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Spellbinder (Chapter 7)

I've been looking everywhere for you," Blaise said. "I had to call Mrs. Ross to find out you were here."

Her black hair was wild and windblown, tumbling over her shoulders. She had taken off her red bow tie and unbuttoned the top button of her dress shirt. There was color in her cheeks and dark light in her gray eyes. She looked extremely beautiful and very, very witchy.

Thea and Eric had moved apart and Thea had the feeling they were both blushing.

"We were just…" Eric said. "Um. Heh." While Blaise scrutinized him, he picked up the blue blanket and started refolding it. "Uh, can I show you around?"

"I don't care much for animals unless they've been shish-kebabed." Blaise surveyed the room with one hand on her hip.

Oh, she's in a terrific mood.

Thea's palms were getting damp. She wasn't sure what Blaise thought of the embrace she'd walked in on… but Thea was supposed to be leading Eric on, wasn't she?

Her eye fell on the Kleenex daubed with Eric's blood. Unobtrusively, she reached for it and crumpled it in her hand.

"So you left the dance," she said to Blaise. "Where's…" Who'd actually been Blaise's date tonight? Sergio? Kevin? Someone else?

"There is no dance," Blaise said. "They shut it down. Leave it to Randy-he was always a royal pain." Then her face changed; she blinked and put on a sweet smile. "And who are you, darling?"

In the doorway to the corridor, Rosamund backed up, Madame Curie clutched to her chest. She didn't say a word, but her hostile green eyes never left Blaise.

"Uh, sorry," Eric said. "That's my sister. She's- shy."

"So this is a family affair," Blaise said. "How nice."

Thea said, "I think it's time to be going home." She needed to talk to Eric, but alone, not with a disgruntled munchkin and a suspicious witch looking on.

She glanced at Eric, feeling a little shy herself. He looked the same.

"Well-see you at school."

"Yeah." Suddenly he smiled. "You know, that's something else I was going to mention. If you're even thinking about going to Davis, you might want to get into honors zoology. It's a good class."

"Um-we'll see." She was aware of Blaise watching her.

But outside, all Blaise said was, "Sorry if I was rude. But I've been looking all over for you, so I could tell you what a great time I wasn't having. And"-she shook her midnight hair out with a charming smile;-"it's so much fun to be a bitch when you want to be."

Thea sighed, then stopped in her tracks. "Blaise, the car!"

Kevin's silver-gray Porsche looked as if it had been through a war. The front bumper was caved in, the passenger door was mangled, and the windshield was cracked.

"I had a little trouble," Blaise said coolly. "It's all right, though; I met a guy tonight named Luke Price, who's got a Maserati." She looked at Thea, then added, "You don't disapprove, do you? Of treating humans that way?"

"No-of course not. I just don't want to get expelled again."

"It's not illegal to have an accident. Here, you have to get in through the driver's side now."

She drove, not seeming to choose any particular direction. Thea sat quietly, acutely aware of the probing glances cast her way every so often.

"So," Blaise said at last in her silkiest voice, "did you get it?"

"What?"

"Don't be funny."

Thea held out her hand with the crumpled Kleenex on her palm. "I didn't fill the vial; that was ridiculous. But I used my ingenuity and got enough."

"Hmm." Blaise's tapering fingers, tipped with blood-red nails, dosed delicately on the tissue. Startled, Thea snatched it back and the Kleenex tore. She ended up with only a corner.

"Hey-"

"What's the problem? I just want it for safekeeping," Blaise said smoothly. "And so how did everything else go?"

"Fine," Thea said. Her palms were getting damp, but she managed to keep her voice airy. "I think he's hooked," she added, trying to imitate Blaise's most languid and arrogant tones.

"Oh, really?" They had ended up on the strip, which meant the car was now crawling through traffic. Neon highlighted the curious half-smile on Blaise's lips. "And what was that about Davis?"

"Nothing. It's where he's going to college, so of course he'd like me to be with him."

"He's already thinking about the future. Well, that was fast work. Congratulations."

