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Love Magic (Bad Valentine Book 1) by Jesi Lea Ryan (1)

Chapter 1

Nothing good ever came from a Valentine. At least not when it’s found floating in mid-air above my doorstep, a suspended, lonely missive.

I glanced up and down my block. Derrick must be lurking around somewhere, holding the message in place for me, hoping to be asked in. I felt around for fishing wire or something that might have been holding the letter in place. Not finding any, and not in the mood to try to figure out the magician’s tricks, I plucked the pink envelope out of the air and slammed the door.

I tossed the card on the hall table and glared at it. My name, Oliver, was written on the front in Derrick’s elegant cursive. I snorted my derision and stomped back to the kitchen to finish unloading the dishwasher. My glasses fogged in the washer steam, and I pushed them further up my nose, annoyed. Derrick had some nerve crawling back on Valentine’s Day.

Something poked me in the back, and I jumped around with an undignified squeak. The envelope hung there in my kitchen like a kicked dog wanting attention.

“I don’t care, Derrick!” I called loudly, figuring he must be watching from one of my large picture windows. “You are not forgiven!”

The envelope jiggled back and forth in reply.

“Ugh!” I tore at the envelope. Out came a homemade card in the shape of a red paper heart, and about a pound of loose glitter that had flaked off the gluey letters on the front, which read, Be Mine.

“Be your what, Derrick? The guy who waits around for you all the time, hoping you’ll be able to spare a few minutes for me? Not if you were the last man on earth!” I tapped off the excess sparkle over the sink, annoyed with the mess the card made. I flipped open the cover to read.

“Oliver, I’m sorry for Saturday. It wasn’t cool, and it will never happen again. Please give me another chance. Dinner tonight? I made reservations for Chez Roux.”

Chez Roux on Valentine’s Day? Maybe he really was sorry.

I tossed the card on the counter and went back to stacking plates.

Ding dong, the doorbell rang again. I crossed my arms and glared at the door. I could just ignore it. Ding dong!

“Impatient much?” I yelled out, stomping to answer it. I opened the door to find a dozen purple tulips floating before me. My favorite flower. The jerk remembered my favorite flower.

Snatching the bundle out of the air, I called, “Fine! Come in.”

I stalked back to the kitchen and began filling a crystal vase with water. Behind me, the front door closed, and Derrick’s booted steps approached, stopping so close to my back, that his body heat sent an involuntary shiver down my spine. I spun to face him.

“What do you want?” I asked, resenting the fact that I had to crane my neck up to meet his gaze. I wasn’t short. I was a respectable five-foot nine. But his six-foot three frame towered over me. A bear of a man.

Derrick smiled sheepishly and looked me up and down with eyes of blue. “You read my valentine. I was hoping you might go to dinner with me tonight.”

Saying no to Derrick when every cell in my body was screaming Yes!, was like rolling a boulder up a mountain. I could give it my best shot, but I knew I’d eventually get tired, and that boulder would roll right over me back down the hill.

“Why?” I asked with a sigh. “What is the purpose of all of this? Of the whole romantic seduction thing? Haven’t I been through enough already?” I walked out to the dining room to set the flowers on the table, using the excuse to get out of Derrick’s orbit. It didn’t work. He followed me, practically stepping on the backs of my heels.

I turned and pushed his hard chest. “Hey, personal space. You’re looming.”

“I’m sorry,” he said with a hangdog expression. “I know, I screwed up. Let me make it right.”

“Make it right? It was the first time the symphony was going to play one of my compositions! I’ve been working on it for over a year. My entire family showed up asking where the great guy was that I told them about.”

Derrick groaned and hung his head, so his dark hair curtained over his eyes. “I know. I’m a shit.”

“You could have at least called, so I didn’t waste a half-hour waiting around in the lobby like an idiot.”

He grasped my hands in his and gave a comforting squeeze. My long, thin fingers were perfect for playing the piano and strumming instruments, but they looked weak and frail in Derrick’s meaty paws. And I hated that.

“Maybe we just aren’t meant to be together,” I said.

“How can you say that, Ollie? I know we haven’t known each other that long, and I’ve been… unreliable, lately.”

