Aura of Happiness, Aura of Love
Copyright © Emmi Lawrence
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission from the author.
Short Story (Approx. 5600)
“We don’t craft love spells. Not even temporary or weak ones.”
Dean paused in his browsing, plucking up one of the pamphlets to pretend to read as he listened in on the conversation occurring on the other side of the shelf.
“You spell flowers with love crap all the time,” snapped a voice. Male. Slight rasp from cigarettes that would only get worse over the years. And when his voice rose at the end of the sentence there was a distinct whine.
“They’re not love spells, sir. The flowers are spelled with an aura, usually a happiness one, and a tiny glamour to keep them looking and smelling fresh.”
“So why can’t you make it a love aura?”
Jeni’s voice held firm, though Dean could sense she wanted to smack the man. “Because that’s akin to giving someone a roofie, sir. And illegal.”
“How about I put in a complaint with the police department and we’ll see how long you remain in business when they discover you’ve got illegally spelled crap in the basement of your shop.”
“I’m sure they’d love to hear how you’ve roofied your dates.”
There was the sound of a jacket scraping against the counter and then the familiar clacking of Jeni’s stone bracelets sliding away. “Look, I’m not asking for anything huge, just a little aura, one that’ll make…someone more agreeable.”
“I said no. I’m sorry, but we don’t do that kind of thing here.”
Jeni’s voice had turned from hard to disbelieving with enough of a concerned edge that Dean dropped the pamphlet back into the rack and stepped around the shelf to face the wannabe rapist. “Everything all right here?”
The man, low twenties with a mop of untamed pink hair and a tattoo on his neck that was partially hidden by his bomber jacket, pulled back from the counter, leather crinkling. “We’re fine. You need something, dude?”
Dean let a smile flicker over his face as he glanced at Jeni. She was looking lovely as usual. Heavy stone necklaces adorned her neck, falling halfway down her torso in a dozen shades of turquoise. Her curvy body was accentuated with the black sweater-shirt she wore, the holes large enough Dean could see her gorgeous skin beneath. She wore a camel-colored undershirt and her breasts, large and wonderfully natural, lifted as she sucked in a breath, her eyes dancing back and forth between Dean and the man wearing the leather jacket.
“Just wanted a little bit of Jeni’s attention to myself. Some of us try for love in the old-fashioned way.” He winked and stepped closer, willing the man to back off.
Mr. I-want-a-love-potion snorted, tapped his hand on the counter and said, “Some of us don’t have the time for that shit.” Then he reached out, plucked one of the roses free from the vase next to the counter, crushed it and flung the petals towards Jeni.
She flinched as Dean grabbed the guy’s wrist and gave him a light push away. “That’s enough, Romeo.”
“Get out of here before I call the cops,” snapped Jeni.
The man make a mocking sound. As he turned away, he said, “Your shit’s second-rate anyway. SpellCaps has a better collection.”
“I’m sure they’ll appreciate your patronage,” Dean called after him. Then he turned to Jeni. “You okay?”
She swept some of the fallen petals into her open palm and brushed them off into a hidden trashcan on the other side of the counter. “Not the first time we’ve had that question. Not the last time someone will come looking for answers where there aren’t any.” Irritation twisted her tone and made her nose crinkle in an adorable way.
Dean leaned on the counter with a cursory glance at the displays. He caught sight of Jeni’s tight khakis as she took the stem of the crushed rose to throw it away. When she turned back, he snapped his eyes back to her face where her mulatto heritage had given her what looked like dark freckles across her cheeks and nose, some of them going as high as her forehead and others as low as her chin where they would blend in with her speckled, completely individualistic skin that had haunted Dean’s dreams for months now.
“Should have charged him for damaging our product.”
“Then you’d have to deal with him for longer,” Dean pointed out.
She sighed and leaned both arms against the counter. “Yes. I just don’t understand why anyone would ruin happiness like that.”
