For a Croyant, Felix Valasay lives a charmed life of blender drinks and pleasuring women, so he's less than thrilled to be interrupted mid-hookup by notorious Croyant straight arrow, Sayblee Safipour. If Felix is pleasure first, business later, Sayblee is business first, last, and always. She'd been the smart one in their magic classes, the one he couldn't impress, couldn't win over with a smile or a compliment or twelve, the one he'd wanted so desperately. Now he has the chance to wake up to her beautiful, calm face, to smell the sweetness of her skin, to be this close to those maddening curves. Lothario. Cad. Casanova. Sayblee doesn't need magic to find the right words to describe Felix Valasay. Figures she'd find him entertaining when they have important Council business to attend to setting a trap in Paris for the most dangerous, powerful sorcier their world has ever known. To do that they will need to hide in plain sight, living together like an ordinary Moyenne couple, using no magic at all. Keeping her mind shut against the dark forces trying to find them is tough. But keeping Felix's hot body and make-you-melt smiles out of her thoughts is nearly impossible. And sometimes the only way to avoid temptation is to yield to it.
Jessica gives an overview of the book:
Sayblee Safipour appeared out of swirling gray matter and blinked into the warm, dark glow of a living room that smelled like coconut, pineapple, and a soft ocean breeze. She breathed in something spicy, sweet, the scent of desire floating in the air. As her eyes adjusted to the light that pulsed with yellow heat, she pushed away her hood and flicked her long blond hair behind her shoulders. A slight, warm breeze moved in through the open windows, the sounds of night bugs and frogs a buzzing song coming from the wet foliage outside. She unbuttoned her robe and took it off, letting it drop into a pool of blue velvet softness on the couch, and smoothed out her blouse and skirt, until she realized that neither were at all wrinkled from her journey from London, matter an unbroken flow of energy tonight.
Traveling through matter wasn’t usually hard, though sometimes waves of energy made things a bit bumpy, space bunching up in rough, uneven pockets, sometimes due to someone’s bad magic or simply mischief, the gray like a roller coaster rather than a brisk walk on a flat escalator. However, what would have made this journey difficult, though, was her reluctance to arrive at Hilo at all.
Sayblee rubbed her forehead. She didn’t even need to look around the room to know what she would find. But she couldn’t resist. She took her hand away from her head and looked around. Yes, it was predictable. Pathetic, even. Basically male. Basically him. Look at this place! she thought to herself, gazing first at the creamy beige couch with the pink lace bra dangling on one arm. She looked around on the thick white carpet sure she’d find a tiny matching thong somewhere, but there were no other undergarments to be found. Probably, Sayblee thought, the woman didn’t even wear any, knowing what Felix was like and not wanting to impede his progress. And clearly, Felix had made progress. On the bleached wood coffee table were two crystal drink glasses, a quarter inch of pale yellow liquid still in each.
His damn concoction, she thought. Couldn’t even wait to finish his drink before pushing the poor woman into the bedroom.
Soft music that he undoubtedly thought would sooth the jumbled nerves of his date filled the room, a tremble of light guitar riffs, flute solos, and some kind of indigenous instruments. A didgeridoo? A rainstick? Sayblee thought, shutting off the annoying sounds with a flick of her mind. The stereo lights blinked and the room fell silent.
An unbuttoned white linen shirt lay on the floor by the hallway. As she stared at it, she heard a soft giggle float under the bedroom door and then a smooth, seductive laugh followed it, the sound that somehow reminded her of caramel.
Pig, she thought. No, that’s too harsh. Dog. Goat, maybe. No a goat is too cute. Skunk then. Or just pig.
Sayblee walked to the bookcase, picked up photo frames full of happy people she knew well, his brothers and sisters-in-law, his mother Zosime. She stared into their eyes, and soon, she felt the impressions of their warm feelings for him as she held the images in her hands. Funny guy, she heard, or really pulled into her mind as she moved her fingers over the photos. Why doesn’t he settle down? So handsome. All he needs is a good woman. If he wasn’t so adorable, I’d kill him. Can he ever be serious? What a charmer. Those eyes would do anyone in. That smile!
Sayblee’s shoulders dropped. She breathed in and took her hands away from his photos.
