My shock stuttered into something else—a hyper-awareness of his touch on my skin, his hand on my side, our bodies so close. My fingers gripped his t-shirt, fists pressed to his chest, but I didn’t remember moving them.
I wanted to say something witty, but my brain had nothing to offer. “Is it gone?”
He peered at one of my cheeks, then the other. “Yeah, you’re good. I’m in trouble, though.”
“You are?” Damn, I sounded breathless.
“Four plates at once. Aaron is going to extra-ban me from the kitchen.”
By all appearances completely unaware that he’d left me flushed and breathless, he shifted his attention to the mess on the floor and started to step away.
My hands tightened on his shirt and the fabric pulled taut between us. He stopped.
I stared into his mismatched eyes, my pulse racing. Soft, dark brown curls tumbled across his forehead, tousled and begging for fingers to tangle in them. His mouth shifted questioningly.
My fists clenched around the gray fabric. “Ezra …”
His brow creased, and my gaze darted between his eyes, so different from each other. One warm, gentle, sparking with quiet humor. The other pale, cold, unnervingly intense. Two eyes, two sides. Part of him was different. Part of him was dangerous.
The question seared my core, and the words tumbled from my mouth.
“Ezra, are you a demon?”
His eyes popped wide. A storm of emotion rippled over his face, then his expression shuttered into a mask of pain and disbelief.
“No.” The word came out hoarse, catching in his throat. “No, I’m not—how could you even think—”
He pushed my arms away, tearing his shirt out of my grasp. He was backing up, shaking his head, his face closing, his emotions shutting down. His searching stare flicked across me, then he spun around, grabbed the back door, and wrenched it open. As he stuffed his feet in his shoes, his other hand snapped out to grab something sitting on the counter beside the exit.
The door swung shut behind him, and I flinched in anticipation of the bang.
The latch clicked quietly, then silence.
I stood there, arms poised at chest height even though I no longer held his shirt in my fists, my lungs locked and throat burning. What had I done?
Someone thudded down the stairs from the upper floor, and a moment later, Aaron wheeled into the kitchen.
“I heard a crash.” He spotted the mess of broken plates. “Oh shit. What hap—”
The high-pitched snarl of an engine—a familiar sound—interrupted him. I heard that sound every time Kai put his motorcycle through its paces. The engine roared, and the noise rapidly diminished as the bike raced away.
Blank confusion bubbled through me. Kai was upstairs. So how was his bike—
Aaron jerked like he’d been shocked. “Where’s Ezra?”
Tearing my eyes off the door, I gaped at Aaron. “He—he just—”
Tires squealed from the front of the house, accompanied by the surge of a larger engine. My head snapped around. Aaron charged into the living room, and I stumbled after him as he ripped the cardboard off the window. The curb in front of the house was empty—the Keys’ van was gone.
“Kai!” Aaron bellowed. He rushed onto the front landing and pulled on his shoes. “Ezra is gone and the Keys just took off after him!”
Footsteps thundered down the stairs. Kai skidded to a stop at the bottom and almost collided with Aaron.
“What happened?” he yelled furiously as Aaron shot into the living room. “He wasn’t planning to sneak out until later! How did he—”
“He took your bike.” Aaron snatched his car keys off the coffee table, and I realized that’s what Ezra had taken from the counter—Kai’s keys. “We gotta move fast. Those bastards are right on his tail.”
Kai seized his shoes from the front landing but didn’t stop to put them on as he raced after Aaron. They whipped past me, heading for the back door.
Snapping out of my standstill, I bolted to the front landing, grabbed my shoes and purse, and ran after them. They’d already vanished out the back as I leaped over the broken plates. I rammed through the door, stumbled on the porch, then pelted across the yard. The gate was swinging on its hinges.
Headlights bloomed as Aaron’s car started. It backed off the gravel pad, tires spitting rocks into the fence. I sprinted after the car, and as it lurched to a stop so Aaron could shift into drive, I yanked the passenger door open and dove inside.
I landed on Kai’s lap. He grunted in pain.
“Close the door!” he ordered.
