Here is the second (and last) installment of a Valentine themed short story for those who favor a mix of cozy mystery and romance. Please enjoy!
Meet-cutes were supposed to be effortless. For Valentine, they were stressful. It was difficult to arrange “chance meetings” destined to bloom into love. In the old days, Cupid and his agents would fling a few arrows and have done. Free will being such an issue in 2020, Valentine decided to intervene on a human level. He had persuaded Will’s father that it would be beneficial for Will to exchange emails with his nemesis’ daughter. And he’d convinced his charge, Will, to sign up to Cupid’s Arrow, a human-made site Cupid agents checked out for a laugh from time to time.
They might not have a clue what they were doing, but that never stopped a human from trying. Val thought humans showed progress. At the least, humanity’s love for love might just prove enough to one day get close to the formula.
So, Will knew he was here in New York to meet the woman of his dreams in person. He understood that @Julie4Ever was Julie Capulet. Julie, however, did not know that @WillRomeo1 was Will Montague. Will wanted to tell her, but Valentine was so very persuasive.
He worked his magic on Will and Julie both - only to make them more open-minded, not fall in love. He would never explicitly break the free will rule. That was why Valentine let Will think that he would stay behind at the hotel.
He did lag behind by a few steps. Once Will had made it to the café, sat down, and repeatedly checked his phone, Valentine used his magic to aim across the street. He shot an arrow at Julie through the third-floor window as a reminder of their appointment. In twenty seconds, Julie was already downstairs and checking her makeup. Valentine smiled. So far, so good.
But how to make sure she’d fall for Will, that was the question. They were both attractive, but that only guaranteed so much before Julie found out Will’s name and told him to ship off to England. Valentine could create an “accident” and propel Will to magically save Julie’s life. Or he could let them argue, then give Will a heart attack (just a minor one, no real damage) and persuade Julie to stay by his bedside until he recovered.
Val had run a thousand scenarios, but there were always a million little factors that presented themselves in real-life situations.
It was best to play it by ear and prepare for anything. The one factor Will hadn’t anticipated was competition. He should have reported the rogue agent who had interfered with Will’s destiny once before, but he thought he’d seen Darla for the last time at the beach.
He was wrong.
Her charge, Sarah, was not only at the café, but she also opened the door for Julie! It was almost an instinctive reaction for Valentine to smack a hand against the café window as he watched the two walk up to the counter together. The noise turned several heads, including Will’s. Valentine turned his back to the glass, hoping Will wouldn’t recognize his black hair, long gray coat, or custom, handmade Italian leather shoes.
“Smooth,” a feminine voice teased him from a city bench facing the café.
Valentine had somehow missed Darla, who had been sitting there for who knows how long. Whether persuasive magic worked on other Cupid agents was a question that had never been tested, and Valentine had never been so tempted to enchant another agent before. He kept his hands on the velvet pouch in his coat pocket, just in case, as he approached Darla.
“What are you doing here?” Valentine asked.
Darla closed her eyes, inhaling and exhaling as if the air was sweet, which it always seemed to be around her – with a hint of spice. “Ah, love is in the air, can you feel it?”
“Get out of here,” Valentine said.
Darla smiled, “You’re cute when you’re mad. Your nose doesn’t flare too much, and your lips curve ever so slightly.”
Valentine shook his head, “Why are you interfering?”
Darla ignored him. “But you’re even cuter when you smile, and I’m loving that dimple just on the one side.”
“You watched me?” Valentine asked.
“I had to make sure you didn’t see Sarah coming.” If Darla’s smile hadn’t dazzled him, Valentine might have realized sooner that she was still distracting him now.
He turned back to the window to see that Will and Julie had found each other. Sarah was still standing in the background. Valentine wanted to flash a smile at Darla, let her admire his dimple as much as his work, which were equally flawless.
