Three Mages and a Margarita (The Guild Codex: Spellbound Book 1) by Annette Marie


  “Yeah. He kept demanding his artifact back.” I frowned. “Where did you come from, anyway? Weren’t you meeting me at the café?”

  “The bus drives right by the store, so I got off early. I thought we could walk to the restaurant together.” She tugged on my purse. “Let me see your stomach.”

  “What’s wrong with my stomach?”

  She pulled my purse away, and I saw what was wrong. The sorcerer’s dagger hadn’t caught only my shirt. Blood stained the fabric around the tear, but when Sin lifted the hem, we found a shallow scratch that had barely broken my skin. Well, this explained why she’d called my shirt trash—it was literally destined for the garbage.

  “Okay, that’s just a minor cut. Good.” Sin tugged my shirt down. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”

  “No, I’m just …” I took a shaky breath. “He used a spell … ori torqueo something … and it … really hurt.”

  “Oh,” Sin murmured. “I’m sorry, Tori. That’s an illegal spell. He shouldn’t have had something like that.”

  “Well, it’s not like he’s a law-abiding citizen.”

  She sat beside me, patting my shoulder while I practiced slow, even breathing. In the frenzied panic of the fight, I hadn’t realized how shaky and dazed that pain spell had left me. The dizzy out-of-body feeling lingered stubbornly.

  A revving engine rose above the other sounds, then the squeal of brakes. A car lurched as a black motorcycle cut it off and veered toward the sidewalk. It jumped the curb and slid to a stop, forcing pedestrians to scatter. The leather-clad driver flipped his tinted visor up.

  “Kai?” I blinked at him. Whoa. How had I not noticed how badass he was before now?

  Sin dragged me to the bike and pushed me onto the seat behind him. The leather vibrated alarmingly under my butt.

  Unhooking a spare helmet from the back, Sin handed it to me. “Put that on.”

  As I attempted to jam the helmet over my ponytail, she spoke quietly to Kai. I had to pull the tie out of my hair, freeing my curls from their ponytail, before I could get the helmet on. Sin stuffed my purse into the saddlebag behind my thigh, then squeezed my arm.

  “Kai will get you out of here,” she assured me. “Just hold on tight, okay?”

  I obediently wrapped my arms around Kai’s waist. “What about you?”

  “I’m going to see what I can find out about that sorcerer before the police cart him off. I’ll check in with you later.” She nodded at Kai, then marched back to the scene of the crime.

  “Pick your feet up, Tori,” Kai instructed, pulling his visor down.

  “I’ve never ridden a motorcycle before,” I told him, reluctantly lifting my sandals off the ground and half expecting the bike to tip over, but Kai kept it steady.

  “All you have to do is hold on.” He craned his neck to look back at me. “Use the footrests.”

  Pulling my feet up higher, I found sturdy metal pegs to prop them on. Okay, this wasn’t so bad.

  The engine growled and the motorcycle jumped into traffic. I clung tightly to Kai, wide-eyed behind my helmet visor. The busy street was bumper to bumper, but Kai zoomed between cars and down the center line with no regard for traffic laws. He cut off Robson Street and wound through a maze of side roads, heading east toward the edge of downtown.

  As we left the skyscrapers behind, I expected him to turn north toward the Crow and Hammer, but he took a right instead. Small, quaint shops with colorful awnings and outdoor markets replaced the downtown buildings. We passed the edge of Chinatown, then he turned onto a residential street lined with mature trees and cute little houses.

  The motorcycle rolled to a stop in front of a beige house with blue trim, the tiny front yard enclosed by a wooden fence with a trellis arch over the front walk. As Kai cut the engine, I took in the adorable cottage-style house, then carefully swung off and wobbled a step away.

  Kai jumped off the bike, set the kickstand, then pulled me into his arms.

  I squawked in surprise. “I can walk!”

  He ignored my protest and carried me under the trellis as Aaron rushed out of the house to meet us, his expression grim.

  “How is she?” he demanded.

  “Sin said no serious injuries, but he hit her with a torque spell.”

  Aaron hissed. Spinning on his heel, he backtracked up the stairs to the front stoop. “Ezra is on his way. He’ll be here in a couple minutes.”

  “Guys, really, I’m fine.”

