- Three Mages and a Margarita
“Most mages have one primary element, but also develop a secondary element. Air and water can be combined to produce ice.”
“Oh,” I muttered. “What about the light?”
“He made the room go dark.”
Kai glanced at the lamp. “That must have been because of the cold.”
“Kai, can you help me with this?” Sin asked, gauze in her hand.
As Kai knelt beside her, I crossed the apartment and slipped out the open door. In the hallway, Ezra leaned against the wall, hands in his pockets and head tilted back. Since I was on his blind side again, I opened my mouth to alert him to my presence, but he looked up first. As usual, he seemed downright tranquil, and the temperature was perfectly normal.
“Hey,” I said, keeping my voice low so it didn’t carry into the neighbors’ units.
His gaze swept over me, and despite the colorless iris, his blind eye appeared deceptively functional. “How are you?”
“The adrenaline is wearing off. Everything hurts.”
“You should take painkillers now, before it gets bad.”
“Yeah.” I slouched against the wall beside him and pressed the ice pack to my throbbing face. As half my vision disappeared, I felt a surge of sympathy for his impairment. “Aaron will be fine. Sin is taking care of him.”
“Yeah, I heard you three talking.” He stared at the wall across from us. “Sorry I didn’t hold it together so well there.”
“It’s fine. I understand.” I let my head thump gently against the wall. “You may have noticed I don’t control my temper all that well either.”
“Mm,” he murmured vaguely.
“Are you okay?”
He looked away from me, and I took that as a “no.” The fact he seemed so calm, yet apparently wasn’t, disturbed me more than if he’d been shouting curses or throwing punches. When I was in a temper, everyone knew it, but Ezra’s silent, undetectable fury unnerved me.
I knew the kind of helpless fury that could drive a person half out of their mind. I’d lived with it for years, and I wished I could help him rebalance. Only one thing had ever worked for me, but …
Gulping down my hesitation, I stepped away from the wall and faced him. “Would you … like a hug?”
His gaze flashed to me. “A hug?”
Already regretting the offer, I shrugged self-consciously. He hesitated, then lifted one arm in invitation.
Surprised, I stepped over to him and put my arms around his shoulders. His hands settled lightly on my waist, almost like he wanted the option to push me away. I rested my head on his shoulder, my face turned away from his. My attention settled on the warm contact of another person—the rise and fall of his chest, the sound of his heart beating under my ear, his hands on my waist.
The final jitters left my muscles and I relaxed. Hugs could work miracles, at least for me. When I was a ragey teenager hating all the adults in my life, Justin used to hug me until I calmed down, even if it took half an hour.
As I closed my eyes, Ezra relaxed too, the tension sliding from his muscles. He slipped his arms around my waist, holding me more naturally—pulling me closer.
Raising my head, I gave his shoulder a friendly pat and stepped back. “Better?” I asked in a chipper tone.
“Yeah.” He gave me a faint smile. “Thanks.”
I slapped the ice pack over my face again. “Let’s go inside, shall we?”
Marching to the door, I cursed my stupid brain. Or stupid hormones. Or whatever. I hadn’t meant to end our calming hug so abruptly, but when he’d finally relaxed, I’d done the opposite. All of a sudden I’d noticed I was pressed against a well-muscled chest, his broad shoulders under my hands, his warmth soaking into me, and dear god he smelled mouthwatering. Did he bathe in ambrosia or something?
Sweeping into the apartment, I found Kai sitting on the arm of the sofa beside an unconscious Aaron while Sin repacked her alchemy supplies. Kai gave Ezra a searching look.
“So,” I announced. “Can we talk about the elephant in the room?”
“Which elephant is that?” Kai asked.
“The ‘why did six mythic goons attempt to kidnap Aaron’ one. I’d kind of like to know, seeing as I owe one of them a good punch to the face.”
“It’s not really a mystery” Kai replied tiredly. “Since they were trying to take him alive, it was probably another ransom kidnapping.”
“Another … ransom … kidnapping.” I repeated each word, boggled by the casual way he had strung them together.
