“… worried about Tori.”
I paused at the sound of my name.
“Philip is concerned about what the fae bond might do to her,” Aaron continued in a low voice. “She’s human, not Spiritalis.”
Why did everyone keep rubbing that in? I scowled silently.
“How is she?” The other voice belonged to Ramsey, the weekday cook and our in-house artifact expert.
“Pale and tired, but I don’t know if that’s from lack of sleep or what.” He made a low, unhappy sound. “I shouldn’t have brought her with us. What was I thinking?”
“Don’t beat yourself up, Aaron. She wanted to go, didn’t she?”
“Yeah,” he mumbled. “She did.”
“It’s a damn shame she isn’t a mythic,” Ramsey mused. “She’d make a great combat sorcerer.”
Emotion flashed through me, but Aaron replied before I could examine it.
“She would, and that’s why I keep forgetting she isn’t one.” His voice hoarsened in a way I rarely heard from him. “I’m going to get her killed.”
Standing with my hand on the saloon doors, I didn’t move, unsure what to do. Walk in? Back away?
“What’s the deal with you two?” Ramsey asked after a moment. “Are you a couple or …?”
“Hell if I know.” Aaron sighed. “I really like her. She’s smart, funny, hot, brave as a damn lion. I know we have chemistry, but …”
Ramsey was quiet, maybe waiting for Aaron to continue. “But what?”
“But there’s something missing,” he answered softly. “Half the time I think she just wants to be friends, but she’s never suggested we shouldn’t date. It’s like she’s holding back or … or she’s just not that into me. I don’t know.”
“Damn,” Ramsey muttered. “That’s rough.”
“Tell me about it. I haven’t got a clue what to do, so I’m just going with the flow.”
Ramsey said something in response, but I was backing away, my heart banging sickeningly against my ribs. I retreated to the farthest end of the bar, a hand pressed to my chest.
Eavesdropping was bad and I was a bad person. I was also a self-centered twit.
Here I was, happily doing the casual dating thing with Aaron, oblivious to the fact he didn’t want to be casual. Justin had questioned whether Aaron was stringing me along with unspoken promises of something more, but I was the one doing that to him. And he, being the good-natured guy he was, was rolling with the punches, hoping I’d give him a clear signal.
Well, I felt like a royal piece of shit.
Swallowing hard, I called, “Aaron?”
Their voices paused, then Aaron replied, “In the kitchen.”
I walked back along the bar and pushed through the doors. Forcing a smile, I waved at Ramsey.
Tall, lean, and goth—though less goth than usual with no eyeliner and his hair hidden under a ball cap—he gave me a quick smile in return. “Heard you got yourself a shiny new fae lord for a familiar.”
“I don’t think that’s quite how it worked.” I showed him my rune-marked palm, the only part of the intricate pattern visible now that I was dressed. “Don’t suppose you have an anti-fae-magic artifact tucked away somewhere?”
We talked to Ramsey until Kai, Ezra, and Sanjana joined us. The healer dragged me into the pub, sat me in a chair, and gave me a basic checkup. Declaring that I was exhausted but otherwise healthy, she turned me over to the guys.
A few minutes later, I was settling into Aaron’s drafty car as he started the engine. Ezra had climbed onto the back of Kai’s bike—the car’s back seat was full of broken glass and unfit for passengers—and the motorcycle zoomed out of the small lot ahead of us.
Aaron drove out after them. A few blocks down, Kai turned off the main road, but we continued toward my apartment. I stared moodily out the window at the early morning gloom, shivering as wind swirled through the car. So nice of Echo to break the back window.
“Sin is on her way,” Aaron told me. “Kaveri will join you too, in case you have issues with the fae. Since we don’t know what to expect from this sea lord, having a witch nearby is the best we can do. She’s swinging by her apartment to pack an overnight bag first.”
Since I needed mythic supervision, I would rather have stayed at Aaron’s house, but thanks to MagiPol’s stupid investigation, that wasn’t an option.
