Black Cat Antiquities, Book 2
2021 Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Award Winner
Will cursed cookies poison their magical Christmas?
Molly Hendrickson is looking forward to a happy holiday with her fiancé, Lucian Lord, manager of Black Cat Antiquities. A sorcerer and reincarnated knight from the Middle Ages, Lucian protects Cat’s Paw Cove from evil magic and is teaching Molly how to use her newfound abilities—because even in the festive season, their enemies, The Dealers, could strike again.
The Dealers are indeed plotting, because together, Lucian and Molly could pose too big a threat. Hoping to split up the couple for good, The Dealers use the town’s amorous cougar and a batch of enchanted holiday cookies to lure Lucian away from Molly.
Has Molly lost Lucian forever? Or will she be able to break the spell so she and Lucian can get the happily ever after they deserve?
***CHRISTMAS MAGIC is the sequel to Catherine Kean’s book HOT MAGIC.***
Read an Excerpt
Cat’s Paw Cove, Florida
“A bit more to the left.”
Standing on a stepladder in one of the front windows of Black Cat Antiquities, Molly Hendrickson leaned sideways a fraction more. She adjusted the curve of the shiny gold garland she’d been taping along the window frame. “Here, Lucian?”
Not ‘yes’ or ‘no?’ She’d expected to hear either answer from her fiancé, the handsome grandson of William Lord, the store’s owner. Lucian was, after all, managing the shop since William was away on an antiques-buying trip. “Hmm?” she echoed.
“Patience, love. I’m assessing the situation.”
A hot tingle trailed through her, because his voice had held the rumbly drawl she loved so much; the sound that reminded her of a happy tiger. How easily she could visualize Lucian’s expression: his forehead creased with a thoughtful frown, his brown eyes narrowed with mischief, and his roguish mouth kicked up at one corner.
Sometimes, she couldn’t quite believe he was going to be her husband. He was, after all, a badass: a reincarnated 12th century knight who wielded magic as deftly as his eight-hundred-year-old sword. He used his powers to keep items corrupted with dark magic from causing trouble in Cat’s Paw Cove—or beyond. Through his work for The Experts—the ancient, secret society of sorcerers to which he’d sworn allegiance long ago—he helped protect the entire world.
Her gaze shifted to the sidewalk outside the store window, and she smiled. Right there, back in July, Lucian had gotten down on one knee and proposed to her. They’d only just survived a perilous adventure involving a cursed necklace, a vengeful sorceress from the Middle Ages, and evil magic. Lucian had almost died in the crucial battle, but in her love for him, Molly had discovered extraordinary power—and that she too had magical abilities. She’d vanquished the sorceress, sworn allegiance to The Experts just as Lucian had centuries ago, and all had returned to normal. At least, as normal as things could be in a town where magic abounded and even some of the cats had supernatural abilities.
Geez. How long did it take to decide about garland?
“Still thinking, love.”
Fine. She’d give him another minute.
A group of gray-haired women carrying shopping bags went past on the sidewalk. The teenager trailing behind them waved to Molly, and she waved back. She recognized the young waitress from Devon Rex Desserts, located like the antiques store on Whiskers Road but a few shops down. The bakery’s owners had already decorated: pinecone wreaths on the doors and an artificial tree covered with cat-shaped lights and blown-glass kitty ornaments in the foyer. The feline theme was perfect for Cat’s Paw Cove, renowned for its special breed of Sherwood cats that had hailed originally from Nottinghamshire, England. The felines had arrived in the seventeenth century along with the town’s founders after a shipwreck.
Molly’s arm was getting tired. She glanced back at Lucian…who was standing with his arms folded across the front of his hunter green polo shirt.
He wasn’t even looking at the garland!
“You’re checking out my butt?”
Lucian’s bold gaze flicked up to meet hers. He grinned.
He winked. “I’m obviously in trouble, since you called me by my first and last names. But, I couldn’t help myself.”
“Oh, for crying out—”
“I like the way those jeans fit you.”
“Good to know, but they’re not new. I’ve worn them before.”
“You haven’t worn them before and been on the stepladder, though.”
