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Excerpt for Pick your Poison by Michelle L. Teichman by , available in its entirety at Smashwords























Pick Your Poison



Michelle L. Teichman





Copyright © 2017, Michelle L Teichman

Dirt Road Books, Inc


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording, printouts, information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons living or dead or to business establishments or events is coincidental.





Pick Your Poison



This was not happening again. If Elektra—that impertinent, booby, show-off—managed to close this deal, it would be the third time that quarter she’d taken business away from Maddy’s company.

Maddy was not going to let that happen.

“I understand that Paris Corp’s bid is lower, but ours is more fair.” Maddy pushed her portfolio back under Dennis Nixon’s nose, effectively shoving Elektra and Paris Corp’s proposal out of the spotlight. “Our contract includes fifty more consulting hours.”

The boardroom was stuffy, and even Maddy was sweating in her blouse, but for Elektra to take off her blazer and reveal her sleeveless, alabaster, cowl neck cashmere top—along with her perfect cinnamon-brown cleavage—seemed dramatic, and Maddy could only look askance at her competitor while she closed the deal that should have been hers.

“Look here.” Elektra leaned over Dennis Nixon, slowly dragging her perfectly French-manicured finger across the page, as her silky black hair billowed forward, spilling over her shoulders and practically onto his. “The Madeline Group may be offering more hours, but we’re guaranteeing the job will be done in your time frame. And here…” She flipped the page of the contract and leaned farther forward, her breasts practically caressing the top of Nixon’s hands. “Our services come in at twenty percent less. After the project is finished, we can pop some bubbly and spend as many hours as you want toasting our mutual success. Who needs extra consulting hours when you’ll get the job done right and on your terms?” Elektra’s smile was wicked, and it took mere moments for it to be reflected on Nixon’s face. She’d caught the old goat—hook, line, and bra size.

“Well, I can’t argue with that logic.” Nixon put down his pen, removed his reading glasses, and closed the contract. “I’m sorry, Madeline, but I’m going to have to award this one to Paris Corp.”

Hate was too weak a word to describe the way Maddy felt about Elektra. In fact, Maddy found herself drowning in ineffability as she bit back bile and forced her best counterfeit smile into place. When she spoke, it came out more like a snarl. “Of course. May you have good fortune with your endeavour.”

It was wise to leave. She’d give anything in that moment to have some kind of supernatural ability, any power that would allow her to reach into Elektra’s skull and melt it with her mind. But, alas, she was a mere corporate executive, and the only power left to her in this meeting was the ability to get her parking validated on the way out.

Maddy snapped her portfolio shut, nodded a nonverbal farewell to Dennis Nixon and left the boardroom. Once in the building’s hallway and out of sight, she exhaled forcefully. It wasn’t fair. Her work was just as good as Elektra Paris’. To lose a few jobs to the competition was to be expected, but to lose every job to the same infuriating woman was just too much. They were both in their late thirties, both business-minded and clever, and had even attended the same business school, so why did Elektra always walk out on the winning end of the contract? It was maddening.

All she wanted now was a good, stiff drink. It would take some of the edge off, or at least she hoped it would. Linda and Bee were having her over for dinner that night, and they were never stingy about providing an open bar. Before Maddy could reach the elevator and get out of the forsaken office tower, her cell phone vibrated. She checked the call display and swallowed her remaining venom before she answered.

“Linda, hi.” Maddy tried to force a smile into her voice. “I was just about to head over.”

“Perfect. I hate to do this, but could you pick something up on your way?” Linda asked, her voice both hopeful and reticent.

Maddy decided to give her a break. It wasn’t her best friend’s fault she’d had a shit day at work. “Sure, what do you need? Make it quick, I’m heading into an elevator.”

“Great, thanks. Bee says we need some saffron.”

She paused before getting on the elevator. “Saffron? Where am I supposed to get that?”

“Apparently Bulk Barn might have it. In the spice aisle.”

Maddy squeezed the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. “Okay, I think there’s one kind of on the way. I should be there in an hour.” The elevator doors dinged and opened, and she stepped in. “That’s everything?”

“Yeah, thanks, Maddy. You’re the best. See you soon.”

She nodded. “You will, and you better have a drink waiting for me.”

Linda laughed. “I will, and—”

Whatever else Linda was going to add was cut off when the elevator doors closed and Maddy’s reception went out.

It wasn’t until she pulled up to the exit gate that she realized she’d forgotten to get her parking validated.

“Twenty dollars,” the man in the booth said, his hand out and expectant.

After fishing out a twenty and handing it to him, she swore under her breath and peeled out of the underground lot as soon as the gate arm lifted. Her wheels hit the street, and rain began to pelt her windshield. This just wasn’t her day.

As if the rain weren’t enough, she’d landed herself right in the middle of rush hour traffic, and the flashing red and blue lights a block up indicated there was at least one accident ahead.

To hell with this.

