The faery pulled its green lips back, revealing pointed canines like a cat’s. Then it leaped.
It crashed into Sin’s chest, knocking her down as it grabbed at the vial in her hand. I launched forward, swung my foot back, and kicked the little green bastard square in the face. The faery tumbled into the wall, yelping the whole way.
Sin sat up. The vial, and her hand, were wrapped in thin tree roots, preventing the liquid from spilling out. Tearing the roots off her hand, she shot the faery a murderous glare, then stalked to the stairs. “Come on, Tori.”
“Only witches can deal with fae.”
The faery sat on the floor with its hair twigs bent on one side. It glowered furiously at me, its spindly arms crossed. As I trotted after Sin, it stuck its green tongue out.
I stuck my tongue out in turn, then hurried up the stairs and slammed the door shut behind me.
Sin recapped her anti-faery concoction and hid it in her purse as we walked into the backyard, baking heat sweeping over us. I sighed, relieved to be out of the unnatural cold. The landlord was waiting in the shade of the spruce tree, his shoulders slumped dejectedly.
Heard us screaming, had he? He’d sure embraced his inner hero when he came running to our rescue. Not.
I pulled my sunglasses down over my eyes. “I’ll call later this week to set up a second viewing.”
His head jerked up. “You—you want to come back?”
Assuming every visitor got the faery’s horror-movie treatment, I’d bet an entire paycheck that I was the first person to ever suggest a second viewing. “Yeah. I’ll call you.”
With a farewell wave, I strolled out of the yard. Back on the sidewalk, Sin and I headed toward the main street.
“Well,” I remarked, “that was interesting. Are you sure a witch can deal with the pine-cone prick?”
“It’ll be no problem. That’s a minor faery, nothing that would slow down a witch.”
“Excellent.” I smiled wickedly. “One small exorcism and I can rent the place at a haunted-house discount.”
She returned my grin. “How convenient that you happen to know several witches.”
“Very convenient indeed.” I checked the clock on my phone. My shift started in thirty minutes, and all things considered, witches were a cakewalk compared to some of my clientele.
From the outside, the Crow and Hammer didn’t look like much of anything. Three stories, walls the color of faded brick, barred windows, and a black door tucked in a recessed entryway. A crow with its wings spread wide, perched on a war hammer, was painted on the door, the silver lettering of the name peeling.
With Sin behind me, I pushed the door open, ignoring the anxiety-inducing repelling spell that kept the general public away. A blast of sound hit me.
I lifted my sunglasses to take in the chaos. The bar was normally tidy—because I kept it that way—and the dark wood walls and heavy beams in the ceiling gave it a Ye Old Pub feeling I enjoyed. But the dozen tables were scattered like litter in the wind and the chairs were even more haphazard, half of them lying on their sides.
A woman with black braids tied into a high ponytail charged between two tables, chasing down her victim. Hands outstretched in placation, he retreated with stumbling steps. Inexplicably, he was soaking wet, his red hair plastered to his face.
“It was an honest mistake, Laetitia!” He knocked over another chair as he scrambled backward, tracking water everywhere. “I had no idea—”
“I posted on the board!” she shouted, advancing on him. “Three days, Aaron! Three days of precise planning that you ruined on a whim!”
“Well.” He halted, cocking his head. “Your plan didn’t work, but we still caught the guy, right?”
A pulse of silence ran through the room. The dozen other patrons, wisely lining the walls to stay out of the way, looked back and forth between the two mages like spectators at a tennis match. Muttering something about using the rear door instead, Sin turned on her heel and marched right back outside. Too bad I couldn’t follow suit.
Laetitia swelled with fury. “My plan would have worked if you hadn’t burst in throwing fireballs right when—”
“But we caught him, so does it really matter that—”
With a high-pitched sound like a kettle on the boil, she threw her hands up. The air around her blurred into mist. The condensation coalesced into a giant orb of shimmering water that she hurled at Aaron.
The magical water balloon slammed into his chest. Liquid splashed across the floor and he fell into the bar, knocking over stools, more drenched than before.