When she accepted this mission, she agreed to work with him, and work with Felix Valasay she would, even if it killed her. But it was hard to deal with someone who could live like this, who probably did a seduction scene like this every night of the week in this so-called post. Who could he possibly find here—in Hilo, Hawaii—that would lead any member of Les Croyant des Trois to Quain Dalzeil, the sorcier who was determined to destroy the Croyant way of life? The sorcier who had managed in recent years to affect all of Croyant life, creating fear, enchanting the best and brightest, leaving people to live in fear. Sure Felix managed to come to the aid of people needing him now and again. He’d been there with her just a year ago when a group of Croyant had fought Quain and Kallisto in the English countryside. But the Big Island? This house that smelled like tacky perfume and was filled with enough sexual energy to make the very floor vibrate?
Sayblee shook her head and turned toward the hallway. Why did Adalbert Baird, the Armiger of the Croyant Council, insist that Sayblee was the only sorcière who could go on this mission? So what that she had her particular skill of being able to burn anything she wanted: steel, concrete, quartz, titanium. But from what Adalbert said, there would be no magic for a while as they blended in with the Moyenne, setting up the trap so slowly and ordinarily they would attract no attention from Quain or his followers. Her special powers weren’t needed at all, or at least until the very end of the mission. So why did she have to end up with this particular sorcier?
Another annoying giggle and then a lazy laugh slipped into the living room. The very air seemed to pulse with gardenias and hyacinth and rum. This was horrible! Intolerable. How was she supposed to interrupt that? She sat down on a beautifully carved wooden chair and sighed, staring at the rows and rows of hardback books, most of them probably uncracked since Felix graduated from the Bampton Academy. What to do? She’d never known how to engage Felix, to move smoothly into conversation with him. Since their days together at Bampton, she’d steered clear of him, even though Sayblee was very fond of his older brothers Sariel and Rufus, boys who turned into solid, reliable men. Married men. Committed men. Men!
But there was something about Felix that was just plain dangerous, and Sayblee had recognized that when she was twelve. She’d turned a corner one afternoon after a long class on levitation, and there stood Felix, smiling at her with that smooth, slightly crooked smile, his almost green eyes full of a fire so unique, Sayblee herself didn’t have a clue how to kindle it. Even back then, his black hair was long, held back for classes with a leather string, strands always coming loose and falling in front of his face. Hair she’d wanted to touch, push away, tuck back into place.
She’d barely managed to hold onto her textbooks and keep walking, ignoring his taunt of, “Baby, can I light your fire?”
Now sixteen years later, Felix still had the ability to disarm her. The last time they’d been together had been at Adalbert’s house at Rabley Heath, and she’d left one morning early to avoid an awkward goodbye. Her awkwardness. She hadn’t wanted to see him smirk, listen to him tease her about her school pranks, rattle on about how she used to set the cafeteria cook’s hats on fire when meatloaf was on the menu. She hadn’t wanted to look into his lovely eyes and see, well, so much satisfaction.
And this situation here? Well, it wasn’t going to be easy to pull Felix away from Hilo and his little lifestyle. But Sayblee had no choice. What had Adalbert said to her just before she left? He’d stared at her with his kind eyes, his hand running through his long gray beard as he spoke.
“We have the chance, finally, to end this troublesome situation with Quain once and for all,” he said. “I think you’d do just about anything to make that happen, Sayblee. Am I not right?” He’d looked at her from where he sat in his deeply upholstered armchair. A fire crackled in the hearth. His dog Hungarian Kuvasz Zeno dozed at his feet, the dog’s breaths full of quick rabbit dreams. And Sayblee could see the image of her brother Rasheed flicker in Adalbert’s mind. The Armiger was right. As always.
More than anything, Sayblee wanted to find Quain. They’d been so close to catching him last year. For a moment, he’d been right in front of her in the cavernous room of the Fortress Kendall as she fought with Felix and the rest, but, like always, he’d gotten away. Oh, how she’d wanted to push her fire at him, subdue him, flatten him to the floor. Sayblee wanted to lean over him and demand he tell her what happened to Rasheed. She wanted the impossible, to have Quain croak out a “Your brother’s still alive.” She wanted Quain to tell her that Rasheed hadn’t left on his own free will, that he’d been enchanted, charmed, drugged, coerced. She wanted to strangle out of him the truth that Rasheed was good, that he’d never turned his back on Croyant life or his family. She wanted to have the perfect answer to give to her mother Roya so that she would burst into life again and forgive Sayblee from not saving Rasheed in the first place. She needed to obtain all the information she could from Quain and then . . . and then. . . .
