“Because my family wouldn’t be present otherwise.”
A chill washed over me. “Oh.”
“Why are we here, Tori?”
“I need to get something from someone.”
“And that someone is upstairs at the auction?”
His jaw flexed, then he clamped his arm around me again. “Let’s get it done.”
“Are you sure?” I whispered as we strode for the stairs. “We can wait outside or try something el—”
“Hisaya is already spreading the word. It’s too late for me to leave.”
On the second level, we followed the other stragglers into a dimly lit gallery room, filled with at least a hundred people. Mythics, actually. Rogues, most likely. The white walls featured huge canvases of abstract compositions, soft spotlights illuminating the bright colors and thick strokes of the artist’s brush.
A dais had been set up at the far end, where an elderly man at a podium spoke into a mic. He was gesturing at the thick leather tome displayed on a table beside him. Bouncers and assistants hovered around the dais.
Hisaya stood with a group of Japanese men and women, the only smiling face. She gestured for me and Kai to join them.
A sharp breath hissed through his clenched teeth, but he didn’t hesitate. The moment he was close enough, Hisaya burst into rapid Japanese. Kai bent in a shallow bow for the oldest man, who nodded and said something. Kai answered in Japanese.
Why was I surprised he could speak the language? I’d realized months ago that he was part Japanese—not that anyone could guess by looking at him. His strikingly handsome features were unique, concealing his heritage, and he stood a head taller than anyone else in the group.
The Yamadas were ignoring me, so I returned the favor. I scanned the gathered mythics for Zak, then checked my phone, half listening to the family reunion. Identifying the tone of the conversation was difficult, but it didn’t sound pleasant. I shot a pointed look at Hisaya, commanding her to referee this shit. She’d started it.
Her whole face pulled into a condescending sneer that communicated her exact feelings about my presence. I drew myself up, and her ugly expression shifted to alarm as she realized I intended to intervene.
“Ahaha!” she burst out before I could speak. “Kikue-san, did you hear that? The grimoire just sold for two million.”
My expression froze and I involuntarily glanced at the book on display. I hadn’t been listening to the auctioneer’s rapid-fire babble. Two million? Wow, no wonder we were underdressed.
“We’re interested in several items,” Hisaya told Kai, terrified I might open my uncouth mouth and offend everyone present. “Do you have your eye on anything? There’s a magnificent caduceus coming up later this evening.”
The woman called Kikue-san said something in Japanese.
“Ah, well,” Hisaya answered in English, “we can only hope he won’t interfere.”
“Who?” Kai asked with obvious reluctance.
“Ugh.” Hisaya tossed her hair over her shoulder. “You know. The Ghost.”
“Half the room is afraid to bid against him,” she continued with a prim sniff, “but a low-life criminal like that could never intimidate us.”
She cast a disdainful look across the room. I followed her gaze—and there he was.
I’d missed him because he wasn’t in the main group. Instead, he leaned against the wall in his own personal cloud of shadow, as underdressed as me in dark pants and his long villain-coat, the hood drawn up.
In a room of rogues and black-magic buyers, the Ghost was too scary to approach.
I almost crowed in victory at finding him. Hiding the motion from the Yamadas, I tentatively waved my hand, hoping to catch his eye.
“Three hundred thousand, from the young lady with red hair!” the auctioneer called into his mic.
I started so violently I banged into Kai. Heads swiveled our way as buyers checked out their competition, and the blood drained out of my head. No, no, no! I wasn’t bidding. I was waving at an oblivious druid!
“Four hundred thousand. Can I get four hundred—ah, four hundred thousand to the gentleman in the front.”
I sagged in relief. That had been close.
“Tori,” Kai snarled under his breath.
Dragging my head up, I saw my accidental bid had achieved one thing—it had gotten Zak’s attention. He’d straightened off the wall, his shadow-filled hood turned my way.
I waggled my phone and pointed at it. His hand shot to his pocket and he pulled out his cell, the screen lighting up as he turned it on.
