Title: Assassin’s Vow
Author: Marissa Ames
I held the puffer fish with one finger as I sliced off the eyes and fins. With the tip of the knife, I opened the fish and carefully removed the innards. I flicked the noxious parts into the refuse bucket. Dipping the knife under the skin, I flayed the fish until I had nothing but clean flesh. The skin plopped into the bucket atop the entrails.
“Don’t cut yourself,” Jess warned before cradling my hip against his.
I muttered, “Don’t worry,” as I sliced the flesh into morsels.
He set a plate on the butcher block. “Where are your gloves?” he asked as he arranged the slices on the plate with his bare hands. Giving me a knowing wink, he tossed a morsel into his mouth and chewed.
“I’m fine.” I slid the plate aside then stabbed my knife into the other puffer fish. Using the blade, I flipped the fish onto the block.
Jess caught my wrist. “Wear gloves,” he said. “Please?”
I sighed and put my gloves on.
“You’re in a mood today,” he commented as I popped both fish eyes then stabbed again to catch the liver.
Shrugging, I lobbed off the head and fins. “The tarts are done,” I said as I ripped out the entrails. I carved dainty slices with a frill of blue skin on one edge. Jess nudged a second plate over. “Baneberry has the fluted crust, currants have the scalloped crust.”
As Jess meandered to inspect the food, I looked over at my dress. Cream silk with lace trim and a whalebone corset, it was exactly what I would have chosen for my own wedding. It was expensive. The client would pay for it tenfold after the job was done.
“What’s in the soup?” Jess asked before touching the ladle.
“Lily of the valley and death cap.” I arranged the fish on the plate then wiped the flat of the knife over the food for good measure. “Don’t eat the cheese. The goats fed on autumn crocus.”
“Remember to make-“
“I know, I know,” I said as I flipped the knife down onto the butcher block. “A clean batch is draining in cheesecloth right now.”
Today we sought to shake the power structure of a crime family. Nobody expected to die at a wedding. The client chose whom to warn about the food. By the time the poisons took effect, Jess and I would be paid and gone on our supposed honeymoon.
I snatched up a wet rag and slapped it across the block.
Jess was immediately at my side, grabbing the rag. “Alright,” he said as he pried it out of my fingers. “What’s wrong?”
We were professionals, not poets. These things weren’t supposed to matter. The others had warned us to avoid sentiment, to remain partners only. It wasn’t like that, though. Since we fell in love, our skills honed. Trust bloomed. No man watches your back like the one who holds your heart.
Jess leaned against the butcher block and folded his arms. I avoided his gaze but he held strong.
“It’s nothing,” I insisted. “Just another fake wedding. Just another bride and groom, pretending to be happy.”
The happiness wasn’t false. Most of the others didn’t know our partnership had evolved. They just knew we worked better, satisfied more clients. They pressed to know our secret.
It was almost everything I ever wanted.
Jess said, “You need to cheer up.”
“Going to risk the contract.” As I pouted and set my poisoned hands on my hips, Jess continued, “How can I help?”’
We were professionals. Casting one more glance at my dress, I turned back to the butcher block and took up my knife again.
“I see.” Jess dropped the rag on the block and wrapped his arms around my waist. His lips hovered right behind my ear as he said, “I was saving this, but I suppose now is the right time.” Releasing me, he took the knife from my hand then carefully peeled off my gloves. I gawked down at him as he dropped to one knee.
“This time,” he said, enfolding my hands in his, “I hired a real priest.”
Written for Anna and Michael’s Dark Fairy Queen Writerly Bridal Shower. Congratulations!
Want to see what everyone else has written? Go here: