Home > Lost Talismans and a Tequila (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #7)(9)

Lost Talismans and a Tequila (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #7)(9)
Author: Annette Marie

The engine cut off, but the headlights continued to blind me as the driver’s door opened. Footfalls crunched on the gravel as a man walked toward me. When he cut across the lights, I got a proper look—and terror seized my chest.

“Darius!” I jumped up, stumbling with stiffness, and realized I was shivering violently. “What are you doing here?”

The GM glanced at the house, his face grim. “Aaron called me.”

I grabbed the front of his leather jacket, pushing into him so he couldn’t advance. “You promised! You promised to wait!”

“I’m not here for that, Tori.”

I hesitated but didn’t release him. “Then why did you come?”

“Aaron said the two of you need to leave immediately, and Ezra shouldn’t be left alone.” Gray eyes searched my face. “What happened?”

My fingers shook. I tightened my grip on his coat to stifle their trembling. “Ezra found out … about his demon and … all the stuff I was hiding from him.”

He sighed. “That was inevitable, wasn’t it?”

“But it happened all wrong,” I whispered. “I think he hates me.”

“You went against everything important to him,” Darius said bluntly.

I cringed as my heart split down the middle.

“But would you rather he die loving you, or live hating you? You made this decision already, Tori.”

My lungs struggled for breath and I gasped in the chilly air. “Y-yes.”

He put his hands on my shoulders. “You and Aaron have a job to do. Make it worth it.”

A flitter of memory scraped me. Was it worth it, Zak?

I shuddered. Zak had betrayed me and my friends for his own ambitions. I was trying to save Ezra’s life—and save Aaron’s and Kai’s happiness, which Ezra’s death would destroy.

Closing my eyes, I pulled the shredded vestiges of my determination around me. Eyes opening, I released the GM’s jacket. “Please take care of Ezra while we’re gone.”

“I will.” Passing me, he pulled the gate open. “But Tori … I think you’ll find that Ezra, who’s survived more than he’ll ever tell us, doesn’t need protection. All he needs is a reason to fight.”

Arms wrapped around myself and teeth chattering, I watched Darius cross the small yard and let himself in through the back door.

A reason to fight.

The amulet. The summoner’s grimoire. I would find answers—and give Ezra the reason, and the hope, he needed.

Chapter Six

“All right, Tori.”

I stared out the windshield at the dark pavement flashing past beneath the SUV’s headlights. Everything was black, the trees on either side of the highway barely discernible against the night sky.

“Give me the whole story,” Aaron ordered. “From the beginning.”

Drawing in a deep breath, I collected my thoughts. This time, I told him the sequence of events in order, explaining each decision I’d made. How I’d made a deal with Eterran to buy time. How the demon had proved himself semi-trustworthy when he’d helped kill the shifters instead of slaughtering everyone—including me—and escaping. How Eterran had pulled Ezra back from their shared mental collapse at Varvara’s hands.

“We talked the night after,” I revealed. “We discussed the amulet and what I’d learned about demon summoning, and whether it was feasible to unmake a demon mage.”

“You discussed it …” Aaron muttered, gripping the steering wheel with both hands. “Eterran has taken control several times in front of me and he’s never spoken. He’s just tried to kill us.”

“He wants out of Ezra’s body. He thinks there’s a chance we can do it … and I think so too. He told me about the Enright summoner who turned Ezra, and that the summoner’s grimoire might still be there.”

“That’s why we’re going to Enright?”

“My plan had been to tell Ezra everything—in a calm discussion, not a shouting match. He would’ve come too, and Eterran would’ve helped us find the grimoire.”

Eyes on the road, Aaron exhaled slowly. “Do you know what happened in Enright?”

“Some of it.”

“Ezra’s last memory of that place is discovering everyone he ever knew had been massacred. I don’t think he should ever set foot there again.”

My body chilled. “You think it would be too much for him?”

“In his current state, yes.” Aaron breathed out again, and the air trembled from his lungs. “Ezra’s in bad shape, Tori. If something doesn’t change soon, we’re going to lose him before we can save him.”

“That’s why I did this. All of this.”

He nodded. “If we find the summoner’s grimoire, what then?”

“We use it to find out how Ezra was turned into a demon mage. If we know the details of the contract magic—if there is any—we’ll have a better idea of whether the amulet will work to break it.”