  The way my voice croaked from my bruised throat wasn’t convincing, and unsurprisingly, they ignored me. Inside, Kai carried me past a landing with stairs up to the second floor. The living room featured big bow windows and French doors leading into a dining room. A large sofa and reclining chair filled the space, and a huge flat-screen TV took up the opposite wall, several game systems arrayed on a low stand beneath it.

  Sweeping into the dining room, Kai deposited me on the table. I pulled my helmet off, glaring at them. “I said I was fine.”

  “I know what you said.” Aaron took my wrist, his fingers pressed to my pulse. “But I don’t believe you. Torque spells can send the body into neurogenic shock.”

  “Into … what?”

  Kai dropped his helmet on the table, knocking a stack of old flyers onto the hardwood floor. “Do you feel dizzy? Disoriented? Weak? Clammy?”

  “No,” I said indignantly, then hesitated. “Not anymore.”

  Aaron and Kai exchanged knowing looks.

  “There’s blood on her shirt,” Kai said.

  I swatted Aaron’s hands away before he could lift my shirt, then pulled up the hem to display the shallow scratch. “It’s nothing.”

  “I’ll get the kit.” Kai walked out, and his footsteps sounded on the stairs.

  “Any other injuries?” Aaron asked.

  “No. You guys are completely overreacting.”

  Aaron’s eyebrows shot up. “Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet that a rogue mythic hunted you down and almost killed you. Personally, I don’t think we’re overreacting.”

  My stomach turned as belated fear shivered through me. When he put it that way …

  Kai reappeared with a first aid kit so large it could store an entire paramedic team. “Tell us what happened. Every detail you can remember.”

  Holding up my shirt, I recounted the tale while Kai cleaned the scrape on my stomach. Since it had already stopped bleeding, he didn’t bandage it. Dropping my shirt down again, I concluded with Sin’s rescue.

  “He was waiting for you?” Aaron growled. “How the hell did he know you’d be there?”

  “No clue. I told Sin this morning where I was heading, but that’s it. My brother knew I was going shopping, but not where.”

  “Then how could he have—” Aaron broke off as the front door banged.

  Ezra strode into the room, dressed in running gear with his brown curls windswept. “Is she hurt? How bad is it?”

  “She’s okay,” Kai said. “Just a scratch on her stomach.”

  Ezra stopped in front of me, his worried eyes sweeping down to check I still had all my limbs. As his gaze came back up, it stuttered to a stop a good bit lower than my face.

  Huh, well. I’d wondered if Ezra didn’t date because he wasn’t interested in women, but my impressively displayed cleavage had just proved otherwise.

  Aaron put his hands on his hips and gave me a once-over as though Ezra’s ogling had given him permission to look too. “I’ve gotta say, Tori, that’s a daring shirt.”

  “I shoplifted it.”

  The three guys gave me the same incredulous stare.

  “I didn’t mean to,” I added glumly. “Sin rushed me away before I could pay for it.” I tugged the neckline up, but it slid back down until my bra was peeking out again. “I didn’t even want it.”

  “Uh.” Aaron struggled to focus. “Would you like to borrow a shirt?”

  “That’s okay. I can change at home.”

  “Er, about that.” He leaned against the table beside me. “I
think you should hang out here for a few days.”

  “Huh?”

  “If that sorcerer found you,” Kai said, “other rogues involved in the ambush last week could find you too. They probably think you’re a guild member—a mythic. They may come after you for that artifact, or use you to get to Aaron.”

  Alarm flashed through me, but I shook my head. “I’ll be fine. I live with a cop, you know.”

  “You do?”

  “Didn’t I mention my brother is a police officer? Well, he is. I’m perfectly safe at home.”

  “You’ll be safer with us.” Ezra’s smooth, soothing voice washed over me. “We’d worry about you by yourself.”

  Damn it. Why did he have to play the “we’ll worry” card?

  “It’s only a few days,” Kai added. “Since you and Sin took out the sorcerer, we have a place to start. We’ll figure out where he came from, who he’s working with, and most importantly, who he’s working for.”

  My mouth twisted. I didn’t want to freeload off the guys any more than I wanted three overprotective bodyguards shadowing my every move, but … I thought of that sorcerer and his glowing dagger, and I imagined him stalking through my apartment. Justin might be a cop, but he stood no chance against mythics he didn’t know existed.

