The lack of friendliness continued, but I ignored it, offering smiles and bright greetings to everyone. Eventually they’d warm up to me, right? A few more tips made their way into my jar than on other nights.
Around eight, excited voices cut through the rumble of conversation. Five people squeezed through the door, chatting and clapping each other on the back. At their appearance, most of the mythics in the pub cheered and whooped.
“Victory!” one of the new arrivals yelled, pumping a fist in the air. “A round on me!”
More cheers. I scrambled into position, my eyes widening. The five newcomers were wearing several cows’ worth of black leather and had weapons strapped to their limbs or slung over their backs, along with thick belts carrying fat pouches. They looked like a cross between special ops soldiers and vampire slayers.
“How did it go, Andrew?” someone called.
“Kicked ass,” a fifty-something guy answered. Despite his Blade-style outfit, he had a fatherly air that made me think he should be coaching a kid’s soccer team. “Bagged four and scattered the remainder of the nest.”
“And did some damage to the escapees, too,” a petite woman added, running a gloved hand over her pixie-short blond hair streaked with pink. The top of a monster-sized weapon jutted above her shoulder. “And get this. Right when we were packing up, the—”
“The Odin’s Eye guild showed up, ready to clean house,” the tallest guy boasted, the one who’d proclaimed a round of drinks on the way in. “They were pissed.”
Laughter rang through the room as the group reached the bar. The petite woman and older guy broke off to join Aaron’s table, while the other three stopped in front of me. The tallest guy, with a narrow face and patchy beard, might not have looked impressive on any other day, but his gear was doing him all kinds of favors.
“Congrats,” I said, though I had no idea what for. “What do you want to do for the round?”
His excitement faded as he assessed me. “Whiskey shots. No, not that one. The good stuff.”
I halted my reach for the whiskey in my well as he pointed imperiously at a bottle on the shelf behind me.
“Hurry it up,” the other guy said—a big dude with lots of muscle who would’ve been intimidating even without the leather duster. “We’re trying to celebrate here.”
I bit back a retort and reached for the bottle. How was I supposed to know the drill if no one had explained it? Jeez. I swiftly lined up shot glasses and poured, spilling in my rush. The third mythic of the team, a girl around my age with sleek blond hair tied into a ponytail, watched me with her nose scrunched like she’d stepped in dog shit.
Everyone in the pub crowded around the bar to partake in the shots. I did a rapid count and added another six glasses. The triumphant team passed them around, and Ramsey and Cooper popped out of the kitchen to grab shots too. The older leader, Andrew, lifted his into the air.
“Hold up,” Aaron interrupted, his shot in hand. “Tori, pour yourself one.”
Everyone looked at me and most of the stares were unfriendly.
“Um.” I shifted awkwardly. “That’s okay, go ahead.”
“It’s tradition. Everyone does a shot when a team makes a clean sweep on a job.”
“Every hammer takes a shot,” someone corrected. “She’s not guilded.”
“She’s part of the group. Pour a shot, Tori.”
“Shove it, Aaron,” the tall guy snapped. “You’re killing the mood.”
Aaron’s usual good humor was gone without a trace. He held his shot out to me. “Take mine, then, Tori.”
“That—that’s okay,” I mumbled. Damn it, Aaron. Stop making them hate me!
To my shock, Andrew, the team leader, gave me a smile. “Pour another one.”
“Go on, Tori,” Lyndon added, pushing in beside Aaron.
The petite blonde with the giant bad-guy-smasher on her back reached across the bar and gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder. “Everyone celebrates a victory. Do it!”
The silence thundered as I pulled out another shot glass and splashed whiskey into it. Most of the mythics were glaring at me, from the victorious team to the two girls Aaron had been chatting with.
Once I had my shot in hand, Andrew lifted his glass. “When you’re a hammer,” he shouted.
“Everything’s a nail!” the mythics shouted in turn, the ebullient atmosphere bursting through the room again as everyone laughed and downed their shots.
