I stared at him. "Your dad . . . ?"
"Oh no." Raphael shook his head. "No, he didn't glue the cat to the ceiling - that would be cruel. But she had this wire-cage cat carrier, and he glued that to the ceiling and stuffed the cat into it."
I saw where it was going, but it was too good to interrupt and I tried to hold the laughter in.
"The cat got pissed off and peed all over the place, and because the carrier was upside down, it went straight through the bars. The ceiling fan was on at the time, and the draft made the pee into a sort of mist . . ."
I lost it and doubled over.
Raphael was grinning. "He tried to clean it up, but it got all over the carpet. It was a slight miscalculation on my dad's part. He wasn't a cat person, you see."
"That's hard to beat," I finally managed.
"Are you going to do something for Andrea?"
His face took on a sly look. "I've been thinking about it. It would have to be really good."
I finally got the last laughter out of my system. "What do cats do?"
Raphael shook his head. "Cats are weird. There is no telling."
We lapsed into silence.
"So what did Curran do?" he asked finally.
I gave him the look designed to communicate the threat of certain and immediate death.
He shrugged it off. "Tell me. You owe me for coming with you on this trip. I could get hauled before Curran for aiding you and the cat."
"I never said I was helping Jim."
Raphael spread his arms. "Come on. I'm not an idiot. So what did the Beast Lord do?"
"This doesn't go any further. I mean it."
"He's been breaking into my place and watching me sleep."
A frown troubled Raphael's handsome face. "A bit straightforward. I wouldn't expect Curran to pull something elaborate, but that's too basic even for him. Has he done anything odd?
The frown deepened.
I tapped my fingers on the wheel. "The whole point of the exercise seems to be letting the woman know you're coming into her territory and escaping unharmed."
"I don't think Curran was ever planning on my finding out he was watching me. It just sort of slipped out. So what is the point of being clever if you don't let the woman know you're clever?"
"I don't know." Raphael looked at me helplessly. "I don't have a clue what's going through his head."
That made two of us.
THE WORLD CONSTRICTED. PRESSURE GRIPPED THE car, squeezing my body like a sponge. For a moment I felt like my atoms had edged together closer than the laws of physics would allow and then the ley line spat us out. The car rolled to a gentle stop, right past a dark-haired woman holding two black horses. I got out. Friesians. All about sixteen hands tall, huge, black, with flowing, wavy manes and long feathers of satiny midnight hair along their fetlocks. The knight horses. Powerful, beautiful, and impressive as hell. Thank you, Jim.
"Are those for us?"
The woman eyed me with open suspicion. "Name?"
"Then they're for you. This is Marcus and that over there is Bathsheba."
"I'll take the mare," Raphael said.
"Be careful with my babies."
"We're riding two miles down to the school and coming right back," I promised. "I'll have them back to you in an hour."
"In perfect health."
We mounted. The woman looked me over, studied Raphael, and snorted. "I should've brought a camera. A picture would've been a hell of a promotion."
Except it wouldn't have worked during magic, but I was too polite to point that out.
We trotted down to the path. Marcus proved ridiculously easy to handle, attuned to the most minute cues almost as if he was anticipating me. If I ever lost my mind and purchased a horse, I knew which one I would be getting.
In a few minutes we sighted the school. From horse-back, the complex resembled a fortress, an octagon enclosed by an eight-foot wall complete with an arched entrance and a portcullis.
A couple of guards patrolled the wall, and they didn't hesitate to level hunting bows at us. A sentry at the gates checked out my ID for a good twenty seconds - being dressed in black, riding black horses, and carrying black weapons had its drawbacks. Finally he nodded.
"We're expecting you. Your girl is at the far end of the yard, to the left." He waved us through.
I urged Marcus on and he obliged, building to a thunderous canter. We pounded around the main building, my cloak dramatically flaring. A group of about twenty children stood a respectable distance from the striped disks of archery targets propped up near the wall. Four aimed their bows at the targets, while the rest waited in somewhat orderly fashion around an enormous elm tree under the gaze of a large man in chain mail and a small dark woman.
Citlalli, the counselor. Perfect.
The kids sighted us and went very still. I scanned the crowd and saw a blond-haired girl, still too small and too thin for her thirteen years. There was my kiddo. Standing off by herself in the back.
We drew even with the group. Marcus danced under me, unhappy his run was brought short. I tried to look suitably lethal. Raphael glowered next to me. A hungry ruby sheen rolled over his eyes. The boys went pale. The girl-children valiantly tried to keep from swooning.
Julie finally woke up out of her stupor and elbowed her way to me.
I fixed her with my hard stare. She flinched.
"Knife," I ordered.
She reached into her clothes and produced one of my black throwing daggers. God damn it. I had counted them the other day and I could've sworn they were all there. I prayed for Marcus to stand still, took the dagger from her fingers, whipped about in the saddle, and threw it, all in a single quick motion. The dagger sliced into the elm's bark, sinking halfway in. Somebody gasped.
"You can have it back when you graduate."
Julie caught on. "Yes, ma'am."
She called me "ma'am." I waited for the sky to split and belch forth the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, but for some reason they failed to appear.
"It has come to my attention that you're talking."
"I'm sorry, ma'am."
"Do I have to remind you that you signed a nondisclosure agreement with the Order?"
Julie's face was the definition of remorse.
"It was your choice to attend this school. If I find out that you're divulging classified information again, I will pull you out and stick you into the Order's Academy faster than you can blink. Am I clear?"