His buddy Kai could have walked right off a luxury car ad—the guy behind the wheel, adjusting his sunglasses as he casually careened his sports car down a winding mountain road while the camera panned across his face. His tousled dark hair, fair skin, and exotic features could sell anything.
The third guy was trickier. Ignoring the scar, he had amazing olive skin and rumpled dark brown curls, with a cultivated five-o’clock shadow that scruffed up his jaw in the sexiest way possible. Handsome as hell but not too striking, he was the kind of guy businesses used to advertise men’s casual clothing—wear our jeans and you, average man, can also turn females into quivering masses of desire.
Yep, they were hot shit and, in Aaron’s case, totally knew it.
“New girl,” he called the moment I had a free second to breathe. “I need another drink.”
I angrily wiped up spilled grenadine. Refusing to serve him felt like letting him win. “What do you want?”
“Hmm.” He pondered for an overly long moment. “I’ll have a margarita—the slushy kind. With a cherry and a little umbrella on top.”
I glowered at him. A blended drink? Ugh. Whirling around, I unburied the blender and dumped in ice, then searched for margarita mixer. As more patrons lined up at the bar, I raced into the back, almost crashing into Ramsey on my way to dry storage. I rooted around the shelves, found a can, and hurried back to the bar. Add the ingredients, blend, test the consistency, blend again. Good enough.
I dumped it into a margarita glass and shoved it at Aaron.
He briefly inspected it. “What about the cherry?”
“I don’t have any cherries.”
“We always have cherries.”
I growled, then stomped back into the kitchen. In dry storage, I found the monster jar of candied cherries, carried the whole thing back to the bar, unscrewed the top, and pulled one out by the stem. I plopped it on top of the slushy drink and even stuck in a sprig of mint for good measure.
“What about the umbrella?”
“It’s not a margarita without an umbrella.”
A dozen more unfriendly patrons were waiting to order drinks. I started to turn.
“I don’t want it if it doesn’t have an umbrella,” Aaron declared. “Get me—”
My vision went red. Whipping back to him, I grabbed the margarita I’d spent five precious minutes preparing and yelled, “If you won’t drink it, then you can wear it!”
And I flung the drink in his face.
Or, well, I meant to throw the margarita at Aaron. My swing was a bit overenthusiastic and his two friends caught a face full of cold slush too. All three guys recoiled as the entire room went silent, every person turning to stare.
A glob of crushed ice slid down Aaron’s face and plopped in his lap. “Not cool, new gir—”
“Not cool?” I shouted, slamming my hands down on the bar top. “I’ve been working my ass off without so much as a thank-you from a single goddamn person, and you’re jerking me around like a five-year-old with no impulse control. If you so much as open your mouth again, I’ll shove my soda gun down your throat and see if you can crack jokes while you drown!”
Shocked silence rang through the pub, just like at the café. Safe to say I’d blown this “interview by fire” but I didn’t give a shit. I’d finish my shift because I’d said I would—and because I wanted my damn cash after all this crap—but I was never setting foot in here again.
Everyone gawked, then someone erupted in laughter—Aaron’s other friend. With margarita splashed over his scarred face, he laughed so hard he wobbled on his stool.
“I don’t believe it,” he gasped. “A redhead with more fire than you, Aaron!”
Chuckles ran through the pub as the laughter spread, then conversations resumed like nothing had happened. I stood there, blinking stupidly as I waited for someone to throw me out for assaulting another customer.
The scarred guy recovered from his fit of laughter. “Kai, you weren’t recording that, were you?”
“I wish. I’d already be uploading it.”
“Hmph,” Aaron grunted without opening his mouth. Maybe he was taking my threat seriously.
“A lesson learned, my young Padawan?”
The unexpected voice was so close that I jumped half a foot in the air. A man stood behind me like he’d popped out of the floor. With chiseled features, intelligent eyes, salt-and-pepper hair, and a short beard, he exuded the calm authority of a Person In Charge. With capital letters. I inched back a step, eyeing him. Another handsome one, and though I wasn’t normally into older guys, he was definitely yummy.