“Among mythics, Aaron’s family is famous,” Sin said, latching her case. “They’re extremely wealthy.”
“And Aaron is the sole heir to that fortune,” Kai finished. “It isn’t the first time greedy fools have targeted him, though it’s the closest anyone has come to succeeding.”
I looked from him to Sin to Ezra. “So, what, this happens all the time?”
“More so when he was living at home.” Kai glanced at Ezra. “I can only recall one attempt, besides this one, since we moved here.”
“I don’t recall any attempts. Must’ve been before I joined the guild.”
“Either way, the Sinclair family will deal with it. Frankly, I’m surprised anyone would risk getting on their bad side.” Kai stood. “Aaron can sleep off the potion at home. Ezra, help me carry him.”
I got out of the way as Kai and Ezra lifted Aaron between them and carried him out. Grabbing my keys, I hurried after them, and Sin followed. The wait for the elevator was fantastically strange—two mages supporting the third, an alchemist with blue hair and a potion kit, and then me—black eye, bandaged limbs, and green dye splattered all over my clothes.
Outside the apartment tower, two vehicles waited—an older red sports car parked on the curb with its hazard lights flashing, and a sleek black motorcycle abandoned on the lawn, two helmets hanging off the back. The guys loaded Aaron in the passenger seat of the car, then Ezra pulled out keys and offered them to Sin.
“Do you mind driving? Aaron will kill me if I smash up his baby.”
She took the keys. “Didn’t you drive over here?”
“Yeah, but it was an emergency.” He noticed my confusion and smiled sheepishly, tapping the scar that ran down his face. “I don’t have a license. No depth perception.”
He tilted the driver’s seat forward and climbed into the back. As Kai rolled the motorcycle onto the sidewalk, Sin cleared her throat.
“Here.” She pulled two vials from her pocket, one with a thick pale substance and one half full of clear liquid. “Put the white cream on your injuries. It’ll speed the healing process. And this one … mix a few drops with water and it’ll wash the dye out of your hair and clothes. It’ll clean the stain off your sofa too.”
As I took the vials, my expression must have been more suspicious than grateful, because she winced.
“I’m sorry. I … misjudged you. Thank you for helping Aaron.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. She climbed into the red car and started the engine.
“Tori, will you be okay?” Straddling his bike with a helmet under his arm, Kai held the second one out to me. “You can come back to our place if you want.”
The overwhelming urge to take the helmet and jump on the motorcycle with Kai swept through me. I didn’t want to sit by myself in the apartment, listening at the door for signs of Ice Guy returning for revenge. Kai’s aura of competence didn’t allow stupid fears to exist in his vicinity.
But every bone in my body hurt, and I really needed a hot bath, my favorite pillow, and a bottle of painkillers.
“Thanks, but I’m good.”
He nodded. “Call me if you need anything.”
Sliding his helmet on, he started the bike and zoomed onto the road. The red car pulled away a moment later, following the bike’s taillight. I watched the vehicles speed off, then peeked at the dark alley where Aaron and I had fought Ice Guy and his cronies. Fear zinged through me and I hastened back into the building.
It was only when I walked into the apartment and noticed Aaron’s forgotten phone on the end table that I realized I couldn’t call Kai if I needed anything. I didn’t have his number, and without Aaron, I couldn’t unlock the phone.
An electronic tune blared, startling me from sleep.
I tried to spring onto my feet but ended up spasming in place, groaning as every muscle in my body violently protested. Painfully rolling over, I grabbed my phone and squinted at the display, but it was blank. The ringing continued.
Fumbling for the end table, I snatched Aaron’s phone and swiped the call button to answer. “Hello?”
“Morning, sleeping beauty,” Aaron’s cheerful voice declared. “I see you have my phone.”
“You can’t see anything,” I mumbled, burrowing into my pillow. “Why are you calling me so early?”
“I know I said ‘morning’ but it’s actually twelve thirty.”
I groaned and flipped onto my face, dislodging half my blankets off the sofa onto the floor.