- Three Mages and a Margarita
As I committed Lyndon’s information about Arcana magic to memory, I entered his drink in the till. Each guild member had a running tab and hardly anyone paid cash, which didn’t bode well for my poor, empty tip jar.
“Hey, Aaron,” I said after a minute.
“You said you’re hunting a rogue sorcerer, right?”
“What if he’s a really powerful one?”
He looked up from his laptop, an amused sparkle in his eyes. “Don’t worry about me, new girl. Lyndon meant one on one, but a single Arcaner against me, Kai, and Ezra? Even an experienced combat sorcerer would have a hell of a time beating us, and this rogue is far from the best.”
“Strength in numbers, huh?” I murmured. Not my thing. No one on the planet was as invested in saving my butt as I was, and I didn’t like counting on someone else to be there when I needed them only to find myself alone.
Aaron didn’t notice my doubtful expression as he focused on his laptop, strong fingers zipping over the keyboard. I glanced at his sword, hidden in its black case. For a supposedly easy opponent, he’d brought along an awfully big weapon.
Well, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. His ability to navigate dangerous situations inspired minimal confidence, but Kai oozed competence and I had yet to see Ezra appear anything less than utterly unfazed. If they wanted to chase down dangerous rogues with deadly magic, that was their business.
Me, I was just here to tend the bar—and I planned to keep my nose out of anything that wasn’t a cocktail recipe book.
To my disappointment, Kai and Ezra didn’t make an appearance on Wednesday. My shift passed much like Tuesday’s, with a few ugly encounters, a few pleasant ones, and a whole bunch of people who didn’t care to speak to me beyond ordering a drink. Liam didn’t return but Tom showed up for the better part of the evening, taking the same seat in the far corner and nursing drinks while he read a thick sci-fi paperback.
Sylvia came in and we had a slightly more polite snarling match. I made her a proper Manhattan, and she seemed pleased that I’d learned it for her. Not that I’d studied up for her—just so I didn’t look stupid again.
I was getting an idea of the regulars and the less-regular regulars. Many members I’d glimpsed during the big meeting hadn’t returned, but others showed up every day. They’d grab a few drinks and a meal, then head upstairs or downstairs depending on what they needed to do.
According to Aaron, the second level was for work—planning and executing jobs, completing paperwork, coordinating with team members, and research. Rogue hunting wasn’t the only work mythics could take on to earn extra cash—or bonuses, as Aaron called them—but no one went into detail about it. Probably a not-for-human-ears topic.
The basement level was for training, both magical and physical. Aaron mentioned a gym, a sparring room, a bunker for practicing magic, and an alchemy lab. The third level, where I’d met the guild officers, was off-limits for most members—the territory of the guild master, assistant guild master, and officers.
Aaron was late again but I didn’t give him too hard a time—he was clearly exhausted. He, Kai, and Ezra had pulled an all-nighter tracking the rogue sorcerer. Instead of working on his laptop, Aaron lined up a row of chairs along the wall and lied across the makeshift bed, covering his eyes with a borrowed dish towel. At least he didn’t snore.
Clara checked on me each night around six or seven, praising my efforts and gushing about how much work she was getting done, before heading home for the night. Felix popped in once to see how Aaron was handling his new assignment—triggering a lecture about sleeping on the job—but I saw no sign of the other two officers.
Friday’s shift went the same. I wouldn’t admit it to anyone, especially Aaron … but getting the cold shoulder from most of my customers was wearing on me. They weren’t rude enough to yell at, but neither were they friendly. Aaron napped through my shift again, even more tired than the day before.
For a magical guild, it wasn’t all that fun, yet I could see glimpses of how it might have been if I were a mythic instead of an unwelcome human. I could hear laughter from other levels, and I got to watch the smiles fade off mythics’ faces when they approached the bar. The sociable members were in the minority.
For my Saturday shift, I had high hopes the weekend would mean a busier night—and maybe friendlier faces. The afternoon weather was hot and balmy, so I picked out bright red shorts almost the same shade as my hair, a tank top with a strappy back, and cute white sandals. For a change, I wore my hair down, my usual wild waves straightened into sleek locks that fell almost to my elbows.
