Darius folded his hands and rested his chin on them, analyzing me from head to toe. At least I was dressed nice and not wearing my usual short-shorts. I’d hate to go to magic prison in less than my best.
“Tori,” the guild master said, his words slow as though he were choosing them carefully. “Among mythics, unique abilities and strong personalities abound. It takes truly rare and exceptional strength to stand out among the crowds of intensely gifted mythics we encounter daily.”
His gray eyes met mine. “You, Victoria Dawson, are the most surprising and remarkable young woman I have met in many years, mythic or otherwise. Thanks to your courage, determination, and trust in your own instincts, you saved Aaron’s life where I failed to protect him. He, I, and this guild owe you a great debt.”
I gulped silently, suppressing my surprise. Not what I’d been expecting to hear.
“That said,” he continued, his voice hardening, “you put your life in severe danger. You failed to communicate your plan, acted alone without a support network, and nearly died. You disregarded the skills of other guild members and withheld crucial information.”
Mouth hanging open, I shrank in my chair, as intimidated as a kindergartener being lectured by the school principal.
“This isn’t a guild of independent contractors. At the Crow and Hammer, we function as a team—our strengths compensating for our fellows’ weaknesses. No life is worth more or less than another, including yours.” He leaned back. “Under different circumstances, this meeting would be to determine disciplinary action.”
“D-discipline?” I stammered.
“I do not allow my guildeds to recklessly endanger themselves any more than I allow them to endanger others. However”—amusement sparked in his eyes—“since you are not a member of this guild, I can do no more than express my displeasure.”
Straightening out of my cower, I attempted to piece my dignity back together.
He stroked his beard. “I understand Tabitha terminated your employment. Clara and I disagree with her decision.”
Tabitha’s dark eyes flicked to Darius then to me. “I made that call during a crisis with a guilded’s life on the line, but perhaps I was hasty in removing you from the situation.”
Was that an apology? I wasn’t sure.
Darius lifted the sheet of paper lying on the desk in front of him. “Interestingly enough, according to the paperwork Clara failed to complete”—the AGM flinched—“you never officially worked for the guild. As such, I cannot rehire you.”
“Instead,” he murmured, sliding the paper toward me, “I would like to present this job offer for your consideration.”
Numbly, I picked up the paper and skimmed it. My job, laid out in clear wording, down to my hours, wage, and perks. Darius’s loopy signature already marked the bottom of the page beside a line awaiting my signature.
“There’s still the matter of MPD’s approval,” Darius said. “But that’s a bridge we can cross when we come to it.”
My head buzzed. The guild master surveyed me, then said to the others, “Would you excuse us, please?”
Clara and the three officers filed out, leaving me alone with Darius. He rose from his chair and circled the desk. Unsure what to do, I jumped up, oddly wary. Authority figures normally inspired my smart mouth to run away with itself, but Darius wielded command and influence like an expert swordsman, and even I couldn’t summon proper snark in his presence.
To my shock, he caught my free hand in both of his, his palms warm and calloused. “Offering you a job seems like paltry thanks. Without you, I would have lost Aaron. I would have watched him die, unable to stop it. I can’t adequately express my gratitude, but know that whether or not you accept the position, you will always be welcome in any home of mine.”
Unexpected tears stung my eyes. I blinked rapidly to clear them.
Darius released my hand and sat on the edge of his desk. “Would you like time to consider the job offer?”
“I’ve already thought about it.” I raised a finger. “I’ll accept on one condition.”
His eyebrows crept up. “What condition is that?”
I turned the paper toward him and pointed. His eyebrows rose higher, and I smiled wickedly. With a quiet laugh, he reached for a pen.
Five minutes later, I skipped down the stairs, a copy of the signed offer in hand. As I landed on the bottom step, I reeled to a stop so fast I almost fell on my face.
