Chapter Thirty-three

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May didn't realize she had frozen mid-step until Jeremy turned around to see what happened to her.

"I don't understand," she said. "How did wishing for you land her in a high-security prison?"

Jeremy rolled his eyes. "Okay, so I was oversimplifying things a bit. Keep up."

She scurried back to his side and stared at him expectantly until he groaned with frustration.
"Fine, I'll tell you inside."

Before May could ask which "inside" he was talking about, Jeremy made a sharp right turn and descended a set of steps she hadn't even noticed. She followed and found him waiting at the door to what seemed to be a bar.

"I don't think this is the best time for a drink, Jeremy."

"Like me or not, you're going to have to start trusting me sooner or later."

He opened the door and held it so she could squeeze through. Inside, the bar was dark, warm and noisy. Music played too loudly, which meant the patrons had to yell even louder to be heard. There were a few glances and leers, but for the most part people minded their own business. Jeremy sidled up beside her and pointed to the back of the room. He walked, she followed.

At the end of the long and sticky-looking bar, Jeremy waved at a man behind it who jutted his chin back in apparent recognition. Jeremy pointed at a short door behind the bar, easy to miss under a papering of local event posters. His eyebrows rose like question marks. The bartender glanced around quickly, then gave a surreptitious nod. At this, Jeremy crouched low, scooted behind the bar and through the door. Again, May followed his lead.

The door lead to yet another staircase, one that descended deeper and was dangerously under-lit by one low wattage bulb dangling overhead.
The room on the other side of the door was unsurprisingly dim, but significantly quieter.
Unlike its upstairs neighbor, this space had a sophisticated speakeasy vibe about it. Round tables dotted the floor, surrounded by well-dressed patrons fully absorbed in games of cards. Each table was supervised by sharp-eyed dealers in slick black suits. The room was lined by high-backed u-shaped booths upholstered in shimmering golden fabric. Even at this early evening hour, guests filled most of the booths, sharing fine food, drink and close conversation.

A young host in a well-tailored suit strode up to them with a wide, familiar smile.

"J-man, I didn't realize you were in town."

They shook hands in that forceful way guys do — part brotherly, part display of dominance. The host looked at May, giving her a quick once over. His smile faltered for a fraction of a second and May was suddenly painfully aware of how under dressed they both were for the establishment.

"Don't worry, man. She's in with the Rookery."

Not once had May thought of herself that way, but it seemed to satisfy the host. He stepped back, his toothy smile returned in full, beaming force. "Can I show you kids to a booth? Or are you here to play?"

"Booth," Jeremy answered.

"Drinks?"

"Burner."

Now the host's smile vanished completely. "C'mon, man."

"Calm down." Jeremy rolled his eyes. "I'm good for it. And even if I wasn't, you owe me at least that much, remember?"

Without a reply, the host turned on his heel and stalked off. Jeremy nodded after him and he and May followed in his wake.

"Popular guy," May muttered to him as they made their way to their booth on the far side of the room.

Jeremy cracked a lopsided grin. "I made all kinds of friends in low places when I was in the Rookery. The underbelly of society may be seedy, but it has its perks when you're on the right side of it."

The host stopped and gestured to an empty booth. "I'll be back soon."

And then he was gone.

May scooted into her side of the rounded bench. "Is "perks" code for "favors"? Because you guys seem to trade them like currency."

"Pretty much," Jeremy agreed with a shrug of detachment.

"What did Dimitri do to end up in your debt?" May plucked at the sleeve of her borrowed leather jacket.

"Dimitri? Nothing. He's just a good dude. Whenever I go to see my mom he plays my emergency getaway driver just in case things go sideways. Can never be too careful where the Loyals are concerned."

May folded her hands on the table and leaned forward. "Speaking of your mother..."

Jeremy mimicked her, placing his hands on the table and scowling at the sight of them; they were still covered in blood. "Gross. I'll be right back."

Before she could say anything to the contrary, he shimmied from the booth and slinked away, cat-like.

Now alone in a room full of strangers, May sat back and took a deep breath. It was the first moment since that morning — possibly even the previous day, well before she and the others had even left York — that she felt she could relax. It was certainly the first opportunity she'd had to consider everything that had happened.

She had met her birth mother — sat face to face with her for the first time in her life. It seemed almost impossible, like a dream.

Why had the guards stormed the room when they did? Where had they been taking her?
For the first time, May felt a flicker of concern. She hoped — though she'd have no way of knowing one way or another — that Dawn was safe.

Just one more reason to end all this, she thought with firm resolution. Maybe that will be what it takes to get her out of there.

"Back." Jeremy slid back into his seat. His hands were scrubbed clean of incriminating evidence. He lifted his rich brown eyes up to May and let out a long, slow exhale.

"Okay, what do you want to know?"

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