Since her parents became grey nomads, Queenie Hart was just about alone in the world. Her strange obsession with all things Scottish in the weeks before Halloween was ruining her life. While in the grip of the Caledonian Curse, she insulted people and spent money she couldn’t afford on bagpipe serenades. She turned down a date with her perfect man, angered her employers, and pushed her landlady into giving her notice. She, and her little baking business Queen of Tarts, would soon be homeless.
Queenie’s luck changed when her dad’s odd cousin found her a rent-free home for three months. The Belfry was a converted church, and Queenie was soon embroiled with the attractive but married landlord, and a man she knew as the Fixer. The Fixer helped her whenever she needed…but Halloween was coming, Caledonia was calling, and it was so the wrong time be starting on a new romance.
Jacaranda Fairling, October 25th, 2021
Jacaranda Fairling was seldom surprised by what her clients wanted. Indeed, in her twenty-five years of trading in Lady Lane she thought she’d heard it all, from the awkward teenager who needed a green dress, now, for a social tonight, to a bride who wanted rainbows and a place to store her dog for half an hour.
Come to think of it, those had been the same person, a decade or so apart.
Then there’d been the woman who’d fancied a vintage party dress so she wouldn’t look like a mother-of-the-bride, even though she was…
Jacaranda liked to think she was a good judge of what would suit a walk-in, but there was something off about this one.
“You’re not twins, are you?” she asked abruptly.
The would-be customer looked confused.
Jacaranda answered herself. “No, of course you’re not.”
“Only child,” the client said in a soft, low voice, speaking precisely as if auditioning for a part.
“What do you think, Lu?” Jacaranda glanced at her partner, Lucida, who was fey as well as fay. Lucida, as usual, looked to be away with the fairies, but her soft startled doe’s eyes glanced sideways in a smile, and she gave a tiny nod. She approved of the idea, or possibly of the customer. It was difficult to be sure, with Lu.
Oh, why not?
Jacaranda faced her puzzling client. “I expect we could manage that. It would make a change from all the Wicked Wiles costumes I’ve been asked to make this month. There’s only so much one can do with black cloaks and tall hats, but I suppose it’s the obvious costume for Wicked Wiles-themed Halloween parties.”
“Tarts and hearts aren’t wicked,” Lucida said, directly to the stranger.
“Och, I know that, but you see— it’s advertising,” the client explained. She was a tall, full-figured young woman with a mass of wavy strawberry-blonde hair. Her Scottish accent came and went, so she sounded like a bad actor.
That’s what it is. She’s acting some of the time. But which voice is real, and which is the act?
Jacaranda said, “I’ll see you on Friday afternoon, then.”
“That’s cutting it a wee bit fine.”
“It’s the best I can do, Ms Hart. Until then I’ll be elbow-deep in black crepe. Of course, you could always pop around to Thrifty Buys.”
“Lawks!” The client looked horrified. “I wouldnae be seen deid in junk from there.”
Deid… What was this? Robbie Burns Night?
Jacaranda raised her eyebrows. “I know a woman who got a fairy doll there for her Christmas tree a few years back. She paid a fiver for it.”
“And it fell apart? Burst into flames? Said something verra inappropriate to a gueist?”
Lucida laughed suddenly, then clapped her hands over her mouth. Her eyes, usually mournful and uncertain, danced with merriment.
Jacaranda cleared her throat. “There were no guests involved, but I believe it—he—did say something inappropriate to Frances. But Frances has still got it. Him.”
“Fairies can be hims. And this one was.”
It was decidedly a him, with every him attribute a betrayed and angry girl could want. That was if what Jacaranda had heard was true, and she had no reason to believe it wasn’t.
“Obviously, fairies can be laddies,” the client said. She added, thoughtfully, having wrestled her accent into submission, “Speaking of hims… do you think this costume might—um—please a laddie? To keep the lang-leggedy beasties at bay on Halloween night?”
“You can bank on it.” The words were out of Jacaranda’s mouth before she could hold them back.
The customer looked pleased. “Namaste.” She put her palms together and bent her head for a moment.
Then she went out under the tinkle of shop bells.
Jacaranda said, under her breath, “Though whether one laddie is enough for you is another matter…”
Why did I say that? Is it the feeling that she ought to be twins?
“Namaste?” Lucida asked.
“It means the same as greet you, more or less, only you can use it for goodbyes as well as hellos,” Jacaranda said. She frowned. “But you’re right. It doesn’t compute. Doesn’t go with all that Scotchness. Scotsness. Scottishness?”
Lucida lifted a hand and used her forefinger to make a small circle in the air near her temple. In anyone else, Jacaranda would have considered this a vulgar and rude gesture, but Lucida Castleby was never vulgar or rude. She never raised her voice, and she was never unkind, despite all the unkindness that had once been done to her.
Jacaranda looked at her business partner with affection. There was no use asking Lu what she meant by that odd gesture. She seldom replied to a direct question.
“Maybe we’ll find out what it’s all about one day,” she said.
Or maybe not.
“Lu,” she said abruptly, “how would you feel about driving up the coast to a Halloween Ball? Would Lindon care to come?”
Lucida tilted her head, as if listening to something far away. “I do love music. Maybe Lindon would like to dance.”