Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Story: Two Parts Mistletoe

I wrote this story last year as part of a Christmas anthology I put together, A Touch of Mistletoe. If you haven't read it, give it a look, all of the stories are excellent, written by some of my favorite peeps.

But for fun, I am posting my story in full here, for anyone who wanted to read it ^_^

Kingston yawned as he looked out the window at the snow, torn between annoyance that there was going to be so much of it—was already a dismaying amount—and pleasure that Frost Days would have snow. Last year had been unseasonably warm, and it was hard to feel festive when winter felt more like early fall.

And in four days, right in the middle of Frost Days, he would be meeting with Hux. Heat coiled through him, settled low in his gut, tempted him to crawl back into bed and bring himself off while imagining the beautiful Hux spread out beneath him, or on top of him, fucking himself on Kingston's cock.

Unfortunately, in the last minute chaos before everybody settled into the ten-day-long, end of year festivities, there would be a rush of people seeking potions for every ailment under the sky, along with all manner of 'festive' potions, from the playful ones that briefly changed the color of a person's skin or made their voices as deep as a bullfrog, to those strictly for private, adult use, and a whole range between.

Which meant there was no time for indulgences. But in four days he would be vividly reminded why the wait was always worth it, and anticipation would sustain him in the meantime.

If he wished perhaps he and Hux could try to move their relationship beyond the twice-monthly assignations of Acacia House, turn it into something more… well, Kingston might yet broach the subject, but he'd not quite worked up the nerve.

Shrugging into his dark plum jacket, he buttoned it up as he turned to examine himself in the mirror, fussing with his dark hair and double checking that he had shaved himself well despite being half-asleep when he'd done it. His fingers lingered on the small, white scar on the left side of his jaw, a remnant of a potion that had heated too quickly and spat at him. Luckily the scar was the only damage done, though it always stood out bright against his dark olive skin.

Fussing with his cravat, securing it with an amethyst pin that matched his earrings, he  finally pulled on gleaming, dark brown boots and headed downstairs to the shop. A pot of tea was waiting at his desk, and Eliza smiled in greeting from the front counter before she turned to give the latest customer her full attention.

Kingston sat down, looked at all the work waiting for him, and stifled a sigh. Eager to avoid it a moment longer, he looked out at the shop, grateful he was the owner and seldom had to work the counter anymore. Normally there would be assistants to help Eliza, but he had told them that if the snow seemed bad they weren't to bother coming in.

He paused as a figure all the way at the back of the line caught his attention. Why was he familiar? Kingston stared surreptitiously at the man for several minutes, frustration growing.  When he finally figured it out, he nearly spit his tea all over his desk.

Hastily setting the tea aside, he coughed into his handkerchief. After the coughing fit had abated, he dabbed at his lips then tucked the handkerchief away and went back to surreptitiously staring at the man.

Kingston knew the man only as Hux. Not his real name, of course; Kingston never used his real name either. That was the entire point of Acacia House. His body flushed with heat as he recalled his most recent visit to Acacia and all the things he'd done to Hux in the candlelit room at the end of the hall.

The Hux he knew always wore faded breeches that clung to his thighs in distracting fashion, a threadbare shirt, and a well-worn jacket the same dark brown as his eyes. His hair was always loosely bound at his nape, and he seldom bothered with gloves, though he always wore a hat, coat, and old boots.

The man across the room, waiting with ill-concealed impatience, was something else again. He wore black breeches, dark gold stockings with a lighter gold ivy pattern, black shoes with gold flowers in lieu of buckles, and a dark green jacket with black and gold trim. The black waistcoat beneath it had the same ivy pattern as the stockings, and a black lace cravat, set with a gold and emerald pin in the shape of an ivy leaf, finished the outfit. His brown hair was braided back and secured in a knot at the back of his head, and gold-rimmed spectacles sat on his nose, lending a severity Kingston could not match to the man from Acacia.

Affixed to the front left side of his jacket was a pin: a raven perched on a rolled-up scroll. The mark of the secretaries, and it was in gold, which meant he was a master secretary. He must work for a noble, at the very least, to be dressed so finely.

Not at all what Kingston would have expected of the sweet, pliant man he fucked twice a month.

He looked away, put his attention back on his work. Goddess knew there was more than enough of it, and if he didn't finish going through the invoices, his secretary was going to put something in his tea. An ominous thought, given the options available in a potionmaker's shop.

Opening the top drawer of his desk, Kingston pulled out his reading glasses and slid them on. He took a sip of tea, then pulled the stack of invoices close. He examined each one closely, signing off where they were correct, making notes on others where they needed to be adjusted because of discounts or additional costs, or where the customer had an account with the shop.

But every few minutes he looked up and took in the slowly-shrinking line, the way Hux looked increasingly impatient… No, he looked upset. Whatever he needed, it was urgent, but he couldn't risk making a show of it.

There were generally three reasons for such behavior in a potion shop. The most likely was simply that it was something embarrassing. Many of their customers were like that: impatient, anxious, fussing around the shop until it was empty and they could ask in a whisper for the potion they sought. Usually young people needing a cure for some awkward ailment or, more often, a potion with a sexual purpose.

Unfortunately, anxious also infrequently meant someone seeking out dubious, and even outright illegal, potions. The rest came seeking a solution to the aforementioned dubious potions, and those were the ones Kingston hated the most because all too often, by the time they came to him it was too late.

Kingston by far preferred the embarrassed sort. Anything was better than having to deal with the other two reasons, which all too often entailed anger, violence, and tragedy. He really hoped Hux was the embarrassed sort, though he found that hard to believe given all the things that sweet mouth was capable of saying—screaming.

He lifted his eyes to the ceiling, then resumed his work, finishing the dread invoices and moving on to inventory. The damnable thing about owning a potion shop was that he seldom got to make the potions. He employed two first class potionmakers, four second class, and three apprentices. He also had a secretary and two deliverymen, though if business kept increasing at its current rate he would have to take on at least a third.

The bell over the door chimed, and he looked up again, watched one customer depart and Hux step one person closer. The shop was on the large end for a potion shop—but necessary in order to handle the business he got, being situated on a busy street right where three major sections of the city collided. His shop was open for twelve hours, and emergencies were welcome at all hours.

The front of the shop featured two large windows made of blocks of frosted glass to let in light while also maintaining discretion for all who entered. There was a wide counter that ran the width of the shop, behind which was the work area where all the potions were made. Kingston's desk was tucked to one side, up a short staircase to the little raised area that was his office, blocked off from the rest by a railing. A special screen kept him mostly hidden from the customers but let him see the whole of the shop.

