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Seattle, one dreary morning of September
I take a look outside to make sure that it isn’t pouring. My mother has taught me to never use magik in public unless necessary and to carry an umbrella instead of creating a rain-shield for anyone to see. Still, I’m happy that a transparent coat is all I need to venture into the city wild.
I grab Minu, my miniature longhaired dachshund, before closing the door of Lavender & Cinnamon behind me with the help of my generously sized rump. When I step onto the rickety porch of my shop, the streetlamp fizzles, flickering as I hurry toward the bike rack. I force myself to calm and the streetlamp stops the pyrotechnic show. Better.
“Chamomile, Aubrey. You should always have some dry flowers handy to brew an herbal tea.” Gramma’s words come back to me. They always do when I’m in trouble.
Outside of the porch, it’s damp in addition to cold, but I welcome the change in temperature. After baking pastries for four hours, I’m ready to jump into a tub filled with ice, but even a quick shower will have to wait. In less than forty minutes, I need to cross the entire length of the city to talk to Mr. Stuart, my not so nice ultra-billionaire landlord.
Mr. Stuart has been wanting to sell the land under my little pastry shop for some time, and yesterday his secretary called to issue a summons to the jerk’s lair.
I’ve been on pins and needles since the call, and me nervous is never good. I either get into an anxious, almost maniacal need to bake or I eat like there’s no tomorrow. I’m not proud to say that yesterday I managed to bake a storm and also ate an amount of cupcakes and sweet tarts that could satisfy the calorie intake of a family of five, for a week. But who are you to judge?
I jump on my bicycle and secure Minu into her carrier between the handles and start pedaling. While I merge into the light morning traffic, my mind goes into hyper-drive as I think of scenarios.
I’m about to lose my business, years of sweat, literally, and blood, figuratively. And for what? So that a billionaire jerk can build his high-rise where once there was a nice, comfy, neighborly shop where people gathered to have a steaming cup of joe and a soft croissant. Unbelievable.
By the time I’ve reached the mega-corporate glass and stainless-steel skyscraper of Stuart & Stuart, I’ve worked up a shine—Seattle was built on steep hills—and I’m raging mad. After leaning my bicycle against the sterile-looking walls of the building—do they have slaves licking the granite surface clean every night?—I hold onto Minu like a lifesaver and climb the marble staircase leading to the entrance, only to be stopped at the revolving door.
A man in black and silver livery with the monogram AS on his jacket looks down at me—I’m short, pretty much 99% of the population worldwide is taller than me. Well not infants and toddlers, but you get my point: I am not a tall person.
“No animals allowed,” the doorman says, giving Minu a disgusted look.
I snort. “I’m sorry for you.”
It takes a moment for the man to get the joke, but when he does, his face becomes a nice shade of what I would describe as rotten eggplant, which doesn’t do anything for his already unhealthy complexion. I slip inside the revolving door before he can do anything about it, and am already halfway across the lobby when I hear a choked, “No animals allowed.”
Now, I could use my magik to subdue the idiot, but mom taught me manners—and using in public is a big no-no. Also, mortals are blissfully unaware that witches, warlocks, shifters, vampires, and other immortal beings walk amongst them. We really don’t want to out ourselves to a population that is largely bigoted and racist. I mean look at what they have done in the name of religion and race. Imagine what they would do to us.
So, I keep walking toward the desk at the other end of the lobby, instead of casting a spell to teach the idiot some manners and never, ever, look at another pet with that horrid look that told me he isn’t an animal lover.
I am at the desk when a beefy hand grabs my shoulder and jerks me around. “Call security,” he says to the woman behind the desk.
The secretary makes a perfect rendition of that look commonly known as deer-in-the-headlights-stare. Her small mouth opens in an O.
When you are a witch and your mom doesn’t let you use incantations to get out of a scrape, you usually find other ways to proverbially kick the bully in the balls. The result of years in self-denying is that I am a black belt in several martial arts.
“Remove your hand,” I say. Even martial arts have those pesky rules that you must do everything you can to avoid conflict before using your skills.
Fortunately, the doorman doesn’t heed my well-meant warning and starts dragging me toward the exit. I love it when people act according to the script I created in my mind, it makes my life so much more rewarding. The idiot is on the floor before he can even understand what has just happened. A bit of pressure on his wrist when I grabbed his hand and a kick behind his knee, and voila, the big oaf is on the floor, flapping and sputtering.
I walk back to the desk and lower the phone handset from the secretary’s shaky hand. “I’m Aubrey Rose, and I’m here to see Mr. Stuart.”
The secretary keeps opening and closing her mouth until she finally decides to say something. “Seventy-sixth floor. Elevator on the right.” She opens her hand to the side, waving the handset at a lateral hallway.
I thank her—I am a polite person after all—and stroll to the elevator, ready to take on Mr. Jerk and all his corporate bullshit.
The elevator is one of those fancy cabins with a glass wall that looks outside, and as I ride upstairs, I take the time to enjoy the sight of Seattle, shining under sunrays that poke through the soft blanket of clouds. The sky is opening up and the cityscape is mirrored in the Puget Sound, all glass and metal and greens and yellows and oranges, with Mount Rainier’s white dome in the distance. I love this city.
The Emerald City’s beautifully reassuring sight is enough to calm my nerves, and I’m proud to say that when I step out of the elevator, I almost feel civilized.