Sin had disappeared, but lined up at the bar in her place, leaning casually against it with rum and cokes in hand, were Aaron, Kai, and Ezra. Déjà vu from our first meeting tingled through me, not helped by Aaron’s mischievous smirk. I hopped down the last step, barely noticing the bustle in the rest of the pub, but before I could figure out how I wanted to react to their sudden appearance, Aaron pounced.
Looping an arm around my waist, he swept me over to Kai and Ezra. Next thing I knew, they were standing in a triangle around me, trapping me against the bar, and my paper was in Aaron’s hands. He whooped victoriously.
“Rehired! And—whoa! A raise?” He pointed incredulously at my original wage, now crossed out with a new number written beside it in the guild master’s neat print. “Nicely done! Darius is a stingy old badger.”
Ezra smiled, his mismatched eyes warm. “Welcome back, Tori.”
“About time, too,” Aaron groused. “I was starting to think the MPD agents would hang around until Christmas.”
Kai plucked the paper from Aaron and scanned it. “Excellent. Darius didn’t include anything about supervision.”
“Huh?” I said gormlessly.
“Aaron is off the hook for watching you every shift. Which is good, because we have a lot of work to do. Fourteen KCQ members are still unaccounted for and MagiPol has put out very generous bounties on them.”
“But …” I looked at the paper, devoid of a supervision clause. “Is it really okay for me to … by myself?”
“Do you want me annoying you for eight hours a day?” Aaron’s expression turned sly. “If we’re going to spend that much time together, we should do it when you’re not working. Don’t forget I promised you a dinner date.”
“You don’t need him, anyway,” Ezra jumped in. “If anything, Aaron should be asking you to supervise his work.”
Aaron bristled. “What’re you—”
“Yeah,” Kai agreed. “Maybe the three of us should work out a rotating schedule so Aaron has a capable defender at all times.”
“I don’t need—”
“You never know when you might get abducted again.”
“That was only once!”
As Aaron fumed, Kai and Ezra snickered. I stood between them, my brain frazzled by the sudden rearrangement of expectations. I’d thought the guys were done with me and I’d never set foot in the guild again. But now I was back, I was rehired, and …
Three pairs of very different eyes watched me, and it was like nothing had changed. Like Aaron’s kidnapping, our terrifying escape, and our near deaths had been just another day on the job.
Another day in the life of a mythic.
Good thing I wasn’t a mythic. Just a bartender. For a guild. Of mythics. Okay, it was a fine line, but whatever.
A grin spread across my face. Beaming back at me, Aaron spun us toward the bar. Ezra leaned against the counter beside me, and Kai took up the spot on Aaron’s other side.
Returning from the kitchen in a waft of cigarette-scented air, Cooper waved in greeting. “Want anything?”
“Order a drink on me, Tori,” Aaron said imperiously. “Least I can do.”
“We can toast to Aaron’s amazing talents as a kidnapping victim,” Ezra suggested.
“No,” Aaron sniffed. “We can toast to Tori being freakin’ amazing and saving my life.”
Kai bent forward to catch my eye. “And after that, we can have a little chat about how, next time, you’ll call me and Ezra before you race off to save his helpless ass by yourself.”
“Er, yeah.” I flinched. “Can we just not do a next time?”
The three guys exchanged looks, then Aaron pulled me to his side. “That sounds boring as hell. We’ll just make sure you’re more prepared for ‘next time.’”
My eyes widened. “Uh, hey now. I’m just the bartender.”
“Nope.” His laughing blue eyes captured mine. “You might not be an official member of the Crow and Hammer, but you’re part of the family now.”
I stared at him, speechless.
Cooper hurried over, carrying my purse and résumé folder from the other end of the bar. He set them down beside me. “So, Tori? What do you want?”
Picking up the folder, I looked from Ezra’s mismatched eyes to Kai’s dark gaze to Aaron’s troublemaker grin. As I stood between the three mages, the question echoed through me. What did I want?
Reaching over the bar, I let the folder slide from my hand. It landed square in the garbage bin on the other side. Straightening, I gave Aaron a mischievous smirk to match his.
“Since this drink is on you,” I told him, “I know exactly what I want.”