Sayblee closed her eyes and sat back hard against the wooden chair, trying to ignore the further giggles that floated toward her. No. She wasn’t just doing this for Rasheed and for her mother, who had never recovered from Rasheed’s betrayal of all that the Safipour family believed in and his alliance with Quain. Sayblee was on the mission for all Croyant, and what she had to do was get Felix Valasay out of his bedroom, preferably dressed, hopefully alone, and she couldn’t sit here one moment longer.
She stood up and in her mind she moved down the hallway, into the bedroom, and heard the noise of two people moving together—their bodies warm, their minds full of anticipation—could hear Felix whisper into the woman’s ear, “You smell so good. I just can’t breathe in enough of you.”
Sayblee opened her mind and shot out a thought. Yeah, she smells like your house. In about a minute, I myself will be smelling like a cheap drink from Chevy’s.
She heard his intake of air, his body moving away slightly from the woman’s. Sayblee?
Yeah, it’s me. I’m in your living room. I managed to figure out you had a special guest when I was in the air. You and I need to talk. It’s Council business.
Right now? Couldn’t you go hit the bars for a couple of hours and come back later? Maybe take a nice long night walk on the beach?
Sayblee checked her irritation, biting her lip before thinking tersely, Adalbert sent me.
She waited for a reply, but there was no thought, no sound but the rustle of bedclothes and then the soft murmur of the woman asking a question. Felix’s low voice rumbled an answer. More rustling. Then there was silence. Sayblee sighed and turned her mind away from Felix and what was going on in the bedroom and sat down on the couch. She tried to get comfortable, crossing her legs, uncrossing them, smoothing the sleeves of her blouse, the fabric of her skirt on her thighs. She pushed her hair away from her face and then pulled it forward, finally sighing and tying it back with a band she pulled from her pocket.
She looked toward the bedroom door, leaned forward, sat back. Then she stood up, realizing she didn’t want to be lower than Felix when he came into the room, giving him the advantage of looking down at her. She walked to the window, stared out at the ocean that was flat and strangely calm, the moon a pan of white on its surface.
“Could you have knocked?” Felix said, walking into the room shirtless and barely wearing the Levi’s he was slowly buttoning up. “I could have arranged a later date with the fair maiden Roxanne. You know I always say business and then pleasure.” He paused as he spotted the shirt on the floor, bent down, and picked it up with a crooked finger, smiling to himself.
Sayblee swallowed, breathed in, kept her mind closed tight because God! she couldn’t let him know how she was seeing him at this very moment in the living room’s soft light. Impossibly, he looked even better than he had the year before, his tall, lean body golden tan from all his important Croyant visits to the beach and the pool and hot tub. He must also have crucial Moyenne contacts at the gym, his shoulders, arms, and abs tight and firm, each muscle clear under the tight gold of his skin. Clearly, he worked out for hours every day. His black hair was lit gold at the ends by days on Hawaiian waves and fell down his back like a silk curtain. His smiled, watching her with his almost-green eyes, his expression full of good-humor, even though she’d interrupted him in his pleasure. She swallowed and lifted her chin, her mind clamped so tight she knew she’d have a throbbing migraine by morning.
“Adalbert wanted me to come right away. I . . . We didn’t have a chance to contact you. But, uh, where is your, um, friend?”
Felix finished buttoning his jeans and walked into the kitchen, opening the fridge. “I just took her home, erased this date from her mind, and made sure she’d have a long, lovely night’s sleep. And she’ll awaken fresh and lively, remembering this great dream of me, the wonderful man she met at the gym the day before. But dammit, Sayblee, I’ll still have to start all over next time.”
“Oh, poor, poor baby,” Sayblee said. “I’m sure it will be torturous work. All that sweet talk and those longing glances. But your date with her will have to wait.”
Felix shrugged and took out a can of pineapple juice from the fridge, setting it on the counter. He opened a cupboard and took down a can of cream of coconut and a bottle of Cruzan rum.
“What are you doing? You can’t be making a drink!” Sayblee said, putting her hands on her hips. “I have some pretty important—I have some Council work . . . There’s stuff I have to talk to you about.”
“Now, now,” Felix said, holding out his hands for a second in a mock defensive pose. “Don’t set fire to my blender. I know how you suddenly lose it, lighting fire to whatnot unexpectedly.”
He put down his hands, opened the lid of the cream with a can opener, and spooned a bit into the blender. Despite herself, Sayblee found herself staring at his hands, strong and tan, the fingers long and slim.
