The jerk trio of vampire hunters, Cearra, Darren, and Cameron, had developed a real talent for insulting me whenever no one was listening, but I was coping. On the last occasion when Darren had deliberately spilled a freshly made Long Island Iced Tea across the bar, I’d spun around in the middle of pouring a drink and sprayed him in the face with my soda gun. Whoopsies.
It was getting better. It was getting fun. I was learning who was always up for good-natured banter and who was never in a good mood. Who liked to chat, who hated small talk, who was fun and who was trouble.
And through it all, Aaron was there with either Kai or Ezra, keeping me company and backing me up when someone was an asshole. For the first time in a long time, I found myself eager to go to work.
It was a good week, and by the time Saturday rolled around again, I was in the groove. Aaron and Ezra were parked at the far end of the bar, Aaron playing a video game while Ezra cheered him on. The pub was hopping and I zoomed in and out of the kitchen, taking orders and making drinks.
As the dinner rush died down, I carried a plate between tables. I didn’t normally deliver food, letting patrons wait at the bar for their meal, but the girl who’d ordered was sitting at a table with cards spread across the surface in a strange pattern.
I nudged the plate onto the only free corner. “Need anything else?”
“No, this is fine. Thank you so much.” She gave me a distracted smile and offered her hand. “I’m Sabrina, by the way.”
“Tori. Nice to meet you.”
Sabrina shifted in her seat, her large brown eyes emphasized with heavy makeup and fake eyelashes. “You spend a lot of time with Aaron and Kai, right?”
“At work,” I confirmed. “Yeah.”
“Do you have their numbers? I lost them and haven’t had a chance to ask again.”
Something about her innocent tone made me suspicious. “Sorry, can’t help you there.”
“Oh,” she said glumly, adjusting her salon-perfect blond bob.
“Why don’t you just ask? Aaron’s right there.”
When I turned to get his attention, she waved urgently. “No, no, that’s fine. I’ll ask later.”
Sweeping all the cards together, she beamed as though hoping to distract me. “Would you like a reading?”
The cards she was stacking into a neat pile had black backs with a gold sun and moon forming an ornate yin-yang, while the fronts featured ink drawings. Tarot cards. I’d normally scoff at that kind of stuff, but I was standing in a magic guild, so … yeah.
“You just used your cards, Sabrina.” An old woman flounced over to the table, glaring through her turquoise-framed glasses. “You must cleanse your deck before performing another reading.”
“I know how to use my cards.” Sabrina straightened the deck with more violence than necessary. “Butt out, Rose.”
Glare vanishing, Rose bestowed a gentle smile on me, her wispy white hair sticking out from beneath her knitted cap. “I’d be happy to do a reading for you, dear. Sabrina is a young diviner still learning her craft. I have many years of experience with which to—”
“Butt out, Rose!” Sabrina growled. “Tori, take a seat.”
“Uh …” I looked from Rose’s smug face to Sabrina’s pleading stare and reluctantly sat. “I’ve never, um, had a reading … before.”
“If a real diviner didn’t do it, then it would have been useless anyway,” Sabrina said cheerfully, shuffling her deck with mesmerizing speed. “A reading doesn’t predict the future like those charlatans claim, but it shines light on the forces moving around you and it can reveal the path—or one of many paths—that lies before you.”
Rose tittered. “Without cleansing her deck, Sabrina’s reading will be tainted with the energies of her previous reading. And doing a reading here, in all this noise and activity? Useless.”
“It’s fine,” Sabrina snapped. “I know my cards, Rose.”
The old lady scoffed.
Sabrina set the deck in front of me. “First, shuffle the cards to imbue them with your energy.”
I eyed them warily. “Um, will this take long? I can’t be away from the bar for—”
“Only a few minutes, don’t worry. Go ahead, shuffle them. While you do, think about the question you most want answered.”
I picked up the worn cards, still warm from Sabrina’s hands. As I clumsily shuffled them, I tried to think of something. A question immediately bloomed in my mind: What next?
