"How do you do," Magdalena said coolly, dipping her head. "Alphonse informed me of your situation. I can't do anything directly, but—and feel free not to comment, I know how tight these contracts can be—I will look into the matter as discreetly as possible and bring my findings here, with your consent."
Constantine stiffened, his eyes darting between Magdalena, Reddy, and me. "No."
Magdalena's lips pursed, and Reddy blustered. "You can trust the witch. She's a rare decent one," Reddy said.
"It's dangerous," Constantine answered, his eyes flicking to me once again.
"It's already dangerous around here," I said, kneeling down at his side and turning my back on the others. "Do you want to remain bound?"
"No," he bit out.
"I don't want that for you either. And if Madame Mortimer doesn't look into the matter, then you know I'll have to stick my nose into Birsha's business—"
"You'll do no such thing!"
The chorus came from behind me, and Constantine's eyebrow arched, his lips twitching for the first time today.
"Please let us help," I whispered.
Constantine glared down at me, a low and velvety snarl in his throat. Con would make me pay for my needling, later perhaps. Not that I would mind. That silver stare glanced up at Magdalena.
"Positively clandestine," Magdalena answered sweetly.
Constantine's head tipped in a faint acknowledgement, and I squeezed his hands in mine.
* * *
"I haven't beenthis titillated since Lilith's musicale during the Black Death," Magdalena Mortimer giggled, her pale eyes wide as Goliath squeezed past her in our crowded hall, his cock fully erect and wrapped in Evie's hand as she guided him through the mass of people. "We really ought to collaborate, Alphie."
"When all this is settled and it's safe, we could use a girl or two, if you could spare them," Mr. Reddy said.
I leaned against my dressing room doorway, watching the cheerful bustle of backstage with a smile on my lips.
"I'm not sure my patrons would appreciate that," Magdalena said, but her head tilted in thought. "I could, however, be prevailed upon to scry for the right candidates."
Red arms circled my waist, tugging me slightly back into a warm and familiar chest. "Did you have fun tonight, nut?"
"I did," I said, leaning my head back and letting my eyes fall shut as Ronan rubbed his cheek against my hair.
Hunter hadn't arrived for the show, so I'd pulled an enthusiastic cyclops from the audience and paddled him for the third act finale. And for the third night in a row, I was left simmering with interest at the end of the show. I wiggled backwards in Ronan's embrace, and he huffed.
"Don't worry. We have plans for you," he said in my ear.
The crowd was starting to thin in the hall, and I twisted in Ronan's hold, craning to look over his wings. Nireas, Constantine, and Jude were all gathered behind us in my dressing room.
"We?" I asked, eyebrows raising. Four would be a challenge, even for me. Five even more so, if Con and Antin were part of the plan. But I liked to be challenged.
Ronan lifted his wings and kissed my cheek. "Mm, you'll see."
I jumped and found Magdalena Mortimer facing me, her cheeks flushed, lips stretched in a smile. I had a feeling she, Reddy, and Myra had been drinking together during the show.
"I wonder if I might steal a moment of your time?" Magdalena asked.
"Oh! Sure," I said.
Ronan slipped his arms from around me. "You two settle in here. We'll go…get things ready," Ronan said with a cryptic wink for my benefit.
Magdalena brushed the curtain of my dressing room with an appreciative study. "That's a tidy charm. Nathaniel is an utter prick, but he does good work with fabrics," she mused.
"What are you up to?" I mouthed to Jude as he filed behind Nireas, and the four of them trailed out of the room under Ronan's command. He only shrugged in response, eyes glittering with excitement.
"You remind me of a friend," Magdalena said, her back to me as she surveyed my tiny, shabby room. "The pair of you have that equally large and incredible capacity for loving, and loving with such a lack of reserve."
I blinked at the praise. Was Magdalena thinking of someone else?
She turned and found me stock still and baffled, and her smile stretched. "Only those who love so deeply it consumes them, find themselves fighting so strongly against the emotion. Why fight an airy, passing love that can do very little harm? No, it's only those feelings that run bone-deep that threaten to shatter us."
Her words gave me chills, reminded me of all my fears, all my struggles against Ronan's steady friendship and the offer of more. The empty ache left behind after Nireas's rejection, the way it lingered for years.
Magdalena stepped forward, reaching out and clasping my chin in a gentle grip, drawing it up as she stared into my eyes. "I find it often worth the risk," she said.
She released me and I caught a deep breath, wanting to skirt away from the unnerving woman, to go and find my men at whatever mischief they were up to.
"You were right. I failed Hunter while he was a member of my house," Magdalena said, nodding slowly. "I could be coy and claim it led him more easily to you, but in truth, I was occupied by blindspots at the time. He deserved better. I only wanted to say how grateful I am that he found exactly that."
My lips pursed, a puff of breath released, tension bleeding out of me. "I suppose I am a bit pleased you gave him such a horrible girl for a partner," I said, offering a half-smile. "If she'd been even halfway decent, he would've devoted himself to her, and I…" I wouldn't say it to Magdalena before I said it to Hunter. "I would've missed having him for myself."
Magdalena nodded, one shoulder rising and falling. "These matters have a tendency to work out once the stars start turning in their favor. It appears I'll miss seeing Hunter on this visit. I'll be back soon, but give him my regards in the meantime."
"And you'll search for Constantine's warlock?" I asked.
"With all the subtlety and care I possess," Magdalena said.
Which was reassuring, in spite of the fact that it came from one of the most dramatically-presented women I'd ever met. We nodded to one another, and she glided out of the room with a whisper of jasmine floating behind her.