“Oh, sorry. What I meant to say was you’re an evil bastard and I can’t wait to see you burnt at the stake for your evil crimes of evil.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Kill me? That’s what an evil rogue would do.” I thumped a hand against my chest. “Go on. Stab me dead.”
“I like that shirt.”
I eyed my borrowed black t-shirt, then hopped off the bed and stretched. “I’m so done sleeping.”
“Great. You can leave now.”
As he sprawled out over my half of the bed, I cast a mocking look over my shoulder. “You sure you want to set me loose already, Zak?” His expression darkened and fear skittered down my spine. I flapped one hand. “Don’t worry, I won’t say anything. I don’t want you confining anyone else to permanent imprisonment on your ranch.”
Leaving him in bed, I wandered over to the workshop side of the room. The tables were piled with jars, bottles, vials, herbs, artifacts, weapons, crumbling scrolls, thick leather-bound books, and strange tools. I paused to examine three shimmering white feathers, then moved down the table to an ivory horn with a spiral pattern.
I pointed. “That isn’t what I think it is, is it?”
Without sitting up, he craned his head to see what I’d found. “Unicorn horn.”
“Unicorns are real?” It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.
“They’re a type of fae, like dragons.”
I stretched my hand out but didn’t touch it. “Does … does taking its horn kill the unicorn?”
“Did you do it?”
I remembered the rigid fury in his face as he’d pulled the harpoon out of the young dragon’s side, and his growled promise to deal with the culprits. Something told me the unicorn hunter hadn’t fared any better than the dragon hunters would.
Continuing down the table, I passed a sinister black mask, then leaned over to examine a stack of books with gleaming text on the spines in a language I couldn’t read. Beneath the pile was a box, one exposed corner revealing a glimpse of something shiny.
Rustling blankets drew my attention to the bed as Zak swung his legs off. He sat on the mattress, rubbing his face with both hands, the cleansing crystal hanging from his neck. When he stood, I hastily returned to my perusal of his collection before I started perusing his physique. Hot damn.
He disappeared through the door beside the bathroom—a closet, I was assuming. I minced over to the cabinet, surveyed the magical skull-silencing box, then lifted it.
“—black-faced gadabout with the wit of a headless chicken—”
I slammed the box back over the skull’s snarling tirade. Counting to ten in my head, I lifted the box a second time. Silence.
“Don’t be a rude old geezer and I’ll leave the box off.” I held it out threateningly. “Deal?”
The skull’s red eyes glared balefully at me. Taking that as an agreement, I set the box aside. The closet door opened and Zak walked out, halfway through pulling a dark gray t-shirt over his head. I watched wistfully as the fabric fell over his beautiful abs. I should’ve snuck a feel while he was sleeping.
See? I’m a bad person too.
He fed a belt through the loops of his dark jeans. “Morgan and Terrance will have noticed you’re missing, so there’s probably no way to hide that you …” His eyes narrowed. “What’s with that look?”
“Um.” I sidled along the table, avoiding his gaze. “Morgan came by in the middle of the night. She was hammering on the door so I … went to see what the big fuss was.”
Huffing in exasperation, he joined me at the table and straightened a stack of ancient papers. “What was the fuss about?”
“Oddly, she never said.”
“Her breast heaved with chagrinned denial,” the skull cackled, and I jumped at the sudden noise. “Pale cheeks flushing as her womanhood swelled with furious—”
Zak rolled his eyes. “Shut up, Harry.”
“Do not address me so!” the skull barked. “You are naught but a crawling worm cherishing the dregs of power cast upon him by beings far superior than—”
Zak took a threatening step toward the cabinet and the skull quieted. He folded his arms. “Foul old spirit.”
“His name is Harry?” I asked bemusedly.
“A nickname.” A mean smirk flashed over Zak’s lips. “He hates it.”
I laughed and leaned against the table, reassessing the druid with interest. “So you do have a sense of humor.”
“Not at all.”
