Justin circled the car and opened my door. I dragged my exhausted limbs out, relieved to see lights glowing inside the house. As I wobbled upright, Sin skooched across the seat toward the open door.
“Justin, will you take Sin home?” I asked before she could get out.
“I thought this was Sin’s place?”
“No, this is Aaron’s house.” I shrugged. “I’m sure Sin would rather go home than …”
“Than hang out at your boyfriend’s?” he finished for me, missing my flinch at the word “boyfriend.” He ducked to look into the car. “Want a ride, Sin? Where do you live?”
Her face reddened at his smile and she mumbled a weak protest. I nudged Justin with my elbow and winked. Pulling a face, he closed the door on Sin, trapping her in the cruiser. She glared at me through the glass.
“You okay, Tori?” he asked as I stepped toward Aaron’s front walk.
I shrugged. Honestly not the scariest thing I’d faced these last few months.
His brow furrowed, and I remembered I was supposed to be ignorant of the existence of magic. I hadn’t brought up the attack or the fantastical occurrences beyond vaguely describing the encounter in my statement, so I didn’t know what he thought of it all.
“Uh,” I blurted, backtracking. “I mean, that was all … really terrifying. And I thought I saw some, uh … some really weird shit.”
Frown deepening, he squinted at my face. I tried to hold my expression of bewildered anxiety, but he wasn’t falling for it. Why did my brother have to be intelligent?
“We can talk about it later,” he muttered. “I need to get back and finish my report. Will you be okay? Would you rather stay at my place?”
“I’ll be safe here. Aaron and his roommates are big tough guys.”
Justin glanced at the house. “Call me if you need anything.”
“Yep. And thanks for chauffeuring Sin.” I arched an eyebrow. “By the way, she thinks you’re hot.”
He choked, a faint blush creeping above his neatly trimmed beard. Muttering something under his breath—all I caught was “inappropriate” and “timing”—he got into his cruiser. Starting the engine, he waited for me to go into the house.
Purse over my shoulder and umbrella in hand, I trudged to the front stoop. The door was unlocked, so I threw it open and stepped inside, waving at Justin. The car rolled away. At least I didn’t have to worry about Justin freaking out about Sin being a mythic. When the officers were completing our statements, she’d produced a normal driver’s license, sans MID number. Handy trick, that.
Ezra stood in the hallway that led past the living room, his brow furrowed over mismatched eyes. “What happened? Are you okay?”
His meltingly smooth voice washed over me like sinking into a hot bath after a bad day. I took three long steps, arms already reaching. He swept me into his embrace and I pressed my cheek against his soft blue t-shirt. Our first hug, shared in an apartment building hallway, had been phenomenally awkward, but it had somehow evolved into something special between us.
“I’m okay,” I said into his chest. “Sin and I went to get sushi and we were attacked by mythics. Red Rum rogues, I think.”
“What? Shit.” Hands shifting to my upper arms, he stepped back to scrutinize me for injuries. Seeing none, he pulled me into the living room and urged me onto the sofa. “Aaron and Kai won’t be back for a few more hours. They made a last-minute trip to Victoria to investigate a grimoire that might include the fae-binding ritual.”
Noticing how quiet it was, I glanced around the cluttered room. The TV was off and no music played on the speakers, but the acoustic guitar from Ezra’s bedroom was leaning against the sofa. Shrugging my purse off, I set it and my umbrella on the coffee table, knocking a stack of vintage car magazines onto the floor.
Ezra perched on a cushion beside me. “What happened?”
I described the encounter. Halfway through, I remembered my sushi and fished it out of my oversized purse. Skipping over the silvery fae creature—I wanted to run that particular weirdness past Zak first—I told him the rest as I cracked open the container and offered it to him. He picked out a California roll and stuffed it in his mouth.
“Do you think they were searching for you?” he asked after I’d finished. “Your brother mentioned suspicious activity in the area. I wonder if Red Rum had a way of detecting the fae lord’s visit last night.”
“The timing fits. Do you think they can track me because of the fae magic?”