Out in the customer area, the remaining two walls were dedicated to shelves and shelves of potions, tonics, creams, powders, and various other items that people popped in to buy frequently. That was where the bulk of the money was made, though he still did a brisk business in custom work. Well, his shop did. The only thing he did briskly was avoid the confounded paperwork. He'd become a potion master to make the bloody potions, not to be buried in paperwork.

Stifling a sigh, Kingston poured a fresh cup of tea and got on with work.

But not even half an hour later, Hux's voice snared his attention, a pleasing tenor that lacked all of the warmth Kingston was used to hearing. Instead it was thin, scared, as he greeted Eliza, the first class potionmaker who ran the shop the first six hours of the day.

Kingston frowned and set his pen aside, giving up all pretense of work as he listened.

"How can I help you, good sir?" Eliza asked in her professional, but gentle way. Around them the shop was empty, the steady stream of customers having finally trickled away. For the moment, anyway.

Hux rested his hands on the counter, clenched and then relaxed them. They looked small in the black gloves he wore, closed at the wrists with small gold buttons. "Pardon my bluntness, but I've no other way to say it. I believe my employer has been given a love potion. I'm afraid I've no idea what to do, or how best to handle the matter. And there are… complications, in that if I am correct about the identity of the person responsible, then he is not a man to cross. I thought I would get the assessment of an expert before I proceeded further."

"You made the right decision," Eliza said firmly. "I am not the one to help you, however. I'm only a first class maker. You need the master maker. One moment—"

"Bring him back here, Eliza," Kingston interjected, removing his reading glasses and setting them atop the inventory papers. "We'll be in the back room. If anyone else comes to see me, tell them to leave a note and I'll speak to them when I can, but they should try to resolve the matter with you."

"Yes, sir," Eliza replied and flipped up the middle portion of the counter, urging Hux to come through.

Kingston stood, left his desk, and headed down the short set of stairs, stopping as Hux and Eliza drew close. He saw the brief widening of Hux's eyes, the dull flush that overtook his cheeks. "Thank you, Eliza."

She nodded and reached out to squeeze his arm, silently sharing in the anxiety they both felt at the appearance of a love potion. He covered her hand briefly, tried to smile reassuringly, before she returned to the counter.

Potions fell into three categories: general use, prescribed use, and special case. General use was the stuff anyone could walk in and buy. Prescribed use required an official recommendation from a master healer.

Special case potions were usually used only to counter the effects of illegal potions and could only be made by a potion master, and the matter first had to be properly recorded and filed with the Office of Potions. They were not required often, and unfortunately the situations rarely resolved happily. By the time anyone sought him out, it was usually far too late to do more than put an end to the misery.

Love potions… there was very little worse than a love potion. Bad enough to be a victim of the intended effects, but if the effects were not stopped in time, madness and eventual suicide followed. Use of a love potion was classed as a sex crime and came with the highest penalties.

He led Hux past the work stations and the storage closets, all the way to the back room where they stored more valuable and rare components along with extra equipment. There was also a small bed, table, and chair for whoever got stuck working the overnight. Usually Kingston took care of it since he lived above the shop anyway, but when he wasn't there the duty was split among his first and second class makers.

Motioning Hux to the table, Kingston went to the little stove to get a fresh pot of tea going, pulling down the pot and cups, sugar, and fetching the bottle of cream delivered just that morning. He set out a plate of pastries Eliza had brought to work with her, then took the remaining seat. "I suppose, uh, proper introductions are in order. I am Kingston Lockwood, Master Potionmaker and proprietor of the Two Parts Mistletoe potionshop." He rubbed the end of his nose, then dropped his hands to the table. "A pleasure to meet you, properly."

Hux smiled wryly. "Maurice Huxtable. Please, Huxtable is fine. I do not care for my given name. I wish we met under happier circumstances."

"As do I," Kingston replied. "Tell me everything pertaining to your employer and why you think he has been poisoned by a love potion." The kettle started whistling and Kingston got up to fix the tea, pouring hot water into the waiting pot, then bringing it over to the table and leaving it to steep. He nodded for Hux to resume.

"I am a master secretary in the employ of Lord Oswald Proudfoot and have worked for him for the past ten years, first as an apprentice, then undersecretary, and for the past five as master secretary since his previous retired. We are good friends. He has, these past two seasons, been in search of a spouse. Lord Elroy Elmhurst approached him last season, but Lord Oswald did not care for him and turned him away. Lord Elmhurst seemed to accept and withdraw, but of late he has been in the same places as Lord Oswald, even those Elmhurst would normally avoid. Elmhurst ignores brush offs, direct requests, and commands to be left in peace. The man is, quite frankly, frightening. But going to the authorities…"

"Yes, that is quite the problem," Kingston said quietly. Going to the authorities was rather impossible when Lord Elmhurst's father was High Master of the Office of Safety and Security. Everyone knew Elmhurst was the worst of reprobates, and everyone equally knew there was nothing to do about it—save by those people who simply wouldn't do anything. "Do you know when Elmhurst slipped him the love potion?"

Hux nodded. "A week ago, when Lord Oswald attended a small soiree being hosted by Lady Hempstead. Lord Elmhurst spilled his drink and offered to get a fresh one. I was not present at the time; I would have told Lord Oswald not to drink the da—not to drink it. But he did, and for the past week he's been increasingly friendly toward Elmhurst. I did not notice at first because it was all little things and I have been busy with the taxes, but yesterday he agreed to go for a ride in the park, and this very morning he told me to personally deliver a note inviting Elmhurst to join him for a private supper tonight. I did not deliver it but came straight here." He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small object wrapped in paper. "I remember hearing that you could test for it if you had blood? His manservant saw to it he was nicked shaving this morning and gave me the handkerchief he used to clean it up."

"Excellent," Kingston said and took the handkerchief. "Let me give this to Eliza." He rose and hastened back to the front of the shop. "Eliza!" She turned from the customer she was speaking with, giving them a softapology, and looked at him. Kingston held out the kerchief as he reached her. "Test this for me, would you?"

She nodded, taking the handkerchief without a word and turning back to the customer. Kingston returned to the backroom and resumed his seat.

"I feel like I should have noticed much sooner than I did," Hux said, hands balling into fists where they rested on the table. "He is my closest friend, whatever professional divide society erects between us. I should have realized."

Kingston reached across the table, took one of Hux's hands, and rubbed his thumb over the knuckles. "One of the worst aspects of that type of love potion is the slow creep. Please, do not berate yourself. They are designed not to be noticed. You are to be commended for figuring it out so quickly; most do not until too late."

Hux stared at their hands, then slowly looked up, eyes dark and sad. "I was still half-afraid that I was overreacting, but it is better to overreact and be wrong than not react at all and realize too late you were right. Can he be saved? I know such potions are complicated, but I don't really understand why. I do not want Oswald to come to further harm…"

"Love potions fall under what we call potions of absolute manipulation; every last one of them is banned by the High Council, and using them is a grade five offense. If Elmhurst did indeed use a love potion, which it sounds like he has, then even he cannot wriggle free."

