Aiden Connolly is making me an offer I can’t refuse, even when I know I should.
For the past two years, I’ve run a small antiques showroom in Boston. Business is . . . not exactly booming. I make the rent, but otherwise, there’s a whole lotta ramen in my life. I recently downgraded to a micro-apartment tiny enough that my cat is ready to serve me an eviction notice. So when Connolly walks into my showroom and offers me something a little different, it’s hard to say no, even if my gut warns this job is a million miles out of my league.
Also, in the last five minutes, I’ve formed a very definite opinion of Mr. Connolly. He’s kind of an asshole. He strode past my “Appointment Only” signs as if they didn’t apply to him, marched up to me as I polished a French armoire and said, “I’m Aiden Connolly,” as if I should recognize the name. I do not.
He stands there, looking down at me. Way down. He’s not overly tall—maybe five eight or nine—but Connolly is one of those guys who could manage to look down his nose at someone standing on eye level. The smell of old Boston money wafts from him like fine cologne, and from his expression, my perfume is clearly eau de working class.
It doesn’t help that Connolly is a ginger. I know that’s usually an insult, but I have a thing for red-heads, especially ones like this, with eyes the color of new grass and red-gold hair and just the barest suggestion of freckles across the nose.
Combine “rich asshole” plus “hot young guy” plus “job that’s beyond my skill set,” and I should send him packing. I really should. And yet, well, I’m reaching the point where I drool every time I pass the fresh fruit stand down the road and have to count my pennies to see whether I can buy my apple a day.
“My office needs redecorating,” he announces.
I look around my dimly lit showroom, crammed with antiques. “That . . . isn’t really—”
“You are not an interior designer,” he says. “But I believe you could be, of a sort. I’m envisioning a different process, one that begins with set pieces and builds around them.”
It takes a moment to understand his meaning. “Start with antiques and design an office to suit?”
“Yes. Someone else would do that design, of course. What I want is an expert to select the base pieces. Roger Thornton tells me you have a very unique collection and an eye for quality pieces.”
I brighten at that, my confidence surging as Connolly’s odd offer begins to make sense. Roger Thornton is one of my best customers.
“My collection is indeed unique,” I say. “Every piece is one-of-a-kind. Not a factory-produced item in my shop.”
“I will take your word for that. I’ve collected a few antiques over the years, but I can barely even guess their period of origin.”
This admission could come with chagrin or self-deprecation. It could also come with pride, someone wanting to be clear they have no time for such mundanities. From Connolly, it’s a simple statement of fact, and I grant him a mental point for that.
“Now what I’d like—” he begins.
My front door opens, bell tinkling. I wait for the intruder to notice the second “By Appointment Only” sign, having obviously missed the first. Instead, a florid-faced man in his fifties strides in, clutching a box.
“I’m sorry,” I call. “We’re open by appointment only.”
He keeps heading straight for me.
“I’m sorry,” I say again, a little firmer now. “If you have a piece to sell, you’ll need to make an appointment. I’m busy with—”
The man thrusts the wooden box at me. “Fix this.”
I glance down at a hanging hinge. “I’m afraid I don’t offer repair . . .”
I trail off. The box is a tea caddy. Regency period. Rosewood. Perched on four cat paws, with a mother-of-pearl inlaid top, showing a kitten playing with yarn. That yarn seems to slide right off the box and snake toward me, whispering a soft siren’s call of devilry. Joker’s jinx.
I clear my throat. “I do purchase damaged items, but if you want me to take a look at this, you’ll need an appointment—”
He thrusts the box into my stomach. “I mean the curse. Fix that. Take it off.”
I force a light laugh and try not to cast a nervous look at Connolly. “I’m afraid that’s a whole other level of repair. I’m not sure why you think this is ‘cursed’”—I air-quote the word with my tone—“but that is definitely not my department. Maybe you have the wrong address? There’s a psychic two doors down, upper apartment.”
“Are you Kennedy Bennett?”
“Er, yes, but—”
“From the Bennett family of Unstable, Massachusetts?”
“It’s pronounced Unst-a-bull,” I murmur reflexively.
“Owners of ‘Unhex Me Here,’ also in Unstable?”
“Er, yes.” I tug at my button-down shirtfront, straightening it. “But I . . . I’m not part of the family business.”
“I spoke to your sisters. They sent me. They say this curse is a joker’s jinx, and that’s your area of expertise. Now unhex my damn box or I’ll leave a one-star review.”
“Go,” Connolly says.
The man turns and blinks as if Connolly teleported in from an alternate dimension.
“I said, go,” Connolly says. “Ms. Bennett clearly has no idea what you are talking about. Just as clearly, she has another client. Now take that”—his lip curls—“piece of kitschy trash and leave.”
The man’s red face purples. “Who the hell are you?”
“The person Ms. Bennett is currently dealing with. The client with an appointment.”