Unsure where she was going, but just needing to keep moving, Maddy inched her way forward until she was able to pull down an unknown, one-way street. It wasn’t as if she’d stumbled into some dangerous territory five minutes from Bay Street—Toronto’s trading and economic core—but she’d never been down this road before. As she looked around, most of the signs were old. Some were even hand-painted.

She eased her foot off the gas, and took in her surroundings. The dark and rainy October evening certainly didn’t detract from the eeriness as people in hooded raincoats ducked into stores and between buildings. Her hurry to get out of the car-clogged road a moment ago dissipated as she tried to suss out where she was. She’d ended up in Chinatown, or one of the streets on its outskirts, anyway. Up ahead, there was a small store with two bright red Chinese lanterns on either side of the sign. The hand-painted gold on wood read: Spice of Life.

A few metres up, someone was vacating a parallel spot. Maddy pulled over, sliding her sedan into it easily. She put the car into park but didn’t exit. Instead, she sat there, radio off. The only sound was the rain falling on the roof and windshield, pinging and pounding as if in a song just for her. It was soothing as she watched the store and waited, but for what, she wasn’t sure. No one went in or out, but if the lights were on, the store must still be open. Besides, she was sure as hell that Bulk Barn didn’t carry saffron, but maybe this place did.

With the rain coming down hard, she’d have to beeline it to the store. Unfortunately, she’d left her umbrella at home, and her trench coat didn’t have a hood. Still, she popped the collar, put her fingers on the door, inhaled deeply, and pulled at the handle.

Outside the car, she took a second to check both sides of the road and then dashed across the street and entered the store at a jog. Thunder split the sky behind her. She opened the glass door and it shook. A bell jangled loudly above her head, joining the cacophony just as the door slammed shut behind her.

The aromas in the shop quickly created sensory overload, pulling her forward and taking over her body. Gone were sight, touch, sound, and taste. It was as if her entire being was surrounded—and controlled—by smell, and the rest of her senses went silent in the presence of its power. All at once, a dozen different memories were triggered, and like a rope being pulled in many different directions, Maddy’s mind was grasped and tangled—the soothing floral notes of honey and lavender from her grandmother’s washroom soap as a child; the headiness of cardamom and cumin that had overpowered her first girlfriend’s apartment; and the spiciness of curry and cayenne from her favourite Indian restaurant. They all battled for dominance, but it was the sweetness of cinnamon, the spice that seemed by sight, smell (and she imagined taste) to embody Elektra Paris that finally won out and grounded her, bringing her back to that day and her present reality. She took in a long, deep breath, opened her eyes—when had she closed them?—and slowly, her other senses returned.

The store was small. Smaller than it had looked from the outside. To her right was a counter with a cash register, but it was unmanned. She peeked around the corner, down the first aisle, but no one was there. At the end of the row there was a solid white door with a gold handle. It was closed.

“Can I help you?”

The voice made Maddy jump, though it was gentle and calm. With her heart pounding, she put a hand to her chest as she turned around.

In front of her stood a short old man. He was clean-shaven with a shock of white hair. He was dressed in a navy suit that was frayed at the cuffs and lapels, and his white dress shirt appeared to have yellowed with time.

“Yes, sorry, you gave me a scare. I was just passing by and I saw that you sell spices.”

“Yes,” he said slowly, somehow stretching the three-letter word out over several moments. “We have many spices.” He extended his short arm down one of the aisles. “More than I think someone like you might know what to do with.”

What was that supposed to mean? Was it possible that on top of her shit-for-luck day, she was now also being insulted by some strange, little old man?

“I…” she started, but her temper softened when she noticed the smile on the man’s worn face. It made a marked difference in his features, which a moment ago had all appeared to be pulled down.

His smile curved the laugh lines around his mouth, and turned up the deep creases of his eyes. It was warm and friendly, and it soothed her.

Maddy cleared her throat. “I’m looking for saffron,” she said.

“Ah…” Again, he drew the word out and nodded, as if it had many meanings.

When he stepped away from her, she waited, but when he kept going wordlessly down the aisle, she figured he’d intended her to follow.

This row was filled on both sides with deep plastic bins carrying dozens of spices. Some of them looked familiar, but many she didn’t recognize. None of the bins were labeled.

Three-quarters of the way down the aisle, he stopped and pointed to one of the lower bins. It housed long, dried, dark red strands, all tangled up together. Though she’d heard the word many times, this was the first time she’d actually seen saffron.

“This is it?” she asked.

The old man nodded sagely.

“How much do I need?”

“What is it you want it for?”

“It’s for a friend. She asked me to pick some up. I think it’s for dinner.”

He grabbed a small plastic bag from beside the bin, shook it open with a flick of his wrist, lifted the lid, and with his bare hand made a claw. He drew the stringy, red spice into his hand, pulled it out, and deposited it into the bag.