"So what do we do?" Hux asked.

"I need to file an emergency report with the Office of Potions, and they will assign a Master Inspector to supervise the matter. After that I am free to act since potions like this must be dealt with quickly. Negating a love potion is actually two-fold: the potion to cancel it, and another to recover fully from the effects. Potions of absolute manipulation are brutal upon the mind. Mental and emotional recovery can take anywhere from days to weeks, sometimes even months. Please do not worry. As early as you have caught it, I have every reason to believe that Lord Oswald will recover without long-lasting effect."

Hux nodded. "Thank you." His eyes fell to the table, but after a moment he looked up again. "I—perhaps I should not speak of certain—uh—"

"Speak freely, unless it makes you uncomfortable to do so," Kingston said softly.

"I'm glad you are the potion master helping me. I trust you, even if we've never properly met until now. I always wondered what you did outside of Acacia."

Kingston let out a small laugh, mouth quirked as he replied, "I have always wondered about you, but it is not the kind of thing we're supposed to discuss, and I did not want to presume more than was offered. But I am happy to know you outside Acacia." He cleared his throat and stood before he said more than he should. "Now let me get the paperwork so we can take it to the Office of Potions and get to work."

He strode briskly from the room, back to the front, and headed straight to his desk, rifling in the cabinet behind it for the forms he needed. Eliza approached him a moment later, handing over a form that had been filled out in her tidy hand. She set it and what was left of the handkerchief on the corner of his desk. "False Heart confirmed, Kingston."

"Thank you. I am handling the paperwork now, then I will return to make the counter potions. I am not to be disturbed until further notice."

"Of course," Eliza said and bustled off back to work. Kingston smiled briefly; when everything had calmed down, and the holidays were past, he would have to recommend her for final testing. He would hate to lose her, but she deserved to be a master.

Pulling out the forms, he sat down and filled out all that he could, then carried the forms and pen with him as he returned to Hux. "Here we are, Master Huxtable. Just fill out the portions still blank." He went over to the stand by the door and pulled down his winter coat, a handsome wool piece dyed dark blue. It had cost him dearly but would hopefully last a long time—and he could certainly afford it now, far from the penniless student he had been more years ago than he cared to count.

Shrugging into the coat, he draped his scarf around his neck and tucked his gloves into a pocket, then sat and sipped at a cup of tea while Hux finished the paperwork. When it was complete, Hux tucked it away in a leather portfolio, slipped it into his satchel, and did up his scarf. He pulled on his gloves, gripped the satchel, and gestured to the back door. "Shall we?"

Hux nodded and pulled his own coat and gloves back on. Kingston pulled the door open and gestured  for Hux to precede him out, trying not to notice his rose and civet cologne because it stirred distracting memories of a candlelit room and satin sheets, rose-scented skin gleaming with sweat, soft gasps and nails biting into his shoulders, tight heat, and pleas for more, harder, want to feel it for days.

The cold air was a relief against his hot cheeks as he followed Hux outside. Snow had been falling all morning, had started even before he'd woken up. Foot traffic had whittled some of it from the streets and walkways, but it was falling down steadily enough not to make much difference. There were no carts and carriages about, and most everyone was walking in the middle of the street, where it was easiest to clear the snow away, though many shop owners had cleared away what they could from right in front of their shops.

Lamplighters had kept the lamps going for the day, which was good because though it was only two hours to midday, it looked as though suppertime was approaching. The Office of Potions was normally an easy twenty minute walk, but it took them nearly twice that.

When they arrived, the large, austere, brown, green, and gold building was oddly quiet. The usual offices to which he would take such a matter were closed, and only three of the many desks in the open area were occupied. But the quiet was a relief, since Kingston had not wanted to make a fuss in order to get past the lines. Approaching the nearest desk, noting the woman was actually a master clerk by the marks on her jacket, he pulled out the papers and presented them.

The woman's brows rose when she saw the blue line across the top, marking them as high priority. Brows and mouth turned down sharply as she read through the papers. Without hesitation, she retrieved one of several stamps resting on the right side of her desk. She inked it, stamped the bottom of the last paper, then signed with a flourish and handed them back. "You'll have to go across the street and get an inspector, but after that you are free and clear, Master Lockwood. Please file the necessary papers when the job is complete."

"Yes, ma'am. Thank you." Turning on his heel, he took Hux's elbow and led the way back out of the hall and across the street to the stern-looking, dark gray stone building that housed the Office of Safety and Security.

"Will they help us?" Hux asked. "Given it is their employer's son we suspect… it's only supposition at this point but even just the possibility…"

"Nobody hates him more than these people, believe me," Kingston replied. "They are the ones who must let people down, time and again, when they're forced to release Elmhurst. He makes betrayers of them, and no one in this building is happy about that. Any chance to stop him for good is one they'll gladly take."

The young man at the front desk gave them a look he probably thought was professionally suspicious but mostly looked like he'd bitten into something sour. "Can I help you, sirs?"

"Yes, it's a matter of some urgency," Kingston replied. "I need to speak with the Chief of Lords." He displayed the stamped papers.

The young man read over them, then blanched and hurried off still clutching them, disappearing through a door behind his desk. Kingston shook his head and turned to Hux. "At least all seems to be going smoothly. Sometimes it is the paperwork that kills, I vow it."

Hux laughed, bright and genuine. Kingston wanted to kiss him; he loved when he could get Hux to laugh. "You are complaining to a master secretary about paperwork?"

Kingston grinned. "At least you knew you were in for it. I was a fool and forgot about that part of owning a business."

They were both still smiling at each other like a pair of idiots when the door opened again, and the young man from before said in a quiet tone, his posturing gone. "The Chief of Lords will see you."

"Thank you," Kingston replied, levity vanishing as the gravity of the situation returned full measure. They followed the young man through the public access doors, a double set of heavy, frosted-glass doors simply marked with Office of Safety and Security, Headquarters in gold and black script.

Past the doors, the building was bustling with noise and activity as officials and visitors and criminals all mingled. A few paused to stare when Kingston and Hux walked past, but nobody waylaid them. The office of the Chief of Lords—properly, the Chief of Investigation of the Nobility—was mercifully quiet. The Chief himself was younger than Kingston expected, somewhere close to his own thirty-nine years.

He was pretty, with long, curly blond hair tied loosely back with a pink ribbon. He wore a dark pink jacket, a white and pink striped waistcoat, dark brown breeches and boots, and his nails had been painted the same pink as the ribbon in his hair. He took his seat behind the enormous desk that took up a good part of his small office and motioned them to the seats in front of the desk. The nameplate on the door had said Chief Harold Potsworth.

