I shook my head. “He’ll never get the repeal passed. There’s no way. The world would go right back to war. Non-magicals still have nukes hidden on this planet somewhere, and if the magicals take over enough territory, they might use them. Desperation makes people do crazy things. He may be powerful, but he’s just one Demigod. The others won’t allow it.”

“Except…he’s gaining favor with a few power players. At the moment, the only thing really stopping him is a certain headstrong ruler from Sydney who has the lockdown on cockblocking. A lot of people are wary of Valens, and just kinda…get out of the way. Or are made to. Not Dara. She politically gets in his face, and helps everyone else find their courage. If he were to remove Dara, say with a large army he was amassing…”

Bria’s implication slammed into me. “If he took out Dara, he’d have more power than any other ruler in the Magical Summits.”

“He certainly would. Factor in the other rulers who are already in his pocket, plus those who think like he does…”

“And we all get shit on in a big way,” I mumbled, thinking of Daisy and what would happen to her. Of Mordecai, with no pack and no hope of finding one in this area. Of me, and my need to keep my power hidden. Of Kieran…

My worry peeled away slowly. I took a deep breath.

“But Kieran isn’t under his control,” I said with a surge of confidence I wasn’t expecting. I smiled, warmth infusing me. “And he’s not the type to just get out of the way.”

Bria laughed as we turned the corner. “No, he is not, and boy-oh-boy will daddy dearest get a rude awakening. I hope someone gets Valens’s face on camera when he finds out—I’d love to see his ‘eating shit’ expression. He’ll blame Kieran’s mom, too. You watch. He’ll point a finger, bet you anything.”

I opened my mouth to ask her about this army Valens was amassing, and whether we had a hope in hell of competing, but all the breath left my lungs in a whoosh.

There it was, up ahead, the exact same as always: Lucky Charmz, an Americanized Irish Bar with the unfortunate name of a sugary cereal. I hadn’t visited since taking the job with Kieran. I supposed it was time, but the thought of walking through the doors gave me nervous flutters.

Miles, my ex-boyfriend, ran the place, and we had a long-standing, unspoken arrangement: he used his success to make me feel small, and I used his delusion to get free drinks.

For some reason, it just didn’t feel right anymore. And it wasn’t because I was making a bunch of money, either. I didn’t mind handouts now any more than I ever had, especially from that yahoo. But the thought of getting drinks from a man I’d once been intimate with…didn’t seem right now that I was intimate with someone else. Something about it tap-danced on my “not awesome” nerves.

Stupid morals.

We neared a small strip of buildings in what was probably the most run-down set of businesses in all of San Francisco. A brick wall rose up to the left, beyond the sand-swept clearing behind the houses, blocking off the magical zone. The rumble of a crashing wave drifted through air that carried the smell of sea foam. Someone groaned loudly from the gutter up the way.

“I found this place when I was out scouting the area,” Bria said in an unneeded but fitting hush. She weaved between the cars lining the sidewalk, her gaze taking in each one. “Looks like a shit-hole. My kinda place. You’d be surprised how much people know in a shit-hole.”

“Not this shit hole,” I said, slowing as we neared the familiar worn door with the dull metal handle. “No one knows squat in this place, alive or dead.”

She narrowed her eyes at me before yanking open the door. “How do you know?”

I gave her a dry look before forcing myself to cross the threshold. “It’s four blocks from my house and I have no friends. Of course I know this bar.”

The same stooped figures I’d committed to memory over the years lined the bar, some with beers in front of them, some without, all of them dead. I walked behind them, along a series of empty tables to my right, and rounded the bend to my usual seat at the end of the bar, next to the surliest Irishman I’d ever met in my life. He was a living resident, and his horrible attitude (which I found humorous) kept my seat vacant from the living and dead alike.