“Tori.” Kai sounded like a rabid dog. He leaned down, his mouth by my ear as he hissed furiously, “Him? That’s who you’re here to meet? You have his phone number?”
My cell vibrated in my hand and I held it under my nose. Kai shifted to read over my shoulder.
Zak’s message glowed angrily: What THE HELL are you doing here???
Kai half snorted, half choked. “You put him in your contacts under Dickhead?”
“That’s what he is,” I muttered. My thumbs flew across the keyboard. Read the messages I sent you, dumbass!
To punctuate my instructions, I glared at Zak until he looked down at his phone again. His thumb moved as he scrolled through the half a million texts I’d sent over the course of the evening. His hood jerked angrily, then he turned on his heel and strode toward the exit. People moved swiftly out of his path, pretending they weren’t cowards.
As he disappeared, I turned to Kai. “You can just wait here, okay?”
Instead of replying, he brushed past me, following Zak’s invisible trail. Ah, crap. I raced after him and took the lead.
Zak hadn’t gone far. He waited in a shadowed side hall—of course, everywhere he went was shadowy, thanks to his “lady of the night” eagle familiar—arms folded and invisible glower scorching me. I stormed toward him, debating all possible greetings.
In the end, I kept it simple. I balled my hand up and swung at his face.
He caught my fist in a gloved palm.
“You turned off your phone, you moron! Why’d you do that?”
“Because I didn’t need you pestering me every ten minutes,” he snapped. “I told you to wait until morning.”
“I can’t wait that long! You’re the one who told me—” I cut myself off, glancing nervously at Kai. As per my oath, I wasn’t allowed to reveal anything about the Ghost, including things he’d said to me.
His hood shifting, Zak also looked at Kai, presumably recognizing him from our shared battle with a nasty old sorceress a month ago. Kai’s expression had morphed back into stone, though wariness radiated from his terse stance.
“I told you the fae bond will kill you,” the druid finished for me.
“What?” Kai said sharply. “How do you—”
Zak turned to me. “You’re not on death’s doorstep yet. You could have waited until morning.”
“Well, I’m here now, so give it to me.” I extended my hand expectantly.
“I don’t have it on me, idiot.”
“What?” I resisted the urge to shove his hood off and throttle him. “But you said—”
“I said I had it with me. I’m not carrying it around everywhere.”
“Go get it, then!”
His hand disappeared into the shadows of his hood as he rubbed his face. “You are more aggravating than any mythic I know.”
A sharp cough escaped Kai—what might have been a furiously suppressed bark of laughter. I shot him a glare.
Zak dropped his hand. “I can’t leave yet. There’s one more mythic I want to drill about fae enslavement magic, and I can’t get to him outside this event. Approaching him requires finesse.”
“Who?” Kai asked.
Zak paused as though weighing Kai’s usefulness. “Carmelo Mancini. He was an officer in Red Rum before going solo. A sorcerer, but rumor has it he dabbles in hybrid magic.”
“I’ve heard of him.” Kai’s jaw flexed. “You’re trying to get this information for Tori’s sake?”
“Why are you helping her?”
Zak snorted. “I don’t do charity, mage. I’m paying back a debt.”
I blinked. “You are? What debt?”
“You’re denser than a brick wall, Tori.”
I smacked his shoulder. “You’re the biggest dickhead on the planet.”
Brow furrowing with disbelief, Kai looked between us. He gave his head a slight shake, then asked Zak, “Do you have an in with Mancini?”
“No. That’s why I’m taking my time approaching him.”
Kai glanced toward the auction hall where his relatives waited. Something close to terror flitted across his face, then he pushed his shoulders back. “I do. I can approach him, but I don’t know what to ask.”
Zak’s hood twitched and I imagined him tilting his head in surprised consideration. “Can you convince him to step outside with you?”
“Then do that. Once he’s outside, I can ask the questions—and ensure we get answers.”