Home > Druid Vices and a Vodka (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #6)

Druid Vices and a Vodka (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #6)
Author: Annette Marie

Chapter One

“‘From the best-selling author of The Devil She Loved,’” Aaron read dramatically, “‘comes Her Demon’s Heart—’”

“Aaron—”

“‘—a scandalous new romance with—’”

“Aaron!” I growled, grabbing at my phone.

He held the device higher, electric blue eyes dancing with mirth. “‘Will Angela win her soul back from the demon who holds it, or’”—he cracked up, swallowed, and finished in a choked gargle—“‘or will he claim her heart as well?’”

I took one more swipe for my phone, almost fell on the bar between us, then dropped back onto my heels. Folding my arms, I glowered at him. Lucky for me, the two dozen patrons in the Crow and Hammer weren’t paying attention to Aaron’s enthusiastic narration. Though the pub had quieted after the dinner rush an hour ago, it was busy for a Wednesday night.

“Is this what you like to read?” Cackling, he dropped back onto his stool. “I thought you were more into thrillers and detective stories and stuff.”

“It’s just a stupid ad.”

He arched a skeptical eyebrow and sipped his rum and coke. “I mean, you can read what you want, Tori, but—”

“I wasn’t looking for romance novels.” I plucked my phone out of his hand and closed the app displaying the unwanted ad. “I was just—just doing some Googling earlier, okay?”

The amusement in his eyes dimmed, but he hitched his smile back into place. “You won’t find anything like that on Google. ‘Demon’ searches will just get you loads of movies, video games, and scandalous romances.”

“And blogs by crazy people,” I muttered, jamming my phone in my pocket.

Trying a regular ol’ internet search had been dumb, but I’d had no idea where to start. How did a not-very-mythical girl like me research demonic artifacts? The closest thing to a mythic Wikipedia—a Mythipedia, if you will—was the MPD’s outdated website. What did that even leave?

I’d learned one thing, at least: use an ad-blocker. Whatever advertising tech-juju had decided I was into fictional escapades with sexy devil men was hella determined. Not that some of the novels didn’t look intriguing, but the topic lacked appeal right now.

Noting Aaron’s lingering smirk, I asked irritably, “Shouldn’t you be working?”

“We’re done. Everyone is just bullshitting now.”

I looked past him. Clustered around several tables was a group that included not only the familiar faces of my fellow guildeds, but also six members of Odin’s Eye. I knew Mario, a demon contractor, but the others—three more tough-looking men and two equally tough women—were recent acquaintances. Chatting with the Crow and Hammer mythics, they lazily packed up their array of papers and maps.

Leaning one hip on the bar, I let my gaze wander to the dimmest corner of the pub. My mouth quirked up and I laughed softly.

Aaron followed my gaze. “Subtle, aren’t they?”

Tucked in the private little corner, Kai and Izzah had their chairs pulled close. Ostensibly working—exactly two papers sat on their table—they were deep in conversation. His arm rested on the back of her chair, and she was leaning into his side as he spoke.

Yeah, super subtle.

Noticing our attention, Kai pulled away from Izzah. They slid out from behind their table, grabbed their papers, and headed over. I hid my glee as the beautiful hydromage settled onto the stool beside Aaron, her thick black hair sweeping down her back and her russet skin tinged with an almost indiscernible flush. Her cocoa-brown eyes sparkled with delight.

His companion absorbing most of his attention, Kai took the stool on her other side. A tiny smile lingered on his lips—and, oh my, that hint of flirtatious amusement on the normally serious electramage was devastating. My heart gave a sympathetic flutter as Izzah’s blush deepened.

Resisting the urge to fist-pump triumphantly, I calmly asked, “How’d the meeting go?”

“Well,” Izzah drawled in her throaty accent, which I’d recently learned was Malaysian, “we pooled the results from our surveillance missions over the past week.”

“The results were a resounding ‘nothing,’” Kai added.

I pulled a rocks glass from under the counter and scooped ice into it. “And that’s a bad thing?”

Izzah propped her chin on her hand, elbow braced on the bar. “Criminal activity has dropped off a cliff-lah. We can’t even find rogues, let alone catch them. It’s abnormal.”

“I think Red Rum could be making a comeback,” Aaron mused, “but we haven’t found any evidence.”

“Like I said, there’s no way Red Rum is involved.” Kai tilted his head in a silent request and I obligingly doubled the amount of rum I was pouring into the glass. “Between losing ships in September and MPD crackdowns after that, they’ve had a tough winter. I think they’ve pulled out entirely.”

