Was I as much their friend as I thought I was?
Lost in thought, I wandered into the living room and sat on the sofa. A few minutes later, my anxious reverie was interrupted by Aaron, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, rubbing a towel over his dripping hair. I hadn’t heard the shower running in the main-level bathroom, so he must’ve used the downstairs bathroom—a mythical place I had never seen.
“Did you show up just because you missed us?” Aaron joked as though no time had passed. He pulled the towel off his head and smiled roguishly. “Did you miss me?”
“Of course I missed you.”
He blinked, startled by my honesty. He must’ve expected a smartass comeback.
“Give me an update,” I ordered. “What’s happened with the MPD? Did you go to your summons? What about the charges against Ezra?”
Tossing his towel on the coffee table, Aaron flopped onto the sofa beside me. “The investigation? Let’s see. Kai and I went to our summons on Monday. It was easy to rearrange the story to make it seem like the Rivers revealed Nadine’s situation instead of you.”
I nodded earnestly. “Speaking of Kai, where is he?”
“Took his lady-of-the-week out for lunch.”
Glad to see all the chaos surrounding the guild wasn’t interfering with Kai’s love life. I kept forgetting he was a complete player who dated multiple women at once but never for more than a few weeks. He just didn’t seem like a womanizer.
“How could he skip his workout?” I asked jokingly.
“He didn’t. The asshole got up at six.”
“Oh.” I shuddered. “That sounds horrific.”
“Agreed.” Aaron pondered for a moment. “Back to the investigation, Darius had a meeting with the MPD and convinced them to drop the ‘excessive force’ charges against Ezra since a kid’s life was at stake. They’re still searching for you, but Kai and Darius came up with a great cover story that’s thrown the MPD off your trail.”
“Nice! What’s the story?”
“Probably better you don’t know it, in case they ever question you.” He straightened out of his slouch. “That’s basically it. The investigation is ongoing, but when they can’t find ‘Patricia Erikson,’ they’ll post a bounty and be done with it. Then we’ll be back to normal.”
Ezra had said that too, but my doubts remained firmly entrenched.
“Now it’s your turn.”
I blinked. “My turn?”
“Yeah. Something brought you over here first thing. Spill it.”
Right. Hoping to start off on a light note, I dramatically declared, “Last night, my house was invaded by witches.”
As I spoke, the door to the basement stairs clacked. Then—
I looked toward Ezra’s voice and my mind went blank. Totally blank.
“Dude.” Aaron’s voice barely penetrated my daze. “Why are you naked?”
He wasn’t naked. A towel was wrapped around his lean hips, but aside from that, he was clothed only in glistening droplets, the water clinging to every inch of his smooth bronze skin and hard muscles.
“I forgot to bring clean clothes down with me,” Ezra said. “Tori, what do you mean witches invaded your house?”
Along with his mouthwatering musculature, his scars were on full display—three parallel white lines that raked up one hip, across his stomach, and stopped at his sternum. I’d seen them once before, but they looked more terrible than I’d remembered—the lines thicker and more jagged.
I hauled my gawking stare off him and over to Aaron. Eyes on Aaron. Yes. I was dating Aaron, and I would not be that girl.
“Witches!” Hearing a faint note of panic in my voice, I cleared my throat. “They asked the local fae for a friendly witch and got pointed in my direction.”
“You’re not a witch,” Aaron observed dryly. If he’d noticed my punched-in-the-throat expression, he wasn’t showing it.
“They thought I was.” I stared intently into Aaron’s gorgeous big blues. Ezra needed to put clothes on. Why was he standing there in his towel? Him being completely unaware of his good looks was clearly a problem.
Desperate to stay focused, I spoke at top speed. “They said fae have been going missing in Stanley Park for the last four months and they think it’s the work of black witches but no other guild will help them so they asked me but I told them I couldn’t agree to anything but they somehow misunderstood and now they think the Crow and Hammer will investigate and—” I ran out of breath and had to gasp for air. “And that’s about it.”
Aaron gave a slow blink. “You told them we’d investigate?”
“No. Definitely not. I said I’d tell you about it but I couldn’t promise anything.” I grimaced. “At least, I think that’s what I said.”
“I might have been a little drunk.”
“Drunk?” Ezra repeated in surprise.
I almost looked at him again but resisted. Oh my god, go get some damn clothes!
“Why were you drunk?” Aaron asked.
“I did a few shots to go with my cleaning spree. I had nothing else to do.”
Sympathy flickered in his expression. “We should’ve snuck out to see you.”
Damn right they should have, but I’d already made myself seem pathetic enough. “Whatever. It’s fine.”
Aaron rubbed his jaw. “So, the coven expects us to investigate the fae disappearances?”
I wilted. “Sorry.”
He threw his head back and laughed. “We send you home on vacation, and you turn around and sign us up for a job. Well played.”
My lips quirked into a smile. I’d known Aaron would laugh—and Kai wasn’t here to yell at me.
I snuck a peek at the other end of the living room, but Ezra had vanished—presumably upstairs to find clothes. About goddamn time. I’d seen him close to naked before, but not all wet and glistening and—
No, not thinking about that.
“Anyway!” I said brightly. “I did my best to handle it. Now it’s your problem.”
“Thanks, Tori. Appreciate your effort.” His grin melted into thoughtfulness. “Everyone else turned them down, eh? That’s weird. We aren’t the only guild with witches on the roster.”
“The O-sisters claim they even asked Odin’s Eye, but they passed based on money.”
“No surprise there. Odin’s Eye are bounty specialists. They don’t get out of bed for anything less than five figures.”
Footsteps thumped quietly down the stairs, then Ezra appeared in jeans and a thin V-neck t-shirt. As he sat on the armchair, Aaron dusted his hands together.
“All right, Tori. Let’s take it from the top. Tell us everything they told you.”
I ran through all the details, then let the guys mull it over.
“It’s strange,” Ezra finally said. “That many missing fae isn’t something MagiPol would ignore. There must be a posting for it, so why would the other guilds refuse to investigate?”
“There’s definitely more going on here,” Aaron agreed. “And I’ve got to wonder which cards those witches were trying to play.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The witches may have approached you thinking that if they could convince one guild member, a sympathetic witch, to accept the job, it would force the entire guild to follow up.”
“But we have five witches.” Ezra scrubbed his fingers through his damp curls. “Reaching out to them would’ve been easier. Why approach Tori?”
“I wondered that too,” I muttered. More so after sobering up, but no need to mention that.
“Maybe they know more about Tori than they let on,” Ezra continued thoughtfully. “What if they know she’s inexperienced and thought she’d be easier to manipulate?”
My eyes narrowed. “Manipulate” was one of my least favorite words in the dictionary, especially when I was on the receiving end.
Aaron nodded. “Seems unlikely that any fae would call her a witch. They’d know better than anyone she’s not.”
“You think the witches know I’m human, and they came to me because I’d be easier to trick?” My hands balled into fists. “I thought witches were all sweet and nature-loving and shit.”
“They’re people, and all people can be assholes. It wasn’t necessarily malicious. I think we need to know why the other guilds hung them out to dry.”
Ezra replied in a murmur and they began discussing theories, but I wasn’t listening. I was too busy seething. Those witches had put on a real good act, but they’d been way too cool about my drunken state and way too happy to explain everything to me—things a mythic should have known. It made perfect sense: they knew I was human, or at least inexperienced, and they’d used me.
Once again, I was the useless human. Why couldn’t I have been born a mythic too? Being back with the guys was driving my desperate desire for inclusion even deeper.
As Aaron headed upstairs in search of a laptop, I tugged on a lock of hair that had escaped my hat. “Hey, Ezra?”