Duncan MacLeod followed the maître d’ of the Raven & Rose to the table where the widow of his old friend, Jonathon Tremaine, sat waiting.
“Mrs. Tremaine,” he said, taking her hand in his. “I'm sorry for your loss. Jon was a good man, and a good friend.”
Mrs. Tremaine squeezed his hand gratefully and smiled up at him through the tears in her carefully tinted lashes. She was a stunning beauty, hardly betraying her age, although Duncan felt that there was something calculating in her eyes. “The best of men, and so good to my daughters – quite as if they were his own.”
“And how is Cyndi taking the loss?” he asked as he took his seat across from her, thinking of Jonathon’s daughter from his first marriage. “I haven’t seen her since she was very small; I know she was very close to her father.”
Mrs. Tremaine’s lips tightened. “You would hardly know that, given how she’s behaving! Her father barely cold in his grave and she’s insisting on going through with her wedding – and how we’re going to pay for it, I’m sure I don’t know!”
“I thought Jonathon’s business was doing very well,” Duncan said, frowning. “That’s what he said the last time I was here in Portland.”
Mrs. Tremaine shrugged as she unfolded her napkin and draped it across her lap. “Oh, the business is doing well, I suppose, although how Jonathon thought that I would be able to manage it without him…” She sighed deeply. “And then his partner had that dreadful accident while out hiking.“
“I heard about that. He was attacked by some kind of animal in the woods?”
“So the police said,” she replied. “So you can see that I am quite at a loss. That’s why I called you. Jonathon said you were a very clever businessman, and I thought perhaps you could give me some advice.”
“I’m afraid that I don’t know much about artisan breads – “ Duncan began.
Mrs. Tremaine waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, we have bakers who make the actual product,” she said. “But the marketing is all a tangle now that Fred is gone. I thought it might be best to find someone to buy us out, only I don’t know how to go about finding a buyer or putting a value to the business. I thought…I hoped….” She reached out her hand across the table beseechingly. “Mr. MacLeod, could you at least take a look at the factory and the main shop? Give me professional advice? You’re a friend of the family – I’d trust your opinion.”
Duncan smiled and patted her hand reassuringly. “Of course. I’d be glad to help. And please, call me Duncan.”
“If you’ll call me Laura,” she replied, smiling and tilting her head archly as she said that.
It was one of the most uncomfortable dinners that Duncan had ever had, as Laura chatted almost without stop, though not about much of interest to him. Her favorite topics of conversation seemed to be her two daughters, how lovely and talented they were, and what a shame it was that the young men of Portland were not of the right caliber to appreciate them. Her step-daughter’s fiancé was a particular sore point of hers as the young man – apparently heir to one of the richest men in Portland – had first dated one of Laura’s daughters before being stolen away by Cyndi. How much of that was true and what was spite was unclear, but Duncan was glad when the meal was over.
As Duncan escorted Laura Tremaine out of the restaurant and towards the taxi stand, it was clear that she’d imbibed more of the wine that she could handle for her steps grew more unsteady by the moment. The old-fashioned gentleman in MacLeod couldn’t just abandon her to the uncertain care of the taxi driver, so he got into the cab with her and gave the driver the address. Once he’d seen her into the house she seemed to recover a bit and she insisted on a sharing a nightcap before he left, which he reluctantly agreed to.
As she poured their drinks he said, “I can meet you at the shop in the morning, to look over the books and see how the factory is doing. What time would be best?”
“Oh, any time,” she replied airily, handing him his drink. “My time is entirely free tomorrow. Unless – do you have to get back to Seacouver immediately? Your wife will be expecting you when?”
Duncan took a swallow of his drink and shook his head. “My time is my own,” he replied. “I’m not married.”
Laura’s smile widened into something that was entirely predatory and her eyes seemed to glitter strangely. “That’s what I was hoping.”
Duncan frowned at her words and then said, hastily, “Oh. No, you misunderstand. I mean, you’re very attractive and…I’m…I’m sure that you’re…” Words seemed to escape him and his mouth felt dry, fuzzy. He took another sip of his drink to clear his throat. “You are no doubt…a very fine person…but…”
The world began spinning, and Duncan’s last thought as his glass tumbled out of his hand was that the wine was going to leave a terrible stain on the carpet.
Duncan drifted in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware of two things: his head ached and there were voices nearby. Women's voices, in bits and pieces.
"He's rich, and a husband. That's what's important...when you're married you'll never have to ...""
" But why does Flora get .... and I get the bakery!"
"...just a little while. And you'll make such a lovely widow...."
"He's waking up, Mother!"
"...should be out for another couple of hours...might as well give him the Zaub...now.”
“Didn’t the - you know - say to wait till morning?"
"I don't think we have a choice. Open his mouth."
Despite all of Duncan’s efforts, he couldn’t move, couldn't struggle. He blinked his eyes open, saw two blonde women bending over him. Something was poured into his mouth, something cloying and sweet. He struggled to spit it out but a hand was slapped over his mouth, forcing him to swallow or choke. Then the hand was removed and replaced by lips, warm against his own, for a brief kiss.
“Are you sure this will work, Mother?”
“Of course it will. The Hexenbeist said he won't remember anything about his past for three days, during which time you must get him to kiss you back of his own free will and claim you as his true love. Once that happens, nothing on earth will be able to break the bond between you.”
Then all faded into darkness.