“Let me get this straight…” Bria’s gaze roamed the row of what probably looked like empty seats—drunks didn’t make for strong spirits—before darting to the pool table in the room at the back where anyone even remotely cool and/or normal gravitated. It was too early for the party crowd coming back from better bars to seek out their neighborhood dive, however, and the balls lay strewn carelessly across the green velvet. “You’ll let me into your house to have a few drinks after a hard day, but I’m not a good enough friend to bond with over a speedball at your local dive bar?” She huffed over the imagined offense, her gaze sticking to Mick, who was hunched over his drink, leaning his forearms against the bar. If memory served, this pose meant it had been a long day of beer drinking, and he’d either head home shortly or tuck into the whiskey and fall asleep where he sat. Bets could be placed on this constant dilemma of his. “You think you know a person.”

“I haven’t been here since I’ve known you,” I murmured, stopping behind my seat and putting my hand on the chair back. “Hey, Mick.”

“Well, how’s things?” he grunted, not looking over. I was the only person he ever said hi to. In his mind, I’d probably forced my friendship on him, and now he just had to roll with the punches.

“Jesus,” Bria said, staring at him. “What’s with the Irish Crypt Keeper?”

“He’s a pillar of the community, what do you mean?” I edged around my seat before pulling it out to sit.

“The whole bar is open, and we’re going to crowd into the corner?” Bria swung her gaze down the seats again before following my lead. An old man with a grizzly beard gave her the stink-eye before flickering and disappearing. “I find myself delighted and mystified by how odd you are, Alexis. Even here, in a place I should be infinitely more comfortable than you—since I’ve made dive bars my thing since I was twenty-two—you out-weird me. It’s shocking.”

I didn’t see how dive bars and out-weirding someone fit together, but let it go.

Liam, an older bartender without a fuck left to give, made his slow way down to us.

“Here’s what else I find shocking,” Bria went on, resting her forearms on the bar like Mick was doing. “You’re dressed in that expensive training gear Kieran bought you, with the glowing skin and shining eyes from all that fancy skin cream and good sex, and yet, you still fit into this place better than I do. I’m wearing a fucking dog collar. I should be the one who fits in here, not you.”

“First, I think you are taking this too personally. Fitting in here isn’t a good thing—”

“Fucking right it isn’t,” Mick muttered. “Shit hole.”

“Second…practice,” I said as Liam reached us. “Lots and lots of practice.” I half smiled at the bartender. “Guinness, please.”

He stopped, turning his gaze to Bria, and waited.

“Jack and Coke,” she supplied.

He started to turn, and guilt ate through me. I put up my finger. “I’ll… I got… I’ll pay,” I muttered. “I’ll pay for this, not Miles.”

“Eh?” Liam squinted one eye at me. “You don’t want to put this on Miles’s tab?”

Bria touched my arm and leaned farther over the bar. “Who is Miles?”

“No, I’ll…” I circled my finger in front of us before pointing at the Guinness tap down the bar. “I got it.”

“We want to put it on Miles’s tab,” Bria rushed to say. “Put it on the tab, just like…normal?” She shot me a questioning glance.

Liam moved his finger back and forth in front of us. “Both?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “No, I should—”

“Yes, both,” Bria chirped. “Both of us. Miles and I go way back. Just like”—I got another questioning glance— “you guys?”

Liam nodded and continued to turn, making his slow way back down the bar.

“We shouldn’t charge it,” I said quietly. “We should pay.”

Bria turned and rested her elbow on the bar, lowering her chin to her fist. Her eyes glittered with mirth. “Well now…that depends. Who is Miles?”

“She rode the boss,” Mick said in a series of grunts. “Liam, I’ll have a shot of Jameson.”

Bria’s eyebrows lifted. “Rode…as in…”

“Shifted. Fucked. Buggered,” Mick said. “Made a bad fuckin’ mistake, at any rate.”

“We dated,” I said, my face flaming. “He had just bought this place when we started dating.”

A slow smile curled Bria’s lips. “You get free drinks…whenever you want…because you screwed the owner? And you didn’t invite me here first thing?”

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