In all her twenty-six years, despite being somewhat of a rebel, Lily Revere had never cast a spell on anyone. But dire circumstances called for drastic measures. She needed Griffin Taylor’s devoted attention beginning tonight.
That required creating an elixir this afternoon before heading off to work, but her apartment manager would stroke out if she built a fire under a cauldron in the middle of her living room. Technically she could manage the fire without burning down the building, but she might set off the smoke alarm, which would alert the manager, for sure. She was fond of this apartment, located a short bus ride from downtown Chicago.
To avoid possible eviction, she’d abandoned the cauldron and settled for a fondue pot on the floor as she brewed her adoration elixir. She didn’t need much of it, anyway. A couple of drops slipped into Griffin’s drink during happy hour tonight should start the process.
Her job as bartender would make that easy, and three hours from sipping his drink, Mister Handsome would be fixated on her. If they had sex within twelve hours, the spell would strengthen, growing more powerful with each sexual encounter. Yummy prospect.
Lily wouldn’t have to worry about being too tired to have sex with Griffin after work tonight. Performing magic jacked her up more than chugging down three triple espressos in a row. It was a side effect not experienced by many witches, but she’d inherited the tendency from a great-aunt and she’d learned to live with it.
While Daisy, her Golden Retriever, watched expectantly, Lily opened the magic circle that contained the steaming fondue pot and a small basket of herbs.
“Come, Daisy.” Lily beckoned the dog into the circle and guided her to sit on one side of the fondue pot. Daisy was critical to the project. She doted on Lily, and that was the quality Lily intended to transfer to the elixir.
It seemed like the only way to get Griffin off the dime. He’d been a happy hour regular for weeks, and only a stupid woman would miss the heat in his hazel eyes when he looked at her.
When he’d failed to go beyond those burning glances, she’d asked around, thinking he was engaged or married. Nope. Finally she’d taken the initiative and suggested meeting for coffee. He’d politely – and with obvious regret – turned her down.
Lily wasn’t much given to analyzing a guy’s motives, but Griffin flipped all her switches, so she’d made an exception in his case. She’d concluded that his lawyerly self had decided they weren’t a good match based on her non-traditional job and cheeky personality. Lily thought that was plain dumb, especially considering the chemistry between them.
Lily hadn’t been this interested in a guy in ages. On top of that, her older sister Anica’s budding romance with Jasper Danes had become annoying. If conservative, predictable Anica could end up with a hot guy like Jasper, then Lily should be able to snag someone of similar sex appeal.
Griffin Taylor, for example. His close-cropped brown hair and square jaw made him look like a jock, an impression intensified by the way his suit jacket hugged his broad shoulders. Lily knew from barroom conversation that Griffin worked out and would probably look great naked, but he was also smart, and Lily really liked smart men.
Anica and Jasper’s engagement party loomed on the horizon, and Lily wanted to go on Griffin’s arm. The elixir should guarantee it.
Closing the magic circle, she sat on the opposite side of the fondue pot and gazed at her dog. She’d always wanted a dog, and Anica had convinced her to adopt Daisy, probably hoping that would take Lily’s mind off her obsession with Griffin.
Daisy was great – Lily couldn’t ask for a better companion, especially because the dog had turned out to possess a more than a touch of magic herself. She seemed to understand every word Lily said and apparently could read a bit, too. If Lily asked Daisy to bring her Vogue from the magazine rack in the living room, the dog sorted through the rack and brought back Vogue.
No doubt about it, Daisy was special and Lily was grateful to have found her. But when all was said and done, Lily still wanted what Anica had, a guy who adored her.
“Okay, Daisy, this is it. You must stay very still.” Taking a deep breath, Lily picked up a handful of herbs from the basket, sprinkled them in the steaming water and began to chant.
“Pure devotion fills me up. I have found it with this pup.”
Daisy regarded her with that wise, brown-eyed stare that was her trademark. Because Daisy was seven years old, she might not appreciate the pup reference, but Lily had discovered that very few good words rhymed with dog.
She continued with the chant she’d created specifically for this spell. “Pure devotion, strong and true, makes a lover stick like glue. From the dog into the brew!”
The mist that had hovered over the fondue pot gradually rose and swirled around Daisy’s head.
Lily hadn’t tried this particular spell before, so she was pleased that at least something was happening. Daisy snorted, as if the moisture had gone up her nose, but she didn’t move from her assigned spot.
Both Lily and Anica, a powerful witch in her own right, had evaluated Daisy after retrieving her from the animal shelter, and they’d concluded Daisy was an unusually sensitive dog in addition to being very smart. Apparently she was used to creating spells, because she’d taken Lily’s magical activities in stride.
After the mist had swirled around Daisy’s head a while longer, it changed direction and dove into the fondue pot exactly the way a genie would disappear into a magic lamp. Lily was gratified with the results. Anyone watching would have to conclude that something from Daisy had been transferred into the liquid in the fondue pot.
Lily hoped it was the devotion she’d talked about in the chant, and not some other doggie trait like ear scratching or tail wagging. By tonight she would know.
* * *
As Griffin walked into the Bubbling Cauldron Bar and Grille on Rush Street with his friends from work, he wondered for the hundredth time why he tortured himself. The brown-eyed, dark-haired beauty who tended bar wasn’t for him. He was looking for steady and serene, and Lily Revere was neither.
After witnessing the destruction of his parents’ marriage when he was eleven, he’d concluded two things: a guy should pay lots of attention to a woman’s personality before he walked down the aisle with her; and everyone in a divorce could end up the victim of an unscrupulous lawyer.
Griffin had gone to law school to become a better divorce lawyer than those who had handled his parents’ split. In his practice, he’d come to realize that many couples with totally opposite goals had been lured by something, usually good sex, into a marriage that never should have happened.
If he were a different kind of man, he might have had an affair with Lily. But he didn’t believe in purely recreational sex. When he went to bed with a woman, he wanted a connection that went beyond lust.
He couldn’t see making that sort of connection with Lily. From everything he could tell, she was more interested in having a good time than planning a future. Griffin didn’t want a party girl, even if the blood sang in his veins every time he looked at her.
He’d made love to her many times in his fantasies, though. Knowing that he would never act on those fantasies, he should steer his law-firm buddies to a different bar for happy hour and quit putting himself in temptation’s way. So far, for some reason he didn’t care to examine, he hadn’t been able to do that.
Usually Lily stayed behind the bar and mixed drinks while the wait staff served them. But she’d fallen into the habit of coming over to take orders personally from Griffin’s table of lawyers – Kevin, Miles, and Debbie.
Debbie was a recent addition to the group. When she’d invited herself along a couple of weeks ago, Griffin had thought Miles was the draw. But Miles was sure Griffin was her target.
If so, Griffin should be happy to fall in with that plan. The tall blonde was focused and smart. He’d love to be interested in her, but when Lily was around he couldn’t seem to think about any other woman. He really should suggest a different happy hour spot.
But not tonight. Lily, dressed in a tight black top, skinny jeans and boots, was already on her way to their table with smiles for everyone and an extra wink for Griffin. One wink and his cock grew stiff as a swizzle stick.
After depositing a bowl of mixed nuts in the center of the table, Lily positioned herself next to Griffin’s chair, which meant that her spicy perfume quickly transformed him into a man with no brain. She took everyone else’s order before turning to him.
“Griffin, the usual?”
This close, he could feel the warmth of her body, and it was all he could do not to respond with a suggestion that would have shocked everyone at the table. Her full lips were slightly parted as she gazed down at him.
Tonight she wore glossy red lipstick. He wondered if it would smear if he kissed her, or if she’d invested in the long-lasting kind. He’d bet that lipstick would carry her through a make-out session with no worries. She was the sort of woman who would know all about cosmetics and how to use them to full advantage.
“Griffin?” she prompted. “The usual?”
Wonderful. She’d caught him staring brainlessly at her, probably with undisguised lust in his eyes. “Thanks.” His voice sounded rusty. “That would be great.” He always ordered a vodka tonic with a twist.
“Or maybe you’d like to shake things up a little? I make a great Harvey Wallbanger.”
He shouldn’t have looked into those brown eyes when she said that. Once he did, all he could think of was wall-banging sex, which probably had been her intention. She was wicked that way, and he shouldn’t like it.
She’d also cornered him. If he stuck with his tried and true drink, he’d look stodgy. His ego couldn’t stand to take the hit.
