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“Define ‘a while.’”

“A dozen hours at least.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Okay, that’s not the cheery news it could have been. I was really hoping for several days at the very minimum. Or years.”

Eilahn’s expression remained grave. “I truly wish I had more encouraging news for you. But it is not a completely hopeless situation. The house is warded, and I will complete the warding on your place of work tonight.” She reached down and helped me to my feet. I was glad of the assistance as I discovered all the places that were going to have impressive bruises by tomorrow. “There are also other…options,” she said.

“Such as?”

She released me as soon as she was certain I wasn’t going to topple right back over. “There may be certain physical artifacts that can aid in shielding you. Plus, you can continue to work on the mental exercises I showed you.”

I made a face as I hobbled my way inside and down the hall to the kitchen. “Those are more unpleasant than your lessons in falling.” Eilahn had been trying to teach me a way to turn my othersight inward in order to cloak my arcane signature, but all I’d managed to do so far was give myself spectacular headaches. It was like the “imagine a white wall” trick to the nth degree, and I had a feeling it was something that came far more easily to demon minds than my own.

“I will attempt to locate an artifact,” Eilahn said. “But the best hope is that Lord Rhyzkahl will be able to determine who is seeking to interfere.”

Interfere. That was a nice way of putting it. Someone in the demon realm was attempting to summon me—bring me through in the same way that I was able to summon the creatures native to that world. The scary part—for me at least—was that if I were to be successfully summoned, the summoner would most assuredly be powerful enough to bind me to his will, make me a slave. If I wasn’t simply killed outright, that is.

I really had no idea whether the ultimate goal was to kill me or not. And why did the graa attack me? What was its goal?

I sank into a chair at the kitchen table and clasped my hands together in my lap to hide the fact that they were shaking slightly. Not sure why I was bothering, since the syraza was definitely perceptive enough to see how off-kilter I was. She placed a mug of coffee in front of me, confirming my suspicion that she was well aware of my mental state. I gave her a weak smile of thanks and wrapped my hands around the mug, exhaling in relief as I took a sip of the most wonderful substance known to mankind. No wonder I hadn’t been able to run faster. I’d been practically uncaffeinated. I shouldn’t be expected to function on only one cup of coffee.

“I hate this,” I confessed. Eilahn tilted her head and frowned. “Not the coffee,” I quickly amended. “It’s perfect. I hate this whole stress and worry and always waiting for some sort of attack. I mean, I know I’m not the toughest chick on the planet, and I’m not some sort of supercop…but I am a cop, and I’ve survived a lot of shit, and I really fucking hate this constant nagging fear that I have going on.” I scowled down into my coffee. “It sucks, and I don’t know what the hell to do about it.”

“You are due to summon Lord Rhyzkahl within the next week,” she replied quietly. “I suggest you do so tonight, since the moon is full. He needs to know about this latest attempt.”

My scowl deepened. “Yeah, well I hate that too—the whole waiting-to-be-rescued crap. I’m not some weak-kneed damsel in distress.”

Eilahn gave a low laugh. “No one who knows you would ever accuse you of being weak in any way.” She stood and turned to the counter while I blinked in surprise at the compliment. “But I do understand your sentiment and why it chafes.” She shot me a glance over her shoulder. “Perhaps some comfort food is in order. I can make a late breakfast if you wish.”

I grinned despite my mood. “You’ve only been with me for a month and a half, and you already know me way too well. I could definitely do with some comfort food right about now.”

The sound of gravel crunching under tires pulled my attention. Reaching out mentally to the wards, I couldn’t sense a direct threat, but someone was definitely attempting to come down the driveway and failing. I glanced at Eilahn. She seemed studiously unconcerned which gave me a pretty good idea of who was attempting to get near the house.

Pushing up from the table, I winced at how much I’d managed to stiffen up in such a short time. I hobbled down the hall and grabbed my coat, pulling open the door to see a dark blue Crown Victoria backing up. I closed the door behind me and watched as it backed up to the first curve, then stopped and came forward again. At about fifty feet from the house the car stopped again and began to back up. Laughing, I made my way down the steps and waved my arms to get the attention of the driver. A second later the car stopped again and Special Agent Ryan Kristoff stepped out, sweeping an annoyed and frustrated glare over the house and the environs.

He didn’t look any different. He still carried himself like a federal agent. His hair was perhaps a bit shorter than normal, in a brush cut that couldn’t quite hide the fact that it tended to curl when it got longer. He had on his usual casual attire of khaki pants and oxford shirt, and the black pea coat he wore over them couldn’t hide the broad shoulders that tapered down to a slim and muscled waistline. But I knew he was different. At least, different from what I’d assumed him to be for so long. It felt odd that he looked the same as always.

A sharp and icy breeze dove down my collar, and I quickly zipped my coat up.

“What the hell have you done to your house?” Ryan demanded.

I stared at him then burst out laughing. This, at least, was the same old Ryan. Moody, mercurial, and charming. “Having some trouble?”

He glowered at me, but a hint of a smile played at the corners of his mouth. “I can’t get to your damn house! Did you do something to the wards? I have this overpowering urge to go run some errands first.” He peered at the house, and I had a feeling he was using his own othersight to check out the protections. Ryan had the ability to see and sense arcane power, though as far as he was aware he simply had limited skills that he’d inherited from his grandmother. Of course I knew his true skills were anything but limited, though I had to wonder why he’d been left with any power at all when his memories and abilities had been stripped from him. Maybe it’s impossible to completely shut it down, I mused. Maybe throttling his power down to idle was the only option.

“Yep, Eilahn tightened everything up and tweaked the aversions,” I said. Aversions were specialized protections that simply reduced or altered a person’s desire to cross a particular boundary. They could be overcome if a person had a stronger-than-usual will to get past them, but they effectively deterred most intruders. “Just keep your eyes on me as you drive up and don’t think about the house,” I told him.

He gave a curt nod then smiled. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too,” I said, probably more fervently than I meant to. Our eyes met, and for an instant I forgot about the cold and the drifting flakes.

Only for an instant, though, because another breeze swirled snow into my eyes. “Arggh! Yes, good to see you, but I’m freezing my ass off in this fucking snow. Just keep your eyes on me!” I retreated to the porch without waiting for a response, though his laugh followed me. He got back into his car and slowly drove toward me as I motioned him forward, feeling a little like the people who direct planes on runways.

As I watched, the tension in his face gradually cleared, and a few seconds later he stopped in front of the house and got out of his car.