She rolled her eyes.
“You have my permission to buy more.”
“Your permission?” Spoken like an arrogant medieval lord. Despite living in the twenty-first century, however, Lucian kind of still was a medieval lord—and at heart, always would be. He strove to be chivalrous in his work and personal lives, and often had help from Galahad, his cat, who was in fact his reincarnated fifteen-year-old squire.
They’d both been cursed centuries ago by Agnes, the same sorceress who had taken possession of Molly’s body in July before being defeated. Now locked away in Molly’s consciousness, Agnes couldn’t wreak any more havoc, although the curses she’d placed on Lucian and Galahad remained unbroken.
Very few people knew the truth about Lucian and his cat. Most folks knew Lucian only as an antiques expert in his late twenties who knew a lot about the Middle Ages. He’d formerly worked in Boston and months ago, had moved to Cat’s Paw Cove to help his grandfather, who intended to retire soon, run Black Cat Antiquities. When Molly had come to town to clear out her late mother’s home and get it ready to sell, she’d brought some items into the store for appraisal. She’d met Lucian, and thanks to the undeniable attraction between them and interfering magic, their lives had never been the same since.
Lucian, still studying her, didn’t look the least bit apologetic. In fact, he looked rather smug. “In terms of your jeans….”
Here we go.
“When will I be treated to such a wondrous sight again?”
Did he seriously think her butt was ‘wondrous?’ Her face heated. Maybe those early morning Yoga sessions, while he went for jogs on the beach, were finally paying off.
Nah. He was resorting to flattery so she wouldn’t be mad at him.
Well, she wasn’t some meek, subservient damsel who dared not speak her mind. Nor was she afraid of making him help with the decorating.
Zzztttt. Molly yanked some tape from the dispenser on the top step of the ladder, affixed the garland to the wall, then climbed down the steps. She crossed to him. Raising her chin, she looked him straight in the face.
He didn’t even blink.
Gazing into his gorgeous, smoldering eyes, though, made her stomach flutter.
He could make her go weak in the knees without even saying a word. So unfair.
“How much trouble am I in?” Lucian asked in that husky tone that made her long to close the distance between them and lean in for a hot kiss.
No. No kissing. She was supposed to be annoyed with him.
“What do you think?”
His gaze slid slowly down to her mouth, and his grin broadened. “I think I have a very beautiful fiancée—”
She rolled her eyes again.
“—who has the curviest, most luscious—”
“Not what I was going to say.”
“No!” Glowering, he set his hands on his hips. “I was trying to compliment your ass—”
“—ets. Yes, I know. But, since I’ve had a turn taping up garland while on the ladder, you are taking over now.”
He stared at her for a moment. “Molly.”
“Let’s be practical.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Practical?”
“Mmm.” His arm slid around her waist. “You’re far better at decorating than I am.”
She set her left palm flat in the middle of his chest. The heat of his body, through the soft cotton of his shirt, warmed her skin. The physical contact sent a delicious quiver of anticipation racing through her. Their desire for each other had its own unique and powerful magic.
“You know you are better decorator,” he coaxed, as his other arm went around her.
When he embraced her, she could hardly think straight…which, of course, he well knew.
“You’re taller,” she said.
“It will be easier for you to hang the garland by the wardrobe.”
His focus shifted behind her to the piece of nineteenth-century furniture then back to her. “True.”
“I suppose I could use my magic,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for me to practice—”
“No. Using magic now—either yours or mine—would be too much of a risk.”
She’d thought maybe Lucian could cast a glamor over the storefront, as he’d had done before in the past, to make it hard for passersby to see what was happening inside the shop. Then she’d have glided her fingers through the air and moved the garland into place, as he’d taught her at home, when she’d used her powers to take placemats and napkins out of the china cabinet drawer and then put them back.
She was still learning how to use her magic, though. With one wrong turn of her hand or flick of her fingers, all of the antiques displayed in the window could suddenly explode into thousands of pieces. No logical way to explain to the insurance company how that had happened.
Lucian no doubt remembered when she’d tried to hang blinds in their new house using her magical abilities. What a disaster.