“It’s possible. I don’t know much about Spiritalis.” He patted the pockets of his loose black sweats, then rooted around the coffee table until he uncovered his phone. “I’ll fill Kai and Aaron in on what happened.”
Munching sushi, I watched him bring the phone to his ear. His dark curls were messier than usual, the sexy scruff on his jaw thicker than his normal barely-more-than-a-five-o’clock-shadow. His t-shirt was the kind of old, worn, ultra-soft cotton I saved for PJs, and he was barefoot. Lounge-Ezra. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen him this casual before.
Remembering what Sin had said, I thought back and realized this might be the first time I’d been alone in the house with him.
He finished the call, his forehead creased. “They’re coming back as soon as they can, but the ferry ride is an hour and a half.”
“It’s fine.” I stifled a yawn. “No one followed us, and as long as I stay indoors—” Another yawn interrupted me.
Ezra caught the empty sushi container as it tipped out of my limp hand.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I’m so tired. The fae’s magic completely wipes me out.”
“I can imagine.” Still radiating worry, he collected the garbage and carried it into the kitchen. Returning, he tugged a throw blanket free from between two cushions and draped it over me. “Your clothes are damp. Do you want something dry?”
“I’m good.” I snuggled into the blanket, thinking longingly of his bed upstairs. My first time sleeping over, he’d offered me his room—mainly to prevent an argument between Aaron and Kai—and since then it had become my standard bed-away-from-home.
Realizing Ezra was still standing, I tugged a pinch of his pants. “Sit down. Don’t just hover like an anxious mother hen.”
He sheepishly dropped onto the sofa. “Do you want to watch a movie?”
“Too tired.” I yawned again, then slid the tie out of my hair, loosing my curls to let them dry. “Did I interrupt you? What were you doing before I barged in?”
He glanced at the guitar. “Nothing.”
“Do you play?”
I flopped more comfortably into the cushions. “That’s fine. Collecting instruments you don’t play just to carry them around the house is perfectly normal.”
He gazed at me seriously. “I thought about collecting pianos instead.”
My mouth twitched. I frowned to keep from smiling.
“That seemed too challenging,” he added somberly. “Even a piano with wheels is awkward to move around.”
“Why not harmonicas?” I suggested, my voice cracking from the effort not to laugh. “Easy to carry.”
“They don’t look as cool.”
“Of course not.”
“Maybe I should collect tubas. Tubas are cool, right?”
The mental image of him waltzing around the house with a tuba was too much. A snort escaped me and I tried to suck it back in—and burst into snickers instead. His grave expression cracked into a grin, and I vowed that someday I would make him laugh first.
I nudged his ankle with my toes. “Play something.”
Hesitatingly, he picked up the guitar and settled it on his lap. Plucking a few strings, he tilted his head shyly. “I don’t usually play for people.”
A flutter danced through my middle. “Will you play for me?”
He looked down at the instrument. The frets squeaked under his left hand, and he plucked a few strings with his right. A melody emerged, then stuttered. Beginning again, he skimmed through a few tunes—playing a familiar chorus, then the solo from a popular song, then a snippet of a recent radio hit.
Not bad, but having an audience was making him uncomfortable. Pulling the blanket closer, I closed my eyes so he might feel less like he was performing.
He paused, and I could feel his gaze on me. The strings squeaked again as he repositioned his hand. A moment of silence.
A soft waterfall of notes poured from the strings in a delicate melody. As more notes joined the measured rhythm, I cracked my eyes open, unable to believe he could coax that much music from a single instrument.
One hand slid up and down the guitar’s neck, his strong fingers flexing as he pressed into the frets, sharp tendons running from his knuckles to wrist. His right hand hovered in front of the wooden body, his fingers dancing over the strings. As the haunting melody built, he thumped the heel of his hand against the guitar body, adding a hollow drumbeat to the strumming cascades of notes both sharp and soft.
“Beautiful,” I breathed, utterly mesmerized.
He ducked his head, embarrassed, and the notes trailed into silence.