Lily was heading for the kitchen with a overflowing tray of dirty glasses, balled up napkins and paper plates, when the air around her began to subtly vibrate in small waves like a stone tossed into the deep stillness of a lake. She froze, quickly searching the people laughing and partying around her. No one else seemed to notice, though it had literally felt like the air had trembled. Puzzled, she shook her head when the sensation faded, continuing on to the kitchen. Maybe there’d been an earthquake, though it was strange she was the only one to feel it.
She backed through the swinging door, then turned to set the tray on the kitchen counter. And nearly plowed straight into the broad back of a pirate, who was at that moment holding Little Red in his arms, nearly two feet off the ground, and appeared to be kissing her senseless, if the soft moans were any indication. With a grimace, Lily quietly spun on her heels and was back out the door before—she hoped—her presence had even registered. Grudgingly, she had to acknowledge that not only was Dominic Cantrell a hunk, but it looked like he was a great kisser too. Lily just wished she could shake the feeling he was up to no good with her best friend.
Suddenly tired, and too hot in her long black dress and pointy hat, Lily headed for the front counter to retrieve the old glass fish bowl filled with the votes for Best Costume. All she could hope was that Katy’s heart wouldn’t be ripped out of her chest and stomped into the dirt before the mysterious Dominic moved on. Because she had no doubts he would.
Scowling, she berated herself. Was she just being a jealous bitch, imagining the worst because that’s what she wanted to see? After all, earlier tonight when Katy had finally introduced them, Dominic had been everything that was polite and courteous, and throughout the night, she’d kept her eye on him, watched his interactions with Katy, but no matter how she’d watched—sneaky or blatant—she could find no fault with the guy, nor how he treated her best friend.
Leaving the tray on her desk, Lily sat on the tall stool behind the counter, removed her hat and kicked off her uncomfortable witch boots, wiggling her sore toes with relief as she pulled the over- flowing fish bowl toward her and began to sort through the ballots. With a sigh, she relished being off her feet for the first time all night.
“Did we get any votes this year?”
She looked up, then smiled at Steve, one of the Dracula wannabes. “Not so far, but I’ve just started counting.”
Mike came up behind Steve, laying a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “We decided to give someone else a chance this year anyway.”
As she listened to the two men banter, Lily was reminded of the incident between them and Dominic. Casually, she asked, “Hey guys, do you remember earlier when I asked you to help Katy, and the—”
“—Pirate threatened to kill us with his cutlass? Yeah, we remember,” Mike muttered.
“What? Threatened to kill you?” Lily stopped counting and stared in alarm.
“No, no. Not exactly,” Steve said.
“ ‘I heard the only way to kill a vampire is to cut off his head.’ You don’t think that’s a threat?” Mike sputtered.
“Actually, the words were less scary than finding out his sword was real,” Steve replied. He nudged Mike with an elbow. “And don’t be such a drama queen! He apologized later, and really, like he said, he was just playing the pirate role. It is Halloween.”
“It was the way he said it, and the look in his eye,” Mike grumbled.
As they wandered away, arguing as usual, Lily absently counted the strips of colored paper as she thought about what she'd just learned. Had Dominic actually meant the threat, or was it just an act? And, a real sword? She didn't know what to think about any of this: Dominic, her weird dream, trembling air waves. Maybe I need a holiday.
A short time later, votes counted, Lily turned off the CD player behind the counter, signaling the final event of the party. Padding to the staircase in her bare feet, she went up a few steps so everyone could see her, and looked into the faces of her guests as they crowded around the base of the stairs, laughing and eager to hear who had won this year’s contest. All around her stood customers, vendors, friends, even a few competitors. Lily felt a rush of contentment flow through her. This was her place. Her home.
Clearing the emotion from her throat, she smiled. “I want to thank all of you for coming, for making this the best Halloween party ever, and I want to invite each and every one of you to come back next year.” She waited until the whistling and catcalls died down. “So, to close the Halloween festivities for another year, it is my absolute pleasure to announce the winners of the Best Costume.”
