“We’ll get to that shortly,” Kai jumped in, shooting me a glare. Feeling guilty for derailing his careful interrogation, I hid my expression behind my teacup. Blowing on the hot liquid, I inhaled the earthy-scented steam as I took a sip.
My nerves twanged and fear plunged through me. It took a moment for my brain to catch up to my instincts.
I spat the tea all over the coffee table.
“Whoa!” Aaron yelped. “Are you okay?”
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t realize it was so hot.” Leaping up, I shoved my cup and saucer onto the table, then put my back to the Rivers. Eyes wide with emphasis, I added, “Don’t drink the tea. You’ll burn your tongue.”
Kai set his full cup on the side table. “I’ll let it cool off.”
Aaron ditched his tea too, and I spun back around, smiling toothily at the gawking couple. “So sorry about that! Can I help you clean up?”
“No, no, let me.” Mrs. River pressed one hand to the tea-splattered coffee table, mumbling something else—but not quiet enough that I didn’t catch the first word: ori.
My Queen of Spades card was already out of my pocket. “Ori repercutio!”
The air rippled—then a blast of inky red light rebounded on the couple. Mrs. River flew back into the sofa beside her husband, and the red light formed glowing ropes around their bodies, binding them.
Aaron and Kai were on their feet, but they were gaping at me and not the immobilized couple. Shoving my card back in my pocket, I pushed the tea tray aside and flicked the doilies off the wood surface.
“Wow, look at that,” I declared in mock surprise, pointing at the table-turned-artifact. “Sorcery inscriptions carved right into your coffee table! Weird, huh?”
“I don’t know what—what you—” Mr. River gulped, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “What have you done to us, witch?”
“You did it to yourselves.” I folded my arms. “So, you two are in cahoots with Varvara, aren’t you? She set you up with spells and poisons and stuff.”
“Poison?” Aaron muttered out of the corner of his mouth.
“The tea is poisoned.” I tsked at the couple to hide my swoop of fear. If not for the simple coincidence that I’d helped Nadine cut up those poisonous roots, I never would’ve recognized the smell. “That’s really impolite, you know.”
“Hmm,” Kai murmured thoughtfully. He cracked his knuckles. “I suppose we’ll have to proceed to a more aggressive form of questioning.”
Mr. and Mrs. River went as pale as their icky doilies.
“That won’t be necessary. I’ve got just what we need.” I pulled out the two crystals I’d taken from Zak. Stuffing the red one back into my pocket, I dangled the acid-green one by its leather cord and advanced on the couple. “So which one of you wants to talk, hmm?”
“We—we won’t say a word,” Mrs. River declared shrilly.
“We have a volunteer!” I leaned over her as she wiggled helplessly against the magical bonds. I lowered the crystal onto her throat, just like Zak had done to me. “This is a really cool spell. Super-dee-duper illegal, though. But I’m betting you don’t care about little things like laws and ethics, right?”
“Uh …” Aaron joined me, eyeing the crystal warily. “What are you doing?”
“Getting answers.” I narrowed my eyes on the green stone. “Ori ostende tuum pectus.”
The crystal shimmered and Mrs. River’s mouth gaped open, her eyes glazing with disturbing emptiness. Had I looked that vacant too?
“What’s your real name?” I asked her.
Emrys? Uh, okay, had not expected that.
“Shut up!” Mr. River yelled. “Don’t tell them anything, or—”
Kai stepped closer. Electricity crackled up his arms. “Say another word and I’ll stop your heart.”
A chill washed over me and I hoped that was a bluff. Could Kai actually do that with his lightning magic? I focused on the woman. “You’re an Emrys like Nadine?”
“Not like Nadine,” she sneered. “I was married to her father’s cousin. We met in university and I fell for him, not knowing he was a mythic. He brought me into the family and I learned all their secrets, but they always looked down on me. I was inferior to them, the powerful, famous sorcerers. Stephen was the worst—the most superior, stuck-up, arrogant—”
“You betrayed them, didn’t you?” I interrupted.
