,"it was awful y boring, and al the weird spel ings definitely didn't help.
Sighing, I settled deeper into my pil ows. As I shifted the book, trying to rest it on my upraised knees, a sheet of paper fel into my lap.
I cringed, thinking it was one of the pages, but then I realized the paper was a lot whiter, and not nearly as musty smel ing.
It was a note.
I recognized Dad's handwriting immediately from al the impersonal birthday cards he'd sent over the years. They'd always been pink and glittery-and I now realized that Lara must have bought them-and he'd always just signed them "Your father."Never a little message or even his own "happy birthday."
This note wasn't much warmer. Al it said was, "Be prepared to discuss this book and al that you have read tomorrow-Your father."
"Yeah, Father, I'l be sure to do that,"I muttered, rol ing my eyes. Did he real y need to write me a note to tel me that? And why had he'd stuck it around page three hundred? Because if he thought I was reading that far tonight, that was pretty freaking optimistic of him.
I sighed and was going to crumple up the note, when suddenly the words on the page moved. Vibrated, actual y.
I rubbed my eyes, thinking I'd been reading for too long, but when I looked back at the note, the letters were stil shaking. And then they started sliding around. A lot of them slid down to the bottom of the page, but the rest gathered together to spel out an entirely different message: The bookcase. Five a.m.
It was Dad's handwriting again, and as I watched, the discarded letters slipped up the page until the original message was back in place.
"Cryptic Dad is cryptic,"I muttered. There was no doubt in my mind which bookcase he meant-the one holding Virginia Thorne's grimoire. But why the spel s and secrecy? We'd hung out al morning. Was there no time in there he could have said, "Oh, hey, meet me at the magical bookcase at the butt-crack of dawn tomorrow, cool?"
And what the heck did he want to do at that bookcase?
By now, my eyes felt like I'd rubbed sand in them, and it occurred to me that between the Prodigium club, Archer, and everything with Dad today, this was turning out to be the least relaxing vacation ever. I looked around my palatial room, and for just a second I wished I were back at Hecate Hal , sitting on my tiny bed, laughing with Jenna.
But Jenna was down the hal , either hanging out with Vix or sleeping, and I was on my own.
I put the book on my nightstand, surprised that the weight of it didn't break the tiny piece of furniture. Mom always said there are few things in life that can't be cured by a hot bath, and I decided to test her on that advice.
A few minutes later, I was up to my chin in hot, soapy water.
I ran my big toe over the faucet, which was made to look like a golden swan. I guess it was supposed to be classy, but it just looked like the swan was vomiting water into the tub, which was a pretty gross thought. Plus, baths always made me think of Chaston, nearly bleeding to death in one of the creepy tubs at Hecate.
Despite the heat of the water, I shuddered. I hadn't seen Chaston again after that night. Her parents had come to get her, and they'd pul ed her out of school for the rest of the year. I wondered what she was doing now, if she even knew about Anna and Elodie.
I was just reaching for my towel when I heard a muffled thump from my bedroom. My fingers froze and the hair on the back of my neck prickled. In scary movies, this was always the part where the naked girl cal ed out, "Hel o?"or "Who's there?"or something equal y stupid. But this naked girl wasn't announcing her presence to anyone. Instead, I soundlessly pul ed my towel off the rack and wrapped it around me before creeping to the door and pressing my ear against it.
Other than my own heartbeat, I couldn't hear anything. I rol ed my eyes as I grabbed my robe from the back of the door. Clearly, the bath-and thoughts of Chaston-had spooked me. If there was anyone in my bedroom, it was probably just one of the army of servants fluffing my pil ow.
Maybe leaving me a chocolate mint.
Knotting the robe's sash around my waist, I opened the door. My room was empty, and I blew out a long breath.
"Way to be lame, Sophie,"I muttered as I crossed the bedroom to the dresser. This place was like the Prodigium version of Fort Knox. The idea that anyone would be in my bedroom, being al nefarious, was completely-
I heard the sound again-another thump, this one a lot louder. And then I realized that it was coming from my nightstand.
Blood pounded in my ears as I ran over to the smal table and yanked open the drawer.
Sure enough, the gold coin was thumping around in there like it was alive. How the heck did this work? Archer had said he'd use it to find me, but it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what that actual y meant. Maybe the coin was a type of portable portal, and he was about to poof into my bedroom in a cloud of smoke or something.
That thought-Archer literal y putting himself in the middle of a whole bunch of people who wanted to kil him-was too horrible to contemplate. I closed my fingers around the coin, drawing in a sharp breath at how hot it was.
Suddenly, it was like a screen fel over my eyes, and I could see the abandoned corn mil . The alcove that led to the Itineris. Archer was sitting there next to it, in the low windowsil .
Waiting for me.
Dropping the coin on the bedside table, I turned toward the dresser. I'd grab a pair of jeans, that long-sleeved black shirt I'd brought. If I were quiet enough, I could probably get out of the house without even trying to come up with an excuse-
Then I thought of Dad, pale and serious, tel ing me how important it was that I never see Archer again. I thought of how proud of me he'd been today, of what might happen to him if anyone caught me sneaking out to see an Eye.
Of Council Headquarters, burning down with seven Council members stil inside.
I reached into the open dresser drawer, but instead of my jeans, I took out my nightshirt. Once I'd slipped it on, I climbed into bed and flipped out the light, fumbling for the coin in the darkness. As I clutched it in my fist, I saw Archer again. He was standing up now, pacing and rubbing his hand over his jaw. He kept glancing toward the door.
Tears wet the hair at my temples.
At least I knew he was alive. At least I knew he hadn't been trying to kil me. That was enough. It had to be.
Archer waited for me a long time. Longer than I'd thought he would. It was past midnight when he gave one last look at the door, then final y disappeared into the alcove. I held the coin even tighter, but as soon as Archer was gone, it went cold, and the vision faded to black.
Five a.m. came very early the next morning, especial y for someone who'd spent most of the night crying. And when I had slept, it had been fitful y. I kept jolting awake, sure someone was in the room with me. Once, I even thought I caught a flash of red hair, but I must have been dreaming.
My head throbbed, and I practical y had to pry my swol en eyes open when my alarm went off. But despite that, I felt better-lighter-as I went down to meet Dad. Yes, it stil hurt to think about Archer, but I'd done the right thing. I'd put Dad and Jenna and, heck, pretty much al of Prodigium society ahead of what I wanted, and if that wasn't showing "leadership ability,"I didn't know what was.
So I was pretty proud of myself by the time I made my way up the library steps and over to the bookcase.
Dad, sadly, was not feeling the same way. "I said five,"he hissed as soon as I rounded the corner. "It is now five-fifteen."He looked like he hadn't gotten much sleep either. His suit wasn't wrinkled, exactly, but it wasn't as pristine as usual. Also, he hadn't shaved, which freaked me out almost as much as the intensity in his eyes.
Surprised, I blinked at him. "Sorry-"I replied, but he held up his hand and whispered, "Keep your voice down."
"Why?"I whispered back. We stood on either side of the bookcase, Virginia Thorne's grimoire looking every bit as ominous as it had that first day.
"What are we doing in here?"
Dad glanced around like someone might be listening to us, before saying, "We're going to open this bookcase and remove the grimoire."
Now I wasn't surprised so much as shocked. "No way,"I shot back. "This thing is enchanted to hel and back-maybe literally."