“No,” I said.
Darren slammed his hands down on the bar top. “You’re the bartender. It’s your job to give me a drink.”
I thoughtfully tapped my chin as I appraised all six-foot-whatever of furious combat sorcerer trying to lean across my bar and tower over me at the same time. Darren wasn’t my favorite person when he was sober, and drunk he was as pleasant as a skunk and porcupine combined into one stinky, stabby animal.
“You’re cut off.” I buffed my fingernails on my apron. “Which I told you an hour ago. And half an hour ago. And ten minutes ago.”
“You can’t cut me off!”
“Yes, I can. I’m the bartender, as you pointed out.”
“I’m not drunk,” he snarled, leaning even farther across the bar and wafting my face with reeking alcohol breath. “Serve me or you’ll regret ever having—”
He broke off when I also planted my hands on the bar top and got in his face. Bullies never expected their intimidation tactics to be used against them.
“I’ll regret what?” I demanded as he backed up. “Go on, finish the sentence. Speak up nice and loud so everyone can hear how tough you are.”
Since I was already talking nice and loud, several people turned, their expressions brightening with anticipation. Tori was about to humiliate someone again and they had front-row seats. I swear that’s why the tables nearest my station were always full.
Ah, I love my job.
Darren sluggishly considered his options, then muttered, “Come on, Tori. Just one more drink.”
I laughed. “You can’t play nice after threatening me. Get lost, Darren.”
His hands clenched into fists, thick muscles bunching in his upper arms. He glowered like a two-year-old denied his sippy cup, but he was drunk enough to really lose his temper—assuming he could slur his way through an incantation. Better not chance it. Combat sorcerers were never pushovers, and Darren was meaner than most. He wasn’t a person I should antagonize.
Keeping that firmly in mind, I stuck my tongue out at him.
His eyes bulged, then he stormed back to his table. I smirked. See? I wasn’t scared. With careful nonchalance, I slipped my hand out of my back pocket where I’d been holding my Queen of Spades card, ready to whip the artifact out to defend myself.
Totally not scared at all.
But seriously, I wasn’t a dunce with no concept of self-preservation. I knew Darren could mess me up if he wanted to, but sometimes, showing no fear was the best defense.
My bad attitude—“bad” according to every former employer—was the reason I’d landed this job. A human bartender … working for a magic guild.
I glanced fondly across the pub. Busy for a Tuesday night, but the twenty or so mythics scattered around had quieted down since the dinner rush. It was almost eleven, and I planned to clean up soon. Tomorrow would be a crazy night—and I had no one to blame but myself.
It all started with pumpkins.
I’d spotted them at the grocery store in early October and got the brilliant idea to decorate my bar for the spookiest month of the year. But I couldn’t carry an armload of pumpkins home alone, so I called my favorite pyromage to pick me and my over-large squashes up from the store. Aaron, who can’t hear an idea without going enthusiastically overboard, added another ten to my order and drove it all back to his place.
The look on Ezra’s face when we walked in with the first load of pumpkins was only slightly less memorable than the look on Kai’s face when Aaron informed him we’d all be carving pumpkins before Halloween.
I smiled at the dozen jack-o’-lanterns arranged in clusters around the pub, their glowing orange faces grinning or scowling—or in the case of Kai’s single pumpkin, staring disapprovingly. How a pumpkin could convey ultimate displeasure, I didn’t know, but Kai had achieved it to great effect. I might have laid the guilt trip on too thick when I begged him to carve “just one little pumpkin or else Halloween will be ruined.”
Somehow, the jack-o’-lanterns had led to orange and black paper streamers, which had mysteriously appeared on my bar top one afternoon. What else was I supposed to do except decorate the pub with them? Then Aaron had shown up with a box full of fuzzy, posable bats, which now hung from the ceiling. No one was taking credit for the red and orange lights strung across the liquor shelves behind me, but I suspected they were Clara’s doing.
And then, even more mysteriously, everyone started talking about “the Halloween party” and asking me what the plan was.
