“Remi. This guy wants to know what’s on the bacon, egg and cheese bagel…”
Remi winced and dropped the paperwork she’d been going over. She looked out the kitchen window to see one of her waitresses, Iris, standing in the middle of the café surrounded by customers. Every one of them now looking at her.
“Guess we don’t need to ask how her hot date went this weekend,” Darien mumbled from behind her.
Bethany came running through the door and slid to a stop, her eyes wide. “She didn’t.”
Remi glanced above the door Beth stood in to see the yellow light was lit up. The light that let the staff and certain patrons know there were normals in the café. Normals being the term they used to describe completely vulnerable, nonethe-wiser humans.
“Stay. I’ve got this.” Beth waved her hands in Remi’s direction. Taking a deep breath, she put a sweet smile on her face as she stepped out into the customer area.
“Well,” Berk cleared his throat and glanced from Darien to her. “Happy Monday morning.” With that, he turned back to the grill and flipped the French toast.
“She’s been doing so well,” Remi whispered as she watched Bethany smile and charm the customers.
Leaning his huge body on the counter beside her, Darien nodded. “Yeah, she hasn’t stunned anyone in months.”
“I don’t think she’s cut out for mornings.” It was only seven in the morning, too early for anything but coffee as far as Remi was concerned, never mind a faerie in a bad mood.
“No one in our world does mornings well.” Darien lifted her chin and forced her to look into his chocolate brown eyes. “You, for example, look like you haven’t slept.”
“I didn’t, really.” Sighing, she pulled away from his touch. “I’m trying to get all this paperwork caught up before that stupid audit.”
Glancing out into the dining area, she groaned in relief to see the customers Iris had embarrassed were now smiling and joking with Beth. Thankfully, Iris was looking after another table, a stubborn set to her chin.
“How can they be so different?”
Darien chuckled. “Just because they’re from the same race doesn’t mean they have the same personality.”
Picking up her cup, she sipped her now cold coffee while thinking about everything she had to do in the next few days.
“Hey,” Darien leaned closer, “why don’t you get Iris to give you a hand in the office?” He shrugged. “She’s got one hell of a brain in her head and with Nadine’s little one teething and keeping her up all night, I’m sure she won’t mind covering the dining room and not having to worry about the extra responsibilities for a while.”
Remi turned to see Iris heading to the counter, her small frame rigid and her expression clearly saying she wasn’t in the mood for human or para interaction right now. “It would solve a few issues.”
“Whew.” Darien hissed out a sigh of relief. “I was half afraid you were going to put her back on nights.” He wiped his hand down the front of his black t-shirt, moving over muscles she tried not to stare at. “Then I’d have to deal with Pascal and Attis PMSing non-stop because they have to work with her again.” He shrugged. “Everyone loves Iris, she’s great to work with if she’s in a good mood. Otherwise we’re all terrified.”
Remi doubted Darien was afraid of anything. Rolling her eyes in his direction she smirked. “I didn’t know vampires got PMS.”
He grinned. “They don’t, but they bitch like they do.”
“Order has to be put away.” Glancing at the time, she picked up the papers. She nodded at the stack of boxes in the back room. “Are you sticking around for the meeting?”
Moving around her, he reached across the counter and picked up the coffee pot and then grabbed her cup. Filling it, he handed it to her and smiled. “I’ve got the order and I’ll do this morning’s meeting but I’ll be late for the one this evening.” He winked at her. “If I don’t grab a nap, I’ll be grumpy tonight. We can’t have a grumpy werewolf running Serenity after dark.”
Giving her a heart stopping grin, he sauntered out the door, grabbing a stack of boxes on his way past. Remi watched the muscles flex in his arms and back as he lifted them with ease. Averting her eyes, she blew out a soft breath, thinking how watching him made her whole body flush. Turning, she noticed Berk was also watching Darien. He gave her a cheeky grin and then began to serve up an order.
“It’s not a crime to look.” He wiggled his eyebrows up and down. “I know better than to touch. I like all my appendages attached and undamaged.” He sighed in a dramatic way. “It makes me sad though, so much man meat and it’s untouchable.”
Shaking her head, Remi hugged the stack of papers to her chest and leaned against the end of the counter, waiting for Iris to reach her.
