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“They know the risks,” Sheridan called back. “They would rather die than let darkness triumph in this world. They’re prepared.”

“Are you?” I demanded. “Are you prepared to watch this?”

With a quick motion of my hand, the circle of flame grew smaller and smaller, forcing the Alchemists to huddle together. The tighter circle helped me, but it was still excruciatingly difficult to maintain the fire at its current level, keeping it close enough so that the Alchemists would feel the heat but not actually be harmed. Hearing their cries of terror made my stomach twist. It brought back too many memories of what I’d endured in re-education. For four months, my life had been filled with fear and intimidation. I was so, so tired of it. I wanted it to end. I wanted us to be at peace. I didn’t want to hurt these people. I didn’t even want to scare them. Sheridan had pushed me to this point, and I hated her for it, hated her for making me act like this type of violent person.

And possibly making me become this violent of a person.

“You kill them, and I’ll kill him,” she told me.

“And then there’ll be nothing to stop me from turning the fire on you,” I retorted. “In every scenario, I walk free. Are you willing to pick the one that results in you and your colleagues burning alive?”

“You won’t do it,” she said, but even with all the noise and chaos around us, I could sense her uncertainty.

“Wouldn’t I?” I couldn’t bring the flames any closer to the trapped Alchemists without causing them injury, but I was able to make the fiery walls stretch higher. Sheridan’s eyes widened, and it took a lot of resolve to act like I didn’t hear or care the pitiful cries of those trapped within. “Test me, Sheridan! Test me, and see what I’m capable of! See what I wouldn’t do for him!”

With another wave of my hand, the walls of flame grew taller once more, eliciting new screams. The exertion of this kind of magic had me dizzy on my feet, but I kept my gaze fixed and stony as I stared at Sheridan. She believed I was a black-hearted evildoer who had turned her back on humankind. She also believed I was deeply, madly in love with a vampire I’d do anything for. Only one of those profiles was true, but I needed to convince her of both.

“Test me!” I screamed again.

“Okay, calm down, Sydney.” Sheridan looked between me and the other Alchemists, of whom only their fiery prison could be seen. “What do you want me to do?” she cried at last.

“Give Adrian the gun,” I said.

The tension grew impossibly thick around us as she considered this. I was about to lose my control on the magic and was worried her indecision would call my bluff. But then finally she lowered the gun from his head and handed it to him. He took it and wasted no time scurrying to my side, his face pale and worried.

“Keep it aimed at her,” I told him. To her, I said, “When I drop the fire, order them to put their weapons on the ground and hands on their heads.”

With a relief that nearly made me keel over, I released the magic. The walls of fire disappeared, and Sheridan immediately shouted the commands I’d given her. The Alchemists complied, and once they were unarmed, I ordered them over to the far side of the roof where she stood. Beyond all of us, the helicopter was finally attempting to land, now that the fire was gone.

“All of you, lay down on the ground,” I told Sheridan and the other Alchemists. “And nobody even thinks of moving until that helicopter’s long gone. Let’s go, Adrian.”

He and I slowly made our way across the roof to the helicopter, angling ourselves in a way that let us watch the Alchemists. Adrian admirably kept the gun pointed in their direction, even though I was pretty sure there was zero chance he could have actually hit one with any accuracy, even if he’d wanted to. A guardian I didn’t know stood beside the helicopter’s doorway, looking understandably confused.

“Am I glad to see you,” Adrian told him.

“Glad I could help,” the other man said uneasily. He glanced over at the Alchemists on the ground. “Though I feel like I should have done more. What’s going on?”

“Never mind, you’re doing plenty,” said Adrian. “Can we go now?”

The guardian gestured to the helicopter. “After you, Lord Ivashkov.” He hesitated. “You are Adrian Ivashkov, right?”

“Sure am,” said Adrian. He beckoned me forward. “And this is my wife.”



I DON’T THINK SYDNEY OR I truly relaxed until we were on Olga Dobrova’s private jet hours later, up in the air and on our way to Court on the other side of the country. We’d been warned we’d have to stop for refueling on such a small plane, but I wasn’t worried. They’d do it in discreet places, and besides, the Alchemists wouldn’t dare attack a Moroi-owned plane under royal orders.

Two guardians were flying back with us, but otherwise, we had the jet to ourselves. The guardians sat near the front, while I occupied a cushy seat in the back, with my feet propped up on a large table. Sydney had disappeared into the bathroom shortly after takeoff, wanting to redo her hair after the helicopter and wind had disheveled it. “It’s my wedding day,” she’d explained earlier. “I need some dignity.”

When she emerged, I saw that she’d actually managed to repair it to a fair approximation of what the stylists had done earlier, not that I cared. I thought she’d been beautiful with it wild and windswept. The guardians nodded politely at her as she walked past, both obviously tense and uncertain in her presence. No one had briefed them that I was bringing a human bride back with me, and it was clear that while their training had prepared them for many a dire situation, this scenario was nothing they had any experience with.

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