The patrons I’d already served made perfect sense to me—young-ish, single-ish bar-going types—but now I was stumped. Young, old, classy, weird, goth, hippie. A full spectrum of stereotypes was gathering in the pub, and none belonged in the same room together.
Before I got completely overwhelmed, Clara burst out of the kitchen and people shifted over to order food from her. I scrambled to make their drinks, fumbling liquor bottles and forgetting garnishes. For every smile I offered, I got stony stares and scowls in response.
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
The stupid question kept coming, and I quit smiling. As the clock hit six and half the tables were full, I ducked into the back to get more ice, panting for air, strands of hair sticking to my face. My nerves were long gone, replaced by anger. Pissing people off was one of my God-given talents, but even I had never met such a universally hostile group of people in my life.
I stomped to the ice machine and filled my bucket, barely acknowledging Ramsey slaving over the grill, the deep fryer sizzling. Bucket filled, I shoved through the saloon doors. Clara rushed past me into the kitchen to give Ramsey the next wave of orders.
More customers had gathered at the bar. I dumped the ice into the well and faced them. The three guys were a few years older than me, tall, fit, and handsome. Under different circumstances, I would have flirted hardcore and written my number on their receipt, but instead I had to contain my grimace as I waited for the question.
“Heard there’s a new girl,” the centermost guy said in a pleasantly deep voice, his blue eyes flashing with humor. Like me, he was a full-blown ginger, though his tousled locks were more into rusty-orange shades. “I see the rumors are true.”
I thought he might be my first friendly customer when his buddy added, “Fresh blood.”
“What do you want?” The rudely barked demand slipped out before I could stop it. Crap. Deep breaths, Tori.
Surprised by my tone, the redhead glanced at his pal—a dark-haired looker with an exotic cast to his features. The third guy was half turned away, waving at someone.
The redhead offered his hand in greeting, giving me a smooth smile. “Aaron Sinclair.”
He was the first customer to introduce himself, which might have seemed like good manners except his tone suggested I should recognize his name and commence fawning. Was he a local actor or something? I didn’t recognize him.
“Pleasure,” I said flatly, not bothering to offer my name. No one here cared who I was. “Are you ordering a drink or what?”
Damn it. That wasn’t any less rude than the last thing I’d said. Unfazed, Aaron grinned like I’d challenged him to a duel—one he expected to win—but then the third guy turned to face the bar.
“Three rum and cokes,” he said in a smooth voice that, believe it or not, was pleasant. But I almost didn’t notice, too distracted by the white scar that ran down his face from his left temple to the hollow of his cheek, cutting across his eye. While his right eye was a warm chocolate brown, the damaged iris was eerily pale as though the color had drained out, leaving only a dark pupil and outer rim.
Recovering fast, I whipped out three rocks glasses, scooped ice into them, splashed in some rum, and topped them with coke.
They took their drinks, but instead of moving off to the tables like everyone else, they slipped onto the three nearest bar stools. Great. An audience. I ignored them as my next customer walked up and demanded to know who I was.
“So, new girl,” Aaron said, distracting my count so I overpoured a vodka. “Are you a natural redhead?”
“Are you a natural pain in the ass?” I shot back without thinking. Cursing my runaway mouth, I shoved the accidental double at the customer.
“Confirmation via temper,” the dark-haired one remarked.
Ignoring them even harder, I focused on the next wave of arrivals. They were still coming—there had to be over thirty people in here now—and the original wave was finishing their drinks and coming up for seconds. Clara zoomed in and out, her arms full of plates. The more I rushed, the more mistakes I made and my frustration kept climbing.
“Hey, new girl,” Aaron called as I rocketed past him with a bottle of champagne for a mimosa. “What do you call it when a ginger goes off the deep end?”
I added orange juice to the mimosa.
“A ginger snap. Get it?”
“I’ve got a better one for you, Aaron,” his dark-haired copilot said. “What’s the difference between a ginger and a brick?”
