I woke up in the car leaning against Ice. Eli and Ruby sat in front of us. He drove, and she typed on her laptop. The bibliomancer slept in the seat next to me with her head hanging down in front of her. I saw the extra blocker we’d made around her neck. The last thing I remembered was her grabbing hold of me as Umbra and I shadow-stepped the tent. There was no way that she’d agreed to come with us. That meant we were kidnapping her for the second time. I wasn’t looking forward to her waking up. Considering how exhausted I was, I wouldn’t be the one who had to deal with her. Umbra was right about how defenseless that escape had left us. I could barely feel them resting in my shadow. I couldn’t do a spell to save my life at this point. Ice rubbed my shoulder.
“Are you feeling okay?” he asked.
“Tired but otherwise fine,” I said. “What happened?”
“You dropped the whole tent through the shadows. We landed in an alley a mile from the marketplace.”
“Are Billie and June okay?”
“We offered to take them with us, but they decided to go their own way,” Ruby said.
“Willard?” I asked.
“He wasn’t with us in the alley,” Ice said.
“Where are we headed?”
“Out of Georgia,” Eli said.
“What about her?”
“I need to know why my magic didn’t work,” Ice said.
“All right,” I said.
I didn’t remember drifting off. When I woke up, Eli parked the car in front of a two-story house. Ice was rubbing my shoulder gently to wake me up. I smiled at him, and he kissed me. It was a soft and brief kiss, but it reassured me. Some part of me was waiting for him to realize he made a mistake and go leave me alone again. I reminded myself that I wouldn’t be alone even if Ice left. I had Ruby. For better or worse, Eli didn’t seem to be going anywhere either. As long as we had this bibliomancer with us, I would be happy for his company. I didn’t know who’d knocked her out after we landed in the alley, but she’d been more resourceful than I’d liked when I fought her. I doubted she’d let something like us outnumbering her stop her from trying to escape again.
Ruby waved her hand, and the garage door started rolling up. At a glance, it was a well-organized space with tools of all sorts on all the walls. Eli pulled the car in. There was enough room for another car and maybe a motorcycle, even with the impressive collection of tools. The garage door started rolling down behind us. Ice got out of the car and held a hand out to me; I took it, not confident that I wouldn’t need the support until both feet were firmly planted beneath me. I still didn’t feel up to using any magic, but at least I wasn’t walking on Bambi-legs. Ruby and Eli didn’t let me carry any of our luggage. I was glad to see that they’d gotten our things from the hotel before hitting the road. I’d already replaced my wardrobe once this month; I didn’t want to have to do it again. Ice carried the sleeping witch. Being treated like I was fragile was going to get old fast.
The door into the house responded to Ruby’s magic just as the garage door had. She woke the house with her powers. Whoever designed the house filled it with every luxury technology had to offer. That made it perfect for Ruby. She walked from room to room as if she’d lived here before. Maybe she had at some point. We’d gone through so much together so quickly that it was easy to forget how little we actually knew each other. I had no idea where she’d been before Las Vegas or Florida. We followed her until she stopped in a living room with dark grey walls and light grey furniture.
“We’ve got this place for the week. I don’t think that it would be safe to stay put much longer than that,” Ruby said.
“We should probably sleep in shifts as long as we’re keeping the Coven’s bookworm with us,” Eli suggested.
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Ruby said. “This house has a panic room. I can control everything about it. If we put her in there, she won’t be going anywhere unless we want her to.”
“Lead the way,” Ice said.
“Sure thing,” she said.
I sat on the couch and tried not to look as exhausted as I felt.
“Can I get you anything?” Eli asked. I gave him a suspicious look. “What? A guy can’t offer a friend a favor?”
“We’re not friends, Eli,” I said.
“Maybe not yet, but I think I could use a friend like you. So if you’ll give me a chance, I think I can make it worth your while,” he said.
“What’s brought this on? I would have figured you’d be off on your own as soon as you got that blocker.”
“I know this thing should mean I’m free to live my life, but I’m not sure what that would really look like,” he said, fiddling with the ring June made for him. “I went from being a thug for hire to one of Newton’s enforcers. The longer I’ve spent with you since you cut that compulsion off, the more I think you’re worth sticking with. I think you could use an extra pair of eyes watching your back.”
“If you’re going to stick around, you’re gonna have to get on Ruby’s good side, too,” I said. “She might not be as welcoming considering how you ended up with us. Get her to say you can stay, and I’ll be good with it.”
“That’s fair. You got yourself a deal,” Eli said.
Once she and Ice secured the bibliomancer, Ruby gave us a tour of the place. She’d never stayed here before, but the latest gadgets filling every room made it easy for her to guide us. Security cameras were everywhere but the bathrooms. The owner rented the space out as an Airbnb but didn’t want to trust the guests. Ruby would make sure to delete all the footage of our stay before we left. She’d already made sure they weren’t broadcasting anything since our arrival. It was the safest we could get while we were still on the run. If anyone came looking for us, we’d know before they got close enough to trap us. The house had five bedrooms and three bathrooms, a significant upgrade over the hotel room. Thanks to Ruby letting a delivery man in while we were still on our way, the refrigerator and freezer had plenty of food. Eli won himself some points with his cooking skill. It was still early when we finished eating, but the pleasantly full feeling made me even more tired. I went to lay down. I didn’t know how long this respite would last but needed to rest before we moved again.