“You … you will?”
Turning my palm up, he touched a clawed fingertip to my inner wrist. A dark blue rune the size of a quarter appeared on my skin, then faded to an almost invisible shadow.
“When you have need of me, touch this mark and speak my name. I will come.” With another disturbingly predatory smile, he drifted higher above the ground, lifting my hand with him. “Farewell, brazen one.”
His wings swept down, and with a rush of wind, he shot skyward. With my hand tingling in the absence of his strange touch, I craned my neck back, but the air was already rippling. As leaves fluttered back to the pavement, he vanished.
Examining the faint rune, I shook my head. It was hard to believe a wyldfae like him was related to the green twig-head faery in my new apartment. I frowned. Come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t my apartment. I’d been missing for two weeks. Who knew what had happened with my lease?
I tiptoed—literally—across the pavement and onto the sidewalk, careful not to tread on anything sharp. Downtown streets and bare feet did not mix well. Stepping into the shadowy entryway, I stared at the black door of the guild, the painted crow glaring in return.
With an oddly nervous twist in my belly, I pushed the door open.
Girard folded his arms. “You’re saying you can’t tell us anything about your capture or escape?”
With my lower lip caught between my teeth, I nodded, trying not to wilt under his critical assessment. Felix leaned against the desk beside the seated first officer, his expression equally grim.
We were sitting in Darius’s office, but the guild master wasn’t present. He was out of town—on my account. He’d gone to the Seattle MPD office to speak with a special investigator. Clara had already called him, and between bouts of hysterical weeping, she’d called Aaron and Kai too, who were out hunting for clues about my whereabouts. I wished I could go back downstairs and tell her again that I was fine. The poor woman had thought I was a goner and probably spent the last two weeks blaming herself for hiring me.
“Tori,” Girard said, drawing my attention back to the present. “If the Ghost has threatened you, or if you don’t feel secure revealing what happened, I assure you you’re safe now. You can speak freely.”
I pressed my lips together. I couldn’t reveal anything about Zak, his ranch hideout, or his collection of runaways. Nor could I reveal the existence of the binding oath that prevented me from talking about it. I had no idea what to tell Girard and Felix. I wasn’t even sure whether I could disagree with his statement about speaking freely.
“I’m safe now,” I agreed. “But Nadine isn’t. You know about Nadine, right? The girl we tried to rescue? She’s in danger.”
“She’s the Ghost’s prisoner?” Felix asked.
“Not anymore. A dark sorceress called Varvara Nikolaev abducted her.” Pressing my hands to my thighs, I gave them a brief rundown of Nadine’s past and Varvara’s involvement. I skipped over the details of how Varvara had snatched Nadine from the Ghost’s clutches and focused on how Varvara would soon whisk her new apprentice far from anyone’s reach. “We don’t have much time. We have to find her before they disappear.”
I wasn’t sure how I’d expected the two officers to respond to my explanation of the danger Nadine was facing, but I figured they would at least, you know, react. Instead, their expressions remained stonily ambiguous.
Girard cleared his throat. “That’s crucial information, and we’ll look at it more closely once we’ve discussed your abduction and escape.”
“But I can’t tell you about that stuff.” Frustration burned through me. “I’m back and that’s what’s important, right? We need to worry about Nadine.”
Girard and Felix exchanged looks.
“We’re beyond relieved that you’ve returned unharmed,” Felix said slowly, “but we still need to know what happened. Not only for your safety but for the safety of everyone at the guild.”
My gaze flicked between them as I realized what he meant. They didn’t trust me. They didn’t believe me. The scariest dark druid in the city had imprisoned me for two weeks, then out of nowhere I’d walked through the guild’s front door like nothing had happened. I’d refused to tell them anything—except a wild story about an evil sorceress they needed to fight.
Though I tried to hide my devastation, Girard was too observant. His face softened. “Sweetheart, we want to trust you, but without the whole story, we can’t know if the Ghost is setting an elaborate trap for us.”