Unsanitary, sure, but where else was she going to find saffron between Bay Street and the Lakeshore?

“Thanks, I—”

The old man held up his index finger, and for some strange reason, Maddy actually stopped and waited patiently.

“You have what you asked for,” he said and held the bag out to her, “but not what you came for.”

She took the bag from his hand, but her brow lowered in confusion. “This is saffron, right?”

“Yes, yes,” he said slowly, and began to walk again, but instead of heading to the cash register at the front, he continued deeper down the aisle, and for whatever reason, she followed him. That was, until he reached for the golden handle of the white door at the back of the store.

Images of him telling her to step inside and then pushing her down a flight of stairs flashed through her mind. As Maddy took a shaky step backward, she pictured him drying out her organs, smashing them up into powder, and putting them in one of his plastic bins.

“You know, I think this is good. How much do I owe you for the saffron?”

The old man stopped, his hand still on the handle, and spoke but did not turn around. “Do you want to go now with the saffron for your dinner, or you do want to leave with your heart’s desire?”

My heart’s desire is to leave here in one piece.

The man chuckled softly. “It is a silly woman who blames circumstance for her shortcomings.”

“Excuse me?” Creepy but cute old dude notwithstanding, this guy had just stepped way out of line.

“A strong woman does not sulk when things do not go her way. A strong woman makes things go her way.”

Okay, so that was some seriously awesome advice, but what the hell? Every warning bell in Maddy’s mind told her to drop the saffron and hightail it out of there. Despite her brain’s best intentions, she stayed rooted to the back of the shop as her own personal Yoda opened the solid white door and reached inside. A moment later he pulled out a small, glass phial of liquid and held it out to her. It was clear and innocuous looking, but who the hell had phials of anything lying around in secret back rooms if their lab coat didn’t read Dr. Jekyll?

The truth was, when she reached for it slowly and finally grasped the phial in her hands, the whole thing was rather anticlimactic. Thunder didn’t roll. Lightning didn’t strike. Neither of them laughed maniacally. She began to suspect the small container held nothing more than scented water or perfume, an odd but harmless and inane trinket for the likes of a silly woman such as herself.

“Now, come.” He closed the door and led her back to the front of the spice shop, where he stepped behind the cash register. “The price is thirty-three dollars.”

“Whoa, wait. How much is this thing?” Maddy held up the offending phial.

“That is a gift, but the saffron is not cheap. Most expensive spice in the world.”

“Figures,” Maddy muttered as she pulled her wallet from her purse. “Credit?” she asked, and he nodded. She fished for her travel credit card and entered her PIN. No point in wasting an opportunity to get reward miles.

The shop was eerily quiet as they waited for the purchase to go through, and after a few moments, she could stand the silence no longer. “So, what is this anyway? What am I supposed to do with it?” She showed him the phial one more time before tucking it into her purse.

“When the time is right, you’ll know.”

“What?” She tilted her head to the side. “It’s not poison, is it?”

“Of a kind.” He nodded sagaciously. “It’s a love spell.”

“A what?”

The credit card machine began to print, spilling the long, thin, white paper onto the counter. “When it’s the right moment, you’ll know how to use it.” He tore the receipt along the serrated edges. “Would you like your copy?”

Was this guy for real?

“No, it’s fine,” she said, already walking out of there with much more than she’d gone in for. “Have a good night.”

He came around and opened the glass door for her, the bells rattling above them. As she walked out, he turned the plastic open sign around to closed. “Next time, Maddy, pack an umbrella.” The door closed behind her with a jingle and bang.

Her eyes widened, and she whipped her head around, but it was too late. The door was locked, the light in the shop was off, and the man was gone.

Raindrops splashed on her face and shoulders, wetting her cheeks and rolling down her forehead, but she stood there, immobile, as she had before entering. Had some part of her known then, when she’d hesitated, that something about this place just wasn’t right?

A crash startled her in the distance, and she turned to find a man in a dirty, white apron dropping large trash bags into a dumpster in the alleyway. It was enough to put her into action. She crossed the street and hurried back to her car. Once inside, she didn’t stop to examine the contents from the strange spice store and its peculiar salesman. Instead, she turned her key, blasted the heat, and took the shortest route she knew to Linda and Bee’s. More than ever, she needed that drink.

Oddly enough, traffic had thinned considerably. In fact, it was practically non-existent, and she made the drive quickly. At least something had gone her way that day. For once, she’d actually be early, a rare occurrence with her self-imposed seven-day work schedule, all part of running her own consulting corporation.

Thankfully, the visitor parking lot at her friends’ condo was underground. Unlike the traffic, the rain hadn’t let up. On the elevator ride to their floor, she tried to shake the cold from her skin, but it wouldn’t give, as if it had somehow seeped into her bones. She rang the doorbell to their unit and shivered as she waited.

