Bitter Sweets

For Valentine’s Day, I share with you the beginning of a story called Bitter Sweets. Yes, it’s a long beginning. I have no idea when I’ll finish it, but here you are:

Bitter Sweets

Carrie smiled as the bell dinged over her new bookstore. It was the grand opening, eight in the morning and someone was already here. She looked up and smiled at the man walking through the door.

“Hi! Welcome to Page Turner. How can I help you today?”

The man smiled. His dark eyes were made kind by his smile. He had the start of laugh lines at the corners and it made him rather handsome. “Hi! I’m Gary. I own the apothecary next door. I wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood.”

He walked toward the counter and held out his hand. Carrie took his hand and shook it. He gave a warm, firm handshake that promised of friendship. “Hi, Gary. I’m Carrie.”

They both laughed a little at the rhyme. Carrie let his hand go and motioned to the store at large as she spoke.

“You probably have to get to work, but feel free to look around. We have an apothecary section in back. Not as big as some places, most people don’t bring those books to used books stores.”

“That’s true.” He smiled again. “I have an hour before I open. I saw you working on this place for the past few days and wanted to come early to check it out.”

“That’s sweet! Thank you. I have no idea if I opened too early or if a used book store is something that’s needed in this area.”

He gave her a look that conveyed a lot. “We need a bookstore. There are never enough books.”

She blushed. “I say that all the time.” She giggled. “It’s actually why I decided to open a used books store. I had so many books, I had nowhere to put them. I figured if I opened a bookstore, I would have more space for them and would be able to read things I’d never heard of.”

“But you have to sell them.”

She shrugged. “I’m ok with that. It means the person that buys the book was supposed to find it.”

Gary smiled, and it showed how much he liked that statement. He held his hand to take hers again. When she laid her hand in his, he covered her hand with the other. “That is beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

He smiled again, as did she. After a moment of looking at each other and smiling at each other, Gary let go of her hand. “I’m going to look around.”

“Ok. Let me know if you need anything, and there is coffee behind me. Nothing fancy, just coffee, sugar and cream.”

“Thanks.”

They smiled again, and he walked away, toward the back of the store. Carrie smiled to herself as she straightened somethings behind the counter. She was glad the owner of the apothecary was a nice person. She had worried about her neighbors when she found the place. To one side was an apothecary, to the other was a bakery. Carrie knew it was best to have good neighbors in all situations.

“Hey.”

She looked to her right as Gary came back, a book in hand. “Find something?”

He had a slight frown on his face. “I did. You’re right, it’s not big section, but this caught my eye almost right away.” He placed the book down on the counter in front of her. It was an old tome, leather bound with yellow pages. “Do you know where this came from?”

She touched the book, almost caressing it. She loved old books. “Not sure. I have a habit of picking up old books like this. I love the way they look. This might have been my dad’s though. He was a librarian. When the library converted to digital, he rescued a lot of books.”

“Rescued?

Carried looked up to Gary, her hand still on the old tome. “He wasn’t sure what they were doing with the physical books. He tried to find out, but his superiors wouldn’t tell him. He followed one of the trucks one night and lost it. They were using magic to hide their actions.”

Gary frowned. “Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know.” She closed her eyes as she came to her senses. “I probably shouldn’t have said any of that.” She looked back to Gary and saw a warm, trusting smile. “You won’t say anything though, will you?”

“I don’t see the point.” He looked around the empty bookstore before nodding to himself. “Look, I’d like to talk about this more, but maybe not here. Maybe we can have dinner and talk more?”

“I’d like that.”

“Great!” He looked down at the book and she did as well. “How much for the book?”

She paused for a moment. “Why were you surprised it was here?”

“The Apothecary’s Journal is not as simple as the title makes it seem. It has some rather dangerous spells and potions. Not something that should be laying around.”

Carrie nodded, then opened the cover, and a looked at a few of the first pages. “It wasn’t a library book. There isn’t one of those old envelopes. I must have picked it up somewhere.” She smiled. “And now it’s yours.”

“How much?”