Clipping her orders to the rack, Iris heaved a sigh and stopped in front of her. “Sorry,” she said in a somber voice. “They were so annoying asking about every single item on the menu. I mean if it says with cheese, they asked if it came with cheese…”
Remi could sympathize with her. Out-of-towners were so picky that way. “You could have passed them off to Beth, you know she doesn’t mind.”
Iris nodded, her short red hair bouncing with the motion. “I know. I just…” she sighed again.
“Listen,” Remi gave her a hopeful smile. “I’d like you to help me get caught up in the office. With the auditors coming in two days, I need everything picture perfect.”
“Really?” Her eyes lit up.
“Yes.” She began untying her apron. “I’m all over that.”
Remi looked over to where Beth was waiting for Berk to hand an order through the window. “Can you handle it for a few? Soren and the twins will be here shortly.”
Bethany nodded. “No problem. It’s only coffee and taking out a few orders right now.”
“Disaster averted again?” Darien came back through the door and stopped to grin at the girls.
Iris rolled her eyes and glared at him. “I wasn’t going to harm them.”
He chuckled. “Sure thing, Tink.”
The ding of the door chime had all of them turning to see who came in. Back-up had arrived. Soren moved through the customer area in smooth graceful steps, like a cat, which made sense as she was a lynx shifter. Her smile was warm and friendly as she greeted the regular customers on her way by.
“Get Soren to help you if you get backed up before the girls get here.” Remi told Beth as she motioned Iris to go down the hallway.
“I’ll give them a hand.” Darien added rubbing reassuring fingers down her back.
“Thanks, Dare.” Remi smiled, though she really wanted to step into his space and hug him. Most days, she’d be lost without him.
~ * ~
By nine thirty the breakfast customers were gone, with a few regulars watching the news channel while drinking their coffee. Most of them were retired or self-employed and didn’t have to answer to the clock.
The elf twins, Ranae and Deanne were clearing tables and prepping for the next rush. Soren and Berk were in the kitchen preparing lunch items while singing show tunes. She didn’t know how they managed happy all the time, but it was better than working with grouches. Iris was content in the office, entering data into the computer while Darien put the order away. Beth was helping him by restocking supplies. This left Remi some time for peace and quiet before more of the staff arrived for the meeting.
Taking another stack of papers with her, she went outside, to sit under the tree at the picnic table behind the café. A slight breeze blowing; the sun was warm for that time of day. The only sound breaking the silence was the gurgle of water in the river as it moved downstream.
Flipping through the papers, she began to put them in order according to date. Having to backtrack into files five years old had been an enormous task and she was looking forward to being done. Some of the dates in this pile went as far back as two years ago when Doyle was still alive. She really needed to sort out the entire file system and fix it.
Pausing, she stared toward the river. She still missed Doyle. He’d been more of a father to her than any of the foster parents she’d had…although when she first met him, she thought he was insane or having some sort of psychological break down.
~ * ~
She’d been eighteen the first time she’d looked at the Café Serenity sign hanging out front. The next seven years were a blur of edification changing her life…not just her life but her mind-set and beliefs.
After leaving the foster system the second she turned eighteen, or as close as possible considering no one was one hundred percent sure when she was born, she’d hopped on a bus with her starting-out allowance and ended up in Riverside.
On the bus she’d met a girl close to her age, Astrid. They’d hit it off right away. Astrid invited her to stay with her and even helped her get a job at the diner where she worked. Remi hadn’t known a thing about waitressing, but with the customers demanding attention, she soon learned.
Things had gone well for about six months, until her life began spiraling downward again.
Astrid’s boyfriend, Carl, tried to force himself on Remi. Thinking she was friends with her roommate had been Remi’s first mistake. The second was telling Astrid about Carl. She’d freaked and kicked her out. Remi realized now she probably shouldn’t have told her that he’d been screwing around on her for months with other girls.
Next thing Remi knew she had no job or place to live. After sleeping in the post office for three nights, she’d gotten on the bus going to the other end of Riverside and set out to find a place to live. That’s when she’d seen the “Help Wanted” sign in the window of a unique looking café, one that had one name during the day—Serenity—and was Serenity after Dark at night.