Darius’s gaze swept over them, his eyes far steelier than his tone. “Aaron, take the other three home.”
Aaron stiffened. “Home?”
“You’ve done all you can in the demon hunt. Now go home to rest. You need peace and quiet.”
I grabbed Aaron’s arm, my fingers digging in. He might not want to abandon the demon hunt, but I didn’t think the unbound demon had anything to do with Darius’s order. Ezra’s face was still blank, his jaw was set, and a vein throbbed in his cheek. He was the one who needed peace and quiet.
Aaron glanced at me, then followed my gaze to Ezra. He swallowed back his protest. “Yes, sir.”
“I’ll keep you posted,” Darius added.
With a nod, Aaron drew Ezra into motion, leading him behind the bar and into the kitchen. Kai followed on their heels, but as I stepped after him, Darius caught my eye.
“Be careful, Tori,” he murmured.
Before I could ask what he meant, he strode off to join Girard. I stared after him. Be careful of … what? What was with mythics and cryptic warnings? Annoyed, I grabbed my laptop, purse, and phone, then stalked after the guys. I had enough to worry about already.
The moment we piled through the front door of Aaron’s house, Ezra made a beeline for the stairs. He cleared two steps before Kai and Aaron hauled him back down and dragged him into the living room.
I followed with my mouth hanging open, no idea what to do or say or … anything.
Aaron pushed his friend onto the sofa. “No, Ezra.”
“Don’t panic yet,” Kai told him.
Ezra glared up at them, then his shoulders hunched in defeat. “But if they know, I have to—”
“One,” Aaron interrupted, “they don’t know anything. They’re fishing. They think you’re suspicious, but that’s all they’ve got. And two, whether they know or not, you aren’t running.”
“Don’t even try to pack a bag,” Kai warned.
Ezra hunched further. “I don’t need a bag to leave.”
My back snapped straight. Leave? That was his plan?
“Good point.” Kai dropped onto the sofa beside Ezra. “Now that you’ve reminded us, we’ll make sure to keep you under constant surveillance so you can’t sneak off.”
Jaw flexing, Ezra growled, “What else am I supposed to do?”
“They don’t know anything,” Aaron repeated sternly. “They were trying to spook you into revealing something, and if you skip town, you’ll just confirm their suspicions. Their whole guild will hunt you.”
Ezra braced his elbows on his knees, fingers entwined and pressed against his mouth. “What, then? What do I do? This has never happened before.”
Kai and Aaron exchanged a look. I stayed in the doorway, unwilling to enter the conversation.
“We have three options,” Kai said. “One, you run for it, which we’ve already vetoed. Two, we wait them out. When they can’t confirm you’re anything but an aeromage, they’ll go back to hunting the demon. Or three, we kill them.”
My stomach dropped through the floor and landed somewhere in the basement.
After a moment’s thought, he added, “It’s a bit premature for option three.”
Aaron sighed. “Kai, this isn’t the family business.”
Kai leaned back into the sofa. “Killing them would be the safest option for Ezra, and no one will miss them. People have died because those selfish fools are sabotaging everyone’s search efforts to get the demon kill for themselves.”
“We aren’t a mythic mafia,” Aaron retorted dryly. “We can’t off inconvenient people on a whim.”
“We’d need to plan it carefully. Disposing of bodies is a hassle.” He shrugged. “But like I said, it’s too soon. The Keys are looking for proof. All we need to do is make sure we don’t give them any.”
Disposing of bodies was a hassle, Kai had said. He’d supposedly broken all ties with his crime-syndicate family seven years ago, so he must’ve learned that skill before then. Great one to add to his résumé. Black belt martial artist, master swordsman, and body disposal expert.
My gaze drifted to Ezra, who was watching the blank TV with a thousand-yard stare. Speaking of young, he hadn’t registered as a mythic until he was eighteen. But hadn’t he told me he’d always known he was an aeromage? How did that work?
Sensing my attention, his gaze turned my way, then dipped down to my chest. He sprang up so fast I started.
