CLOSING NOTE: BEST OF 2016:
Mary Jo Putney has had multiple books named among the five best romance novels of the year by Library Journal. She’s a New York Times bestseller, a two-time Rita Award winner, a recipient of RWA's Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, and a Publishers Weekly favorite, with Once a Rebel coming out from Kensington Publishing in August, 2017.
THE TUESDAY ENCHANTRESS
by Mary Jo Putney
Having written a trilogy of Guardian paranormal Georgian romances, I jumped at the chance to write a short story in that world for The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance. Guardians are human but with magical abilities that tend to run in families. All my previous Guardian stories had been historical, so I thought it would be great fun to make this one contemporary—and what place is more contemporary than New York City? My working title for the story was “Tuesday Night at the Deli” because nothing ever happens on a Tuesday night—except when it does!
It was just after 2a.m. on a warm Tuesday morning when I stumbled into the corner deli and croaked, “Gimme a triple espresso mocha latte and make it fast!”
My pal and classmate Rajiv, who was minding the store for his grandparents, glanced up from his textbook. At this hour, he could get almost as much studying done in the deli as he would at home. “It might be malpractice to give you a triple when you already look like nine miles of bad road. Maybe you should try gettin’ some sleep?”
Even after years of being friends, I smiled at the contrast between Rajiv’s East Indian face and his Texas accent. He’d saved my bacon when I returned to school after a couple of years of bumming around. I’d lost the habit of study, and it was Rajiv who helped whip my brain into academic shape again. “I’ll sleep when finals are over.”
He set aside his book and crossed to an espresso machine so big and fancy that it seemed like it should do more than just make coffee. “Don’t worry, Charlie, you’ll ace the exams. You always do.”
“Only because I study so much I have no life.” I waited impatiently until he gave me the tall, foaming cup. After slurping some whipped cream off the top, I started chugging the latte. Two swallows and I started to feel alive again. “Fat, chocolate, and triple caffeine,” I said contentedly. “What more can a desperate student want?”
Rajiv pulled a couple of hot samosas out of the warming case and handed them to me. “Some protein would be good. And then maybe a scone or three.”
I thanked him through a mouthful of samosa. He made a cappuccino for himself—only a single shot, the wimp—and I decided I would survive this last exam after all. While I chewed, I surveyed the empty deli.
Spotlessly clean, the small place was jam-packed with corner store staples, the espresso bar, and a small but excellent selection of fresh edibles. This being New York City, there was everything from pastrami to burritos to stuffed grape leaves. The Guptas’ deli had kept me from starving for years. “Sure is quiet tonight.”
“It’s Tuesday night. Nothing ever happens on Tuesday nights,” Rajiv said authoritatively. “They’re great for studying.”
A chime rang as the door opened. I glanced over, then stopped in mid-bite. “That is the hottest chick I’ve ever seen,” I said softly, speaking under my breath so she wouldn’t come over and deck me for the sexist comment.
Rajiv studied her. “Nice looking, but not spectacular. Unless she has the keys to your DNA, and judging by your expression, she does.” I could hear the grin in his voice.
She was tallish, with a nice figure, dark hair pulled back simply at her nape, a reserved expression, and a profile that belonged on an ancient coin. I couldn’t see her eyes since she was frowning at the rack of packaged cookies. Technically, Rajiv was right. She looked damned good in jeans and a tweed blazer, but she wasn’t a raging beauty. Nonetheless, she made me want to roll on my back and wave my paws in the air.
“Okay, she’s not exactly a hot chick,” I conceded. “She’s the kind of girl you want to take home to mother, and if you manage that, your mom says ‘you finally did something right, Charlie.’”
“Either you’ve gone nuts from studying and caffeine, or you’d better go over and introduce yourself right now,” Rajiv remarked as he ambled back to the counter.
There was a mirror over the espresso machine. The reflection was discouraging. Tall and a little underfed, I’m average looking at best, and I wasn’t at my best just now. My hair hadn’t been cut in way too long, I hadn’t shaved in a week, and my mom would burn my battered sweats if I was ever fool enough to wear them home. The hot chick would probably call the cops if I tried to talk to her.
