Here's the first chapter in next year's new Lily Harper Hart series Witch on the Rocks! I hope you enjoy it.
“I want sex on the beach,” a blonde slurred as Hali slammed the plastic pitcher into its blender slot and started grinding her piña coladas.
“Don’t we all,” Hali drawled, smirking. When the blonde didn’t reply, Hali let loose a sigh. One of the things she hated most about running her own business was having to turn away customers. This one was due to pass out at any moment, however, and that meant she was officially cut off. “I think you’re done for tonight.”
“What?” The woman was in her early twenties — old enough to drink, but still young enough to ignore the potential consequences — and the confusion lining her face would’ve been entertaining under different circumstances.
“You’re done,” Hali reiterated. “At least you’re done here. If you want to head over to one of the resort bars, I can’t stop you. If you don’t want to feel like death warmed over twice, however, I would start drinking water now.”
The woman screwed up her face in an expression of utter contempt. “I want sex on the beach.”
“You want a Sex on the Beach,” Hali corrected. “You’re not getting it from me, though.”
“I’m a VIP. That means you have to give me what I want.”
Hali blinked several times in rapid succession. “I don’t have to do anything.”
“I’ll complain to the manager.”
“Go ahead and do that, Karen.”
Now it was the woman’s turn to blink. “My name is Jennifer.” She glanced over her shoulder, clearly confused. “Who is Karen?”
“Nobody you have to worry about,” Hali replied. “You also don’t have to worry about getting another drink. The only thing I’ll be serving to you is water.”
“But … that’s not fair.”
“Life isn’t fair.” Hali almost laughed to herself when she said it, and then she shifted her stance because her hip — the one that had to be surgically repaired after she was mowed down by a drunk billionaire in a golf cart — was starting to ache. She was completely healed from that ordeal. Er, well, that’s what the doctors said. However, she didn’t feel as if she was back to her old self. It was as good as it was going to get, though, and she’d made her peace with what happened.
“I hate you,” Jennifer hissed, slamming her hands on the counter that separated her from the bar owner, who was safely tucked away in the tiki hut. “I’m going to the front desk right now, and I’m going to tell them you won’t serve me. Then you’re going to get fired. How do you like that?”
“I think that sounds like a fine idea,” Hali replied, not missing a beat. “You should definitely do that.”
“I’m going right now.”
“Knock yourself out.”
Jennifer’s lower lip came out to play and she stomped her foot again. “This is the worst vacation ever.”
“Take it up with the front desk.” Hali was in no mood for nonsense. “I’m sure they have some coupons they’ll give you to make you feel better.”
“You’re not taking me seriously,” Jennifer argued. “I’ll totally get you fired.”
Hali smirked. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard the threat. She knew it wouldn’t be the last time either. “Better women have tried. Go ahead and do what you feel you need to do.”
“Fine.” Jennifer turned on her heel with purpose, swinging so fast she almost toppled over. She was clearly determined, but she’d turned in the wrong direction if she planned on going to the front desk. In fact, she was walking away from the resort.
“Good grief,” Hali muttered under her breath. She grabbed the pitcher from the blender, poured the contents into four glasses, and then nodded for one of her servers to take them before she poked her head out the back window of the tiki bar. “Hey, Gordon,” she called out, drawing the attention of the middle-aged security guard who sat at a table reading his newspaper — an actual physical newspaper in this day and age — and swallowing a smirk when she caught sight of his aggrieved expression. “One of your VIPs is walking down the beach, in the wrong direction mind you, and she’ll die in the surf if you don’t turn her around.”
“Ugh.” Gordon let loose a groan as he stood. “How long until I retire again? They don’t pay me enough for this crap.”
Hali was convinced that Gordon spent seven hours of his eight-hour shift sitting behind her bar reading the newspaper most days. As far as she was concerned, he was way overpaid. She never brought that up, though. “Have fun.”
When she swung back to her patrons, she found Lana Silver watching her with luminous green eyes. “What?” she asked, automatically checking her cheek to see if she had food on it. She’d inhaled an order of fried oysters during her break and hadn’t bothered to wash up afterward. “Do I have food on my face?”
Lana shook her head. “Fun fact, London dry gin isn’t made in London. That’s the method, not the city of origin.”
Hali ran her tongue over her teeth. Lana was a regular at the bar — had been since the first night she’d opened the Salty Cauldron several months prior — and she was used to the woman’s insistence on dropping fun facts at every turn. Unfortunately, the facts were rarely fun. “Does that mean bourbon doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky?” She was making a joke, but Lana’s nod was solemn.
“Bourbon can be made anywhere. It also doesn’t have to be aged.”
“Good to know.” Hali moved to the other side of the bar and stopped in front of Annabelle Hunter. She was another regular, one who never dropped fun facts, which was preferable to Hali at this point in the night. “Are you good?”
“I’ll have a gin and tonic,” Annabelle replied. She was intent on her phone. “Two lime wedges.”
“Sure.” Hali bobbed her head and reached for the Bombay. “What are you reading?”
“I’m putting together a to-do list for the week.”
“That sounds … delightful.”
