“When did you first know you were a mage?”
He canted his head at the random topic. “Elementaria is a hereditary class, so … I can’t remember ever not knowing. Young mages develop magic in pre-adolescence, and I was using simple air magic by ten years old. Aaron and Kai started even earlier.”
“What if you didn’t know you were born a mage? How would that work?”
“Magic comes naturally to most mages,” he replied after a moment’s thought. “Making it through my teens without discovering my magic would’ve been all but impossible, even if I hadn’t known to expect it.”
Aaron traipsed down the stairs with his open laptop balanced on one palm, screen already glowing. “Known to expect what?”
“That I was an aeromage,” Ezra said before I could change the subject. “Tori was asking how mages start using magic.”
I suppressed a cringe, praying the guys wouldn’t guess the motivation behind my ill-thought-out question.
“Oh yeah.” Aaron dropped down beside me. “We don’t need training to start. I was drawn to fire as a toddler and igniting everything flammable by kindergarten.”
Wow, Aaron had started young. Having famous mage-trainer parents might’ve helped.
Ezra’s curious gaze swung back to me. “Why do you ask, Tori?”
“Just wondering,” I said lightly, thanking my lucky stars that Kai wasn’t around. He would’ve immediately guessed why I was asking. “Aaron, have you found anything about the missing fae?”
His fingers were sliding across the laptop trackpad. “Gimme a minute … okay, here. There’s a listing and a standard bounty, but there are no investigative notes and no one has—wait.” He squinted at the screen, then swore.
“What?” Ezra and I demanded in unison.
“The Crow and Hammer is listed as the lead guild in the investigation.”
“What?” Perfect unison again. We even used the same part confused, part outraged tone.
“Looks like the coven made the decision for us,” Aaron growled. He pulled his cell out of his pocket.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Calling Kai and telling him to come home. I want to get to the bottom of this before the coven signs us up for anything else.”
“Oh.” Kai. Returning to the house to hear all about the trouble I’d caused. That sounded like something I’d rather skip. I pushed off the sofa. “I should head home then. Don’t want the MPD catching me here.”
Aaron grabbed the back of my sweater and yanked me down. “Oh no you don’t.”
“But I’m not supposed to be here,” I protested.
His thumb swiped across the screen as he pulled up Kai’s number. “Doesn’t matter. You have to stay now.”
Lifting the phone to his ear, he gave me a look that said I should know exactly why. “Because if Kai decides to yell at someone, better you than me.”
I slumped into the cushions. Goddamn it.
Kai yelled at me.
Okay, to be fair, Kai didn’t actually yell. He rarely raised his voice, but he had this stern lecture tone where disapproval oozed from every syllable and it felt like being yelled at. Aaron called it yelling too, so I wasn’t the only one.
After his lecture—covering everything from letting strangers into my house to accidentally making promises on the guild’s behalf —he and Aaron decided to investigate the coven to make sure their fae case was legit before proceeding with anything else.
And then they sent me home.
Back under house arrest, just like that. Ezra’s and Aaron’s reassurances that this was all temporary seemed even flimsier, and dread gathered in my chest like a blob of cold slush lodged in my lungs.
I spent two more days moping around my house and skimming job postings with zero interest. I needed to find paying work, especially now that summer was ending. It was the last Friday of August, and next Tuesday was my first day of the fall semester. With college classes to fund and bills to pay, I couldn’t lounge around much longer.
Yet here I was, sprawled on my bed in my PJs with a Disney movie playing on my laptop. At nine o’clock on a Friday night. Oh yeah, living it up. Look at me, total party girl.
Grumbling, I pillowed my head on my arm and watched Mulan’s musical training montage. I empathized with her misfit status so hard, but her transformation from wimp to soldier left me depressed. I wished a shirtless captain with a topknot could sing a catchy song and magically turn me into a badass mythic.
I tried to imagine Darius singing. Nope. Maybe Girard? Yeah, that was more likely.