Tentatively I reached out with my power to see if I could get a reading on her. I was immediately slammed with a magical blow fiercer than a physical punch. I gasped. My God, the hot chick was a Guardian, like me!
Guardians are families where magic runs strong. The Families have been around since time began, near as anyone knows. We’re human, but with some special abilities. Our elders train us to use them conservatively. To help people, not just to accumulate wealth and power for ourselves. Most of us have regular jobs and regular lives. We’re encouraged to marry other Guardians to keep the power strong, but I’d never met a female Guardian who made me think of orange blossoms and cottages with picket fences.
The hot chick whipped her head up when I tried to read her. Her quick scan of the store passed over Rajiv and landed on me with a scowl that would freeze the whiskers off a brass cat. So I walked over to her. “You’re a Guardian,” I said softly. “So am I.”
Her expression chilled another couple of degrees. “Then you should know better than to probe someone without permission.” Her voice was somewhere between whiskey and velvet, her accent was educated British, and her eyes were a dazzling shade of honey gold. If she asked me to lie down so she could walk over me, I’d do it.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’d be able to sense that.” I gave her my best earnest, nice-guy look. “You were so beautiful I had to know more.”
You’d think a sincere compliment might soften her a bit, but no dice. She looked like she wanted to whack me over the head with a package of cookies. “Good night, Mr. Owens.” She had a lot of power to be able to pick up my name when she zapped me.
“What’s your name?” When her brows arched, I said reasonably, “I’m sure you don’t want me to be thinking of you as the Hot Chick.”
For an instant, I thought she’d crack a smile, but instead she said frostily, “Maggie Macrae. That’s Ms. Macrae to you.”
A Guardian, all right. The Macraes were one of the best known British Families. As she brushed past me, I asked, “What’s your strongest ability?”
“Shielding.” She pivoted and crossed to the counter with long, graceful strides.
No kidding—her shields were blocking me cold. I sighed, regretful but not resigned. Now that I’d met her and knew she was a Guardian, I could find her again.
Maggie pulled out her wallet to pay for her cookies. “Do you ever have British biscuits like McVitie’s chocolate digestives?” The smile she gave Rajiv was dazzling.
“No, but I could order some if you want to come back in a few days,” Rajiv said enthusiastically. Though she might not have as much impact on him as she did on me, he wasn’t immune to that killer smile.
She pursed her lips—her ripe, full, kissable lips—and said, “I shall be in New York for some time, so if you could order four boxes, I’d be most grateful. Will they be in by Monday?” I could listen to her gorgeous voice and accent all night. And if Rajiv put the moves on her, I’d kill him.
Before he could reply, three guys who looked like your worst nightmare came in waving guns. “This is a stick-up!” one yelled as he shot out the security camera in a blaze of bullets. As shards of glass rained down, another snarled, “Give us the money!”
The robbers were young, and I could see from their wild eyes that they were sky high on some kind of drug that made them hyper and stupid. A headline flashed through my mind: Shopkeeper and two customers murdered in burglary! Thank God I wasn’t clairvoyant—that was fear talking, not a premonition.
The lead guy, a hulk with a tacky little goatee, spotted me and Maggie Macrae. “Put yer hands up and get over to the counter,” he ordered with a wave of his gun. Some kind of big, mean-looking semi-automatic.
I raised my hands and edged toward the counter very slowly. I tried to look harmless, which wasn’t much of a stretch. Maggie did the same.
Rajiv said peacefully, “No problem, man. You can have all the money in the register. I’ll open it for you.”
He reached for the cash drawer. The robber who had shot out the camera, a short guy with bare, tattoo-covered arms, shouted, “He’s going for a gun!”
The tallest guy fired a long blast of bullets, the noise ear-numbing in the small space. The slugs slammed into Rajiv. He pitched sideways, his glasses flying and gouts of blood spurting horribly over his yellow “Buddha Rocks!” t-shirt.
Maggie screamed, and three guns swiveled toward us. The barrels looked like the Grand Canyon. I dived for the floor, dragging her down and shielding her with my body as best I could. Guardian magic can do a lot of things, but not stop hot lead.
