“That was Ice Guy,” I said. “The mage who attacked you last weekend.”
“That was my guess too.” Aaron rubbed his scruffy jaw. “Seems like these assholes aren’t ready to quit.”
“The big question,” Kai murmured, descending to the bottom step, “is who they came for? You—or Tori?”
Aaron frowned, contemplating me like he couldn’t imagine why someone would hunt me down. Then his frown deepened and his gaze jumped to Ezra. “Actually, I think the big question is … what were you two doing down here together?”
“I came down to get a glass of water,” I answered promptly. “Then I planned to jump Ezra’s bones while he was sleeping.”
Ezra blinked repeatedly. Aaron glanced rapidly between us like he was trying to catch me in a lie, but Kai smirked. At least one of them was awake enough to recognize a joke when he heard it.
“Back to bed, then?” he suggested.
“That’s it?” I demanded incredulously. “A mythic home invader and a deathmatch in the entryway, and you’re just going back to bed?”
Kai looked at Ezra. “You good?”
Ezra held out his hands and I was surprised to see his knuckles undamaged despite punching a hole in the wall. “I’m good.”
“’Kay. Night.” Kai ascended the stairs and, a moment later, a door clacked shut.
“He doesn’t like his beauty sleep disturbed,” Aaron remarked. “Tori, you all right?”
“Yeah,” I muttered. “I’m going to get that glass of water.”
When I returned from the kitchen with my water in hand, Ezra was sitting on the sofa and Aaron was scrolling through movie listings on the TV. “Since we’re wide awake, we’re going to watch something. Want to join us?”
I could have kissed them both from relief. I’d already been having trouble sleeping, and going back to the quiet bedroom would’ve meant spending the rest of the night straining my ears for sounds of a second invasion.
As Aaron curled up in the armchair, I plopped on the sofa beside Ezra and pulled his discarded blanket over my legs. Opening credits began to play, but I had no idea what movie Aaron had picked and I never found out. The moment I nestled into the cushions, with Ezra and Aaron nearby and the quiet sound of the TV filling the silence, I fell asleep.
Stifling a yawn, I slid my laptop into my purse—oversized purses are a lifesaver—and shoved a notebook and pen in after it. I’d had to get up earlier than usual so we could swing by my apartment and pick up my school stuff—plus a change of clothes—before class, and I was painfully exhausted. Easing out from behind the long table, I followed my fellow Small Business students out of the classroom.
Hot irritation spiraled through me as chattering people clogged the doorway. My temper wasn’t the best on a good day, and I was way too many hours short of a full night’s sleep. I shoved my way through, elbowing a girl in the back.
As students streamed down the wide halls, I headed for a study nook with two sofas and a few chairs arranged around a low table. Approaching cautiously, I eyed its occupants. Kai had his boots propped on the table, his laptop resting on his legs, and a black motorcycle helmet sat near his feet—my helmet, since I’d accidentally worn it inside.
When I’d left him a few hours ago, the study nook had been empty. Now it was full of women. Two had crammed themselves onto the sofa with him, and five more were arranged across the remaining seats.
My eyebrows climbed toward my hairline. Ah. Kai’s playboy status had baffled me—he wasn’t outgoing or even flirtatious—but now I got it. He attracted women with the oldest trick in the book: disinterest. He was hot, and he was ignoring them. That combination seemed to trigger some bizarre mate-hunting instinct in women, driving them to throw themselves at the man until he acknowledged them as worthy.
At least, that was my working theory as I stopped by the table and received no less than three icy warning glares.
“Hey,” I said. “Ready to go?”
He snapped his laptop shut and rose, grabbing the sleek black helmet. As he joined me, passing over the helmet, I counted the disappointed sighs. We walked away side by side, and feeling the belligerent stares on my back, I gave in to my evil urges and slid an arm around his waist.
His arm wrapped around me in response, but his look was questioning.
I nodded at his fan club. “I couldn’t resist crushing their souls.”