“Oh, come on,” he complained loudly, wiping water off his face. “I said I was sorry!”
“You don’t know the meaning of the word,” she snarled, raising her hands again. Mist formed into another water orb.
Okay, I’d seen enough. I pushed my shoulders back, lifted my chin, and bellowed, “What the hell are you doing to my bar?”
All eyes turned to me. Laetitia hesitated, water swirling around her hands.
Aaron cringed. “Oh, uh … Tori. Is it four o’clock already?”
I marched across the floor, my ponytail bouncing with each step. “What is this? If you’re going to have a water fight, take it outside!” Halting in front of Laetitia and Aaron, I folded my arms and glowered. “Do you expect me to clean up this bullshit mess on top of my bar prep?”
Laetitia lowered her hands, the liquid dissipating into a foggy cloud. “I’ll clean up the water.”
She waved at the nearest puddles. The water flew into the air and gathered into an expanding liquid orb between her palms. As the final droplets joined her super-orb, she raised it up, pivoted toward Aaron, and brought the whole thing down on his head like she was slam-dunking a basketball.
Water flew everywhere, but not a single speck touched the floor. It evaporated into a fine mist that dispersed in seconds. Smirking, Laetitia sauntered away, leaving Aaron with liquid streaming off his clothes and puddling around his feet.
Muttering under his breath, he straightened his sopping shirt. The white fabric clung to his toned chest and droplets ran enticingly down his biceps and hard forearms. As my attention wandered, I reminded myself that I was angry with him.
“Hey, Tori.” He pushed his red hair off his forehead and gave me his most charming smile, as though a water mage assaulting him was no big deal. “How did apartment hunting go today?”
“Don’t ‘hey, Tori’ me,” I said firmly, immune to his charisma—or close enough to fake it. “Get cleaning!”
I pointed behind me. “Everything you knocked around. Fix it.”
He started picking up stools. Positioning myself in front of the bar, I supervised his efforts. When he’d straightened the last chair, I was waiting with the mop in hand. He looked from the mop to the water he’d tracked all over the floor, then took the handle from me with a grumble. As he mopped his water trail and the other customers returned to their seats, two guys emerged from the darkest corner.
I arched my eyebrows as they joined me, doubting their innocent airs. Where Aaron went, Kai and Ezra were usually close behind, keeping the pyromage from burning buildings down or getting himself kidnapped … again.
Kai leaned against the bar beside me, casually adjusting his sleek silver watch. Cool as ice and scary intelligent, he was the brains to Aaron’s brawn. Not that Kai was a pushover—his impressive physique aside, he was a dangerously skilled electramage—but with his striking good looks and classy style, he was easy to underestimate.
Taking the spot on my other side was Ezra. Super hot too and my favorite sweetheart of a badass, butt-kicking aeromage. As he turned a quiet smile on me, the light gleamed on his pale left eye, damaged by the mysterious attack that had left a thick scar running down his face from temple to cheekbone.
“So,” I drawled, “what did you three do this time?”
“Kai and I are innocent of any wrongdoing,” Ezra protested. Despite his hurt tone, his meltingly smooth voice was as deliciously appealing as always.
“Uh-huh. What did you do?”
Kai brushed nonexistent lint off his designer t-shirt. “We went after a bounty on a rogue summoner, but we didn’t realize Laetitia was already working on it.”
“We burst in right as she was about to take him down,” Ezra admitted. “Kind of ruined it for her. But we did catch the guy.”
“Aaron wasn’t apologetic,” Kai added. “Laetitia didn’t appreciate that.”
“And when she and Aaron got in a shouting match, you two disappeared,” I guessed.
Ezra shrugged. “No sense in all three of us getting drenched.”
“Cowards,” Aaron complained, stumping over to the bar with the mop. “What they aren’t mentioning is how they knew Laetitia would blow up as soon as we got back, so Kai goaded her into flipping out on me first while they slipped away.”
“I did no such thing,” Kai deadpanned.
Aaron growled. Stepping away from us, he squinted in concentration. Heat rolled off him and hissing steam rose from his clothes. Leaving him to bake dry, I grabbed the mop and circled the bar.