“Tori, this is Girard, the first officer. Tabitha, the second officer. And Felix, the third officer. Since Darius isn’t here …” Clara pursed her lips unhappily. “I made a mistake last night. I didn’t check Tori’s ID, and it turns out she isn’t registered.”

“Is she a mythic?” Tabitha asked sharply.

“One hundred percent human.”

“Then send her home.”

Standing beside my chair, Clara shifted her weight. “She did very well yesterday, and I’m desperate to fill the bartender position so I can focus on my work again. We’ve never employed a human before, but—”

“Absolutely not,” Tabitha interrupted.

Huh. Given Clara’s protests downstairs, I hadn’t expected her to vouch for me.

“The allowances for hiring non-mythics exist for guilds with public-facing businesses,” Tabitha continued, “which does not apply to us. Humans have no place in or around the Crow and Hammer.”

“If Tori can fulfill the role,” Felix mused, “perhaps we should consider it. Clara has been stretched thin for too long.”

“The girl did a fine job last night,” Girard added, smiling through his beard. “She tamed our fiery beast with admirable efficiency.”

Tabitha’s face went even colder. “Regardless, the MPD will never approve her employment, and if we apply, we’ll suffer significant fines for the regulations we’ve already broken.”

“It may not be a long-term solution,” Felix said, “but the paperwork will take a couple weeks to process. It would give Clara a break.”

“What about the fines?”

Felix thought for a second. “Deduct them from Aaron’s bonuses.”

“Hey!” came a muffled protest from the other side of the door.

Growling, Clara turned on her heel and stalked into the hall, slamming the door behind her and leaving me alone with the guild officers.

“To be frank,” Girard told me, “the chances of the MPD approving your employment are slim to none, but we can hire you until they give an official refusal. Are you interested in working here for a couple weeks?”

I honestly had no idea, but I’ve never been good at admitting uncertainty to strangers. “It seems like it’ll be an interesting experience. I’m game.”

“Your tenacity is admirable, but misplaced.” Tabitha’s dark eyes swept across the other two officers. “I won’t support her working here, even temporarily. The Crow and Hammer is an exclusive collection of carefully vetted mythics committed to our mandate and loyal to our success. She’s a human with no concept of guild loyalty.”

Girard stroked his beard. “I always figured we were a ragtag band of misfits and rogues who don’t fit anywhere else.”

Tabitha glared at him. “Our members count on the skills and competence of their fellow mythics. She’s a liability.”

“She’ll be tending the bar, Tabitha, not taking jobs.”

“What of her safety, then? She was deliberately antagonistic yesterday. Not all our members have perfected their self-restraint, and if she continues that behavior, she could get hurt.”

Girard and Felix regarded each other with furrowed brows, offering no counterargument. I shifted in my seat, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into. They didn’t care about Tabitha’s other arguments, but the question of my safety had stopped them cold. That did not bode well.

Girard straightened. “I know just the solution. Aaron!”

The door opened and Aaron stepped inside, Clara on his heels, red-faced and glowering.

“Yes, sir?” Aaron asked with a casual salute.

Girard steepled his fingers. “I’m assigning you as Tori’s chaperone while she’s on the premises. You’ll be responsible for her safety whenever she’s here.”

“You’re … wait, what?”

“Girard—” Tabitha began in a catlike growl.

“It’s perfect,” Girard said. “Aaron is well equipped to keep any antagonism from other members in check, and—”

“Sinclair inspires more antagonism than—”

“And it’s an excellent opportunity to evaluate Aaron’s commitment to taking on more responsibility.” Girard turned his amused brown eyes on the speechless fire mage. “An officer can’t pick and choose his duties, Aaron. If you want to be considered for a future promotion, you need to prove you can approach dull jobs with the same dedication as exciting ones.”

“But—but—why me?”

“You brought her up here,” Felix pointed out. “If you didn’t want to be involved, you should have kept your nose out of it.”

