A hush fell at the other end of the pub and swept through the room, silencing all conversation. Heads turned as everyone homed in on the front door.
Two people stood just inside the entrance. Both the man and the woman wore identical dark business suits, his hair buzzed short and hers tied in a simple ponytail. The guy carried a leather document case under one arm. I squinted, trying to place them. They weren’t guild members arriving late to the party.
Crap, what if they were inspectors from the liquor board come to bust me for letting customers pour their own alcohol?
The man took a half step forward, plucked the white ID card off his lapel, and held it up. His severe voice was quiet, but it pierced the entire bar.
“Agent Harris of the MPD. Where is your guild master?”
At the word “MPD,” people jerked straight and some leaped out of their chairs. I didn’t move, gawking and paralyzed. Oh, how I would’ve preferred liquor-law inspectors. This was worse. Exponentially worse.
The MPD. MagiPol. The all-powerful organization that ruled over mythics and guilds. I’d never seen an agent in person, and for good reason. Me being human meant I wasn’t allowed to work at a guild. My employment hinged entirely on the MPD’s ignorance of my existence.
As fortyish mythics flailed at the agents’ appearance, hands clamped around my waist. Ezra yanked me down and pushed me under the table, then ducked under it with me. He held a finger to his lips.
I sucked in a silent inhalation, my head bent sideways under the tabletop. Hiding. Yeah. That was a smart idea. Good thing Ezra’s reflexes were better than mine. I frowned at him. Why was he hiding too?
“The guild master?” Agent Harris prompted again.
“Good evening, Brennan,” Girard said calmly over the uneasy murmurs filling the pub. “Darius might be upstairs, but I suspect he’s gone home for the night.”
Footsteps thumped against the floor, heading toward Girard—and toward me and Ezra. Agent Harris’s shiny dress shoes appeared in my line of sight, stopping only a few feet away.
“And you are?” Agent Harris asked in a low voice.
“Girard Canonach, first officer of the guild.” Amusement mixed with a sharp note of displeasure in his voice. “I’m surprised you don’t remember me, considering our numerous communications over the years.”
“I deal with many officers,” Agent Harris replied dismissively. “If Darius is here, I will speak with him immediately.”
“Laetitia, can you check upstairs, please?”
She pushed her chair back and hurried toward the staircase in the corner. The rest of the mythics at the table stayed put, their chairs and bodies forming a curtain around my and Ezra’s hiding spot.
“How’ve you been, Brennan?” Girard asked conversationally, the sharp note lingering in his tone. “You’re working late tonight.”
“I have a demanding job.”
“You have lucky timing. We’re not usually this busy at ten o’clock on a Saturday.”
My questioning gaze snapped to Ezra, and he gave a tiny nod of confirmation. The MPD agents had shown up precisely because it was meeting night.
Quiet, nervous conversations were picking up around the room and chairs creaked as people got to their feet.
“Girard,” Agent Harris said. “Tell your people that no one leaves until we’re finished.”
“Everyone, please take a seat while we see what the esteemed MPD agents need from us. Thank you.” Lowering his voice again, Girard said to Harris, “If you’re going to hold us here, I’d like to know why.”
Papers rustled. “We’re here regarding Case 18-3027, the investigation into Albert and Martha River, and the Crow and Hammer’s involvement in their apprehension.”
Ice flooded my veins. Those names were all too familiar. I’d played a major role in the couple’s capture, but that had been four weeks ago and I’d assumed it was all a done deal. The MPD was only getting to it now?
“We’re investigating in conjunction with Case 03-1622, the disappearance of Nadine Emrys from the Bellingham Sorcerers Guild in England fifteen years ago.” Agent Harris shuffled his papers. “You, Girard, are required to appear for questioning regarding the Rivers’ apprehension. I have your summons here, though as per procedure, I need to present it to your guild master first.”
“I see,” Girard replied flatly. “Do you have summonses for anyone else?”
“Aaron Sinclair and Kai Yamada, for their roles in the interrogation.” Another shuffle of papers. “Ezra Rowe also faces a summons, as well as pending charges for using undue mythical force on humans.”