When she looked up, Annabelle’s smile was crooked. “Yes, I’m a control freak. Alert the media. I believe we’ve been over this subject multiple times.”
“I happen to like that you’re a control freak,” Hali countered. “You always make me want to strive for more control of my own life.”
“You really could use some organization,” Annabelle agreed.
“I’ll take it under advisement.” Hali slid her gin and tonic in front of her. “Anything else?”
“I’m good for now.”
Hali moved several spaces, took drink orders from a frisky couple who didn’t bother looking at her because they were too busy pawing each other, and shook her head as she leaned in to talk to Kendra Bickerstaff, one of her regular servers. “I’ve got twenty bucks that says they finish this round of drinks and then go for a romantic walk on the beach.”
Kendra followed her boss’s gaze and shook her head. “I’m not taking that bet. The dude is already to third base — I don’t know many bras that move like that — and he’s going to want to call himself the home run king before the night is over.”
Hali narrowed her eyes, taking in the young woman’s flushed face with fresh eyes. “You don’t think she’s too drunk to consent, do you?”
Kendra shrugged. “She seems fine to me. Are you worried?”
“I don’t know. Give me a second.” Hali moved back to the couple and leaned in so she could get a better look at the woman. She engaged her magic, unfurling it so it felt like a cooling breeze when it brushed over the woman’s shoulders and invaded her mind. It only took her a few seconds to find what she was looking for. “Anything else?” she asked on a bright smile when she placed the drinks in front of the couple.
“Just the bill,” the man replied, not looking up. His attention was completely focused on the woman.
“Sure.” Hali moved to the register, to where Kendra was waiting. “She’s fine. She’s faking being drunk.”
Kendra’s eyes went wide. “How do you know that?”
Hali liked Kendra a great deal. The younger woman was always on time, never called in sick unless she was actually sick, and was always great with the guests. She was not, however, in on the big magical secret.
“It’s her eyes,” Hali replied, not missing a beat. “They’re clear. She’s just acting giggly because she thinks that will make her new friend more attracted to her.”
“Ugh.” Kendra made a disgusted face. “I hate it when women do that. Just be yourself.”
“That’s my philosophy,” Hali agreed. She glanced around, the bar was packed, and then untied her apron. “I need to run to the bathroom. Will you be okay for a few minutes?”
“Sure.” Kendra readily bobbed her head. “Sarah and Dina are out on the sand anyway. I’ll be fine.”
“Thank you.” Hali beamed at her before shoving the apron under the counter. Then she headed out through the back opening, skirting around a drunk couple sitting on the ground and threatening to mate right on the cement, and slipping inside the glass door so she could use the restroom. She paused, her hand on the front door once she’d crossed the threshold, and glanced over her shoulder. She could feel a pair of eyes on her, although she had no idea where they were coming from.
The clientele at the Salty Cauldron was constantly shifting. The resort guests made up seventy-five percent of her clientele and the regulars from St. Petersburg made up the other twenty-five percent. She preferred the regulars to the guests, who were often entitled and demanding, but she was happy with how the business had turned out. She’d only been in operation for three months — that’s how long it took her to recover from the surgery — but she’d been in the black since the first month. With the nest egg she’d been able to tuck away thanks to Franklin’s disastrous driving skills, she was fine. Actually, she was better than fine. She was doing better than she ever had … well, other than her pesky hip problems. They would never get better than they were, though, and she was resigned to that fact. One day, and likely before she was forty, she would need a full hip replacement. She wasn’t looking forward to that, but it had become a reality for her. Crying about it would do nothing. All she could do was accept it and move forward.
After several seconds of scanning the crowd, Hali decided she’d imagined someone watching her and disappeared inside. The tiki bar had to use bathrooms designated by the resort — something she’d had to negotiate after the fact with Cecily — and that meant she wasn’t responsible for them. That was another perk of her location.
When she was finished, she walked out of the building still drying her hands. A quick look at the clock hanging from inside the tiki bar told her it was still early. Well, early for bar standards. They wouldn’t close for hours, which meant she had a long night ahead of her. She was about to return to the tiki hut and pitch in — it looked as if people were starting to line up for drinks — but a flurry of pink feathers caught her attention, and she jerked her head to the right. There, a flamingo stood in the shadows … and he didn’t look happy.
“What are you doing?” Hali demanded as she closed the distance between her and the bird. She didn’t bother to look around to see if anybody was watching. She could only hope that the patrons were so drunk they didn’t notice her talking to the sort of animal that shouldn’t be able to talk back.
“What do you think I’m doing?” The bird tried to stand on one leg and tipped, forcing him to put his other leg down. “I’m blending.”
Hali rolled her eyes. “Wayne, you can’t even stand up straight. You’re like the worst flamingo ever.”
For his part, Wayne didn’t bother to get offended. “I’m the best flamingo ever. I mean … I talk. How many flamingos talk?”
“Just one, and I wish he didn’t.” Hali glanced over her shoulder. Nobody was looking in their direction. She took that as a good sign. “What did I tell you about hanging around the bar?”
“I believe you said I was a lovely conversation piece.”
