Home > Two Witches and a Whiskey (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #3)

Two Witches and a Whiskey (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #3)
Author: Annette Marie

Chapter One

Darius was a man of unshakable and unquestionable authority. As the leader of the Crow and Hammer, he set a steadfast example of integrity and composure. Of dignity.

“Personal Protective Equipment,” he announced to the room. “Every job is different, and that means wearing appropriate PPE.” To emphasize his point, he lifted a leather trench coat with studded cuffs.

I looked from the goth-lord coat to Darius’s somber gray eyes, set in a handsome face with chiseled features and a short salt-and-pepper beard. Biting the inside of my cheek, I fought back a snigger.

“We’ve had several incidents this month that the proper selection of PPE could have prevented.” He stretched out a shiny sleeve. “Your personal style takes a backseat to safety. Leather may not be the most comfortable choice in summer, but it’s necessary.”

No one was looking at me, but I nodded gravely just in case. The fifty other people in the pub watched Darius with equal solemnity, their unbroken attention a sure reflection of the gravity of—

“Keanu Reeves just called,” someone said in a mock whisper. “He wants his Matrix outfit back.”

Laughter rang through the room, and I noted the time. We’d managed to go six minutes without a wisecrack. New record.

Darius’s mouth twitched but he didn’t break. “Vampire bites are no laughing matter, which you can attest to, Cameron.”

As Cameron coughed awkwardly and more snickers erupted, my humor faltered. Right. Vampires. Maybe it wasn’t so funny after all.

The man perched on a stool with his back to the bar, elbows braced against the wooden top, angled his head to bring me into view. His blue eyes sparkled mischievously, the color heightened by his tousled copper-red locks.

“Go ahead,” Aaron murmured as Darius continued his lecture on PPE. “Ask.”

I glanced around to make sure no one was listening in. “What happens if a vampire bites you?”

“You turn into a vampire, of course.”

My eyes widened with horror.

His smirk bloomed. “Just kidding. Vampire bites aren’t a death sentence or anything. A whole nest could chew on you and you’d be fine. Well, aside from getting chewed up. That part would suck.”

Why wasn’t I surprised that the unfairly powerful pyromage saw no need for concern? He could roast his attackers into crispy piles of undead ash.

The guy lounging on the stool beside Aaron cast a look my way. “Aaron is downplaying the danger. A vampire bite increases your chances of converting by forty percent.”

Trust Kai to have the facts. Not that he had anything to worry about either. I didn’t know if he could stop a vampire’s rotting heart with his electramage powers, but he could snap one in half with his martial arts skills.

The third man, sitting on Aaron’s other side, turned on his stool. “Don’t worry, Tori. If a vampire ever bites you, our healers will know exactly how to fix it.”

His meltingly smooth voice rolled over me, soothing as always. Seriously, Ezra could convince me the earth was flat if he talked long enough.

I propped my arm on the bar top. “Aaron, Kai, please take notes.”

The pair looked at me. “Notes on what?”

“How to reassure the magic-less human.” I beamed at Ezra. “If it weren’t for you, I’d have nonstop nightmares.”

His eyes, one iris brown and one pale white—the result of an injury that had left a scar running from his temple to his cheekbone—lit with amusement.

“Nonstop nightmares, eh?” Aaron’s grin grew wicked. “Tori, ever heard of an allucinator?”

“Uh … no?”

“They’re dream manipulators. They can—”

“Aaron Sinclair.” Darius’s voice cut through our whispered conversation. “Thank you for volunteering.”

Aaron’s head snapped around in alarm. “Volunteering for what?”

Darius pointed at the woman standing beside him. “Zora is about to demonstrate how to break a vampire’s jaw to prevent a bite. You’ll be the vampire.”

Aaron’s eyes flicked to the petite sorceress and went even wider.

Before he could protest, Darius snapped his fingers. “Now, Aaron.”

With a grumble, Aaron heaved himself off his stool and slouched to the front. Kai, Ezra, and I shared a gleeful look, then settled in to watch the show.

The rest of the hour-long meeting passed quickly, and Aaron didn’t sustain any serious injuries in the demonstration. Darius wrapped it up at eight o’clock—and then my work began as fifty restless, thirsty people swarmed my bar.