Maggie felt soft and indignant under me, but was smart enough not to struggle. Guardians have sometimes been persecuted as witches over the centuries, and the ones who survived long enough to procreate knew how to duck and cover.
A couple of bullets hit the counter above my head before Goatee Guy growled, “Stop shooting, Shark! Someone will call the cops.”
My guess was that Rajiv already had, using a foot switch under the counter. God, Rajiv! My stomach churned. He was an only child. His death would destroy his parents and grandparents.
Maybe he wasn’t dead yet. Keeping my voice soft and unthreatening, I raised my head. “I’m a doctor. Will you let me look at the clerk?”
Tattoo Man said incredulously, “This loser is a doctor?”
The third guy, Shark, said in a jittery voice, “We should shoot ’em all and get the hell out of here while we can!”
Maggie said from her position flat on her stomach, “Charles won’t cause any trouble.” Her voice was as persuasive as honey poured over a bear. “If he can keep the clerk from bleeding to death, it’s better for everyone.”
Goatee Guy gestured toward Rajiv with his gun. “Okay, but don’t try anything! Shark, break open the cash register. When you’ve got the cash, we’ll take what these two have.” His gaze lingered on Maggie in a way that made me nervous, but first things first.
I moved to Rajiv’s side. Blood everywhere, but he was still breathing. I’d had my share of rotations in the ER, so I shut my mind to the knowledge that one of my best friends was bleeding out. This was just another crime victim. Start by figuring out how bad the damage was.
I ripped his t-shirt open from neck to waist. There were three bullet holes, one just a graze across the top of his shoulder, no big deal.
His eyes flickered open. “Don’t get creeped out if you fail, Charlie,” he whispered unsteadily. “Remember I’m Hindu. I get…to reincarnate.” His eyes drifted shut again.
What kind of loon cracks jokes at a time like this?
The best kind.
Two of the bullets had gone into his chest. Either could kill him. I closed my eyes and skimmed my hands above the wounds, feeling the catastrophic damage to muscle, bone, nerves, and blood vessels.
But the wounds weren’t quite lethal, if I could repair the worst of the damage in time. “Maggie, get over here,” I ordered. “I’ll need help applying pressure.”
She joined me in kneeling by Rajiv’s side. After a wary glance at the thugs, she turned away and hunched over Rajiv. I felt the buzz as she generated a minor spell to reduce their interest in her.
“Do you have a clean handkerchief or anything like that?” I asked.
“Who carries handkerchiefs these days?” Looking a little green at the amount of gore splashed around, Maggie reached over to a rack of miscellaneous grooming and toiletry products to our left. It took her only a moment to crack open a package that contained a shoe polishing kit.
After handing me the folded polishing cloth, she opened a second package. A smart, hot chick. I really hoped we both survived this so I could persuade her that I was worth knowing. As I used the folded fabric to compress the worst of the bullet holes, I said, “Press on that other wound. And please don’t faint.”
She managed an uneven smile as she set the second polishing cloth on the other wound and leaned on it with the heel of her hand. “I won’t.”
As Shark noisily smashed the cash register, she breathed into my ear in a voice so soft only a Guardian could hear it, “You’re really a doctor?”
“Yeah, if I pass the final exams I’m taking this week. I’m also a Guardian healer. But my specialty is disease and infection and that sort of thing, not surgery and trauma.” I closed my eyes as I concentrated on Rajiv’s torn vena cava, the most lethal of his injuries. When I had the structure clearly in my mind, I poured energy around the tear, pulling the ragged edges together…
Damn, I couldn’t quite get it! The pieces slid out of my control.
I tried again, then again. Still couldn’t repair the damage, and time—as well as Rajiv’s blood—were running out fast. “I need more energy, Maggie. Drop those shields and touch my hand so I can borrow some power.”
She started to protest, then shut up and spread her fingers so her right little finger touched the outside of my left hand. I could feel her shields go down, and also felt how much she hated doing it.
Sharing energy like this was usually done only between people who knew each other very well. Maggie and I were strangers, and she didn’t even like me. But she was Guardian to the core—help was needed, she came through.
