“I’m going to start prepping,” I called back. “Wait for me.”
Hurrying into the kitchen, its cook absent, I returned the mop to its spot and pushed the office door open—smacking it into something solid.
“Oof!” Clara stumbled back, the stack of papers in her arms wobbling precariously.
“Sorry!” I exclaimed, grabbing her arm before she dumped her paperwork. Whacking my boss with a door. Smart. “Are you okay?”
“Fine, fine,” Clara said breathlessly, her brunette locks falling out of her messy bun. “How are you, Tori?”
“Good. Do you need help?”
“No, I’ve got it. Just working on the usual … everything.” She squeezed past me and took three rushing steps, then stopped. “Tori, did you leave your MPD form on my desk last week like I asked?”
“Sure did,” I said brightly, not asking the obvious question.
Her face fell. “Oh.”
Yep, she’d lost it again.
“If you leave another form for me, I’ll fill it out right away,” I offered. “And give it to you in person.”
She straightened from her slouch. “That would be wonderful. Thanks.”
Before I could respond, she sped off to do whatever “end of the world” paperwork was next on her list. Which, apparently, did not include the essential paperwork that would determine whether I got to keep my job. She’d lost my form five times. How did a person lose a one-page document that many times in six weeks?
I dropped off my purse, tied on my short apron, and grabbed an armload of cleaning supplies. Pushing through the saloon doors that hid the kitchen, I found the bar much quieter than when I’d arrived. Kai, Ezra, and Aaron, now dry, sat at the bar, a laptop open in front of Kai.
As I sprayed a section of the bar top with cleaner, Aaron welcomed me back with a grin. My stomach did a stupid little flutter.
“So,” he prompted. “Apartment hunting?”
“Found a decent place,” I told him as I diligently scrubbed every surface in reach. “It’s in my budget and I think it’ll work, pending one faery eviction.”
Kai and Ezra looked up from the laptop.
“Faery eviction?” the latter repeated.
I told them about my and Sin’s confrontation with the green horror-movie buff. “The creepy shrimp’s been chasing off everyone who’s viewed the place, but Sin said a witch can get it out.”
“Yeah, that shouldn’t be difficult.” Aaron glanced around at the other patrons, presumably searching for a witch. “I can call Philip, if you want. He can help out or assign another witch.”
“I don’t want to be a bother.”
“It’s not a problem. They can probably get a bonus out of it—MagiPol doesn’t like fae interfering with humans.”
Though I’d be delighted to help a witch earn extra dough, any mention of MagiPol sent a shiver down my spine. More formally called the MPD, MagiPol was the regulatory body that controlled the lives of all mythics. Being a lame-o human with no magic, I was technically outside their jurisdiction—but they were the ones who’d kick me out of the Crow and Hammer the moment they got their hands on my paperwork and learned of my existence.
Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that Clara kept losing my form.
“I can’t wait to get my own place. It’s going to be heaven.” As I investigated the liquor quantities in my well, I frowned at a half-empty rum bottle. “Furnishing it might be tricky, though.”
“Buy a new bed and get everything else second hand,” Kai advised. “I know a girl who’s moving next month. I can check if she’s selling off her old furniture.”
“Is this the girl you went out with last night? You had a date, right?”
Aaron and Ezra snickered.
Kai’s expression went oddly blank. “No … different girl.”
“Ask how his date went,” Aaron suggested, his blue eyes sparkling.
“How was your date?” I asked immediately.
Kai, being exceptionally gorgeous and radiating the perfect blend of mysterious and disinterested, attracted women like hummingbirds to nectar. I swear, they just threw their phone numbers at him as he walked down the street. He was always out with a new girl and usually good for a bad date story at least once a week.
But this time, he said nothing, focusing intently on his laptop.
“Aww, come on, Kai,” I cajoled. “It couldn’t have been that bad.”
“Oh, it was,” Aaron said gleefully. “Tell her, Kai.”
He hunched over the laptop, ignoring us.
Leaving Aaron to tease him, I zipped through my opening routine—cleaning, stocking, and preparing for the small dinner rush. As I was chopping oranges into wheels, the back door opened and Ramsey breezed into the kitchen, his arms loaded with grocery bags.