It felt like I was settling in here … like I was fitting in. I enjoyed it. I could relax instead of dance across thin ice each shift, waiting for the guillotine to drop and my job to get cut out from under me. But it was only temporary. Once Darius got back from his conference thing, he’d sign off on my paperwork and MagiPol would give me the boot back into the human world.
Even if they didn’t boot me, I’d already faced more danger at this job than at any other. Aaron’s attackers were on the loose, their identities unknown. On top of that, Tabitha hated my guts—and she wasn’t the only one.
What was I supposed to do? What came next?
“That should be enough,” Sabrina told me. “Now cut the deck.”
I cut it and passed it to her. She stroked the top card, her eyes losing focus. “Very good. Your energy has suffused the cards.”
With dreamy movements, she pulled the top card and laid it face down on the table, then drew a second. One after another, she laid seven cards on the table in a V shape.
Rose sniffed. “I would have done a Celtic Cross spread for a more in-depth—”
“Shut up, Rose! This is the spread the cards want.” Sabrina settled in her chair and placed her fingers on the first card. “This one represents your past.”
She turned it over, revealing a painting of jeweled goblets. It faced me, making it upside-down for Sabrina.
“The Six of Cups, reversed. That suggests your past is holding sway over your future.” She turned over the next card, revealing a tumbling building. “Your present, the Tower. Sudden, dramatic change has toppled your stable patterns.”
Sudden, dramatic change? Oh, definitely. This job had thrown everything in my life out of whack. I wasn’t complaining, though.
Sabrina turned the third card, revealing an array of blades. “The Seven of Swords. Hmm.”
“What does it mean?” I asked.
“The third card in the spread represents hidden influences in your life, and the Seven of Swords suggests … deception. Someone is misleading you.”
Rose scoffed and Sabrina shot her a glare before touching the next card.
“This one represents your self.” She flipped it. “The Hermit.”
I wrinkled my nose at the artistic rendering of a bearded old man. “That’s flattering.”
“The Hermit is a card of wisdom and proud independence. But it’s reversed.” Sabrina pointed and I realized the card was facing me, not her. “The reversal warns that the strengths of the Hermit may also be weaknesses.”
A chill ran down my spine. Okay, I was getting creeped out. “What’s the next card?”
“The fifth card represents the people in your life.” She turned it over to reveal an armored man with a sword. “The Knight of Swords. Loyalty, determination, courage. This is what surrounds you. Ah, but …” She turned over the next card. “Eight of Swords. You fear commitment. You’re holding back.”
I sucked in a deep breath to calm my racing heart. “And the last card?”
“The last card is the outcome—the end of this path. Keep your question in mind, now.” Sabrina touched the card, her eyes distant, then flipped it over. “Oh.”
I stared, feeling cold all over. A lovingly detailed grim reaper with a bloody scythe graced the card. “Uh … is that what I think it is?”
Sabrina coughed delicately. “This is the Death card, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to die. It’s the card of transformation—of endings and beginnings.”
Yeah, not particularly comforting.
Hovering her hands over the tarot spread, Sabrina sat quietly, her vacant stare moving from card to card. “Conflict surrounds you. You’re caught in the midst of a violent change, and deception lurks in the shadows, calling the conflict ever closer. Your past stands in the way of your future, but though you’ve walked this far alone, others are waiting to join you. Even greater change awaits you, but its form”—she lightly touched the Eight of Swords—“will be shaped by the fear that rules your heart.”
Ominous silence fell over the table. My focus shifted from the crumbling tower to the chilling specter of death to the armored knight with his sword raised, then darted to Aaron and Ezra, shoulder to shoulder as they battled aliens on the laptop.
“Conflict, yes, but the Swords deliver a different message,” Rose declared. She tapped the Six of Swords, the Knight, then the Eight of Swords. “Secrets. Truth. Risk. Dangerous secrets will challenge the loyalty of your strongest allies, and if you seek the truth”—her gaze dropped to the Death card—“it will not be your fate alone bared to the reaper’s blade.”