Damn right I would bite them. I’d punch ’em too. Maybe I should start with that.
The sorcerer snapped a narrow metal talisman off his belt. “Ori decidas in—”
A smart person would run. Or dodge. Or duck.
I lunged at him and grabbed his wrist. His eyes widened, but he couldn’t stop the last of his incantation as I wrenched the artifact toward the second rogue.
The air rippled, and the sorcerer’s unlucky accomplice pitched over backward with sparkles covering his body like he’d rolled in a glitter bath. Whoa. Neat.
“You—” the sorcerer snarled.
I punched him in the nose. His head snapped back, a pained grunt escaping him. Yeah, take that! Also, ow. My poor knuckles.
He shoved me backward and yanked out another artifact. “Impello!”
I jerked away and the invisible spell caught my shoulder, sending me spinning. A bang and a loud metallic crunch warned that the rest of the magical force had struck something besides my breakable flesh. I landed on my ass, jarring my teeth and almost biting my tongue off.
“Ori—” the sorcerer began.
I leaned back and pistoned my foot into his groin. Wheezing, he staggered out of my reach and thrust his new artifact toward me again.
“Ori—” he gasped.
A gloved hand clamped over his mouth. Appearing out of nowhere, Zak pulled the sorcerer forward, then smashed him into the nearest column. The rogue crumpled to the ground, unused talisman clattering against the concrete.
“Are you hurt?” Zak asked me.
I tried to say no but couldn’t make a sound. Miming speech, I gestured helplessly at my mouth.
“Silencing spell?” he guessed. “It’ll wear off in a couple minutes.”
Could he sound any less concerned? I was voiceless here! It was awful!
On the street, the carnage was impressive—two flipped cars, several smoking craters, and three shattered streetlamps. The villains were nowhere in sight, so I assumed the druid and electramage had successfully driven them off. As always, Zak looked unscathed, minus the big yellow splatters on his back.
Kai joined us, his potion-smeared jacket hanging from one hand and dripping yellow goo on the ground. “Are you okay, Tori?”
I nodded. Silently.
“We should leave before—oh.”
I blinked at his frozen expression, then followed his gaze. He was staring at his sleek black motorcycle, lying on its side. Ah. That metallic crunch sound. His bike.
With the pain of a bereft father in his eyes, Kai heaved his motorcycle up, while Zak and I waited at a respectful distance. A gory puddle gleamed beneath the tires, and I could smell the gasoline. Our first casualty.
Kai sighed sorrowfully. “The edge of the planter punctured the gas tank.”
So … that meant we wouldn’t be riding it home. I cautiously cleared my throat—and actual noise rasped from my vocal cords. I could speak again!
Suppressing the urge to whoop, I murmured gravely, “I’m sorry, Kai. You can get it fixed, right?”
Zak’s hood turned toward me. “Your voice is back.”
“Don’t sound so disappointed.” I poked his arm. “Did you drive? Can we catch a ride with you?”
His sigh was as pained as Kai’s. “Fine.”
“Thanks. You’re the best.”
“I thought I was a shitty friend? Make up your mind.” He turned toward the street. “Bring the bike. You don’t want to leave it here.”
The druid, the human, the mage, and the motorcycle made their ragtag way onto the sidewalk, the latter leaving a gruesome trail of bodily fluid in its wake. We walked in an odd silence, passing endless lines of shiny BMWs and Mercedes.
Zak led us through a stinky alley and onto a quiet one-way street with metered parking. Stuffing a hand in his coat pocket, he pulled out a set of keys. The fob beeped, and a pair of taillights flashed in answer.
Stopping dead, I looked at the vehicle, then at the druid, then back at the vehicle. “This is yours? This?”
He kept walking. “Why are you so offended?”
I pointed like he couldn’t see it. The lifted pickup truck towered over the nearby cars, its big, deep-tread tires hungry to flatten inferior vehicles. Mud around the wheel wells splattered the dark blue paint.
“But that’s a truck.” I rushed to catch up with him, Kai trailing behind with his bike. “I figured you’d drive a Prius or something. You know, a non-gas-guzzling monstrosity.”
“It’s diesel, not gas.” He lowered the tailgate. “Tori, think about where I live.”
