“Okay. Be safe, Victoria. And don’t miss your meeting.”

“I won’t.” Oh no, I definitely wouldn’t.

The original plan had been for me to hang around the youth center for another thirty minutes after speaking with Gregory so as not to arouse suspicion, but there was no way I could sit still or act naturally. Better to leave early than stay and look more suspicious—plus, I had other plans I didn’t want to cancel.

Outside, I strode down the sidewalk. When I reached the two-block point, Aaron and Ezra swung out of an alley and fell into step on either side of me.

“I got it.” I grinned fiercely. “The Ghost is coming, and we’re going to teach that slimy bastard a lesson.”

Looping his arm around my waist, Aaron pulled me against his side in a brief, in-motion hug. “Knew you could do it!”

“Well done, Tori,” Ezra added with a warm smile that erased the icky mental residue of my talk with Gregory. “You’re amazing.”

Oh shit, was I blushing again? I bit the inside of my cheek until my eyes watered. The heat faded from my face. Much better.

“I just need to change,” I told them, checking the time again. “Then I’ve got to book it to my appointment.”

“You say that like you’re planning to run there or something,” Aaron observed casually.

“Um … yes?” Jog, not run, but close enough.

He rolled his eyes. “I’ll drive you, dummy. Why would you need to walk? Or run. Or whatever.”

“I don’t want to trouble you,” I muttered.

“You really need to practice the whole asking for favors thing, Tori.”

“Or,” Ezra countered, “you can just boss him around. He likes that.”

Chewing my lip, I let the opportunity to join their banter pass. Asking for help. Not something I’d ever been good at, but I was improving—at least with the guys. Still, I evidently had a ways to go, since it hadn’t occurred to me to ask for a ride. “Aaron, could you drive me to my appointment?”

“Nope, sorry. I’m busy.”

“What? But you just—”

His eyes sparked with mirth. “I’m kidding. Of course I’ll drive you.”

Fighting a scowl, I grumbled, “Thanks.”

“No problem. Besides,” he added, “I’ve never seen a fae exorcism and I’m damn curious.”

Aaron parked in front of a squat bungalow with a towering spruce rising from the backyard. As we clambered out of the car, a woman sauntered through the gate and waved cheerfully.

“Hey, Kaveri,” Aaron greeted her. “How’s it going?”

“Excellent,” she said dreamily. Tall, willowy, wearing fitted yoga pants and a sports bra that displayed her flat stomach, she resembled a Pilates instructor. A duffle bag hung over her shoulder. “Lovely, calm vibrations here. I can see why it attracted a fae.”

She said that like it was a good thing, but I disagreed. “Will it, uh, continue to attract fae?”

She shrugged. “Fae are unpredictable. Shall we begin?”

“We’re early, so the landlord won’t be here to unlock the house for at least forty-five minutes.” Aaron’s ride over had saved me a long walk.

“It isn’t locked. I checked. This will be easier without a human present.” With a bounce in her step, she headed through the gate into the backyard. As I followed her, Aaron and Ezra trailing behind me, I blinked a few times in bewilderment. Without a human present? Uh, hello, this girl right here was human.

Except, maybe Kaveri didn’t see me as a regular human.

Totally missing my reaction, she continued thoughtfully, “We’ll start with a peaceful offering ritual and see how the faery responds.”

“I don’t think a peaceful approach will work with this thing,” I told her. “It isn’t what I’d call friendly.”

“It’s worth a try.”

“I thought you were doing an … exorcism?”

Kaveri threw a smile over her shoulder. “With fae, it’s always better to negotiate before trying ultimatums. A happy fae is a helpful fae.”

My forehead crinkled. “What is a fae?”

“Fae is the common name for the spiritual beings that share our world. Fair folk, elves, aes sídhe, devas, yokai, elementals—every mythology across the world has a different name for them. They’re bound to the natural world, with magic different from ours but originating from the same roots.”

Whoa, did she say elves? Were we talking Legolas or Dobby? ’Cause I definitely knew which I preferred.

