Chapter Eighty

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Lucile nearly jumped out of her skin when the oven timer beeped. She'd forgotten the bloody cookies.

With a muttered curse, she grabbed a mitt and pulled the oven door open, squinting as a dry wave of heat blasted her face. She slipped the mitt over one hand and reached in to grab the tray.

Just as she lifted the cookie tray out and turned to place it on a cooling rack, the kitchen blazed with light. It was like a miniature lightning strike. Lucile shrieked and stumbled backward. The tray swung in her mitted hand as she reeled, spraying cookies everywhere--and came within an inch of whacking Guin in the face.

"Guinny!" The tray fell from Lucile's hand with a ringing clatter, dispersing the last of the cookies, and she lurched forward to hug her niece. "Oh my God Guinny we were so worried!"

"Lucile--"

"Where the hell did you go? Hawk is out there right now, looking for you. God, you're so warm! What were you doing, hiding in the boiler room?"

"Lucile--"

"Your parents are losing their minds, Guinny. We were about to phone the police!"

"Lucile!"

At last, she detected the panicked urgency in the girl's voice and relinquished her hold. Guin stepped back, and Lucile got her first good look at her.

She blinked as her relief was rapidly replaced by confusion. "Guin--your face is bruised. Did someone hurt you? And--what are you wearing?"

Guin rolled her eyes heavenward in a 'give me strength' gesture, leaned forward and gripped Lucile's arms. "How long have I been gone?"

Lucile frowned, trying to make sense of Guin's appearance. The girl's expression was frantic, her hair wild and disheveled. Somehow, she seemed taller. "A few hours. But Guin, what--"

Guin's fingers tightened. "Evey. have you heard anything about Evey?"

Lucile felt an odd sensation of burning heat where her niece's fingers gripped her arms. "I just got off the phone with your dad, he didn't--"

Guin shook her head, as if that was irrelevant. "Where's Hawk?"

"I told you, out looking for you. Guin, you have a lot of explaining to--"

"No time," Guin snapped, letting go of Lucile and turning away from her.

"Guin, where do you think you're going now?" Lucile demanded, trailing her out of the kitchen and into the hall. "You've got to ring up your dad and tell him you're safe. And you still haven't explained where the hell you've been for over three hours!"

"It's a long story," Guin said over her shoulder. Then, under her breath, she muttered, "Lorn was right. This world's magic is old and slow..." She came to a sudden halt halfway to the front door and collapsed against the wall with a groan.

"Guin!" Lucile rushed forward and grabbed her shoulders before she fell. "What's wrong? Are you ill?"

Guin shook her head and grunted. Her eyes were squeezed shut, face contorted with pain. "I just--need to hurry." She ground the words out between clenched teeth. "Need--need something--of Evey's. A connection."

She's delirious, Lucile thought. Dear God, what happened to her?

"You need to lie down and let me look at you," she said firmly, and attempted to steer Guin in the direction of the living room.

"No! No, you don't understand. I promised." Guin shook Lucile off and continued stumbling toward the front hall closet. "Is her jacket still here? The one she forgot last visit?"

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