A WITCH'S HELP
The absence of the woods as we returned to the city, to the high warehouses and close brick buildings, was a tangible cage rising around my heart.
"We'll go back again," Jude said, noting the gradual change passing through me. London was heavy in my bones.
I nodded. "Now that I know what that feels like…"
Jude huffed in agreement, wrapping his arm around one of mine, tangling our fingers together. "I'm dreading reporting to the precinct tomorrow."
"Because of the case?" I asked.
Jude shook his head, a rueful smile on his face. "Beth's case is falling under paperwork. No, I just…hate the idea of hiding under that wool coat again for days on end. Only seeing one side of the city."
"Would you ever become a private investigator?" I asked.
Jude's eyebrows rose, and he stared across the carriage at the blank wall opposite us. "I hadn't thought of it. What would it change?"
"You have connections to both sides of London now," I said, shrugging and resting my cheek on his shoulder. "You could investigate for humans and monsters."
"Actually…that's a smart thought. I've been around a little long already. A new name and neighborhood, a new office." He twisted and smiled at me. "One where I can make my own hours and pick my cases. I like this idea. Thank you."
I leaned into the kiss on my forehead he granted, and we pulled to a stop along the side of the theater. "I need to change neighborhoods too. I've already waited too long, but it's…"
"The first time for you," Jude said, nodding. He opened the door and helped me down, holding onto my hand and offering it a supportive squeeze. "I've heard Mayfair is nice."
I blushed, and he smirked at me. Hunter's house was in Mayfair.
"Better parks too," he added.
"Hush. Don't you have murders to solve?"
Jude grinned and followed me to the narrow alley door just off the right wing of the stage. It was a heavy old beast of a door with a screaming face for a handle, but it knew who belonged on stage, and it let me in with only a slight groan of protesting effort.
A dark figure darted in front of the door and out of sight, and Jude pushed me aside, staring after it until I shoved him in and pulled the door shut behind us.
"Don't get skittish. That's just Myron. He's a ghoul," I said.
"You have an act with a ghoul?"
"No, he's shy of the spotlights. But ghouls are good guards against trespassers," I said, and then rose up to whisper in Jude's ear. "And he likes to watch."
I couldn't see his glare in the dark of the theater, but I was pretty sure I'd earned a roll of his eyes. "Sometimes, I think you're teasing me."
"Sometimes I am teasing you. Doesn't mean it's not true."
Jude and I both stiffened at the woman's voice, calling from the empty hall of seats. I tiptoed toward the curtains and Jude followed, trying to tuck me behind him again like he had at the sight of Myron.
"Hello? I'm looking for—Oh!"
I pushed the curtain aside, and the pixies raised the lights for me, just enough to cast a glow over the genteel woman at the foot of the stage. She was tall and slim, with delicate and distinctly feminine features, a black netted veil only slightly obscuring her beauty. She looked fairly human, but there was a bright energy to her, a sheen over her deep red dress, that spoke of magic.
She reached up, raising the veil, a crisp white smile framed by a broad pair of lips. "You must be Miss Nix," she said, and my eyes narrowed. "I'm Magdalena Mortimer. A friend of Hunter's."
Jealousy spiked in my chest. Magdalena Mortimer was beautiful and sharp and eerie. And then I remembered what he'd told me of his time before meeting me.
"You're the madame that arranged to have Hunter paired with a woman who made him feel like he was lesser for what he wanted," I said, raising my chin and staring down to the audience floor.
Magdalena's smile only grew broader, but her cheeks flushed a pretty shade of pink and her head ducked. "Right in one, Miss Nix."
I pressed my lips flat and crossed my arms over my chest. "I suppose I might thank you, but I won't. Why are you here?"
"A courtesy visit. I heard the theater and I have a common enemy," Magdalena said, shoulders squaring and her calm authority reclaimed. "I'm only here to offer what little help I can."
I chewed over the words. Hunter said he still respected Mortimer, and I supposed that would have to do no matter what pain she'd indirectly caused him. I sighed and nodded. "Doorway to your left. I'll take you to see Mr. Reddy."
"Aren't you a fierce protector," Jude whispered in my ear as Mortimer followed my directions. "Shame Hunter wasn't here to see that."
"He's too sweet. It would've embarrassed him," I answered back.
I met Magdalena at the doorway. "There's not much we can do about the dark back here."
"I have remarkably good eyesight, Miss Nix, don't worry about me," she said.
I led her to the stairs, Jude in tow. "Hunter said you were successful against Birsha."
"Mm, I don't know that I'd say that. We survived the first attack, won the second. But both were bloody affairs and not without losses. He's a cockroach," she said, voice dark and vehement.
Eston was at the bottom of the stairs when we arrived, and he stopped at the sight of Magdalena, in all her lace and velvet and beading.
"New girl?" he asked, black eyes huge and bug-like.
"No, not that it's any of your business," I answered, shooing him away.
"How flattering," Magdalena said brightly, and I thought she might really have meant it. "I do have a flair for the dramatic, or so my partner tells me. But I'm more of a voyeur, I think."
"Reddy's office is just this way," I said, battling my smile and fighting my rising appreciation for this woman.
I knocked on the door, and he grunted in answer. Magdalena didn't wait, strolling in ahead of me as I pushed the door open.
Mr. Reddy startled at the sight of her, blustering in his tilted-back chair and nearly falling out of it as he rose to standing, his face going red.
"Fuck! Mags, who let you in here?!"