Aaron met my eyes, grinned, and tossed his whiskey back. I tipped my head, dumping the liquid into my mouth. It burned all the way down and I wheezed.
The petite blonde clapped me on the shoulder again. “Good stuff, right?”
“Yeah,” I gasped.
“I’m Zora,” she added. “This is Andrew.” She waved at the team leader. “Cameron.” The tall jerk. “Darren.” The muscly jerk. “And Cearra.” The female jerk.
“Pleasure to meet you.” I directed the words at Zora only, otherwise I would’ve been lying. “Congratulations on the victory. What was the job?”
“Exterminating a vampire nest.” She said it the same way I might remark on squishing a spider in the bathroom. “It’ll be a big payday this month.”
“Wow,” I said faintly. My guess about their outfits had been spot on.
“Oooh.” Aaron leaned on the bar. “I hadn’t mentioned vampires yet, had I?”
“What about werewolves? Did I mention those?”
“Also a no.”
Zora laughed. “Don’t worry. Vampires and shifters are hardly the scariest things out there.”
“You don’t say,” I muttered, feeling queasy. How was that supposed to make me worry less? I hoped they were just messing with me, but I doubted it.
“Looking pale there,” Cearra commented snidely, sweeping her ponytail over her shoulder. “Don’t faint. You might hurt yourself.”
“I bet she’d do better than you did on your first vamp sighting,” Zora shot back before I could respond. “Didn’t you piss yourself?”
Cearra went red. “I fell in a puddle!”
“Sure you did,” Aaron agreed mockingly.
Cearra slammed her shot glass down on the counter and stalked away. The two younger guys followed her.
“Those kids,” Zora remarked. With a friendly wave at me and Aaron, she joined another group clustered around a table, where Andrew had launched into a detailed rendition of their adventure.
The evening flew by and I was busy for all of it. Around eleven, the place started to empty. The vampire hunters left first—probably overheating in their leather gear—and others trickled out until it was just Aaron in conversation with Lyndon the sorcerer, Tom the shy psychic reading in the corner, the two girls who’d chitchatted with Aaron earlier, and a handful of others whose names I didn’t know.
At eleven thirty, Ramsey stuck his head out to let me know Cooper had left and he was heading out now too. I wished him a good night, then announced last call to the remaining mythics.
Rising from their table, the two girls came up—both my age, one with her hair dyed a shocking teal-blue and the other with dusky skin, a wild mop of dark curls, and large eyes. Blue-hair carried an armload of what appeared to be perfume bottles filled with brightly colored liquids.
“Can I get … hmm …” Calculation lurked behind her gaze as she set the perfume bottles on the bar top. “Actually, just a coke.”
I forced a smile, but it wasn’t as convincing as earlier in the evening. “And you?” I asked the other girl.
As I got out two glasses, Blue-hair gathered up her perfume bottles. Her fingers clumsily bumped a bright green one and it toppled over, rolling across the counter. I lunged to catch it as her hand shot out—but instead of grabbing it, she smacked it off the bar.
It hit the floor and shattered. A poof of green mist exploded outward, dousing everything within six feet—including me.
“Whoa!” Aaron exclaimed, leaping up from his chair. “What happened? What is that?”
I backed up a few steps, my short apron coated in shimmering green. The floors, the counter, my station, the shelves of liquor bottles—all stained with the liquid.
“Oh no,” Blue-hair said with unconvincing dismay. “My dye! Well, that’s a shame.” She picked up the remaining bottles. “You know, I think I’ll head out now.”
“Head out?” Aaron repeated angrily. “It’s your shit and you knocked it over. You can help her clean it up.”
“No, Sinclair.” The cold voice drifted from the corner of the room. A woman descended the staircase and paused a few steps from the bottom. Tabitha, the second guild officer. “It’s Miss Dawson’s responsibility.”
Her dark eyes turned my way and I suddenly had a real good idea who had leaked the truth about my human status to the entire guild. The only ones who’d known beside Aaron, Kai, and Ezra were Clara and the three officers.
Aaron stepped toward me. “I’ll help you, then.”