His arms tightened around her and drew her flush against him. “So. Truce?”
She wasn’t quite ready to give up yet. “That depends.”
“Whether you’ll be gallant and go up the ladder.”
He chuckled. “I’m willing to negotiate.”
“I’ve already done ladder duty.”
“You did it so memorably, too.”
She curled her fingers into the front of his shirt. Light sparkled off her engagement ring: a square-cut diamond surrounded by smaller diamonds on a white gold band. If ever she needed a reminder of just how much Lucian loved her, she only had to look at the beautiful vintage jewel.
Her thoughts slipped back to what had happened after Lucian had proposed. Like an alpha male hero from one of the historical romances she loved to read, he’d slung her over his shoulder and carried her to his bed. What an incredible afternoon that had been.
Her pulse quickened. “If you finish hanging the garland, we’ll get done with the decorating faster.”
His gaze sharpened. “Ah. It has been a few days since I went all medieval on you.”
A blush warmed her face.
“’Tis an enticing proposition you have put forth.” He nuzzled her cheek. “A quest of sorts, milady.”
He didn’t call her ‘milady’ very often, but she loved it when he did. The rough stubble of his jaw grazed her skin, and goose bumps raced down her arms. “Do you agree to the quest?” she breathed.
“I am…considering it.”
He pressed little kisses to her cheek as he worked his way down to her lips. Molly’s eyelids fluttered closed. If they didn’t need to get the decorating done, she might vote to postpone it for another day and close the shop early.
As though attuned to her thoughts, Lucian drew back and captured her chin in one hand. “Fine. You convinced me.”
“I did? I hardly—”
“The scent of your skin….” He groaned. “It enchants me.”
“In a good way, I hope.”
“The best way.” With his thumb, he stroked her jaw. “I will go up the ladder. I will hang the garland.”
“But, first….” His mouth claimed hers.
Closing her eyes, she melted against his muscled body and kissed him back. Held in his strong arms, she’d never felt more safe. Cherished. Loved wholly and completely, as if they’d always been meant to be together, their souls entwined—
“Ugh. They’re at it again,” said a male voice with a British accent.
Molly’s eyes flew open.
Lucian reluctantly lifted his mouth from hers.
“Galahad,” Lucian muttered. “Last I saw, you were sound asleep on the Edwardian chair.”
Marching across the Aubusson carpet, the fluffy golden and yellow feline yowled: “I left my napping spot, concerned because I didn’t hear the sound of the tape. If I’d known you and Molly were just swapping saliva—”
“They are newly engaged,” said Rose, a gray Sherwood cat. Like Molly and Lucian’s other three female kitties, she had the breed’s mask-like marking around her eyes.
“Not that newly engaged.” Galahad growled. “It’s been a few months now.”
“You’re just jealous,” said the plump, ginger tabby following Rose.
Galahad snorted. “No, Marigold, I’m not.”
“Are too,” a calico said. “Grow up.”
“Ha! Funny. I can’t grow up. Remember, Petunia? Thanks to Agnes’s curse, I’ll be a teenage squire forever.”
“Curses are so unfair,” mewled Daisy, a golden and white feline.
“We understand your situation better than most, Galahad,” Rose meowed. “We’re reincarnated ourselves. Once, we were witches. Remember?”
Molly met Lucian’s gaze, and he matched her wry smile.
“As usual, our cats have plenty to say,” he murmured.
Still savoring the heady glow inside of her roused by his kisses, she rested the side of her face against his chest. “They do try to keep us out of trouble.”
“Yep.” Galahad sat on his haunches. “Someone has to.”
Lucian kissed the crown of her head. “Hey, you cats. Why don’t you go back to snoozing? We are grown-ups, engaged to be married. We don’t need chaperones.”
“Actually, you do,” the squire said.
Lucian growled. “No—”
“We don’t want another catastrophe. Have you forgotten how Molly became possessed? How the anomaly we detected in July became a Category Five threat? The battle involving Dealers of Darkness as well as super scary Agnes?” Galahad shuddered. “Never again.”
