I do not follow Connolly into his office. I grab the rest of my stuff and shove it into a bag.
“You may leave that for later,” he says. “No one will disturb your belongings.”
I keep packing. Then I toss the bag over my shoulder and head for the hall door.
“Ms. Bennett? My office is through here.”
“And the elevator is through here. I’ll send you an invoice for my time earlier today and for the unweaving. Or you can just give me the mirror. That seems fair, and I’m tempted to stuff it into my bag and walk out but, unlike some people, I believe in playing fair.”
“I have a job that will earn you far more than that mirror would ever—”
“Not interested.” I grab the door handle.
“You haven’t even heard what it is.”
“I’ve met the guy who’d be my boss if I took the job. That’s all I need to know. The answer is no. Hell, no.”
I yank on the knob. It doesn’t budge. I pull harder, panic prickling through the anger. I force calm and turn to him.
“Open this door, Connolly.”
“I just want to—”
“Hello!” I shout against the door. “Hello!”
“No one’s here. I sent them home.”
The panic crystallizes. “You—you’re holding me hostage?” I steady my voice and channel Ani. “You do realize you’re threatening a curse weaver, right?”
“It isn’t a threat. Just hear me out—”
I grab the only chair in the room, march to the window and swing the chair back. He catches it in one hand.
“That seems extreme, Ms. Bennett. Also, unless you can fly, it’s a thirteen-story drop.”
“I thought we were on the fourteenth floor.”
“Only because buildings never call it the thirteenth. It’s bad luck, don’t you know.” His lips twitch as if in another private joke. “Either way, jumping from that window would definitely be bad luck.”
“I have no intention of jumping. I’m just going to smash every window in this room. That’ll set you back about . . .” I eye the huge panes of glass. “Ten grand?”
“No job you can have for me is worth that kind of loss plus the curse I’ll slap on your ass.”
“People can’t be cursed.”
“It’s a figure of speech. Unlock this door. Now.”
He sighs. “Just give me five minutes—”
“I’ll give you five seconds to unlock the door.”
“Or you smash my windows?”
“Nope, we’ve moved beyond that. Let me out, or you’re getting this.”
I march to my kit and snap on gloves. Then I withdraw a radioactive-grade bag, unzip it and remove a black ball.
“Is that an . . . eight ball?” Connolly says.
“No, it’s a Magic 8 Ball. And it says . . .” I hold it up. “Outlook not so good.”
“Cute. I know your area of expertise is the joker’s jinx, but I believe you need to up your game, Ms. Bennett.”
“Oh, this is no joke, sir. This right here is a curse bomb.”
“A cursed Magic 8 Ball?”
“A cursed Magic 8 Ball bomb.” I lift it to his eye level. “How much do you know about curse weaving?”
“Enough to know there’s no such thing as a curse bomb.”
“It’s my own creation. See, when you uncurse an object, you need to curse something else. There are lots of workarounds. This is mine.”
He frowns at the ball, sandy brows furrowing. “I don’t understand.”
“Think, Connolly. To uncurse an object, I must curse something else. Now, I could cast a practical joke on some random inanimate object, but that’s only fair if it’s a minor curse. Your mirror had a major hex. For those, I cast them—all of them—onto one small object.” I lift the ball. “Curse bomb.”
He takes an involuntary step back before stopping himself. “You’re joking.”
I turn the ball on the tips of my gloved hands. “Would you like me to leave it here so you can find out?”
“You cast all your balancing curses—major curses—onto one Magic 8 Ball? That’s—that’s—.”
“Unwise? So I’ve been told. I’ll give you my sister’s number. You two can vent your concerns to each other. For now, the point is . . .” I heft the ball. “Let me out of this room or I unleash hell.”
“I just want—”
“Five. Four. Three.”
He throws open the door. “Fine, but you are being very unreasonable, Ms. Bennett. I also do not appreciate the dramatics.”
“And I do not appreciate being held hostage. Is that what you consider reasonable, Connolly? Locking a woman in a room until she does what you want? Guess you deserved that ex-hex after all, whether it was originally yours or not.”
Color suffuses his cheeks. Then he clears his throat. “I apologize. I did not mean to hold you hostage, but I see how it could be construed. I only wanted to talk to you, and I went about it in the wrong way. If you would just give me five minutes of your time, Ms. Bennett, I’m sure it will be worth your while. Whatever you decide, you may take the mirror, as compensation for your time.”
I lower the Magic 8 Ball. “Thank you. But I still don’t want to hear about the job. I’m sorry. If you tell me what it is, I’ll find a way to convince myself to do it, and the fact is that, after this, I don’t trust you, and I do not want to work for you.”
“Perhaps your sisters can do the job then.”
“You can ask them, but you can bet I’m going to tell them what you did.”
When I eye the mirror, Connolly says, “At least allow me to have that packed properly. You can pick it up tomorrow.”
I glance at him.
“I promise I will not bother you again, Ms. Bennett. I’ll hope, of course, that you’ll change your mind and want to hear my proposal, but I will not withhold the mirror until you do. Just . . . consider hearing me out. Please.”
I shake my head and throw my bag over my shoulder as I stride toward the door. Connolly steps out of my way and doesn’t say another word as I go.
* * *
I’m dreaming of Aiden Connolly . . . and not in a good way. After what happened tonight, I don’t think he’s ever entering my dreams in a remotely positive light. I’d be upset enough about the trap with the mirror, but what he did after that doubled down on the deception.
I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he didn’t think it through. The fact remains that he trapped me, and my stomach still tightens thinking about it. I didn’t know him well enough to guess what he meant by it. In that moment, I felt helpless and frightened. Whether it was intentional or not, it was a shitty thing to do.
