“Hold the fort, Twiggy!” I called as I grabbed my bright purple umbrella—a gift from Aaron to replace the hot pink umbrella he’d given me before this one. I was going through umbrellas at an alarming rate.

Twiggy squeaked an affirmative, and I locked the door behind us.

The streets shone with recent rain, and I inhaled the crisp, damp breeze. Aw, man. Fresh air. I walked with a bounce in my step, rejuvenated by the sight of something besides my apartment walls.

Sin and I chatted about nothing important as we walked. A few times she directed the conversation toward Aaron and our relationship, but I steered it right off that track. Swinging my umbrella from one hand, my purse tucked under the opposite elbow, I smiled at the brick-faced buildings that lined Main Street. My neighborhood was nothing special, but it bordered some of the oldest parts of the city, which was pretty cool.

As we neared the transition from generic businesses to colorful storefronts, I paused my story about shopping for tempura ingredients with Kai and Ezra. Three police cruisers were parked along the curb. No lights or officers inside, but still weird.

“Anyway,” I continued, banishing my frown once we’d passed the cars, “there we are, standing in this hole-in-the-wall shop full of Chinese herbs and pickled animal parts, and Kai is repeating the name of the sauce while the old man behind the counter is babbling in Mandarin. Then Ezra bumps into a display and …” I trailed off. “What’s with that look?”

Sin blinked, the disbelieving twist to her lips fading. “Sorry. It’s just so strange.”

“What’s strange?”

“Hearing your stories about them. Aaron, Kai, and Ezra, I mean.” She shook her head as we turned down a street lined with restaurants. “Everyone at the guild has stories about them, but yours are different.”

My steps slowed, my mouth turning down. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure how to explain it.” Sin thought for a moment. “Well, for starters, I don’t know of them inviting anyone to their house on a regular basis like they do with you.”

That couldn’t be right. Aaron, Kai, and Ezra were among the most popular guys at the guild—everyone liked them. But thinking back, I’d never seen another guest at Aaron’s place.

“And Ezra—I can’t recall him ever doing something without Aaron or Kai. He’s always with them. Not that that’s a bad thing,” she added hastily. “It’s just … he’s sort of overly attached to the other two. Have you noticed?”

My frown deepened and I slowed to a stop, again trying to remember an occasion that would contradict her assessment. Nothing came to mind.

Flummoxed, I blindly turned to keep walking. A shop door swung open right in front of me, the metal edge just missing my face.

“Watch it, dipshit!” I barked at the man stepping onto the sidewalk. “Unless you’re blind, you should—oh.”

My brain registered the man’s appearance: dark blue uniform, badge on the chest, emblem on the shoulder, gun holstered on his belt. I’d just called a cop a dipshit. I jerked my gaze up to the officer’s astonished face—but it wasn’t my rudeness that had shocked him.



He moved aside as a second officer—older with a thick beard—walked out. His radio crackled with a woman’s voice.

“Sorry I called you a dipshit,” I said quickly.

Justin waved his partner on, then pulled me into a quick hug. “Hey, Tor. What are you doing out here?”

“We’re getting sushi.” Tucking my fae-marked hand into my pocket, I tugged Sin over with my other hand. “This is Sin. Sin, this is my brother, Justin.”

“Hi,” Sin said in a tiny voice, her cheeks flushing pink. Justin offered his hand and she took it gingerly.

“Nice to meet you, Sin.” He smiled amicably. “Is it rude of me to say your name is really interesting? I’ve never heard it before.”

“Not rude,” she mumbled, her face going redder. She seemed to have forgotten how to speak.

Burying a smirk, I jumped in to rescue her. “What’s got you out here, Justin?”

“There are a few of us out this evening.” He glanced around, then lowered his voice. “Bizarre complaints have been coming in since yesterday. Figures in black lurking in alleys, ‘gangsters’ casing businesses, men accosting women on the streets.”

“Whoa. Here in Chinatown, you mean?”

“Chinatown, Strathcona, and Mount Pleasant.” He gave me a significant look—Mount Pleasant was my neighborhood. “It’s the kind of thing we expect in the Eastside, not around here.”

