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My brain stil felt woozy, and my voice was weak when I said, "Cross?"

It was Mrs. Casnoff who answered me. "Clearly, The Eye was behind this. Who else would do such a thing?"

"And since there's only one Eye who can do magic,"Lara said, her voice sounding almost identical to her sister's, "it's obvious. Archer Cross just made another attempt on your life."

The next nine days stretched out like taffy. Mrs. Casnoff went back to Hecate, which was kind of a relief. Having her at Thorne had been a little too

"worlds col iding"for me. I spent most of my time in my room, recovering from my injury. But staring at the wal gave me lots of time to think, mostly about Archer. I'd seen the look on his face right after the explosion had gone off. He'd been scared. Shocked, even, and not in the "Whoops, my assassination didn't go off as planned"way. He hadn't known it was coming, which meant he couldn't have been the one who planted the gift. Which meant there was someone else who wanted to kil me, a thought that made me want to never leave the safe cocoon of my bed. Stil , I decided to keep my meeting with Archer. I had a feeling that al of this was connected somehow. Nick and Daisy, the attempt on my life, The Eye suddenly getting way more hard-core. The sooner I got to the bottom of it, the better.

There was one good thing that had come out of nearly being shish kebabbed; Jenna started talking to me again. She came by my room the morning after the party to check on me, standing uncertainly in the doorway. "How are you feeling?"

I scooted back onto my pil ows and tried to shrug. That sent a fire bolt of pain through my whole upper body, though, and I grimaced. "Oh, you know.

Like I got stabbed by glass from hel . But it's getting better."

Jenna took a couple of steps into the room, her expression grave. "You could've been kil ed."

"Yeah, but I wasn't."

A couple more steps and she was beside my bed, sitting on the edge. "Soph,"she started, but I interrupted her. "Look, Jenna, can we just skip to the part where we both say we're sorry and hug?"

She gave a startled laugh, and for the first time, I noticed there were tears in her eyes. "Yeah, let's do that,"she said with a sniffle, before gingerly wrapping her arms around me.

We sat there, our arms around each other, until I asked, "You're stil not coming back, are you?"

She shook her head. "I can't."When she pul ed away, tears were streaming down her face, and even her pink stripe looked dimmer. "I have to do this, Sophie."

I wasn't sure if I could talk around the sudden lump in my throat, so I just nodded.

"But it's not like I won't be able to see you ever again,"she said, squeezing my hand. "You could even come visit the nest at Christmas."

"Nest?"I asked, raising both eyebrows.

Jenna shrugged, embarrassed. "That's what you cal it when a bunch of vampires live together."

I tried to think up a witty comment, maybe something about hippies and communes, but I was too sad to be snarky.

Between the thought of going back to Hecate alone and nervousness over meeting Archer, I was too much of a basket case to work with Dad. It wasn't until the day before he left that I felt up to working with the grimoire. No one seemed to have noticed that it was missing, and once I went to check on the glamoured book Dad had left in its place, I could see why. Even I couldn't tel it wasn't the same book, and the trace of magic coming off the glamour was so faint that you couldn't feel it unless you knew it was there.

We studied it in the same room where I practiced control ing my powers. The force coming off those pages stil made my heart race and my head ache. Regardless, I sat down next to Dad on the floor, the book spread out before us, and listened as he explained every spel . He had been right: the magic contained within those pages was some of the darkest stuff I'd ever heard of. There were kil ing spel s, and rituals that would bind another soul to yours so you could make someone your slave. Dad went over each one, his voice level and calm, no matter how bad the enchantments were. There was only one spel he didn't talk about, which was weird. The markings for it only took up half a page, and they looked pretty simple, but when we flipped to that page, Dad drew in his breath.

"What?"I asked, fidgeting on the cold marble floor. "It can't be any worse than that one about babies."

"It's not that,"Dad said. He pushed his glasses farther up on his nose. "It's just that I didn't know this particular spel actual y existed."

"What does it do?"

Dad paused before sliding the book over to me. "Touch it."

I raised my eyebrows, but did what he asked. I don't know why, but I pressed my whole palm to the page so that my hand nearly covered the markings. As soon as I did, I felt a weird thud in my chest, like someone had just punched me lightly in the sternum.

"Um, ow,"I said, drawing back my hand. "Are you going to tel me what I just did?"

He pul ed the book back. "No. Hopeful y, you'l never need to know."

And apparently that was that, because Dad shut the grimoire and stood up. "I think it's time to put this back,"he said. "There's nothing more to be learned from it, and I now see why the Council keeps it locked up."He glanced down at the book with disgust. "If it were up to me, we'd destroy it."

"So do it."After some of the stuff we'd read in that thing, nothing would make me happier than seeing it in flames. The thought of it in the wrong hands was truly shudder-worthy.

But Dad shook his head. "Alexei Casnoff wanted it kept intact as a reminder."

"Of course he did."I winced as I stood, and Dad hurried to help me up.