“I wanted to divorce my husband.” The words tumbled out in a rush, like she couldn’t stop them. “Albert came to London on an overseas work assignment and I’d been having an affair with him for over a year. He was leaving soon and I wanted to be with him, but I was afraid what would happen—whether the Emrys family would let me leave after everything I’d learned about them. Varvara promised I could be with Albert and they’d never find me. All I had to do was help her.”
“Help her murder your in-laws and kidnap an infant?”
“No, Varvara did all that. She helped me move here before the Emrys family even knew I wanted out. That was six months before she killed Stephen.” She spoke of the cold-blooded murder with indifference. “Varvara brought the baby to us. I hadn’t realized she was signing me up for fifteen years of raising his kid before I was free.”
“Aw, too bad betraying your family didn’t work out perfectly for you.” I sat on the coffee table in front of her. “So Varvara planned to take Nadine on her sixteenth birthday?”
“All she told us was to be away from the house for the day. When we came home and Nadine was gone, we thought that was it. But then Varvara came storming around, fuming about how Nadine had disappeared. She forced us to report Nadine as missing so the mythic community would investigate. When she learned the rogue druid had Nadine, she was furious. She pushed us into approaching your guild. She wanted you fools to apply pressure on the Ghost—to flush him out so she could get at Nadine.”
And that’s exactly what had happened. Damn, we’d played right into Varvara’s hands.
“You should be glad,” I told Martha, “that I’m the one who got to you first. The druid is far more merciless than me, and this interrogation spell is just one of his toys.”
She gasped. “You—you work for him?”
“Let’s not get sidetracked. Where are Varvara and Nadine?”
“I don’t know where she took Nadine.”
I squinted at Martha’s sneer and my stomach sank. Her eyes had cleared. The spell was done. The crystal hadn’t had time to fully recharge, so the twenty-minute duration had shrunk to less than half that. I silently swore. My first question should have been Nadine’s whereabouts.
Picking up the crystal, I jammed it back in my pocket. “Kai? I think we’ll need your aggressive questioning after all.”
Martha paled all over again, but before Kai could move, Ezra breezed into the room—but not through the front door. He walked in from the kitchen.
“Hey guys,” he said nonchalantly, nudging his ballcap up.
I blinked at him. “Where’d you come from?”
“I took the liberty of snooping around.” He shrugged. “Didn’t find much, but interestingly, they’ve got two fully packed suitcases sitting upstairs. Looks like the Rivers are planning a trip.”
“Ooooh?” I crooned. “That true, Martha?”
She squirmed hopelessly against the magical binding while her husband strained like he was trying to lay an ostrich egg.
Ezra smiled at her. “Why don’t you tell us where you’re going?”
Normally Ezra’s gentle smile warmed my cranky heart, but this time … the expression was gentle, but in a way that sent frightened shivers through my bones.
Picking up on it too, Martha gasped. Then gasped again. Her mouth gaped, her throat working frantically and lungs heaving, but no sound escaped her—no breath entered or left her airways.
“Ezra,” Aaron said nervously.
The aeromage glanced at his friend, and the moment his attention shifted, Martha inhaled noisily. Tears slid down her cheeks.
Watching her, I tried to summon sympathy. Or pity. Or something. But nope, I didn’t care that she was terrified. I didn’t care if she suffered. She was a selfish bitch who’d betrayed her family, aided a murderous sorceress, and abused Nadine.
Summoning my own sleek smile, I stepped up to Ezra’s side. “Want to talk now, Martha?”
Gulping loudly, she said nothing.
“Hmm, too bad. Ezra?”
He flicked his fingers. Martha wheezed as he pulled the air from her lungs—and this time, Albert gasped too. They convulsed for thirty seconds, their faces purpling, then Ezra let them breathe again.
Albert panted, his face shining with sweat. “Varvara called us an hour ago.”
“Don’t tell—” Martha cut off, gaping again as Ezra stole her air.
“We’re leaving the country,” Albert blurted. “She instructed us to meet her at her house—her real one—at ten o’clock.”
“Where’s her house?” I asked.