“Y-yes,” I say. “Mr. Connolly absolutely had an appointment, and I must insist that you make one yourself if you’re interested in selling that box. As for anything else you think I can do with it, my sisters have a very weird sense of humor. I’ll totally understand if you one-star their business.”
The man’s jaw works. Then he plunks the box on a sideboard. “Fine. You know what? You just bought yourself a curse, young lady. That’s my one-star review.”
He stalks out, leaving the box behind. As the door bells jangle, Connolly murmurs, “That was interesting.”
I force a laugh. “Right?” I ease the cursed tea caddy off the sideboard and tuck it safely out of reach. “So tell me more about this job, Mr. Connolly.”
We agree that I’ll stop by Connolly’s office after lunch, so I can see the space. When he leaves, I exhale and slump over the sideboard. Then I lock the door, place the tea caddy on my desk and peer at it.
While Connolly called it kitsch, it’s actually a valuable antique, like everything in here. As I told him, all my goods are one-of-a-kind. That’s because they’re cursed. Formerly cursed, I should say. The former part is very important.
I come from a family of curse weavers—a gift passed down through our female line and said to stretch back to the Greek arae. While we can weave curses, we can also unweave them, and that’s our true calling. Most times we’re asked to uncurse an item, though, we fake it. Not that we leave the curse on. That would be wrong. The problem is that those who show up on our doorstep rarely suffer from an actual cursed object. Instead, they suffer from an anxious mind that needs settling, and for generations, the Bennett women have provided that service, pretending to uncurse some heirloom or other.
People who have a real cursed object usually don’t realize it. They only know that the jewelry box they inherited from Aunt Edna gives them the creeps. Worse, no one wants to buy it because it gives them the creeps, too. That’s where I come in. I will take that box off your hands, for a price. Then I’ll uncurse it and resell it.
One might think that the ethical thing to do is offer to uncurse the object. I tried that a few times. The owner stared at me like I’d sprouted a turban and hoop earrings. Lift a curse? What kind of wacko was I? They just wanted to sell their weird jewelry box.
A couple of times, when I felt really bad about buying an heirloom, I tried quietly uncursing the object and giving it back. Didn’t help. They wanted it gone. That explains the tea caddy suddenly in my possession. While the owner obviously believed in the curse, he decided dumping it on me was safer than keeping it. Or he just got pissy and wanted to storm off with a grand gesture . . . which ultimately benefited one of us more than the other.
I’ll uncurse the caddy tonight, and if the former owner returns, I’ll buy it from him. Fair and square. Right now though, I have a far more important task: texting my sisters to tell them I’m going to kill them, in some fresh new way that is totally different from the other two times this week I threatened to do it.
Kennedy: Suffocation. Inside an antique tea caddy.
It only takes a moment for my younger sister to reply.
Hope: I don’t think we’d fit.
Kennedy: Oh, you will when I get through with you.
Our older sister, Turani, joins in.
Ani: Pfft. I’m not worried. To kill us, you’d need to come to Unstable. Which apparently has fallen off your GPS.
Kennedy: I missed one weekend. ONE. Also, the highway runs both ways. You could come here.
Ani: To that den of iniquity?
Kennedy: We call it ‘Boston’
Hope: Can we go pub-hopping?
Ani: Yes. When you’re twenty-one.
Ani: Now what’s this about a tea caddy?
Kennedy: Joker’s jinx Regency tea caddy. Guy barged in during a client showing.
Ani: I didn’t send him. H?
Hope: Hell, no. I learned my lesson. I hate you, by the way, K. I had a date last week. Made the mistake of offering to drive, forgetting that every time I sit in the driver’s seat, it makes a fart noise. 😾
Kennedy: Unhex it. Oh, wait, you can’t. Jinxed.
Hope: Hate. You.
Kennedy: Well, whoever sent the guy, please just don’t do it again.
Ani: We didn’t, K.
Kennedy: Confer. Get your story straight. Gotta run. 😘🔪🔪⚰️
They don’t text back to protest. They know better. One of them sent that guy, and I don’t care which one did—I just want it to stop.
My sisters aren’t trying to ruin my business. They just don’t understand why I need to have it in Boston, rather than Unstable where I’d pay a fraction of the rent and could cater to the steady stream of tourists. Except I don’t want bargain-hunting tourists. I also don’t want to live at home. Not right now.
Mom died of cancer a month before I fled to Boston. Three years earlier, a car accident claimed our father. That time I fled in the opposite direction—quitting college to come home and be with my family. After Mom died, I needed out. I needed to breathe, to be somewhere that didn’t have my parents—our family, our memories—imprinted on every damn blade of grass.
Besides, I’m twenty-five, and if there is an age when I should be spreading my wings—and sowing my wild oats—this is it. Yes, there are times when I miss Unstable and my sisters so badly I could cry. Times when I must admit that “sowing my wild oats” means “going to a bar, telling myself I’m going to hook up with a hot guy, and then spending all night chatting with the bartender instead.” But I just . . . I want to give this a shot. I want to prove that I can fly on my own, even if I don’t need to prove it to anyone but myself.