She looked at him and smiled. Her mother had been a natural mage, which meant she could do certain things without spells and potions. Carrie inherited some of that and could tell when someone was a good person. Gary was a good person. She could trust him. Carrie smiled and slid the book closer to Gary.

“Take it, it’s yours. There’s no price on it and I really don’t remember buying it.”

He frowned slightly. “It’s your first day, your first sale and you’re giving away the book?” He gave a slight smirk. “Are you going to do that to everyone?”

She laughed. “No, but you seem to know what you’re talking about.”

He raised an eyebrow. “If I pick another book, will you charge me for it?”

Carrie laughed again. “Yes. I know I need to actually sell things.”

Gary smiled, held up a finger and walked to the back of the store. He returned a moment later with two books. He placed them on the counter and stared at Carrie. The books were not as old, but they were rather good books on apothecary.

“I’m surprised you don’t already have these.” She opened the cover found the price and rang it up on the register.

“I do, but my niece is taking classes. She needs them.”

“Ah. How old is your niece?” She moved the book out of the way and opened the second one. She rang that up.

“Laura is 14, going on 100. She is terribly bright and doesn’t let anyone forget that.”

“Sounds like a handful.”

“A bit, but she’s my favorite.”

“Plan on having any of your own?” She finished ringing up the books.

“I don’t know.” He looked uncomfortable with the subject and she let it drop.

She gave him a friendly smile before turning back to the register. “That’ll be $30 for the books. Do you need a bag?”

Gary dug out his wallet. “No, not going very far.”

Wallet in hand, he gave her his credit card. She rang everything up and had him sign the screen.

“Print or emailed receipt?”

“Email.”

She showed him where to enter his email and tried not to stare at him. She liked the way he looked. His dark hair was greying at the temples. She liked that a lot. He looked to her when he was done.

“What time do you close?”

“Six. I might come back after dinner, but we’ll see.”

“I close at seven. Come over when you’re ready.”

“Ok. See you later and thank you for the sale.”

He gave her another smile. “You’re very welcome. I’m glad we’re neighbors.”

“Me, too.”

Gary smiled again then left. Carrie smiled as the bell over the door chimed. Her first day was shaping up to be rather nice.

                                                            *****

“Hello.”

The smile in his voice made Carrie smile. She heard the bell chime from across the room but hadn’t bothered getting up. This was her second week, and things were going well with the store and with Gary. He came by every day, at least once a day and they had lunch or dinner every day as well. She looked up from the floor as he spoke.

“How are you?”

“Good.” He sat on the floor next to her, avoiding the books she had yet to put away. “How are sales?”

“Great! I didn’t realize how much people love books in this town. I thought since it’s smaller, that I wouldn’t do quite as well.”

“We value education here. It’s why I didn’t move away when I decided to open the store. I almost did, as there is another apothecary, but it’s worked out. He and I sell mostly the same things, but we each have our specialties.”

“I grew up in Chicago. Everyone always said the education level was best in big cities, but that isn’t proving true. There are high school students coming in here to buy books not on their reading list. It’s quite refreshing. I worked at a used book store for a while in the city.” She shook her head. “Younger kids didn’t usually come in.”

Gary shrugged. “We make sure everyone here has a quality education. Smart, informed citizens make for a better city.”

“True.”

He gazed at her as she put another book away. He liked the way her blond hair fell out of the bun at almost every opportunity. He wanted to see her hair down, but they were taking things slow. He had his reasons; she had hers. Carrie looked over at him and smiled.

“Did you have lunch yet?”

“No. That’s why I came over.”

“I have a lunch date with the woman who runs the consignment store across the street. We’re going to grab sandwiches and eat in the park.”

“Cris is a good person. If you haven’t talked to her much, she’s a hoot.”

“Do you talk to all the shop owners?”

“Yep.”

“What about the baker?”

“John? Not sure. He keeps to himself. Doesn’t seem like a bad guy. Why?”

“He stopped in and said ‘hi’ last week but seemed a little flustered.”

“That’s John.” He sighed. “I’m hungry, though. If you’re busy, I could come back later? Maybe we can grab dinner?”

She smiled. “I would like that a lot.”