Any other time I wouldn’t have been able to resist studying her mind and energy, but all I cared about now was channeling her magic. She had a hell of a lot of it, too. I felt a disorienting internal wrench as we connected, as if I was tumbling into free fall.
She gasped, and so did I. This was the Guardian equivalent of going sky diving with no training on how to open the parachute. After a couple of heartbeats, our energies began to adjust. It’s hard to describe—sort of like the music of two different instruments swooping around each other while trying to find the exact same note.
Then we snapped into sync and her power began flowing through the link, smooth and rich and deep. I spent an instant enjoying the sensation—she felt like the very best bittersweet Belgian chocolate. Then I concentrated on focusing the blaze of white light we had created.
When I’d mastered our combined energies, I channeled it around the damaged vena cava and visualized wholeness. The ragged edges slowly came together and began to meld until the vessel was as good as new.
“Got it!” I said with quiet exultation. It was strange to be saving a life while Shark was emptying the register a yard away and the other two thugs were scarfing down hot food from the case right behind Maggie. The deli looked even smaller from the floor.
Maggie uttered a soft prayer of thanks. “Ready for the other wound?”
“Yep.” I took over the blood saturated pad and did a detailed scan of the damage. Besides blood vessels, some nerves needed fixing. Bones were broken and that kind of repair would require far more energy than Maggie and I could muster. But with her help, I could manage the vessels and nerves.
As I worked on the second wound, I was dimly aware of police sirens. I was just finishing the repair when suddenly sirens were screaming right outside the door. A gruff voice yelled, “Police! Come out with your hands up!”
“Jesus, the cops are here!” Goatee Guy exclaimed. “We need to get the hell out the back!”
I snapped in my ER voice, “There isn’t a back way out! Better to surrender before they shoot you down.”
“If the guy’s already dead, we should shoot you two as well so there are no witnesses!” Shark growled, his eyes crazed. I gave him credit for the fact that he was trying to think. Can’t say I liked the murderous direction of his thoughts.
“Rajiv isn’t going to die,” I said swiftly. “Since you let me work on him, he should pull through. You were smart. Be smart again. Surrender to the police and you may serve a little time, but you’ll have a life ahead of you.”
Tattoo Man scowled at Rajiv’s limp body. “Ya shouldn’t’ve shot him, Shark. Think the cops will negotiate if we take these two hostage? Maybe we can use them to get away.”
I was dizzy and light-headed from the energy I’d burned in the healing, but I tried to find an argument that might work. “Rajiv is holding his own, but negotiations take time. He might not make it if you delay,” I warned. “Rajiv’s mom is a federal judge. If he dies, the cops will never stop hunting till they find you, and then they’ll fry you for murder one.”
“The smug bastard is lying to us!” Shark said, voice panicky. “We gotta blow these guys away, too!”
He was aiming his gun at me when Maggie Macrae said in a rich, soothing voice, “He’s not lying. The clerk is going to be all right. You can be, too.”
Slowly she stood, uncoiling her long, lithe body. She’d shed her blazer and released her hair. Under the fluorescents, thick waves fell past her shoulders in a shimmering cascade of dark auburn. I stared, entranced. Ms. Maggie Macrae was the most sensual woman I’d ever seen.
The thugs reacted the same way. Their gazes were riveted. Maggie took a step toward Goatee Guy, who was the closest. It was the bravest act I’ve ever seen.
“Jaybird, you’ve never done anything like this before,” she said, her voice sultry. “Do you want to break your grandmother’s heart after all she’s done for you?”
He gasped and his hand dropped until the barrel of his gun pointed toward the floor. She smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder. The weapon fell from his nerveless fingers as he stared at her like a stunned ox.
She gave Tattoo Man an enchanting smile. “Rocko, you’ve got a girl who loves you and a baby on the way. Why did you let yourself get talked into this?”
He looked as if he wanted to weep. His weapon also sagged toward the floor. Maggie patted his cheek and he beamed at her goofily as the gun slipped from his hand.
She turned to Shark, who backed away frantically, trying to steady his gun with two shaking hands as he aimed at her heart. “Jeez, what are you, some kind of witch?”
The spell she’d used on the others wasn’t working on him, so I dragged myself out of my trance and hurled a can of tomato soup into Shark’s throat. “Duck, Maggie!”
