Dark Arts and a Daiquiri (Page 43)

“She did indeed. A difficult opponent even for experienced mythics. Given the opportunity to approach her with more planning, I would have selected quite a different team to apprehend her than three hot-headed mages.”

My eyes dropped to the floor. “Kai almost died, and Aaron and Ezra probably would’ve been killed too if … if the druid hadn’t …” I looked up at him. “It’s my fault. I pushed them to rescue Nadine right away, without waiting for help.”

Darius’s sudden amusement took me by surprise. “And Aaron received his penalties for that recklessness earlier today. Ezra and Kai will receive theirs once they’re released from our healers’ capable hands.”

“Oh …”

“Their choices are not your responsibility, Tori.” He raised his eyebrows. “However, exerting your considerable influence over them in a more responsible fashion wouldn’t be amiss.”

“My … considerable influence?”

With a mysterious smile, he rose and picked up a sheet of paper. Half terrified it was a termination letter, I peered down at the paper. It wasn’t quite that unpleasant, but the familiar form was almost as bad.

“Get that done,” he told me, “before MPD comes knocking.”

“Yes, sir.”

I headed for the door. As I pulled it open, Darius spoke again.

“By the way, Tori.” He leaned against his desk. “Jobs, bounties, and bonuses are for guild members only. I’ve reminded Aaron of that.”

I winced. No side income for me, then. Stepping outside, I closed the door and headed downstairs. It was for the best. I wasn’t equipped for guild jobs, magically or emotionally. Before I did anything else exciting, I needed to get my head on straight. Every time the whole “you turned yourself over to a notorious rogue and disappeared for two weeks” thing came up, I felt a little stupider.

Ten minutes later, I was signing my name at the bottom of the form with a flourish when Aaron dropped onto the stool beside me and rested an elbow on the bar top. He must’ve arrived while I was upstairs.

“Whatcha doing?” he asked without preamble.

“Hey,” I greeted him, unable to contain my grumble. “I’m just finishing this stupid form again. Clara has lost it six times now but I think Darius suspects I’ve been hiding them or something.”

“Oh, that form.” He propped his chin on his hand. “The application requesting approval for a human working at the guild. The one that’ll get you fired the moment it crosses an MPD agent’s desk.”

Yeah, that pretty much summed it up. I glared at the sheet, feeling sick, but I’d known all along that my job here was temporary. Darius had called MPD’s never-gonna-happen approval a “bridge to cross when we come to it” but I wasn’t banking on him pulling a bureaucratic miracle out of his a*s.

Time to change the subject before I got depressed. “How are Kai and Ezra?”

“Kai is still under observation. They said something about lung damage or risk of pneumonia or … I dunno. No big deal, though. Our healers are amazing. They can fix anything.”

Worried despite his assurances—Kai had been with the healers for three days already—I asked, “What about Ezra?”

“They sent him home this morning. He’s under orders to rest for the week.” Guilt flickered across Aaron’s face. “I can’t even rag on him about getting cut up since I was the one who did it.”

“It’s not your fault, Aaron. That spell Varvara hit you with was seriously nasty.”

“I knew better than to get so close to her.” He grimaced. “Rule one when fighting alchemists—don’t get near enough for them to dose you with anything.”

“Yeah, but we thought she was just a sorceress, not an … alchorceress? Sorchemist?”

Aaron snorted. “It’s a good rule for sorcerers too.”

“Well, it all worked out, so don’t beat yourself up.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling in a thoughtful way. “She’s vanished off the map for good, but I was thinking about taking another go at the Ghost’s bounty.”

I jerked upright on my stool. “What?”

He gave me a lopsided grin. “With all that extra motivation while we were searching for you, we made some progress in the hunt for his whereabouts. And now that I’ve seen him with my own eyes, I think I can catch the b*****d—and once we have him in custody, I can find out why you’re terrified to spill any info about him.”

“No.” I waved both hands in a no goal motion. “No. Definitely not. Bad idea. Do not even go there.”

“But—”

“He saved your a*s.” I tried not to sound panicked, but a shrill note crept into my voice. “The least you can do is leave him alone. Come on, Aaron.”