Gary smiled again, thought about kissing her cheek, but smiled again and got up. They both had their own reasons to go slow, and he wasn’t going to push it. When he stood, Carrie did as well. She placed her hand on his chest.

“See you around seven?”

He covered her hand with his. “Yes. Maybe we can go to that Indian place on 5th?”

She frowned. “Can’t. I’m allergic to ginger, turmeric, cardamom. Really anything in the Zingiberaceaefamily.”

“That’s very important to know.”

“Yes. How about Italian?”

“There’s an Italian place down the block.”

“Sounds good.” She smiled and removed her hand.

Gary smiled again and left, his heart pounding in his chest. He felt like a teenager whenever he was around her, even though his teen years were a long time ago.

                                                            *****

The door chimed above the door. Carrie turned to greet her customer as she smiled. “Hello, John. How are you?”

He blushed slightly as he clutched at a small plastic container. “Good. You?”

“Fine. I’m almost closed for the day. Is there anything in particular you were looking for?”

“No, just wanted to give you a treat. I hope that’s ok?” He held up the container.

“Thank you, John! That’s so sweet.” She walked toward her counter as he placed the container on it. “What is it?”

“Mint chocolate chip brownie.”

“Oh,” she tried not to sound disappointed, “thank you.”

He smiled, not having heard the change in her tone of voice. “Let me know how it is, ok?”

“Sure. I’ll have it later.”

John smiled again and looked around. “How’s business?”

“It’s been really good. I like the people around here.”

“It’s a good town.” He looked at her with a slight smile on his face. “Well, enjoy the brownie. I’ll see you next time.”

“Bye, John. See you later.”

He waved and left. Carrie looked at her watch, noticed the time and went to the door. She locked up, flipped the ‘Open’ sign to ‘Closed’ and went to the counter. She looked at the plastic container and frowned. She loved chocolate and loved brownies. She even liked mint every once in a while, but didn’t like mint in pastries. Carrie picked up the container, took it to the back and tossed the brownie. She washed the container in the restroom sink, dried it and put it back on the front counter. She would give it back to him tomorrow.

                                                            *****

The bell chimed above the door, but Carrie didn’t move or call out. She was with a customer. The shop was busy, and she liked that. Most of the time, when someone came in, they bought a book. It was her one-month anniversary and things were going well. She had money set aside for rent, utilities and other things that would last her for three years. Therefore, she didn’t have to worry about customers as much, but it was nice to be in the black.

Things were going well with Gary, too. He understood that she wanted time and let her lead. She wanted to take things to the next step, but it was complicated. She hadn’t told him why and wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to delve into his past either. They left their past alone and concentrated on getting to know everything else.

“Carrie? I’m sorry to interrupt.”

She turned and saw John. Carrie nodded and looked to her customer, who was a regular. “Give me just a moment, Emily.”

“Sure, sure.”

Carrie looked to John. “How can I help you?”

He handed her a plastic container. “I don’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to give you this.”

“John, you don’t have to do that.” He had been in the shop almost every day this month, always with a treat.

“I know. I like sharing with my friends.”

She smiled and took the container. “What is it?”

“Peanut butter bars with chocolate and peanut butter topping.”

She smiled and took the container. Carrie didn’t like lying to John, but he never brought her anything she liked. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He seemed to be making things specifically for her. She had been in his shop. The things he brought her were never for sale in the bakery.

“Thank you, John. That’s very nice of you.”

He gave what looked like a little bow. “You’re welcome. I have to go. I’ll see you later.”

He turned and left. Carrie went to her register and put the container down and went back to her customer.

                                                            *****

“Hey.”

Carrie looked to Gary as he walked in. “Hi.”

“I thought you were going to come by when you were done?”

“I’m not done. Mrs. Dowtree is in the back, trying to find one last book for her class.” Carrie indicated the pile of books on the counter next to her register.

Gary’s eyes went wide. There were about thirty books waiting to be rung up. “Wow.”

“Gifts for her students for summer. She’s finding the perfect book for each of her students. She’s amazing. I wish I had an English teacher like that.”