Aaron was already accelerating as I tugged the door shut. Kai pushed me against it so he could get both hands on his phone, the screen glowing as he pulled up an app.
“Which way?” Aaron growled, slowing as he reached the alley’s end.
“North. He’s heading toward the guild.”
Aaron spun the wheel, the force of the turn throwing me into Kai. “He wants to get a weapon before he books it. That gives us a chance to catch up.”
I peeked at Kai’s screen. On it was a map with a blinking GPS dot.
“You have a tracker on your motorcycle?” I asked him disbelievingly.
He passed me his phone and reached down to awkwardly pull on his shoes. “Tori, what happened?”
My stomach shriveled to the size of a raisin. “I—I asked him …”
“Tori!” Aaron barked commandingly as he shifted gears. The car tore up the road, streetlamps flashing past, and I flinched as he blew through a yellow light.
“I asked him if he’s a demon,” I whimpered.
Aaron wrenched his eyes off the road to stare at me. “You what?”
“I didn’t mean it like that!” I blurted desperately. “It came out wrong. I meant to ask if he was Demonica, and it just—I said it all wrong.”
“Why would you ask him that?”
“Why would I not?” I shot back, my own anger sparking. “Ezra is stronger than a human, he’s faster, he can make everything go cold and dark. And he has a secret power that looks exactly like demon magic.”
Kai snarled like an angry dog—which was a lot scarier when I was sitting on his lap with no escape. “You’ve ignored everything about him this whole time, but when you finally decide to ask a question—”
“Where is he now?” Aaron interrupted.
Kai took his phone back. “He … he’s stopped. In Oppenheimer Park.”
“The Keys must’ve caught him. Ezra knew better than to bolt right under their noses, but he obviously wasn’t thinking about anything except getting away.”
My heart clogged my throat, choking me.
Aaron cursed and put his foot down. I clutched the door, petrified that I might go through the windshield, but the streets were deserted even though it was only nine o’clock. Why was it so—oh. I sucked in a breath. We were back in the demon zone, which was still on lockdown. We must’ve passed a barricade while I was freaking out.
On our left, squat apartment buildings with shops on the ground level were abruptly replaced by dark trees and scattered streetlights. Aaron slammed the brakes, took the corner on two wheels, then jumped the curb in front of a bus stop. The wheels spun on grass as the car shot between two trees.
He wasn’t the first vehicle to drive into the small park—a black van was stopped just ahead, its headlights illuminating four figures in the center of the grassy square.
The car slid to a stop a few yards from the Keys’ van. Aaron flung his door open as I felt for the handle behind my hip. My grasping fingers yanked the latch and the passenger door popped open, dumping me out of the car. Kai leaped over me and sprinted toward the figures.
I shot up. The car was still running, both doors hanging open.
Thirty feet in front of the vehicles, the three Keys stood shoulder to shoulder, facing Ezra. Kai’s bike was lying on its side a yard in front of the van’s nose, giving me the horrible impression that the Keys had gone for a round of bumper cars with the bike to unseat Ezra.
The aeromage didn’t appear injured. He was pacing back and forth six yards away from the Keys, but not like he was frustrated or nervous. His sharp, aggressive movements reminded me of an attack dog pacing at the end of its chain.
As Aaron and Kai ran toward Ezra, Halil turned. His big, ugly sword was drawn, and he swung it upward. A wall of fire leaped off the blade and roared across Aaron and Kai’s path. Oh hell. Halil was a pyromage.
Kai jerked to a halt but Aaron charged right through the flames. He burst out the other side, his clothes charred, and slowed to a cautious walk.
“Ezra?” he called, stopping halfway between his friend and the Keys.
Ezra kept pacing, five steps one way, five steps back, his hands bunched into fists and his teeth bared. With no idea what might happen next, I stuffed my feet in my shoes, then shut the passenger door and circled the car to the driver’s side. Should I cut the engine?
Burke laughed, the cruel sound carrying easily through the park. “He’s got quite the temper, doesn’t he? He’s dying to attack us.”
“Then what are you waiting for?” Kai growled at the contractor. He hadn’t tried to get past Halil; without a switch, he was at a huge disadvantage against the pyromage.