The interior was quiet, but the rumble of voices drifted down the staircase in the corner. Only three customers were grouped around a table—a trio of familiar guys. Red hair, black hair, and brown curls were bent over a spread of paper.
As I approached, Ezra’s head lifted. His mismatched eyes, one warm brown and one white, met mine. “She returns!”
Aaron straightened, his grin flashing. “Back for more punishment, new girl?”
“Don’t worry, I’m well armed.” I’d have my soda gun, after all.
As I breezed past their table, Clara zoomed out of the kitchen with a handful of papers.
“Tori!” She beamed at me. “I was afraid you might change your mind.”
“Nope, not me.” I slid onto a bar stool as she rifled through the papers. Aaron, Kai, and Ezra had turned their attention to a large map.
“I’m relieved.” Clara pulled out a paper and slid it to me, then handed me a pen. “I’m so far behind. I have six months of paperwork I can finally catch up on now that I don’t have to share bar shifts with Cooper. He’ll be delighted to go back to his usual schedule too. Working hard isn’t his forte.”
I nodded absently as I frowned at the sheet. It didn’t look like any employment paperwork I’d ever filled out before. A logo at the top of the page displayed the letters MPD—the same acronym Darius had mentioned during the meeting last night.
With a mental shrug, I started filling it out. All the usual info—name, birthdate, address, phone number, emergency contacts. A line near the top asked for a “MID Number” but I skipped it. Employee number, maybe? Clara could figure it out.
I finished that one and she slid over a perfectly normal tax form. A few tables away, Aaron’s voice rose, irritation lining his words, but I stayed focused on the form. Last thing I needed was to screw it up and have the government subtract double taxes or something.
“I’ll need to make a copy of your ID and your server certificate,” Clara said, reading over the first form. “Oh, and you forgot your MID number.”
I dug my wallet out of my purse and passed her my driver’s license. “I forgot my what?”
She didn’t hear me as she took my ID. “Oh, you’re from Ontario? Do you drive? We have a parking lot.”
“I drove in Ontario,” I commented dryly. “But not here. Who needs a car?”
She laughed. “No one who lives downtown has a car—except that dummy.” She called the last part at the three guys and Aaron flipped her the bird without pausing his annoyed tirade—something about being more cautious than a granny on an ice rink.
Clara snorted, amused by his response. Me, I wanted to smack him for being rude.
“Anyway,” she said, pulling a second pen from her pocket. “I’ll add your MID number while you …”
I looked up. She was squinting at my license with a deep furrow between her brows. Then she extended my card. “I need your real ID.”
“Uh.” I blinked. “That is a real ID.”
“No, I mean, your real ID.”
“Like … my passport?”
“No, your MID!” She waved my license in emphasis. “This doesn’t have an MID number.”
I leaned back, confused by her sudden agitation. “What’s an MID number?”
“That’s not funny.” When I gazed vacantly at her, she visibly paled. “Tori, what’s your class?”
She pressed her hands to the bar top, eyes wide. “Your class, what is it?”
“You mean at the community college? I’m taking—”
“No, your mythic class!” She shoved my card under my nose, even more frantic. “Why doesn’t your license have a mythic identification number? You’re registered, aren’t you?”
“Registered for what? Clara, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”
Panic flashed in her eyes. “Oh my god. I don’t believe it.”
“Don’t believe … what?”
I blinked again. Squinted. Rubbed one ear like I might have misheard. “Beg your pardon?”
Clara dropped my ID on the bar and hid her face behind her hands. “Darius is going to kill me. Why didn’t I check your ID last night? I’m an idiot.”
“Clara,” I said, alarmed and confused in equal measure. “I swear it’s a real ID. I’m twenty-one, old enough to bartend, and—”
“That’s not the problem,” she moaned. “How did you even find out about this place? About the job?” She whipped her hands down. “Do you have a mythic relative? Did they tip you off about the job? Please tell me you do.”
“What’s a mythic?”
“Oh god. I’m in so much trouble. I never should have—but you were perfect. You weren’t scared of anyone—not even Aaron! I thought you were some badass mythic who wanted to bartend, but you—”
“Get over yourself, Aaron.” Kai’s angry voice rose over Clara’s. “We’re not doing this your way—not again. Your plans always end in fireballs and explosions.”
Fireballs? Explosions? I glanced at them as Aaron snapped, “What’s wrong with that?”
“Tori.” Clara’s panicked tone drew my attention back to her as Kai and Aaron continued to argue. “Last night, did you see anything?”
“Did you see anything … unusual?”
“Did I see anything unusual?” I repeated blankly. “Like what?”
“Say that again,” Aaron shouted furiously, “and I’ll toast your pale ass to a healthy crisp!”
His hand shot into the air—and fire burst from his fingers. The red flames danced across his skin, sparks raining down on the table. Curling his hand into a fist, he cocked his arm back, aiming for Kai.
“Aaron!” Clara shrieked. “Put your fire away!”
He froze in mid-motion, his fist still blazing. “Clara? What’s wrong?”
“Put it out!” she yelled, her voice high with panic. “Now!”
He flicked his fingers open and the flames vanished. “Jeez, don’t get your panties in a twist. I wasn’t actually going to roast him.”
“Just—just shut up for once in your life, Aaron!” Clara pressed her hands to her head like she was trying to squeeze her brain. “This is already bad enough.”
“What’s bad?” He pushed back from the table and strode over, Kai and Ezra on his heels. “What’s going on?”
I didn’t move, my eyes fixed on his hand—his hand that had been engulfed in flames. Did that count as unusual?
“I screwed up,” Clara groaned, covering her face again like she couldn’t stand to see me. “I didn’t check her ID yesterday.”
Aaron slid my driver’s license off the bar top and read it. “Victoria Dawson? Your name is Victoria?”
I shook off my shock to scowl at his sniggering tone.
Kai plucked the card out of Aaron’s hand. “There’s no MID number.”
“Is it a fake ID?” Aaron asked with amusement. “Did you hire a rogue, Clara?”
“Worse,” Clara whispered. “She’s human.”
The three guys stared at me, and I stared back without the slightest idea what the hell anyone was talking about. But more important than the incomprehensible conversation was the fact Aaron’s hand had been on fire, and I couldn’t figure out how it could possibly have been a trick.
“No way,” Aaron finally said. “What’s your class, Tori?”
I pointed at his hand. “Was that real fire?”
“Oh, shit,” Kai muttered. “How did she get past the repelling ward on the door?”
“How did she know about the job posting? She doesn’t even know what the MPD is.” Clara pulled a stool from the back corner behind the bar and dropped onto it. “Darius is definitely going to kill me.”
“So …” I straightened on my seat. “You guys planning to explain what you’re all going on about?”
“No,” Clara said. “I’m sorry, Tori, but I can’t hire you. You shouldn’t even be here.”
Sharp disappointment shot through me, followed by stinging rejection. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised. This job was too good to be true.
Whatever they were talking about, I wouldn’t beg for an explanation. If they didn’t want me here, I was gone. I pulled my license out of Kai’s hand and returned it to my wallet, then slung my purse over my shoulder. Clara didn’t meet my eye as I got to my feet.
I was about to walk to the door with all the dignity I could muster, but a niggling curiosity stopped me. I swung back toward Aaron. “Hey, um, before I go, could I … see the fire thing again?”
Surprise flickered across his face, then he grinned.
Clara straightened sharply. “Aaron, don’t—”
He extended his hand toward me, palm turned up. Sparks flashed over his fingers, then flames ignited on his palm, racing over his skin like he’d dipped his hand in oil. Warmth bathed my face. Holy shit, it was real fire.