“She was my teacher. I forgot that she did that. I still have my book. It was the first apothecary book I read.”

“Nice. She came in here after lunch. When closing time came, I let her know the time and told her to finish at her leisure. I should have told you, but I didn’t know it would take this long.”

“It’s fine. I could get us some take out?”

She smiled. “That would be great! But let me pay. I want to get food for Mrs. Dowtree, too.”

“I was already thinking about doing that. I’ll pay. I’ll be back.”

“Ok.”

She smiled and watched him leave. He was back within half an hour, but Mrs. Dowtree was not done. Gary set the bags down on the counter and Carrie went to lock the door. She flipped the sign and smiled to Gary.

“Let me tell Mrs. Dowtree.”

“Sure.”

She went to the back and let Mrs. Dowtree know there was food and led the older woman back to the front.

“Have you found what you’re looking for?”

Gary had fetched chairs from various parts of the store. Though it was a small store, Carrie had various chair set up to allow customers to sit and read. She felt it was important.

“I haven’t. This one is a hard one. She pretends to like certain things to be popular but loves to read and is very intelligent. I want to find something that fits her, but I wasn’t sure what.”

“My sister was like that. Maybe we can look more after eating?” Carrie suggested.

“I would appreciate your help.” She smiled and looked to Gary. “And, how are you?”

“Good, ma’am. Thank you.”

Mrs. Dowtree looked to both of them and smiled but said nothing. They handed out food, ate and talked of nothing. Once they were done, the three went back to looking for the perfect book. Carrie finally found a book on fashion from the 1800’s.

“Hmmm.” Mrs. Dowtree didn’t seem convinced.

“It’s educational with the guise of being about something a popular girl would love. I’m pretty sure my sister had something like this. She really liked it.”

Mrs. Dowtree nodded. “All right. I guess that’s it.”

“Great! Let’s get you rung up.” She looked to Gary. “Mind helping me bag everything up? It’ll go quicker and then we can take everything to Mrs. Dowtree’s car.”

“It would be my pleasure.”

“Thank you.”

“Yes. Thank you, Gary.”

“You’re welcome, Mrs. Dowtree. Let’s get everything taken care of.”

Carrie rung her up faster than Gary thought possible and he placed the books carefully in the bags. Carrie tried not to be too happy about the sale. It was her biggest yet. Thirty books with the lowest amount at $10. The highest was $30, but Mrs. Dowtree didn’t even pause as she handed over her credit card. Carrie finished the sale and Gary took the paper bags to Mrs. Dowtree’s car, which was parked right in front of the shop. Once everything was taken care of, Gary came back in the store.

“Nice haul.”

“It was.”

Gary saw her blush and changed subjects. “What’s in the container?”

“Oh.” She frowned. “John’s been giving me treats almost every day since I opened. It’s sweet of him, but I wish he wouldn’t.”

Gary frowned, concerned. “Why not?”

She sighed. “I don’t like what he’s been bringing me. This for instance. It’s a lemon bar with strawberry cream frosting.”

“Sounds good.”

“I don’t like lemon and strawberry combinations. That’s the thing. He keeps giving me desserts that are combinations of things I like separately but not together. Like mint chocolate chip brownies, or peanut butter bars. I like mint, I like chocolate, but not together. I haven’t been eating anything.”

Gary frowned. “Are all the desserts combinations?”

“Yeah, why?”

He looked like he didn’t want to say anything. He pursed his lips and nodded. “Carrie, you can tell how a person is, can’t you?”

“What?” No one ever picked up on that.

“You’re a natural mage, right?”

She blushed. “Yeah.”

“Why are you embarrassed about that? Never mind. That’s a story for another time. You knew I was a good person, right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t need to be a natural mage to know that. I knew when you decided to buy books.”

He grinned, but let it go. “What do you think about John?”

“He’s quiet, but I don’t know. He’s in and out of here too quickly.”

Gary reached forward and placed his hands on her shoulders. “No. Think about it. Take your time and tell me what you really think about him.”

She seemed to shrink back into herself, as if afraid of what she could do. “The last time I did that, someone got hurt. I don’t like trying to use my abilities, Gary.”

