15th Anniversary Edition
Sorcery and the Single Girl
The coven’s test isn’t the only challenge Jane faces. Her new boyfriend, a handsome Brit, seems determined to distract her from magic. Her closest witchy friend has a loose grasp on arcane ethics. And Jane hardly knows what to make of her drama-queen mother, her mojito-loving best friend, and her boss’s demands that she step up to the next level at work.
Is sorcery the answer to Jane’s problems? Or does magic spell “disaster” where her love-life is concerned?
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There I was on another Friday evening, leaning against the counter in Cake Walk, the Georgetown bakery owned by my best friend, Melissa White. Over the summer, I’d started helping Melissa close up every Friday night, after I left my job at the Peabridge Library. My assistance gave us a chance to catch up on our weeks, and then we conducted always-needed Mojito Therapy.
I was just waiting until we could turn the sign on the door from “Walk On In” to “Walk On By.” I could already taste icy lime juice and rum, mixed with mint and nearly-frozen seltzer water in a chilled tumbler. Summer in Washington was always hot, and this late August day was no exception.
I held a glass of iced tea against the pulse point in my right wrist and tried to forgive the bakery’s stuttering air conditioning. After all, it was doing its best to beat back the swampy heat. My red-shot hair frizzed against the back of my neck, and I was pretty sure my kohl liner had smeared around my eyes. So much for drawing out the emerald glints trapped inside my hazel irises. Did that stuff ever work outside of fashion magazines?
I probably should have taken a page from Melissa’s book and ignored makeup altogether—after all, it was just the two of us girlfriends. The two of us, and a pitcher of icy mojitos.
Since therapy had not yet commenced, however, I took a deep swallow of Mango Mamba iced tea and tried to explain to Melissa. Again. “I know it shouldn’t matter. I dated Scott for twelve years—twelve years! And I only saw the I.B. for twelve weeks.”
I.B. That used to stand for Imaginary Boyfriend. Now, it stood for Idiot Bastard. Or Ignorant Boor. Or Irritating Boil. Get us going, Melissa and me, and we could continue the game for hours.
The I.B. The man I’d set my heart on. My friends and family had all agreed to refrain from using his name. He didn’t deserve a name after what he’d done to me.
I sighed. “It’s been ten months. Ten months, and nothing. Not a glimmer of a hint of a scintilla of a possibility on the romantic horizon. I’m never going to date again.”
“Never is a very long time,” Melissa said.
“I don’t think I can seriously take romance advice from a woman with fifty-two first dates under her belt in the past year.”
“Don’t exaggerate,” Melissa said with a good-natured shrug. “There were only forty-one.”
I shuddered. Forty-one. Forty-one nights of sitting at a table for two. Forty-one nights of coming up with witty and compelling Conversation Topics, five per date. (Okay, I knew Melissa re-used a lot of them, but still!) Forty-one nights of putting on perfect dating clothes, of combing out perfect dating hair, of squelching down perfect dating jitters.
And what did she have to show for it? A Friday evening with me. Me, a DVD of Casablanca, and microwave popcorn.
As if she’d read my mind, Melissa brushed her palms together, a businesswoman ever in charge. “If we don’t turn on the upstairs air conditioner now, it’ll never cool down.”
We might be out of luck anyway. Melissa lived in an apartment above her bakery. Her little home was perfect in every way—except it didn’t have central air. In fact, it had a wheezing window unit that was probably Carrier’s prototype. You know. Willis Haviland Carrier, the inventor of the air conditioner. I said I was a librarian. We accumulate a ridiculous amount of trivia.
Melissa’s contraption could get the job done, if we gave it enough time. The only problem was braving the oven of an apartment long enough to turn the rattling thing on. She waited for me to volunteer to step into the Sahara that was her living room, but I merely shifted my wrist against my icy glass.
“Come on,” she finally said. “Rock, paper, scissors.”
Melissa and I settled all our disputes with the childhood game. We might be immature, but we’d never had a serious fight, not in the twenty-five years we’d been best friends. Now, we counted to three, tapping our right fists against our left palms, and displayed our choices—paper for me, rock for Melissa.
“Paper covers rock,” I said, trying not to gloat.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said good-naturedly. She turned to the steps in the back corner of the bakery. “Keep an eye on things while I’m upstairs. And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Well that opened up a huge realm of possibilities, didn’t it?
I turned to the gigantic stainless steel sink at the back of the bakery, ready to wash a few dishes and get Cake Walk shut down for the night. It was the least I could do, since Melissa was braving the inferno upstairs.
In fact, I’d been practicing a water spell. It should be perfect for a little kitchen cleanup. I’d worked through it with my familiar, Neko, three times in the past week, trying to get my mind around the controlled whirlpool the magic required.
Not that Neko excelled at helping out with water magic. When I’d first met him, he’d been frozen into the form of a black cat statue. I’d awakened him with my very first spell. He still retained a lot of his feline features, even though he’d remained a flesh-and-blood man for ten straight months. Okay, not straight months. Not precisely.