  Suppressing an anxious shiver, I reluctantly nodded. “For a few days, I guess.”

  “Great!” Aaron said brightly. “You can sleep in my room. I’ll take the sofa.”

  Kai pulled a face. “You’re a slob. She won’t want to sleep in your room.”

  “Oh, are you offering yours? She’ll love that.”

  “At least my room is clean.”

  “Mine’s clean. Just a bit … cluttered. You have weapons everywhere. She’s liable to trip on a sword and impale herself.”

  As they argued, Ezra glanced between them, then walked away. Easing off the table, I followed him. Aaron and Kai continued to bicker, not noticing our departure.

  At the top of the stairs was a small landing with three doors, one open. I stepped into the threshold as Ezra pulled folded sheets from the closet. The small bedroom, with one slanted wall where the roof cut into the space, was simple and tidy. A double bed with a gray patchwork blanket, a hand-me-down dresser with chips in the wood, and a bookshelf loaded with paperbacks and movies. An acoustic guitar on a stand sat in the corner.

  The art on the walls surprised me the most: four large prints of mountain landscapes, one for each season. I studied them, finding an unexpected resonance between the peaceful scenery and Ezra’s meltingly smooth voice that calmed me so easily.

  “I’m good with the sofa,” I told him. “I’ve been sleeping on one for nine months.”

  “You’ll have more privacy here. I don’t mind.” He stripped the bed down to the mattress, then remade it with clean sheets. Flipping the comforter back over the bed, he turned, his gaze searching mine. “Are you okay, Tori?”

  I threw my hands up. “How many times do I have to say I’m fine?”

  “I just wanted to be sure.” He tilted his head in question. “Do you want a hug?”

  My exasperation evaporated—along with my forced nonchalance about the sorcerer’s attack.

  “Okay.” The word came out in an embarrassingly childish whisper.

  He stepped close and wrapped his warm arms around me. As I buried my face in his chest, my breath released in a shuddering exhale and I had to fight back the sting of tears. Helping Aaron had been one thing—I’d run headfirst into that fight. But being ambushed, getting strangled, having a lethal blade almost shoved in my guts … even I couldn’t shrug that off like it was nothing.

  In Ezra’s arms, I felt safe and protected. Part of me wanted to melt against him and cry like a baby. Another part of me hated this false feeling of safety that would only last for as long as he was around. Sooner or later, I’d be on my own again.

  He held me as I steadied my breathing. With a quiet sniff—I was not crying, damn it—I raised my head.

  Aaron and Kai stood in the doorway, watching. My face flushed, but they didn’t seem shocked by my girly emotions, nor were they gleeful at catching me in their friend’s arms. Concern was all I saw in their eyes.

  Ezra stepped away, one hand on the small of my back. “I’m starving. Why don’t we order pizza?”

  “I don’t know,” Kai said. “That’ll depend on Tori.”

  “Me?” I asked blankly.

  “If you want pizza with pineapple on it, we’ll have to throw you out.”

  I blinked, not entirely sure if he was joking, but Aaron laughed. “If she wants pineapple, she can have it. You don’t have to eat it.”

  “Its existence alone is an insult to all pizza.”

  With a snort, Aaron scooped me to his side. He grinned, his confidence banishing the last shiver of my fear. I smiled back as he pulled me to the stairs. Ezra and Kai followed, the latter still explaining why pineapple on pizza was unforgivable blasphemy.

  Halfway down, Aaron stopped. “Um, Tori.”

  “Yeah?”

  “Are you cold?”

  Did his fiery magic make him impervious to outside temperatures? The house was as hot as an oven. “No.”

  He glanced at the ceiling like it held the answers to all life’s mysteries. “Are you sure you don’t want to borrow a shirt?”

  I looked down. My boobs stared back at me. “Fine. I’ll borrow a shirt.”

  All three of them sighed, but I wasn’t sure if it was from disappointment or relief. Huffing, I stepped out from under Aaron’s arm and marched down the stairs alone. Men.

