Any chance you’ll give me a real one?
Irene nods. Work is the least of her worries, because, of course, she has just been demoted. The magazine will be fine without her. She doesn’t care about the magazine. She doesn’t care about anything except… this. This. Russ, he’s gone.We can’t tell Milly, Cash says.
We can’t not tell Milly, Irene says.Let’s tell her together when we get back, Cash says. We can’t tell her and then leave.That’s right, Irene says. We can’t tell her and then leave.
Call her tonight, as usual, Cash says. Tell her we’re taking a surprise vacation.A surprise vacation, Irene thinks.
It’s a blur, all a blur, until the plane lands in St. Thomas and the other passengers erupt in applause.
Irene peers out the window. St. Thomas has verdant hills—green and lush, dotted with brightly colored buildings, yellow and pink, the color of sand, the color of shells. The water is… well, it’s the brilliant turquoise you see in advertisements. Yes, St. Thomas is supposed to be a place that makes you clap and cheer.I’m here because I wanted to see the place a creature like you frequents. Before you ask, I stayed because the Guinness is good.
Wait…how’d you know I frequent this place—I bought the blanket because you weren’t lying about the sick boy, though he’s less of a boy than I’d originally expected. He paused, and cold replaced the heat from a moment before. Warning signals pulsed through my body again, but they didn’t eradicate the hot pounding. I followed you yesterday because your inner fire and the strength of your magic, mixed with your apparent lack of status, intrigued me. I wondered what you were up to. Who you were working for. He paused again, his eyes narrowing slightly. But you’re not working for anyone, are you? Not anyone magical, at any rate. You are exactly as you appear on paper…except for everything to do with your magic. Your situation is incredibly perplexing, Alexis. He shifted, studying me. You live below the poverty level, doing odd jobs that require little skill. Your decrepit little house was passed down to you by your mother, who bought it shortly after you were born. She could’ve survived if she’d had access to treatment. You happily hole up in the worst part of town. It is as though you want to constantly struggle. You’re a hard and thorough worker—even the Chesters acknowledge that—but you never strive for more. Why is that?
My mouth worked, but nothing came out. He was here because he was stalking me, and he’d done a lot of homework in a very short period.His steady gaze never shifted from my eyes, as though we were the only two people in the room, and nothing short of the world ending could tear his focus away. I wished he were a little more easily distracted.