Three Mages and a Margarita (The Guild Codex: Spellbound Book 1) by Annette Marie

I didn’t get a chance to consider all the possible meanings of his welcome before Clara pulled me into motion. She gave me a top-speed tour of the kitchen, walk-in fridge, malfunctioning freezer, ice machine, and storage areas. Aside from a cluttered office, that was it. Not even a breakroom.

  Ten minutes later, I was standing behind the bar with an apron in my hands as Clara zoomed off. Ramsey was prepping food in the kitchen, so I was officially on my own.

  I tied the apron around my waist, overlapping the bottom of my white blouse and slim knee-length skirt. Good thing I’d worn my comfy sandals. I shot a quick text to Justin letting him know I’d be home late, then got to work.

  First I wiped down every surface in, around, and behind the bar. I located and laid out the drip mats, then hauled a bucket of ice from the back and dumped it into the well. I checked the liquor bottles in the well, tested the soda guns, and located all the basics in the walk-in and dry storage.

  With a few pointers from Ramsey, I found the garnish supplies and prepped lemons, limes, olives, mint, and parsley. I couldn’t find any garnish trays, so I stuffed them in highball glasses. As I was lining them up in the well, Clara rushed in. Was she ever not rushing?

  “Oh, good, you’re ready, then?” She started tapping the touchscreen on the till. “Everything is on the house tonight, so all you have to do is log what you make.”

  I hid my disappointment. Free drinks meant no tips. “What’s your policy on carding?”

  “Oh, you don’t need to check IDs. We only serve members.” Clara rubbed her hands together nervously, her eyebrows scrunching. “When it comes to new people, they can be … but you’ll be fine! Don’t let them give you any crap. And I’ll be nearby if you have trouble. Just call me if you need help.”

  Trouble? Maybe she had heard of my reputation after all. I plastered on a confident smile. No hesitation, not when this trial run could win me the job.

  Clara returned my smile with one that was more anxious than pleased, then dashed into the kitchen, calling for Ramsey. I rubbed my damp palms on my apron. Setting up the bar was easy. It was the rest I didn’t have much experience with. Nerves twisting, I pulled up a webpage of drink recipes on my phone.

  The big clock on the wall ticked over to five thirty. The place was still dead. I appraised the tables and dark walls. How many people would they cram in here? A broad staircase in the corner led to the second level, but Clara hadn’t mentioned it so I guessed it didn’t matter for my job tonight.

  The front door flew open and I jumped.

  Two guys walked in. I relaxed—they had beards, but not “biker gang” beards. One guy was average—dark hair, a touch of silver in his beard, mid-thirties—and the other was stocky and buff, with the sides of his head shaved and his blond hair combed straight back. Late twenties?

  I smiled welcomingly as they approached the bar, but they didn’t respond in kind. Instead, they stared at me like I was a five-foot-seven weed that had sprouted from between the floorboards.

  “Hi!” I chirped. “What can I—”

  “Who are you?” the older one asked sharply.

  “I—my name is Tori.” When their suspicion only increased, I added, “I’m filling in tonight to help Clara.”

  As though I’d spoken the code word, they both relaxed.

  “I’ll have a whiskey sour.”

  “Bourbon on the rocks.”

  “Right,” I said breathlessly, grabbing two rocks glasses and adding ice. The bourbon was easy, but I overdid the whiskey in the second drink. Oh well, he was getting his non-money’s worth. I passed them off, then added the two drinks into the system. When I looked up, the door was opening again.

  Another man—fortyish—held the door open for a pair of guys in their twenties. The younger two made it to the bar first and—

  “Who are you?”

  What was it with these people? I wasn’t a damn trespasser. They were more territorial than teenagers in a Wi-Fi hotspot.

  “I’m filling in tonight to help Clara,” I answered, testing my new magic phrase.

  Again, they lost their antagonism and ordered drinks—easy ones, thank goodness. The older guy even smiled when I passed him his Old Fashioned.

  I hadn’t finished adding their drinks to the tally before the next group arrived. Three girls in their early twenties, all very different blonds. One with pale hair in a wavy bob, one with long golden locks, and one with her shoulder-length hair dyed a hideous banana yellow.