He struggled for a moment, then decided to ask. “Tell me about it.”

“Let’s go someplace more comfortable. My apartment is upstairs.”

“All right. I’ll help you close up completely.”

“Thank you.”

It didn’t take long. About a half an hour later, they were in her living room, sitting on the couch, glasses of wine on the coffee table in front of them. They were facing each other, but not touching.

“Tell me.”

“This is a hard story for me to tell.”

“I get that. I have a few of my own. Take your time.”

She sighed. “The last time I used my abilities, really tried to use them, my sister…my sister died.”

He frowned. “What are your abilities?”

“I can tell someone’s intentions. I can see what they plan on if I really try. I can sometimes read their minds. That’s all.”

“How did that hurt your sister?”

“She was dating someone and asked me to read him. I did.” She closed her eyes. “He was a dark one.” She placed her hands over her face. “Gods, he was scary.” She looked to Gary. “I told her to stay away from him. She broke it off, and he didn’t like that. He… he killed her. His defense was that if he couldn’t have her, no one else would either.” She looked away and sighed. “That was five years ago. I haven’t willingly tried to use my abilities since then. Some of it comes naturally, like knowing when someone is nice, but if I can’t read someone I don’t try. At first, I didn’t even want to use the subconscious abilities either but had to come to turns with the fact that I can’t turn them off rather quickly.”

“Carrie…”

“I know all the arguments. I’ve been in therapy a few different times, but it doesn’t help. He might have killed her even if I didn’t read him. I helped stop a murderer and an abuser. He’s done this before. No one knew it though. I’ve heard all the arguments and it doesn’t help.”

Gary reached out and caressed her cheek. She closed her eyes at the soft touch. “Carrie, you can’t blame yourself, and if you don’t try to read John, you’ll never know what he’s really up to.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve never eaten any of the pastries.”

“But if he’s doing something he shouldn’t be, the authorities need to know.”

She frowned. “You suspect something.”

“He came to my shop the week before you opened and purchased Thermasin.”

“What’s Thermasin?”

“The active ingredient used in love potions.”

She was quiet for a moment as she processed the information. “But that’s dark magic. That’s illegal.” She frowned. “Why do you sell it?”

“When used in moderation with other herbs, it’s a rather good pain killer.”

She frowned. “Oh.”

“Don’t try it unless perscribed. It’s also a mild hallucinogen.”

“Ok. But if I haven’t eaten any of the items, why does it matter?”

He looked down and took a deep breath. Gary didn’t want to scare her, but he needed her to see what might happen. “If he’s willing to use a love potion, and he sees that it’s not working, we need to know how far he’s willing to go.”

She inhaled sharply and stood. Carrie started to pace. “I… that wasn’t nice.”

Gary stood and went to her. He stood in front of Carrie, placed his hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. “Carrie, the truth is rarely nice. But that’s not the point. I don’t want him to hurt you and I can help stop him. Please read him. Please look into his thoughts and find out if he’s using the desserts to hide a love potion.”

She needed time to think and asked the only thing she could think of. “Why do you think he’s using it? You grew concerned once I told you about the type of desserts. Why?”

“Thermasin has a particular taste. If it’s placed into food, it has to be mixed. If it’s put it into chocolate chip cookies, there’s an odd aftertaste. The mint would mask that aftertaste. Same with the lemon bars. Lemon bars with lemon frosting has one taste. Add the strawberry cream frosting, there’s enough of a difference that it masks the Thermasin.”

Carrie moved away from Gary and at back down on the couch. “Ok.” She took a deep breath. “I’ve had bad dreams since the day he first offered me treats.”

Gary moved to the couch and sat beside her. “Carrie…”

She took his hand. “Just don’t leave me tonight, Gary. I’m going to need some comfort.”

“Ok.”

Carrie looked to him and saw nothing but the desire to help her. She gave a brave smile and took deep, calming breaths. She closed her eyes and concentrated. Though she had not done this in five years, it came easily. It was like riding a bike. She never forgot how to use her abilities, she only chose not to. She took a few more deep breaths and thought of John.