Potsworth rested his fingertips on the papers Kingston had handed over to the man at reception. "Master Lockwood, is it? And Master Huxtable. I could kiss you both for bringing me so fine a present, and on Frost Eve."

"I do not think this is a cause for celebration, Chief," Kingston replied coolly.

"No, it's not," Potsworth replied. "My apologies, I was not making light of the situation. Quite the contrary. I have been trying to put the despicable Lord Elmhurst in a cage for a very long time, but he always slips away like a well-oiled snake, no thanks to his father. My priority is of course for Lord Oswald, but I am hopeful that we will at last be able to do away with Elmhurst once and for all, thanks to such quick action on both your parts. Given the importance of the persons involved, and the trouble likely to ensue from this, I am supervising the situation personally. I hope that does not cause you additional stress."

Kingston shook his head. "On the contrary, Chief, it will be reassuring to have you along."

"Yes," Hux agreed. "I want Lord Elmhurst stopped, and if I have a Potion Master and the Chief of Lords tending the matter, I am much reassured. Thank you both."

"I'm glad we're all of the same mind. That happens less often than you might imagine. Let's be off, then. Time is of the essence." Potsworth did not wait for their reply, merely rose and crossed the office, threw the door open, and led the way through the building and back outside.

Outside, the snow had gotten even worse, falling heavily enough that it took them just over an hour to travel the short distance to Kingston's shop. When they finally reached it, Kingston did not bother going around to the back but went through the front door, nearly blown in by the wind that certainly had not been that strong when they'd first headed out.

Eliza jumped as the door flew open. "Kingston! Goddess have mercy."

"Eliza," he greeted. "Sorry for the start. The weather has grown quite wretched. Close up the shop, turn up the emergency lights, and go on home if you can, my dear. If not, you are, of course, welcome to stay here."

"I think I might," she said. "I wanted to speak with you anyway, once your current matter is resolved, and I'll never get home in this mess. I told my mother this morning I might get stuck here, so I'm accounted for. I'll just finish tidying up then go upstairs and leave you to your work."  She smiled at the other two as she bustled about tidying the front area and the counter, locking the door and turning on the blue light that indicated they would answer should someone have an emergency. "Oh, Ms. Coultress stopped by with a package—mistletoe to decorate the shop. She said it was a travesty a shop called Two Parts Mistletoe had none of it at all to spruce up the place properly for Frost Days." She lifted her eyes to the ceiling.

Kingston chuckled. "A pity that it is not potion grade mistletoe. I'll figure out something to do with it. Just leave it in the back room."

"What's the difference between decorative mistletoe and potion mistletoe?" Hux asked. "And why did you choose to name your shop after mistletoe? Doesn't it represent luck in love? Wouldn't that be bad, given love potions?"

Eliza made a face. "In terms of power, the mistletoe they use for decorating is like drinking water. Potion grade is like drinking a well-aged scotch. Regarding love, Mistletoe has nothing to do with love specifically. It's a foolish corruption of tradition that probably came from some potions apprentice running their mouth, though the misconception has been around so long now there's no proving it." She pushed back a strand of strawberry blonde hair, shoving it impatiently into the bun from which it had escaped.

"Oh?" Potsworth asked.

Kingston motioned for Eliza to be off, seeing by the strain at her eyes and increased fidgeting that she was tired and in need of a break from people, though her demeanor never faltered. He really would be sad when she was gone. She smiled gratefully, nodded to the other two, and slipped away to the back.

"Why is mistletoe associated with love, then?" Potsworth pressed when she'd gone. "It's always touted as a love charm, token, and so forth. All I've ever heard my whole life. Learned most of it from my grandmother." He lifted the counter partition, motioned Kingston and Hux through, then dropped it behind him and stole one of the many stools scattered about the work area.

Stripping down to his shirtsleeves and waistcoat, Kingston left the rest of his clothes on his desk. He rolled up his sleeves as he returned to the work area, pulling out a ring of keys and crossing to the far wall where locked cabinets were lined up beneath well-stocked shelves. "Mistletoe is what potionmakers call a master component, or a foundation component. If you know the master component, you have at least some idea of what the potion is meant to do." He unlocked the cabinet he needed and pulled out several glass jars filled with dried plants, flowers, and herbs, along with several vials of colorful liquids.

He carried it all back to his worktable, where he carefully arranged them before pulling on long work gloves that covered his arms up to his elbows. Hux sat on a stool nearby, hands folded in his lap, looking very much like he would like to be doing something but had no idea where to start. Kingston smiled at him, hoping he managed to be reassuring. He resumed speaking as he went over to one of the heating stations and got a fire going. "We have a saying in potionmaking: one part good, two parts strong, three parts deadly. Whenever a potion calls for three parts of something, be wary—especially when it's something as powerful as mistletoe. In traditional witchcraft, mistletoe means I surmount all obstacles, and is meant precisely for that—to overcome something.

"That is the original reason that mistletoe is so popular during Frost Days. At the very end of the year, as we turn into the new, mistletoe was hung to offer strength to everyone in the household. Two parts mistletoe over the front door to lend strength to surmount all obstacles to everyone who passed under it. Over the years, it's become distorted to focus exclusively on love." His mouth tightened. "In the case of this particular potion, it is overcoming Lord Oswald's true feelings for Elmhurst and forcing them to become 'love'."

Hux looked like he was going to be ill. Potsworth looked no better.

"You begin to see why potionmakers despise the idea that mistletoe is taken to mean 'lucky in love' by most," Kingston said quietly. "In point of fact, there are many kinds of love spells, the same there are many kinds of love. 'Love potion' is actually a class of potions. The particular potion given to Lord Oswald is what everyone thinks of as a love potion, but the correct name for it is False Heart potion. To counter that potion, I have to make a Broken Heart potion. And to help heal the lingering effects of it, we will also have to administer a Healing Heart potion over the course of several days. Now, Chief, I am about to work. I will need to concentrate, so please do not interrupt unless it is absolutely vital, or you must ask something to make certain your observation is properly recorded."

Potsworth and Hux both nodded, and Kingston set to work, first pulling out the components he needed. All love potions included mistletoe. The difference was that the good, legitimately useful ones required 1-2 parts mistletoe. Only the illegal ones required three parts.

A broken heart potion was two parts each of mistletoe, bittersweet nightshade, and apple blossom, and one part each persicaria, butterfly weed, and red balsam. Turning them all into a fine powder, he tipped them into a heavy porcelain bowl, and added purified water, binding solution, tincture of sunlight, and a small measure of activating oil. He stirred and stirred, then carried the bowl over to the heating station.