Snorting, I poked him playfully in the chest. “Liar. You totally—”
Loud knocking on the door cut through my sentence and I jerked off the table with excessive force—triggering a chain reaction of klutziness.
The whole table jostled and the stack of books tumbled over. I whirled around, grabbing for the books, and accidentally knocked a heavy tome into the box with the shiny blue object, nestled in crumpled packing paper. The box tipped over and the object—a glossy orb in shades of aquamarine and fuchsia—bounced across the tabletop.
I lunged to grab it—and so did Zak. I caught it, crashing into him at the same time. He grabbed me around the waist before I fell.
And, of course, that was the exact moment the door opened.
Morgan hung in the threshold, her mouth gaping open. Zak dropped his arms and I stepped away from him, holding the orb in both hands. Since she appeared offended instead of shocked, I assumed she’d seen his face before.
“I heard crashing—” she began.
“What do you want, Morgan?” Even irritated, Zak’s husky rumble was unfairly sexy.
“I—I don’t think we should discuss the matter in front of—”
“Just say it.”
She inhaled angrily. “Nadine left us.”
Zak stiffened. “What?”
“She ran into someone she knew—an old neighbor. They stopped at a coffee shop to catch up and the woman asked Nadine to live with her.” Morgan’s voice softened. “I thought Nadine enjoyed it here, but I guess …”
A long silence. My lungs felt like lead in my chest.
“Is that everything?” Zak asked flatly.
Morgan’s gaze flicked to me. “Yes, but—”
“Thank you. I’ll be down later.”
“Y-yes.” With a final glare at me, she stepped back and shut the door.
I stared at nothing. “Nadine … left?”
“It would seem so.”
I looked down at the orb. Roughly round, with odd ridges and lines, it glistened in blues and pinks. The smooth texture felt oddly warm in my hands. “What is this?”
“It’s a fae.” He straightened his shirt. “In a dormant form, I think. I haven’t had time to figure out what’s wrong with it.”
Not really thinking about what I was doing, I hugged the orb to my chest. Nadine had left. As reality sunk in, a bitter taste welled in my throat and I had to choke back a nasty laugh. I was such an idiot. I’d surrendered to the Ghost to save Nadine, and she’d rescued herself through pure chance.
She’d never been trapped in the Ghost’s clutches, but now I was. The irony hurt.
“Tori, did you tell Nadine anything about me?” Zak asked. “I talked to her after the fae encounter in the woods, but if she connects me with the Ghost …”
Alarm rippled through me. I had warned Nadine about his reputation, but in the vaguest terms.
“No,” I lied. “All I ever said was you’re a bad person.”
“How complimentary.” His dry response was distracted, his attention drifting around the room without seeing it. I said nothing, my gut twisting into knots. Nadine had ditched me, but she was safe. She’d talked fondly about her neighbor, and I hoped she would be happy.
But why did my stomach hurt? And why was Zak’s forehead creased with worry?
“Zak, the town they went to … is it a tourist destination or something?”
“Not in the slightest. I assume you’re wondering the same thing as me—how her neighbor was in that town at the exact right moment to meet Nadine.”
“Did Nadine tell you why she ran away from home—the envelope and stuff?”
He nodded. “I looked into it. I couldn’t find anything on the people who raised her. They seem entirely human. The Emrys’ bloodline, however, is famous overseas for producing talented sorcerers going back generations. Stephen Emrys was the guild master of the largest, most influential sorcery guild in the UK.”
“Someone killed him and his wife, then kidnapped Nadine and … what?” My forehead crinkled. “Flew her across the ocean just to dump her in the adoption system?”
“The kidnappers may have run afoul of law enforcement and lost track of her.” He shook his head. “I’d planned to investigate her adoptive parents more, but since no one could have found her here, I thought I had lots of time.”
“No one could find her here, but now that she’s back with her neighbor? How long until her parents find out?” I realized I was squeezing the fae orb and loosened my grip. “Nadine’s smart. She should have realized going with her neighbor wasn’t safe.”