I was a pretty good pitcher in the days when I had time to play ball. Shark made a strangled sound and doubled over. I followed up the soup with a big, heavy can of garbanzos that hit him in the temple. He collapsed, loosing a shot as he fell, but Maggie had ducked and the bullet went over her head.
While she was bent over. she scooped the other two guns from the floor. By that time, I had collected Shark’s weapon as well.
I yelled, “It’s okay in here, officers! I’m one of two customers. The three robbers have surrendered and given us their guns. Call an ambulance! The clerk is badly hurt!”
“Put your hands in the air!” the gruff cop voice called.
It wouldn’t be good for the police to come in and see three guns, so I set Shark’s way up on a shelf of canned goods. After I added Maggie’s two weapons, I raised my hands and yelled, “Come on in!”
The two thugs who were still standing looked a little dopey from whatever Maggie had done. The police entered in a wary crouch, weapons at the ready. When they saw the threat was over, they relaxed and cuffed the robbers. I guess I still looked harmless, since they didn’t suspect me of being one of the bad guys.
An ambulance arrived, and suddenly the deli was full of cops and EMTs looking to see if Rajiv was salvageable. One whistled softly as he checked Rajiv’s heart beat and blood pressure. “This guy’s the luckiest man in New York City. He’s lost a lot of blood, but the bullets seem to have missed the major blood vessels.”
Fortunately, it wouldn’t occur to them that Rajiv had been healed by magic. “I did what I could to slow the bleeding,” I explained. “He and I are both fourth year med students and his father is a surgeon. Take good care of him.”
The EMT nodded. Medical people look out for their own. “He’ll make it. You do good work, doc.” High praise.
As Rajiv was hoisted onto a gurney, he managed a crooked smile. “Don’t let the grands get too freaked out, Charlie.”
I patted his hand. “I’ll tell them you’ll be okay.”
His grandparents would go straight to the hospital, I suspected. His parents, the judge and the surgeon, would grab the first available flight from Dallas. Thank God the news about Rajiv was good.
As the barely conscious Shark was wrestled to his feet, a policewoman said to Maggie and me, “Stay out of the way while we take care of the perps and victim. We’ll need statements.”
I nodded and moved to the back of the shop, Maggie following. She looked as drained as I felt. I asked, “Want a latte?”
She smiled crookedly. “You’re a barista as well?”
“I helped out Rajiv sometimes when things got busy.” I made two of my favorite mocha lattes, heavy on the cream and chocolate syrup, but only single shots of caffeine. I figured both of us had had enough stimulation for one night.
Maggie accepted the latte, took a swig, then slid down to the floor, her back against the cabinet. “That was an impressive job of healing, Dr. Owens.”
“Charlie.” I heaped as much whipped cream on top of my latte as I could, then joined her on the floor, only a few inches between us as we leaned back against the coffee cabinet. Despite all the noise and activity—there were now TV cameras filming outside—we had our own private little space to talk. I’d brought a handful of cranberry scones down with me, and I offered one to Maggie.
Scones are first class comfort food. She tried to be ladylike, but failed. After demolishing one in two bites, she said, “Remind me to never again go out for food at 2a.m. in New York City.”
“Okay.” I bit my scone in half, chewed and swallowed. “What you did was pretty amazing. How did you tame those two guys? What kind of spell were you using?”
She looked at me in surprise. Nice long lashes around those honey gold eyes. “Couldn’t you tell?”
“You’re an enchantress!” I exclaimed as I realized. One of the rarest kinds of mage, enchantresses were almost always female, and they could project allure so powerfully that a man’s brain would turn to mush. The power has been studied in recent times and seems to be a matter of pheromones. An enchantress could turn hers on, calibrate the intensity, and focus them in an instant. Maggie Macrae could probably stun the whole male population of a New York borough if she wanted to. “I didn’t realize.”
Her brows arched. “I thought you knew as soon as I came in. I just arrived in New York, so I assumed jetlag had weakened my shielding.”
I thought back, then shook my head. “You weren’t sending out any enchantress vibes. If you had, I’d have passed out just looking at you.”
