A light snow fell as Charlie Reardon left the diner and made his way down Madison Street. It drifted onto his bare arms and he sighed and looked over at his lover, Esmee. She smiled sweetly at him.
“Really, Ms. Banion?” he asked her. He slid the strap of her turquoise sundress back up to her shoulder with a finger.
She cocked her head to the side. “You said you were hot.”
He shook his head. Esmee was a magical investigator who worked part-time for the firm, and they’d been dating for nearly three years now. When they met he’d been working to discharge a magical item on his client’s behest before it fell into the hands of his children. She skipped next to him, out of range of the snow cloud, until they reached the door of O’Rourke, Parks and Ritter. They specialized in wills, trusts, and a few forays into corporate protections. The snow cloud hovered a few feet over Charlie’s head. He shivered as flakes fell down the back of his neck.
“Are you coming in with me?” he asked. Esmee didn’t have her own office in the place, but she was always welcome to stake out the conference room or his office. Mr. O’Rourke liked her. Heck, she even got on with Tristan.
She considered. Her eyes narrowed at the doors for a moment. “No, I’m going to be at the park collecting fairies.” She kissed his cheek. “Enjoy your snow-showers.” She winked at him and a sparkle danced across her nose.
Charlie stepped into the foyer and shook the snow off. It fell onto the rubber mats and melted. The guard at the front desk raised his brows. “Do I want to know, Mr. Reardon?”
“Oh, Jimmy, I’m not sure I want to know.”
“Mr. O’Rourke’s on the warpath.”
“Great.” Charlie grimaced. He cast an invisibility spell and hurried to his office. He was late getting back from lunch and in no mood to fix someone else’s mistake.
“I can see the door opening, Reardon.” O’Rourke’s voice emanated from his office like the growl of an angry dragon.
“You better have a suit on, or have one in your office. Conference room in five minutes.”
“Yes, sir.” Charlie’s shoulders dropped. He changed his shirt for a light blue button-down and a watercolor tie with protection runes woven into it. He put on his suit coat. Then, he released the invisibility spell and tucked his hair behind his ear.
He settled in one of the plush red leather chairs and spun it around idly as he waited. He tapped out a rhythm on the cherry-wood table with his index fingers. O’Rourke shut the door behind himself. Charlie popped to his feet.
“Sit down. You’re not in trouble. Yet.”
“Livingstone lost the Parker family today.”
Charlie winced. The Parkers had been with O’Rourke, Parks and Ritter for fifty years. They were the founding family of the town. “What did he do?”
“He accosted Juliet. In the office. In front of her father.” The senior partner looked pained.
“Do I need to check him into a treatment facility or turn him into a frog?”
“Can you manage a dog? We can teach him to fetch.” O’Rourke raised his brows.
Charlie’d have to check the man for spells before he did anything though. Livingstone attempting to sexually harass a client seemed out of character. “Sure. Can’t promise what kind of dog though.”
O’Rourke waved a hand. “Who cares about that? Go grovel at the feet of the Parkers. Get that account back.”
“Parker senior hates me.”
“Junior hates Livingstone. Senior just thinks you’re lazy. Go prove him wrong.” The senior partner considered. “And for God’s sake don’t turn his car into a horse again.”
“Yes, sir.” It was a unicorn, not a horse anyway. “Today, sir?”
“Right now. After you put Livingstone on a leash.”
“Yes, sir.” Charlie went in search of his colleague. Paul Livingstone—Stone to his co-workers and friends– was packing his office.
“Oh God. He’s going to put me in an aquarium.” His eyes bugged out and his voice cracked on the last word. Stone couldn’t do a lick of magic. He, like Mr. O’Rourke, was completely normal. Charlie and Tristan were the only magic users in the office, beyond Esmee’s part-time help. Tristan threatened Stone with frog-hood almost daily.
“No, he’s not. Just calm down.” Charlie closed the door. “You and Juliet Parker, huh? What happened?”
Paul dropped into his chair and buried his face in his hands. “We’ve been dating for about a year. Her father walked in on us in my office. He wasn’t supposed to be coming in today.”
“Shit, man.” Charlie ran a hand through his hair. “Does she like dogs?”
“Loves them, why?”
“Because O’Rourke wants you on a leash.” Charlie thought for a moment. “You love her? She loves you?” One of the charges that came with his grandmother’s training was to protect love.
“Then everything will work out just fine.”
A few minutes later, he walked out of the building with a well-groomed Golden Retriever. It wore a tie instead of a collar. Charlie opened his grandfather’s gold-handled umbrella to repell the snow that was drifting lazily from his own personal cloud. It didn’t have any magical properties, but it made him feel better. “Stay with me, Stone.” The dog huffed, but followed him. He stopped for a moment, staring at the snowflakes that surrounded them. He growled. “It’s okay, boy. Let’s go to the park. You can run after fairies.”