“Those were exceptional circumstances,” Molly soothed. “Things are different now. I have magic—”
The squire wailed as though she’d trodden on him. “We all saw the remains of the poor, unfortunate blinds.”
“We certainly did,” Rose meowed.
“Shattered wood. Mangled cords.” Galahad put a paw over his eyes. “Tragic.”
“I didn’t mean to ruin them.” Molly shrugged. “I still have a lot to learn about magic.”
“All the more reason for us to be vigilant,” the squire said firmly. “It would only take a moment; one oversight, one instant, when we’d let our guard slip, for something bad—”
“Okay. Enough, Galahad. Molly’s doing her best.” As though attuned her dismay, Lucian squeezed her with his arms. “Mistakes are part of learning. You’re making good progress with your lessons.”
“Galahad’s just grouchy. He needs a longer nap,” Marigold said.
“Or a hobby,” Daisy mewled. “Origami, maybe?”
The squire grumbled. “Why does no one take my concerns seriously?”
“We do,” Lucian said, “but right now, things are quiet in Cat’s Paw Cove. The magic detecting equipment hasn’t found any significant anomalies for a while.”
“There’s still the special collection.”
Molly’s gaze went toward the back of the store, to the shelves filled with tagged and catalogued antiques tainted with dark magic. William and Lucian had told her about each item, including the box that held the desiccated pinkie of a former trapeze artist for the Ringling Brothers Circus; the Ancient Egyptian scarab beetle purchased in the 1920s by a late Sanford resident during a visit to the Valley of the Kings; and the hand-painted Wagner plate depicting a beautiful woman who cried at changes in barometric pressure, because the plate’s former owner had been killed in a hurricane.
Due to the dangerous power of the antiques, they were locked away behind spells that made them invisible to non-magical visitors to the store. The barrier spells also prevented the dark energy from influencing anything—or anyone—in the normal world.
“The special collection is secure,” Lucian said. “As far as I’m aware, no Dealers are in town. As I said, things are quiet—which is good.”
Molly eased out of Lucian’s embrace and smiled at him. “No reason why we can’t finish decorating the store, then.”
He sighed. “I guess not.”
She chuckled. “Not a whole lot can happen with a stepladder, tape, and garland.”
“Really?” Her fiancé’s tone implied that he could, indeed, find ways to get into trouble.
Ignoring the saucy gleam in his eyes, she gestured to the front window. “You have a quest to complete, Lucian. Better get to it.”
* * *
Lucian headed for the stepladder.
“I almost forgot! I brought Christmas music to listen to while we decorate.”
Glancing back, he caught Molly’s grin as she drew several CDs out of her purse.
He silently groaned. She must have snuck them in before they’d left the house together that morning. “You brought those from home?”
“Yep. They’re my favorites from my collection.”
He really didn’t care for Christmas songs. However, it would add to the festive atmosphere and customers would probably enjoy listening to the tunes while browsing the shop. From a marketing perspective, it might encourage purchases, too.
As he reached the ladder, Molly’s heels clicked on the wood floor, and he envisioned her nearing his grandfather’s rather antiquated sound system. A moment later, a piano rendition of Deck the Halls played in the store.
“Deck the halls?” the squire yowled. “Very funny.”
“Don’t be so ‘Bah humbug,’” Daisy mewled.
“You could sing along, Galahad,” Molly said with a chuckle.
Partway up the ladder, Lucian reached for the trailing end of the garland. “Please don’t encourage Galahad to sing.”
“Hey! I can sing. Pretty well, actually.”
“Non-Magical folks will only hear a wailing cat,” Lucian reminded him.
“Or wailing cats. Plural,” Petunia said. “Why don’t we all join in the singing?”
Molly’s heels clicked on the floor again. “How about if we save the cat sing-along for home?”
“Yes,” Lucian said. “We don’t want to discourage customers. My grandfather is depending on us to sell antiques while he’s away.”
When none of the felines began singing, Lucian exhaled in relief.
Paper rustled. Stealing a glance, he saw Molly standing at the dining room table where earlier, he’d set a cardboard box packed with glass ornaments from the 1950s and a three-foot-tall artificial tree. Another box beside her contained Christmas china.