On top of the small stove, the heavy metal bowl full of water was steaming, not quite boiling. Kingston set the larger porcelain bowl atop it and resumed stirring. Slowly the mixture began to bubble, turning from a muddy brown to a muddy red then gradually to a bright jewel red with ribbons of pearlescent pink.

Removing the bowl from the heat he turned to his work station, continuing to stir all the while so the potion would not cool too quickly and wind up lumpy, or worse, seize.

His arm ached by the time the potion was cool enough for him to leave off the stirring. The bowl had been just over half full when he'd begun, but the potion that remained filled not even a quarter of it.

Leaving it to finish cooling, he put out the fire, then stored away all the components and tidied up his workstation. By the time he was finished, the potion was ready for the final stage. He poured it into a new, clear glass bowl and added more purified water, a small measure of simple syrup, and a few drops of vanilla. He stirred it all together, then poured it carefully into a glass bottle and sealed the bottle with a cork.

He set the bottle on the counter. "This is the broken heart potion. Now I must make the healing heart potion, which will take a bit longer since I must make enough to be administered twice daily for ten days."

"Carry on, Master Maker," Potsworth said.

Kingston nodded, pulled on a new set of work gloves, and started again. The healing heart potion was two parts each mistletoe and lily of the valley, one part each cranberry, white oak, liverwort, and narcissus. The broken heart had taken him about an hour to make; the healing heart took just over two. When he was finished, a larger glass bottle holding a pale pink, touched with yellow, potion sat beside the red one.

"You make it look so easy," Hux said, joining him at the counter, lightly touching the bottles before letting his fingers fall to rest on the back of Kingston's hand. "Which means it must not be easy at all."

"Fifteen years of schooling and working, but I had a head start from working in my mother's kitchen. A childhood of cooking is a good foundation for a lifetime of potionmaking." He smiled, and Hux's quiet smile brightened. Kingston started to lean in, but a soft cough from Potsworth reminded him of where he was and what they were about. He withdrew but did not miss the faint disappointment that flickered across Hux's face.

"The secretary sought out his lover to stop a love potion, how quaint," Potsworth drawled.

Hux flushed. Kingston cast Potsworth a quelling look.

Smiling in reply, Potsworth swept an arm toward the door. "Shall we go speak with the esteemed Lord Oswald and have done with this matter? At least the snow will keep Elmhurst from making a run for it."

Kingston nodded and knelt to pull out a box from the many stacked on the shelves beneath the counter, then stood and settled the bottles in the special, cushioned velvet dents. He closed and locked the box, tucking the key into his waistcoat. "Shall we?"

When they were all bundled up again, he led the way out the front of the shop, locking the door before they slowly trekked through the snow and rapidly descending dark. Thankfully, the location of his shop meant they were at the perfect starting point for almost everything, and Lord Oswald's house, while a reasonable distance, was not as far away as it could have been.

It still took them nearly two hours, though that was partly due to a necessary break to thaw and regain their breath. They reached Oswald's handsome, stately townhouse just as the hall clock began to chime eight o'clock. A footman came hurrying in and helped them out of their sodden, snow-encrusted coats. "Master Huxtable, we were beginning to fear you would not return. Lord Oswald has been asking after you every half hour. Dinner is set for nine o'clock."

"Dinner shall not be happening," Hux replied. "Where is Lord Oswald?"

"In his reading room."

"Thank you, Jim. Could we trouble the kitchens to make up some hot toddies? I'm certain Master Lockwood and Chief Potsworth would appreciate not being half-frozen, and Mrs. Penny makes the best toddies."

"That she does," Jim agreed with a smile. "And she is always happy to make whatever you wish. I'll bring them straight along."

Hux led them through the house, fussing with his clothes, straightening his cravat, and smoothing his hair as they walked, until they came to a door that was half-open, the soft sound of a tinkling music box drifting out of it. "Is there anything special we must do?" he asked quietly.

Shaking his head, Kingston replied, "No, only tell him and administer the first potion. This is not going to be pleasant."

"It would have been vastly more unpleasant later." Hux nodded to himself, drew a breath, and let it out slowly, then pushed the door open and strode in. "Good evening, my lord."

Lord Oswald looked up from the book he'd been scowling at, messy black hair falling in his face. He pushed it aside impatiently, closed his book with a snap, and tossed it next to him on the settee. "Huxtable, it's about bloody time you returned. Where the hell have you been and why do you have Harold and some stranger with you? Did you deliver my note? Will Lord Elroy be joining me for dinner tonight?"

"No, my lord, he will not be," Hux said quietly. "I have something to tell you."

Oswald scowled, an expression that did not suit his handsome face. He leaned back against the settee and folded his well-muscled arms across his broad chest, dark green eyes flicking between the three of them before settling on Hux. "Say it then, man."

Drawing himself up, matching Oswald's scowl with a determined look, Hux said, "I believe Lord Elmhurst drugged you with a love potion. I went today to see a potion master today who confirmed it."

The impatient look slid from Oswald's face, replaced by confusion, dismay—betrayal. "What. You cannot mean that. Why would you say such a thing to me, Hux?"

"Because it's true," Hux said. "You're my best friend, and I would never dare say such a thing unless I knew it to be absolutely true. We've done everything we can to verify it, and I am sorry that it proved to be true."

Hurt and dread filled Oswald's face, driving away every other emotion on his face. "Hux…"

"Please, Oz," Hux said softly, but with steel.

Oswald shook his head, though it seemed more from shock than refusal. "I…"

"My lord," Kingston cut in quietly, stepping forward to set the box on the table beside Oswald's settee. "I know it hurts to hear, and you prefer not to believe it, but I would not be here if I was not willing to stake my reputation on it—my life on it. And I do stake my life on it, my lord."

"Not even Elmhurst would do something so cruel," Oswald said. "He's been far too kind and…" He trailed off, scowling at the floor. "No, I cannot believe it of him. The man holds me too dear to be so malicious."

"Well, no harm can come from drinking a potion handmade by me, under the careful eye of the Chief of Lords and your dearest friend. If something is amiss, there are witnesses aplenty to see that I never make potions again. What harm can come from trusting a friend and setting his mind at ease?" Kingston replied opened the box and pulled out the broken heart potion. Uncorking it, he held it out. "Drink, my lord, and put Master Huxtable's mind at ease."

Oswald glowered at each of them in turn, lingering on Harold and settling on Hux. "For Hux, then, though I think you've all gone quite mad. I think I would know if I had been given a love potion." He accepted the bottle and drank it down in one long swallow, licked traces from his lips as he stared at the empty bottle as though it was the strangest thing he'd ever seen. "That is the best tasting potion I've ever had. Usually they taste quite noxious."

"A potion that tastes poorly was made poorly." Kingston pulled out the second bottle but retained it, tucking the box under his other arm as he rejoined Hux, giving Oswald space.