“All you need to know about fae,” Aaron declared as we filed through the back door and down the stairs, “is don’t mess with them. Save that for people who know what they’re doing, like Kaveri.”

“I know more about fae than the average mythic,” Kaveri said, “but one can never know everything about the spirits. They’re mysterious, deceptive, and don’t share their secrets with anyone.”

Not super encouraging, but I’d join a witch coven right now if it meant I could meet a real-life Legolas. I followed her into the main room of the apartment, eyeing the crawlspace door warily.

“Hey, this is pretty nice,” Aaron observed, wandering into the kitchen and opening a cabinet. “Great find.”

“I guess I can thank the fae for scaring off the competition.”

“Ah,” Kaveri murmured. “Don’t thank fae. Some of them take that as an admission of debt, which they’ll insist on collecting.”

“Oh. Got it.” I pointed. “The faery came out of there last time.”

Moving to the center of the room, Kaveri sat crossed-legged and unzipped her duffel bag. Instead of running shoes and a yoga mat, the bag held a bizarre assortment of cloth pouches with drawstrings. The fresh scent of pine wafted out. She selected several bags and opened one. Humming, she poured a trickle of powder in a circle.

I watched, dumbfounded, as she filled the circle with twigs, herbs, a quartz crystal, and a shallow bowl into which she poured bottled water, laying each item precisely. As she worked, she hummed, and I realized she was softly singing in a strange, archaic language.

Aaron disappeared into the single bedroom, still exploring, so I backed up against the wall beside Ezra.

“What is she doing?” I whispered.

“A ritual,” he replied. “Witches perform different rituals to signal their intentions to nearby fae. Something about it channels or gathers natural energies? I don’t understand it, but I guess the fae can sense what she’s doing.”

“Not what I expected from a witch,” I muttered. “She didn’t even draw a pentagram.”

He snorted quietly. “That’s demon summoning, not witchcraft.”

“Oh, my mistake.” I gave him a playful jab with my elbow, then asked, “What happens when the faery shows his ugly face?”

“She’ll probably ask him what he wants in exchange for leaving this house.”

“That’s it? Damn. I thought she would magically banish him to the netherworld or something.”

“Witches are pacifists. They avoid violence with or against fae at all costs.” He cast me an amused look. “If you want to see a dramatic battle and banishment, you’ll need a druid instead.”

“A druid?”

“Another practitioner of Spiritalis magic. Druids are not pacifists.”

“And they’re crazy rare.” Aaron joined us, taking a spot against the wall on my other side. “I’ve never met one.”

Breaking off her low song, Kaveri said, “You’ve never seen one because they don’t live long. When you attract fae like a corpse attracts vultures, sooner or later you meet your end.”

“Witches don’t like druids,” Aaron informed me. “Not sure why. The last time I asked a witch, I got a long-winded analogy about promiscuity.”

Kaveri sniffed primly. “Witchcraft is rooted in ritual and tradition, but druids are chaos incarnate. They—

“Uh,” I interrupted, “sorry, but, is it okay to stop your ritual?”

“Hmm? Oh, I’m finished. Now we wait for the faery to answer my call.”

“What if it doesn’t?”

“I’ll try a different ritual.”

“And … if it doesn’t answer that one?”

“Don’t worry.” She smiled serenely. “I’ll keep trying.”

I kept my expression pleasantly neutral but internally, I was rolling my eyes so hard they were metaphysically blistering. Sin and Aaron had led me to believe that a witch would storm into the apartment, hurling the fae equivalent of holy water, and the faery would explode in a screaming cloud of green sparkles. This was not what I’d expected.

“How long do we wait?” I asked dubiously.

“Oh, thirty minutes or so.”

I winced.

“Maybe we should’ve found a druid,” Aaron muttered, sounding equally disillusioned about what a fae exorcism entailed.

Kaveri gave another disdainful sniff. “I’ll solve your fae issue, I promise. Anything worthwhile is worth waiting for.”

Wise words, but I was more of a “just get it done already” kinda girl. I scooted around Kaveri’s nature circle and headed for the crawlspace. “Maybe the faery needs some encouragement?”