Thea didn't like the way she said it. More than ever, she wanted to protect Eric from Blaise-but she wasn't sure how. It depended on how much Blaise suspected.

"You know, I think it's the pop that's the most fun," Blaise went on reminiscently. "Human boys are all different-but in the end, they're all the same. And when they give in completely, you can almost hear it. There's a 'pop.' Like a balloon breaking."

Thea swallowed, staring at the huge golden lion in front of the MGM Grand Hotel. Its green eyes reminded her of Eric. "Really? Sounds interesting."

"Oh, it is. And after the pop, they just kind of collapse, and everything they are, their whole self, just sort of pours out in this internal hemorrhage. And after that, of course, they're useless. Like a stag that's too old to mate. They're just-over."

"How nice."

"You know, I think Eric's ready for that pop. He's already in love with you; I could see that. I think it's time."

Thea just sat. A vampire girl, wearing a dress with a black rose design, threaded her way through stopped traffic. Finally, Thea said, "Blaise…"

"What, is that a problem with you? Are you having difficulty with that? Are you a little soft on him, maybe? Are you a little too fond of him?" "Blaise-"

"Are you in love with him?" Shock waves went through Thea, and the last question seemed to vibrate in the air. At last she whispered, "Don't be ridiculous." "And don't you try to fool me. Remember who you're talking to. I know that dopey look you get when you're mooning over some animal. I saw the way you were holding him."

Thea felt desperate. It wasn't just Blaise she was afraid of here. Night World law couldn't be clearer about the penalty for loving a human. Death. Not only for her, but for Eric, too.

There was only one thing Thea could do. She turned and looked at her cousin directly.

"All right, Blaise, you do know me. We've always been like sisters, and I know that however you act sometimes, you still love me-"

"Of course I do," Blaise said impatiently, and Thea realized that was part of the problem. In the changing light of the Bally hotel's neon pillars, she could see that Blaise's eyes were wet. She was frightened for Thea-and angry at being frightened.

Thea grabbed her cousin's hand. "Then you have to listen to me." It was a naked plea. "Blaise-when I first met Eric, something happened. I can't explain it-I can't even really describe it. But there was a connection. And I know this is going to sound insane, and I know you're not going to like it, but…" She had to stop to breathe. "Blaise, what if you found your soulmate, and they were something that everybody said you shouldn't love…."

She stopped again, this time because Blaise had frozen. For a moment they both just sat, and then, very slowly, Blaise withdrew her hand from Thea's.

"Found… your… soulmate?" she said.

Warmth pooled in Thea's eyes. She had never felt so alone. "I think so," she whispered.

Blaise turned to face the windshield. Purple light shone on her black hair. "This is more serious than I thought."

The tears overflowed. "But will you help me?"

Blaise tapped her slender fingers on the steering wheel a few times. Finally she said, "Of course I'll

help you. I have to. We're like sisters-I would never abandon you when you're in trouble."

Thea was so relieved she felt dizzy. Paradoxically, it made her cry more. "I've just been so scared…. Ever since it happened, I've been trying to figure things out." She hiccupped. Blaise was looking at her again, smiling, gray eyes glittering oddly. "Blaise?" "I'm going to help you," Blaise said, still smiling, "by getting him myself. And then I'm going to kill him for putting my sister in danger."

There was a moment when everything inside Thea seemed absolutely still-and the next instant it all exploded into chaos.

"Never," she said. "Do you hear me, sister? Never."

Blaise stayed calm, driving. "I know you don't think it's best-now. But one day you'll thank me."

"Blaise, listen to me. If you do anything to him-if

you hurt him-it's me you're hurting."

"You'll get over it." In the rainbow light of the Riviera, Blaise looked like some ancient goddess of fate. "It's better to hurt a little now than to be executed later."

Thea was so angry she was shaking. So angry that she made a mistake. If she'd kept on arguing the same points, she thought later, Blaise might eventually have started to listen. But she was furious and terrified and she blurted out, "Well, I don't think you can do it. I don't think you could take him from me if you tried."

Blaise stared, as if caught for once at a loss for words. Then she threw back her head and laughed.