Only a few minutes later, Oswald slowed, then stopped in the middle of rambling on about his plans for the holiday. The expression on his face said that someone he trusted had thrust a knife into his stomach. Then he looked like he wanted to be ill.

"We'll leave you alone, my lord," Kingston said quietly as Oswald began to cry. He motioned to Potsworth, whose gaze was locked on Oswald, and he looked almost as gut-torn. Taking his arm, Kingston dragged him away, leaving Oswald and Hux alone.

Out in the hall, Potsworth immediately opened the satchel he had carried with him and pulled out the paperwork, filling out his portions and signing the bottom of the page with a flourish. "I'll need Lord Oswald's report, but under the circumstances, it's allowed to wait a few days." They could just hear the muffled sounds of Oswald's sobbing. "Fucking bastard, I will see him hanged for this and every other crime he's committed. If I have my way about it, I'll bring his father down with him, see if I don't." He glanced at the closed door, worry, sadness, and something like longing flickering over his face. "He will be all right?"

"Yes," Kingston said. "Especially as he has such a good friend to support him. Give him a few days, Chief, and I suspect another friendly face will be welcome. If you wanted to check on him, that is."

Potsworth nodded and stuffed all the paperwork back into his bag. "I am off to arrest Elmhurst. I'll send round a note in a few days to catch you up on matters if you like. You'll probably be called into the preliminaries, anyway. Lockwood, I know that name. Same Lockwood that owns the restaurant across town?"

"The very same," Kingston said with a smile. "Though you'll probably know the name better someday when my nephew completes his schooling to become an officer. My mother wants him to apprentice at the headquarters so I'll be near to hand to look after him. He's a good lad."

Potsworth matched the smile, extended his hand. "I'll make a note. Pleasure to meet you and work with you, Master Lockwood."

Kingston shook his hand, clapped him on the arm. "Kingston, please. I'll look forward to your note. Merry Frost, Chief."

"Harold is fine, lord if you insist. Ta, potion master." He strode off, and a few minutes later, Kingston heard the front door open and close. He settled on a small bench against the wall opposite the door, thinking longingly of the hot toddies that had not yet arrived.

As though summoned, he heard footsteps and looked up as the smell of whiskey and honey met his nose. "That smells wonderful."

"Tastes better," Jim replied with a smile. "Sorry it took so long. Was sorry the Chief left before he could enjoy his."

"I am certain Lord Oswald will be happy to enjoy it for him, but I would knock and leave the tray. He'll not want to be disturbed right now."

Jim frowned but nodded and did as he said. "So Hux was right, then? About the potion, I mean."

Kingston smiled faintly at the slip to casualness. He hadn't known Hux went by that in the day to day. If he had asked around for a man named Hux, Kingston might have found him faster than he had believed. But that would have violated the rules of Acacia House. "Yes, Hux was correct. But we have fixed the problem, and I think Lord Oswald will recover just fine."

"Oh, good. We've been most concerned. Lord Oswald is a good man. I'll leave you in peace. Goodnight, Master Lockwood."

"Goodnight." Kingston sipped his toddy, enjoying the heat of the tea and the slow burn of good whiskey, the lemon and sugar that brought everything together.

He had just taken his third sip when the door swung open and Hux stepped out. His shoulders slumped. "Good, you're still here."

"I never leave until I'm certain a potion has done its job. I also have to give you the second potion and instructions for it." Kingston smiled faintly. "And I could not leave without telling you goodbye."

"You could stay," Hux said quietly. "I mean—I'll be preoccupied, but I think Oz will go to bed shortly. And the weather is wretched…"

"The weather is utterly miserable," Kingston agreed. "Are you sure? The point of our arrangement was to keep it confined to Acacia."

Hux's cheeks went pink, but he did not look away when he said, "I have been wanting to break that rule for some time, though the whole point of my going there was that I did not feel I had the time for a more traditional relationship."

"My situation was the same, but I am finding that it is about making time," Kingston replied, setting his toddy aside and standing, crossing the short distance to take Hux's hands. They were fine-boned, the fingers slightly longer than his, pale and almost delicate looking against his broader hands. "Making time does not seem so hard, when there is true motivation to do so." He smiled. "I have always found you motivating."

"Motivating, is that the word for it?" Hux smiled, soft and sweet, a smile Kingston knew very well indeed.

That time Kingston did kiss him, soft and lingering, resting one hand lightly against the side of his head. Oh, he hoped this worked out because having a chance to build something with Hux by the light of day was better even than the day he'd opened his own shop, better than the day it had finally begun to turn a profit.

He had been fascinated from the moment he and Hux had met in the library of Acacia house, two busy, lonely men seeking something better than the occasional visit to a brothel but nothing as time-consuming as a true lover. Kingston had only been visiting Acacia house for two weeks, getting to know some of the other patrons but always leaving alone. Until he'd seen Hux, and they'd spent the night together in the room at the end of the second floor hall.

They had very quickly made their assignations a regular appointment, on the first and sixteenth day of every month. In the two years since they'd begun the arrangement, they'd failed to keep only three appointments. With each meeting, the parting became increasingly difficult. Kingston lost a piece of himself every time he left, had been on the verge of asking a daring, possibly stupid, question.

He squeezed Hux's hands and stepped back. "I will let you take care of Lord Oswald." He retrieved the pink potion and placed it on the tray with the toddies. "Two spoonfuls daily for the next ten days. Try to administer it at the same time every day, but if you can't, it shouldn't cause any harm. Don't rush it, or try to do two doses in the same day. The potion is potent and can be dangerous if too much is consumed at once."

"I'll remember, thank you." He kissed Kingston's cheek. "If you'll find the staff, tell them you'll be staying in my room and they can send a plate of dinner up for you, unless you'd prefer to eat in the dining room. It's a dreary room, though. We never use it for anything save the odd dinner party. If the staff asks, I'll eat once Oswald is in bed. They can hold my plate in the kitchen until then."

"As you wish," Kingston said with a smile and lightly touched Hux's cheek before withdrawing. Once Hux had vanished back into the reading room, he retrieved his toddy and went in search of the staff.

Jim came striding out of the kitchen just as Kingston reached it. "Something wrong, Master Lockwood?"

"Not at all. Master Hux has invited me to stay and said to let you know I will be staying in his room."

Surprise rippled across Jim's face, and then he burst into a grin. "You're the reason he slips away twice a month, aren't you? We knew it, we bloody knew he was slipping off to see a lover, that liar. I'll show you up to his room." His grin widened as he led the way from the kitchen back to the front hall and up the staircase there.

They came to a stop at the end of the hall. Kingston smiled faintly.

"Hux will never live this down, not in a hundred years," Jim said cheerfully. "I'll fetch you some fresh clothes and a dressing robe. I'm sure you don't want to be stuck in those damp things, especially if this weather keeps up and you're stuck here." He slipped away before Kingston could reply.