Charlie knew Livingstone was in for a few shocks. No matter how common-place magic was, most humans still couldn’t accept that magical creatures existed. Most people couldn’t see fairies, but dogs definitely could. From what he could tell dogs could see all kinds of magic. Parkerville was a mixed community of magic-users and mundanes. There were wells of magic that dotted the landscape – hiding under buildings, in gardens, and the park. It attracted the attention of all manner of creatures. Luckily, the founding families had cast a shield that kept many of the more dangerous prying eyes from noticing their town. Charlie had grown up here and would die here. Stone bounded out across the street to the park and Charlie jogged after him.
The park was a gorgeous expanse of emerald green grass, dotted with willow trees and crepe myrtles, and multi-colored planting beds. Esmee was kneeling near one of the tea-rose bushes with a goldfish net. Charlie could see the tell-tale sparkles of fairdust on the leaves. Fairies were not sentient. They were magical butterflies. Fairy dust was expensive if you didn’t collect it yourself and Esmee used it in half of the protective charms she sold. Esmee greeted the enthusiastic retriever with a friendly hug and ruffled his fur.
“A love curse? Are you matchmaking?” She looked up at Charlie. “You, sir, are a complete mush. How did you graduate from law school again?” He offered his hand like a gentleman. She used it as she stood.
“That is why I specialize in wills and marriage contracts, sweetheart.” That reminded him. He needed to pull together a sample contract for Esmee before he proposed to her.
“Oh, tell me I get to see it all play out.” She tucked herself against his side and under the protection of the umbrella.
“Of course. I’m going to grovel at the eldest Parker’s feet and convince him it’s a legit curse in punishment for Stone’s forward behavior.”
“Isn’t his wife a witch? She can confirm it.”
He nodded, hoping that would be the case. “Come, Stone. Let the fairies go.”
The dog wuffed one last time at the colorful creatures before following the couple out of the park. Stone darted in front of them and then behind them, chasing the magical sparkles that Esmee trailed out for him. She laughed at his antics. “Can I keep him if she doesn’t want him?”
Charlie snorted. “Of course. You could teach him to corner fairies.”
The Parkers lived in the oldest house in the town. It had a large wrought iron gate around it. The garden they could see through it was strewn with magical herbs and a glowing blue vortex held in stasis over the fountain. Fairies danced in the bushes and there was a green squirrel chewing on a nut at the base of the ancient walnut tree that stood to the left of the gate. The branches had been trained into a protective symbol.
“That can’t be good.” Charlie eyed the vortex. It hadn’t been there last time.
Esmee rolled her eyes. “Just ring the bell and try to look harmless.” Her eyes darted to the vortex. “Or that thing will eat you.”
“Just me?” He raised his brows.
“I didn’t turn Mr. Parker’s classic car into a horse.”
“It was a unicorn! And that was years ago.” Charlie had been just out of college and showing off. The idea had been to turn the classic Mustang into an actual mustang and then return it to its normal appearance. He hadn’t factored in standing on a magical well. Somehow, the magical well, combined with his will, and the presence of two virgins had turned the car into a unicorn. It refused to turn back. Charlie had avoided the senior Mr. Parker ever since. A white head peered around the corner of the house. Its horn glowed with multi-colored sparkles. “See, they kept him. Even he can’t hold a grudge that long?” Esmee and Stone both looked at him in disbelief. It was all the more galling to see that look on a dog’s face. Charlie managed a grimace in response instead of a confident smile. He rang the bell.
“Yes?” the voice from the speaker said.
“I’m here to see Mr. Parker senior to offer amends from Mr. O’Rourke.”
There was a long pause. Charlie forced himself to not fidget. It would look bad. Stone jumped up and put his paws up on the gate. It swung open, accompanied by a loud buzz.
Esmee’s lips twisted up into a sneer. “My poor ears. Sounds like a banshee in a blender.”
They were greeted at the door by a young woman wearing an old-fashioned maid’s outfit. “Mrs. Parker will see you in the parlor.” She looked down at Stone. The dog looked up at her, tongue lolling out of his mouth. She very carefully did not sigh as she stepped aside to let them in.
Charlie furled his umbrella. The maid didn’t offer to take it. In fact, she seemed dead set on not touching them or anything having to do with them. The matriarch of the house was seated in a wicker wheelchair. Her hair was white, shot through with traces of brown. “Come here, pup.” She held her hand out for Stone to smell. He licked her fingers, then put his head under them to ask for a scratch. She scratched behind his ears. “My husband and I were terribly disappointed that none of our children showed the slightest interest or aptitude for magic.” She scratched under Stone’s chin. He looked up at her with adoring eyes.
“Ma’am, Mr. O’Rourke sent me to apologize for Mr. Livingstone’s actions this afternoon.”
Mrs. Parker clucked her tongue. “For his actions? No, that won’t do.” Her fingers stopped moving. “A love curse? Truly?” She peered at the dog. “A classic one at that. I appreciate a youngster who still uses the classics.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.” Charlie ran a hand through his hair.
“And just what are you looking for here?”