Once she was centered, his mind open to her. He could not tell she was seeking him out, as long as she was careful. Carrie read his surface thoughts and saw it. He was wondering why the love potion wasn’t working on her. She pulled out of his mind and opened her eyes. She looked to Gary and their eyes connected easily. As soon as they were connected she read his mind. She wasn’t trying to, but that was a side effect of her abilities. If she used it to read one person, she might accidentally read the person she first saw upon opening her eyes.

Pain clouded her vision. She gasped as her hand went to her mouth. “Gary, I’m so sorry.”

Tears welled up in his eyes. He looked away. “I didn’t know if I could hide that. I’m sorry you saw it.”

“No, Gary. Don’t be sorry. Loss is never easy. When my mom lost my dad, she was beside herself. She followed him less than six months later.”

He hung his head. “When my wife died, I thought about taking my own life. I didn’t want to live without her.”

“How long were you together?”

“Nineteen years.” He gave a harsh laugh. “Not long enough.”

She caressed his cheek. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” She paused but when he didn’t say anything, she continued. “Loss is loss and even though I don’t know what you’re going through, I know what loss and grief doesn’t get better. You just get used to it.”

“I know.” He looked into her eyes. “She died four years ago. The hardest thing for me right now is that I love her, but I think I’m starting to fall in love with another woman.”

Carrie’s eyes grew wide. Her abilities were still open, and she knew he was talking about her. “Gary…”

“I want to be with you, Carrie. Each morning, I wake up thinking about you. You’re the last thing I think about at night, too. I’m not sure I’m ready, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.”

“I wake up thinking about you, too.” She blushed. “At night I fall asleep thinking about being in bed with you.”

He gave a genuine smile but stopped himself from pulling her into his arms. “We need to take care of John, first. Do you still have the dessert he gave you?”

She shook her head. “All ready threw it away.”

“Can’t use that then.” He sighed and wondered what to do.

“Gary, he gives me a new dessert every day.”

“Right.”

“We can’t do anything until tomorrow.”

“No, we can’t.”

She gave him a careful look. “Do you want to spend the night?”

He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. “I do.”

She smiled and bit her lip. “Good.”

Carrie stood and held her hand out to Gary. He took it and stood. Carrie led the way to her bedroom, holding Gary’s hand the entire time.

                                                            *****

The next morning, Carrie was rather nervous. She wasn’t sure she wanted John to come in. She distracted herself by thinking of Gary. Any time she did, she blushed. He was a kind and gentle lover. She closed her eyes. They were going to be together tonight, too. The door chimed, and she opened her eyes. Carrie smiled, and tried to make it stick. John was headed her way with a plastic container.

“Hi, John.”

“Carrie. Always a pleasure.”

“What do you have this time?”

He smiled. “A special treat.”

“Oh?”

“Carrot cake with ginger frosting.” He held up his other hand. “And I have two forks. We can eat it right now.”

Carrie shook her head. “No, we can’t. I’m allergic to ginger, John. I can’t eat that.”

His face fell. “Oh, wow. I’m sorry.”

“That’s all right. Thank you though.”

“Sure.” He turned to leave.

“John?”

He stopped and turned around. “Yes?”

She took a breath. “I’m a natural mage, John. Are you trying to use a love potion on me?”

His eyes went wide, and he stood stock still for a moment.

“John?”

He bolted from the store. In his haste, he ran into the door. He dropped the forks and container, ripped the door open and ran to his shop. She ran to the container, grabbed it and ran out as well. She went to Gary’s shop and ran to him. He was with a customer, but she charged over to him and didn’t try to be pleasant.

“John gave this to me. It has ginger on it. I asked him if he was using a love potion on me and he ran out. He dropped the container.”

Gary nodded as he reached for the phone. “I’m calling the authorities.”

Outside, they heard a car starting up. Carrie ran to the front window and saw John speeding away. “Shit.”

Carrie went back to Gary. His customer was nowhere to be seen. “He’s gone.”

“Not surprised. Why did you ask him if he was using a potion?”

“I wanted to be wrong about him.”