As I zoomed in and out of the kitchen, my spirits soared. This was what I loved: fast pace, slinging drinks, cracking jokes with customers, and giving winning smiles as my tip jar filled up. It hadn’t always been like this, but since I’d started working here three and a half months ago, well, let’s just say everything had changed.

The Crow and Hammer wasn’t just a bar and I wasn’t just a bartender. This place was a guild, and everyone in it was a mythic—a magic-user belonging to one of five magic classes. Actually, four classes, since our membership didn’t cover the full spectrum of abilities, which suited me just fine. Who wanted to deal with literal demons?

Me, I was special because of how unspecial I was. In a guild of talented mythics, I was a human. Yep, a regular human without a single drop of magical blood.

I lost track of my three favorite mages over the next hour, but as things settled down, I spotted Aaron, Kai, and Ezra with a group of sorcerers. They’d pushed several tables together and were sitting in a big circle, shot glasses and whiskey bottles in the center.

My eyes narrowed. When had they swiped those bottles? They were showing some serious disrespect for liquor law, but with a guild motto of “any rule can be broken”—and a guild officer sitting right at the table—yelling at them wasn’t likely to achieve results. Didn’t mean I wouldn’t yell at them, though. Just not this minute.

“Tori!” A blond girl my age dropped her purse on the bar top and slid onto a free stool. “How are you?”

“Sabrina!” I gave her a one-armed hug over the bar. “How was your trip? You just got back, right?”

“Yesterday.” She whipped out her phone. “Sir Fluffle won first place!”

Before I could ask, she proudly displayed a photo of a floppy-eared bunny posing with a blue ribbon. She rapidly scrolled through another dozen images from the rabbit breed show.

“Isn’t he wonderful?” she gushed.

“Amazing!” I agreed, not entirely sure how to compliment a bunny.

“I predicted the show would go well,” she added. “Rose warned about inclement weather and untrustworthy judges, but clearly she had no idea what she was talking about.”

I nodded, determined to stay neutral. The competition between the guild’s two diviners was a thing of legend, and I’d experienced their conflicting predictions firsthand. Funnily enough, both fortunes had turned out to be accurate in their own way.

“Anyway,” Sabrina sighed. “How was your week? I heard you—”

As she reached for her purse to put her phone away, it tipped over. A deck of black and gold tarot cards spilled across the bar, and a couple fluttered off the edge, landing on the floor beside me.

“Got it.” I crouched and grabbed the two cards. As I held them out to her, I glimpsed the top one—and my good mood snuffed out in a rush of cold prickles. Dropping the cards on the bar top, I glared at the detailed rendering of a grim reaper and muttered, “You again.”

Sabrina picked up the Death card. “This is very strange behavior for my deck. Why does this card keep showing itself to you?”

Dogs could have behavioral issues. Rabbits could have behavioral issues. I’d even say vehicles could have behavioral issues. But not cards. Cards were just cards, end of story.

Sabrina reached for the second one, face down on the counter, and flipped it over. On it, a young man with a rucksack had his face turned skyward, unaware that he was about to step off a cliff. Beneath the drawing were two words: The Fool.

My scowl deepened. “Your deck has nothing nice to say about me. It’s prejudiced.”

“The Fool isn’t an insult.” Sabrina pondered the card. “It’s all about opportunities and potential. About starting a new journey. It means to keep an open mind and embrace your sense of adventure.”

I twisted my mouth doubtfully. “The card’s a bit late on that one. Pretty sure I’m already well into the ‘new journey’ thing.”

“Hmm, I’d have to agree. Unless …” She canted her head, then slowly rotated the card 180 degrees. “Did it present the right way up or reversed? The reversed Fool warns that your journey is headed toward failure.”

My shoulders stiffened. “Failure?”

“Mm.” She scooped the deck into a neat pile. “Either you’ve stalled because something is holding you back, or you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and your new venture is threatening to come crashing down.”

“Those are very different things.”

“I could give a clearer prediction if you let me do a full reading.” Brightening, she started shuffling the cards. “How about it?”

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