Linda opened the door, her dark eyebrows creased in confusion. “Maddy? We didn’t think you were still coming.” She looked her up and down. “You’re soaked. Here, come in.” She stepped aside, ushering Maddy into the dark unit.

“Why wouldn’t I be coming?” Maddy asked, shaking out of her dripping trench coat.

“You were supposed to be here hours ago, and when you didn’t pick up your phone, we just figured you got called into another meeting.”

Maddy furrowed her brow. “What are you talking about?” She reached for her phone to see if she had any missed calls. “I said I’d be here in…” Her voice trailed off when she looked at the home screen of her phone. It was after midnight.


* * *


The next morning, Maddy awoke with a killer headache in Linda and Bee’s guest bedroom. After a couple of old fashioneds, they’d coaxed the story out of her and the phial out of her purse. A few drinks after that, they sent her to bed with borrowed pajamas and more questions than answers.

Bee—despite being fifty-five and almost twenty years older than Maddy and Linda—was into all that New Age, holistic, juju bullshit, and told her to keep the phial with her. What was the harm in being prepared if that prophesized right moment did arise?

Maddy shook her head, worsening her headache. It might be Saturday morning, but she still had to work. Plus, her favourite days at the office were the weekends. It was quiet, the phones didn’t ring, no one was there to ask her pointless questions, and she didn’t have to pretend to care how someone was doing when she passed them in the hall. She could just work. She’d tried before to do so from home, of course, but there were too many distractions—kids playing in the park below her building, people laughing as they passed by on the street below in the small market, dogs barking after squirrels. What Maddy needed was unobtrusive silence. A space in which she could think. A place where she could dedicate all her energy and focus to never again lose a client to Elektra Paris.


* * *


Nine hours later, Maddy closed her laptop with a smile. Her proposal for the city site opening up on Front Street was finally finished, and she deserved the night off. Her leather computer bag and coat in hand, she boarded the elevator on the eleventh floor. After a moment’s vacillation, she hit the lobby button instead of the one that would have taken her to her car in the underground. It was Halloween, after all, and if she wasn’t home, she wouldn’t have to hear her doorbell going off all night long with trick-or-treaters, all of whom she had no candy for.

She checked her watch on the ride down. If she killed an hour or two in the bar across the street, that would bring her well into the evening, and past the time of little costumed brats running through the corridors.

Outside her office building, she hugged her arms around herself in the late October cold. It wasn’t atypical to get the first snowfall of the season on Halloween night in Toronto, but as she crossed the street to the Cloak and Dagger, the faint smell of rain filled the air, and the pavement was dark and shiny below her feet.

A gust of wind blew through her hair, raising her hackles. She tucked into the pub and breathed a sigh of relief as the joviality and warmth of the place greeted her. Bright lights, raucous laughter, some song from the turn of the century she recognized but didn’t know the words to, and of course, the scent of a hardworking deep fryer.

“Anywhere you like, hun,” a server said with a smile as she whisked by Maddy, her arms covered from elbows to fingertips in platters of pub grub.

The wooden bar had a few empty high chairs, but she didn’t fancy striking up a conversation with the bartender or any of the other patrons. Sometimes Kate was working the bar, and it wasn’t uncommon for Maddy to have a mild flirtation with her before leaving an exorbitant tip for the cute blonde, but there was a man behind the counter today, and he certainly wasn’t getting any of her hair flips or hard-earned salary. After all, she figured if she plied Kate long enough with tips and compliments, she might one day see a little after-hours action from her, but that had been slow in coming, and it was the last thing on her mind when she looked at the handsome but all-too-male bartender working that night.

Beside the bar, a few empty high tables for two remained open. She started to make her way over to the farthest one from the crowd.

“Madeline Strange.”

She stopped abruptly. As much as she loathed it, she’d recognize the low, sultry voice anywhere. Maddy swallowed, took a deep breath, and turned.

“Elektra Paris.” She supposed she should have added something like, “nice to see you,” or “what a pleasant surprise,” but the self-satisfied, condescending smile on Elektra’s face made any pleasantries die in her throat.

“Dining alone?” Elektra asked.

It occurred to Maddy that this was a dig, but then she noticed the solitary drink menu and glass of water on Elektra’s high table for two. She was likely also out on an evening for one.

“Yes.” She swallowed. “Well, no, not dinner. Just stopped in for a drink on my way home.”

“Why don’t you join me, then?”

Seriously?

Maddy looked around the bar, hoping some long-lost friend would pop out from behind a barstool and wave Maddy over. Naturally, nothing of the sort occurred, and her silence was becoming awkward and rude.

“Uh, sure,” she said and kicked herself for the inelegant reply. “Thank you.”

She dropped her coat over the back of the chair across from Elektra then sat with her purse in her lap. She hated to put a Burberry bag on the floor and couldn’t help the fear that hanging it over the back of the chair and out of her line of sight could lead to some kind of theft.

