Harper Hickes has brewed up a little love potion to sell in Hedgewick’s, her bookstore, on Valentine’s Day. But Hedgewick’s is not a normal bookstore and Harper is not a normal bookstore owner. She’s a witch. And that love potion? It really works- just not quite the way she planned.
This Valentine’s Day, quite a few unsuspecting customers are about to experience Harper’s own private OTK fantasy, unless she can figure out a way to stop it. With the help of her best friend, the handsome and somewhat severe Damien, Harper just might be able to find a counterspell in time, but one thing is for certain: Someone’s going to get spanked this Valentine’s Day!
Harper Hickes swept into the parking lot of 1800 Plaza, a non-descriptive name that perfectly non-described the shops and offices that occupied it. Most of the buildings were empty still, with weathered FOR LEASE banners flapping in the chill February wind. Of those in business, there was a wholesale hot tub and spa outlet store, a specialty kitchen accessories shop that sold things like whimsical aprons and cookie jars shaped like walruses, the office of a tax attorney with the unfortunate name of Simon Broke and a heavy equipment rental place (they used to rent those freaky flailing inflatable tube people too, but as a result of a stiff breeze a few years back, some litigious old lady had been, as she put it in the suit, “unspeakably assaulted” so now it was just cranes and cherry-pickers). Oh and Hedgewick’s, of course, where Harper both worked and lived, home also to Verity Hedgewick’s Grand Book of Spells.
Harper was a witch, the last twig on the Hedgewick family tree, where being a witch used to go without saying, but in this enlightened modern age, Harper was the only one left of her generation who could get a broom off the ground. Yes, the Hedgewicks had always been witches, but the Hickeses? Schoolteachers and nurses and fast food fry dippers. Practically normals. Half her cousins didn’t even believe in magic.
Harper parked and made a dash for the door through light eddies of snow, holding a haphazard mess of papers over her head as a kind of umbrella. The bell over the door rang out as she came in from the cold and her voice rang out with it, cheerfully unrepentant. “I’m back!”
“Oh, were you gone?” drawled Damien, not looking up from his book. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Born a scant six months before The Omen would give his parents the world’s worst case of baby name buyer’s remorse, Damien Kaine was Harper’s partner and it was thanks to his business sense and accounting skills that the store was turning a profit even here, in the No Man’s Land of 1800 Plaza. More than that, he was her best friend, something she thought she’d outgrown along with high school until she had it again with him. And if they did some hanging out now and then (okay, every Friday), so what? Friends could hang out and go to movies and occasionally even feel their heart leap whenever another friend smiled that certain way or got that devilish glint in his friendly dark eyes or even pulled a friend close at midnight to start the new year off right with a kiss.
Just friends. It was better this way. Well, maybe not better, but less complicated. Even if it wasn’t for the whole business angle or the witch/normal dynamic or the usual risk of ruining a perfect friendship by trying (and failing) to fall in love too, there was the rest of it. The rest of her. The secret submissive Harper. What would happen when they got to the bedroom and she had to expose… that part of herself? Oh, he might give it a go, but he’d laugh first and treat the whole thing like a joke. Or worse, think ‘submissive’ meant ‘slave’. The last guy Harper had dated kept trying to get her to say she was a filthy little slut who needed a spanking and when she finally complained, had said, “Look, it’s your sick game. I’m just trying to play along!”
She shouldn’t have to be a filthy little anything to get a spanking. A man could be loving and still be dominant, couldn’t he? And a woman could be strong and independent and still submit, just like she could be sexy without being a slut. And in a perfect world, that woman could just walk up to that man and say, “I really like you and I want to try to be with you and also, please spank me,” without fear. But this was not a perfect world and that was her best friend sitting there behind the counter, not to mention her business partner. That man was a man she would have to face for days and weeks and months and maybe even years after she said the word ‘spanking’ and saw his surprise/disbelief/disgust/amusement.
And why was she torturing herself like this? Why, when it was such a great day?
“You look weird,” Damien remarked now, frowning at her.
“I missed you, too,” Harper replied, trying on a smile for size. It almost fit. “And I missed all of you! Hi, guys! Hello, Mrs. Emerson! Aunt Agatha! So good to see you!”
The loose collection of people on the coffee side of the store hailed her in waves. The two or three other customers browsing the shelves seemed startled by this unexpected familiarity, but smiled as people will when they perceive themselves caught up as part of a group. Harper tossed out hellos as she shrugged and stomped free of her outer winter layer and threw everything into the Tea Room, which was really just a wide space between the stairs up to her apartment and the bathroom, a space just big enough for the little table and two chairs where she did card readings on request. There was a cupboard under the stairs where she could have hung up her coat and let her boots dry, but Damien had turned it into The Cupboard Under the Stairs?a big hit with kids and parents?and it wouldn’t do to have snow melting all over little Harry’s miserable bed.
“I have the most exciting news,” Harper bubbled, hopping up on the counter beside the cash register.
Damien eyed her bare feet with a distinct lack of excitement. “Do tell.”
“Not yet. Wow, it’s almost seven! Why are we still open?”