Aaron and Kai grabbed for him like he was about to throw himself through the window, action-movie style, but he dodged their hands with unnerving speed. My eyes widened as he strode toward me.
“Tori, you’re hurt.” Concern softened his voice as he gently took my arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t notice.”
I looked down, surprised to see the torn front of my jacket and a bloody splotch above its collar. Oh. Huh. I’d forgotten about that. I pulled the front of my jacket open and was pleasantly surprised that my Kevlar-esque shirt hadn’t torn. One demonic claw had nicked my collarbone just above the neckline.
“No biggie, guys.”
“We should still clean it,” Kai said. “Come with me, Tori.”
Leaving the other two in the living room, Kai led me into the kitchen. I leaned against a counter while he retrieved the kit from the bathroom.
As he set it beside me and flipped it open, I lowered my voice and asked, “Kai, how bad is it?”
He tore open an alcohol swab. “The scratch isn’t deep.”
“Not that. I meant—oww.” I winced as he swabbed the cut. “I meant with the Keys harassing Ezra.”
Kai’s dark eyes darted toward the living room. “It’s bad. The Keys have no proof, but they don’t always care. This wouldn’t be the first time they’ve attacked first and condemned the mythic later.”
My jaw tightened, and I scarcely noticed him sorting through bandage options.
“If we keep Ezra out of sight,” Kai murmured, “they should give up and refocus on the demon hunt. That’s Darius’s intent, I think.”
I studied him. “And if they don’t give up?”
“Then we’ll deal with it.” He peeled a bandage open. “If you want out, now is the time. I’ll take you home as soon as I’m done.”
“I’m serious.” He pressed the bandage over my cut. “I don’t think you’re ready to face the reality that comes with staying.”
I squinted in confusion. “What reality?”
His eyes met mine, dark as night and deadly serious. “The point of no return is approaching, Tori. If you pass it, you can’t go back.”
A shiver ran down my spine, his words strangely echoing Sabrina’s reading. No going back. An irreversible choice. My life changing forever.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I told him.
He gazed at me as though waiting for something, his expression inscrutable. When I said nothing, he eventually nodded. The gesture felt like he was giving me his permission to stay … a permission he could revoke at any time.
Aaron’s persistent voice rattled around in my sleep-riddled skull.
“Wake up, Tori.”
A hand squeezed my shoulder and gently shook me. Groaning, I lifted my face off the pillow and squinched my eyes open. Pale sunlight leaked through the bedroom curtains.
“Ehhhh?” I slurred.
Aaron’s grinning face appeared above mine. “Morning, sleeping beauty. Time to get up!”
I blinked a few times, then laboriously rolled onto my back. A hard, round object pressed against my side, then with a shimmer, Hoshi uncoiled from her small orb form, her long tail spilling across the blankets. She buried her head under the pillow.
Aaron stared at the fae. “Where’d she come from?”
“She likes to sleep beside me.” A yawn cracked my jaw and I nestled into the bed. “What are you doing in here? Don’t you know how to knock?”
“I did knock. Several times.” He waved at me. “Up. Come on. Time to go.”
I frowned sleepily, scanning him from head to toe. He wore a loose black and gray tank top and gym shorts, his hair tousled and cheeks flushed. I allowed myself a moment to drool over his amazingly toned arms, which I’d seen far less of since the fall weather had dropped the temperatures, then asked, “Time to go where?”
Aaron crouched at my eye level, a smirk pulling at his mouth. “You know how we keep bringing up that you need training and you keep dodging it?”
Denying that I’d avoided all forms of training for the past six weeks would only make him laugh. I hadn’t been particularly subtle about it.
His smirk sharpened. “You can’t dodge it if you’re sleeping in our house. Today is day one.”
Oh hell no. “Pass.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
“Is this really an appropriate time?” I demanded, changing tactics. “With a demon on the loose and the Keys after Ezra—”
“Which means we’re stuck at home anyway, so we should make the best of it. Up!”