"Thea," she said. "I can take any boy from anybody.

Any time, any place, any way I want to. That's what I do."

"Not this time. Eric loves me, and you can't change that. You can't take him."

Blaise was wearing a secret smile. But she said only two words as she turned off the strip and onto darkened streets again.

"Watch me."

Thea didn't sleep well. She kept seeing Randy Marik's face, and when she dreamed, it turned into Eric's face, blood-streaked and vacant-eyed.

She woke up to see sunshine streaming in the room.

It was a bedroom with a split personality. One side was fairly neat and decorated in pale blues and spring greens. The other side was messy and was decorated in the color, the primal color, the one that roused emotions, that meant passion and hatred both. Red.

And usually Blaise was lying on that side underneath her red velvet Ralph Lauren bedspread, but this morning she was gone already. A bad omen. Blaise only got up early for a reason.

Thea got dressed and went downstairs warily.

The shop was empty except for Tobias sitting gloomily in his usual place beside the cash register. He grunted when Thea said hello and went on staring at the wall, one hand clutching his curly brown hair. Wishing, undoubtedly, to be outside on the weekend like other nineteen-year-old guys.

Thea went into the workshop.

Blaise was sitting at the long table, wearing earphones and humming to herself.  A project was spread in front of her. Thea stalked up close.

She could see right away that it was beautiful. Blaise was a genius at creating jewelry, most of it based on ancient designs. She made necklaces of bees and butterflies, spiraling flowers, serpents, leaping dolphins. It was all alive, all joyous… all magical. That was where the real genius came in. Blaise put each element of the piece together with a purpose in mind. The gems were chosen to enhance each other: ruby for desire, black opal for obsession, topaz for yearning, garnet for heat. And asteria, the smoke-gray form of sapphire with a six-pointed star. Blaise's stone, just the color of her eyes.

Blaise had them all laid out loose. But her magic wasn't just in the gems. Interwoven into every piece were herb caches, tiny compartments that could be filled with potions or powders. She could literally drench the jewelry in sorcery.

Even the design itself could be a spell. Every line, every curve, every flower stem could have a meaning, could make the eye follow a pattern that was as powerful as any symbol traced on the floor in chalk. Just looking at the piece could be enough to charm you.

Right now Blaise was working on a necklace to knock you dead.

Thea could see it taking shape. Blaise used the lost wax method of jewelry-making, which meant that she carved out her pieces in stiff blue wax before casting them in silver or copper or gold. What she was carving now was breathtaking. Heart-stopping. An intricate masterpiece that was going to have roughly the same effect as Aphrodite's magic girdle- which meant no male was going to be able to look at it without falling under the spell.

And she had some of Eric's blood. The vital ingredient that meant she'd be able to personalize this spell for him.

The one good thing was that it would take Blaise a few days to finish this piece. But once it was done….

Eric didn't have a chance in Hades.

Thea backed up, not knowing-and not caring- whether Blaise had noticed her. She headed blindly for her bedroom.

She and Eric were soulmates. But Blaise was, in some ways, Aphrodite herself. And who could resist that?

What am I going to do?

She had a little of Eric's blood herself on the corner of the tissue. But she could never outmatch Blaise in creating love spells. Blaise had years of experience and a natural talent that left everyone else in the dust.

So I have to think of something else. Something to keep her from getting to him in the first place. To protect him…

Thea straightened up.

I can't. It's too dangerous. The summoning spells aren't for maidens. Even the Inner Circle has to be careful with those.

But Grandma has the materials. I know she does. I've seen the box.

It may kill me even to try.

An odd serenity came over her. If she concentrated on that-on the risk-she felt better than if she thought about what Gran would say if she found out. She wasn't afraid to face danger for Eric. And as long as she kept thinking about that, she could block out the thought that her idea was not only dangerous, but wrong.

This time she went down the stairs almost as if she were sleepwalking. Calm and detached. "Toby, where's Gran?"

He lifted his head a bare inch. "She went to see Thierry Descouedres, something about his land. Told me to come and pick her up tonight."