I was feeling good. Tips had been shit all week, but maybe I could charm some generosity out of my customers tonight.
Once again, Aaron was late, but I had no issues setting up. I was just laying out my freshly cut garnishes when he breezed in, a bounce in his step.
“We got him!” he announced before I could ask. “Tagged him in the marina, five minutes before he would’ve booked it straight for international waters.”
“Nice!” I said, my earnest relief surprising me. Had I been worrying about the guys that much? “Glad it’s over with.”
“Same.” He dropped onto his favorite stool just to the left of my station, the circles under his eyes offset by his grin. “Looking good today, Tori.”
Huh. I’d expected him to be too oblivious to notice I’d put extra effort into my appearance. “Thanks.”
He caught a lock of my hair and slid it through his fingers. I froze, my thoughts thrown completely off track.
“I kind of miss the crazy curls, though.”
I arched my eyebrows. “What are you implying?”
“Nothing?” he said uncertainly. Aware enough to notice I’d dressed up, but oblivious of how he was treading on thin ice with that comment.
I decided to spare him a bout of female insecurity. “How are Ezra and Kai?”
“Kai is fine, as always. Ezra took a nasty hit, but he’s just bruised. The sorcerer came out way worse.”
I poured two rum and cokes and passed him one. “A toast to a successful job?”
“Damn right!” We clinked glasses and he took a long gulp. “After a tough job, we usually hit the bar for a few celebratory drinks, but Ezra wanted to take it easy and Kai has a date. So it’s just me tonight.”
“Well, you and me.” I nudged his glass with mine. “I’ll celebrate with you!”
His grin flashed again and I returned it, a flutter in my stomach.
He downed half his drink in a few swallows. “Man, I’m going to sleep like a rock tonight. I haven’t had a good night’s rest all week.”
I finished straightening my garnishes. “How does Kai have the energy for a date?”
“He’s been getting his sleep while I’ve been here,” Aaron grumped. “Slacker.”
“Does he have a girlfriend?” I asked curiously, trying to imagine what sort of girl Kai would go for. With his exotic looks and classy style—from what I’d seen, anyway—he could attract almost any woman.
“Girlfriends,” Aaron answered, emphasizing the S. “I don’t know where he finds them, but he goes out with a new lady every damn week.”
No way. Kai? A player? I hadn’t pegged him as the womanizing type. “What about you?”
Ramsey waltzed out of the kitchen, his unnaturally black hair extra spikey and his eyeliner drawn on with more finesse than I’d ever managed on my own face. “Aaron isn’t mentioning his string of relationships that’ve failed spectacularly. We take bets on how long each girl will last.”
“The current average is four months,” Ramsey added.
“Wait, wait,” I cut in. “Aaron has located multiple women who were willing to tolerate him for four whole months?”
With a sulky glare at the two of us, Aaron hunched over his drink. “Like you can talk, Ramsey.”
“I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years, thanks very much.”
“That’s my point. I’m way better with women than you.”
Rolling my eyes, I poured Aaron another drink and slid it over. “I’m sure you’ll find the right girl eventually.”
“Real comforting, Tori.”
Once Ramsey returned to the kitchen, I gentled my tone. “If it’s any consolation, my track record is basically the same.”
He glanced up. “Oh?”
“Are you surprised that I don’t have a boyfriend, or surprised that I’ve ever had one?”
“Bit of both.”
I shook my head, but I was more amused than anything else. “We gingers have it rough, huh?”
He laughed and raised his drink. “I’ll toast to that.”
The evening didn’t stay quiet for long. People started filtering in around five, and by six I was too busy to keep Aaron company. He joined a table with Lyndon the sorcerer and two girls my age, animatedly describing his rogue sorcerer takedown while I zipped back and forth between the bar and kitchen. Ramsey and Cooper were both working and I found myself carrying way too many baskets of chicken wings for the number of people in the bar.