“Yes, but he should have felt the effects of the aura considering he was standing right next to the display.” She waved a hand at the trio of tall vases next to the counter with their long-stemmed flowers jutting out at all angles. “Maybe they aren’t strong enough.” She frowned in thought, a look that Dean had seen dozens, if not hundreds, of times over the last few months.
“Oh, they’re strong enough.” He shifted so he was closer to them, which just happened to put him closer to Jeni as well. “Some people just aren’t meant to understand love.”
A puzzled expression crossed Jeni’s face. “Happiness, Dean. Not love.”
“Well, happiness does breed love, Jeni.” He pulled a few of the roses toward his nose and took a good long whiff before giving her a wink. Letting the stems slip from his fingers, he asked, “You really get a lot of people like him? I hadn’t noticed.” And he’d been here often enough he figured he would have noticed.
“Not exactly like him. Some just don’t understand. I had a lady in here yesterday wanting me to spell her son’s textbook. As if I could somehow make his IQ jump.”
“You could make him feel smarter.”
“His homework would still be crap when he turned it in.” She flicked a pen around in her fingers.
Dean laughed. Then, before he lost his nerve, “What about pizza?”
“Pizza? Spelling food can have awful effects. When that stuff starts to spoil, the spell does too and who knows what might happen.”
“No, I meant—” Dean cleared his throat and relaxed his composure so he’d come off far more confident than he felt. “I was wondering if you wanted to go next door for pizza on your lunch break?”
Jeni’s mouth formed a cute little “O” of surprise. Then her face fell and with it, Dean’s hope. “Oh, no, I brought a tomato sandwich.”
Nonplussed, at least outwardly, Dean shrugged. “So why don’t we go sit in the coffee shop across the street and I can get you a drink instead?”
Jeni wrinkled her nose and leaned forward, but at least now she looked more like she were teasing and not trying to let him down. “I hate coffee,” she confided.
He leaned in to meet her halfway across the counter and confessed, “Me too, but that was simply my manipulative way of getting more personal information out of you.”
“And what do you know about me so far, Dean?”
“That you like tomatoes, despite them being disgusting, hate coffee, bluish-green is your favorite color. You prefer skirts over pants, but wear khakis because Tasha allows it and a kid once tried to grope you when you were pulling stock in the upstairs costume section of the store. You love pop and R&B and can’t stand metal or hard rock. You can play the piano, speak a little French and have had three boyfriends, one long-term. You have a scar on you ankle where you jumped into the bay one night with your friends, cutting it on a chunk of concrete. You didn’t say, but I strongly suspect that you were skinny-dipping.” He winked at her. “You love your work, but can’t stand most customers, preferring when Mel helps them.” He leaned even closer and lowered his voice. “And you love hugs.” He proceeded to fish the bag of candy out of the pocket of his dark pea coat, sliding it across the counter. “Just a couple of hugs for when work gets you down.”
Jeni shook her head, laughing quietly. “That was corny, Dean.”
“I’ll have you know I spent half an hour perusing the candy aisle thinking that up.”
“You did not.”
“Okay, maybe not, but I did spend far more than half an hour thinking about you.”
“You’re a real charmer,” she said dryly.
“I’m trying. I think I’ve used up my repertoire with you though. Been searching Google for—” And here he lifted his hand as if reading down a banner. “—tips and tricks for wooing the woman of your dreams.”
Jeni put both hands to her face, her long tresses flowing off her shoulders and over the counter, grazing the display of good luck cards they sold for fifty cents. Dean fingered them, the cards, not her hair—though he hoped he’d get to touch her hair plenty one day—wondering if they would ever help him out. He’d taken to carrying a few in his wallet at all times, changing them out every time he came into Glamour Girls, which was often, though not often enough because the last thing he’d wanted to do was come off like a crazy stalker, which, now that he thought about, probably was what he did come off across.