“Scorched coladas are not my specialty,” he said.
“What?” she asked, looking up.
“Fire. Losing it.” Felix glanced at her as he worked, smiling again. “You’re already scaring me.”
“Knock it off. I am not going to lose it,” she said, knowing that maybe she was. She could feel it in her palms, the slight itch in the middle of her hand that always warned her to breathe, to close her eyes, to count to ten. Sometimes, though, she didn’t pay attention. “Can’t you just, well, whip it together without the blender?”
“Some things without magic are just better,” he said, splashing rum, pineapple juice, and ice into the blender and putting on the lid.
“I take it that doesn’t include dating. You must need your magic—“ Sayblee began but then Felix flipped on the blender, and she stopped talking. What an ass! she thought, her palms burning.
I heard that, he thought. Anger opens your mind like massage oil.
Sayblee clasped her hands tight and sat down on the couch, her face flaming, and watched him finish making the drinks. He turned off the blender and took down two glasses from the cupboard and filled them to the top.
“Let’s go and sit in the lanai. If business is going to ruin my pleasure, the least we can do is be comfortable.”
Sayblee stood stiffly and followed him outside. Felix didn’t turn on the outside lights, but the moon spun bright silver through the palm fronds, ferns, and vines. A gecko scuttled up the mesh that enclosed the lanai, and towards the shore, a seabird called out, swooping in front of the moon’s face. She could hear the lap of the waves, the rhythmic motion of the water against the shore, the lull for a second relaxing her.
Even at night, this was paradise, Sayblee thought, and she could see why Felix stayed here. This was the perfect place for him, with his tan, beautiful body—she shook her head and closed her eyes, checking again the clamp on her thoughts.
Felix sat down at a wooden table, and Sayblee took a seat as well, feeling how boring and plain she seemed with her boring white blouse and blue skirt. Besides her lovely pink bra, what had the wild Roxanne been wearing before she hadn’t been wearing anything at all? Something wild and flowery and full of flounces and lace? She could see the kind of woman Felix would like to be with, tan and thin and wrapped in sterling silver, her long dark hair hanging in loose ringlets, her dark eyes full of excitement. Did she wear red lipstick? Black eyeliner? Blue eye shadow?
In the years before Rasheed left them, in the time before Roya blamed Sayblee for all the emptiness surrounding them, Roya pleaded with Sayblee to try some girly things, holding out bangles and hair combs and earrings. She swooped up armloads of makeup from Harvey Nichols and Harrods, imploring Sayblee to try just a bit of blusher. She bought dresses from Madame Berton Granie’s shop Voila on the Rue Moufftard in Paris, walking into Sayblee’s room with bundles of linen and silk and satin.
She would put the dresses and skirts on the bed and sit down, crossing her legs and telling her story, the one that Sayblee had heard since she could remember.
“You have always been your father’s child,” Roya would say. “You are thoughtful, and yet, you can, as we know, explode. Like Hanif. There is passion inside you, and I wish your father was with us now, to see how you have learned to hold in your fire until it is needed. To see how smart you are. If only he had lived, he would be so happy to see what a beautiful woman you are becoming. But my lovely Sayblee, you must use what you have on the outside as you have learned to use your passion. Look at you. Look at your skin! So pink! So beautiful,” Roya had said, standing up and walking behind Sayblee. Together they looked into the dresser mirror. “And your hair!”
Roya stroked Sayblee’s hair, running her palm down the long smooth sheen. “Hair from your father’s side of the family. From his mother, who was an amazing sorcière, who fought with Adalbert Baird himself at the battle at Jacob’s Well. She had the fire like you do, my sweet, wild plum. No one has had hair like that in my family for years. Decades. Maybe a hundred years or more. Gold! And your eyes! So blue! You must try on the blue dress. A complete match. Or what about the yellow? Or the pink? At least a scarf. Lotifān, Alunj!”
Please, Wild Plum, Sayblee thought. How long had it been since her mother had called her anything, especially called her anything in the family language, Farsi? How long had it been since she’d bought anything for Sayblee, traveling through matter from London to Paris just to pick out dresses for her daughter? After Rasheed left them, her mother had collapsed into herself, becoming pale and small, not wanting to engage in life, her hair turning as white as her thoughts. No longer did Roya use the charme du beauté to keep her chestnut hair deep and rich in hue or her skin soft and supple and unlined. She hadn’t been herself or even half of herself. Not since Rasheed swirled away from them in an instant of upset, too quick for Sayblee to catch him, to stop him with her fire.
