Sabrina slapped Rose’s hand away, huffing furiously. “You can’t read another diviner’s cards properly. Even an amateur knows that.” She gathered up the seven cards and returned them to the deck. “Tori, what question did you ask the cards?”
I swallowed hard. “What comes next for me.”
Sabrina and Rose exchanged a long, mysterious look that made me even more nervous.
“Ah,” Sabrina muttered. “Um, well, you should know the cards don’t determine the future. They reveal the path you’re currently following, but you have the power to shift your destiny. Change your heart and you will change your path.”
“Right.” I forced a smile. “My question wasn’t very specific anyway. The thing coming next for me is a shopping trip on Robson Street tomorrow. Maybe someone will try to rip me off.”
Sabrina laughed. “I doubt the cards can predict something like that, but you’re right. No need to worry. Just keep the reading in mind.”
“She should take my warning seriously,” Rose insisted. “That reading was fraught with conflict and danger. Life and death are bound to a secret she must uncover before—”
“Where are you planning to shop?” Sabrina asked loudly, drowning out Rose. “My favorite store is down by Burrard Street.”
Grinning, I launched into a description of my favorite shops. Rose stalked off, shooting flinty stares at her young divination rival the whole way. I chatted with Sabrina for a few minutes, then got back to work, trying not to dwell on her reading—but the ominous words kept repeating in my head.
I would’ve loved to discount it as complete bullshit, but I’d seen too much magic in the last couple weeks to ignore the reading, no matter how unsettling it might be.
I wasn’t broke anymore, and it was time to splurge—just a bit. Friday had been payday, and thanks to my new-and-improved hourly wage, I had some cash flow. Rent for the month was paid, my bank account was comfortably outside the danger zone, and I was buying one brand-new top.
The limit on my purchasing power didn’t bother me since I enjoyed the process of shopping a lot more than spending money. Yeah, I know, shopping is a girly activity, but I’m allowed to like one of those, right?
I strolled down Robson Street, moving with the flow of foot traffic. The sun beamed down and the air smelled of salty ocean water. I’d tempted fate by leaving my umbrella at home, but so far, so good. Not a single cloud marred the vivid blue sky, and half the city was outside enjoying the warm Sunday afternoon before the weekend tragically perished from a terminal case of Monday.
My phone chimed. Slipping it from my pocket, I quickly replied to Sin’s text. We’d chatted this morning, and she was meeting me for lunch and a movie. I loved spontaneous plans, and I was long overdue for girl time. Making new friends was a skill I hadn’t practiced since elementary school, and the coworkers I’d gotten friendly with at previous jobs had dropped me like moldy bread once I was fired.
Picking up my pace, I zipped through packs of tourists with cameras hanging around their necks and power-shopping prima donnas with six bags on each arm—or on the arms of her unlucky male partner. Flip-flops slapping on the sidewalk and oversized sunglasses perched on my nose, I headed for my favorite clothing shop.
Its doors were propped open and an assortment of tired boyfriends stood like sentinels on either side. Why they didn’t wait in the air-conditioned interior, I had no idea. Maybe they were afraid they’d catch shopping cooties or something.
Breezing past a guy clad in head-to-toe black with a ball cap and sunglasses, I swooped toward the first sale rack and sorted through the tank tops. Picking out a blue one with fancy straps, I held it up to my chest, checking how it went with my cutoff jean shorts. Once, they had been my favorite pair of jeans. Now they were my favorite pair of shorts, and I would wear them until they unraveled around my ass.
I spent fifteen minutes loading up on discount tops, gradually making my way toward the changerooms at the back. My phone chimed again—Sin, checking in. I texted that I was almost done and would meet her at the café in twenty minutes. As I shoved my phone back in my pocket, I spotted Mr. All-in-Black leaning against a pillar, all alone, his sunglasses pointed at his phone. His unlucky girlfriend must’ve been avoiding association with him in public. Couldn’t blame her.
Skipping to the changerooms, I locked the door and stripped off my flower-patterned tank top, then tried on the blue one. Not bad, except with my red hair I looked like Mystique. Maybe not.