Neko had turned my little home upside down more than once with his parties and his exploits and his boyfriends-of-the-week, but when magical push came to enchanted shove, he’d been there for me, helping me focus my powers and learn new ways to use my gifts.
Even when I wanted to work on water spells, a subset of the the magical world that he detested.
After a week of practice, I’d succeeded in gathering up water from the faucet, and I could consistently get the miniature windstorm spinning in the center of my old farmhouse sink. Each time I tried to factor in dish soap, though, my concentration fell apart, and I was left cleaning up a froth of bubbles. Or a slick river of soap. Or an ocean of foaming water, ankle deep on my kitchen floor.
I bet the Weird Sisters in Macbeth never worried about these things. They just hired some sniveling apprentice to scrub their cauldrons clean. Eye of newt, wing of bat…
I decided it was wiser to use conventional cleaning methods in Melissa’s bakery. No reason to endanger pastries and pottery alike. Shaking my head and promising myself I would master the spell, I reached for a sponge.
Before I could add soap, though, the bell over the door jangled its jaunty greeting. I turned around with a ready smile; I knew how to treat Melissa’s clientele when I was at the counter.
And I almost sat in the sink.
The man who stood in the doorway was drop-dead gorgeous. I couldn’t compare him to a particular movie star—he was the best of all rolled into one.
He seemed utterly unperturbed by the August heat, not a hint of sweat on his manly brow. His short blond hair lay perfectly, each strand cooperating to set off the strong lines of his cheekbones and his jaw. His eyes glinted in the early evening sunshine, a blue so light they seemed like glass. He wore a crisp white shirt that looked as if it had just left an ironing board, and his jeans fit well enough that Levi’s should pay him for the advertising. His shoulders were broad, and his waist was narrow.
He had to come from the Midwest—corn-fed, small-town, a football quarterback if I’d ever seen one. There were country songs written about this man. He’d dated the head cheerleader; they’d been the prom king and queen. He’d wanted to stay on the farm, take over for his daddy, but his mother had presented him with egg money she’d saved through the years, begging him to leave Kansas, to move to Washington for college, for a business degree.
He’d broken his father’s heart, even as he’d made the old man wipe away a surreptitious tear of pride. He still called home every Sunday afternoon at four, to catch up with his parents after church, after the mid-afternoon meal they called dinner.
He tried to describe the big city to them, to fill them in on his life on Capitol Hill, but they never truly understood.
“I say, are you still open?” he asked.
A British accent.
Okay, so maybe I got a little carried away with my fantasy life for the stranger in front of me. It could happen to anyone. A Brit, though… That was even better than a Future Farmer of America.
I know I was supposed to be a level-headed woman. I had two graduate degrees—in library science and English. I was educated, self-sufficient, competent and capable. I knew better than to swoon over a man’s good looks, to melt because he smiled at me, to fall at his feet because he deigned to speak to me.
So shoot me. I’d always had a soft spot for a British accent.
Obviously, plenty of Englishmen were jerks. I knew that too. But, my track record wasn’t so great with the standard American issue. And if you asked me to define my perfect man, to write up a quick summary of what I was looking for and place it in an online dating profile, those crisp consonants and plummy vowels would be near the top of my list.
“Um, yes,” I said. Smooth, Jane Madison. Brilliant. Witty.
“Have you any Lust, then?”
He winced and smiled ruefully. “A friend sent me. She said you sell Almond Lust, and I couldn’t walk by without trying a piece. In fact, I’m to buy up all you have and bring it to a dinner party this evening.”
Oh. Almond Lust. One of Melissa’s specialties.
Well, maybe in some cultures a stinging crimson blush is considered attractive. After all, those British women were all fair-skinned. My dream man was probably used to a gentle companion who flushed the color of a summer sunset. I could hope.
“Of course,” I managed to say. I pointed to the pottery plate of shortbread confections, their chocolate layer set off with toasted, sliced almonds. At least my Code Red nail polish was smooth and unchipped. Chalk one up for the colonial team. “We have four left.”
Again, heat spread to my face. Pastry, I reminded myself sternly. He was only commenting on the pastry.
I found a paperboard box beneath the counter and began to transfer the Lust. “Do you work around here?” I asked, intent on drawing him out before he walked through the door, before he disappeared from my life forever.
“I do now. I’ve just accepted a new position in Arlington.”
Arlington. Just over the river. Not in my backyard, but close enough for me to imagine seeing him again. “What do you do?”
“I’m in acquisitions.”
Acquisitions. A lawyer, then. My skunk of an ex-fiancé, Scott Randall, had been a lawyer. My shoulders stiffened, but I ordered myself to take a deep breath, to smile, to act like lawyers were my favorite people in the world. After all, if I was going to hate all lawyers, I’d have to move out of Washington.