“Our lawyer, yes.”
“He sent me to apologize for Livingstone’s behavior and to ask Mr. Parker to reconsider taking his business to Howe and Sons.”
“What? Which fool fired him?”
Mrs. Parker snorted. She rubbed Stone’s ears. “You’re a good boy. Yes, you are.” She looked up at the young couple. “Sit down.”
They settled on the loveseat and were soon supplied with ice tea sweet enough to give their grandchildren diabetes and homemade snickerdoodles. Mrs. Parker quizzed them about the strength of the curse and which variation Charlie preferred when setting the duration. “I go for the normal human lifespan.”
“I was always fond of the eternal torment aspect myself.”
“Mother?” Parker Junior stood in the door. “I fired the O’Rourke firm.”
“You’re an idiot and Mr. Reardon here will be changing my will to reflect that.”
Her son’s face turned purple. “But, Mother.”
“Now, Esmee, honey, have you gotten hand-fasted to Charlie yet, or are you waiting for him to ask?”
Esmee laughed. “I’m giving it another month. I expect he’s waiting for our anniversary to ask for a formal year and a day. I’ll be sure to send an invitation.”
Note to self, Charlie thought, buy a ring. “Do you think Miss Parker would like to have Stone?”
“She loves animals. It’s good of you to remember.” Mrs. Parker’s eyes crinkled up at the corners. “You’d be surprised how useful having a unicorn on the property is. Millard, call Juliet.”
Parker Junior’s fingers fisted. “Yes, Mother,” he said through clenched teeth. He spun on his heel and stomped off.
“Purple is such an unflattering color on him.” Esmee sipped her tea.
“Just like his father.”
“You wanted to see me, Grandmother?”
Juliet Parker’s eyes were red. Her spiky hair was standing up in odd clumps. Half of it was blue, the rest black.
“Oh, sweetie.” Esmee said. She stood and gathered the younger woman into a firm embrace. Charlie smiled at the sight. Stone’s tail started to wag. He loped across the room and jumped up to rest his front paws on Juliet’s hip.
Juliet laughed. “Down, boy.” Stone dropped to all fours. His tail wagged strongly enough to make his whole back end move. “And who’s this?”
“This is Stone. He’s yours,” Esmee said. “He’ll take good care of you, if you let him.”
“Oh, he’s precious.” Juliet went down on one knee to properly pet him. “I remember you,” she said looking at Charlie. “You gave me my unicorn.” That explained it. Juliet wishing innocently and him wanting to please must have been what messed up the spell. She grinned at him. “Took Grandfather three years to stop trying to reverse the change.”
Charlie felt his cheeks heat. “As long as he eventually decided that shooting me wasn’t an option.”
Juliet shook her head. “We’re much more traditional – hanging followed by burning. Don’t worry. Mother likes you and Daddy won’t cross her.”
“Will you take care of Stone?” he asked.
“Of course. Grandmother, what was it you needed?”
“Mr. Reardon brought Stone over as part of his firm’s apology. You deserve him more than your father.”
“Thank you.” She looked down at the dog. “Let’s go down to the garden, Stone.”
The door closed behind them quietly. Esmee instantly joined the Parker matriarch at the window. “If he transforms and Mr. Parker doesn’t see it, will he accept the outcome?” Charlie asked. Charlie wove his tie through his fingers. If Mr. Parker didn’t accept that Livingstone and Juliet were meant to be together, that it was true love, he’d have just made things worse. Even with Mrs. Parker on his side, there was a chance that he’d still pull the family’s business from the firm. If the Parker’s left, most of the old families would follow. O’Rourke would fire him and Livingstone for that.
“Even in this day and age, a magical contract is enforceable.” Esmee smirked. “Didn’t they cover that at Harvard?”
Charlie gave her a tight smile. No job, no hand-fasting, no house. This was important damn it. “Ha. Ha. I was hoping not to be shot at before I got Mr. O’Rourke to draw up the paperwork.”
“Come here.” Esmee held out her hand. Charlie joined the ladies at the large picture window. Juliet was sitting on the fountain and crying into Stone’s fur. Esmee’s fingers were warm in his hand. Juliet wiped her eyes on her sleeve. Then, she pressed a kiss to Stone’s furry snout.
The dog transformed into Livingstone with a showy display of red and white sparks that included a heart that hung suspended in midair over their heads. Juliet threw her arms around his neck, laughing.
“Mush,” Charlie’s girlfriend stated.
“Esmee?” Screw planning, rings, and contracts.
He held both of her hands in his. “Will you give me a year and a day?”
“Of course.” She kissed his nose.
“I witness this union,” Mrs. Parker stated with relish. That was as good as a judge’s signature in this county. “Two bondings in one day. And a new will to write. You’ll take care of that won’t you, Mr. Reardon?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Charlie loved happy endings.
Eoen Anderson is a thirty-something daydreamer with a passion for books and writing. She hides out among the cherry blossoms and dogwoods of DC.