I looked at Ezra in horror, my lips silently forming the words, “Pending charges?”
He leaned close and put his mouth to my ear. “Not criminal charges,” he breathed almost soundlessly. “They’ll fine me unless we can convince them that the Rivers should be tried as mythics.”
His whispered words calmed my anxiety, but my heart didn’t slow. If anything, the stupid thing raced even faster. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about, his lips brushing against my ear had sent ridiculous tingles running down my neck and spine.
“Why is that woman taking so long to fetch Darius?” Agent Harris demanded.
“Laetitia will be back any moment, I’m sure,” Girard answered coolly. “Is there anything else I can assist you with?”
Ezra turned sharply, scouring the empty space beneath the table.
Agent Harris cleared his throat. “There’s one more matter I’m investigating.”
Ezra focused on a spot beside me. Catching my eye, he again put his finger to his lips. Uh, yeah, duh. I knew to stay quiet. I didn’t need a reminder to—
A man appeared beside me.
I started so hard I fell over, and Ezra caught my elbow before I could bump a table leg. I gaped in disbelief. Darius crouched beside us, head bent under the table, his expressive eyebrows arched. What the actual hell? The dude had materialized out of thin air! What kind of mythic was he?
“We have a summons,” Agent Harris continued, oblivious to the growing group concealed under the table, “and pending charges for use of an illegal artifact on a human. The woman in question goes by the name Patricia Erikson, but we believe that’s an alias.”
Oh, shit. That was me.
“Do you have any members with red hair?” Agent Harris asked Girard.
A moment of quiet.
“Ginger, checking in,” Aaron announced. “You’ve already got me on a summons, though.”
“A female member with red hair,” Agent Harris corrected irritably. “We’ll be questioning you and Kai Yamada in detail about your associate Patricia Erikson.”
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.
Agent Harris’s feet shuffled with impatience. “We’ll also be discussing how this woman is connected to the rogue known as the Ghost. The Rivers insist the woman intimated that she works for him.”
I pressed both hands to my face. Why, oh why, hadn’t I kept my big mouth shut? While interrogating the Rivers, I hadn’t even considered they would describe my every word and action to the MPD.
Reaching past me, Darius touched Ezra’s shoulder, then pointed at Aaron’s legs. Ezra tapped Aaron on the knee.
“You can save your inquiries for the official questioning,” Girard cut in firmly. “It seems Darius has left for the night. Why don’t you return at a more reasonable hour?”
As Girard spoke, Aaron slid his car keys out of his pocket and passed them to Ezra. Holding them tightly so they wouldn’t jingle, he tucked them in his pocket.
“Actually,” Agent Harris replied, “we’ll be inspecting the premises before we leave. I have the paperwork here.”
Beside Aaron, Kai held up three fingers under the table, then folded one down. He was counting? Three, two, one—
He shoved his chair back and stood.
“This is bullshit,” he declared loudly, slurring the words. “Why the hell are you bursting in here and ruining our night?”
I choked on a gasp. Kai was not the “belligerent outburst” type—nor was he drunk enough to slur like that.
“Calm down—” Girard began.
Kai slammed his hands on the table, rattling the shot glasses. “Bullshit! Who does this prick think he is? He’s not even following procedure! This is intimidation, that’s what it—”
“Shut up!” Aaron shouted, leaping to his feet. He staggered drunkenly. “You’re just making it worse!”
Darius took my elbow, distracting me so I missed Kai’s snarled response. As the two mages yelled at each other, the guild master pushed me toward an opening between chairs. Panic rushed through me, but I didn’t resist his guiding touch. Surely Darius knew a shouting match wouldn’t prevent the MPD agents from spotting us.
I skooched out, Darius right behind me. Two feet away, Kai and Aaron were ranting back and forth while Girard ineffectually tried to separate them. Harris and the female agent watched with stiff annoyance.
Not a single person so much as glanced our way.
Ezra popped out of hiding last. Hands on my shoulders, Darius steered me between tables. No one noticed us walk past. We circled the bar, then Darius gestured for me to duck under the saloon doors that led into the kitchen. I crawled under them and jumped up on the other side.
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