Facing her head-on, it was impossible not to notice how stunning Elektra was. When walking down a hallway and into a meeting where she inevitably stole all of Maddy’s clients, Elektra often appeared to be all legs, hips, and boobs. But here, pleasantly seated with a smile on her face, Maddy noted that Elektra’s true appeal was in her face. She had a smile that emitted vibrations of warmth and desire to everyone around her, like the purr of a cat. Her hair had been chemically straightened, which Maddy only knew because she remembered the way the silky curls had bounced in business school, but the treatment took away none of her beauty. Where it used to spring in shorter ringlets, it now flowed in long, loose, black coils.

Maddy’s entire life, she’d been used to getting compliments—although mostly from old ladies—on her auburn hair and was often still asked if she coloured it, but the onyx sheen of Elektra’s strands made Maddy’s copper mane seem dull and listless in comparison. Elektra’s eyes, much like her purr, had a feline quality to them. In shape, they pulled slightly up at the outside corners, but it was their colour that made them truly remarkable. Small, black pupils were surrounded by light brown jewels, flecked with gold. She had a small nose and angular chin, and the smoothest, creamiest-looking skin Maddy had ever seen. It seemed to be made up of shades of brown and ochre, cinnamon and spice.

“So, what’s your poison?”

“Excuse me?” Heat rose in Maddy’s cheeks. She’d been so lost in every curve of Elektra’s face, every crevice in her striking smile that she’d totally lost herself in her appreciation of the woman. She hoped to God Elektra hadn’t noticed.

“What’s your drink?” Elektra asked.

“Oh, bourbon, but I’m not really in the mood.”

Elektra nodded, and those delicate layers of jet locks danced before her. “I hear ya. I’m usually a dirty martini girl, but tonight I feel like something…sweet.” Her lips curled up seductively. “I’m blaming it on the holiday.”

It took a moment for Maddy to remember that it was Halloween. “Right. Well, maybe they have something special on the menu for today.”

“Good point.” Elektra put her menu down just as the server arrived to take their order.

“Ladies, what can I get you?” a woman in her fifties asked. It was the same one who had greeted Maddy at the door.

“Do you have any drink specials today? My friend and I were hoping for something festive.”

My friend? Hardly.

“Sure do. Today’s drink is witch’s brew.”

“Ooh, that sounds good. Madeline, what do you think?”

“Sure,” Maddy said. Why not? She was already having a drink with the devil.

“We’ll take two.” Elektra handed the server their lone drink list. “And can we get a couple of menus, please?”

“Of course.”

“So, Madeline—”

“Maddy.”

“Excuse me?”

“I prefer Maddy.”

“Oh, okay. So, Maddy, no hard feelings about the Nixon account, right?”

How was she supposed to answer that? To say yes would show her envy, but to deny it would make her look like a pushover. She wished she had a drink to sip on while she contemplated how to craft her response.

“There will be other clients,” she said, and inwardly congratulated herself for her diplomacy.

“That’s the spirit.” Elektra picked up her water glass, used her thumb and forefinger to gently grip the black straw, and brought the tip to her glossy, red lips. Underneath that scarlet lipstick, her lips were a lighter shade than her skin, and took on an almost purple hue. She hardly ever appeared in public with unpainted lips, but Maddy remembered back to a study group fifteen years before, when she’d first seen the violet skin of her naked lips. She’d been spellbound.

Her cheeks were warm, on fire even, and Maddy shook herself. She’d been daydreaming again. How had this happened? All she’d wanted was a relaxing drink to avoid the chaos of Halloween, and here she was instead, right in the middle of her own personal hell.

“So, what brings you here?” she asked in an attempt to cease her silent staring.

“Well…” Elektra put her water glass down. “This place has the best potato skins in the city, but Saturdays are the only night I can come anymore.”

“Why’s that?”

“I slept with the bartender. Now she’s obsessed with me. She doesn’t work Saturday nights, though.”

The bartender? She’d slept with the bartender? Her bartender? It took a moment for Maddy to register that her mouth hung agape. She closed it. “Kate?” she asked, her voice little more than a whisper, or a whimper, really.

“Yeah, I think that was it.”

Maddy resisted the urge to let her mouth hang open a second time.

“Be right back. Just have to run to the ladies’.” Elektra bounced off her chair and her dark tresses followed suit.

Alone at the table, Maddy clenched her jaw. It wasn’t enough for Elektra to win all the contracts, she had to go after all the girls as well. Maddy hadn’t even known that Elektra was gay. What was all that flirting with the male clients, then? That jerk was using her looks for both professional and personal gain. And she’d slept with Kate. Her Kate, and she didn’t even remember her name. Technically, it wasn’t a crime, but it was just so unfair. Elektra was gorgeous, and with great power wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of responsibility? How would Elektra feel if someone used her in the same way?

She needs a taste of her own medicine.

On her lap, her purse vibrated, pulling her from her thoughts. She unzipped the top and reached inside, but instead of gripping her cell phone, her fingers walked along a sleek, glass substance.