He smiled at her. “Sure, why not? I haven’t had a Wallbanger in years.”
She laughed. “That’s a shame.” Then she whisked off toward the bar.
Kevin, short and on the stocky side, shook his head as he glanced across the table at Griffin. “You’re an idiot, Taylor.”
“No kidding.” Miles, who looked like a surfer thanks to sessions in a tanning booth, grabbed a handful of the mixed nuts. “Only a moron would pass up that kind of opportunity.”
“Thanks, guys,” Griffin said. “I think you’re both swell, too.”
On Griffin’s right, Debbie sighed. “Did it ever occur to you bozos that Griffin prefers a more subtle approach?”
“Exactly.” Griffin glanced at Debbie and wished like hell he could feel the same groin-tightening excitement for her that he felt every time he looked at Lily.
Debbie met his gaze. “We should have dinner sometime.”
So there it was. Miles was right, and she was after him. Maybe he should explore that option. “That’s a good idea,” he said. If he put some effort into getting to know her better, he might find excitement lurking under the surface. Still waters and all that. “Saturday?”
“Don’t mind us.” Miles grabbed another handful of nuts. “Conduct your personal business right under our noses. We don’t care, right, Kevin?”
“Right. We can conduct personal business, too. Hey, Miles, want to catch the Cubs game Saturday night?”
Miles nodded. “You bet. I’ll see if I can score some tickets.”
Griffin knew he was in trouble when he suddenly wished he could go to the game with the guys instead of spending the evening with Debbie. He turned to her. “You like baseball?”
“Not especially.” She must have seen something in his expression, because she hurried into a disclaimer. “I mean, I don’t know a lot about the game, but if you want to go, maybe you could coach me on the finer points. I’d be fine with a Cubs game.”
Now Griffin felt like a total louse. Debbie sounded way too eager to please, which meant she was into him much more than he’d suspected. He didn’t want a woman who was willing to immediately alter her behavior to make him happy. He shouldn’t have asked her to dinner.
Peripherally, he noticed that Kevin and Miles were watching with poorly disguised interest to see how he got himself out of this little jam. Saturday was still four days away. He’d figure this out. “We’ll do dinner,” he said. Better that than watching her pretend to enjoy a baseball game for his sake.
He caught Lily’s scent as she approached, but he didn’t look up. He didn’t have to. The mental picture of her balancing a tray one-handed, which further stretched the material of her blouse over her breasts, was a vision he’d committed to memory weeks ago.
“One Wallbanger for Mr. Taylor.” She placed a cocktail napkin in front of him and set the tall glass of orange liquid squarely on the napkin.
Was it his imagination, or did she sound winded? She hefted trays all the time, so he knew the exercise hadn’t taken her breath away. Was she breathing hard because she was close to him? That was an arousing thought, as if he needed another one.
After delivering the other three drinks, she returned to stand beside his chair. “Anything else I can get for you folks? Appetizers? A sandwich?”
No, it wasn’t his imagination. She was breathing faster, as if she was excited about something. Or someone. Jesus. Now he was imagining how she’d breathe if she got really excited, like during sex.
“Onion rings would be good,” Miles said. “How about an order of onion rings for the table?”
“Coming right up.” She left again.
Good thing, because Griffin didn’t need to hear her breathing fast and saying things like coming right up. She looked so hot she seemed to be giving off sparks. Kevin and Miles stared after her, obviously fascinated. Lily in normal mode was sexy enough. Lily charged up about something was damned near irresistible.
But he would resist, because he’d been observing her behavior for weeks. He’d listened carefully to her casual comments. Lily might be the sexiest woman he’d met in years, but she was also impulsive and unfocused. Hooking up with her would be asking for a repeat of his parents’ messy history.
His mom had told him that she’d been blinded by his dad’s charisma and enchanted with his spontaneity. She’d never stopped to think what it would be like to live with someone who never planned beyond the present moment. Griffin intended to stop and think about all those things.
That was one reason he was careful how many drinks he had at the Bubbling Cauldron. He always took public transportation back to his apartment, so driving wasn’t an issue, but losing concentration definitely was. Too much alcohol and he might forget why hooking up with Lily was a bad idea.
“Gonna drink your Wallbanger or just look at it?” Miles asked. “Because if you really don’t want it, pass it over.”