I don’t dream about that moment of fear, though. I dream about what he said after that.
Perhaps your sisters can do the job then.
It sounded as if he meant he was going to try to hire them. But when I promised I’d warn them first, he’d seemed to accept that.
Understanding and accepting my position?
Or unconcerned about the threat, knowing my sisters would never get that message.
By the time I bolt awake, gasping for breath, sunlight seeps around the blinds. Ellie sits at the foot of the bed, as if she’s been watching me toss and turn all night, impatiently waiting for my sleeping mind to make the connection.
“Ani and Hope,” I whisper. “They never got back to me.”
I scramble for my phone and flip to the text messages. They’re still delivered but unread. I stab Ani’s number. It rings through to voicemail, just like it did last night.
My fingers move to the number for Jonathan, Ani’s BFF. If he doesn’t answer, I’ll know Unstable’s lines are down.
Or he might not answer because he’s still asleep, as most people are at . . . I check the clock. 5:50 AM.
My fingers move down the list to our Unstable neighbor’s landline number. Mrs. Salazar is always awake by five.
And what am I going to ask her? Whether cell service is down? She doesn’t have a cell phone. Or internet.
I just want to know they’re okay.
So what would I ask Mrs. Salazar to do? Run next door, bang on our door and make sure my sisters are alive?
I’m overreacting. I know I am. Cell service is down, which is extremely common there, and just further ammunition for my argument that Ani needs to reactivate the damn landline. I can bitch about that, but it’s really my own fault for not e-mailing her last night. Also, Aiden Connolly’s fault for jamming this worry into my brain.
Perhaps your sisters can do the job then.
A backup plan?
Or a threat?
I can’t tell. For that, the blame lies clearly on sleep anxiety. Something happens when we go to bed and shut down the logic centers of our mind. That freedom can be marvelous—Michael Fassbender joining me in my non-existent hot tub on my non-existent back deck.
Turning down the logic dial, though, also unseals the anxiety pressure cooker. Last week, I got so busy chatting with the fruit-stand lady that I didn’t pay for my apple. Instead of my sleeping brain just nicely reminding me of this and telling me to pay the next day, it sent me a nightmare of the police breaking down my door and hauling me off to a medieval dungeon.
In this case, instead of nicely suggesting I should e-mail Ani in the morning, that sleep anxiety has me scrambling to pull on clothing, ready to run the sixty miles to Unstable to check on my sisters.
I perch on the side of my narrow bed. Ellie hops onto the dresser and watches me send another text, which goes into “delivered” status and stays there.
“I’m going to e-mail them now,” I say.
As I do it, she keeps staring.
“There. That’ll be enough.”
Her narrowed eyes call me a liar.
“Fine, yes, I’ll call Jonathan after breakfast. See if cell service is out.” I rise and set my phone down with a decisive clack. “But I am not driving up there this morning. I have two showings, and I need to uncurse that tea caddy. I also need to pick up my new mirror from Connolly’s office.”
I drag a brush through my hair. “You know what, I might even keep the mirror. I could use one in here.”
Ellie’s eyes narrow more.
“Fine, yes, I can’t afford to keep it. And no, don’t give me that look. I’m not changing the subject. I was done with the other one. I’m not renting a car and driving to Unstable this morning. That would be crazy and paranoid. Ani and Hope are fine. Just fine.”
* * *
An hour later, I’m walking out my front door, cell phone in hand as I reserve a ShareCar for the drive to Unstable. I’ve canceled my appointments. The cursed tea caddy isn’t going to get any more cursed sitting in my showroom. As for Connolly, if my sisters are missing and he has anything to do with it, our next conversation will be a little more involved than “Hey, I’m here for the mirror.”
I don’t honestly think they’re missing or that what Connolly said somehow constituted a threat against them. But I cannot help leaping to worst-case scenarios, and if I don’t make the drive to Unstable, I’ll spend the entire day clutching my phone, blasting Ani and Hope with texts and e-mails.
I’m stepping from the apartment, phone raised as I confirm my car reservation, when I stumble over something in my path. My phone goes flying and I would have followed if strong hands didn’t grab me and hold me upright.
I suppose I should scream, being grabbed by a guy in a dimly lit hallway. Or I should lash out, calling on that single summer of karate lessons twelve-year-old me just had to have. Maybe it’s the fact I recognize the grip. Or maybe it’s just the fact that my “attacker” is keeping me from falling rather than throwing me against a wall. Either way, I only squint against the near darkness as a burly figure dives to retrieve my cell phone.
“Jonathan?” I say.
He doesn’t answer. Obviously, it’s him. I’ve known the guy all my life, and even in the dim lighting, his figure is unmistakable. If there’s a stereotype of a librarian, Jonathan cannot be crammed into it by any stretch of the imagination. He’s six feet tall, broad shouldered with muscles that suggest he bench presses entire shelves of encyclopedias. Dark skin, dark hair cut to his scalp and dark eyes that, if he’s working, are hidden behind glasses.
“Seems fine,” he says as he hands me my phone. “Sorry about that.”
I’m still figuring out what just happened when the smell of fresh bread and fresher coffee waft past. On the floor rests a bag from the bakery down the street, along with two takeout coffees, one already opened.
“Wait,” I say. “You were sitting outside my door? How long have you been here?”
He checks his watch. “Couple hours maybe? I didn’t want to wake you up.”
“Why are you . . .”
My gut freezes.
“Ani,” I whisper. “Something’s happened to Ani. She’s missing, isn’t she? She wasn’t answering my texts or calls and—”
He lifts huge hands to stop my babble. “If I thought they’d been kidnapped, I’d be at the police station, Kay. It’s just . . .” He lifts the coffee and bakery bag. “Can we step inside?”
I nod and open the door.