“Someone has to stop Elizabeth, and there’s no one else.”
“Which is why you need to relax sometimes. Let us take care of you for a change.” He kissed her forehead, then her cheek. “Tonight—okay, you made a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes. Yeah, there was a big scene, but it sounds like it’s going to blow over.”
Nadia’s dark eyes gazed up into his, still so hesitant, so doubtful, that his heart ached to see it. Why did she keep taking the weight of the world onto herself, until she nearly broke under it?
“It’s not just that,” she whispered. “Every time I run into something else I don’t know, it reminds me that I lost my teacher.”
She said no more; she didn’t have to. He knew her only teacher in witchcraft was her mother. When they’d first met, Mateo had thought Nadia was coping reasonably well with her mother’s abandonment of the family. He’d slowly learned that wasn’t true. In some ways she had only just begun dealing with it.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It sucks. I’d change it for you if I could.”
“I know.” She wound her arms more tightly around his waist, and then brought their mouths together in a kiss. Mateo opened his lips, kissed her deeper, breathed in the scent of her skin.
They’d had so little time. That first night, after the fire, they’d gone back to her house—
Her mouth under his, her body next to his. Their skin smelled like woodsmoke and blood. Mateo wrapped in her embrace, feeling her body shake with emotion and exhaustion. “I love you,” said and heard, over and over until their voices mingled together. Curled together in her bed, still clothed and too tired for more, but somehow complete. Knowing they’d be together, completely, before long—
But that certainty had been an illusion.
Since then, they’d had to take care of Verlaine, deal with Elizabeth, confront the new demon in their midst . . . it felt like the whole world was trying to tear Nadia away from him almost as soon as he’d found her.
But there was no way he was going to let that happen.
Mateo slipped his hands beneath the hem of her sweater to grasp her right at the waist, his fingers against warm, bare skin. Nadia made this little gasp against his throat that did something to his pulse, made him go warm all over. He leaned into her more, the two of them fusing together in their embrace.
When they broke apart, Mateo was breathing hard, but he had to smile. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah.” Nadia laughed, a little self-conscious—but he saw that flush in her cheeks. “You know how much I love you, right?”
“Maybe as much as I love you. But maybe not. Because I’m not sure that’s even possible.”
The back door opened; Mateo and Nadia broke apart, at least enough to be decent. It was Dad, who said nothing but gave them both a look. “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but you just got an eight-top.”
“Eight?” Large parties were the worst. Besides—“It’s almost nine o’clock! We close in half an hour.”
“They’re here, and they’re hungry, and unfortunately for young love, I let the other server leave early tonight.” His dad pointed a finger at him. “Could’ve been you if you’d asked first.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll be right there.” As the door swung shut, Mateo turned back to Nadia. “I’m sorry. This sucks.”
“It’s all right.”
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Lots better,” she promised, even though that wasn’t exactly the same thing.
“What are you going to do now?”
“Find a spell I can use to take down Elizabeth,” Nadia said. “And figure out how in the world I’m supposed to practice that before I use it against her.”
It was as though Mateo’s embrace had healed her. Restored her. Nadia returned home energized and ready to work. Even though she had to go through an entire paternal interrogation the moment she walked in the door (“Are you kidding? An ax? What is it about this place?”), Nadia’s mind never stopped racing with possibilities. By the time she was back in her attic, she was already halfway into a plan.
Weirdly it was the whole fiasco tonight that had set her on this path. Nadia now knew she shouldn’t try to find a new spell, however powerful, and use it against Elizabeth. It took time to get to know a spell, to learn how to work with it and discover all the possible repercussions. She’d forgotten that tonight—not much chance she’d ever forget it again.
What Nadia needed was a familiar spell, one that was totally known, totally reliable . . . but could be made stronger, and used for a sneak attack.
Such as a spell of forgetting.
Nadia had used these spells only sparingly; her mother had warned her that if she ever used them on her parents she’d be in Big Trouble, and since Mom had possessed the powers to double-check whether she’d been spelled, Nadia had never broken that rule. But she’d pulled it out to make people at school forget cruel nicknames they’d invented for her and her friends, to break up a near-fight one time on the “L,” and even to get out of detention for talking in class, once back in Chicago . . . a successful spellcasting she’d never shared with Mom.
Last month, a witch in town had used this spell against Mateo with near-disastrous results. She hadn’t known Mateo was a Steadfast, hadn’t known he would make her spell far more powerful than it had ever been before. Instead of forgetting that he’d found another witch, Mateo had forgotten everything: his name, how to speak English, how to stand, nearly how to breathe.