I snorted at that. “Unreliable? You think? First, you take me to a movie for our first date and then you leave in the middle of it. Then, you don’t show up for my concert. I get it, Derrick. You’re not that into me.”

“That’s not true,” he insisted. “Don’t you remember that day in the park?”

I did. Vividly.

I had been playing my violin in the park, which I did occasionally. I love to perform, and the tips aren’t bad. Playing in public is a good way to try out new material. That’s what I had been doing that afternoon a few weeks ago, standing in the park across from an open-air shopping center.

The busy shoppers paid me little attention. I suppose if I were really interested in entertaining them, I would have played something familiar, instead of practicing my new composition. I was gearing up for my favorite part in the song when a big man wandered over to listen.

I was immediately drawn to him. That big, brawny body, full beard and those eyes — Oh, god, those eyes! — I was smitten. Unable to help myself, I slid into a flirty Irish jig.

The grin that erupted across the big guy’s face about melted me right then and there.

Wanting to feel him out, I began swaying and dancing to the music. I wasn’t quite Lindsey Stirling, but I’d done enough musical theater to know that my body could move. He tried to hide it, but I could sense his assessing gaze, looking me over.

Now that I’d switched to livelier music and added in the dancing a few more people stopped to watch, but I was captivated by the big man, and didn’t want him to leave before I had a chance to talk to him. I started to wind the song down when he stepped forward. He motioned for me to keep playing so I looped back in to the refrain and watched as he began to undress.

First came off the wool scarf that had been around his neck. Turning to face the growing audience, he looked for someplace to put the scarf. Not finding anywhere, he mimed like he was hanging the scarf on a hook, and when he stepped back from it, it remained hanging in mid-air.

The audience broke out into shocked applause.

A magician, huh? He was good too. I was thoroughly impressed.

Next came off his heavy coat. Again, he pretended to look for someplace to hang it, and mimed placing it on a hook beside the scarf. This time, the audience exploded.

The magician waved his arm both above and below the items, making sure everyone knew there were no strings.

I rolled the music to another jig to keep things moving, interested to see what he would do next.

He was wearing a long-sleeved thermal shirt, but rubbed his arms miming he was cold. Then, he looked at me, playing off to the side, and pointed at my head. With a “come here” motion of his fingers, I felt my knit hat work its way off my head, sending a shiver down my spine and almost making my bow falter. Once free of my hair, the hat floated over to rest on the magician’s head.

There had to have been close to thirty people watching us now. Correction, they were watching him. I was only the accompanist to the real show. The magician was captivating.

He then walked back over to his scarf, still suspended in air. He flicked his fingers and it leaped off its imaginary hook and wound its way around his neck. Then, the coat floated around him as he slid his arms back into the sleeves. Dressed again, he took a bow.

I finished the refrain and wound the music down, too. When I finished, the magician grasped my hand and had me take a bow with him. Dollars fluttered into my open violin case as people came up to express their amazement at the magician’s performance.

His cheeks blushed pink, and I realized that like many performers, once the show was done, he was quite shy. People thanked him, and he replied with modest nods of his head. As the crowd drifted away, I scooped up the money, divided it in half and handed Derrick his share. Fifty-one dollars each.

“Thanks,” he said, his voice coming out in a croak. He cleared his throat. “That was fun.”

“It was.” I stuck my hand out. “I’m Oliver.”

“Derrick.”

“You’re a magician?”

“I am, just not used to spontaneous performances in parks with strangers.”

“And yet you jumped right in?”

“Sorry. Hope you didn’t mind.”

He was so cute. I wasn’t sure yet whether he was into me. Many super macho types didn’t go for swishy guys like me, but damn, he was hot. “Well, what do you say we go across the street and get some hot chocolate with our earnings?”

“Sure.” He shoved the money in his wallet.

I slung my violin case over my shoulder and walked with him to a coffee shop. We both ordered hot chocolates with extra marshmallows in to-go containers. All the tables were occupied by shoppers taking a break from the cold.

“Want to walk over to the pond and watch the ice-skaters?” I asked.

He nodded and followed me back outside.