“And if the amulet won’t work?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” I muttered.

The vehicle rumbled along the highway, the pavement empty of other vehicles. I stared into the darkness, steeling myself against the heartache building in my chest. Ezra would understand. He would forgive me.

And if he didn’t, at least he would be alive.

“While I’m spilling secrets,” I said abruptly, “there’s something else you should know.”

Aaron’s blue eyes darted toward me, his face lit by the dashboard’s glowing display.

“I’m in love with Ezra. We kissed under the mistletoe at Christmas. We’ve made out a few times.”

Silence.

I couldn’t make myself look at Aaron, my gaze fixed on the road ahead. “I didn’t realize I had feelings for him until months after you and I broke up. Ezra and I aren’t dating or sleeping together. I should’ve told you sooner, but I didn’t know if this thing between me and Ezra was even going anywhere.”

Aaron said nothing for a long, torturous minute, then sighed heavily. “Hell, Tori. You don’t have much faith in me, do you?”

I shrank in my seat.

“Did you think I would forbid you from seeing Ezra like a possessive boyfriend? I love you both. Why would I want either of you to be unhappy?”

I shrank a little more, feeling about two inches tall. “I’m sorry.”

“Anything else you’ve been keeping to yourself?”

My nose scrunched. “Um … I never slept with Zak. He implied I did, but he was just being a prick.”

“When isn’t he a prick?” Aaron muttered, then settled back in his seat, his hold on the steering wheel relaxing. “You should get some sleep. I’ll wake you up when we reach Seattle, and we can switch.”

“Sure.” I reclined my seat by a few degrees. “Aaron?”

“Yeah?”

A tear slipped down my cheek, leaving a cold trail. “I’m really, really sorry. I should’ve trusted you from the start.”

The rush of tires over asphalt filled the quiet between us. Miserable and aching inside, I shuffled my limbs, trying to get comfortable.

“It might be better that you didn’t tell me,” Aaron whispered. “Kai and I promised Ezra … No matter what you’d said, I’m not sure we would’ve waited.”

I stared at him, my chest tight, then closed my eyes, knowing it would be a long time before my thoughts calmed enough for me to sleep.

“I don’t get motion sickness,” I told Aaron as I pressed the brakes and guided the SUV through a turn, the tires roaring over the packed gravel-and-dirt track. “But this is the windiest road I’ve ever driven on, and I think I’m getting motion sickness.”

Clutching the handhold on his door, Aaron kept his unblinking stare on the road. “You could slow down. That would help.”

“We’re already going so slow,” I grumbled, following another tight bend. “We’ve been driving on this crap road for, what, forty minutes? Fifty? How much farther?”

“A few more miles. But Tori, there’s snow on the road and you should really go a bit slower.”

“This little dusting? Aaron, I grew up in Ontario. I know how to drive in the snow.”

He pressed his lips together so hard they turned white. Bet he wished he was driving. Grinning, I kept the SUV’s speed steady.

Aaron had taken the first three hours of the drive, and in Seattle, we’d switched so he could get some sleep. Seattle to the Oregon border had been a breezy two-hour drive down a straight highway, but then it had gotten unpleasant.

Don’t get me wrong, the Oregon Coast Range was beautiful. Thick forest covered the low slopes, and the winding roads followed wide, snaking rivers bordered with white snow. But therein lay the problem: winding roads.

Our progress had slowed, and by the time the morning sun had lit the mountains, Aaron’s GPS had directed us from a two-lane highway to a wide single-lane road with no center line and a lot of potholes. No sooner had I complained about the shit road conditions than the asphalt had transformed into dirt. And maybe it was just me, but the road seemed to worsen the farther we drove.

It was truly the middle of nowhere. Aside from the occasional house right off the nonexistent shoulder, I hadn’t seen a single town or village. Not even one of those teeny hamlets with twelve houses and a general store. If I were going to hide a collection of brainwashed mythics and underage demon mages, yeah, this would be a great spot. Frankly, I was surprised the Keys of Solomon had ever found it.

“All right,” Aaron muttered, shuffling through printouts of routes and maps I’d prepared yesterday. “Which one of these … Here’s the map for Enright, but—”

“But we’re not going to Enright.” Which Google Maps didn’t know how to reach by vehicle anyway. “You want the directions from the Wheelie Wanderer blog.”

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