But, when Jeni lifted her head again, her face crinkled in what might have been laughter, Dean caught something deep in her eyes. Temptation. Yes! So he was getting somewhere. They weren’t moving at mach five, in fact, he’d probably compare their speed to a snail’s pace, but at least forward motion seemed to be in the cards.
He touched the good luck card display, running his fingers along it as if he could soak up every ounce of luck that Tasha and Jeni had spelled.
“God, Dean, you’re so sweet.”
“So let me take you out, at least once.” Before Jeni could answer, he added, “I won’t stop until you do. Better to just go and have such a great time you can’t help but give me your number.”
The temptation in her eyes grew. He could read it there even when she looked towards the staircase as Tasha came down. “Okay. How about you come join me in the back while I eat my soggy tomato sandwich?” Before he could say something appropriately excited, she raised her voice. “Tasha, you mind if I take my lunch a little early?”
Tasha, a woman in her late thirties with shoulder length blond hair and a constant twinkle in her eyes that Mel claimed came from leaving her cheating scumbag of a husband, nodded. “Go ahead.” She deposited the bags she’d been carrying behind the counter. “I’ll take over down here and Mel’s got upstairs. Go ahead.” She shooed them away and started to pick up the last few pieces of petals Jeni had missed.
Jeni grabbed Dean’s hand, lifted their conjoined fingers up and over the cash register and dragged him off to the door in the back of the shop. The little break room, that obviously doubled as a lunchroom, had a square wooden table off-center with three hard backed chairs around it. A beige loveseat sat pushed up against the far wall. Next to the loveseat was a small refrigerator and against the left side of the room was a counter boasting a coffeepot, a microwave and a huge stack of People and Glamour magazines that Dean knew from listening to Jeni belonged to Mel.
Jeni dropped the package of hugs on the counter. “I prefer pastries you know. My dad used to bring home éclairs every Sunday for me and my mom. Coffee with hers. Tea with mine.” She flashed him a nostalgic smile and pulled a practically pristine lunch bag from the fridge, unzipping it to reveal a sandwich, that was decidedly not soggy, and a bottle of iced tea. “Coffee?” she asked.
Dean raised his eyebrows at her.
“I was just being polite,” she said with a chuckle. “There’s nothing else to offer you unless you want to go next door.”
“I can’t share?” he asked, tapping the drink with a finger.
She shook her head, though he couldn’t tell whether it was a negation or just from disbelief at his audacity, then sat on the loveseat, her lunch, sans tea, still sitting on the wooden table.
As he sat beside her, pulling off his coat and laying it against the arm before settling back, he asked, “Not that I’m complaining, but why the sudden change of heart?”
Jeni paused in opening her drink, suddenly finding something intensely fascinating on the floor. “All those things about me that you noticed. You pay attention to all our conversations, really trying to get to know me and I…”
“Don’t really care about me in return?” offered Dean, taking some of the sting out of his words by nudging her with his shoulder.
“It’s not that! I listen and pay attention, you have to be good at noticing things when you’re a spellcrafter. Like, I know you played baseball through high school, but didn’t care enough to continue in college. You work second shift over on the navy base as an engineer which is why I always see you around lunch. You have two older sisters who beat respect into your brain so that you’ve never mistreated a woman, at least not on purpose. You hate pop, though probably not as much as you pretend when I start singing.”
“I like your voice,” he said quietly. “Even if you’re singing some badly done dubstep, pop crap or whatever they call music.”
Jeni nudged his shoulder back, the drink seemingly forgotten in her hands. “You like my singing?”
They were close now, shoulders still pressed together, the touch comforting. Jeni’s eyes couldn’t seem to stay still, dancing as she looked from Dean, to his mouth, to the wall behind him, to her hands where the tea had left wet streaks of condensation upon her palms.
“You know,” said Dean. “Whoever hurt you in the past, it wasn’t me.”
“Oh, no, that’s not…” She trailed off, her nose wrinkling again as she bent and set her tea on the floor by her feet, the cap still on. When she straightened back up, Dean reached out before she could deny anymore, cupping her chin. “Dean?”