I enter an elegantly decorated foyer and take in more stainless-steel accents and glass everywhere, complemented by dark-wood, modern-sleek furniture, and humongous floral arrangements of white hydrangeas. The vibe is I’m-too-beautiful-for-you accompanied by the silent warning that I shouldn’t even breathe around here lest I mar this interior designer’s wet dream with my unrefined presence.
There’s a desk on the opposite corner of the room, and a blonde dressed like one of those mannequins at Neiman Marcus holds something to her ear and stares at me with unblinking eyes. From her subtle nodding and whispered ‘yes’ and ‘no’ I figure the secretary is talking to a phone, although I’ve never seen anything as futuristic-looking as the flat device in her hand. Okay, I’m a bit impressed by the display of technology and luxury surrounding me.
Minu decides she doesn’t like the Barbie behind the desk and starts ferociously yapping. The woman’s expression changes from professional-chic to plain horrified.
“Aubrey Rose. I’m here to see Mr. Stuart,” I say, keeping a safe distance from the secretary. Minu doesn’t stop barking.
“No animals—” the woman starts saying.
“Allowed,” I finish for her. “I’ve been told already but Minu suffers from severe anxiety attacks and we don’t want to make her suffer, do we?”
“No animals—” the woman repeats.
Maybe the phone isn’t the only futuristic gadget in this office. Stuart & Stuart might be employing robots instead of people. Who knows?
“Listen, I have an appointment with Mr. Stuart. Someone called me yesterday and said I should be here now. So, I’m here.” I look at the large, black door at the other end of the room.
“Mr. Stuart will receive you shortly,” the secretary hurries to say. “But the dog can’t enter—”
“Unless you want to dog-sit Minu, the dog goes where I go.” I glance at my wristwatch. It’s seven forty-five in the freaking morning. I’m five minutes early. Who gives business appointments at these ungodly hours? “Can I have some coffee?” She should have offered some refreshments already, it’s only polite.
The secretary sputters something that I don’t understand, but she stands and trots toward a brass sculpture that looks like an Indian god. Her heels are so high I wonder how she can walk on them, but she doesn’t falter once, whereas I can trample on invisible pebbles while wearing my Converse. She lowers a lever on the brass sculpture and places a porcelain cup under one of the trunk-like appendages. Before my astonished eyes, the sculpture turns out to be a coffee machine. This place doesn’t cease to surprise me. What’s next, I wonder.
“Please have a seat,” the blonde says, cup and saucer balanced on the palm of her hand as she nods toward a sitting area just outside of the elevator.
I choose one of the white leather sofas, and she places the coffee on the low table at its side. Before she retreats behind her desk, she shoots Minu a warning glance.
“I won’t let her on the leather. Don’t worry,” I say, and she gives me an exhausted smile as if she’s mentally calling the upholstery clinic already.
The coffee is good. Actually, it’s the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, but it’s corporate evil incarnated and I won’t ever say out loud that I’m having an orgasm by just sipping it. Damn, it’s good. And I needed a jolt of caffeine in my system because I left the shop without any, and that was stupid of me.
Meanwhile, the secretary is talking on the phone again. Her rapid eyeblinks and monosyllabic answers makes me think she’s talking about me. My suspicion is confirmed when she cuts a glance at Minu, now happily sleeping half-inside the pouch of my hoodie. I take another look at my watch. Mr. Stuart is ten minutes late already. I start to get pissed off. I’m here five minutes early and the jerk is making me wait? Does he think that my time isn’t as valuable as his? I don’t think so.
“Is Mr. Stuart going to receive me any time soon?” I ask, letting my voice carry across the foyer louder than necessary. Minu wakes and barks at the glass lamp on the coffee table.
The woman winces. “He will be seeing you soon.”
“He will be seeing me in less than five minutes or I’ll go.” I caress Minu’s fur and she stops the ruckus at once.
Four minutes later, as promised, I stand. “Tell your boss that the next time he wants to talk to me, he comes to my place. But call first because I’m busy.”
I am already at the elevator when the blonde squeaks, “Miss Rose, you can’t leave!”
“Says who?” I snort, waving at her as I push the elevator’s button.
“Mr. Stuart what?” The numbers on the elevator display illuminate as the cabin ascends from the bottom floor.
“Mr. Stuart will be mad—” The woman gasps as if she hadn’t meant to say the words.
I turn and see that in fact it looks like she’s having a stroke or something. She definitely didn’t mean to let me know that bit of information.
“What is he going to do to you if I leave?” I ask. The elevator door opens, but I stride in the opposite direction toward the desk.
“Nothing—” Her eyes fearfully cut toward the black door.
I’ve had enough. Secretary Barbie is not the kind of person I’d be friends with, but she doesn’t deserve to get fired because of me.
At the last moment, instead of stopping at the desk, I veer to the side and reach for the door.
“What are you doing?” the woman asks.
I hear the panic in her voice, but when I am in this state of mind where I must act on my instincts there’s nothing that can stop me.
“Mr. Stuart is with his lawyer. Nobody can disturb him when he’s with his lawyer!” The secretary walks toward me.
My hand is already lowering the door handle when she screams, “Stop!”
And that’s when my day takes a turn for the completely unexpected and definitely adult rated.
I cover Minu’s innocent eyes as I gawk at a scene straight from a porn movie. Okay, a very classy version of a porn. You know a high-budget production. Not that I’m an expert or anything on the matter, mind you. Anyway. An athletic and rather young stud is standing behind a woman, who’s bent on the desk. The man’s pants are down to his ankles. The woman’s skirt is on the floor, alongside her panties. You know where I’m going with this, right? I know you do.
To be continued…
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