"How are you feeling?"

"Hard as it may be to believe, better. How's your arm?"

He absentmindedly rubbed it. "Stings, but it could've been much worse."

He slipped the grimoire inside his jacket, and we made our way back downstairs. I could tel there was something bothering Dad, but whether it was al that stuff in the grimoire or the birthday party incident, I didn't know.

We were al the way to the foyer before he said, "Sophie, I have to tel your mother about what happened."

I suppressed a groan. I'd known this was coming, but I was hoping we could put it off until after Dad got back. I had a lot going on, and the last thing I wanted was a worried mom on top of al of that.

"Dad, she's just going to freak. And probably come here and get me, and then you guys wil start yel ing at each other, and I'l have to act out by wearing lots of eyeliner and doing drugs. Do you real y want to deal with that?"

Dad smiled and ran a hand over my hair. The gesture was so parental and normal that I didn't know how to react. "Perhaps it can wait until after my trip,"he said. "I'm not quite ready to give you back yet."

His voice was ful of affection, and I wondered if a person could actual y choke on guilt, because it rose up in my throat as bitter and scalding as black coffee.

Chapter 15

I looked away, hoping he wouldn't see it, and said, "Where are you going, anyway?"

"Up north, near Yorkshire. Another attack."

He didn't have to say by whom.

"While I'm there,"Dad added, "I'm supposed to meet with a warlock in Lincolnshire. He's supposedly done some extensive research on demons, and I'm hoping he may be able to help me with tracing Nick's and Daisy's origins. Hopeful y, when I come back, we can begin to resolve this matter."

When he got back, I might have news of my own about Nick and Daisy. Not that I had any idea how I was going to tel him what I'd found out. I didn't want to pursue that train of thought, what with it being al stomach-twisting, so instead, I asked him something else that had been bugging me. "Hey, Dad, remember earlier this week, when I got stabbed?"

"I have a hazy recol ection, yes."

"Is it worth it? Being head of the Council? I mean, if people are always gunning for you, why not hand it over to someone else? You could go on vacation. Have a life. Date."

I waited for Dad to embrace his inner Mr. Darcy again and get al huffy, but if anything, he just looked rueful. "One, I made a solemn vow to use my powers to help the Council. Two, things are turbulent now, but that won't always be the case. And I have faith that you'l make a wonderful head of the Council someday, Sophie."

Yeah, except for that whole sleeping with the enemy part, I thought. Wait, not that I would actual y be sleeping with...I mean, it's a metaphor. There would only be metaphorical sleeping.

My face must have reflected some of the weirdness happening in my brain, because Dad narrowed his eyes at me before continuing, "As for dating, there's no point."


"Because I'm stil in love with your mother."

Whoa. Okay, not exactly the answer I was expecting.

Before I could even process that, Dad rushed on, saying, "Please don't let that get your hopes up. There is no way your mother and I could or wil ever reunite."

I held up my hand. "Dad, relax. I'm not twelve, and this isn't The Parent Trap. But that''s good to know. I always thought you and Mom must have hated each other. I thought that's why Mom and I moved around so much-because she was trying to make sure you could never find us."

His eyes slid away from my face, focusing on a spot above my shoulder. "Your mother had her reasons,"was al he said. Then he sort of sighed and turned away. "Al the magic in the world can't simplify affairs of the heart,"he murmured as he headed toward his office.

"Tel me about it,"I said to his retreating back.

Two days later, he left for Yorkshire, and I prepared for what I'd come to think of as my "field trip"with Archer. Cal ing it that seemed safer and more businesslike than "meeting"or, God forbid, "assignation."Stil , I spent most of the day in my room by myself because I was afraid Jenna or Cal would be able to tel something was up with me. I was so nervous that I was shooting off tiny flashes of magic like a sparkler.

I didn't even attempt to sleep, and I thought three a.m. would never come. Final y, at 2:30, I threw on a black T-shirt and some cargo pants, hoping that was an appropriate ensemble for meeting one's former crush who had turned out to be one's mortal enemy.

As I walked down the gravel path toward the mil , I tried to tel myself that despite my churning stomach, I had nothing to feel guilty about. I was doing this for a good reason. No, Dad might not understand that. And Jenna definitely wouldn't, No, I wasn't going to let the thought of Jenna make me feel bad about this.

When I got to the mil , Archer was waiting for me just as he had before, right by the doorway leading to the Itineris. His back was to me, and he was wearing a dark green V-neck shirt and a pair of worn jeans. That struck me as weird. I'd expected him to be al decked out in L'Occhio black, but instead he looked like any regular teenage guy.

Except for the giant sword in his hand. "Is that real y necessary?"I asked when I walked in, noting that his dagger was also hanging off his belt. His head jerked up, and I thought he might have been relieved to see me. But then he turned back to the Itineris, crouching down to pul something out of a black duffel bag at his feet. "Never hurts to be prepared,"he said.