He held her carefully, conscious that there must be thoughts holding her back, a wariness he wanted to understand, a part of him wishing he could tear apart whatever man had come before him. “Jeni, I wouldn’t keep coming around if I didn’t think you were worth the wait.” Then, before she started to think he had some hidden agenda, he dropped his hand. “Do you usually eat in—”
The kiss that landed on his lips was unanticipated, and probably unexpected on Jeni’s side too. The press of their lips felt more like the first attempt by a couple of adolescents than two experienced adults. They sat there frozen. Dean’s hands turned into fists as he fought the urge to grab Jeni and actually do something about this situation.
While it felt like eternity, it was probably only a few seconds before Jeni’s lips turned soft, her kiss becoming coaxing rather than stiff. Dean groaned quietly and opened his mouth to return the kiss.
Her lips were responsive, plump and alluring. The way she guided her hand over his shoulder held him captivated, his body humming with pent-up desire. He took her face in his hand again, wrapping his other arm around her to press against her lower back, keeping her close as he tilted his head and deepened the kiss, gently sweeping his tongue into her mouth.
When she moaned, all pretences of calm and slow went up in flames. Jeni clutched at his shirt, demanding him closer silently. He slipped his fingers along her cheek and into her hair, touching the tresses that had featured in his dreams, where it had grazed over his flesh tantalizingly. She was softer than he’d imagined, more pliable. She willingly let him lead, let him taste her deeply, rub against her to elicit another desperate moan from her throat.
Her hand glided downward over his stomach, hesitated at the edge of his pants before her confidence returned and she curled her fingers to cup his groin, his erection pulsing in her hand, all that want making him dizzy.
He shifted, pushing against her, pulling free from her mouth just long enough to gasp, “God, Jeni.”
Then he caught sight of her flickering eyelashes, her dilated pupils, and heard her shallow breathing. All the signs of desire, shining towards him, a reflection of everything he’d been feeling for months. He broke, diving back to her lips, twisting to press more of her curves against him. He licked his way into her, savoring the hint of mango from her lip gloss and the lingering taste of her early morning peppermint tea on her tongue. They were flying high, breaths coming ragged. His dick pressed painfully hard against his fly, practically begging for the touch of Jeni’s flesh.
She squeezed him, her thumb rubbing along his erection. He tightened his grip on her ass in return before reaching up to slip under the edge of her shirt, finally touching bare skin. They started rocking, Jeni’s leg crossing over to position herself so she almost straddled his thigh. He lifted his hand higher, going from back to stomach, until he felt the underside of her bra. Jeni shivered against him at the touch, the whimper that escaped her fueling him on, making reason and sense flee his mind as he started to rise, thinking to push her down upon the loveseat, to make love to her right here.
Jeni heard the sound first, pushing away from him before he registered the scuff of feet outside the door and the jiggle of the doorknob as it was turned. She scrambled to correct her shirt as Dean flattened his own, pushed his cock sideways and leaned forward on his knees so that his body position would make it impossible to see how hard he was.
Jeni was still running one hand through her hair, the other reaching to get her bottle of tea, when the door swung open and Tasha smiled brightly at them, a mug in her hand that had a picture of her kids when they’d been younger and bright red lettering around them reading If You’re Worried About Birth Control, You Can Always Borrow Mine.
“You didn’t drink the rest of the coffee, did you?” Tasha barely spared them a glance as she tipped the coffeepot sideways and poured the dredges of the coffee into her mug before she took a sip, made a face and put her mug into the microwave.
Beside Dean, Jeni was taking her own, much longer, sip out of her tea bottle, but lowered it when Tasha finished punching buttons and turned towards them.
“Mel’s got a few summer ideas in mind that we might be able to spell. Up for a trial and error session after we close today?”