He surveyed me, then shrugged airily. “Okay, fine. I’ll leave him be … for now.”

My eyes narrowed suspiciously but I didn’t press. Pushing my stool back, I hopped to my feet and grabbed my form. “My shift started ten minutes ago. I need to get to work.”

“But I haven’t had a chance to ask you if you’re free on Sunday night.”

I cast an amused glance over my shoulder. “Free for what?”

“Dinner,” he said brightly, trailing after me. “Like I said before, I promise to turn my phone off. No last-minute cancelations or interruptions this time.”

“Hmm,” I pondered as I walked behind the bar. “Don’t follow me, Aaron. You aren’t allowed back here.”

Ignoring that, he followed me right through the saloon doors and into the kitchen. Thankfully it was empty, but still.

I stopped and folded my arms, the form sticking out from under my elbow. “I have plans. I promised to spend the day with Justin. He’s still sulking over how I ignored him for two weeks, and since I can’t tell him I was kidnapped, I have to suck it up and play the nice sister for a day.”

“Monday night, then,” he suggested. “I missed you too, you know, and I was way more worried than your brother.”

I hesitated. Not sure why, since I didn’t have any plans beyond spending Sunday with Justin. “Okay, dinner on Monday. But I want to swing by and say hi to Ezra tomorrow. I haven’t seen him since …”

The memory of him collapsing flashed through my mind—the blood drenching his shirt, the deep slice in his flesh hidden by the darkness and chaos. How he’d managed to stand in that condition, let alone run around and fight, still had me shaking my head in disbelief. Luckily, two minutes after he’d lost consciousness, the Crow and Hammer backup team had arrived and started emergency first aid.

I was rather glad they’d arrived late. Four minutes earlier and they might have spotted the monster-sized dragon flying off into the night sky, carrying a notorious druid and a missing teen mythic.

Aaron’s smile was immediate. “Sure! Kai might be back by then, too. We can order pizza with pineapple and eat it in front of him.”

I frowned with mock condemnation. “That’s a cruel thing to do while he’s still recuperating. We should order Chinese food instead … with pineapple chicken.” As Aaron snorted a laugh, I waved my form. “I need to drop this off with Clara and get ready.”

He plucked the paper from my hand and lifted it to his nose, scrutinizing the text like it described all my dinner date preferences.

“Fascinating, right?” I extended my hand and wiggled my fingers imperiously. “Give it back.”

He held it out—and it erupted into flame.

“Hey!” I yelped, snatching my hand away.

Smirking, he dropped the fireball into the sink, where the paper blackened and curled. “Oops.”

“Oops?” I repeated incredulously. “You did that on purpose!”

He shoved his hands in his pockets, all innocence. “You didn’t really want to turn that form in, did you?”

My anger faltered, and he leaned closer.

“What MagiPol doesn’t know,” he mock-whispered, “can’t get you fired.”

I suddenly had the sneaking suspicion that Clara wasn’t as disorganized as she and I thought. She hadn’t been losing all my forms. Someone had been destroying them. Maybe even three someones working in concert to keep me employed at the guild for as long as possible.

While I gaped at him, he laughed and sauntered across the kitchen. My wide eyes flicked from him to the burnt remains of the form. Darius would be so pissed when he found out.

If he found out.

Was Aaron applying the guild’s second rule? Or maybe …

“Hey Aaron,” I called. “What’s the third rule?”

Pausing with his hand on the saloon door, he looked back and grinned like my question was immensely pleasing—like it was the perfect question to ask.

“Rule number three: Any rule can be broken.”

Then he was gone, the door swinging shut behind him.

That was the third rule? Seriously? Mythics were batshit crazy, the whole lot of them. Glancing one last time at the ashes in the sink, I hurried into the back room to get my apron.

Stifling a yawn, I opened the back gate. A small yard stretched ahead of me, half grass shadowed by a giant spruce and half cracked patio tiles with a wooden pergola. As I crossed to the bungalow’s rear door, the cool night air whispered over my bare arms, smelling of rain. Fumbling around in my purse, I pulled out my keys and unlocked the door.