I tried on a few more shirts, separating them into “probably not” and “what the hell was I thinking when I picked this up?” piles. As I pulled on a deep purple top with a neckline that plunged way deeper than expected, the changeroom door rattled.
“Occupied,” I called as I squinted at my girls on full display, the edges of my red bra peeking out. Probably not a work-appropriate top. I bet Aaron would like it, though.
The door rattled again—then burst open. I yelped, jumping back before it hit me. “I said occu—”
Mr. All-in-Black shoved into the changeroom and grabbed me by the throat.
Choking, I clutched his wrist as he elbowed the door shut and locked it again. He pressed me into the wall, knocking hangers onto the floor, then lifted his sunglasses up.
“Remember me?” he growled.
Oh shit. It was the sorcerer guy—the Queen of Spades’ original owner.
Fingers squeezing my throat, he pinned me against the wall with his body so I couldn’t kick him. “I’d like my artifact back, girl.”
I raked my fingers over his wrist, scoring bloody tracks. He hissed, then stuck his hand into his pocket. I felt him press a card against my stomach.
“Ori torqueo male.”
Heat flashed through my body—then agonizing pain raked across my nerves, lighting my bones on fire. I convulsed, his grip on my throat choking off my scream.
“That doesn’t feel good, does it?” He loosened his hold and I sucked in a trembling gasp. “Where’s my artifact?”
I stared at him, unable to respond, my vision blurred and my body shaking from the aftershock of the torment. I felt freezing cold all over.
“Where is my artifact?” he snarled, squeezing my throat again.
Jaw clenching, I tipped my head toward my purse. As soon as he turned, I flung my fist up and punched him in the ear. He grunted in pain and shoved me into the wall, but I rammed both arms down on his wrist, breaking his weakened grip on my throat. Air rushed into my lungs and a violent coughing fit racked my body.
He shoved me onto the floor. Silver flashed in his hand—a medieval-looking dagger, the blade pointed at my face.
Someone rapped on the changeroom door. “Everything okay in there, miss?”
I didn’t dare look away from the sorcerer. He flicked his gaze to the unseen woman, then brought the dagger closer to my face. The warning was clear—if I said the wrong thing, he’d shove the blade into my eye socket.
“Fine,” I rasped. “I just dropped my bag.”
“Let me know if you need anything,” the saleslady replied, her tone unconvinced.
Neither me nor the sorcerer moved, waiting to see if she said anything else. The normal bustle of the shop went on uninterrupted, our life and death scuffle unnoticed.
The sorcerer lowered the tip of his knife until it hovered just below my eye. “Ori calefacio.”
The blade glowed cherry red, the heat scorching my cheek.
“Where is it?”
Pressing into the floor to get away from the hot steel, I whispered, “My purse.”
His lips pulled back in a malicious grin and his arm tensed, the dagger’s point dipping toward my throat.
My phone chimed loudly.
He started, his head snapping toward the sound. I shoved his wrist upward, pushing the lethal blade away from my skin. My other hand slapped his hip—right over his pocket of card artifacts.
“Ori torqueo male,” I gasped.
A strangled cry erupted from him, his muscles spasming from the pain spell. He crumpled on top of me, the dagger clattering to the floor. With a surge of panic-heightened strength, I shoved him off and scrambled up. He grabbed me and we toppled into the door.
The door gave way, dumping us onto the hard floor tiles. Shoppers cried out in shock. Flailing wildly, I tore free. As I shoved backward on my ass, he lunged into the changeroom. Someone yelled to call the police.
The sorcerer reappeared with my purse under his arm, his dagger in one hand and a playing card in his other. His lips moved in a near-silent incantation and the air rippled. Invisible force hit me like a football tackle, and the spell hurled me into a rack of plus-size bras.
As the bras and I crashed to the floor in a tangle of pink and white lace, the sorcerer bolted for the door. Panting, I burst out of the mess and charged after him. He could take his stupid card back if he wanted it that bad, but he was not stealing my purse!
The sorcerer raced out the open doors and bowled through the afternoon foot traffic. As unfortunate tourists went flying, I tackled the sorcerer from behind. He went down with a furious shout. Before I could pin him, he slammed me onto the sidewalk. Screaming people fled as he raised his dagger. He slashed the blade at my stomach.