Sayblee sat still, no longer looking at Felix, the drinks, the gecko, the silver light that moved on the stone pavers like a soft hand. No longer—for a moment—caring about the mission or Quain.
“Sayblee,” Felix said quietly, and then she felt his mind pull away from hers. “Have a drink. They are my specialty. And we’ll talk about the mission. You know I’d never turn Adalbert down. Not after what he’s done for Rufus. For Sariel. For my entire family.”
She breathed in, blinked away her upset and put her hand around the cold drink. Felix must have used some magic because before she’d even taken one sip, she felt better, lighter, her memories of her mother and Rasheed disappearing like smoke, her chest feeling full of air instead of regret.
“Thank you. A very clear Charme d’ équilibre,” Sayblee sighed, sipping down a smooth cold taste of pina colada, the pineapple piquant on her tongue.
“You always were a good student,” Felix said. “Every time I saw you, you had your nose in a book. Reading history and whatever. Reading everything We all used to think you actually slept in the library so you’d always have something to read before bed..”
“I was just trying to get good grades.”
Felix put his drink down. “I don’t think you had to try. Plain smart. I was always desperate to get your notes. I knew just one page alone would do the trick. As good as magic.”
“As good as cheating,” Sayblee said, smiling, wishing that a ridiculous sense of happiness wasn’t washing through her as he spoke. And it wasn’t his damn charme. How was she supposed to work with him for weeks if her body kept jumping ahead of her brain? How could she concentrate on the mission if her skin rose in gooseflesh each time he moved, each time he exposed a wonderful slice of chest, each time a strand of hair fell in front of his face? She took another sip of pina colada, making sure from this point on to keep her thoughts away from his, her body under control.
“So what is it? I haven’t heard anything from Sariel or Rufus, not that I hear anything from those two and their respective Brady Bunches except for reports on babies and pregnancy stages. I’ve been keeping radio silence for months.”
Sayblee nodded. “Miranda is huge. Her healer—“
“Her healer? Isn’t Sariel taking care of her?”
“No, she fired him when she was in her third month. He kept trying to keep her from traveling through matter, even though her pregnancy has been fine the whole time. He’s a little . . . .” Sayblee shrugged, knowing that Sariel was just a little wonderful, totally in love with Miranda and worried about his first child. Not even Rufus and Fabia who were expecting the first child as well could convince him to relax. Miranda complained that he was checking in with the baby constantly, using magic to communicate with the little creature from the moment it was possible.
“The baby is already going to need therapy by the time it’s born,” Miranda had said. “Talk about father issues! Freud would have a field day.”
Finally Miranda put her foot down, using her newly found magic to trap Sariel in the house one day so she could go visit Sayblee in London. When she returned, Sariel agreed to lighten up and relax, but Miranda confided, “I know he’s got his hands on my stomach when I’m asleep. What do you think he’s telling this baby? Maybe he’s feeding it algebraic algorithms. He’s probably already gotten the poor thing through grammar school. I tell you, I don’t know how any Croyant manages to grow up sane.”
Felix sipped his drink. “He’s a little nuts. So is Rufus. I tell you. I just hope all this reproduction isn’t contagious.”
Sayblee opened her mouth to say something, but Felix kept talking. “So you must have something hot off the press. What are we going to do? What was so important that you couldn’t wait until my date was over?”
Picking up her drink, Sayblee sipped and then thought of a comeback that Rasheed would have been proud of, something like, “I don’t think it would have lasted that long.” But she didn’t say a word, didn’t open her mind to let the thought free, laughing instead a tiny bit into her glass. Enough was enough. She had to be serious. They had to be serious because what they were going to be doing was truly serious. Adalbert had put an intense spell around Felix’s house before Sayblee had left that would allow no thought to enter or leave. What she was going to tell him next was that crucial to them all.
“We’re going to Paris,” she said, putting down her glass and sitting up straight.
“Oh, is there a big meeting? Usually they don’t invite me to those.”
“No. In fact, we won’t be going to any meetings there at all.”
Felix sat back, crossing a leg, his ankle resting on his knee. She tried to not notice his perfect quadricep, the solid roundness of his knee, the length of long shin under his Levis. She blinked and turned away, but not before noticing that even his feet looked good, tan, hairless, the toes perfectly shaped.