But he was probably here to throw me out, which made him less yummy.
I cringed when he turned to me, waiting for the scowl, the demand for an explanation, and the inevitable dismissal.
Instead, he offered his hand. “I’m Darius, the GM. Welcome to the Crow and Hammer.”
Oh, I was getting my ass booted to the curb by the general manager himself. Lucky me. I took his hand, surprised by his warm, strong grip. “Tori Dawson. Nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure is mine,” he replied with a sparkle in his gray eyes. “Thank you for your hard work tonight.”
I waited for the inevitable “but I’m afraid I must ask you to leave.”
He stretched his arm out and scooped Clara out of thin air—or, more likely, snatched her in mid-sprint out of the kitchen. “Clara, we’re almost ready to begin, and I think the bartender has earned a break. Are you up for serving drinks after our meeting, Tori?”
“Uh.” This conversation was not following my mental script. “Y-yes?”
“Excellent. Clara, set her up in the back for a break, and I’ll serve the last few drinks here.”
“Yes, sir.” Clara grabbed my arm, and the next thing I knew, she’d steered me into the kitchen. “Ramsey, do you have an extra burger?”
“Already cooked one up for her.” Sweat shone on his forehead and his eyeliner had smudged. I wasn’t the only one who’d worked my butt off. “Hope you like all the fixings.”
He passed me a plate with a loaded burger, melted cheese dripping down the thick sesame bun, and steaming fries dusted with seasonings. Clara pulled me into the cluttered office, and I waited with my plate as she unburied a corner of the desk.
“Get off your feet and relax,” she told me. “The meeting will take about an hour, then I’ll come get you.”
“Are you sure? I didn’t—”
“Just relax for a bit.” She stepped backward through the doorway. “I need to get out there before they start. Help yourself to anything in the fridge to drink.”
Alone, I picked up a fry and nibbled on the end, burning my tongue. She and Darius must have been desperate if they were letting me finish my shift. Sinking onto the chair, I replayed the margarita toss in my head. The expression on Aaron’s face had been priceless.
I smirked at my burger. Job opportunity lost, but worth it. Who’d want to work here anyway? It was a pub of consummate jerks.
Clara was sweet, I amended. And Darius seemed pleasant enough, though he was probably playing nice to keep me around for the after-meeting rush. As I ate, I pondered the mystery meeting they were hosting. Such a weird group of people. What could possibly unite them for a shared gathering?
I bolted upright in my seat as I figured it out. Assholes Anonymous. This was a therapy group for mean people.
Snickering, I relaxed again, wincing at the ache in my back. My feet hurt and my formerly comfortable sandals had rubbed my pinky toes into blistered fireballs. How much longer would this shift last? If it went too long, I’d have a nervous wait at the bus stop.
Burger and fries finished—simple but delicious—I ventured to the walk-in and grabbed an old-fashioned bottle of coke. My dry throat, coated with remnant potato, stuck painfully as I twisted the top. What the hell? Who made soda bottles with real bottle caps?
On the verge of death from dehydration, I searched for a bottle opener. Yeah, I could have gotten water but I wanted the coke, damn it. I’d earned it. The bottle even had trickles of condensation running down the glass, just like in the commercials. I could almost taste it.
I’d left the bottle opener at my station. Popping out for a second to grab it wasn’t a big deal, was it? I’d be quick. I crept to the saloon doors and cracked them open.
The pub was quiet except for Darius’s clear voice. Every single Assholes Anonymous member sat facing the wall where Darius stood with a few papers in his hands. Clara waited beside him, nodding along as he spoke. Everyone listened intently like employees in a business meeting.
Actually, scratch that. The atmosphere was more like a task force being briefed on a recent crime. Way more serious than any employee meeting I’d ever attended.
Darius held the attention of the fifty or so people with flawless confidence. “The amendment to the regulations on GM accountability will require a few changes behind the scenes, but I don’t expect it to affect our day-to-day workings. The MPD’s document suggested strict enforcement, but—”
“But when has that ever stopped us?” someone called. Snickers sounded through the group.
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