  Again, I smiled, and again I got glared at until I assured them via the magic phrase that my repulsive presence in their precious pub was only temporary. Two ordered sodas but banana-hair wanted a Long Island Iced Tea that took several minutes too long to make. By the time I passed it off to her, another ten people had gathered behind the girls—all squinting suspiciously at me.

  I gulped down my nerves and offered the magic phrase again. I didn’t whimper, I swear.

  The patrons I’d already served made perfect sense to me—young-ish, single-ish bar-going types—but now I was stumped. Young, old, classy, weird, goth, hippie. A full spectrum of stereotypes was gathering in the pub, and none belonged in the same room together.

  Before I got completely overwhelmed, Clara burst out of the kitchen and people shifted over to order food from her. I scrambled to make their drinks, fumbling liquor bottles and forgetting garnishes. For every smile I offered, I got stony stares and scowls in response.

  “Who are you?”

  “Who are you?”

  “Who are you?”

  The stupid question kept coming, and I quit smiling. As the clock hit six and half the tables were full, I ducked into the back to get more ice, panting for air, strands of hair sticking to my face. My nerves were long gone, replaced by anger. Pissing people off was one of my God-given talents, but even I had never met such a universally hostile group of people in my life.

  I stomped to the ice machine and filled my bucket, barely acknowledging Ramsey slaving over the grill, the deep fryer sizzling. Bucket filled, I shoved through the saloon doors. Clara rushed past me into the kitchen to give Ramsey the next wave of orders.

  More customers had gathered at the bar. I dumped the ice into the well and faced them. The three guys were a few years older than me, tall, fit, and handsome. Under different circumstances, I would have flirted hardcore and written my number on their receipt, but instead I had to contain my grimace as I waited for the question.

  “Heard there’s a new girl,” the centermost guy said in a pleasantly deep voice, his blue eyes flashing with humor. Like me, he was a full-blown ginger, though his tousled locks were more into rusty-orange shades. “I see the rumors are true.”

  I thought he might be my first friendly customer when his buddy added, “Fresh blood.”

  “What do you want?” The rudely barked demand slipped out before I could stop it. Crap. Deep breaths, Tori.

  Surprised by my tone, the redhead glanced at his pal—a dark-haired looker with an exotic cast to his features. The third guy was half turned away, waving at someone.

  The redhead offered his hand in greeting, giving me a smooth smile. “Aaron Sinclair.”

  He was the first customer to introduce himself, which might have seemed like good manners except his tone suggested I should recognize his name and commence fawning. Was he a local actor or something? I didn’t recognize him.

  “Pleasure,” I said flatly, not bothering to offer my name. No one here cared who I was. “Are you ordering a drink or what?”

  Damn it. That wasn’t any less rude than the last thing I’d said. Unfazed, Aaron grinned like I’d challenged him to a duel—one he expected to win—but then the third guy turned to face the bar.

  “Three rum and cokes,” he said in a smooth voice that, believe it or not, was pleasant. But I almost didn’t notice, too distracted by the white scar that ran down his face from his left temple to the hollow of his cheek, cutting across his eye. While his right eye was a warm chocolate brown, the damaged iris
was eerily pale as though the color had drained out, leaving only a dark pupil and outer rim.

  Recovering fast, I whipped out three rocks glasses, scooped ice into them, splashed in some rum, and topped them with coke.

  They took their drinks, but instead of moving off to the tables like everyone else, they slipped onto the three nearest bar stools. Great. An audience. I ignored them as my next customer walked up and demanded to know who I was.

  “So, new girl,” Aaron said, distracting my count so I overpoured a vodka. “Are you a natural redhead?”

  “Are you a natural pain in the ass?” I shot back without thinking. Cursing my runaway mouth, I shoved the accidental double at the customer.

  “Confirmation via temper,” the dark-haired one remarked.

  Ignoring them even harder, I focused on the next wave of arrivals. They were still coming—there had to be over thirty people in here now—and the original wave was finishing their drinks and coming up for seconds. Clara zoomed in and out, her arms full of plates. The more I rushed, the more mistakes I made and my frustration kept climbing.

  “Hey, new girl,” Aaron called as I rocketed past him with a bottle of champagne for a mimosa. “What do you call it when a ginger goes off the deep end?”

  I added orange juice to the mimosa.

  “A ginger snap. Get it?”

  “I’ve got a better one for you, Aaron,” his dark-haired copilot said. “What’s the difference between a ginger and a brick?”