“So why go? Who’s there?” he asked.
“Quain is in Paris? Why would he hide there? Where there are so many Croyant?”
“Why would he have hidden in London last year? There are many of us there as well. The fact is that bad magic is easy to hide in a big city, a city full of Croyant.”
Felix unfolded his legs stretched out, and Sayblee watched his thighs flex under the denim. She shook her head slightly, knowing that she needed to get them both out of this house as soon as possible.
“Good point,” he said. “Fine. I hate cities, but we’re going to Paris. At least the food is good. So, is Adalbert ready to go after him again? Who is he assembling? I’m sure Sariel and Rufus—no, Sariel is probably sacrificing his all for the good of his unborn, king- or queen-child, the most perfect baby to ever be in utero. So who? Who else?”
“I don’t know yet. We won’t know until everyone is all assembled. For a couple of days, it’s just you and me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I just don’t know, Felix,” she said, feeling a bubble of exasperation pop in her chest. “I know the plan, but I don’t know who exactly will be involved. For all I know, we could be the only two Croyant ready to go right now.”
Felix shook his head and sat up, leaning his elbows on the table. His eyes were dark now, the moon a tiny square of light in each. And as she stared at him, she realized the moon shone also in each strand of his long loose hair. Help, she thought to no one. Help me please.
“You have got to be kidding me, Sayblee. You are I are going to go fight Quain by ourselves? This must be a joke. Did Rufus set you up to it? He is always trying to kick my ass in some way or another.”
Sayblee played with the water drops the glass had left on the table and managed to take a breath. “Rufus has nothing to do with this right now. And I’m serious, Felix. Quain’s slowly been building up his followers again. He’d lost most of them during his last siege, but he’s changed course. He’s become quite a salesperson. He’s going after people who don’t really have too much power or position. No one like Kallisto this time. No one like Cadeyrn Macara. Sort of your average Croyant, the sorciers and sorcières not involved in Council work, the types who live quietly, practice little magic, live mostly in the Moyenne world. He’s working toward building up a critical mass.”
Felix looked at her, his gaze steady and focused now, all the humor in the way the evening began gone from his expression. “So what do we have to do? Is there a new spell? A new way of deploying it?”
Sayblee shook her head and leaned forward, her elbows on the table. “No. In fact, there’s not going to be any magic at all.”
Felix blinked. “What?”
“That’s right. No magic. At least for a while. Adalbert and the Council decided that we were going to start a critical mass of our own. They’ve found the general spot where Quain is and where he’s been moving his new group. It’s around the 7th Arrondissement in the Rive Gauche, which is a pretty strange place to start a revolution. Sort of fashionable, upscale. A little conservative.”
“I get it. It’s smart. Hiding in plain sight. Moving in these average sort of folks. People who’ve been used to using magic, who can probably afford to live there, who look like they belong. They won’t be noticed. If he’d moved them to somewhere around Pigalle and all the junkies and the prost—well, you know what I mean.”
“Not really,” Sayblee said. “But, well, that’s where we are going.”
“Pigalle?” Felix asked, smiling and pretending to stand up. “Great. I’ll go pack my drug paraphernalia and neoprene suit. Please don’t let me forget my crack pipe.”
“No, not Pigalle. Don’t be a jerk. We’re going to the 7th in a little apartment on the Champs de Mars. And the Council is moving in other couples—“
“Couples?” Felix said. “What do you mean couples?”
Sayblee’s mind shut tight, her face again aflame in the darkness, and she forced herself to keep speaking. “The plan is to move in people to the neighborhood. Couples. Make us seem like we are just regular people who live and work in the area. Nothing special. And the Council is planting us all around the 7th in a way that no one will notice us. Why would Quain spend too much time wondering about Moyenne couples? We won’t be using our magic; we’ll keep our minds completely shut, our magic hidden. The Council will also keep protective spells cast on the area. But then, when the time is right, we will be there, in the exact place where we can take on Quain.”
Felix finished off his drink and put the glass down on the table. “And then what? We were all around him last time and he still escaped. I was really quite the performer in that scenario, dead to the world.” He shook his head. “How will this time be any different?”
“There is a new spell.”
“What is it?”
Sayblee shrugged. “Adalbert wouldn’t tell me. He told me that they would let us know when we needed to know. They don’t want us to have information that might be used against us in case--”
“In case this plan fails, too.”