Kingston pushed the door open and stepped inside. The room was simple, elegant, all dark and light browns with accents of blue. There was a bed in one corner, the drapes around it pulled back and tied to the bed posts. A small table beside the bed contained a lamp, a book, and an empty wineglass. Kingston smiled, thinking of all the times Hux had come to him in Acacia with the taste of wine on his lips.

On the other side of the room was a small fireplace, a fire already burning. To the left of the fireplace was a small table stacked with books, papers, bottles of ink, and a case of pens. The chair was buried beneath a dressing robe that looked as though it had been hastily discarded. To the right of the fireplace was a small bureau and a door that likely led to a dressing room.

At the foot of the bed was a large chest that also served as a bench. Kingston set his toddy on the table by the bed, then removed and folded his jacket, leaving it on the chest. Next he stripped off his waistcoat and cravat, setting them atop the jacket. It was not as though discretion was necessary.

Unfortunately, the room left very little room for sitting beyond the chair at the table, which he hesitated to go near for fear of messing something up.

The problem was solved a moment later, however, when Jim returned bearing a dinner tray and followed by two footmen with larger, far more comfortable looking chairs. "Borrowed these from a sitting room Lord Oz never uses. Be a bit crowded, but maybe now Hux will listen to Lord Oz and take a larger room, eh? Here's your supper, then." He set it on a folding table he had carried along with him, setting everything up beside one of the chairs once they were arranged before the fire. "I believe Hux was just putting Lord Oz to bed and will be along shortly." A maid bustled in with another dinner tray and table and set it up quickly beside the other chair. Kingston thanked them when they were done. Jim dismissed the other servants, then turned back to Kingston. "What do you prefer we call you, Master Lockwood?"

"Kingston is fine, thank you."

Jim nodded, then bowed and slipped away, closing the door quietly behind him.

Sitting down, Kingston immediately helped himself to the jewel-red wine. It would go straight to his head after a long day of hard work and little food, but he could not bring himself to care. He had just started in on the food when the door opened and Hux slipped inside. "How is Lord Oswald?" Kingston set his wine aside and rose, crossing the room to take Hux's hand and tug him in close.

"Asleep and doing as well as can be expected. I do not think I will ever be able to adequately thank you for all you've done. I rarely use potions, and the ones kept in the household are bought by Jim or Heather—she's the cook. I dithered forever over who to visit, but you came the most highly recommended. Of course, if I had known 'Potion Master Lockwood of Two Parts Mistletoe at Number 12 Green Row' was my Lock, I would have gone straightaway."

"Your faith humbles me. I am grateful the matter was so well when normally they end far more grimly." He brushed back a loose strand of hair. "You look tired."

"I have not been resting easy since this whole mess began. I do wish I had realized sooner, acted faster, but at least I did not take too long." He smiled shyly. "I was looking forward to our appointment in a few days. I even had planned to bring you a Frost Days gift."

Kingston brushed a whisper-soft kiss across his mouth. "You are all the gift I need."

Hux smiled, kissed him more firmly. "I think I can certainly come up with something you will not refuse."

"If it involves you naked, certainly not," Kingston replied. "But for now, I think, you should eat and then go to bed. I would not protest some rest myself." He drew Hux in closer, their bodies flush, and kissed him, deep and slow and thorough, tasting whiskey and lemon and tea. He shivered at the fingers that carded gently through his hair, the familiar scent and feel of Hux, still reeling that he was suddenly free to touch and kiss and see this man more than twice a month.

Reluctantly drawing back, he took Hux's hand and led him to their waiting suppers.


"So what was it you wanted to talk to me about?" Kingston asked as Eliza came back from showing out their only customer of the day. Middle of Frost Days, and snow still piled up everywhere. Only the most desperate were coming for potions. He almost wished it were busy; he could use the distraction from wondering how Hux and Lord Oswald faired, from wondering if Elmhurst had been locked up.

But it had been three days since he had left Hux to return to the shop, and no one had so much as sent a note.

Eliza approached the counter, tucking back tray bits of hair that had escaped their knot. "I do not think it is arrogant to say that I will be testing for my mastership soon…"

"No, it's not," Kingston agreed. "I was going to submit the paperwork after Frost Days."

She tangled her hands on the counter. Kingston closed the ledger where he'd been looking over the day's customers, noting supplies he'd need to order once the weather cleared enough to permit it. "What is it, my dear?"

"I was wondering… I have been saving my pay for quite some time…"

"Come to it, Eliza. I've never known you to dither." Kingston smiled, reached across the counter, and took her hand.

She smiled, covering his hand with her other one. "I was wondering if you would let me buy into the shop. This place is very dear to me, and I've never wanted to go into private practice or research, certainly not the military or government. A shop is exactly what I want, and I see no reason to start all over when I've worked here for so long, love it dearly, and we work well together. And I know that you have been wanting more free time…"

Kingston returned her nervous smile with a bright, happy one. "My dearest friend, that is the finest idea I've heard in forever. I was already mourning losing you once you got your mastership. This is turning out to be the very finest Frost Days, indeed."

"Mm-hmm," she said with a grin. "I bet, the way you were making eyes at that little secretary. Is that something to do with you popping out twice a month?"

"Be quiet and get back to work. You're not a partner yet."

Grin widening, she obeyed, humming and singing while she tidied the shop. Kingston opened the ledger and resumed working on the inventory. "I hope this snow breaks before we run out of honeysuckle."

"I can run down to Two Parts Clover if it comes to that. They still owe us a few favors. I—" she broke off as the bell rang and the door opened. "Hello, again."

"Hello," Hux said quietly, smiling briefly at her before putting all of his attention on Kingston.

He was dressed much more like the Hux from Acacia House: old, worn clothes, hair pulled loosely back in a ribbon that would not take more than a gentle tug to set free. Even more vividly than Acacia, Kingston remembered waking up in Hux's bed, wrapped around him, warm and comfortable. Leaving had never been such a difficult thing to do.

"I can finish up down here, Kingston, if you two want to go upstairs and…" She winked at him. "Talk."

"I'm starting to reconsider taking you on as a partner," Kingston retorted, but gladly closed the ledger again, lifting the partition for Hux to come through. Smiling, he led the way to the back room, and then up the stairs to his apartment.

It wasn't much, just a front room with seating and a small kitchen for making tea and small, simple meals. Through one door was a washroom and through the other was his bedroom, smaller than Hux's and far plainer. "It's not much, I'm afraid," Kingston said and took Hux's things, hanging them on the coatrack by the door, setting his gloves and hat on a table by the door. He motioned Hux to one of the two small, faded chairs. "How are you? How is Lord Oswald?"