“You thought I was that attractive even though I wasn’t trying to attract?” Maggie said with interest as she nibbled more daintily at a second scone. This close, her lips looked even more kissable.
“I sure did!” Probably better if I didn’t say that my reaction to her had been, “This one! I want this one!” The men in my family tend to fall in love at first sight and stay in love until they die, but no point to scaring her off now that she was talking to me. “Sorry about demanding your energy when we haven’t even been properly introduced.”
She made a dismissive gesture. “It was needful. I was able to follow you well enough to see what you were doing. He wouldn’t have had a chance if you hadn’t been right here and a superb healer.”
Her admiring glance warmed me to my cockles, whatever cockles were. That wasn’t covered in anatomy class. I matched my shrug to hers. “It was needful. And Rajiv is a really good friend.”
She closed her eyes, looking exhausted. “Enchantress magic doesn’t always work. My thanks for your timely and well placed tin of soup.”
“Shark was so hopped up that nothing could get through to his addled brain, not even world class pheromones like yours.” I sighed, thinking of the work that needed to be done still. “Do you have enough energy left to help me put a spell of protection on the deli? I cast one here when I started at med school and until now it worked—no robberies, no violence. But something stronger is needed. This shouldn’t happen again.”
“Good idea. As I said before, I’m particularly good at shielding, so I’ll take the lead.” She cocked an eyebrow at me, clearly waiting to see if I was going to go gorilla on her and insist that I shape the spell.
“Good. I’m only middlin’ at shielding and repulsion spells.”
Maggie nodded approvingly. “Plus, you must be tired to the bone after that healing work.” She took my hand, long cool fingers interlacing with mine.
I drew a shaky breath as lightning jolts of Maggie energy swept through me. I forced myself to relax and flow, putting my energy at her disposal. She wasn’t kidding about being good at shielding. The protection she built was a thing of beauty, like the work of a first class architect. No armed thugs would enter the deli any decade soon.
But she allowed nothing personal to show. I’m not as good at shielding, so she must have picked up some of my feelings. She gave me a spooked stare when we finished the spell work and released hands. I let go of her reluctantly, but figured I had to if she was going to believe that I wasn’t a crazed stalker.
Before I could ask for her phone number, the cops came over and separated us to take statements. Yes, officer, there were three robbers. Shark was the one who shot Rajiv. They deserved some credit for allowing me to save his life. Yes, I’d put Shark out of commission with canned goods.
I was so tired I was weaving on my feet by the time they had finished with the questions. Mercifully, they said I could wait till later in the day to go to the station and sign my statement.
As soon as they finished with me, I looked around for Maggie. No enchantresses in sight. My pulse spiked with alarm as I asked the nearest policeman, “The woman, Maggie Macrae. Where is she?”
He shrugged, his attention elsewhere. “She left after giving her statement.”
I wanted to howl that she couldn’t leave, we had unfinished business. I was heading for the door when my brother David showed up, looking even scruffier than I did. He’s an NYPD cop, the best detective in the city because he’s a Guardian enforcer and not much gets by him.
“Jesus, Charlie!” He gave me a bone cracking hug. “I heard about this robbery on the radio and had a hunch you were here.” Being Dave, it would have been more than a hunch. “Whose blood are you wearing?”
I stared down at my gory sweats. “Rajiv’s. But he’ll be okay, I think.”
“Because of you?”
I nodded. Dave knew enough to guess the rest. I’d used my healing abilities on him often enough. He had a talent for getting banged up. “I need to get moving,” I said numbly. “There was a woman here, Maggie Macrae, and I have to find her.”
“Macrae?” He recognized the Guardian name, of course.
I nodded again. “She persuaded two of the yahoos to drop their guns. Now if you’ll excuse me….”
Dave blocked my way. He can read me pretty well. “You liked her?”
“For me, she’s why men fight,” I said impatiently. “Now get out of my way!”
His hand locked onto my arm. “You’re dead on your feet, little brother. And don’t you have a final exam later today? Go home, get some sleep, take your exam, clean up so you don’t look like a fugitive from a slasher flick, and then find her.”
“I need to find her now, David,” I growled. “Will you remove your hand before I break it?”