Clearly enjoying the music, Molly hummed while she unwrapped the ornaments to hang on the tree.
He smiled. She’d told him the other night how much she enjoyed the holiday season, and he loved seeing her happy. Her eyes, the color of a cloudless Florida sky, shone when she experienced happiness. Her smile—so generous and beautiful—made his heart feel light in his chest. He’d never get tired of sliding his fingers into her silky blond hair, gently tipping her head back, and kissing her until they were both breathless.
Lucian returned his attention to the garland. Truth be told, he didn’t dislike Christmas tunes for their melodies. Holiday music reminded him of being twelve years old, not long after his parents had been killed in a car accident in England. His grandfather, who’d taken him in, had thought piano lessons would help Lucian manage his emotional turmoil. But, he hadn’t been able to concentrate. One of the first songs he’d been given to learn was Jingle Bells. After several frustrating sessions, he’d quit.
While he and Molly had talked about their pasts, he hadn’t told her about his lessons. One day he would. For now, he’d rather she enjoyed the holiday atmosphere and her decorating.
Reaching down for tape, Lucian secured another section of garland.
As he started on the next swag, a slim woman with cropped white hair and scarlet lipstick stopped in the window. The large rings on her fingers sparkled as she waved at him.
The wealthy widow and town ‘cougar.’
“Uh-oh,” Galahad meowed from the Edwardian chair.
“Mmm.” Lucian’s gut tightened. Cora knew he was engaged. The older woman had made it clear, though, she was still very interested in him—and always would be, especially if he broke up with Molly.
That wasn’t happening. Not under any circumstances.
He loved Molly. He was going to marry her, and he’d cherish her until he drew his last breath.
But, Cora was one of the store’s best customers and knew a lot of folks not just in Cat’s Paw Cove, but the Central Florida area. So, Lucian smiled and waved back.
Galahad hissed. “Don’t encourage her.”
“He can’t ignore Cora. She’s a client.” The ornament Molly had been holding clattered on the table. “Whew. It didn’t break.”
Lucian secured more garland and looked again at the street. Cora was still there.
Her gaze wandered over him. Hellfire. She stared at him as if he were naked—or she imagined him in the altogether.
“Ho ho ho,” Galahad said.
“Be quiet,” Lucian muttered.
A plump, gray-haired woman—Roberta Millingham—approached Cora. Both women belonged to the Cat’s Paw Cove Historical Society and several other local non-profit organizations. A moment later, deep in their conversation, Cora and Roberta strolled off together.
His shoulders lowering in relief, Lucian angled his body to affix the last of the garland.
A Holly Jolly Christmas started playing; a very perky rendition.
Argh. What excuse could he find to leave the store for a while? He didn’t want to ruin Molly’s festive cheer, but he needed a break.
“A little more to the left,” Molly called to him.
The left? The top of the wardrobe was in the way. “I don’t understand.” He glanced at her for clarification, to find her eyeing his rear.
Her gaze flicked up to meet his, and she waggled her eyebrows.
Galahad flopped on his side on the chair. “I can’t take any more of the flirting.”
“Don’t be a party pooper,” Rose said from across the room.
“Or an Ebenezer Scrooge,” Petunia supplied.
“If people weren’t kissing and waving and interrupting my much needed naps, I wouldn’t be so touchy.” Galahad jumped down from the chair. “I need a snack.”
Lucian started down the ladder. “I’ll make sure your bowl is filled.”
“Any chance of the good stuff? You know, the super yummy duck dinner?”
Ah. Sometimes Galahad knew exactly the right thing to say. They happened to be out of the canned duck dinner.
More grateful than the feline could ever know, Lucian said: “I’ll see what I can do.”
* * *
At Devon Rex Desserts, Cora handed the filled-out form to the teenage girl, wearing a fuzzy red and white Santa hat, behind the bakery counter. “The order’s for the Historical Society’s Christmas party. I’d like to pick up the items that Saturday around nine.”
The girl glanced over the form, nodded, and jotted down the requested time. “We’ll have your order ready for you, Mrs. Johnson.”