I wasn’t planning a party. I’d never intended to plan a party.
Footsteps thudded down the stairs that led to the building’s two upper levels. With her brown hair spilling out of its messy bun, Clara wheeled around the corner, clutching a bulging folder. She careened toward me, her face a mask of urgency.
“Hi Clara,” I said. “You’re working late tonight.”
“Candy corn!” she blurted. “We need candy corn for the party. It’s not Halloween without candy corn.”
“I’ll add it to the shopping list.” I pulled a paper out of my apron pocket and added candy corn to the “everything I forgot during my last shopping trip” list, then frowned at her. “You’re worrying about the party, aren’t you? You have enough to deal with. I’ll handle it.”
“I can’t help myself.” With that crisis averted—everything with the assistant guild master was a crisis—she set her folder down and slid onto a stool. “I can’t remember the last time we celebrated Halloween as a guild. It’ll be a full house. A lot of guildeds are bringing family members or dates.”
Yes, I’d firmly and clearly told everyone I wasn’t planning an event of any kind, but had they listened? Did they care? No. I was now hosting the guild’s biggest party of the year, all because I’d wanted to carve a damn pumpkin.
“We’ll help with bartending,” Clara added, straightening her folder, “so you can enjoy the party too. Have you chosen a costume yet?”
Parties I could do. Candy was awesome. Decorations were fun. But I hated dressing up. Before I could stop it, a scowl overtook my face. “Aaron wants to go as Jane and George Jetson because they’re both redheads, but Kai wants us to go as two characters from Mad Men. I’ve only seen, like, three episodes.”
“Kai just wants to wear a suit and call it a costume,” Clara observed wisely. “What about Ezra? You two can dress up as Jon Snow and Ygritte.”
“Game of Thrones?” I mused. “At least I’d be a badass wildling.”
Clara’s eyes lit up. “Ezra even looks like Jon Snow. You two in costume would be so cute. You only have a day to get it ready, though. I bet you could hit up the specialty shop on—”
I quickly waved a hand. “I’m good. Costumes are optional, and I’ll be wearing an apron anyway.”
Her face fell. “But it’s your party. You have to wear a costume.”
Holding my smile in place, I just nodded. My party. Ugh.
She picked up her folder and half the contents made a bid for freedom. I grabbed at the papers as they slid across the bar top, and together, we stuffed all the paperwork back into its cardboard prison.
“Thanks.” She heaved a sigh. “I have so much to do, and Darius wants me to—oh!”
“Oh?” I asked warily, disconcerted by her sudden horror.
“I forgot! Darius asked me two weeks ago to—but I got distracted by—and I didn’t tell you—”
“Tell me what?”
She winced guiltily. “Darius wants to update the pub menu. It hasn’t changed in years and we’re well overdue to spice things up. He suggested you might like to do it.”
“You and Ramsey work the most hours in the pub, but Ramsey is busy with his apprenticeship and doesn’t want the extra responsibility. I’ve mentioned to Darius several times that you might enjoy having a voice in the pub’s management.”
A voice in management? It was a paltry bone—not even close to a promotion—but giddy delight bubbled in my chest. Never at a single job in my life had anyone offered me a larger role or more responsibility than whatever grunt position they’d hired me into. I’d been demoted before, but that was it.
“I’d love to!” I grabbed my grocery list and flipped it over to take notes. “What do you need me to do?”
Clara blinked at my immediate excitement, then smiled. “Darius wants a written proposal that covers what menu items to remove and what to add. You’ll need to include information about pricing, ingredients, suppliers, prep time, etcetera.”
I scribbled that down. “Okay, sure. When does he want it by?”
“Ah.” She winced again. “He suggested it two weeks ago, so I think he’s expecting your proposal … next week.”
That might be a bit tight. “When next week?”
“Um, probably Monday. He likes to get the week’s paperwork done on Mondays.”
Five days, and one of them would be consumed by a giant party. I clamped down on my apprehension and smiled confidently. “Got it.”
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