Aaron twisted his mouth suspiciously. “What?”
“A brick gets laid.”
As Aaron snorted dismissively and the scarred guy snickered, I dashed into the back, searching for a brandy I’d never heard of, which my current customer was insisting he always ordered. I dug around in the storage room, finally found it, then raced back out again.
“Hey, new girl,” Aaron began again as the impatient brandy connoisseur stormed off with his stupid drink. “We’ve got a wager going on. Care to settle it?”
“I’m busy.” Hunching over the till, I tried to remember everything I’d poured in the last ten minutes.
“We just wanna know what you are. I’m betting an alchie.”
My hand stuttered over the screen. I’d been expecting another lame ginger joke. He thought I was a what?
“Psychic,” the other guy said, but I didn’t know if he was talking to me or his pal. The one with the scar rolled his eyes and sipped his drink.
“Come on, give us a hint,” Aaron cajoled.
“Could you hurry up?” an older woman snapped at me. “I’m waiting to order.”
I shifted away from the guys and hastily entered all the drinks I remembered making, then faced the woman. “What can I—”
“Two Manhattans, and make it snappy, girl.”
Her sneering tone was too much for me.
“Are you having a bad day?” I shot back. “Or are you always a hag?”
Aaron choked on his drink. I knew I was losing it, but my temper was pulsing and I couldn’t remember the definition of “self-control.”
“Excuse me?” the woman gasped.
“Please. It’s an amazing word used by civilized people everywhere. You should try it sometime.”
Her mouth opened, then closed. I folded my arms and waited.
“Two Manhattans, please.”
I slammed a pair of martini glasses onto the mats, then turned around to check my phone for the recipe. I needed to handle my temper whether these jerks were rude or not. At least I wasn’t losing any tips.
Aaron whistled. “That sounded great, Sylvia. You should practice manners more often.”
“Shut your mouth, Aaron, or I’ll seal it shut.”
After skimming the drink instructions, I grabbed the whiskey and vermouth, one in each hand, and poured them.
“You’re supposed to mix them with ice first,” the woman barked. “Forget it. Just give me two cokes instead.”
Snarling, I poured the drinks and shoved them across the bar. “Don’t choke on the ice.” Bitch.
Aaron laughed. “Wow, I think I might like the new girl.”
I ignored him, my next customer already waiting. As I struggled with increasingly difficult orders and correspondingly crankier customers, Aaron and his pal kept up a steady commentary, interspersed with more ginger jokes, but at least they made fun of other patrons as much as me. Still, they were not helping. I doubted my hair color had anything to do with my short fuse, but either way, I was hitting my limit—and with each new dose of nasty thrown my way, my control slipped a little more.
When a guy snapped at me to hurry, I shorted his vodka and told him I’d water down his drinks until he learned some manners. An old man leered at my boobs and asked if I could add something special to his drink, so I poured an ounce of bourbon and filled the rest of the highball glass with grenadine syrup.
“Sweet,” I said with an overly girlish smile. “Just like me.”
He scoffed at the glass. “Give me a real drink.”
“You got what you asked for.”
He left the pink atrocity on the bar and stalked back to his table.
Aaron cackled. “Hey Kai, how do you start an argument with a ginger?”
“Say anything,” the dark-haired guy answered with a smirk. “You realize you’re a ginger too, right? You’re insulting yourself.”
I shot them a furious glare. Why were they making my night worse? Why couldn’t they move their sexy asses to a table? The fact they were hot just made me angrier. All that drool-worthy sex appeal wasted on jackasses—well, maybe not the scarred guy. He was possibly not a jackass. He hadn’t said much so I wasn’t sure.
The three of them looked like goddamn models, but each from a different magazine. Aaron, he might have just galloped across a meadow on horseback, lassoing wild cattle—or beautiful women. He wasn’t dressed like a cowboy, but he had the same ruggedness to him. And he had the muscles to back up that impression, with toned biceps and hard forearms displayed by his gray t-shirt.