We set off in a lazy walk through the park toward the frozen pond, our breath coming out in visible puffs. The day was cool, but there was no wind, so I was comfortable enough. Snow from the day before covered the grass and clung to the tree branches where fattened squirrels played. The heat from my cup seeped into my glove, and when I took a sip, I felt a pleasant burning all the way down into my belly.

“You play beautifully,” Derrick said. “What was that first song? I didn’t recognize it.”

“Thanks, it’s just something I’ve been playing around with.”

“You wrote that?”

“Yeah. Been working on it for a few weeks. Having trouble with the bridge though. It feels clunky.”

“Didn’t sound clunky, but what do I know. I tend to focus on beat more than anything.”

“You said you’re a magician?”

“Yeah. I don’t like to talk much when I’m performing, so I work to music. It helps me to tell stories without words.”

“You’re good. How did you get that scarf to loop around you like that? I can’t figure it out. For that matter how did you do any of it?”

Derrick grinned and tapped his finger to his temple. “By using my psychic powers.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine, don’t tell me.”

“So, what do you do when not playing music in the park?” he asked.

“Marketing for the Sherwood Theatre Company, and I play first chair violin in the city symphony.”

“And you compose?”

“I do. I’ve dabbled with writing music since I was a teenager, but just started writing seriously in the last few of years. Actually, the symphony is going to play one of my compositions in our next chamber concert.”

“Maybe I’ll go watch.”

I shrugged, not wanting to get my hopes up and be disappointed. He probably only said it to be nice.

We found a vacant bench beside the pond, where a dozen skaters bundled in winter gear glided in circles with various levels of skill. Derrick was so easy to be with. We talked companionably while sipping our drinks, mostly about my music and my work at the theatre. At times we would lapse into a silence that wasn’t uncomfortable at all, unusual for me.

“I like your jacket,” he said.

“You don’t think’s it’s too much?” I asked, taking in the metallic pink color. “It came in silver, too, but I thought that made me look like an extra on Star Trek.”

“No, you don’t look like an alien. It kind of matches the color of your cheeks in this cold.”

Well, that was flirty. Derrick must have thought so, too, because he suddenly took great interest in staring at his shoes. He seemed into me, but was he gay? It wouldn’t be the first time a straight guy picked me for a gay experiment. My feminine features and affect attracted the bi-curious, as if I weren’t really a man, but something in between. He was cute, but did I really want to be another guy’s training wheels.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but my butt’s going numb from this bench. What do you say we head back?”

He nodded and stood, not talking much as we strolled the long way back to the cars.

Playfully, I knocked my elbow into him. “You got quiet all of a sudden. Why so serious?”

“Sorry. Sometimes good-looking guys make me nervous, and I get caught up in my head trying to think of something to say.”

I guess he does like men. “Don’t worry so much. I’m easy.” Pause. “To please, I mean.” Pause. “Can we just pretend I said that in the least suggestive way possible?”

It was his turn to knock me with his elbow, and the weirdness fell away.

Standing by my driver-side door, I asked, “Think you might want to catch a movie with me sometime?”

His eyes widened, and a grin spread across his face. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

I asked for his phone, and I called myself. “Now, we have each other’s numbers.”

He started to back away, and then seemed to change his mind. “Think I can get a hug?”

With a nod, I leaned in for him to wrap me in his thick arms. I wound my arms around his waist and pressed into his hard chest. My face came in at the level of his collarbone, and I inhaled his scent, winter and spice.

Just then a clump of snow fell on our heads, making us break apart. I shook my head and looked up to see a conspicuously bare tree limb when the rest of the tree was covered in snow.

“That’s weird. There’s no wind out here today.”

“Um,” Derrick looked at the branch as if it betrayed him somehow. “Maybe a squirrel jostled the branches.”

“I suppose.” Must have been a big squirrel to knock that much snow off. Oh, well. “I’ll take that as my queue to exit. Talk to you later.”

I climbed in the car and watched as Derrick crossed the lot to his car. It had been so long since I met a guy who made my heart flutter like this. But I also knew I needed to proceed with caution. This was a guy who could break my heart.

Back in my house, and against my better judgment, I sighed and said, “Fine. I’ll go out with you. But this is your last chance.”

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