Mrs. Johnson. How unremarkable that sounded, but she hadn’t had a choice in her late husband’s surname. He’d made up for the boring name, though, by being very well-connected and very good at managing his jewelry business.
Upon his death, he’d made her an extremely rich widow, which had allowed her—finally—to live the life she wanted, not the life dictated by her penny-pinching control-freak of a spouse. No longer did she have to spend days in the kitchen preparing for get-togethers if she didn’t want to. Now she ordered what she wanted, and others did the hard work for her.
Stepping aside, Cora made room for the curly-haired man behind her in line to speak with the girl handling the pre-orders. Cora searched the crowd in the entrance for Roberta and finally found her eyeing the pies, cakes, and assorted cookies in the nearby bakery case.
Cora crossed to Roberta. “That’s dessert taken care of for the holiday party.”
Licking her bottom lip, Roberta straightened. “I wasn’t hungry until we came in here. Now, I’m famished.”
No surprise there. Roberta never missed an opportunity to indulge her love of sweets. Also, the most delicious smells lingered in the bakery: cinnamon, ginger, and coffee, with notes of caramelized sugar.
A mother shepherded two rowdy young boys away from the bakery case, and Cora’s gaze landed on the chocolate cake on the middle shelf. The icing on top was covered with crushed candy canes. Her mouth watered. She’d never been able to resist the blend of chocolate and peppermint.
“We could go over the arrangements for the party one more time,” she said.
Roberta’s eyes shone. “Good idea. We wouldn’t want to forget anything.”
Or anyone. “No, we wouldn’t.”
Cora joined the queue of people waiting to be seated in the restaurant portion of the bakery. Thankfully, the line moved quickly. In no time, they’d almost reached the podium, decorated with shiny garland similar to what Lucian had been hanging in the window of Black Cat Antiquities.
Lucian’s surname was Lord. That was a last name of distinction.
Desire tingled low in Cora’s belly as she recalled him up on the stepladder: strong, capable, and in-charge. Before he’d noticed her, she’d admired the way his shoulder muscles rippled under his shirt, and how his stomach flattened at the waistband of his snug, dark-wash jeans. He had a magnificent body; the physique of one of those male models who posed in underwear ads.
Perhaps she should have gone into the shop and offered to help him hang his garland? Surely he’d have appreciated her handing him just the right amount of tape? Whether the piece had to be big or small, she’d have given him what he needed. Molly hadn’t seemed interested in helping—
“Hello, ladies.” Tall, black-haired Diane Thompson, who owned the bakery along with her younger sister, addressed them from behind the podium. “Window booth, as usual?”
“Yes, please.” Cora never missed the opportunity to people-watch, especially when Lucian’s shop was just a few premises down. Who knew when he’d leave the store? She might get the chance to talk to him without his fiancée around.
Diane showed them to a booth. “Your waitress will be right with you.” She handed them menus, decorated with drawings of large-eared Devon Rex cats, then headed back to the front of the bakery.
Cora set her menu down. No point looking, since she already knew what she wanted. Her taste buds practically screamed for the first bite of the moist, chocolaty cake.
Roberta pushed her glasses a little higher up the bridge of her nose. “So. The holiday get-together. I’ll bring my crystal punch bowl set, like I always do—”
Roberta’s expression turned puzzled. “We just saw him at the antique store.”
“He should be invited to the party.”
“Oh.” Roberta smiled, as though loving the idea, but then frowned. “William belongs to the Historical Society, but Lucian’s not officially a member.”
“Not officially, no.”
“Well, according to the society’s bylaws, I think he will need to join and pay the membership dues.”
Cora sighed, infusing the sound with great impatience. “We’re both board members. Surely we can bend the rules if we need to?”
Judging by Roberta’s expression, one would think Cora had suggested booking a stripper. “Oh, for goodness sake. We can list Lucian as a guest, attending on William’s behalf, or something like that.”
“I suppose. Why would we need to?”
Cora tapped her red-painted fingernail on the tabletop. “He still owes us. Remember, back in the summer, how we helped clean up broken glass and the rest of the mess in the antique store?”