“No kidding.” A wet drop hit my nose and I glanced suspiciously at the sky.

“It isn’t a good night to be out. Did you two walk?”

“Yeah,” I answered. “We’re almost to the sushi place, though, then we’ll head straight back.”

“I’ll walk you to the restaurant, then you should take the bus home.” He frowned. “Actually, I’ll drive you back. They can spare me for a few minutes.”

“You don’t need to do that.” I scrutinized his expression—full of familiar stubbornness. “But thanks.”

We got three steps down the sidewalk before the rain started in earnest. I popped my umbrella open, handed it to Justin, then stepped under its plastic dome. Sin took the spot at his opposite elbow, her cheeks still flushed. Justin, the ol’ smoothie, made small talk with her, and she stumblingly responded.

Shy Sin was so cute! I giggled to myself, then a flash of something pale caught my eye. When I turned, I saw nothing but shops with glowing open signs and colorful awnings above the doors. A few people trailed along the sidewalk a ways back, looking at a window display.

We made it to the sushi shop and Justin waited outside with the umbrella while Sin and I went in to order. The moment the door shut behind us, Sin swung toward me.

“You never told me your brother was hot!” she hissed accusingly.

“What did you expect?” I flipped my curls with mock arrogance. “We have good genes.”

She snorted, then glanced at Justin’s silhouette outside the glass door. Her expression crumpled. “I’m such a loser. This is why I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“Because you go mute the moment a cute, single guy smiles at you? Yeah, that doesn’t help.”

She perked up. “He’s single?”

“Newly single. Very newly. And possibly rebounding.”

Chewing her lower lip in thought, she turned to the counter to order.

Laden with bags of delicious sushi, we exited the shop. Justin asked Sin what her favorite dish was, but I missed her answer as another pale flicker caught my eye. I glanced sharply along the street but saw only the same window-shopping trio. They’d passed the sushi place and were a dozen yards down the sidewalk.

Huddled under my umbrella, we started back. As Sin attempted to flirt with my brother—poorly—I glanced around, searching for the pale thing I kept seeing. Was I losing my mind? Sheesh.

I scanned the trio, checked the nearest dark alley—then did a double take. The three people had reversed direction and were following us again.

Déjà vu sparked through me. I’d been followed once before by strangers in black, and it hadn’t ended well. I looped my arm through Justin’s and picked up the pace, hurrying him and Sin along. Was I paranoid? Or were they stalking us?

Footsteps scuffed behind us—the trio increasing their pace. My neck prickled. I twisted to look back—and light gleamed off the shiny black pistol the middlemost man had pulled from his coat.

Shouting in alarm, I tore the umbrella out of Justin’s hand and swung the plastic dome down.

The gun popped. Yellow paintballs burst against my umbrella shield, and I almost cheered in relief that the gun wasn’t the bullet-firing kind. But the yellow splatter dripping off the plastic—I’d bet my paycheck it wasn’t paint.

These weren’t your average hooligans. They were mythics.

Justin pulled his actual bullet-firing gun from its holster and leveled it at our attackers. “Drop your weapon!”

The black-clad mythics exchanged perplexed glances, like they hadn’t expected this. Really? Had they thought Justin was dressed in costume?

I stood frozen, umbrella positioned in front of me. Mythics were attacking us—bad. My very human brother who knew an unknown amount about mythics was defending us—also bad.

“Drop your weapon!” Justin ordered again. “I will open fire on you.”

The man with the paintball pistol glanced at his buddies, then slowly lowered the gun.

“I said drop—” Justin began.

Twitching his wrist, the leftmost goon produced a short, fat stick from his sleeve. Three things happened at once:

The sorcerer shouted, “Ori impello plurimos!” and runes flashed up his wand.

Paintball Guy swung his pistol up.

And Justin fired his gun.

The bang of the gun burst my eardrums as a band of force struck my chest like a battering ram. I flew backward and crashed down on the sidewalk, the umbrella tumbling from my hand. Justin and Sin hit the ground beside me, blasted off their feet by the spell.