Jeni nodded, almost a little too eagerly. “Sure, I’m game. Though, knowing Mel, everything she’s come up with probably has to do with the adult section.”
Tasha laughed. “I’ll remind her to think of a few things PG rated and kid-friendly.”
“Do you come up with all your ideas?” asked Dean.
Jeni didn’t look at him, her fingers worrying against the bottle, her mango-tasting lip caught between her lower teeth. He licked his own lips, hoping that it had truly been gloss and not lipstick.
“Generally,” said Tasha. “Though we’re on a mailing list that always has a few good ones.”
“Interesting,” said Dean, hoping that he sounded so.
The microwave beeped loudly in the small break room. Tasha grabbed her mug and pulled a new legal pad from the storage shelf under the counter. “I’ll do some brainstorming too. Though, Mel might be onto something. We sell more from the adult section, erotic or clean, than we do from any other.” Then she flashed another smile and took herself out, the door slowly swinging shut behind her, the old tongue of the latch tapping against the metal plate on the door frame but not completely shutting.
“Oh my God,” Jeni whispered, putting a hand in front of her mouth. “I can’t believe we just did that.”
Dean laughed and adjusted his pants again. “Like a couple of kids. Thought we’d have outgrown that stage of our life.”
Jeni moved her hand from her mouth to her cheek. “My face is still hot.”
“Well that didn’t change just because Tasha interrupted us.”
His joke served its purpose, making Jeni laugh and nudge his shoulder again with her own. “You know what I meant.”
He caught her hand and kissed her knuckles. “So, does this mean I can bring you lunch tomorrow and count it as a real date?”
Jeni’s wide smile dimmed, giving Dean the idea that she already regretted kissing him. That she’d had a moment of thoughtlessness, perhaps had leaned into him out of loneliness instead of real desire. Coming back tomorrow might just make him look like the desperate, stalking rake she probably thought he was. He felt his own smile dim in return.
“Or…” Or what? He didn’t want anything else. And he wasn’t going to back down. So he trailed off, uncaring that his words hung between them as if he was a loser incapable of handling the fact that he wasn’t wanted.
“I’ll bring enough for two,” said Jeni, with a gentle squeeze of her fingers.
Dean barely had time to feel elation when Jeni pulled her hand back to start eating, dropping them into a safe conversation about what had happened last time Tasha’s youngest had stopped by the shop and started poking through the adult section of the store. She had him laughing, the trepidation in her eyes replaced with a twinkle by the time Mel came in to ask if she planned on letting anyone else have a break to eat.
Jeni walked Dean upstairs and to the front door of Glamour Girls where he gave her a peck on the cheek, mango filling his lungs because she’d just reapplied. Her expression shuttered with what he suspected were nerves, but the last thing he saw was her standing in the window with her hand over her mouth in what he hoped was her feeling a good sense of surprise and not a regretful one.
The next day, after he stopped by the bakery to buy a couple of pastries for dessert, he pushed open the door to Glamour Girls at half past twelve. He carried the small brown bag filled with pastries in one hand and he was pretty sure that his other held a bucketful of sweat.
The bright historical costume dresses to his left fluttered as Mel straightened out the gold one on display, her black pixie haircut streaked with purple this morning. She lifted a single, well-groomed eyebrow and motioned towards the back staircase that led to the spelled section of the shop.
“She’s downstairs.” She gave him a wink. “Good luck, lover boy.”
He hoped he didn’t need luck, but he touched the pocket of his jeans where he’d shoved a stack of Jeni and Tasha’s cards. He figured they still couldn’t hurt.
The staircase itself was lined with empty frames, each with a little card detailing whatever spell had been placed on them. At the bottom sat an umbrella tree, princesses and superheroes lining the bottom while the more mundane colors ringed the top, all of them with the same spell that kept away rain upon them, making even the windiest of rainy days dry. Dean owned one, in fact. One of the mundane maroon colored ones, not a superhero one, though he’d been sorely tempted.