He nodded. “I can understand that. You want people to be good, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

Gary nodded again. “The authorities will be here shortly. Do you want to close up your shop?”

“I should.”

He smiled. “I’ll come with you.”

“Thanks.”

He smiled again then came around the counter and slipped his arm through hers. They went to her shop and closed it for the day. Done, they went to his shop to await the authorities.

                                                            *****

The Officers of Unauthorized Black Magic arrived an hour later. Both were older gentlemen, who smiled upon entering the apothecary. Gary greeted them kindly and brought them to Carrie, who was sitting in the back of the store, resting. She kept going over all her encounters with John, as if trying to figure out why he wanted to use a love spell on her. She smiled to the officers when they arrived.

“Hello.”

One stepped forward as he brought out his tablet. “Hello. I’m Officer Brown and this is Officer McNara. You called in the unauthorized use of Black Magic?”

“Yes.” She took the container off the nearby table and showed it to the officers. “I’m a natural mage. The baker to the left of my bookstore was trying to feed me a love potion in the treats he made me. This is the last one he made.”

Officer Brown took the container and handed it to McNara, who left with it. “We have test equipment in the van. He’ll be able to tell if there’s anything in it in a few minutes. I need your fingerprint for the record.”

She nodded, stepped forward and placed her thumb on the screen. It read her print then made a noise. Officer Brown made a face and looked to the screen once he took the tablet back.

“Oh.” He looked to Carrie. “My last partner and I worked on your sister’s case.”

She looked at his face and gave an oddly sad smile. “I remember you.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m glad I can help you again.”

“What are you doing here? We’re a little far from the big city.”

“Couple years ago, I switched precincts. The north part of the city is small enough, we cover this city and two others further North as well.”

She frowned as the city was more than two hours away. Carrie was about to ask how he had gotten her so fast, but he answered before she could ask.

“We have teleport points.”

“Ah.” She smiled. “I suppose you want to ask the questions now.”

“I need to yes. When did you start to suspect he was trying to use a love potion on you?”

Carrie sat down and indicated another chair to Officer Brown. He sat down and waited, poised to write things down in his tablet. “I didn’t suspect anything until I told Gary what types of desserts John brought me. Gary told me that Thermasin has to be masked with conflicting flavors or the person ingesting it can tell it’s there.”

Officer Brown looked to Carrie. “And who sold him the Thermasin.”

“Gary did.”

“I’ll be questioning him later. What happened after you found out all this?”

“I found this out last night. Today, John brought over the dessert I gave you.” She looked down. “I wanted to be wrong about him. I told him I was a natural mage and asked him if he was trying to use a love potion on me. He ran out of the store after dropping the dessert.”

“How long has he been bringing you desserts?”

“Since a week after I opened.”

“And you never ate anything?”

“I never liked anything he brought to me. I don’t like mint in my chocolate brownies or strawberry cream on my lemon bars. Everything he brought to me was a mixture I didn’t care for.”

“What did you do with all of it?”

“Threw it away.”

“He never became suspicious?”

“Not until today when he brought the dessert over with two forks.”

“Is it something you would have eaten?”

She shook her head. “Carrot cake with ginger frosting. I’m allergic to ginger.”

He nodded, but stopped his questions as Officer McNara came back in. “It’s positive for Thermasin. It’s a powerful dose.”

Carrie hung her head.

“Don’t think that way.” Officer Brown’s voice was stern.

Carrie looked up at him. “What?”

“I’m a natural mage, too. I can read what you’re thinking. It’s not your fault. Just like your sister’s boyfriend being an asshole isn’t your fault. Stop thinking that.” His voice was that of a father giving advice.

Carrie shook her head and looked away. “I can’t help it.”

“I’m going to give you a few minutes and go talk to Gary. Officer McNara will stay with you for the moment, ok?”

She nodded and watched as he left. McNara came over and sat by her. He gave her a grandfatherly smile. “Nothing to worry about dear.”

She felt calmed and gave a gentle frown. “Are you a natural mage too?”

“Most of us Officers of Unauthorized Black Magic are. It helps in finding the truth.”

Carrie nodded. “Makes sense

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