He looked startled—I don’t lose my temper often—but let me go. “Want me to find her for you?”
Which he could easily, since enforcers are always brilliant finders. “Hell, no,” I snapped. “Women are suckers for the tall, dark, and dangerous thing you have down so well. I’ll find her myself.”
“Would that you were right about the tall, dark, and dangerous thing,” he said wryly. “Go left, then left again for half a block. And good luck.”
As I said, he’s a great finder, and I’ll admit that it saved some time to have him point me in the right direction. But that still left a long avenue block of apartment buildings. I followed his directions. Left, then left again. My brain felt wrapped in cotton wool and I wanted nothing more than to collapse anywhere, a bed by preference though concrete would do. But I had to find Maggie Macrae before I could sleep.
Some senses operate better when you’re tired. I closed my eyes and let my mind drift as I looked for Maggie’s bittersweet Belgian chocolate energy signature. Chocolate and the smoothest Highland whiskey, yesss….
I headed into the third apartment building on the right. A sleepy doorman was on duty. He came awake fast at the sight of my bloody self, and he was six and a half feet of frowning disapproval.
Before he could call 911, I said reassuringly, using all the persuasive magic I had, “Could you ring Ms. Macrae in apartment 30-D?”
Glad I’d been able to pull the apartment number out of the ether, I continued, “I’m respectable, really. Ms. Macrae and I were both in a convenience store robbery and I want to check that she’s okay. Tell her it’s Doctor Charles Owens.”
It must have been the magic that persuaded him, because it sure wasn’t my appearance. He rang up to her apartment. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Ms. Macrae, but there’s a fellow here who calls himself Doctor Owens. Shall I let him in?”
There was a long pause and my heart sank. If Maggie said no, I didn’t have the energy to storm the building. Not tonight, anyhow.
But she must have said yes because the doorman grudgingly let me in. I don’t even remember taking the elevator up, though when I exited on the thirtieth floor, I vaguely noticed I’d left bloody smudges on the wall where I leaned during the ascent.
Then I was at her door, knocking. Maggie opened it warily, her shields locked tight as a bank vault. She’d discarded the jeans and blazer and wore a long monk’s robe in a gold velvet color that matched her eyes. Every inch of skin below her neck was covered, and she was the sexiest woman I’d ever seen.
Maybe I’d gone nuts—entirely possible—but sexual tension crackled between us like heat lightning. I forgot about fatigue as every cell in my body went on alert.
Her gaze met mine, then slid away. “No need to come by. I’m fine.”
“I’m not. Can I come in?”
She stepped back and let me pass while I tried to figure out how to justify being here at 4a.m. without admitting to crazed lust. Of course she wasn’t worried that I’d attack her—the enchantress gift comes with a major talent for self defense. But she was still way skittish.
The apartment was really nice. Glad to have a neutral topic, I said, “It looks like you’re in New York for a while?”
“I was working in London in computers, and my company just transferred me here.” She crossed to a window and stared out at the lights of the city, her arms crossed tightly in front of her. The golden velvet robe might be monkish, but the graceful body underneath sure wasn’t.
“Of course, that’s only my day job,” she continued. “I imagine you’ve heard of the Protection Project? I’m also here to strengthen New York’s shielding.”
I’d heard of the project, of course. Guardians around the world and across nations and ethnicities all worked to protect the great cities and historical sites from terrorism. We weren’t always successful, but we’d prevented a whole lot of grief, especially in the Mideast. It made sense that someone as powerful at shielding as Maggie would be part of that. “As a resident of New York, I give you my thanks.”
“I need to thank you as well.” Her profile was as still and elegant as a Greek sculpture. “First for protecting me with your own body when that maniac was shooting the shop up. Then for taking Shark down with your tinned soup.”
“Sometimes physical action beats magic.” I really should go home, but I couldn’t bear to leave. I needed something from her. A sign of interest, maybe. Not easy to imagine when she looked like a porcupine.
Abruptly I realized why she was prickly. I said quietly, “It must be hard to be an enchantress and always have to be on your guard against men going crazy over you.”
“You have no idea.” Her laughter was brittle. “I had to learn shielding as soon as I could walk.”