“The freezer broke again,” he announced, tossing his head to flip his black hair—shaved on one side and chin-length on the other—out of his eyes. “I bought a few packs of burgers and frozen fries, but that’s it for menu options today.”
“Damn.” I dumped the oranges into my garnish tray. “Need any help with that?”
“Nah, I’m good.” He set his bags on the counter. “By the way, the collector is offering $35,000 now.”
My stomach turned over in an unsettling way. “I’m not selling my Queen of Spades card. You should never have told him it was up for sale.”
“I was buttering him up so I could buy a grimoire off him. He really wants the card.”
Despite his day job as a cook, Ramsey was an apprentice almost ready to graduate to big-boy sorcerer pants. He specialized in enchanted artifacts of the counter-magic variety.
“Not happening,” I replied. Not even for—I shuddered—thirty-five grand. I could really use the money, but I could use my ass, undamaged, more. The Queen of Spades artifact was my only magical defense and I wasn’t letting it go for anything less than a wand that could turn all my enemies into frogs.
Not that I had enemies—the murdering kind, anyway—but when it came to mythics, a girl never knew when she might need to lay an overpowered dickhead out.
That was the thing about this job. I never should have set foot in this building, but through a combination of coincidence and stubbornness, I’d gotten a job at the last place a human should work: a guild.
So here I was.
By the time I finished prep, the bar was hopping with customers. I’d worked a lot of restaurant jobs, but before this one, I’d never encountered an establishment that attracted such a bizarre mix of people. For good reason, though. This wasn’t your typical bar, and the Crow and Hammer wasn’t your typical guild.
Tonight, my customers ranged from the ever-irascible sorceress Sylvia, an old hag who loved to hate me, and her banana-haired apprentice, Alyssa; Bryce and Drew, who looked like teeth-bashing bouncers but were actually psychics—a telepath and a telekinetic; Laetitia, the water-flinging hydromage; and Rose, a grandmotherly diviner with turquoise glasses and an endless supply of colorful knit caps.
Sin, who’d successfully skipped the whole shouting match when we arrived, surfaced with her alchemist friend Riley. The curly-haired, dusky-skinned young woman had acquired odd yellow sparkles down one arm since I last saw her. Alchemy was tricky, or so I’ve been told.
I dropped off three rum and cokes for Aaron, Kai, and Ezra, then got to work, taking food orders and mixing drinks. The pleasant buzz of conversations filled the pub, and the dinner rush sped by.
When things cooled down, Kai came over with three empty glasses. He, Aaron, and Ezra had moved to a quiet corner to work, leaving their usual spot at my bar empty.
“Another round, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure.” I pulled out three new glasses. “Was your date last night that horrendous?”
He sighed. “You never let anything go.”
“Come on. Let me live vicariously through you.”
“Why don’t you go on dates yourself?” he asked dryly.
I raised a finger. “One, I’m not the James Bond type like you.” He opened his mouth to speak but I held up a second finger. “Two, I don’t have money to pay for dates. I’m saving up for my new place.” A third finger. “And three, it’s way more fun to hear about your dates than put in effort myself.”
“James Bond?” he repeated bemusedly.
“Dark and handsome, mysterious, dangerous. Just embrace it, Kai.”
“Do I seem dangerous to you?”
“Not at first, but I’ve seen what you can do.” I waved a hand. “Anyway, my point is I’m not cut out for dating right now.”
“You have a willing victim dying to treat you,” he pointed out.
Across the pub, Aaron was gesturing at the laptop while Ezra frowned doubtfully. Aaron had asked me out weeks ago, but between my schedule and his, we’d managed four last-minute cancelations, one no-show when the guild had called him to an emergency, and a lunch date that had gone surprisingly well—until two members of a rival guild interrupted us.
That had been my first experience with rival mythics in the wild. Not fun. Other guilds didn’t think highly of the Crow and Hammer, and the pair of mages had taunted Aaron, knowing he couldn’t retaliate in public. They’d antagonized us right up until I’d asked one if his ass ever got jealous of the shit coming out of his mouth, and at that point Aaron decided we should leave.