I punched a few keys on the cash register and announced the price. My British friend reached into his pocket and pulled out a money clip with stylized art deco lines that made me think of the statue of Prometheus in Rockefeller Center, the golden god delivering the torch of knowledge to all mankind. I’d never seen an American man use a clip. I bit back a heartfelt sigh.
“Blasted American bills,” he muttered with good humor.
Blasted! He said “blasted!” You couldn’t get any more British than that!
He shook his head as he slipped off the clip. “You Americans don’t have the sense to make your money different colors. Force a poor sod to sort through every last bill to find the right one.”
He’d complicated his task by forcing the money clip into double-duty; he had at least a dozen slips of paper tucked next to his cash. He smiled at my quizzical look. “Receipts. I’m terrible about filling out my expense account.”
I smiled, anxious to keep even this stilted conversation going. “Receipt!” I exclaimed, like a parrot that had mastered a new word. “Do you need one?”
“That would be lovely, actually.” I pressed a button on the register, and it spat out a curl of paper. By then, my Brit had finally found the appropriate bill. I calculated his change, wishing I could think of something else to say.
Downton Abbey. Pride and Prejudice. Monty Python. Bridget Jones. None of those was likely to spark a deep and meaningful conversation. With a sinking feeling, I collected his change from the register. I counted it into his palm, and no one could really blame me if I let my fingers slip against his. The touch lingered only a moment, just long enough for him to curve a smile and say, “With these coins?”
I had no idea what he meant, but I was eager to respond. “Pardon me?”
“It’s an old nursery rhyme. Mother Goose, I think. ‘With these coins I find you. With these words I bind you. Keep our secret, silent be. Speak to no man, not of me. Diddle dum, diddle dee, fi, fo, fum.’”
When all I managed was a puzzled smile, my mysterious Brit laughed and shrugged at the same time, saying, “I suppose our nurseries had different rhymes.” He shot his cuff and glanced at his watch, clearly eager to be heading out to his dinner party. Reluctantly, I made a show of tucking in the lid of his paperboard box. I took a printed sticker from the roll Melissa kept by the register and pressed in onto the box for good measure. At least all the guests at his dinner party would know the source of the delectable treats he carried.
“Good Lust,” I said in a cheery voice, and cringed when I heard how stupid I sounded.
“Many thanks.” And then he winked at me.
He. Winked. At. Me.
From a lot of guys, a wink would be sleazy. It would be sly. It would be nothing more than a pick-up line.
From my Brit, though, it was a shared joke. A private conversation. An entire future, all wrapped up in one fortuitous twitch of an eye.
And then the bell jangled, and he was out the door, heading back into the steamy DC evening.
“Oh good!” Melissa said, coming back down the stairs. “You killed the Lust.”
“What?” I was still staring after the customer, willing him to remember something, to come back, to ask for my name, my number, anything.
“The Lust.” Melissa pointed to the empty pottery plate. “It doesn’t keep well at all.”
I sighed and licked my lips. “Then we would have been forced to eat it all by ourselves.”
“What’s that?” Melissa reached around me and picked up a white slip from the counter.
I craned my neck and looked at the item in her fingers. It was a card. Like a business card, but with different dimensions—more square than rectangular. It had a dark silver lining, dully reflective, and words embossed in bold, black letters.
And beneath it, as discreet as a priest in a confessional, a telephone number. 703 prefix. Arlington, Virginia.
I remembered him shuffling through his money, juggling the receipts. He had seemed to take more time than he needed, made the paper more of a production than was strictly necessary. He had wanted me to have this card.
That’s what he’d meant by his wink, by the tiny smile on his perfect lips.
Melissa sighed and turned toward the trashcan. Her wrist cocked; she was treating the card as garbage. “No!” I exclaimed. She looked at me as if I had two heads. “No,” I repeated in a quieter voice. “I think he meant for me to have it.”
“He?” Melissa asked.
“The customer who was just here.”
“Acquisitions?” Melissa read again. “How pretentious is that?”
“Not pretentious at all!” I rushed to Graeme Henderson’s defense. Even as I protested Melissa’s dismissal, I realized he couldn’t be a lawyer. Not with a card like that. A law firm would have sucked out any spark of creativity, would have bled dry the smooth polish of the silver-lined card. “I mean, it’s not pretentious if that’s what he does.”
“But what does he acquire?”
“Lust,” I said immediately.
Melissa gave me a strange look, but she passed the card across the counter. I slipped it into my pocket, vowing to phone him the very next day.
After all, didn’t the dating gods help those who helped themselves?
If I’d known the havoc that one phone call would wreak, I would have thrown away the card right then and there. Lust and everything, I would have just tossed it.
Or at least I would have remembered that witchcraft never made anything simpler. Never, ever, ever.
Klasky emphasizes the importance of being true to yourself and having faith in friends and family in her bewitching second romance (Sorcery and the Single Girl) …Readers who identify with Jane’s remembered high school social angst will cheer her all the way.”