For a moment, neither of them spoke. The gecko moved along the ceiling, its legs and body in a constant bending, twisting rhythm. The moon fell behind the house, the lanai all in darkness now. Sayblee felt time grow long, could hear Felix breathe, could feel him trying to work into her thoughts. She was relieved that when they were moved into their apartment on the Champs de Mars they would have no magic, no ability to look into each other’s thoughts. At least that way, she wouldn’t have to work so hard to keep her feelings about him hidden.
“So no magic. None? Not even to get anywhere?” Felix asked finally. “You mean I will have to take the Metro?”
“That’s right. No magic. None. We will be just like the Moyenne. Cooking, cleaning, taking the Metro and the buses, driving a car.”
“A car?” Felix said.
“Maybe. But for sure you’ll be washing dishes. And clothes. You’ll have to go shopping.
“Sounds like prison,” Felix said.
“Oh, but wait just a second,” Sayblee said. “Didn’t you just tell me in the kitchen that some things without magic are just better?”
“Funny,” Felix said, pushing away from the table and standing up. “Ha, ha. And I was lying. I’m going to get my things together. I’m going to go use a little magic while I still can.”
He stood over her, looking down. “Don’t tell me we have to fly there on what? Air France?”
She nodded. “We have a flight out of Hilo on Aloha Airlines in the morning. We go to Kona and then Oahu and then to San Francisco on Air France and then--”
He held out a palm, shaking his head. “Connecting flights? How many hours is that going to take? How am I going to sit still for that long?”
“And then JFK and then Charles DeGaulle. It was the best reservation I could make. I guess if you want to fly straight through, you have to call a long time in advance. I don’t really understand why. Anyway, we arrive like the average person on French soil using our best French accents.”
Felix put down his arm and smiled. “Finally. I knew that Madame Lakritz’s French lessons would finally pay off.”
“It better. She kept you after class enough times,” Sayblee said, and when Felix laughed, his head flung back, his hair a fan behind him, she suddenly understood why Madame Lakritz’s door was always closed and locked on Thursday afternoons. Once when Sayblee knocked a few times, Madame Lakritz opened the door, her glasses slightly askew, her hair a gold fuzzy mess. Peeking into the classroom, Sayblee saw Felix sitting on Madame Lakritz’s desk, smiling, and when she tried to work her way into either of their minds, she found nothing. But she should have known. She didn’t need magic to know, even then, Felix was a . . . an . . . . she didn’t know which word to pick. Lothario, cad, Casanova, creep. Maybe she should just go back to animal terms. Pig seemed to work just fine. She shook her head.
“God, Felix! Did you ever have a limit?”
“Not that I could see,” he said. “Okay. I better go pack all my knives so that I’ll have options when I finally decide enough is enough. When the diesel from the buses finally pushes me over the edge, I’ll be ready to end it all.”
Felix took their empty drink glasses and walked into the house, her eyes on that cute, yes, so cute rear end. She sighed, watching him walk away, and then turned back, looking up to the ceiling for a moment, searching for the lizard. But the gecko was gone.
She smoothed her skirt again and then crossed her arms, wishing for stillness. Her body was tingling, and it wasn’t from the rum in Felix’s very tasty concoction. Her palms itched, and it wasn’t that she needed to burn something to a crisp. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. This was a mission, she knew that. And she shouldn’t be so excited about it. She should be nervous. Even afraid. It would be dangerous and hard, and without magic, anything could happen. But her body still tingled, and she breathed coconut and pineapple, heard Felix moving about in the house, and smiled.
His ass felt like—felt like—well, Felix didn’t know what his ass felt like because he couldn’t feel his ass. He shifted uncomfortably in 28B, his economy seat on the Air France 767, and tried to look out the window, but along with the innumerable plane changes and airport delays, Sayblee’s flight plans had landed him in a seat where he was not only next to a very long-legged, tall, sleeping teenager from Belgium but the window looked out over a huge expanse of steel wing. He turned the other way again, bumping into Sayblee’s small shoulder.
“Will you stop fidgeting?” she said, speaking in a quiet, perfect French, her accent just north of Paris. She put down her gigantic book, some enormous tome about Thomas Jefferson. “It’s not going to make time go any faster.”
“Look, I could make time go faster,” he said, replying in the exact center of Paris French Madame Lakritz had taught him in their many sweaty after school tutoring sessions. “Just let me do a little magic. One second. I’ll have us in the limo taking us to our apartment.”
