Ivy bustled around her room, tidying up the already spotless room. She and Charlie had an important job tonight, maybe not as important as the decoys but important nonetheless. The fact that there had never been a mission like this where their failure or success could have such a large impact had not escaped her notice. At the moment, she was leaning against a small decorative table that held an elegant little flower vase. Her busy hands rearranged the flowers absently as she mused to herself.
Someone coughed and she turned, expecting to see Brooke or Luke standing in her doorway. Instead, she found Charlie leaning casually against her door frame, eyeing her thoughtfully. “Hey, want some company?”
“Sure.” Ivy gave him a weak smile before going back to fiddling with the flowers beside her, watching him surreptitiously from the corner of her eyes.
He padded to her side, leaning on the little table she had stationed herself at and gazing around the immaculate room for a moment. “Nervous?”
“A little,” Ivy admitted, “aren’t you?”
Charlie chuckled. “Of course.”
In the silence that stretched between them, Ivy continued to mess with the flowers that were starting to show signs of her abuse. Glancing over, Charlie caught her wrists gently, pulling them away from the plant. “Hey, hey, don’t torture the plant, what did it ever do to you?”
Ivy exhaled heavily, “Yeah, I know, I know, sorry.”
Charlie sighed, looking weary and far too old for his twenty-one years as he pulled her closer to him. He didn’t bring her into an embrace, leaving their arms swinging between them, twining his fingers with hers slowly. “It’s not your fault, it’s mine. I could’ve left you asleep in your bed last night instead of dragging you along. It wasn’t fair of me to snatch you away from the safety of the Shadow Sworn.”
Ivy’s eyes darted to his in surprise. “If you think being a Shadow was safe, I’m going to have to question your lieutenant’s assignments. Besides, we both know it started before that. I would’ve been furious if you had left me behind, you know I wouldn’t have let you get away that easily. I mean we worked together for three years, if you hadn’t chosen me to be your apprentice, I wouldn’t be here. It started there.”
“If you want to go back that far, none of this would have happened if we hadn’t met at the library . . .”
“It’s the book’s fault,” she declared, feeling the corners of her mouth twitch up in amusement. “If it hadn’t fallen off the shelf, we wouldn’t be here. It changed our lives.”
“Yes definitely,” Charlie agreed and a sly smile stole across his face as he leaned his forehead against hers gently. Their breaths tangled together in the air between them, making their loose position seem all the more intimate. “It’s all because of that darned book.”
“I’m so grateful for that day,” Ivy admitted softly, “I think about it a lot, and I know I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“There is not much I wouldn’t give to be with you,” she said simply. “If risking my life is what it takes to be with you, not to mention being I on the right side of history, then I’m willing to give my life freely.”
“You have always been the better one of us,” he murmured. “I can’t imagine a world without you. I—”
She cut him off before he could continue, “So it’s a good thing we met that day in the library.”
Charlie smiled wearily. “I guess it was. But you know I still wish you didn’t have to be in harm’s way like this.”
“Who knows? Maybe after this, I’ll have a role as a healer.” Ivy looked wistful and he knew that helping those who couldn’t help themselves drew her gentle nature and ready patience like metal to a magnet. Sometimes he wondered how recruiters had chosen this peaceful, honest, kind young woman to be an assassin for the crown.
“After this, we’ll find a way for you to employ your medical skills to help the Dragons,” he promised, kissing her forehead briskly before pulling away reluctantly. He let one of her hands drop back to her side, squeezing the other reassuringly. “We should get ready to leave.”
She nodded. “Meet outside the manor half an hour before dusk?”
“See you then.” Charlie smiled charmingly, bowing slightly to bring her hand to his lips in a soft kiss.
She giggled at the old-fashioned gesture, shoving him away lightly. “Save it for the coronation, your highness.”
“Who’s to say it won’t be yours, princess?” He teased with a laugh.
“Go already,” Ivy scolded, giving him another gentle shove.
“Yes, of course, please accept my apologies, my princess.” He bowed his way out, a cheeky grin fixed upon his face.
“Yeah, bye!” She shook her head disapprovingly as she closed the door behind him, trying to hide her amusement.
“I know you’re laughing back there,” Charlie called through the door.
“Don’t be creepy, go away!”
She heard his chuckles recede as he retreated down the hall toward his room. Ivy shook her head again. “Boys . . .”
When she met Charlie again outside Megan Sutherland’s beautiful manor, they were both clad in the dark Shadow uniform they’d worn the night before, freshly laundered. Both of them were also equipped with powerful compound bows and twin swords along with their wands. The only people there to send them off were Lady Brooke and Lord Adrien. The rest of the Dragons and former Shadows were still preparing for their part of the mission.
Despite their brief acquaintance, Brooke hugged them both fiercely, saying, “Take care of each other and good luck.”
Adrien shook both of their hands firmly and said, “Thank you both for your help, best of luck tonight.”
They returned the gesture in kind before pulling away and peering out at the city of Dunaire spread out below them. The twinkling lights of many lanterns shone cheerfully against the darkness as the city’s inhabitants prepared for the night, all unaware of the important event that was about to take place. Ivy interlaced her fingers with Charlie’s. “Are you ready?”