“Hint, hint, folks,” Damien remarked and customers obediently began to make their way either toward the counter or the door.
Although Hedgewick’s was ostensibly a bookstore, there were only a few hundred titles, all along the central theme of hedgewitchery and almost evenly split between reference books, popular neo-paganism titles and children’s books. Harper kept a catalogue of the ‘specialty’ stock, but few customers knew to ask for it and that was how she liked it. Harper didn’t mind having normals in the shop?wiccans with their candles and crystals paid the lease, after all?but there were limits to how far she’d go to humor them. Real magic was best left to real witches and it was just as simple as that. There was only one spellbook in the store and that would be the one Harper kept in a cabinet behind safety glass, under lock and key, but open so that the first marvelous page could be clearly read by those able to decipher the faded, spidery scrawl.
“This being Veritie Hedgewick’s own Book, a Grand Book of Spylls, containing the Antient and Moderyn Practice of the Art & fhewing the wondrous Effects that may be performed by a Knowledge of the Natural and Celestial properties of Herbs, Metals and Stones. Also containing Alchymy. Also those Chants, Charms and Constellatory practices by which might be brought out magical Power inherent in the Soul through a great variety of rare Experiment. Also a number of Treatises on the Nature of the Elements, Stars, Planets, Suns and Omens and Signs of manie forts. Also in which the fecret mysteries are explained regarding Spirits and Figures, either good or evil, with manie names being writ for purposes of conjuration. Also recipes for Potions, Pottage and Poultices as well as manie Brews, Salves and foothing Balms. Also containing a collection by Goody Veritie of most Excellent Cookerye by virtue of the fact that this booke came bound with fo manie everlasting pages.”
There were two hundred sixteen separate spells bound up in those ‘manie everlasting pages’ and every one of them, the real deal. Of course, most of them were of questionable merit in this day and age. Not a lot of people looking to cure melancholy hens or bring forth a bounteous reap of barley in ye fields anymore. But there were still one or two little gems hidden among all the folksy anachronisms and Harper had not only found such a gem, but had finally put a prize-winning polish on it and she could hardly wait to tell someone.
Restlessly, Harper chatted with the regulars while Damien rang up sales: a selection of incense and a pentacle nose ring for the sorta-goth teen girl, a set of altar candles for Mrs. Emerson, a very nice Bastet statuette for Amelia MacGuire’s collection, a fairy coloring book and toy wand for Mrs. Fern’s granddaughter, Aunt Agatha’s monthly supply of herbs and essential oils (which the old bird could have easily ordered online herself, but witches of Aunt Agatha’s generation retained a lofty disdain for ‘gadgetry’ of that sort) and a stack of books for a nervous-looking stranger with titles like Sexual Alchemy and The Illustrated Guide to Tantric Massage. After the last of them was out the door (Aunt Agatha toddled off into the cupboard under the stairs and disappeared with a flash of light and a whump of collapsing air), Harper hopped down to lock it and flip the welcome frog from Open to Closed.
“Big news?” Damien prompted, moving over to clean up the coffee area.
“Yep. Where’d I put it? I’ve been working on this for months, off and on, but I had a whatchamacallit, a eureka moment, on my lunch break?”
“Can you still call it a lunch break when you’re gone six hours? Because I call that ditching.”
“Yeah, yeah. If I want to hear my mother’s opinion, I’ll call her. Check it out.” Harper successfully located the page she wanted among the damp and smudged papers that had been her umbrella minutes ago and thrust it out triumphantly.
Damien took it and held it at arm’s length, squinting. He was a man, as he had often explained during his years in her employ and real men did not wear reading glasses. “Warm ye rainwater in which are set the petals of the red rose… ?you’ve crossed that out and wrote infused with rosehips.”
“I sure did.”
“Over a fire of burning mandrake, male and female,” he continued. “And you’ve doodled in some anatomically-improbable plants that appear to be having an orgy while on fire. This sounds familiar. Did you copy it out of Verity’s book?”
“Yup. And perfected it.”
“Perfected what, exactly?”
“That,” said Harper proudly, “is a real-live love potion.”
“Your line is, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. You’re so talented and attractive.'”
His frown deepened. He put the paper down and pushed it away slightly. “You’re not planning on making this, are you?”
“I sure am.”
“What do you mean, for whom? For people. You know.” She waved vaguely at the shop around her. “People.”
Taken aback, Harper began to feel uncomfortably defensive. “Why the tone?”
“You’re planning to sell a magic potion, one that?if I’m understanding you right?is genuinely magic and genuinely works, to Fred and Franny Fluffbunny off the street and you think I’ve got a tone? Your dad would shit kittens if he knew you were doing this!”
“Well, no one’s going to tell him, are they?” Harper snapped back, annoyed. “Why would you even bring him up? I’m almost thirty! Besides, it’s harmless!”
“How can you say that? You’re talking about a love potion, a potion someone sneaks into someone’s drink?”
“No, no-no-no. It’s not like that?”
“?to rob them of their will?”
“No, Damien, listen?”
“?so someone else can have sex with them! How is that harmless?”