Aaron spluttered. “But how will I get anything done? We’re in the middle of the bounty for that rogue sorcerer, and—”

“If you need to delegate, you can ask Kai and Ezra to help you,” Girard suggested. “Though if you plan to pass the job off to anyone else, be sure they’re as capable and committed as you.”

“But …”

Girard turned to his fellow officers. “Any objections?”

Felix shrugged. “Sounds good to me.”

“I object to everything,” Tabitha snapped.

Girard sat back in his chair. “We don’t have the authority to override Clara’s hiring decisions unless there’s a threat to the guild. Tori isn’t a threat, and Aaron’s supervision will forestall any serious drama. I’m satisfied we’ve addressed the relevant concerns.” A note of finality entered his voice. “The decision is up to Clara and Tori.”

Tabitha’s dark eyes, flashing with anger, slid to me. “Then I hope you’ll make an intelligent decision, Tori.”

I like to think I’m not susceptible to intimidation, but I’ll admit my heartbeat stuttered just a little. Still, Tabitha had made a critical oversight. She didn’t realize that contrariness was my favorite hobby. At her words, my doubts extinguished faster than Aaron’s magical flames, replaced by stubborn determination.

“Like I said,” I announced, casually folding my arms. “I’m game.”

Girard and Felix smiled. Tabitha glared. Clara frowned.

Aaron groaned loudly. “Damn it, new girl. You’ve singlehandedly ruined my month.”

I grinned. Even better.

Chapter Six

My doubts returned once I was back on the main level. Clara had me finish the new-hire paperwork, then vanished into the kitchen to supervise the freezer repairs, leaving me to man the bar—along with my new chaperone.

Aaron slumped at a table, his head in his arms, while Kai and Ezra watched him sulk with the caring sympathy of close friends. Nah, just kidding. They looked entertained as hell, zero sympathy in their smirks.

“You realize this will completely screw our schedule, right?” Aaron complained, his voice muffled. “We have to be here, instead of working, for five days a week.”

“We don’t have to be anywhere,” Kai said. “Just you.”

Aaron groaned again. “Ezra, I’ll trade you. You do the babysitting, and I’ll go with Kai on jobs.”

“No way.”

“I’ll give you half my bonuses for however long Tori is here.”

I raised my eyebrows, busy wiping down my station while I listened in. Aaron must really want out of this assignment, but I didn’t feel bad for him. I felt bad for me having to put up with him all shift, every shift.

“Eighty percent,” Ezra countered.

“That’s robbery!”

“Forget it then.”

“Sixty percent.”

“Eighty.”

“Sixty-five.”

“Eighty.”

“Goddamn it!”

Hmm, too bad. I would’ve rather spent my shifts with Ezra than Aaron. I’d even take Kai as a second choice. I finished wiping the counters, eyed the empty pub, then headed for the guys’ table. They watched me pull out a chair and sit.

“Are you sure you want this job?” Aaron asked plaintively. “You’ll be out the door in a couple weeks once the paperwork goes through.”

“I can earn a paycheck while I apply for a new position. It’s great.” I propped my chin on my hand. “Weren’t you the one who said, ‘Let’s keep her!’ less than an hour ago?”

“That was before I had to babysit you.”

I shrugged one shoulder. “Not my problem.”

He glared, a dangerous gleam in his eyes, and the air around him heated. “You’ve got a bad attitude, new g—”

“Don’t be an asshole, Aaron,” Ezra interrupted quietly. “Intimidating her is low.”

I almost told them that I wasn’t intimidated—a lie, but whatever—except I was too fascinated by the way Aaron’s temper subsided at his friend’s calm words. He slouched in his chair, saying nothing.

Yep, I’d definitely prefer Ezra as my chaperone over Aaron. Too bad Ezra was a tough negotiator.

It bothered me that I needed a chaperone at all, but I wasn’t an idiot. I had no idea how far in over my head I was. With that in mind, I needed to find out what I’d signed up for—and if I didn’t like what I heard, I just wouldn’t return for my next shift. Problem solved.

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