The phial. She stilled. The love potion.

“Here you are.” The server returned and deposited two white cocktail napkins with the insignia of the bar on the table before gently placing their martini glasses on top of them. She turned and left without waiting for a thank you, and Maddy was alone with the drinks.

If she waited, if she hesitated for just a moment, she’d lose her nerve. The man had said she’d know when the time was right, and deep inside her, intuitively, she recognized the moment for what it was: the chance to impart to Elektra a piece of her own poison.

She pulled the stopper from the top of the phial with a quiet pop and dumped the contents into the martini glass across the table. The contents were clear, and dissolved immediately into the red of the drink. Maddy tucked the empty tube back into her purse, and when she looked up, Elektra was resuming her seat.

“These look good.” Elektra settled herself back on the chair. “Shall we toast to something?” she asked and raised her glass.

Maddy’s chest tightened. What if whatever was in that phial really was poison? Real poison. Should she say something? Should she stop her?

“How about to the Nixon account? May you have better luck on the next one.”

I hope you choke on it.

Maddy raised her glass and forced a smile on her face. “Cheers.” She brought the glass to her lips, but just before she took her first sip, Elektra put her own glass down.

“She didn’t bring food menus?” she asked.

“Oh, no, and I forgot to ask.” Maddy put her glass down as well.

Elektra tilted her head in Maddy’s direction. “Can you just grab her? She’s right behind you.”

She turned impatiently, smiled at the waitress who nodded in return, and looked back at Elektra. “She’s coming.” She raised her glass again. “Cheers,” she repeated. She brought the drink to her lips but didn’t taste an ounce of the sweet liquor. Her entire focus, every organism in her body, was enraptured with the sight of Elektra tilting her glass back, closing her lips, and swallowing the liquid down her long, sensual throat.

“Mmm.” Elektra briefly closed her eyes and purred. “That’s positively sinful.”

A sneaky smile crept over Maddy’s features. “It is, isn’t it?” She took another sip of her drink, this time letting the candy sweetness of it dance on her tongue before she swallowed. Across from her, Elektra took another considerable gulp, and Maddy’s smile grew in earnest. If only magick was real and Elektra really could collect on her karma.

“You know…” Elektra put her glass down and twirled it ninety degrees on the cocktail napkin, her focus on her drink for just a moment before she looked up through her long, dark lashes and met Maddy’s gaze. “I never noticed just how blue your eyes are. It’s like they’re almost turquoise.”

“Uh…yeah, I guess I’ve been told that before.” Just didn’t think you’d ever noticed. Maddy took another sip.

“I meant what I said, you know, about you having better luck with the next client. It’s not like I’m out to take business away from you. It’s just, I gotta eat, too, you know? But I don’t like competing with you for business. I think that if we hadn’t both gone into consulting, well, that maybe things could have been different between us now. Who knows, maybe even all those years ago…” Elektra’s voice trailed off, but her amber eyes were still focused entirely on Maddy.

“You do?” Maddy blinked.

Before answering, Elektra released her gaze, twisted her glass on the napkin, brought it to her mouth for a small sip, and put it back down. For the first time since Maddy had met her, Elektra seemed…nervous. “Come on. You have to have noticed the effect you have on people, that you’ve had on me.”

Was she for real? Since when had Maddy had any effect on Elektra other than to help her fill her bank account? Sure, she’d always noticed how attractive Elektra was, but since when had Elektra sighted the same in kind? It wasn’t that Maddy felt unattractive. She knew she had some pleasant features and she worked out her frustrations enough on the elliptical to keep her body in good shape, but she was sure she’d have noticed if Elektra had ever looked at her like that before.

Elektra shrugged, her shoulders slumping in defeat. “I suppose that’s what I get. A taste of my own medicine, I guess, for going up against you in business. If I’d just chosen a different industry…” She shook her head slowly and took a hearty swig of her drink.

The drink. A taste of my own medicine. Oh God.

Maddy sipped her drink in silent contemplation. Could it really be working? A love spell? As ludicrous as it was, it was also the only thing that made sense. This gorgeous woman who she’d known for fifteen years, who had never so much as looked at her twice, seemed to be really seeing her for the first time. It was more than that, though. She wasn’t just seeing her—she was interested in her.

Shame shivered through Maddy. Her sweet revenge had actually worked, but instead of glorious triumph, she was plagued with seedy guilt.

“Elektra, you don’t really feel that way.”

Elektra met her gaze again, vehemently. “But I do.” Then, suddenly, the seriousness was gone as she laughed lightly. At first, Maddy thought it was directed at her, that Elektra had been playing a joke on her, but the laugh was hollow. Elektra was laughing at herself. “And for the life of me, I don’t know why I’m telling all this to you now. I don’t even know if you’re…” She let the rest of the sentence hang.