Griffin picked up the chilled glass. “Sorry. If you want a Wallbanger, you’ll have to get your own.” He took a hefty swallow.
Wow, that was amazingly good.
“I thought you were gonna let it go to waste,” Miles said. “You were doing that staring-into-space routine again.”
“Just thinking about a case.” Griffin took another drink of his Wallbanger and practically smacked his lips. He couldn’t remember when he’d enjoyed a cocktail so much.
“I guess you like it,” Kevin said. “I haven’t seen you looking that happy since the Carletons decided to settle out of court.”
“Yeah, that was a damned good day.” Griffin had managed to keep the Carletons from wasting money in a nasty court battle. He wasn’t sure the senior partners appreciated his efforts to save his clients money, but fortunately he brought in enough business that they didn’t bitch.
“And this is a damned good drink,” he added as he savored the combination of orange juice and galiano. “I might have to switch my regular order from now on.” He loosened his tie and unfastened the button at the collar of his dress shirt.
“Now I’m curious about your fabulous drink.” Debbie leaned toward him. “Let me have a sip to see what it tastes like.” She reached for his glass.
“Onion rings!” Lily moved between Griffin and Debbie, knocking the other woman’s hand away from the Wallbanger as she plunked the basket down on the table.
If Griffin hadn’t known better, he would have sworn Lily was deliberately trying to keep Debbie away from his drink. He appreciated the interruption. Sharing a drink with Debbie was the sort of intimacy that would only encourage her. Damn, but he wished he hadn’t agreed to dinner. It had been an impulse and he knew that following impulses only let to trouble.
Lily glanced at Debbie. “I’ll be happy to mix you a Wallbanger, too.”
“Yeah,” Griffin said. “Let me buy you one, Debbie. You don’t want to drink from my glass. My throat’s kind of sore. I might be getting a cold.”
Debbie looked alarmed. “I sure hope not. I’d hate for us to miss dinner on Saturday night.” She gazed up at Lily, and there was unmistakable triumph in her eyes. “Griffin and I have dinner plans for Saturday.”
Lily’s expression tightened. “How nice. Can I get you that Wallbanger, then?”
“No, I don’t think so. Not tonight.” Debbie basked openly in her status as Griffin’s future date. “Maybe I’ll have one Saturday night with Griffin, since he seems to like them so much.”
Griffin pretended not to hear the muffled snicker from Miles, who seemed to be enjoying the byplay immensely. He’d known Miles and Kevin since law school, and both guys could read him like a book. The I’m coming down with a cold routine was something they’d all used in the past to get out of a sticky situation with a woman.
“I’m glad you like the drink, Griffin,” Lily said. “I put special effort into that one. And the orange juice should be good for your cold.”
“I’m sure it’ll help.” Griffin took another drink.
“No, I think one will do it.”
Lily smiled at him. “Yes, it probably will. They tend to be fairly potent, at least the way I make them.” Then she went back to her bartending duties.
There had been something secretive about that smile of hers, and Griffin wouldn’t put it past her to have doubled up on the vodka. He was feeling extremely mellow. Now would be a good time to leave before he said or did something stupid, like proposition Lily.
Finishing the drink, he pulled out his wallet. “That’s it for me. I’m heading out.”
Kevin blinked. “Hey, don’t you want some onion rings? You love onion rings!”
“It’s been a long day.” Griffin put money on the table. “I’ll see you all at the office in the morning.”
Debbie didn’t look happy about his sudden departure. She caught his arm. “About Saturday night, you’d better make reservations soon. It’s tough to get into the good restaurants, especially now that the weather’s nicer.”
Griffin nodded with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. “I’ll do that.” He wanted to jerk his arm away, but he eased out of her grip so as not to seem rude. Somehow, between now and Saturday, he’d find the courage to tell Debbie they wouldn’t be going to dinner. Dating her when he felt no attraction and she had an obvious crush wasn’t fair to either of them. He’d tell her privately, though, so he wouldn’t embarrass her in front of Kevin and Miles.
Then he’d fix this nagging problem of his inappropriate craving for Lily.
The solution was blindingly obvious. He would never set foot in the Bubbling Cauldron again. Yes, that was the answer. Great Wallbangers or not, he vowed to keep away from the place. Yep. A new happy hour spot was in order.