Though, at the moment, the cracks were showing in his plans. Will’s expression clued Valentine in on the fact that something was wrong. He concentrated on the pair, eavesdropping through the window. He bet Darla couldn’t do that. A demi-god had eyes and ears far better than a human had. Better than an elf’s ears, too. Though, Darla seemed to be listening in along with him.
Will was saying, “I just thought it would be best to tell you right away before we go any further.”
Arms crossed, Julie retorted, “Right away would have been from the very beginning.”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t give me a chance if you knew I was a Montague. But you’re right. You deserve to know who it is who has fallen in love with you.”
Will said it sincerely, but Julie’s expression was hard to read. She took a long moment staring into his eyes. This was it, intervention time.
Valentine took out a handful of faerie dust. He could send magic right through the glass. Julie was already teetering between disbelief that might lead to hate and belief that could lead to love. All she needed was a touch of magic to persuade her to choose love.
Just as he was finished loading a mini-dart to send Julie’s way, Darla’s hand smacked it out of his grasp. It flew toward the brown fur of a Daschund, who howled on impact. The dog’s owner struggled against the least, as it ran toward a poor, unsuspecting woman’s Pomeranian. The man and woman had a chuckle, perhaps two inadvertent love connections had been struck with one arrow. “Funny how fate works,” Darla chuckled, but Valentine was not laughing.
“I’ll have your arrows for this!” he said.
“You’ve got your drawstrings twisted. I double-checked this assignment five minutes after we left the beach. It was approved by Olympia.”
“Are you two having a problem?” An officer in a parked patrol car, possibly waiting for his partner, called out from the passenger seat.
Valentine waved. “Not at all.”
“We’re fine,” Darla added.
Under his breath, Valentine whispered between his teeth, “You’re wrong.” Then, he turned back to the window to see what damage had been done to Will.
Julie, impossibly, was smiling. She reached for Will’s hand. When she started talking, Valentine listened.
“I already knew. I mean @WillRomeo1? Kind of obvious. I almost blew you off just for that.” They interlocked hands as they laughed.
Will grinned, turning to Darla. She turned to him simultaneously. The same words escaped both sets of lips, “You’re too late.”
“What do you mean I’m too late? Julie and Will are clearly in love.”
“Who’s Will? Sarah and David are a perfect match, just as I predicted.” Darla gestured with her hand toward the couple sitting directly behind Will and Julie.
Valentine burst into laughter. He recognized the man from the beach. He’d been standing behind Will the whole time.
Darla quirked her head. “Mind sharing the joke? I’d love to laugh along.”
Valentine pointed at Will, “You accidentally shot him instead of your charge this morning.”
Darla crossed her arms. “I did not. I saw the arrow pierce him.” She pointed at the dark-haired, Latino man who looked nothing like the very blond Will.
“My charge was clearly hit,” Valentine said.
“Not by me,” Darla replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
Valentine ran a hand through his hair, puzzled. “If you didn’t shoot and I didn’t shoot, who did?”
The answer hit Valentine almost as quickly as it did Darla. They looked around for the officer. The patrol car was nowhere in sight.
Darla shook her head, “Did you say your Godfather was Cupid?”
“Yeah, but I never thought he cared about his descendants,” said Valentine.
Darla said, “You never thought Cupid, God of Love, would care about his descendants?”
For the second time that day, Valentine’s cheeks flushed. Realization struck him as he looked into Darla’s big, brown eyes. Maybe there was a reason he noticed her instead of Sarah on the beach this morning. She was beautiful, witty, and smart enough to get her assignment right, despite Valentine’s interference. Interference that might have happened just as fate intended.
“I guess the arrow was meant for me,” Valentine said.
“You mean, Cupid missed?” Darla teased him with a grin.
“Don’t be so sure.” He matched her expression, a mirror of each other as they locked eyes.
Darla said, “You know, not every match is meant to be, even if it hits the right target.”
Valentine held an arm out. She hooked his elbow with a smile. As they walked arm-in-arm away from their prearranged meet-cute Valentine said, “Don’t you think a Cupid knows who belongs together?”