  Chapter Fifteen

  It had been months since I’d slept in a proper bed, but for some dumb reason, I couldn’t sleep. Snuggled into a pillow that smelled of fresh laundry detergent and a hint of whatever nectar-of-the-gods soap Ezra used, I should have been floating on blissful clouds of slumber. But despite the exhaustion leading my eyelids, I couldn’t keep them closed. With no distractions, worries occupied my thoughts—mainly, what would happen next.

  Sin had called while we were waiting for pizza to arrive. She’d gotten the name of the sorcerer, and tomorrow the guys would do more research into who he was. The police had taken him away, but as Aaron had explained, he wouldn’t remain in custody for long. Mythics weren’t held in human jails. He’d be let go, and if he didn’t turn himself in to MagiPol, they would put out a bounty for him.

  I wasn’t naïve enough to expect the sorcerer to turn himself in, which meant he’d be on the loose again tomorrow. We had no idea how he’d set up an ambush outside my favorite store—and no idea how to prevent him from stalking me.

  Rolling over, I absently scratched at my neck. The shirt Aaron had lent me featured a horrifically itchy tag, and as I contorted my arm to adjust it, fabric rubbed against the cut on my stomach. My throat still ached from the sorcerer strangling me, and in the silent, dark bedroom, the array of pain and discomfort was difficult to ignore.

  I hadn’t been able to dwell on anything earlier in the night. After pizza, Aaron parked himself in front of the huge TV, picked up a video game controller, and challenged me to a go-kart race. I sucked at it, driving off cliffs and spinning out on banana peels, but trash-talking Aaron while he drove laps around me was fun. When Ezra joined us after showering, the game got even more fun—instead of me losing fantastically to Aaron, Aaron and I both lost to Ezra. I didn’t mind, because watching Aaron curse Ezra out every time he plowed Aaron off the track was hilarious.

  Kai eventually took up the fourth controller, and we raced the evening away, complete with popcorn and beer. I threw in the proverbial flag at midnight and watched the guys duke it out one more time on the most difficult track. Ezra won, again.

  “I thought you couldn’t drive,” I told him as we high-fived.

  “I can drive just fine.” He grinned. “I just can’t tell how far away the other cars are. Not a problem in a video game—especially when I’m in the lead.”

  I’d fallen into bed sho
rtly after that.

  Rolling over again, I squinted at the ceiling. Even with the window open, the room was stuffy and my sore throat was parched. Untangling from the blankets, I climbed out of bed. My borrowed t-shirt fell below my butt, and for comfort’s sake, I’d ditched my shorts and bra. I scratched the back of my neck again. Damn tag.

  My gaze drifted to Ezra’s dresser. Would he mind if I borrowed a different shirt?

  I cracked the top drawer open and peeked inside. Socks, folded in pairs, and boxer briefs, unfolded. Not wanting to dig through his underclothes, I went straight for the bottom drawer. Aha, t-shirts!

  I dug into the tidy stack, searching for one without a tag. As I wiggled my fingers into the fabric, my nails caught on paper. Lifting the shirts up, I found a worn folder with a thin stack of paper in it. The edge of a photograph stuck out from the pile.

  Sometimes I’m a bad person. With a guilty glance at the closed bedroom door, I slid the photo out.

  A boy and a girl around fifteen stood with their arms around each other—a typical first-high-school-relationship photo. The girl had plain blond hair that looked like it had been trimmed with kitchen scissors, but her broad smile was beautiful in its unrestrained joy.

  The boy, a few inches taller, had dark hair cut short and warm brown eyes in a handsome, olive-skinned face. Ezra, before he was scarred and blinded. Behind him and the girl, an expanse of mountains spread in a breathtaking view.

  It was a happy photo full of youthful exuberance, but heavy sorrow infused me as I studied it. Despite the bright colors and the young smiling couple, the photo’s location at the bottom of a drawer in an old folder told a different story. Ezra didn’t want to throw the photo away, but he didn’t want to be reminded of it all the time either.

  I slid it back into its spot in the folder, leaving one corner sticking out the way I’d found it. I rearranged the stack of shirts, closed the drawer, and stood up. Pulling off Aaron’s shirt, I turned it inside out and slid it back on.

  Itching from guilt instead of a scratchy tag, I cracked the bedroom door open. The other two doors were closed, no lights glowing from beneath them. Aaron and Kai were asleep. I tiptoed down the stairs to the landing by the front door and headed for the kitchen, passing the living room.

 
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