“Aiyoh, such a shame,” Izzah sighed with mock sympathy.

I topped Kai’s drink off with fizzy cola and slid it to him. “If they’re gone, who’s left?

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Aaron answered. “The Odin’s Eye officers are convinced the power landscape is shifting, and they think the absence of crime is related. I don’t know about that, but I’d sure like to know who the kingpins are and who’s gone off to a new playground.”

Izzah pulled Kai’s drink out of his hand and took a long sip. “I know one rogue who may have left the arena entirely—that or someone finally killed him-lo.”

A spike of nervous energy hit my gut. “Which rogue is that?”

“The Ghost.”

“Oh,” I said vaguely. No sense in confirming that, yes, the notorious rogue known as the Ghost, a wanted criminal so mysterious no one knew his name, face, or class, had indeed left Vancouver for good. That would prompt a whole bunch of awkward questions like, “How do you know that?” and “Why have you been protecting the identity of a dangerous felon?”

“Wah, now that’s a bounty I’d love to claim.” Her eyes brightened as she passed Kai’s drink back to him. “Have you two ever thought about making a go at it?”

“Pass,” Aaron replied casually. “Waste of time.”

No truer words. “Elusive” was Zak’s middle name. The guy could literally become invisible with a bit of fae magic.

A clatter of chairs interrupted our conversation. The six Odin’s Eye mythics had climbed to their feet. Calling farewells, they headed for the door.

“Chup, that’s my cue,” Izzah said, sliding off her stool. Her gaze found Kai and softened in a distinctly sultry fashion. “I’ll see you later, leng chai.”

Sweeping her hair off her shoulders, she glided away in a weightless, sashaying walk. I watched her go, grinning like an idiot. See you later? See you later in bed, more like.

Okay, no, I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Their obvious attraction aside, Kai was technically unavailable. That’s the whole reason they’d been cozied up in a corner, under the cover of a joint-guild job, instead of cozied up together in a more private, and horizontal, location.

Hmm. I was maybe too invested in their sex life. Was that weird?

As the last Odin’s Eye mythics left with a jingle of the bell, Kai gulped half his rum and coke. “I don’t like it.”

“Don’t like what?” I demanded, my mind still on him, Izzah, and whether I could machinate a properly romantic evening for them without either realizing what I was up to.

“How quiet everything has been since New Year’s. Something is brewing, but I can’t imagine what.”

I shrugged. “How bad can a crime respite really be? I’ve had more than enough excitement lately.”

Glimpsing an approaching customer from the corner of my eye, I switched on my professional Bartender of Awesomeness smile and turned to ask what I could get them.

A pair of ocean-blue eyes peeked up at me through dark-rimmed glasses. Robin Page, our guild’s one and only demon contractor, stood three long steps away, twisting the hem of her black sweater in her hands. Her brunette hair was tied in a ponytail so short it stuck off the back of her head, loose strands framing her heart-shaped face.

My mouth hung open, my question forgotten. She was at the guild so rarely that seeing her was a shock.

“Hi Tori,” she began in a soft, shy alto. “How are … you … to … night …”

She shrank in on herself with each stuttering word. I blinked and glanced sideways. Kai and Aaron had spotted her as well—and they were giving her the coldest stares I’d ever seen them direct at a fellow guild member, including several assholes who routinely deserved punches to the throat.

“Good … good to see … you,” Robin whispered, backing away. With a frightened look at the two mages, she practically ran to the stairs.

As she rushed up the steps, I whirled on my friends. “What the hell, guys? I know razzing new people is a thing around here, but she—”

“She’s trouble,” Kai interrupted.

“Her? You almost made her cry just now.”

Aaron shook his head. “You’ve seen what her demon can do. There’s no way she’s as easily intimidated as she appears. We don’t know anything specific, but we’ve heard things.”

“Such as?”

He frowned at his drink, the last mouthfuls diluted by melting ice cubes. “The Crow and Hammer tends to collect misfits. Some of our members are former rogues who’ve turned their lives around. Darius is usually a good judge of character, but not every mythic who gets a second chance here changes their ways.”

Now that he mentioned it, what did I know about Robin? Not much, and a lot of it was kind of suspicious. “So you’re saying …”

“She’s too new to trust,” Kai said bluntly. “Believe us on this one, Tori.”

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