And he was procrastinating, worry eating through the elation from yesterday. The past months had always been one step forward, two steps back with Jeni and he couldn’t shake the feeling that this was probably no different.
But when he turned the corner into the main body of the downstairs shop and saw Jeni catch sight of him, her eyes lighting up and her smile broadening, all the worry faded. He hefted the bag as he strode past the long display of happiness flowers, letting himself become engulfed in their auras as he did every time he came to visit Jeni.
“Remembered you said you loved éclairs so I bought you a couple as dessert.”
That hand went over her mouth again, making him want to remove it and kiss her full-on. Only the fact that Tasha was helping a customer a few feet away kept him from following through.
“Dessert, God. That’s so sweet, thank you.”
He laughed, succumbing to temptation to give her a peck on the cheek in greeting. “Good to see you, Jeni.”
Back inside the break room, thoughts of yesterday warming him, Jeni turned around and clasped her hands in front of her, right below where her necklaces swung. The pastel blue shirt she wore seemed to almost shiver, mimicking the sudden shift in her disposition, turning from happy to see him to extreme discomfort.
“Before we eat, I’ve something I need to tell you.” She bit her bottom lip.
So, nerves. Then her words caught up with him and thoughts that had always sat at the edge of his peripheral jumbled together, screaming for attention. He plucked out the worst of the bunch, unable to stop himself from asking, “You’re not dying, are you? No horrible cancer or anything?”
Jeni blinked, then shook her head, chuckling a little, but the sound seemed forced. “No, no, nothing like that. Sorry, I’m not trying to scare you. It’s just, I probably should have told you months ago, but I liked talking with you. Liked you. I’m so sorry about yesterday though, I should never have kissed you.”
Dean’s heart had swelled when she said she liked him and twisted when she apologized for kissing him when that kiss had been the most anticipated kiss of his life. He grabbed her hands, encircling her fingers with his own. “You’ve nothing to be sorry about. I enjoyed it, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” She seemed unsure of her answer though. “But it shouldn’t have happened. Everything was my fault. Stupid to get carried away like that. Especially since I never…”
“Jeni, it’s fine.”
“And I wasn’t telling you because I thought it would wear off, but it hasn’t.”
“What hasn’t? What are you talking about, Jeni?”
The skin around her eyes was becoming blotchy under her gorgeous speckles. Tears pooling in beautiful dark forest-green eyes. Dean reached out, meaning to pull her to him, to comfort her, hold her to his chest and be her rock. But she stepped away, leaving him feeling inadequate and useless.
“Do you remember that day, when we first met?”
He grinned, but not too wide in the face of her distress. “How could I forget? You were trying to muscle a box down the steps and the heel of your shoe caught. I dove to rescue you, took one look at that adorable expression on your face when the box spilled out all over the place…you had your hand over your mouth almost like you’re doing now,” she pulled her hand down self-consciously, “like you were Shirley Temple all grown up.”
Jeni laughed a little through her tears. “Without the curly bob and the two white parents.”
Dean shrugged. It hadn’t been the looks that had attracted him anyway, though she was definitely in the cute category. It’d been the sweet way she carried herself that had disarmed him, her smile uncalculating and her expression open, always open. Almost dangerously open.
“You’re beautiful, Jeni. And it’s not every day a guy finds a woman who is as caring and happy as you are and gorgeous to boot. You’re everything I want and I’ve never been the type of guy to give up on what I want.”
Jeni’s eyes widened and her hand came back up to cover her mouth. Her lips trembled, plump and kissable. Kissable, because all Dean wanted to do was kiss away the morose expression on her face. But he waited, because while he went after what he wanted, part of what he wanted was for her to want it too and if she didn’t…
She breathed in a shuddering breath. “The box, the one that split…I was on my way to put it in the back room to store until we could safely destroy it because—” She was practically crying now, but backed away when Dean tried to enfold her in his arms again. “I’d messed up the spell Tasha gave me and everything came out too strong, too much like a love…” She sucked in a breath. “Like a love spell and it, oh God, Dean, it affected you when you came to help me and…”
Dean felt his heart give way. Just plummet. His vision swam and his body broke out in a cold sweat, his first reaction a heavy denial, it hovering at the tip of his tongue. He was conscious of Jeni still talking, her voice a cracking, sobbing mess.