  Aaron twisted his mouth suspiciously. “What?”

  “A brick gets laid.”

  As Aaron snorted dismissively and the scarred guy snickered, I dashed into the back, searching for a brandy I’d never heard of, which my current customer was insisting he always ordered. I dug around in the storage room, finally found it, then raced back out again.

  “Hey, new girl,” Aaron began again as the impatient brandy connoisseur stormed off with his stupid drink. “We’ve got a wager going on. Care to settle it?”

  “I’m busy.” Hunching over the till, I tried to remember everything I’d poured in the last ten minutes.

  “We just wanna know what you are. I’m betting an alchie.”

  My hand stuttered over the screen. I’d been expecting another lame ginger joke. He thought I was a what?

  “Psychic,” the other guy said, but I didn’t know if he was talking to me or his pal. The one with the scar rolled his eyes and sipped his drink.

  “Come on, give us a hint,” Aaron cajoled.

  “Could you hurry up?” an older woman snapped at me. “I’m waiting to order.”

  I shifted away from the guys and hastily entered all the drinks I remembered making, then faced the woman. “What can I—”

  “Two Manhattans, and make it snappy, girl.”

  Her sneering tone was too much for me.

  “Are you having a bad day?” I shot back. “Or are you always a hag?”

  Aaron choked on his drink. I knew I was losing it, but my temper was pulsing and I couldn’t remember the definition of “self-control.”

  “Excuse me?” the woman gasped.

  “Please. It’s an amazing word used by civilized people everywhere. You should try it sometime.”

  Her mouth opened, then closed. I folded my arms and waited.

  “Two Manhattans, please.”

  I slammed a pair of martini glasses onto the mats, then turned around to check my phone for the recipe. I needed to handle my temper whether these jerks were rude or not. At least I wasn’t losing any tips.

  Aaron whistled. “That sounded great, Sylvia. You should practice manners more often.”

  “Shut your mouth, Aaron, or I’ll seal it shut.”

  After skimming the drink instructions, I grabbed the whiskey and vermouth, one in each hand, and poured them.

  “You’re supposed to mix them with ice first,” the woman barked. “Forget it. Just give me two cokes instead.”

  “I can—”

  “Two cokes.”

  Snarling, I poured the drinks and shoved them across the bar. “Don’t choke on the ice.” Bitch.

  Aaron laughed. “Wow, I think I might like the new girl.”

  I ignored him, my next customer already waiting. As I struggled with increasingly difficult orders and correspondingly crankier customers, Aaron and his pal kept up a steady commentary, interspersed with more ginger jokes, but at least they made fun of other patrons as much as me. Still, they were not helping. I doubted my hair color had anything to do with my short fuse, but either way, I was hitting my limit—and with each new dose of nasty thrown my way, my control slipped a little more.

  When a guy snapped at me to hurry, I shorted his vodka and told him I’d water down his drinks until he learned some manners. An old man leered at my boobs and asked if I could add something special to his drink, so I poured an ounce of bourbon and filled the rest of the highball glass with grenadine syrup.

  “Sweet,” I said with an overly girlish smile. “Just like me.”

  He scoffed at the glass. “Give me a real drink.”

  “You got what you asked for.”

  “But—”

  “Next!”

  He left the pink atrocity on the bar and stalked back to his table.

  Aaron cackled. “Hey Kai, how do you start an argument with a ginger?”

  “Say anything,” the dark-haired guy answered with a smirk. “You realize you’re a ginger too, right? You’re insulting yourself.”

  I shot them a furious glare. Why were they making my night worse? Why couldn’t they move their sexy asses to a table? The fact they were hot just made me angrier. All that drool-worthy sex appeal wasted on jackasses—well, maybe not the scarred guy. He was possibly not a jackass. He hadn’t said much so I wasn’t sure.

  The three of them looked like goddamn models, but each from a different magazine. Aaron, he might have just galloped across a meadow on horseback, lassoing wild cattle—or beautiful women. He wasn’t dressed like a cowboy, but he had the same ruggedness to him. And he had the muscles to back up that impression, with toned biceps and hard forearms displayed by his gray t-shirt.

  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 p
ulled 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.

  “Happy?”

  “What about the umbrella?”

  “Forget it.”

  “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.

  Chapter Four

  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?”

 
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