- Three Mages and a Margarita
“I can drive just fine.” He grinned. “I just can’t tell how far away the other cars are. Not a problem in a video game—especially when I’m in the lead.”
I’d fallen into bed shortly after that.
Rolling over again, I squinted at the ceiling. Even with the window open, the room was stuffy and my sore throat was parched. Untangling from the blankets, I climbed out of bed. My borrowed t-shirt fell below my butt, and for comfort’s sake, I’d ditched my shorts and bra. I scratched the back of my neck again. Damn tag.
My gaze drifted to Ezra’s dresser. Would he mind if I borrowed a different shirt?
I cracked the top drawer open and peeked inside. Socks, folded in pairs, and boxer briefs, unfolded. Not wanting to dig through his underclothes, I went straight for the bottom drawer. Aha, t-shirts!
I dug into the tidy stack, searching for one without a tag. As I wiggled my fingers into the fabric, my nails caught on paper. Lifting the shirts up, I found a worn folder with a thin stack of paper in it. The edge of a photograph stuck out from the pile.
Sometimes I’m a bad person. With a guilty glance at the closed bedroom door, I slid the photo out.
A boy and a girl around fifteen stood with their arms around each other—a typical first-high-school-relationship photo. The girl had plain blond hair that looked like it had been trimmed with kitchen scissors, but her broad smile was beautiful in its unrestrained joy.
The boy, a few inches taller, had dark hair cut short and warm brown eyes in a handsome, olive-skinned face. Ezra, before he was scarred and blinded. Behind him and the girl, an expanse of mountains spread in a breathtaking view.
It was a happy photo full of youthful exuberance, but heavy sorrow infused me as I studied it. Despite the bright colors and the young smiling couple, the photo’s location at the bottom of a drawer in an old folder told a different story. Ezra didn’t want to throw the photo away, but he didn’t want to be reminded of it all the time either.
I slid it back into its spot in the folder, leaving one corner sticking out the way I’d found it. I rearranged the stack of shirts, closed the drawer, and stood up. Pulling off Aaron’s shirt, I turned it inside out and slid it back on.
Itching from guilt instead of a scratchy tag, I cracked the bedroom door open. The other two doors were closed, no lights glowing from beneath them. Aaron and Kai were asleep. I tiptoed down the stairs to the landing by the front door and headed for the kitchen, passing the living room.
On the sofa, Ezra was sprawled on his back, one arm hanging off the cushions. His ability to turn rooms ice-cold didn’t appear to help him with the heat—his lightweight blanket was mostly on the floor, exposing his chest and the waistband of his dark boxer briefs.
I froze in place, staring. Illuminated by the dim glow of a streetlamp outside the window, his physique alone would’ve been enough to stop me—hot damn, the man was movie-star fit—but that wasn’t what halted me in my tracks.
Long, thick scars raked across his side.
Scarcely believing my eyes, I stepped into the living room, my body cold all over. When I’d asked Ezra how he’d gotten the scar on his face, the guys had joked about a shark attack, but if they’d told me these scars had been inflicted by a nightmarish monster, I wouldn’t have doubted them. The white lines started by his right hip and swept diagonally up his abs, stopping just shy of his sternum. The wounds ran parallel as though giant claws had ripped up his side.
Like the scar on his face, the edges were jagged and showed no sign of having been stitched closed. But cuts deep enough to leave scars like that should have required hundreds of stitches, right?
Moving closer, I picked out fainter lines on his bronze skin. None were as terrible as the three long scars on his side, but he’d suffered other injuries. What the hell had happened to him? I didn’t know what life was like for a typical mythic, but this couldn’t possibly be normal.
Don’t ask Ezra why he joined the guild. Aaron’s warning. He’d told me not to ask about Ezra’s family either. Could those things be related to his scars, to his blinded eye? Were they related to the photo hidden in his bottom dresser drawer?
Ezra’s head turned and I froze all over again when his eyes opened. He glanced across me like he wasn’t the least bit surprised to see me standing there, then scanned the room behind me. I tensed, expecting him to demand why I was standing over him in the dead of night.
Instead, he gestured for me to come closer. Confused, I took two more steps. He grabbed my wrist and pulled me down, still surveying the room. I dropped into a crouch beside him.
“Someone is in the house,” he breathed. “They just went up the stairs.”
“What?” I whispered, fear rippling through me. “How do you know?”
