Life is like a carousel, a dizzying affair,
First color and music and nary a care,
Then ponies aplenty and unicorns rare.
Later heights to meet and lows to bear,
Dreams to fulfill with wind in your hair.
Make the journey with joy, bright and aware.
Reap peace and love if you meet the dare.
Refuse the risk and end alone in despair.
Rory MacKenzie stood on the far side of the world in a bustling city of witches and vampires and magic-to-go, across from Victoria Cartwright’s Immortal Classic Vintage Dress and Curio Shop. Through its window, he saw a vision—a sorceress disguised as a dream—beside the glass-encased evidence of his family disgrace, or so he hoped.
As if she sensed his interest, the woman from the Roadshow met his assessing gaze with one of her own through a diamond-paned bay window on the porch level of a fussy wooden Victorian painted the color of fresh heather, with ripe eggplant and clotted-cream for trim.
She disappeared too soon, but a minute later, she emerged from the house to lean on the pumpkin-lined railing of the wraparound porch. Like a brazen selkie maid, she took no note of the harbor breeze scrambling her long honey hair, plastering kiss curls to her brow and molding her vintage seafoam gown and lavender shawl to her full lush figure. Her heels were high, her shoes purple, her gaze direct.
Rory raised his chin and matched her look as he crossed the street. If this was Lili Lockhart’s descendent, he tasted a bit of old Drummond’s weakness, savored the sweet of it on his tongue, and stepped up his pace seeking more . . . until he remembered its cost.
Sobered, he stopped at the base of the porch steps atop which the siren stood. “Miss Cartwright,” he said with a nod, prepared for any jiggery-pokery she might toss his way.
She stiffened at his words, hesitated, flipped the end of her shawl over a shoulder and held a hand against her heart. To calm its beat, or protect herself? From him?
“Victoria,” she corrected, soft and skittish as a selkie maid.
At the sound of her siren’s voice, Rory’s mouth went dry, his mind went blank. He fingered his beard, the fullness of it hiding emotions he’d rather keep to himself.
He cleared his throat. “Victoria . . . ” The silence had stretched too long. “You looked better-fed on the antiques show,” he said in a rush.
Victoria stilled, firmed her spine, and turned away.
“Rory MacKenzie,” he said climbing the steps to keep up with her retreating form. “Hermit by nature.”
Victoria stumbled on the stoop, caught herself, and looked back at him.
He shrugged. “Rusty manners, I guess you could say.”
“No kidding.” She entered her shop and let the door shut him out.
Rory faced a sign taped to the glass. ‘Room for Rent,’ and, ‘Bookkeeper/Handyman Wanted. Apply within.’
Despite the frightening sense of destiny riding him, Rory went in after her with anticipation. Not only the prospect of Drummond’s unicorn to claim, but gob-smacked by the fetching, hot-tempered gate-keeper standing square between him and success.
Except for the strong scent of cinnamon, her shop could be a sunny-day attic with its trunks of clothes, shoes, and shelves of colored glass through which daylight cast rainbows on button art, butterflies, and butter churns.
Stars, he saw in wind chimes, astrological charts, and such, with mirrors lined like plates in a cupboard on a shelf, too high to reflect anything but the shadows and each other. Smoke and mirrors, he thought. Illusion.
The selkie had enough customers to keep a proprietor busy, though perhaps not quite prosperous.
Like a hedgehog in a thorny-thicket, Rory braved his way through a timeworn maze of clothes racks and memorabilia as he headed for the unicorn, or its temporary owner, whichever he reached first.
When he emerged on the other side, he found Victoria snapping a picture of a Brunette, who Rory thought he should know. Victoria raised her head from her camera and eyed him up and down . . . as if he stood in a case with a price tag on his privates!
“So, how was he?” the Brunette asked nodding Rory’s way, as if for a score on his shagging skills.
“The opposite of a knight,” Victoria said. “It starts with an “A” and has a “hole” in it.”
Rory flinched when the shot hit home.
“Bummer,” the Brunette said. “What happened?”
“Red-beard said I was fat.”
“Who, the Neanderthal?”
“I did not!” Rory snapped, afraid he might have done. “Besides, I’m partial to a woman with meat on her bones. Who’s a Neanderthal?”
His response raised Victoria’s ire. She skewered him with a look that placed him on a level somewhat lower than the belly of a serpent, making him feel less welcome than the Monster of Loch Ness come to call.
“My beard is as mahogany as the hair on my head, not red, and I meant to say that you’re thinner than I expected,” Rory said.
“Thinner, but not thin.” Victoria raised her chin. “You seem to have examined my figure at length.”
“Aye, you could say that.” Rory baited her by boldly doing so again, at his leisure, a payback for her own brazen perusal.
“Stop it,” the bonnie selkie snapped.
“Some things canna be helped, nor would we want them to be.” Rory tried for a grin as rusty as his manners, and thought he might have pulled a grimace instead. He’d have to find a mirror in which to practice to be sure he could smile. At any rate, he failed to charm her. “It’s what’s under the bonnet that counts, ye ken? Not the body work.”
“I’m not a car,” Victoria snapped. “What do you want?”
Rory frowned—an expression he’d long-since perfected. “Do you treat all your patrons so rudely?”
Victoria noticed that several of them awaited her answer. “My customers are never rude, unlike you,” she said loud enough for them to hear, side with her, and reproach him, in disapproving silence, which they did brilliantly.
“I came to see the unicorn,” he said, giving up on charm as he placed his satchel on the wide-planked floor.
The Brunette stepped between them like a mediator. “Hi. I’m Melody Seabright, a friend of Vickie’s.”
“Ach, and you’re The Kitchen Witch,” Rory said.
“I know!” Melody Seabright’s smile reached her eyes.
“Aye, and now I know why you looked familiar. An American telly star first day in the states; I heard such things could happen. How do you do, Miss Seabright?”
“I’m fine, thank you, and, please, call me Melody.”
“I’m Rory MacKenzie. Rory. From Scotland. I liked the program where the bees took over your kitchen.” He turned to the frowning unicorn-thief, her eyes as wide and lucent as the priceless ocher marbles Drummond had used on his carousel figures. “Weren’t you on that show as well, Victoria, at the end?” He’d caught her off guard, scared her witless, or softened her sharp edge. Hard to tell which.
“Did I look well-enough fed that time?” she snapped with an edge that could cut glass.
“You looked . . . like a dream.” Rory chose the redeeming truth to get to the unicorn, not because he wanted to see Victoria Cartwright smile, which was just as well, because she didn’t.
The Kitchen Witch star looked from one of them to the other and indicated the street outside the window. “When we saw you out there, you seemed like a rhyme—Victoria’s wishing rhyme—come true.”
Victoria tried to object but Melody shook her head. “Humor me,” she said, “both of you. Rory, are you married?”
“No surprise there,” Victoria said with intended insult.
“Is that a requirement to entering your establishment?”
Melody chuckled. “Hardly. Are you by any chance a knight at one of your country’s famed Scot’s lodges?”
“Aye, sure,” Rory said, hoping his beard hid his confusion. “I’m a Knight of the Sacred Star down at the Lodge where I like to go and watch the telly.”
“Close enough,” Melody said, “even without a white charger.”
“Oh, but I have a white charger. I have several. I carve carousel chargers for a living, you see. That's why the unicorn caught my eye when I saw it on the Antiques Roadshow.” The truth, as far as it went.
“Victoria,” Rory added with a bow. “My wooden charger is at your disposal.”
Judging by her gasp, not only had his cheeky pun failed to charm her, he had annoyed her the more.
“Thank you,” she snapped, “but wooden chargers are way more trouble than they’re worth.”