He stifled a yawn with one hand. “I’m beat. Once I’ve gotten some sleep, I’ll pick up a burner phone to replace my regular one and text you the number so you can call me if you need me.”
“Sure.” I rubbed his shoulder. “You guys need to rest. The fae bond isn’t going anywhere.”
“You need rest too. You look even tireder than I feel.”
“Tireder?” I repeated in amusement.
“You can’t expect me to English properly on this little sleep. Especially after that fight.” The car rolled to a stop in front of my bungalow and he cut the engine. “I’ll wait with you until Sin arrives.”
“That’s okay.” I unbuckled my seat belt. “She’s on her way. I’ll be fine on my own for a few minutes.”
He hesitated, worry shadowing his blue eyes. “I should probably …”
“I’ll be fine,” I reassured him. Leaning across the center console, I planted a kiss on his frown. “You’re exhausted. Go home and get some sleep.”
Heaving a sigh, he gave in. “Okay. But have Sin text me—wait, no, my phone is fried. Email. Have her email me when she arrives.”
“I will.” I hesitated, then leaned in again and brought our mouths together.
My kiss was slow and deep, full of emotion I hadn’t had time to process. My hand found his stubbly cheek, fingers stroking his warm skin. I pressed my mouth harder against his, an inexplicable surge of desperation rising through me.
When I pulled back, a hint of confusion lurked in his gaze, but he smiled. “Have a good nap. I’ll call you when I’m up again.”
“I’ll be waiting.” With a final wave, I got out of the car and shut the door. The engine grumbled to life, and he leaned sideways to search my face through the window. Then the vehicle rolled away, and I waited on the sidewalk until the red sports car was out of sight.
Turning on my heel, I hastened toward the house. My messed-up relationship with Aaron would have to wait. I had ten minutes before Sin arrived and I couldn’t waste it. As I strode into the backyard, I pulled out my phone and dialed a number. It rang while I unlocked the door and stepped into the vestibule.
Ten rings. Twelve. I growled, loping down the stairs. Pick up, pick up, pick up. I let it keep ringing. Fourteen. Fifteen.
The line clicked, and a deep, husky voice rumbled in my ear. “You’ve never called before. This better be good.”
“Hello, dahling,” I purred dramatically. “Tell me how desperately you’ve been longing to hear my voice again.”
A long, heavy pause, then the line went dead.
Swearing, I called right back, a hand on my hip as I let it ring another million times. Finally, the line clicked.
“You have no sense of humor at all,” I complained before he could speak. “I am calling for an actual reason, you know.”
“And what reason is that?”
I scrunched my face, nose wrinkling. The words were difficult for me to say, but I didn’t really have a choice. Weldon had said only a fae-magic expert or a dark-arts practitioner possessed the skill to deal with my problem.
Conveniently, I happened to know someone who was both—assuming he didn’t hang up on me again.
I sighed. “Zak, I need your help.”
“Tell me again,” I said, my brow furrowed, as Sin sorted through miniature bottles filled with bright colors, “why we need to paint our nails.”
“Because,” she replied like it was the most obvious thing in the world, “it’s a traditional sleepover activity. I haven’t done a sleepover since I was twelve, and I’m milking it for all it’s worth.”
She selected a bottle of hot pink lacquer from her tub of nail polishes and held it up. “How about this one?”
I couldn’t think of a more revolting color. “Sure, why not.”
“Kaveri, what color do you want?”
The dark-haired witch looked up. She’d constructed a small circle out of nature-y things in the middle of my living room, and Twiggy was sitting in front of it, looking as delighted as I’d ever seen him.
This was the weirdest sleepover ever.
“Nail polish is full of harsh chemicals.” Kaveri added another leaf to her circle. “It isn’t environmentally responsible.”
“Commercial nail polishes aren’t.” Sin uncapped the hot pink bottle and held it out to me. “Mine are all natural. Smell it.”
I cautiously sniffed. Instead of harsh paint odors assaulting my senses, all I detected was a hint of lavender. “Ooh nice. How permanent is it?”
“Without my remover potion, it won’t so much as chip unless you tear your nail off.”