The movie continued, but I wasn’t paying much attention. Ezra’s brief explanation about magery had confirmed what I already knew: there was no way I could be a mage. I hadn’t honestly believed it was possible, but a desperate part of me had still hoped.
Being not-special sucked.
Rolling onto my back, I stared at the ceiling. I wasn’t secretly an Elementaria mythic, but could I belong to another class? Something had drawn me into the mythic world … right? Little human me had been surprising mythics since day one. If I could discover what was special about me, then I would cement my place in their world.
Someone knocked on my bedroom door.
I bolted upright on my bed. It couldn’t be Twiggy. He never knocked; he lurked outside my door and ambushed me when I came out. Besides, he was still avoiding my wrath after the slap bet.
The handle turned, then the door creaked open. I grabbed my pillow, ready to defend myself.
Tousled copper hair appeared in the gap. “Surprise!”
“Aaron!” I gasped, pressing a hand to my chest. My heart hammered against my ribs. “I thought you were an axe murderer.”
“Axe murderers don’t typically knock.” He pushed the door all the way open. “Figured I was due for a little revenge after your unannounced visit.”
Shutting my laptop on Mushu’s face, I swung my legs off the bed. “What are you doing here? Do I have my job back or is the MPD about to raid my house?”
“Neither.” He waltzed over to my bed. “I snuck over to see you. Or, more specifically, to spring you from prison and take you out on the town.”
He gave my sloppy ponytail a playful tug. “A beautiful woman shouldn’t be stuck at home on a Friday night.”
What a cheesy line. I couldn’t help smiling anyway. “You’re a dork.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say—but if we’re stereotyping, no dork is this ripped.” He flexed his biceps in emphasis. “Ready for a night out?”
“Do I look ready?”
“You look gorgeous.” He appraised my baggy t-shirt and yoga shorts before his gaze settled a good bit lower than my face. “If you want to go like that, I have zero complaints.”
I gasped in mock affront and covered my chest. Grinning, Aaron leaned down and captured my mouth. His hot lips sent a steamy swoop through my middle, and desire threaded through his kiss as he slid a hand into my hair.
“Or we could stay in,” he murmured against my mouth. “Watch the rest of your movie together.”
With one hand pressed to his warm side, his soft cotton shirt all that separated my palm from his hard, muscular body, I seriously considered it. But I also knew my ability to resist his smoldering allure was next to none. If he joined me in bed for a movie, our clothes wouldn’t stay on for long.
Aaron and I had been casually dating for weeks now, but we hadn’t yet made it into his bed or mine. It wasn’t that I didn’t want him—oh hell yes, I did—or that I had a reason to hold back. We were just so casual, and I liked it that way. Sleeping with him would take our … whatever we had going on … to the next level. I wasn’t ready for that.
“I’ve been stuck in the house all week,” I said. “Please, get me out of here.”
Unfazed by the rejection, he straightened with a smile. “Late dinner, or a movie, or both?”
“Both!” I hopped up and opened my closet doors. “Start the countdown. Ten minutes to get ready.”
“No woman can be ready in ten minutes. I bet fifteen.”
“Eight,” I countered. “And I get to pick the movie.”
“Deal.” He pulled out his phone to set a timer. “If I win, I get to pick the movie and order your dinner.”
“What? That’s not fair.” I pulled out a sleeveless purple top, then flipped a pair of skinny jeans over my shoulder. “I get to order your meal if I win.”
“Fine.” He grinned. “You’re having steak.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Not rare.”
“My choice.” He watched me select a lacy black bra, heat sparking in his gaze.
Heading toward the bathroom with my outfit, I called over my shoulder, “You’re getting a salad.”
He gagged as he followed me. “I’ll starve to death before the movie is over.”
“I’ll order extra croutons. You’ll be fine.” I closed the door on him, then stripped off my lounge clothes, shimmied into my jeans, put on my bra, and pulled on the top, adjusting the plunging cowl neck over the tight black underlayer. Swinging the door open again, I dug a handful of bobby pins out of the vanity drawer. “How’s the investigation into the coven going?”