“Okay, the scenario you’re describing? Very wrong. This potion? Totally different. I took the basic outline from Verity’s book,” she added, pointing at the glass case where the heirloom book was eternally displayed. “You know she’d never have anything to do with a… a magical roofie!”
Damien frowned over his shoulder at the book. She’d let him look at it a few times?the only normal who’d ever touched, much less read, the family spellbook?and old Verity’s integrity and oddly Puritan attitude had greatly impressed him.
“The old lady made a love potion?” he asked skeptically.
“For ‘renewing marital interest,'” Harper affirmed, “and ‘preventing infidelity’. But my version’s better. First off, it’s extremely temporary. Even Verity’s potion only worked for one night. Mine only works a few hours. And instead of making someone fall in love with you, it just makes the sex out of this world.”
“Magical Viagra, huh?”
“No, no. That’s a completely different potion. No, it makes a… a kind of telepathic thing where everything you want them to do, they want to do to you.”
“They have something for that already. It’s called asking.”
“But that’s the point, isn’t it? People feel weird asking. They want it to be all spontaneous and wild monkey rutting, not some sex-ed lesson with lab coats and laser pointers. So they take this potion?” Harper picked up the paper and shook it meaningfully. “?and they have the best sex of their lives and they think, ‘Wow! That actually worked! I wonder what else at that funny little shop actually works?’ And then they spend all their money here and I can eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again instead of having to pick a condiment.”
“You’re still talking about doping some unsuspecting guy or girl with a potion.”
“No, I’m not! Look, you don’t give my potion to the other guy, you take it yourself. And like I said, it doesn’t affect your perceptions at all. No love, no lust, nothing like that. Just better sex than you were already going to have! What is the downside here?”
“I don’t know…? Isn’t there some law about normals being exposed to real magic?”
“Oh Damien, no one expects stuff like this to be really real. They’ll buy it and tell me how amazing it is, but they don’t really believe it. It’s a fantasy, like tea leaves and blessing stones. Besides,” she said pointedly, “if I obeyed all the rules about normals, you wouldn’t even know there were rules, because talking to them about witches is, like, the first one.”
It was a running joke between them, her only acknowledgment of the very real rule she had indeed broken and continued to break every time she talked to him. ‘You’re a normal,’ she would say and he would smile and say, ‘Not so normal.’
But not this time.
He didn’t smile, didn’t soften in the slightest. “Have you tested it?”
“Uh, no, but I know it’ll work. Come on, show some enthusiasm! It’s the perfect tie-in for Valentine’s Day! I have everything we need for at least four batches and I can order more tonight. What do you say? We’ll close for the weekend, order a couple of pizzas, put on Lord of the Rings and have a hundred bottles on the shelf Monday morning!”
“When were you planning on testing it? And with whom?”
She uttered a puzzled little laugh. “What’s to test? I put it in a pretty bottle and slap a price tag on it and we’re done! You act like it’ll turn people into toads or something if I leave an ingredient out.”
He didn’t smile. “Will it?”
Stung, she recoiled. “Of course not! I know what I’m doing here, Damien!”
“I’d feel better if you ran it past one of your relatives, that’s all.”
“I happen to be better at potions than my entire family. They run stuff past me…? or they would if any of them brewed potions anymore. I’m the expert here and I’m telling you, it’ll work. That ought to be enough for you. Seriously, what is this? I really thought you’d be excited about this with me!” Harper slapped the paper down again, trying to make a joke of her frustration. “I kind of thought you’d, maybe, brew it up with me. You’re always telling me how you want to try magic!”
“It just seems like a bad idea.”
“What? Helping people have great sex? Is Dr. Ruth a bad idea? Is his-n-her lube a bad idea? Is Bad Dragon’s tentacle toy a bad idea?”
“Don’t get prickly.”
“Well, stop shooting me down then! Do you want to help or not?”
He looked at the paper, then at Verity’s book and finally at her. “Not this time,” he said. “Sorry, Harper.”
She threw up her arms and slapped them down on her hips. “Why not? Give me one good reason!”
“It just doesn’t seem right to use magic like this. And to sell it.”
“Oh for… why not? Everyone sells everything these days! Doctors sell their services to sick people! Firefighters and cops get paid for protecting people! Even churches make money! Why shouldn’t I?”
“Magic isn’t a service. It’s a gift. And if I’ve learned anything hanging out around here, it’s that gifts that are abused have a way of turning against their abuser.”
“I’m not abusing anything! I just want to make a little novelty item to sell for the next few weeks so I can make a little extra money!”
“So brew up some non-magical drink and sell that. Your normal customers will be just as happy to buy that and the not-so-normal ones wouldn’t buy it anyway.”
“No. It has to work.”
“Because I can make it work!” she snapped, more sharply than she intended to. “Don’t you get it? I’m a real live witch and I can make a real live potion! You’d rather I lie to people and sell them a total fraud and why? Because apparently all magic is bad!”
“You know I don’t think that.”
“I sure thought I knew that, but I guess I don’t know you as well as I thought I did. You know what? Never mind. I’ll make it myself. You go on home.”
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, Damien.” She gathered up her papers and headed for the stairs. “Lock up when you leave.”