“I’m gay,” Maddy said instantly.

Elektra made that beautiful sound with her throat again, but this time, it was warm and welcoming. “I know you’re gay, Maddy. I’ve only had a thing for you for years. It’s not like I haven’t asked around.”

What?

This was getting out of hand. Spell or potion or whatever the hell was in that phial, it couldn’t influence the past. If she’d asked around about her before, then she really was interested in her.

A small fire kindled in her belly. It didn’t take long for the heat to spread through her body, lighting little flames of happiness from the tips of her ears to the lengths of her toes.

She finished her drink, set it down, and allowed herself to glance across the table. Elektra’s gaze was fiery, smoldering, and it ignited a blaze deep between her thighs.

Maddy shuddered, and her breath caught audibly in her throat. The heat rushed to her cheeks, and she averted her gaze. She couldn’t have stayed in Elektra’s any longer if she’d tried, not unless she wanted to climax right there on the barstool.

“Maybe it’s the night, or maybe it’s the drink, but here it goes: do you want to come back to my place?” Elektra asked.

It’s definitely the drink.

Maddy opened her mouth to say no. “Yes.”

What the hell?

She shook her head. It would be wrong of her to go home with Elektra like this. Sure, she was nine kinds of gorgeous and when the hell else was she going to get an invitation like that, but she couldn’t go home with her under the influence of a love spell… Could she?

“Fantastic.” Elektra’s smile lit up the room.

In that moment, the poignancy of her name hit Maddy square in the chest.

“I live just up the block.” Elektra took the last swig of her drink and hopped off the barstool. “This one’s on me,” Elektra said with a sexy wink, and dropped two twenties on the table. “Shall we?”

There was nothing for Maddy to do but follow.

All the way to the door, Maddy told herself to turn around. She should tell Elektra she changed her mind. That she just remembered she had an early morning meeting. That she wasn’t feeling well and should go home… But none of it came out. Instead, she found herself holding the front door of the bar open with a girlish grin.

Outside, Elektra turned down the first block. “It’s that building at the end,” she said and pointed to a tall condo tower.

Maddy nodded and continued to walk beside her. She had an overwhelming urge to grab Elektra’s hand, to finally feel the touch of her skin that she’d always imagined was so soft. With effort, she kept herself in check. Things were strange enough as it was. She didn’t need to add hand-holding on top of it. For God’s sake, this wasn’t a date.

“You’re quiet.” Elektra fished a keychain out of her purse and paused at the floor-to-ceiling glass doors of her building. “Have you changed your mind?” she asked, a slight tremble in her voice.

Maddy wanted nothing more in that moment than to comfort her. It was absurd, the idea that Maddy should feel any sort of sympathy for Elektra, but she couldn’t help it. Elektra was literally under her spell, and Maddy couldn’t help but feel bad for her on some level. “No,” she said quickly, and mirrored the contagious smile that had sprung back onto Elektra’s lips. “I want to come up.”

Without saying another word, Elektra used her fob against the keystrike, opened the door, and stepped aside for Maddy to enter. After a quick nod to the doorman, Elektra led them to the elevator and pushed the button. It dinged almost immediately.

Elektra lived on the twenty-second floor, but the elevator was fast, and they arrived in mere seconds. Maddy waited for Elektra to exit first, and silently followed her down the hall. A waft of Elektra’s scent flowed behind her, hitting Maddy’s senses, and causing her stomach to summersault. How could someone actually smell like cinnamon? If she’d been slightly intoxicated by the smell before she entered her unit, she was positively drunk on it when she stepped over the threshold.

Her suite was dimly lit, and decorated with rich browns and beiges. It was warm inside, but not stifling, and her whole body was surrounded by the spicy, sweet scent she’d always associated with Elektra: cinnamon. It was as if the whole unit, every piece and part of it, was an extension of the woman herself.

“Do you like it?” Elektra asked. She closed the door behind them and began to pull at Maddy’s coat to help her out of it.

“Yes.” Maddy swallowed hard. “Very much.”

After hanging Maddy’s coat on a hook by the front door, she did the same with her own, and Maddy was now able to fully appreciate the cream-coloured, strapless dress that Elektra had on. It was just high enough to cover her cleavage, and ended just low enough to show off her tantalizing legs from ankle to knee. Maddy couldn’t help but wonder what her thighs would look like if freed from the confines of the material, and what her breasts would feel like if they spilled out of the top.

She shook her head, as if the action could free her from her lascivious thoughts.

“Why don’t you have a seat? I’ll be right back.”

Elektra walked into the open concept kitchen and began rummaging through some cupboards. Without anything else to do, Maddy obeyed her request and took a seat on the couch. It was soft, brown leather, and she sank right into it, as if she’d sat on it a thousand times before. How was it possible for her to feel so comfortable in a place she’d never been, in the home of her nemesis?

Elektra returned with two rock glasses in hand. She handed one to Maddy.

