Noah’s winter holiday seasons tend to be busy but uneventful. Most of his time is spent running his mildly magical gift shop and trying not to obsess over Robin, his much too appealing seasonal employee. When Robin bursts into the back room of the shop to tell him that something is wrong with the mistletoe, Noah realizes this year is going to be a bit more interesting. But it’s fine. All he has to do is retrieve all the spelled mistletoe before it causes kiss-filled chaos all over town while keeping his hands—and lips—off Robin. Simple, right? No problem at all.
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I frowned at the computer screen, staring at the sales numbers for peppermint candy sticks. Again.
If old Mrs. Harns had warned me how much paperwork and how many weird decisions came with owning Charming, I might not have bought the store.
No, that wasn’t true. I had loved Charming ever since I was a kid, trailing after my mom and looking at all the neat things on the shelves. I still remembered the first time I’d stepped inside by myself. I’d walked past on my way home from school when I was fifteen. I glanced in the window and saw a piece of fluorite and stopped dead in my tracks. It had been…glowing. Sort of. Just sort of softly luminescing and feeling happy.
I had gone into the store because I had to touch it but then stood with my hand hovering over the stone, afraid to do so, until Mrs. Harns had come over to see what I was doing.
“Oh,” she had said. “Your mother and I weren’t sure if you were going to manifest the gift.”
I had stared at her, confused and nervous. “The gift?”
“Magic.” She had smiled sweetly and pressed the stone into my palm, closing my fingers around it. Then she had sent me home to talk to my mother.
That’s how I found out we were witches and that we had magic. But magic wasn’t some big, powerful, showy force. It was gentle and subtle most of the time. It was simple, quiet things. Like lavender salt in your bath or the perfect loaf of bread. Like holly hung with intent near a doorway to ward off ill will. Or a softly glowing, happy spike of fluorite catching the eye of a newly awakened witch.
That quiet nature of magic was what allowed the shop to hide in plain sight. To those who knew, we sold magical tools and gifts, some amusing in-jokes, and some common knickknacks. To those who didn’t, Charming was an interesting gift shop that sold a weird assortment of mythology and history books and really cool holiday stuff.
The store was wildly successful.
That success and my long fondness for it where why, when Mrs. Harns offered to sell to a young man with a slightly dusty business and accounting degree and a hard-won pile of savings, I had said yes.
So now here I was, sitting at my small desk in the back room of Charming trying to decide if we needed to order more candy canes while also trying to figure out if we had paid Higginson for the wreaths because he was sure we hadn’t, but I was pretty sure we had.
And ah ha! There was the scan of the check he’d cashed. We’d paid him about three weeks ago on November twenty-first. I zoomed in on the screen so that was the only info visible and took a screenshot.
A quick email later, I was staring at the bulk pricing for the candy cane sticks made and sold by the sweet shop down the road. I sighed. They sold well, but our profit margin on them was narrow enough that if we had to clearance them after Christmas, we’d lose money. We were almost out, but I wasn’t sure if it was wise to order more so close to the end of the season.
I was so tired of going back and forth on the stupid candy canes that I was actually glad for the distraction when the door to the backroom banged open and Robin, my seasonal employee, sort of fell through it.
“Noah! Somebody cursed the mistletoe!” he shouted abruptly.
I jerked in surprise, sending the wheeled desk chair skittering a few inches. I frowned at Robin who was pacing—stomping, really—back and forth in front of my desk. His black hair was mussed like he’d been running his hands through it all morning, and his bright green long-sleeved t-shirt was all twisted around and half-tucked in. This was not Robin’s usual look.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, concerned both about him and whatever he was panicked about.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. I had the feeling I was going to wish I were still staring at peppermint stick prices in a couple minutes. “What about the mistletoe?”
“It’s cursed!” he exclaimed, tossing his hands up in the air.
I sighed. I adored Robin more than was appropriate for an employer, but when he got…overwhelmed and excited like this, he drove me nuts. “Yes, I caught that part. Explain better, please.”
“I hung some up over the shop door, just for fun. But then earlier, Ben and Andrew got caught in the door at the same time, and they started making out!”
I blinked. “I thought Ben was straight.”
He stopped pacing long enough to wave his hands in the air. “Exactly.”
“Andrew is married.” Definitely very gay but also very married and not prone to kissing random men that weren’t his husband as far as I knew.
Robin threw up his hands, whirling around to go back the other way. “That’s what I’m saying! I thought it was weird, but another customer broke them up, and I blew it off. But then an hour later, Mrs. Sawyer was climbing Alex like he was a tree. And he was helping her! And just now, Ellie pinned Anna to the doorframe.”
Well, at least Ellie and Anna both liked women. And Alex and I had been friends since grade school; when we’d met for lunch yesterday, he’d admitted to crushing on the widow that lived next door but hadn’t decided if he was going to make a move, so that might explain Mrs. Sawyer, what with her being the widow next door and all. But still, it was all obviously weird.
I sighed and slumped a little. This was probably not a good development, and the mistletoe might actually have been cursed. Or something. “Do we know if it’s all the mistletoe or just the stuff over the door?”
“I think it’s all of it.” He cringed. “Yesterday, I caught a couple pairs making out by the basket on the shelf, but I didn’t realize what was going on until I put the sprigs over the door. I thought they were just playing around, even though it was a bit more, um, enthusiastic than usual.”
“Because it’s mistletoe.”
He nodded. “Right. People joke around with it every year, hold it up over their girlfriend’s head or whatever. But this year, it’s weird. And with the couples in the doorway under the bundles I hung up…”
“Wonderful. Do you remember where we ordered the mistletoe from this year?”
“The same place we have for the last three years, I think.”
Robin only worked for me during the holiday season, but he’d worked every holiday season since I’d bought the shop five years ago, so he knew as much about most of the holiday stock as I did. I had sort of inherited him from Mrs. Harns. It was kind of an informal contract that neither of us were interested in breaking at this point, though I was starting to be concerned about how often I found myself staring at his long-fingered, graceful hands.
Like now, for instance, as he twisted them together in front of his stomach. I just wanted to grab them and pet his fingers until they held still. And then maybe pet the rest of him…