Lily grinned, drawing out the suspense until Dominic, of all people, standing by the front counter with Katy pulled against him, flipped up his eye patch and shouted, “It’s me! I know it’s me! What did I win?”
Over the laughter, over other voices arguing that no, surely they had won, Lily raised her hands in a settle down gesture, then again looked around the room. “The winners of the best costume ever seen at Enchantments…are the Bodley twins, dressed as Peace and Quiet!” The room burst into applause, and amid the happy shouts and congratulations, the two tiny, elderly spinsters, Agnes and Estelle Bodley tottered to the stairs. Aggie was dressed as a hippie from the 1960s, with a large peace symbol sewn on the back of her beaded vest, while Stell wore the traditional black and white face and clothing of a mime, right down to the French beret.
Handing each of them a small white envelope, she said, “Your names and photo will forevermore be showcased on the infamous Wall of Best Costumes, and you both have received a $50 gift certificate.” Beaming smiles spread over the creased and aged faces of the twins, both women wildly waving their envelopes, accepting the cheers and accolades with great delight. Lily stepped down to the main floor, bending to give the women a warm hug, congratulating them on their clever costumes before taking them aside for a quick photo.
Then it took nearly an hour to get everyone out the door and safely on their way. Katy made sure those who had too much to drink were either leaving with sober friends, or going home by cab. The Bodley twins were thrilled to be escorted home by Dominic, both secretly wishing they lived much farther away from the bookstore than two short blocks, and while he was gone, Katy and Lily made short work of clearing the main room.
Lily quietly loaded the dishwasher as Katy bundled the trash bags near the back door, knotting them closed before they were tossed in the dumpster outside. “I haven’t talked to you very much tonight,” Lily said quietly. “I hope you had a good time, even though you were working. And by the way, thanks for everything. I’m going to have to figure out a really good Christmas bonus this year.”
Laughing, Katy tied a knot in the last trash bag. “I think this was the best party ever.” Grabbing a cloth, she began wiping the kitchen counters. “The food was really great, everyone said so, and I think we had way more people than last year, and oh, how amazing was it that the Bodley twins won the contest?”
“I think that was the best part of the whole night. Did you see the look on their faces?” She hesitated a moment, then said, “Though I think winning the contest wasn’t nearly as great as getting walked home by your pirate.”
Katy sighed. “I know. Seriously, could you believe it when he just jumped right in and said he couldn’t allow two such beautiful women to walk home alone? If I hadn’t already fallen head over heels, that would have done it for me.”
“Don’t take this wrong, Katy, please, but—” Lily raised her hand as Katy began to object. “No, wait! Just hear me out, okay?” Snapping her mouth shut, Katy scowled and crossed her arms across her chest. Lily rushed ahead before she lost her nerve, “What do you really know about this guy? Who is he? Where is he from? Really, he just appeared out of nowhere and—”
Interrupting, Katy snapped, “Look Lil, I know you have reservations about Dom, even though I don't understand what they could possibly be, or why you're so sure there’s something wrong with him.” Puffing out a short breath, she said in a softer tone, “You’re my best friend in all the world and I would do anything for you.” She put her hand on Lily’s arm, eyes fierce as she held Lily’s gaze. “But he hasn’t done anything to make you feel this way toward him.” Shaking her head, she said, “I can’t explain it. The connection we have. I just know for good or ill, no matter what you think, I trust him, and you're just going to have to deal with it.”
Lily opened her mouth, not sure what to say to that, but just then Dominic tapped on the window in the back door, his grin widening as Katy ran to unlock it. She murmured to him, and after a quick kiss on her nose, he grabbed several of the knotted bags, while Katy dragged out the last two, shutting the door behind her as she followed Dom to the dumpster.
A large platter dangled forgotten in her hand as Lily stared at the closed door. She couldn’t get over how quickly Dominic had become part of Katy’s life. Or how certain Katy was of him. “I don’t care what she says,” she muttered, “I still don’t trust him.”