"Oz is doing well. Chief Potsworth stopped by to ask after him, and I left them talking quietly. Potsworth said you were his next visit, so I said I would pass on to you that Elmhurst has been arrested and his father has resigned."

"My word. That I was not expecting. Harold said he was determined to get the father too, but… I am impressed." Kingston shook his head. "I am glad matters have turned out so well for all parties. I can count on one hand the number of times incidents like this ended so happily. When does Oswald expect you back?"

Hux unbuttoned his faded umber jacket, dropped it on the chair he'd never sat in, and then removed his glasses and set them on the fireplace mantle. "He said that he had best not see my face for at least two days, that he is quite capable of tending to himself. Chief Potsworth assured me he would keep Oz company. I think the lawsuit Oz is planning helps, too."

Kingston huffed a soft laugh. "Yes, I would imagine. I hope he leaves Elmhurst penniless."

"Oh, he will," Hux replied, then closed the space between them, splayed his hands on Kingston's chest, leaned up, and kissed him.

And what a kiss it was. Kingston did not know if it was simply that they were kissing outside of Acacia House, in the middle of the day and with no barriers or limits between them, or that Hux had been holding back in Acacia and now surrendered it all, but the kiss left Kingston breathless, head spinning. His fingers skated impatiently over Hux's body, wanting the damnable clothes out of the way, needing skin.

Hux drew back slowly, dragging his tongue across Kingston's mouth. "I never dared hope I would see you outside of Acacia. I still fear I will wake up."

"You feel far too real to be something as fleeting as a dream," Kingston replied and dragged him into another wet, hungry kiss, finally getting his fingers up under that damnable shirt. Releasing Hux's delectable mouth, Kingston began mouthing and sucking at his perfect skin, enjoying the scent and taste of him: roses, a hint of sweat.

Hux shivered in his arms, nails scratching the back of Kingston's neck. Dragging himself away with a groan, Kingston tugged him toward the bedroom, pausing only to light a lamp before turning around and making quick work of their clothes. "You are breathtaking."

"Flattery will get you many, many things," Hux said with a smile. The lamplight bathed his pale skin with flickering gold, showed off the light muscle of a man who spent his days running errands and shadowing his employer. His hands, when he dragged them down Kingston's chest, had the familiar roughness of callouses acquired from hours of working at a desk. There were smudges of blue and red ink on his fingers, and beneath the fine cologne was the scent of paper and sealing wax.

Kingston spread Hux out on the bed, then withdrew long enough to fetch a bottle of thick, shimmery, clear liquid from his bureau. Climbing onto the bed, he pulled the stopper from the bottle and slicked one hand, trailed his fingers down Hux's chest and stomach, combed through the soft thatch of pale curls crowning his cock, then wrapped his fingers around it.

Hux groaned, head falling back, hips jerking, and hands fisting in the sheets. "What is that? It tingles in the most evil way."

"I'm a potionmaker," Kingston said with a chuckle. "What is the point if I cannot occasionally use my skills to have a bit of fun?" He slicked the fingers of his other hand and slid them back, teasing at Hux's heavy sack, eliciting a hard, full body shudder and the prettiest moan he'd ever heard. The broken whimper that followed when he gently pushed one finger into Hux's body was even better.

Hux slowly dragged his eyes open. They were hot and bright, pupils wide, expression faintly dazed. "You never brought this to Acacia House."

"I almost did, on several occasions, but caution always won out."

"You should sell it to Acacia," Hux replied, but whatever else he'd meant to say was lost as Kingston added a second finger to the first, other hand stroking hard at Hux's cock. "King—"

Kingston leaned down to kiss him hard as he came, spilling warm over Kingston's hand, fingers gripping his arms not quite painfully tight, kisses sloppy as he shuddered through his release. "You really are quite lovely."

"You are hardly a chore to look upon yourself, sir," Hux said with a smile. His face was flushed, hair damp with sweat, and his mouth was wet, swollen, well-used. The man was more addictive than a potion that was three parts poppy.

Squirming out from under him, Hux shifted them so Kingston sat with his back to the headboard, cushioned by his two old, nearly-flat pillows. Kingston started to speak, but the thoughts scattered as Hux's mouth dropped over his cock. His hair had come loose, the ribbon lost among the sheets. He sucked Kingston's cock like there was nothing else he would rather do. His tongue dragged and rubbed, throat working as he pulled Kingston deep, saliva and pre-cum dribbling from the corners of his mouth to paint his chin. If it tired him at all, there was no sign of it. His eyes burned as he stared up at Kingston through his lashes, face flushed and gleaming with sweat, fingers tight where the clamped on Kingston's skin.

Kingston held on as long as he could, but it was impossible to last. He curled a hand into Hux's hair, moaned his name, then finally spilled down Hux's throat. When he finally calmed, he let go of Hux only to grab his arms and drag him up, gently kiss that well-used mouth. "I do not know how in world I confined our relationship to Acacia House for so long." He rubbed a thumb over those red, swollen lips, pressed another kiss to the corner of Hux's mouth.

"I wish it had been happier circumstances that brought us together in daylight, but I am glad our paths crossed all the same," Hux said. Kingston shuffled them around so they lay stretched out on his bed, pulling Hux close, wrapping an arm around him, and nuzzling his hair. Hux lazily pet and stroked his skin. "The royal ice fair is tonight. I do not suppose you want to accompany me? Lord Oswald is having a private supper for the household afterward and has said you must come—he insists. Though if you must remain here, I do not mind keeping you company."

"Eliza has spent the last two days away. She will not mind remaining so I can spend the day and night with you." His mouth quirked. "She is going to become a partner in the shop. That should give me free time I've never had before. I think we will need it, if we are to build something between a potionmaker and a secretary."

Hux smiled. "I think even if our time was still constrained, we would find a way to make it work. You seem to excel at surmounting obstacles, my dear."

"It's all in the components. One part good, two parts strong," Kingston replied and drew him into a lingering kiss.

False Love potion:
*mistletoe - I surmount all obstacles
*peach blossom - I am your captive
*ivy - clinging affection
*mallow - think of me
*crimson poppy - fantasy
*escholzia - do not refuse me

Broken Heart potion:
*mistletoe - I surmount all obstacles
*persicaria - restoration
*bittersweet nightshade - truth
*butterfly weed - let me go
*apple blossom - choice, preference
*red balsam - touch me not

Healing Heart potion:
*mistletoe - I surmount all obstacles
*lily of the valley - return of happiness
*cranberry - cure for heartache
*white oak - independence
*liverwort - confidence
*narcissus - excessive self-love


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To Lauren Hough and Other Whiny Pissbabies: How Not to Behave as an Author

I should know how to behave and not behave. Anybody in MM Romance will be happy to tell you I have a long and sordid history of pissing peop...