Felix hadn’t been without his magic for this long ever, and it reminded him of the time he found his birthday presents under his mother Zosime’s bed three days before the celebration. He ached to have the comic books, knew that he could materialize them in a second and then sneak them back under her bed without her noticing. But it would hurt her feelings if she found out he’d ruined the surprise. So instead, he’d twitched his way through the three days until he could open the present and finally have the comics to himself.
But this twitching? It might last for months. Everything he wanted—a long shower, a king-sized bed, a pina colada, another date with the tasty Roxanne from the gym—was just outside his grasp, and he couldn’t have it.
“We’re not taking a limo. We’re taking the RER from the airport to the Metro. There’s a stop just at the corner of Avenue Bosquet and Motte Picquet.”
“Oh, please Sayblee, just kill me now. Give me my knives this moment. Before they serve the flipping breakfast. I can’t handle one more cheese log or another tiny stale French bread torpedo. And please, no more damn yogurt.” Felix rubbed his face, wondering how it was possible to take four pieces of luggage and two carry-ons onto a train. That seemed more magical than speeding up time.
“Don’t you ever do anything the normal way? They told us in school to use magic only when we had to, not for everything. We do have to live in this world. The Moyenne world. We can’t always be casting spells.”
“Sure. I put my clothes in the washer sometimes. And . . . well, yes, sometimes I do things the normal way.”
“Things,” Felix said, wishing he had a list. He wanted to say shopping, but even then he realized that if he did shop in a conventional sense, he did it on line. And wasn’t that magic in and of itself? Didn’t that technology come from Croyant minds, after all? “Lots of stuff, okay. It’s just that I don’t travel like this. Why would I? And I certainly don’t keep myself from making magic for longer than . . . oh, I don’t know.”
Sayblee looked at him, her blue eyes steady. She looked so composed, her hair neat and smooth, her blouse and skirt unwrinkled even after the twenty hours that had elapsed since they had taken off from Hilo. For a second, he wanted to listen to her thoughts, to see how horrible he actually seemed at this moment, a total whiner, and a pain in her probably numb ass, too. She had always been a straight arrow (except for her little flares of fire temper-tantrums), the smart one in their class at Bampton, the one that he’d always known he couldn’t impress, couldn’t win over with a smile or a compliment or twelve. The one he’d tried to please with tricks and teases and charmes, but to no use for years and years. And here she was, sitting placidly beside him, barely tolerating his small rant.
“I told you to take a sleeping pill,” Sayblee said. “I was able to get some just for this reason.”
“Moyenne medicine is poison,” he said. “Sariel always told me—“
“Well, Sariel isn’t here annoying everyone. In fact, I bet he’d push the pill down your throat himself.”
Felix smiled, breathed in. Sariel would probably cram the pill down his throat, wanting to keep Felix out of the way, out of trouble. And in a way, Felix knew that’s what he always felt like in some way, the little brother being pushed aside so that his older brothers could do what was needed and useful. So this mission, this thing that he and Sayblee were doing was important. Sariel and Rufus weren’t going on the mission. He was, and he had to follow the rules because so much was at stake. The Croyant world, the magical world they all had so long worked to protect, was still at risk, and Felix had a chance to save it. He had to behave, even if it meant never feeling his legs again.
“Fine,” he said. “Let me out of this damn seat. I’ll go talk to that flight attendant. The one with her hair pulled back.”
“All of them have their hair pulled back. Except Jeremy, of course. But I don’t think you are going to talk with him.”
“Okay, smarty. The one with her hair pulled back and the big—“
“I know, I know. Go.” Sayblee unbuckled her belt and stood up, letting Felix move out of the row and into the aisle. “Just try to not cause trouble. We’re only two hours out of Paris. And remember, you’re a “married” man, now.”
“A married French man,” he said, stepping on one foot and then the other, trying to get some blood flow going. “And you know what that means. You know about that lovely double standard. I’ve always thought it was a practice the entire world should adopt.”
“Felix,” she said, and behind her calm expression, he saw something, some feeling in her eyes and mouth, but then she seemed to catch herself and the feeling disappeared.
“All right, all right,” he said, wondering how long this mission would go on. How long he would go without a little womanly contact. But more importantly, he wondered how long it would be before he could feel his lower extremities. “I’ll behave. I’ll ask her for a Perrier or about the weather in Paris.”
“Good,” Sayblee said, all business now. “And don’t be long. They’re getting ready to serve breakfast. And I know how you love cheese logs.”