“Air currents.” He pushed up on one elbow, all those lovely muscles of his tensing and the exposed scars pulling taut. “When people move, the air shifts.”
Whoa. I’d had no clue being an aeromage gave him that kind of extrasensory perception. No wonder it was so difficult to sneak up on him. He rolled off the sofa and onto his feet without making a sound. His head turned, his pale eye looking at me without seeing me.
“Tori, will you watch my blind side?”
Caught off guard, I whispered a hesitant affirmation. He started toward the stairs and I followed right behind him, scrutinizing everything on our left. Stopping beside the landing, he angled his head upward.
“He just came out of my room.” Ezra raised one hand and made a small gesture.
Wind whipped down the stairs with howling force. Frenzied scuffling erupted, like someone trying to catch their balance, then came the crashing sound of a falling body. Thump, crash, thump, BAM. A man landed at the bottom of the stairs in a crumpled heap.
As Ezra lunged for him, the intruder lurched up, his face covered by a ski mask—real inconspicuous in this heat—but I could identify him by the bone-chilling cold and sparkling mist surrounding him. Ice Guy.
Arm snapping back, Ezra threw a lightning-fast punch. Ice Guy ducked and Ezra’s fist went right through the drywall. The mage cast a wave of glittering ice chips but a swirl of wind deflected them. Spinning, Ezra decked the guy in the jaw. They grappled in the tiny landing, and I hung back helplessly. How was I supposed to watch Ezra’s blind side while he was pummeling someone?
Gleaming steel flashed and Ezra leaped clear in another freakishly rapid movement. Ice Guy brandished his dagger, then thrust it. Foot-long shards of ice formed out of the snowy cloud clinging to the mage and the sparkling projectiles shot for Ezra.
He cast his arms wide and a gust of wind flung the shards away from him. Lunging in, he slammed into the mage, his physical fighting style a stark contrast to Aaron’s fire-wielding approach—and Ice Guy wasn’t prepared for it. His head smacked into the wall, and he whipped his dagger out, using the deadly edge to force Ezra to retreat. Teeth bared, the mage conjured another array of ice shards—but this time, they didn’t shoot at Ezra.
They shot at me.
Ezra whirled around and flung a hand toward me. Wind hit me as it rushed toward the shards, countering their momentum. They tumbled out of the air, but now Ezra’s back was to the other mage—and ice sprouted from his dagger, tripling its length as he swung it at Ezra’s unprotected spine.
Ezra ducked and the ice blade swept over his head. Pivoting, he planted his feet, balled his hand, and hammered his fist into Ice Guy’s stomach. Air boomed and the mage sailed the length of the entryway before ripping the screen door off its hinges. He tumbled right out of the house.
As Ezra shot after Ice Guy, I followed on his heels, resuming my blind-spot-watching duty. Ezra reached the threshold, then skidded to a stop. I ran into him. He spun, grabbed me, and threw us both to the floor.
An instant later, a barrage of glowing darts flashed through the air. The orange spikes peppered the walls at chest height, flashing with sparks before dissolving into nothing. Outside, an engine revved and tires squealed on the pavement. The roar of the escaping car shattered the quiet night and the tires screeched again as the vehicle took a corner on two wheels.
Ezra sat up, kneeling over my legs. I lay where I’d fallen, blinking dazedly but unharmed. In the instant before we hit the floor, the air had thickened under me like an invisible balloon, cushioning our fall.
“They got away, huh?”
Aaron stood halfway up the stairs, as casual as could be for having woken up to the sounds of battle. Kai waited a few steps above him.
Gulping, I whipped my gaze away. Yeah, so, Aaron and Kai were in their boxers too, and they were as deliciously toned as Ezra. Speaking of Ezra, guess where my stare ended up? Yeah, the hot aeromage sitting on my knees, shirtless and covered in a fine layer of moisture from Ice Guy’s snowy aura.
Goddamn it. There was nowhere safe to look.
Aaron trotted down the stairs and hopped over the broken screen door onto the porch. Finally getting off my legs, Ezra offered me a hand up. My borrowed t-shirt was bunched at my waist and I hurriedly pulled it over my butt, but not before Aaron waltzed back inside. Fair’s fair, I supposed. I’d seen their undies, and now they’d seen mine.
“They’re gone,” Aaron confirmed as he shut the heavy front door and locked the bolt, not showing the slightest concern for their demolished screen door.