“Like I said, we need to lie low,” Emery said in a tight voice. “I can’t have anyone knowing I’m here. We’re here.”
Joe shifted and leaned heavily on the bar, facing the doorway. “The guild knows you’re in town. Which means everyone else knows you’re in town. They know we’re friends from the old days. A few of your old gir—” He cut off and glanced at me. “A few of your old friends told me to tell you to call them if I saw you. I suspect”—I got another glance—“you won’t be wanting to.”
“That’s got nothing to do with me,” I said, trying to throw up my hands. How quickly I’d forgotten the reason they were being held in the first place.
Emery tightened his grip as colors, light, patterns, and texture flowered over our touch and drifted up our arms. It was unlike any of the magic I’d seen before. More nuanced even than Emery’s. More beautiful.
I watched in fascination, tickled where the wisps and strands touched me. A smile spread over my lips, and this time, when I looked up to Emery, he was staring back at me, a dark shadow across his beautiful blue eyes.
“Talk about buzzkill,” I muttered, returning my gaze to the dancing and curling magic.
“I can feel that,” Joe said. “You had better do something to hide it, or just walking down the street will get you found out.”
“I know,” Emery said. “What did you hear?” One by one, the muscles along his sizable frame flexed. In contrast, I was as loose as I’d ever felt, relaxed and open to my surroundings, feeling a strange but delightful magical tune whisper to me, soft and sweet.
“You mean, aside from guild members torturing someone who tried to get out? They’re getting bad, man.” Joe shook his head and shifted uncomfortably. “But as it pertains to you, that you took out three middle-tier mages that were working together,” Joe said. He took a step back and a sheen of moisture covered his eyes, like he was about to start crying. “That your magic is ten times mightier than when you lived in town, which seems about right, judging by the really harsh sting I’m feeling right now. And that something went down at a remote guild office somewhere in the burbs, but the guild is being quiet about it.”
“I found the office and broke in. I didn’t kill anyone. You know me. I don’t want to take down any innocents.”
Joe snickered, but there was no humor in it. “Innocence in the Mages’ Guild—yeah, sure.”
“Are Roger’s people looking for me?” Emery asked.
“No. You’re clear there.” Joe paused, catching the sound of a scuffed shoe near the doorway. I tried to lean back and see, but Emery shifted and blocked my view. A moment later, a burly guy with long arms held a little away from his muscular body, perhaps out of necessity, crossed to the other side of the bar. His gaze was on Joe, his pompous strut ridiculous.
“It’s like a muscle convention,” I said. “And he thinks he’s the big-ticket item.”
“Bear shifters.” Joe crossed his arms. “They cause the most bar fights out of anyone.”
I widened my eyes, straining to look, but the guy was already gone. Then I turned my surprised, bewildered, and possibly a little excited gaze to Joe. “Are you a shifter, too?”
He frowned at me. “Yeah. Why, what’d he tell you?” Joe jerked his head at Emery.
“She was living as a sheltered human until about a month ago,” Emery said. “I wouldn’t have thought it possible with someone like her, but… Well, you’d have to meet her mother.”
“Save yourself the headache.” I turned my wrist in Emery’s grasp, trying to loosen the hold. “What do you turn into?”
“A wolf.” There was that growl again, primal and wild, hinting of lush forest and the scent of a fresh kill.
I smiled, closing my eyes as the air around me sizzled. Spicy green and textured, that was what his magic said to me. In a spell form, I’d read it as protective and loyal, steadfast and trustworthy. Something to help, not hurt. Something to rely on.
I wondered if that changed with his moods, or if his intentions were perhaps different when he was in wolf form.
“Everyone is classifying this as a guild matter,” Joe said, and I could feel that he was ignoring Emery’s earlier request to keep the wolf at bay. At least the magical part of it. “Roger doesn’t have the power to take them down, so he has no choice but to steer clear of anything they’re after. Same with the MLE office. It’s just you and the guild on this one. But Emery…” Joe scratched his scruffy chin and shifted. Muscle rippled along his robust body. “The guild has gotten stronger since you left. More ruthless. No one engages them, because they rule this town. No one can go up against them. This is a battle you can’t win. Even with what’s going on, and even if Roger sent some shifters to help, you’re no match. I know you want closure for your brother, but it’s not worth your life. Or hers. Your brother was a good man. He’d tell you the same thing. You should take your pretty friend and get out of town.”
Emery stared down at me, and something I couldn’t identify moved in his eyes. “I can’t. They would follow.”
“You’d be surprised,” Joe said. “They haven’t had much luck spreading their influence to other towns, and certainly not other states. They rule Seattle, but they don’t have a good hold on other places. They’d probably let you go.”
Emery’s eyes dulled for a moment and his gaze slipped to nothingness. A moment later, he was blinking and back to life. He shook his head. “I appreciate the warning, and that is more tempting than you probably realize, but if I send her away, they’ll hunt her down with all their resources and she’ll be captured. Not killed, captured. Anyone who helps her will die in the process. I won’t leave her to that fate.”
Joe nodded. “Stay safe, and let me know if you need anything.” He put his hand over the bar for Emery to take. It took him a moment to realize Emery was busy holding my hands.
“Honestly, I’m fine,” I said, shaking my arms.
Emery didn’t comment, nor did he let go. I was starting to think the time he’d spent with my mother and I had irreversibly scarred him.
Joe dropped his hand and turned to leave, but stopped after a couple steps and turned back. “Just one more thing. I was around when you let loose with Conrad.” I could hear the song of the hunt in his tone. I laughed with the exciting and adventurous feel of it. “I’ve always found it a little jarring to be near naturals, dual-mages or not. The power’s almost too harsh. Nearly unbearable. But this…” He made a circle in the air with his finger. “This is more powerful than I remember, but…pleasant. It sings to my primal side. It’s almost like it’s calling to me, urging me to follow your lead. Is that what you’re intending?”
Emery looked down at me, waiting.
“Wait, are you asking me?” I tried to point at myself. Trapped hands were really distracting.
“She hasn’t had any training,” Emery said, stepping back and dragging me with him. “I don’t think she knows what she’s doing right now.”
I lifted my eyebrows. “You mean the—” I almost said magic. “The stuff near our hands? Because that isn’t me; that’s the electricity we keep feeling. Remember earlier today?”
Joe’s brow furrowed and he tilted his head at me. “Where did you find her?”
“She tried to run me over with her car.” Emery pulled me toward the door.
Booming laughter followed us out. “My kinda girl.”
“How’d you know I was trying to run you over?” I asked. Emery wrapped his arm around my shoulders and held my wrists in his other hand. “And what are you assuming I’ll do if I have my hands free? I realize the danger is gone. I’m not going to zap anyone.”
“You’re pulling elements from everything around you right now, whether you can see it or not. You’re collecting them together into an extremely organized mass the likes of which I’ve never seen before. All it would take is a thought for you to cobble them together and create something big. Something lovely, I have no doubt, since Joe was right about how pleasant this magic feels, but something aimed at the shifters in some way. That would affect ninety percent of that bar. You don’t need every shifter in town knowing how much power you have. We’ll have to find another use for it.”
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