When I did nothing, Ian finally opened his eyes. I gave him another hug - with the coat on - and told him how happy I was that he'd met my dad. That seemed to satisfy him.

Adrian made his nightly check-in with me once I was asleep later on. Naturally, he wanted to know about my dress. He also kept trying to find out how exactly I'd won Ian over and seemed amused at the few details I decided to give him. But mostly I couldn't stop talking about Zoe. Adrian soon gave up on the other topics and simply listened to me gush.

"She spoke to me, Adrian!" I paced around the reception hall, clasping my hands in excitement. "And she wasn't mad. By the end, she was happy to see me. Do you know what that's like? I mean, I know you don't have any brothers or sisters, but to have someone you haven't seen in a while welcome you back?"

"I don't know what it's like," he said quietly. "But I can imagine."

I was too caught up in my own joy at the time, but later, I wondered if he was talking about his incarcerated mother.

"It's nice to see you so happy," he added. "Not that you've been miserable lately, but you've had a lot to worry about."

I couldn't help but laugh at that and came to a halt. "Are you saying evil witches and espionage are stressful?"

"Nah." He walked over to me. "All in a day's work for us. But I'm going to make my way to bed now. You seem like you can get by without me tonight."

He'd visited me every night since Veronica's dream. Most of the trips were short now, but I still knew it was a lot of effort and spirit for him. "Thank you. I feel like I can't say that to you enough."

"You don't have to say it at all, Sage. Good luck tomorrow."

Right. Stealing top secret info from a highly secure facility.

"Thanks," I said again. A little of my mood dimmed, but not all of it. "No matter what happens, though, patching things up with Zoe makes me feel like this mission is already a success."

"That's because you haven't been caught." He cupped my face in his hands and leaned close. "See that you aren't. I don't want to have to dream visit you in prison . . . or wherever it is bad Alchemists go."

"Hey, at least I'd have you for company, right?"

He gave me a rueful headshake, and the dream vanished around me.

Chapter Twenty

IAN WOKE ME THE NEXT MORNING with a super-early phone call. At first, I thought maybe he hoped to sneak in before the other Alchemists woke up, but it turned out he just wanted to get breakfast beforehand. Seeing as he'd managed to get me access, I couldn't very well refuse. He'd originally wanted to go to the facility in the late morning, but I talked him into going closer to noon. It meant lingering longer over breakfast, but it was worth the sacrifice. However, I was strictly back to khakis and a linen top. Espionage aside, cocktail dresses and breakfast buffets just didn't mix. As a concession, however, I unbuttoned two buttons at the top of my shirt. Openly wearing that into the facility was practically R-rated, and Ian seemed thrilled by the "scandalous" act.

Sunday at the facility was much quieter than the previous night. Although Alchemists never really got a break from their duties, most of the center worked normal weekday business hours. I had no difficulties checking in through the main reception again, but as predicted, we had a small delay in getting to the secure area. The guy on duty wasn't the friend who owed Ian a favor. We had to wait for him to come out from the back room, and even then, it took Ian a bit of cajoling to convince his colleague to let me in. I think it was obvious to both of them that Ian was just trying to impress me, and finally, the first guy relented to what seemed like a harmless errand. After all, I was a fellow Alchemist, and I was only going on a tour of a library. What could possibly go wrong?

They searched my purse and made me walk through a metal detector. I had two spells in mind that I could perform without physical components, so at least I didn't have to explain any crystals or herbs. The trickiest part was a thumb drive I'd hidden in my bra. They might not have questioned me carrying one in my purse, but I hadn't wanted to risk it being called out. That being said, if the thumb drive did show up on the scan, I was going to have a much more difficult time explaining why I was hiding it. I tensed as I stepped under the scanner, bracing myself to either run or attempt a Wolfe move. But, as hoped, it was too small to find, and we were waved through. That was one obstacle down, though it didn't make me any less tense.

"Did you end up trading this for the money he owed you?" I asked once Ian and I were descending toward the archives.

"Yeah." He made a face. "I tried to just swap it out for half of what he owed, but it was all or nothing for him."

"So how much is this trip costing you?"

"Fifty dollars. It's worth it, though," he added quickly.

Dinner had cost about the same. This was turning into an expensive weekend for Ian, particularly since I was the only one truly reaping the rewards. I couldn't help but feel a bit guilty and had to remind myself again and again that this was for an important cause. I would've offered to pay him back for it all, but something told me that would counteract everything I'd been working to achieve with my "womanly charms."

The archives were sealed with electronic locks that opened when Ian scanned his card key. As we stepped inside, I nearly forgot that coming in here was just a cover for the larger plan. Books and books and books surrounded me as well as scrolls and documents written on parchment. Old and delicate items were sealed under glass, with notes and signs against a far wall on how to access digital copies of them on computers. A couple of Alchemists, young like us, worked at tables and were transcribing old books into their laptops. One of them looked excited about her job; the other guy looked bored. He seemed to welcome the distraction of us entering.

I must have worn an appropriately awed expression because when I turned to Ian, he was watching me with pride. "Pretty cool, huh?" Apparently being a glorified librarian had just become a much more exciting job for him. "Follow me."

He didn't have to tell me twice. We began by exploring the full extent of the archives room, which stretched back much farther than I initially realized. The Alchemists prized knowledge, and it was obvious from this collection, which dated back centuries. I lingered at the shelves, wanting to read every title. They came in different languages and covered a full range of topics useful to our trade: chemistry, history, mythology, the supernatural . . . it was dizzying.

"How do you organize it?" I asked. "How can you find anything?"

Tags: Richelle Mead Bloodlines Fantasy
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