Amusement flashed in his dark eyes and he pulled me closer. I could almost hear the dismayed growls echoing from the study nook. Swinging the helmet in my free hand, I grinned the whole way through the building.
“How many phone numbers did those girls offer you while you waited?” I asked teasingly as we exited the building, an unpleasantly muggy breeze greeting us. A solid blanket of gray clouds loomed above the skyscrapers.
“Five,” he replied seriously.
I almost missed a step. I’d been kidding … “Planning to call any?”
“Maybe one. She was cute.”
“What about the others?”
“Not my type.”
“What’s your type?” I asked as we stopped beside his motorcycle.
“Well.” He pondered the question as he stashed his laptop in the saddlebag and unhooked his helmet. “I don’t know.”
I caught his arm before he could put on his helmet. “You were going to say something there. What was it?”
He grimaced. “The other four handed me their numbers like I should be flattered.”
“Yuck.” I pulled a face. “Yeah, don’t call them.”
His expression vanished behind his helmet’s visor. “Happens a lot.”
We climbed onto his bike and once my arms were safely locked around his waist, he took off, speeding into the beginnings of the Monday evening rush hour. At a red light, I leaned into his back so he could hear me over the bike’s engine.
“I’ve heard you date a lot of women,” I said baldly. “Are you waiting to find the right girl, or just not into long-term relationships?”
“Bit of both.”
An illuminating response. Most people would have quit prying, but the mystery he presented had me intrigued. “What do you do when you’re not on dates?”
His head turned as he tried to see my face—not that he could see anything through my helmet’s visor. “Why do you ask?”
“Do you date much, Tori?”
“Nuh-uh. I’m asking the questions. We can talk about my non-love life later.”
The light turned green and the bike zoomed into motion. Unlucky for me, we got all greens the rest of the way to the Crow and Hammer. Kai pulled the bike into the back parking lot. Hopping to the pavement, I pulled off my helmet.
“So?” I prompted. “Interests? Hobbies? Pastimes?”
Swinging off the bike, he removed his helmet and gave me a sidelong glance. “You’re not planning to set me up with your friends, are you?”
I snorted. “What friends?”
His hands paused in the middle of unzipping a saddlebag.
“Ah,” I muttered awkwardly. “That came out way more pathetic sounding than I intended. It’s been hard making friends in a new city, that’s all.”
Nodding, he tucked his laptop under his arm. “Aaron was the first friend I made here. Well, ‘friend’ is a stretch. We hated each other at first. We were thirteen and insanely competitive.”
“How did you meet?” I asked as we circled around the building to the guild’s front door.
“I enrolled in the Sinclair Academy. Aaron and I were in the same year so we went through all our training together.”
“Whoa, hold up.” I pushed the door open, ignoring the surge of panicky revulsion the entrance triggered—what I now knew was a spell to repel humans. “The Sinclair Academy?”
“Aaron’s family runs the most exclusive mage-training academy on the West coast.” He led the way across the pub, to where Cooper the sometimes-cook was manning the bar. “It’s both a school and a guild, and they’re extremely selective about who they admit. Underage mythics train there starting at thirteen, and when they turn eighteen, they can join the guild and continue training.”
But he and Aaron hadn’t joined the Sinclair guild. They’d left a fancy private academy to join the disreputable Crow and Hammer instead.
“Hey Tori,” Cooper called, giving me a sloppy grin. “Looking smokin’ as usual. Visiting on your night off?”
“Are you drunk?” I asked.
“Nooo. Definitely not.”
I followed Kai to the stairs in the corner. “Dunk your head in the ice machine before Clara catches you.”
Kai headed up the staircase. Was I allowed up there? I hesitated, then hastened after him. Guild rule number two: Don’t get caught. Can’t get in trouble if you don’t get caught.
The second level, which I’d only glimpsed once, was a combination of study hall, library, and computer lab. Whiteboards, corkboards, and a city map with pins and sticky notes marking different locations filled the walls. A dozen guild members were scattered around, some at the computers, some browsing the bookshelves at the back, some sitting at the worktables.