“Yes.” He bobbed his head so the hat he wore — why he insisted on wearing the hat when it drew so much attention to him was beyond Hali — dipped to the side. “You know that I’ve been assigned to you. I’m your familiar. The coven says that we have to work together. That means I have to stick close to you unless I’m mistaken … and I’m rarely mistaken.”
Hali narrowed her eyes to dangerous slits. “The coven might’ve assigned you to me but that doesn’t mean I want you at my bar. You need to go.”
“Yeah, I’m good.” Wayne angled his head so he could stare at the bar. “What’s on special tonight?”
“Nothing you’re getting your pasty little beak on,” Hali shot back. In addition to showing up when not invited, Wayne also enjoyed when the cocktails were overflowing. It drove the witch who was supposed to be in charge of him crazy. “You’re banned from drinking at my establishment.”
Wayne’s smirk was quick. “Oh, it’s so cute that you think that.”
“It’s the truth,” Hali insisted. “It’s my bar. I decide who I serve. You’re not being served.”
“We’ll see.” Wayne extended his neck and flapped his wings, making a strange bird sound that had Hali cringing.
“Don’t,” Hali warned. It was already too late, though. He’d garnered the attention he was looking for.
“Oh, look at the cute bird,” a woman cooed from somewhere on the shadowed part of the terrace. “I want to take him home with me.”
“Oh, if only,” Hali muttered to herself.
Wayne shot her a smug look. “Do you really think your guests are going to turn me down when I dip my beak in their cocktails? That’s what I thought.”
“I’ve had it up to here with you,” Hali insisted, glaring at him as she held her hand chin level. “You’re fired as my familiar.”
“You can’t fire me.” He was matter-of-fact. “That’s not how it works. The coven assigned me to you. That means, as an employee of the coven, you’re stuck with me.”
“We’ll just see about that. I’m going to call them and get you fired.”
Wayne snorted. “Yeah, I look forward to hearing how that goes. Now, if you’ll excuse me … .” He stepped around Hali and headed toward the bar. “My fans await.”
Hali gripped her hands into fists and glared at the flamingo’s retreating back. She was at her limit with the creature — her absolute limit — and she didn’t want to deal with him. Why the coven had assigned a drunk flamingo baffled her. He’d yet to help her with a single spell, spent all of his time getting soused, and he was obnoxious. He sexually harassed really drunk bar patrons on a regular basis.
She was completely over him.
“Excuse me?” a male voice interjected, jolting Hali from her revenge-fantasy reverie.
“Yes?” Hali automatically pasted the most welcoming smile in her arsenal on her face and turned. “Can I help you?”
The man standing to her left was tall — at least six-foot-three if she had to guess — and he boasted broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He was well-muscled, that was obvious thanks to his T-shirt, and he looked relaxed in his simple khaki shorts and sandals. “My name is Grayson Hunter,” he started.
“If you’re looking for the security office so you can put in a résumé, they’re closed until tomorrow morning,” Hali said automatically. “You can drop your résumé with the front desk, though.”
Rather than frown, the man smiled, showing off a ridiculous cheek dimple. “I’m not looking for a job. I have a job.”
“Oh, yeah?” Hali’s smile never diminished. “Do you need a drink? If so, you can head up to the bar. They’ll take your order there.”
“I don’t need a drink,” Grayson replied. “Although, actually, a drink might be nice. What I really need is a few minutes of your time.”
“I’m working.” Hali had to shake her head. She couldn’t believe this guy was hitting on her in the middle of a shift. Sure, it had happened multiple times before, but this was the first time someone had followed her behind the bar. “I don’t have time for whatever … this is.”
“I’m asking you to make time.” Grayson didn’t back down.
“Well, that’s sweet.” Hali tried a fresh smile. This one was more feral than welcoming. “I’m flattered. You’re a decent looking guy. I’m not interested, though.”
Grayson blinked several times in rapid succession and then shook his head. “I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding. I’m not here to ask you out.”
“You’re not here to ask me out or for a drink,” Hali mused. “You’re not looking for a job. What else is there?”
Grayson pulled what looked to be a wallet out of his pocket and flipped it up, showing off a laminated identification card. It said he was a private detective. “I’m looking for a missing woman, and I’m hoping you can help me.”
“Oh.” Hali’s heart sank when she saw the identification, and her cheeks quickly heated when she realized how glib she’d likely sounded to him. “I didn’t realize.”
“I have a few questions if you have a few minutes that is. If you’re too busy now, I can wait until you close.”
Hali had no interest in involving herself in a missing person’s investigation. Still, she nodded. She could spare a few minutes, especially after acting like such an idiot. “Sure. Let me help my staff catch up on this rush. Sit over there.” She pointed toward an empty table. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Grayson nodded. “Thank you for your time.”
“Don’t thank me yet. I very much doubt I can help you.”
“Never say never.”
When I was a kid, I was torn between whether or not I was going to grow up and be the Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman. I flirted with being a Jedi Knight for awhile, but I wasn't up for the intense travel associated with the gig. In my teens, I settled on being a writer -- although I had no idea the effort that would entail.