“He’s not,” I whispered hoarsely, unsure if I wanted to scream or cry. Damn Zak and his stupid oath spell! If I lost Nadine because I couldn’t explain anything, I would kill the stupid druid myself.
“We need to know everything, Tori,” Felix murmured.
Girard and Felix exchanged looks again, and my hands clenched. Should I test the boundaries of the oath spell? If it was the only way—
The office door flew open and hit the wall with a bang. Aaron hung in the threshold, his copper-red hair a mess, stubble covering his jaw, and dark circles under his eyes. His stare fixed on me, then he swept into the room.
He dropped to his knees in front of my chair, his hot hands grasping my upper arms. “Tori, are you okay?”
For the first time since I’d walked into the park to meet the Ghost, I felt safe—and something close to hysteria swelled in my chest. The long days and even longer nights trapped in an unfamiliar place, helpless and unsure if I’d ever escape, piled on me until my shoulders trembled from the weight.
“I’m good.” My voice cracked but I managed to smile. “Not even traumatized, I promise.”
His gaze darted over my face like he didn’t believe me, then he pulled me half off the chair, arms wrapped around me and face pressed against my shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Tori. We should never have involved you.”
I hung on the edge of my chair, clutching his shoulders for balance. Another hand touched my back. Kai crouched beside us, relief softening his dark eyes. He, unlike Aaron, had found the time and energy to shave, but otherwise he looked equally exhausted and unkempt.
Resting my cheek against Aaron’s shoulder, I closed my eyes, pretending they weren’t stinging with unshed tears. “I’m sorry, guys. I was stupid. I never should’ve gone with him.”
“Damn right,” Aaron muttered, loosening his hold. He sat back on his heels. “Let’s hear it.”
“Hear … what?”
“What happened! Where he took you, what you’ve been doing for the last two weeks, how you escaped.”
I scooted back onto my chair, unable to meet his anxious blue eyes. “I can’t tell you.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I can’t say anything about him.”
Aaron glanced questioningly at Girard and Felix. When they said nothing, he shifted closer and gently massaged my arms. “Tori, he can’t hurt you anymore. You can tell us.”
Haha, no. Zak could kill me anywhere, anytime. All I had to do was let slip a single detail. “I can’t.”
A painfully awkward silence settled over the room. I stared at my lap, unable to meet anyone’s eyes.
“Girard, Felix,” Kai said, his smooth voice startling me. “Tori has been through a lot. She needs rest and recuperation more than anything. I’d like to take her home with us.”
Felix folded his arms. “You know why we need answers, but I don’t want to force her to talk.”
Girard nodded. “Take her home, then. When she’s ready to discuss it, bring her in—or we can come see her if that’s easier. Until she’s comfortable talking, she needs to stay at your house—under your supervision.”
“Yes, sir,” Kai agreed.
Relieved they wouldn’t question me anymore, I sagged against Aaron. He put an arm around my shoulders.
“Go get some rest, Tori,” Felix said gently.
Aaron drew me out of the office and we headed down the stairs. A dozen guild members swarmed us on the main level, but Kai fended them off while Aaron ushered me out the door. As happy as I was to be back, I couldn’t handle another million questions about what had happened.
When I started tiptoeing again, Aaron stopped and frowned at my feet. “Where are your shoes?”
“I … lost them.”
He arched an eyebrow, then scooped me up and carried me around the building to the parking lot. Hanging in his arms, I was suddenly so exhausted all I wanted was to be home in PJs, wrapped in the fuzzy owl blanket Ezra had given me.
Kai jogged into the parking lot and took Aaron’s keys. After unlocking the car, he climbed into the back, and Aaron tipped me into the passenger’s seat before hurrying around the vehicle.
Buckling himself in, he started the engine, then peered at my face. “Hey Tori. Is it just me, or do you have a tan?”
I pressed my lips tightly together.
“If you spent this whole time on a beach, I’m gonna be ticked.”
“I wasn’t on a beach!”
A grin cracked his serious expression. He backed the car out of the parking lot and turned onto the street. The warm afternoon sun blazed into the vehicle, warming my face. Had it been sunny all week in the city too?