“What’s this?” Maddy asked, and brought the glass to her nose.

“Bourbon. You said it was your poison. I hope it’s a good one.”

“It smells really good.”

Elektra smiled and sat beside her. She was so close, the heat of her body was palpable. Maddy took a long drink from her glass. It was the perfect bourbon—strong with a hint of sweetness and a smooth finish. She turned to thank Elektra for the drink, but her mouth was met with the gentle caress of her lips.

They were smooth, and sugary, like the hint of bourbon she tasted on them. Elektra moved her lips against Maddy’s, prolonging the kiss, allowing Maddy to feel the entire contour of her mouth, to taste every inch of the soft, tender edges, and she did, over and over again.

Elektra gently pushed her back, farther into her couch, the warmth of her body pressing lightly against hers, transferring its heat, as she moved herself deeper into the kiss. Maddy allowed herself to lose control, allowed herself to sink into the depths of the couch, of Elektra, of the moment, and allowed herself to be kissed, consumed, and owned like she never had before.

Just when she thought the kiss could get no better, Elektra parted her lips, and lightly caressed Maddy’s mouth with her tongue. A raging fire instantly ignited, and it burned low down in her abdomen, and a slow throbbing began between her thighs. In that moment, she wanted Elektra more than she’d ever wanted anybody.

“Elektra…” Maddy tore her mouth away, breathless from the intensity of her kiss. She had to tell her about the potion or whatever the hell it was. She had to let her know that what she was feeling wasn’t real, because the intensity of her own feelings had overpowered her, alarmed her, and enlightened her to the fact that all these years maybe she hadn’t hated Elektra at all. Perhaps the burning rage she’d always felt for her was symptomatic of something else, of a desire she was afraid to name, and a wanting she’d been too terrified to acknowledge.

“Don’t stop,” Elektra rasped against her lips, pushing them together once more. “Please, don’t stop.”

With that plea, the little that was left of Maddy’s resistance disappeared. She moved her mouth against Elektra’s with vigour, this time taking control.

“Bedroom,” Elektra whispered.

Wordlessly, Maddy complied. Before she knew it, they were falling onto Elektra’s bed. She couldn’t remember the walk from the couch or who had led who through the doorway, and it didn’t matter.

All that mattered was the feel of Elektra’s body on top of hers, sinking into hers, as if returning from where it had long ago been separated.

“I need this off,” Maddy said as she searched the back of Elektra’s dress for a clasp, a zipper, anything to loosen the clothing and get to her rich, dark body.

Without protest, Elektra sat up, reached behind her, and trailed her arm down her own back. A moment later, the dress fell onto the bed, revealing her beautiful, shimmery skin from her shoulders to just below her navel.

Maddy’s chest squeezed. She swallowed, and there was a twitch between her legs. If she’d ever thought she’d craved anything in her life before, she hadn’t known wanting. The desire she felt for Elektra now was so strong, so forceful, it was almost painful as it pulled at her heart.

“I want you,” she said and turned them over, placing Elektra tenderly beneath her. “I need you.”

“I know.” Elektra met her lips again, a fierceness in her kiss that hadn’t been there before. “So take me.”

And she did. With her mouth and tongue she tasted every inch of the sweetness she’d craved for so long, filling herself up with her until she thought she could take no more, only to be depleted a moment later and need her again. For hours, maybe days, they stayed there, wrapped up in one another, in the warmth and richness of cinnamon and silk, until Maddy was satiated. Her body was sore and relaxed at the same time, and her heart was so full she thought it might burst from the depth of feeling that had grown deeper with every touch, every kiss, every caress, and every release.

Finally, she could keep her secret no longer. It tore her insides and threatened to spill out all the happiness she had experienced, but she could not keep it from Elektra another moment. She felt she could keep nothing from her. Never again.

“What is it?” Elektra asked, swiping aside a lock of auburn hair from Maddy’s eyes as she peered down at her, seemingly into her very soul. “You look as if you are about to cry.”

Maddy took a deep breath. She could lie to Elektra no more than she could lie to herself, for it felt as though she had become a part of her, invading every muscle, vein, and thought until Maddy was sure Elektra must know already, and all there was left to do was voice it. “Last night…” She swallowed. “I think it was last night. When we met at the bar, I slipped something in your drink.” She swallowed again, this time harder, and hurried on before Elektra could say anything. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I never thought it would work, and now I don’t know what to believe, I just—”

“Hey, calm down.” Elektra caressed the side of her face this time. “What are you saying?”

Maddy closed her eyes, and warm tears squeezed out the sides. “It’s a long story, but last night I put a love potion in your glass. I didn’t think it would work. I don’t even know if it did work. I just know that I wish I’d never done it because that was then, and now…now I think I love you.”

“Oh, Maddy…” Elektra stroked her cheek tenderly, the hint of a knowing smile on her lips. “I switched our drinks.”

The End







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