After two blocks, with their steps synchronized, perfectly content with silent walking, they came to a dead-end street. A big gold and olive and cream Victorian house looked down over the slope, like a guardian. Oil lanterns glowed in a dozen windows. The huge wraparound porch was hung with icicles and garlands of ribbons, gold beads, and white-berried sprigs of mistletoe and holly. The wrought iron fence surrounding the house nearly groaned audibly with the weight of matching decorations. Lori felt her skin itch at the mere volume of the unfriendly greenery so close to her. And getting closer every minute.
"Umm, so where is this place we're going?" she asked, and cringed back a little. Brick wasn't leading her up through that archway just dripping with mistletoe and holly, was he?
"Getting cold? Sorry. Guess I should have offered to drive." He wrapped his arm tighter around her and quickened their pace. "We're right here."
Before she knew it, Lori was through the gate--and not a hive appeared. She was sure she'd get a big, ugly red one on the end of her nose, at the very least. Maybe Brick was magic and protected her from the malign influence in the air? Stranger things had happened.
She blinked, and he had her up the steps and onto the porch. Still no itching, no watering eyes, no shortness of breath. What were her chances this was plastic mistletoe and holly? That hadn't protected her in the past, unfortunately. Some of her worst allergic reactions came from the cheapest, ugliest plastic mistletoe and holly she had ever seen. Maybe the cold slowed down the malicious effects?
Brick let go of her to reach ahead and open the big, stained glass door with the sign above it that welcomed them to Divine's Emporium.
Lori felt a prickle on the end of her nose and on the palms of her hands the minute Brick let go of her. She gasped and almost stopped short. Survival instincts kicked in and she hurried through the door, hunching her shoulders to keep as far away from the garland of mistletoe and holly framing the doorway.
"Here we are." Brick gestured for her to look around the store, which filled every room of the house-turned-shop. He took hold of her hand. The itching vanished.
Just my luck--he's the cure. What am I supposed to do? Hold his hand for the rest of my life? Lori looked up at Brick, who smiled as if he shared a treasure with her. Maybe that wasn't such a bad idea.
"Welcome." The woman who appeared from thin air--Lori saw the dimensional slit heal up--wore a long, loose gown of emerald velvet with heavy gold braid on her high collar, the cuffs of her wide sleeves, and the hem of her full skirts. More braid wove through her long hair in a dozen shades of gold, holding it in place. Her misty blue eyes widened a little when her gaze met Lori's.
She knows, Lori decided, as Brick opened his mouth to greet her.
Indeed, I do. Be welcome. This is a safe haven. She winked, and turned to Brick. "Done so soon?"
"I had help." Brick slid his arm around Lori's shoulders again. "Angela, this is Lori. I drafted her to help me with the tree at Eden II, and hopefully with the rest of the trees."
"How many are you going to decorate today?" Lori blurted, blushing and laughing with Angela a moment later.
"Not decorate. Just deliver."
"Just deliver." Angela shook her head. "Let me see your hands. And roll up your sleeves, while you're at it." She glared, barely managing to conceal the mischief sparkling in her eyes, when Brick hesitated to comply.
He rolled his eyes, tugged back his coat sleeves and rolled up his sweatshirt sleeves. Red spots dotted the palms of his hands, on the webbing of his fingers, and ringed his wrists like bracelets. Lori couldn't decide if the itching across her palms was real, because Brick no longer touched her, or if it was sympathy pains. He hadn't gotten those killer hives from her, had he?
Could he be allergic to her?
No, wait a minute. Angela expected to see those hives. What was going on?
"What are you allergic to?" Lori asked, when Angela just shook her head and Brick grinned like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"Pine trees," Angela said. She beckoned with a jerk of her head. "Come with me. Now," she added in an implacable tone, when he hesitated.
He shrugged, gave Lori a "What can you do?" look, and followed Angela away from the front counter. In moments, she was alone, looking around at all the old-fashioned toys and penny candy in big glass jars filling the front counter and the shelves behind it, the old-fashioned brass cash register, and the enormous tree decked with silver garland and rainbow-hued metallic balls.
A shimmer of magic in the air made the hair stand up at the nape of her neck. Lori turned around. Her mouth dropped open when the angel at the top of the tree jumped off, doing a triple twist on the way down. It swooped across the room to land on the counter in front of her, and turned into her cousin, Maurice. Albeit, Maurice dressed in G.I. Joe camouflage fatigues and five inches tall. With glittery, unreasonable wings. Fae hadn't had wings in centuries.