I scrunched my face, picturing the mountain valley. “Okay.”
“Now imagine trying to drive a car there. In the winter.”
My face contorted further, then relaxed in defeat. “Fine. The truck makes sense.”
Zak climbed onto the tailgate, and between him and Kai, they wrestled the motorcycle up onto the lined bed. Zak laid it on its side, then opened the metal box behind the cab and pulled out ratcheting straps to tie it down.
“This feels disturbingly normal,” I commented to no one as he worked, “and also very not normal.”
Kai shook his head and tossed his potion-stained jacket into the truck bed beside his bike.
Zak jumped down and shut the tailgate, then held out a rag to me. “Can you wipe this shit off my back?”
I took the cloth, stepped behind him, and started mopping up the potion drying on the black leather.
“You could just take your coat off,” I suggested, knowing he never would. “Or is it hiding all your scary potions?”
With my free hand, I patted a clean patch of leather to see if I could feel his belt of vials.
“I know you like my ass, Tori, but could you restrain yourself?”
I choked, my face flushing, and refused to look in Kai’s direction. “This yellow stuff is just smearing around and I don’t want to get it on my hands.”
“Fine. Toss the cloth in the box.”
As I pitched the rag over the tailgate, I heard a zipper and whirled back around. Zak had undone his coat, and I gasped as he pushed his hood off and shrugged out of the leather. The nearby streetlamp cast lovely shadows across his unfairly gorgeous face.
His unnaturally bright green eyes turned to Kai’s slack-jawed stare, silently daring the mage to comment, and tension thickened the air until I could barely breathe. Kai, wisely, said nothing.
Zak threw his coat into the box, then stripped his gloves off. I scanned his newly revealed outfit. To my surprise, he was wearing a different belt. The wide leather circled his hips, sporting built-in slots that held six test-tube vials just above his butt. I pursed my lips. He really did have a nice ass.
Four rough-cut crystals hung on ties around his neck, resting on a dark t-shirt. His muscular arms displayed feather tattoos that ran down from his shoulders, and circles marked his inner forearms, each one filled with a colorful rune—gifts of power from the fae he knew. A month ago, one circle had been empty, but now …
I pointed. “You got a new one.”
“Get in the truck, Tori.” He walked to the driver’s side, climbed in, and slammed the door.
Grimacing, I peeked at Kai. His stunned expression made me feel better about my initial meltdown at the sight of Zak’s face. Though, to be fair, Kai was probably feeling faint for different reasons.
“His eyes are freaky, right?” I mock-whispered.
“Tori …” Laser-like focus overtook Kai’s shock. He opened his mouth, then seemed to rethink whatever he’d been about to say. “Let’s go.”
He opened the passenger door and I heaved myself up—no step rail on this truck. The cab was spacious but it had no back seat, just one long bench. I crammed into the middle spot as Kai swung into the passenger seat and shut the door.
Zak inserted the key in the ignition. “Buckle up.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t want a traffic ticket?”
“Don’t want your thick head going through my windshield. Where to?”
As I gave directions to Aaron’s house, I grappled with my seatbelt. The bench would’ve been comfortable for two large men, but it was a tight fit for three people. The engine started with a rumble, and I pressed close to Kai to keep clear of Zak’s elbow as he steered the monster truck onto the road.
More awkward silence. I bit my lip, fighting the urge to speak. I couldn’t ask. Not yet. Not here. Must wait. Must … be … patient.
“You have a fiancée?” I burst out.
“Tori,” Kai growled warningly.
“I’m sorry. I just couldn’t keep it in.” I clasped my hands together. “Please explain before I die of curiosity.”
“Die of unsated snoopiness,” Zak muttered as the truck rolled to a stop at a red light.
“Butt out,” I snapped, then turned back to Kai. “How can you date so many women and be engaged? How can you be engaged if you haven’t spoken to her in years?”
Kai folded his arms and held his silence. I groaned.
“Arranged marriage,” Zak said matter-of-factly. “Common practice in the family.”
“How do you know that?”
He smirked. “A few years ago, I was offered the hand of one Fumi Yamada if I joined their guild and stopped messing up their business dealings. She was lovely, but I had to decline.”