Thierry was a vampire and a Night Lord. He owned a lot of the land northeast of Las Vegas-but what did Gran have to do with that?

It didn't matter. The important thing was that Gran wouldn't be back all day.

"Well, then, why don't you go out and have some fun? I can watch the shop."

Tobias looked at her with dazed blue eyes-and then his round face lit up. "Seriously? You'd do that? I could kiss you. Let's see, I'll go visit Kishi… no, maybe Zoe… no, maybe Sheena…."

Like all boy witches, he was in tremendous demand with the girl witches in town.

Still muttering, he checked his wallet, grabbed the car keys, and headed for the door as if Thea might change her mind any second. "I'll be back in time to

pick her up, I promise," he said hastily and was out the door.

The instant he was gone, Thea turned the sign on the door to closed, locked up, and tiptoed to the counter.

It was in the locked lower shelf, an iron chest that looked five hundred years old. Thea picked it up with an effort-it was heavy. With her teeth gritted and her eyes on the bead curtain that separated the store from Grandma's workshop, she staggered up the stairs.

She made two other trips downstairs to gather materials. The bead curtain never stirred.

Last, she went to Gran's bedroom. On a nail near the headboard was a heavy ring with dozens of keys. Thea took it. Back in her own bedroom she shut the door and stuffed a towel underneath so Blaise wouldn't smell the smoke.

Okay, now let's get this thing open.

She sat crosslegged on the floor in front of the chest. It wasn't hard to find the key that would fit the lock-she just looked for the oldest and crudest iron key on the ring. It fit perfectly and the chest opened.

Inside was a bronze box, and inside that a silver box.

And inside the silver box was an ancient book with yellowing, brittle pages, and a small green bottle with wax and ribbons securing its cork. There were also thirty or forty amulets. Thea picked one up and examined it.

A lock of blond hair had been twisted and woven

into a knot, and then sealed in that shape with a round piece of clay. The clay was dark earthy red, and Thea touched it reverently. It had been made with mud-and the blood of a witch. An entire Circle had probably worked on this for weeks: charging the blood, chanting, mixing it with secret ingredients, baking it in a ritual fire.

I'm touching a witch, Thea thought. The very essence of somebody who's been dead hundreds of years. The cabalistic sign stamped on the front of the amulet was supposed to show who the witch was. But lots of the pieces of clay were so worn that Thea couldn't make out any trace of a symbol.

Don't worry. Find a description of somebody in the book, and then match the amulet to them.

She turned the fragile pages of the book carefully, trying to read the spidery, faded writing.

Ix U Sihnal. Annie Butter, Markus Klingelsmith . .. no, they all sound too dangerous, hudo Cagliostro- maybe. But I don't really want an alchemist. Dm Ratih, Omiya Inoshishi… wait a minute. Phoebe Garner.

She scanned the page on Phoebe eagerly. A gentle girl from England who had lived before the Burning Times and had kept familiars. She'd died young of tuberculosis, but had been considered a blessing by everyone who'd known her-even humans, who appreciated her ability to deflect spells from her village. Human villagers had mourned at her grave.

Perfect, Thea thought.

Then, she began scrabbling through the amulets, looking for one with the same symbol impressed on the clay as the book showed by Phoebe's name.

There it was! She cradled the amulet in ?her palm. Phoebe's hair had been auburn and very fine.

Okay. Now get the balefire ready.

It had to be made from oak and ash, the two kinds of wood that had been burned to bake the clay. Thea put the dry sticks in her grandmother's largest bronze bowl and lit them.

Now add quassia chips, blessed thistle, mandrake root. Those were just for general power raising. The real magic was in the tiny bottle that had been carved out of a single piece of malachite. It was the summoning potion, and Thea had no idea at all what was in it.

She dug at the wax with her fingernails until the cork twisted freely. Then she paused, her hands shaking with every beat of her pulse.

Up until now, she'd only examined things she shouldn't: bad but forgivable. New she was going to kindle a forbidden fire… and that wasn 't forgivable. If the elders discovered what she'd done…

She pulled the cork out.

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