“Dean, I’m so sorry I took advantage of you yesterday. So, so sorry. I could barely look at myself in the mirror this morning. I’m the worst and I know it and you’re so wonderful.” She wiped off her tears with the palm of her hand. Her mascara had run, sending black smears under her eyes and across her temples, and the blue eye shadow had smudged.
Rooted down, Dean didn’t reach for her again. Couldn’t be…could it? He didn’t feel as if he’d been affected by one of Jeni’s spells. Then again, would he have felt it? Was the happiness he felt when he saw her nothing but a byproduct of a mistake? The desire that swamped him when he envisioned her just a force beyond his control?
He let the pastry bag slip to the table and would have collapsed into a chair had he the coordination to pull one free from the table.
“They can’t be permanent,” Jeni was saying. “I mean, it was my first attempt and it wasn’t very good. I’m sure if you stayed away for a little while that you’d find yourself not wanting me anymore.”
Stay away. The thought of never seeing Jeni again made his stomach curdle. If this was a weak love spell, he didn’t want to imagine how a strong one could affect him. His mind had linked his state of happiness with Jeni, with Jeni’s happiness, and right now he wanted to soothe away all the pain he saw in her eyes. Wipe away her tears.
“It’s all right, Jeni.”
She stopped moving, one hand still wiping at the smeared mascara on her face. “No, no it’s not all right. Nothing about this is all right.”
Yet, as she spoke, he couldn’t help shaking his head. The cold numbness that had swamped him for a few moments was already fading, rushing common sense back into his mind, allowing him to think instead of just feeling.
“It’s all right,” he said again, more firmly. This time when he reached out to enfold her into his arms, he didn’t let her escape, gently encouraging her to lean her head down on his T-shirt—a hard rock band she hated that he’d worn in the hopes it would elicit teasing from her. He stroked her hair, letting himself play with the black strands in a way he’d always wanted.
“How exactly is this all right?” she demanded, her voice steadier, more of his strong-willed spellcrafter coming through. She pushed away from him, but only so far she could cross her arms and give him a puzzled expression, back in control of herself.
Dean cocked his head, glanced at where her mascara had smeared against his T-shirt and laughed a little, mostly at himself. “Because I only used that box as a convenient way to meet you. You hadn’t noticed yet, but I’d been coming in about once a week beforehand, trying to work out how I was going to approach you so you didn’t think I was a schmuck.”
Jeni blinked, pulling her head back as if she thought she needed a wider view to understand what he’d said. “You’d…been in before?”
He laughed again, louder. “Yes. Just ask Mel. I’d quizzed her on when you worked.”
She stared at the middle of his chest, her lips pursed in thought. “But still…”
Dean took her shoulders and bent to look into her downcast eyes. “Stop worrying, Jeni. Stop thinking someone can only possibly like you because of a misbegotten spell. You’re likable without any spell. You’re lovable without any spell. I can promise you that. Just the fact that you felt guilty over kissing me tells me all I need to know.”
She snickered a little, putting her hand back over her mouth as if to stop it from escaping. He quickly pulled her hand away to see her smile.
“Lovable?” she asked.
He nodded firmly. “Lovable. Now, how about lunch?”
“I made yours without tomato.”
He sighed in contentment and pulled her close again, now that it seemed they were on terms where that was acceptable. “See, Jeni. You’re the sweetest woman alive.”
She gave him a skeptical glance. “Because I didn’t give you tomato?”
“Because you listened to what would make me happy.” Then he pushed the éclairs towards her with a wink.