“I remember. Didn’t I leave him a note, taped to the burned table? I think I gave him the contact information for the restorer who did some work on the Shipwreck Museum.”
“To thank us for our help, Lucian agreed—albeit reluctantly—to dress up at one of our events,” Roberta continued.
A teenager with green and red streaks in her hair approached their booth. “Hi, Mrs. Johnson. Mrs. Millingham. Can I get you ladies some drinks?”
“Coffee, please,” Cora said. “I’d like a slice of the chocolate cake to go with it.”
“Coffee for me as well,” Roberta said, “but I’ll have the Lemon Meringue pie. Two big scoops of vanilla ice cream with it, please.”
The girl grinned. “You got it.” She collected their menus and then spoke to the customers at the next booth.
Roberta set her forearms on the table and leaned forward, as though preparing for an intense discussion. “Now. Lucian.”
“He can be our Santa Claus.”
“I’m not sure—”
“Why not? We can find him a costume.”
“He’s hardly the right shape.” Roberta’s pudgy face reddened. “Well, from all I have seen of him.”
Cora mentally brushed aside a twinge of jealousy. Of course, Roberta would appreciate the sight of a man as gorgeous as Lucian. “We can make him the right shape. I have decorative pillows on my sofa—”
“We’ll use them to round out his stomach. You and I can help tie them around his middle or…tuck them in.”
Roberta’s mouth gaped. “Tuck them—? You can’t just go stuffing pillows into a man’s trousers. That’s not proper.”
With a muffled clink, Cora unwrapped her silverware from the paper napkin in front of her. “Lucian’s costume should be historically accurate. The society must have photographs of the Santas who’ve taken part in past events and holiday parades in Cat’s Paw Cove. In the archives, there may be some pictures dating back to the late nineteenth century.”
Closing her eyes, Roberta shook her head. “There’s nothing Victorian about Lucian. He won’t look the part.”
“We need to do what’s best for the society.”
“We do. In this instance, though—”
“Having a buff young man as our Saint Nick? We will see an uptick in renewed memberships. Those ladies who’ve delayed renewing their dues will be fighting each other to hand us checks.”
Roberta frowned. “I don’t know….”
“I do.” Cora lowered her voice. “How many times in the past six months has the board talked about the society’s dwindling bank account?”
Concern darkened Roberta’s gaze. “That’s true. Restoring the Guinevere and turning it into the Shipwreck Museum did cost more than we’d budgeted.”
“A fair bit more. Then there were the additional expenses we hadn’t anticipated, like hiring a full-time security guard and fixing the wooden walkway up from the Boardwalk.”
Roberta made a small sound of distress.
“Unless we want the organization to fold….”
“No! We must preserve the history of this town for the younger generations.”
Cora fought not to smile. “Exactly. Since what we’ve done in the past is no longer working, we must try a new tactic. Lucian is it.”
Roberta’s lips parted, as though she was about to protest.
The young waitress approached their table. “Here we are.” From a laden tray, she unloaded two mugs of coffee, a small jug of creamer, and their desserts. “Enjoy.”
Roberta set out her silverware and dropped her napkin into her lap. “This looks wonderful.”
“It certainly does.” Cora stirred cream into her coffee and then pushed the jug across the table to her friend. “It will be fun to have Lucian at our party. He will ‘spice things up,’ as the saying goes.”
“Yes, well, you still need to ask him. He might not be available. Then what?”
Cora sank her fork into the cake. If Lucian agreed to be their Santa, she make sure she worked in extra walks before the party. “While Lucian’s turned us down when we’ve asked him before—”
“He does have a busy job, and William’s away right now. He’s been traveling more lately.” Roberta put a forkful of pie into her mouth and moaned in delight.
“We haven’t really told Lucian how desperately we need his help.”
Roberta dabbed her mouth with the napkin. “Desperately is a rather strong word.”
“Is it? We’ve been careful to keep the society’s financial situation hush-hush, but maybe we should tell Lucian the truth. He’s the gallant sort, so we’ll insist how noble it would be of him to help us.” She couldn’t hold back a smile. “Yes. When we’re finished here, you and I will go to the shop together and talk to him.”