I was getting better at reading her, for I caught a fleeting impression of an unhappy love affair in London. Guardian emotions run deep. Falling for some idiot who lusted after her body and didn’t care about her brains and bravery and uniqueness had devastated her. That’s why she’d taken the job in New York.
“Owenses mate for life,” I said baldly. “As soon as you walked in the door, I knew. I don’t expect you to feel the same way now, but I rather desperately want the chance to persuade you to take me seriously. Roses and canned soup and chess games in the park. Whatever you want.”
She turned, startled. “How did you know about the chess…? Of course, you’re a Guardian. And a rather powerful one.”
“The world always needs healers, and it’s the main thing I’m good at.” I dropped my internal shields so she could probe if she wanted to. “See for yourself.”
I felt a light, hesitant brush on the edges of my energy field. Then a stronger touch as she began to relax. I felt like a cat being petted.
“My mother said it’s best to find someone who thinks I look good even in the morning when my hair is wild and my eyes are half closed,” she said thoughtfully.
“I’m entirely willing to find out.” I looked into her honey brown eyes and felt myself falling, falling, falling. “But I already know the answer is yes. You’ll look wonderful even then. Just like you do now.”
She looked startled. “I’ve got my allure clamped down to zero. You shouldn’t be able to pick up any enchantress magic at all.”
“You’re still the most attractive woman in Manhattan, and there’s serious competition here.” I stood very still as her energy reached deeper and deeper, as erotic as if she’d dropped her robe on the floor. Reaching out to her with my own energy, I said, “It’s not just your looks. It’s your brains and your courage in facing down those robbers. That was…amazing. Worthy of the most famous of your Macrae ancestors.”
“You really know how to charm a woman, Dr. Owens,” she said with a slow, dazzling smile. Her shields went down and she began to glow, her warmth and sensuality enfolding me even though we weren’t touching. Her living room was full of swirling golden light as our energy fields danced and twined together. This was unleashed enchantress power, I realized. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.
“Not a doctor yet, but soon.” Her openness produced a rush of relief so intense I felt downright giddy. To her inner sight, I probably sparkled like skyrockets. “I have no serious vices, I like kids and animals, and I clean up fairly well.”
“You look rather fine now, in a down market sort of way.” She frowned as she read me more deeply. “Heavens, you have your last exam in a few hours! You need to get beyond that before thinking about mating for life.”
“You’re right,” I agreed. “Will you go out to dinner with me tonight, after the exam is over and I’ve showered and caught a few hours of sleep?”
“I have a better plan.” Maggie crossed the room with gliding steps and reached up to rest her hands on my shoulders. Her burning, sexy hands. “You have a fine set of shoulders,” she murmured as she skimmed her hands over them and down my arms.
“I’m supposed to be the healer,” I said huskily. “But you could raise the dead.”
Maggie laughed, not displeased. “Now you will go in my bathroom and take a shower while I throw those appalling garments into the wash.” She kissed my left cheek. “Then we will both lie down on my bed and sleep.” She kissed my right cheek. “Nothing else, but the energy exchange of being close will enable you to recover enough to pass your pharmacology exam so you needn’t think more about that.”
I slid my fingers into her shimmering hair. “Yes, ma’am. Whatever you say.”
“Then you will come back here, and we shall not leave the apartment for the next week.” Her lips met mine, and we connected in a blaze of pure transformation. This, I realized hazily, was what the ancient Guardians called an alchemical marriage. Two souls bonding till death did us part. And it could happen in an instant.
I wrapped my arms around her slim, provocative body, and we fell into each other. “Are you sure nothing happens when we go to bed?” I breathed. “There is more than one way to share energy and be revitalized.”
She laughed and stepped from the embrace. “You wish to play doctor? We’ll see, Charles. We’ll see.”
I caught her hand and kissed it. She blushed adorably, heat radiating from her as she gave me a gentle push in the direction of the shower. I headed to the bathroom wearing a smile that could light up Manhattan.
Who said that nothing ever happened on Tuesdays?
Copyright © 2009 by Mary Jo Putney.
Heart's Kiss Magazine: Issue 1: February 2017
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor