Steve found Fiona buried in the office surrounded by pieces of paper and tapping furiously on her keyboard. He dropped a kiss on her hair. “Hi, I brought tea.”
“Thank you!” Fiona took the cup gratefully and pushed some papers aside to make room. “How’s the shop?”
“It’s quiet.” Steve said, pulling up a chair next to her. Armani wriggled out of his pocket and flapped over the windowsill. “There’s no coach parties expected, Dave has a gap in his appointments, Callum and Ian are rearranging the stock room again and Kadogan is counting candles. It’s good. What’s up?”
“Kadogan has volunteered us to do the refreshments at the May Fayre at his church.” Fiona rubbed her hand over her tired eyes. “As it’s mainly non normal, it isn’t a big congregation, but it’s still going to be a challenge because it’s Saturday and you know how crazy it is in the shop on a Saturday.”
“We’re going to have to take on summer staff.” Steve said. He picked up a sheaf of papers and flicked through them. “Seriously, are we selling this amount of stuff?”
Fiona nodded. “A lot of this stuff isn’t that hard to get hold of, but it’s usually online or with normal suppliers. Lots of non normals suddenly feel comfortable ordering mail order and we’re getting the benefit. I don’t know how long it will last. A lot of these are test purchases, some are one-off purchases, like the pentacles or dowsing crystals.” She looked at Steve. “I’m waiting for someone to set up a rival firm.”
Steve shook his head. “When it comes down to it, there’s maybe a few thousand non normals actually active in the UK. That’s at the very most. Most of them know Lord Marius, or Mrs Tuesday or have friends who know them. I’ve been selling all sorts of stuff to non normals that they can easily pick up in a basic supermarket but they don’t feel comfortable dealing with them. It’s not a massive customer base.”
“I know, and that’s why we need the two separate websites and the quirky gift ideas.” Fiona looked up at Steve and smiled. “I’m enjoying it really. It’s just a lot of pressure.”
Steve held her hand, stroking the smooth skin. “It’s probably best that we get it done soon, and Nick will be in York to help out Miss Patience next week so we might as well ask him to come in then. He is really good.”
Fiona frowned. “Is he non normal?”
“Didn’t you know? He’s a vampire.” Steve traced slow circles over the palm of Fiona’s hand. “But mainly he’s a brilliant computer programmer and I’ve seen some of his work. It’s immaculate.”
“Hmm.” Fiona was watching Armani nudge the window open and pull out his e-cig. She was never sure exactly where in the recesses of his wings the imp kept his ever-present vape pen and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “Are you going to keep the flat below?”
“Actually, I think we need to talk about that.” Steve winced at Armani’s cackle. “I’ve been doing some research. “You know sometimes things get really heated, I mean, really, well…”
“While I remember, there’s a local shop that’s got a sale on metal framed beds.” Fiona interrupted. “We can maybe try reinforcing one.”
“That’s a good idea.” Steve said. “I’ll go down this afternoon. The thing is, sometimes it’s more heated than others, and I’ve done a little reading.” Steve coughed and glared at Armani who was now leaning against the window frame, convulsed with silent laughter with vape fumes leaking out of his pointed ears. “It’s when Armani is with us. Then it gets a little more intense. If he’s not with us then it’s normal.” Steve fought for composure and released Fiona’s hand to wave a finger at Armani. “If you can’t behave I’ll send you down to sit with Mrs Tuesday.”
Fiona watched Armani try and compose himself and nodded. “That makes sense. Sometimes it’s insane,” she smiled up at Steve. “Sometimes it’s just spectacular.” She glared at Armani as he spluttered through another lungful of vape. “And while it’s expensive, I wouldn’t like to think of anyone underneath us hearing what was going on. I’m surprised we haven’t had complaints from Kayne.”
“I haven’t seen him yet.” Steve said. “I’m still not sure that I believe he exists.”
“I run into him sometimes on the stairs or sometimes at the corner shop.” Fiona shifted uncomfortably.
“And he’s still hitting on you?” Steve said. “I hope I bump into him soon.”
Fiona shrugged. “He’s not being a nuisance.”
“Hmm.” Steve narrowed his eyes and leaned towards Fiona. She looked up and froze, mesmerised by the intent look in his eyes before he pulled himself together and glared at Armani. “I’m not usually the jealous sort, but I could punch him at this minute. Is that you, Armani?”
Armani tried to look innocent. He failed. “It’s not my fault, boss. It’s just the way I was summoned.”
Steve’s eyes narrowed. “Why didn’t this affect Elaine?”
Armani shrugged. “Probably because you were already together when I turned up.” He took a deep lungful of his e-cig and looked smug. “And what’s it worth to stop me telling everyone what happened last night in your kitchen?”
Fiona could feel herself blushing but something else filled her mind. “Who’s Elaine?”
“Ex-girlfriend.” Steve said briefly. He glared at Armani. “Don’t even go there.”
“I haven’t had a decent glass of gin for months.” Armani said plaintively, “I’ve almost forgotten what it tastes like.”
“And I haven’t forgotten what happened last time.” Steve snapped.
Kadogan stuck his head into the room. “When are you two thinking of getting married?”
“What?” Fiona stared at him in confusion. “We’ve only just started dating.”
“It’s just that Reverend King is going to be renting Dave’s old room and he could marry you quite easily while he was here.” Kadogan said airily.
“But it takes months to sort out weddings.” Fiona said helplessly. “And you need licences and things.”
“Reverend King will be here for a few months.” Kadogan said. “And Mrs Tuesday trained as a seamstress. She has made many wedding dresses.” He grinned happily. “I’ll go and tell her.”
“Tell her what?” Fiona called after him, but there wasn’t an answer. She looked helplessly at Steve. “I’m not against being married to you, but it seems a bit sudden.”
Steve looked like he had been hit hard over the head by a wedding album. “I know what you mean,” he said. “I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but we’ve only been together a few weeks and… Hang on a minute, what did he mean about Darren renting a room here?”
Fiona stared blankly at the computer in front of her. “I have no idea.”
“I’ll go and have a word.” Steve said. “I’ll let you get on with the next order.” He glared at Armani. “You stay here and behave.”
Steve ran straight into Mrs Tuesday. “Don’t you think you should sort out that poor Adele before you think about marrying someone. And don’t think I’ll approve of a marriage when the only thing you know about each other is which side of the bed you prefer.” Mrs Tuesday glared at him.
“I’ve booked an afternoon with Adele next Monday.” Steve said soothingly. “I’ve been busy hunting.” He frowned. “I don’t like to think of what could have happened to Fiona.” He pulled himself together, aware that Armani’s influence was lingering. “And Fiona and I haven’t decided to get married yet. It’s just that Kadogan seemed to think that as Darren was staying here…”
“I’m not sure that it’s fair on Darren staying here.” Mrs Tuesday interrupted. “There he is, a minister of religion and used to fighting the rogue boggarts and werewolves, not to mention all those vampires and there was that fetch down in Sheffield, and now he’s expected to share a roof with me and Ian and Callum. It’s a lot to ask. He should be staying with the paladin, or at least the Templars. Whose idea was it?”
“Mine.” Darren said from behind her. “I’m here at the invitation of Lord Ragnar so he will be paying for my lodgings. I’ll only be here for a few days a week, and I am sure after having you as a parishioner for all these years I can manage to share a building with you for a short time.”
“It’s bound to be a worry.” Mrs Tuesday wrung her hands.
“I’m not like Sir Jason.” Darren said with unexpected insight. “Now, what’s this about a wedding?”
“What?” Steve said, completely wrongfooted.
“I really enjoy weddings.” Darren said, slightly wistfully. “I do so many exorcisms and more than the average number of funerals, but I don’t get to do so many weddings.”
“It’s Steve and Fiona.” Mrs Tuesday was still wringing her hands. “And I worry about them as well.”
“Congratulations.” Darren said, happily. “Have you thought about a date? I don’t marry people on Fridays, for obvious reasons, but I’m happy to work around anything else. And you can’t have a better person to make a wedding dress than Mrs Tuesday. The one she made for Karen Doyle over in the Village was stunning.”
“We’ve only been dating for a couple of weeks.” Steve said desperately.
Darren frowned. “Hmm, well I suppose that you’re still in the first flush of love so you’ll want a big wedding. I don’t know. Things like a big wedding take time to arrange.”
“But…” Steve had been sure that a minister of religion would be a voice of sanity in this.
“Why won’t you marry people on a Friday?” Adele had come up to join what looked like an interesting discussion.
“It’s a day traditionally dedicated to the Goddess of love, so not Christian.” Darren said absently. He looked at Mrs Tuesday and noted the tension around her eyes. “How long does it take to make a really big wedding dress?”
Mrs Tuesday thought for a moment, distracted. “It takes a while. I’d have to nip home to get my sewing machine and of course there’s the fabric, you’ll probably need to order it in for a really big dress. There’s a lot of sewing in a wedding dress, not to mention the bridesmaids’ dresses.” She gave Steve an evil grin. “Are you going to make that imp of yours a page boy?”
“Our Stacey, my sister, is a florist.” Adele looked with interest at Steve. “I’m sure she could do you a good deal at mate’s rates. And our Ruby, my cousin, she does hair and beauty and she did Kath’s wedding and she looked amazing.”
“I’ll need to talk to Fiona about this.” Steve said desperately.
“I’ll show Darren his room.” Mrs Tuesday pulled herself together. “I’ll send Fiona down. You can get some ideas together.”
“I need to speak to Ian and Callum.” Kadogan said thoughtfully. “I’m sure that they will want to contribute to the wedding.” He disappeared into the back.
Steve spent a few moments trying to work out what was happening. He liked Fiona. She was beautiful and smart and kind and had shown a lot of courage in the faerie realm. She could cope with Armani, which is more than Elaine could manage. But marriage? That was a huge step.
“I’ll let Louise know and then I’ll text our Stacey to ask for her price list.” Adele said, pulling out her phone and wandering back to the café where Louise was pulling a tray of scones out of the oven. The shop was empty apart from a man browsing the books on the far side of the shop and for once Steve didn’t check on a customer. He wanted to savour the quiet. He knew it couldn’t last. How did you tell a woman that you may want to eventually spend a lot of time with, that you haven’t ruled out a long term deal with, that you’re not sure yet whether you want to marry her? At least, you’re not sure that you want to marry her yet but may want to in the future at some point, probably due to outside pressure but quite happily.
Fiona came slowly downstairs. She looked at Steve in bewilderment. “What’s happened?”
Steve held up his hands. “I said all the right things, but nobody wanted to hear.”
Fiona nodded, dazed. “Mrs Tuesday has asked about wedding colours.”
“Listen, we’ll have to stall for thinking time,” Steve said desperately. “I’ll go and get my laptop and we’ll work out some rough ideas that may take a while to work out. Then at least we can get a breathing space.” He disappeared into the back office.
Fiona saw Adele and Louise chatting animatedly and showing each other their phones and tried to keep her dignity. Steve was a great guy, she was pretty sure that she loved him, but it had only been a few weeks. She didn’t know anything about him, not the basics like how long he usually took in the shower or whether he minded her spending time crafting. Did he watch the news and did he follow the soaps? Her heart sank as she recognised Kayne browsing the books. He caught her eye and wandered over.
“Some of those books look pretty interesting,” he said. “Are you into that sort of thing?”
Fiona pulled herself together. “Not really, I leave most of that to my business partners.
“That’s right, you do amazing cards.” Kayne smiled. “I know that you’re in a sort of ‘it’s complicated’ situation, so I’m not asking you to dinner or anything, but I was thinking of throwing a party. I haven’t had a housewarming party yet, and I wondered if you could stop by my flat tonight and we could talk through you making me some invitations – on commission, of course.” He leaned on the counter. “It’s strictly business.”
Fiona was getting a headache. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to come to your flat, and I’ve got quite a lot on. I’m not sure I’ve got the time…”
“I’ve seen how amazing your work is.” Kayne leaned further forwards and Fiona found herself swaying backwards. “Seriously. We’ll keep it absolutely on the level. Just forty invites. There’s no harm in that, is there?”
Steve jogged back into the shop with his laptop and almost skidded to a stop at the counter. He carefully placed the laptop down and put a protective arm around Fiona’s shoulder. “Is everything alright?”
Kayne jumped back as if he had been scalded and literally stamped his foot. “So this is your boyfriend?”
“Umm, yes.” Fiona stared at the tall, masculine figure in front of her literally stamping his feet like a toddler.
“This is your secret lover?” Kayne spat.
Steve narrowed his eyes. “It’s bad manners to hide your face here,” he said coldly.
Before Fiona’s horrified gaze the figure of Kayne seemed to melt in front of her and instead Freydis was stamping her elegant feet, her beautiful face flushed with fury. “I can tell, this is actually your lover.” She threw dramatic hands into the air. “You’re obviously soul mates so you can’t have been sleeping with Ragnar…”
“That’s ‘Lord Ragnar’ to you.” Kadogan appeared from the back.
Freydis ignored him. “But if he’s not been sleeping with you, why is he divorcing me?” She stamped her feet again. “It’s not fair.”
Fiona leaned back against the comforting warmth of Steve. “Hang on, if I had agreed to go on a date with you, how far would you have gone?”
“Have you been trying to mislead my girlfriend?” Ice dripped off every syllable as Steve glared at Freydis.
“That’s fiancée now.” Kadogan said helpfully.
“You’re engaged? That’s so wonderful.” Like the sun emerging from behind a cloud, Freydis was suddenly smiling. “I love a wedding. Let’s see the ring?”
“We haven’t got it yet.” Steve was still looking suspicious.
“They’ve only just decided, but if Reverend King is here over the summer then he may as well marry them.” Kadogan said airily.
“You would be so fortunate to be married by Reverend King.” Freydis said with a trace of envy. “I wonder if he would marry Ragnar and I once the divorce is finalised.”
“That’s Lord Ragnar.” Kadogan reminded her. “And I am not sure that Lord Ragnar would marry you.”
Freydis wilted a little. “I don’t understand,” she said plaintively. “May I have a latte?”
Kadogan guided her over to the café where Adele was staring in open mouthed shock and Louise was watching with frosty caution. Fiona looked up at Steve. “I suppose we had better have a talk tonight, without Armani around.”
“It’s Lord Marius.” Steve said as the familiar motorbike roared into the car park. “He’s probably heard.”
“But heard what?” Fiona asked frantically. “I feel like I’m caught up in a tidal wave.”
“I’ll go and talk to him.” Steve made his way over towards the tall, lean biker who was removing his helmet. “Lord Marius, it’s good to see you.”
“It is good to see you, too, Steve Adderson.” Lord Marius moved aside to allow a customer in. “I did not expect an engagement so soon.”
Steve did not try and hide his bewilderment. “We hadn’t thought about marriage, but Kadogan said that as Darren would be staying here over the summer then it made sense and it’s all got away from us.”
“I hadn’t thought about that,” Lord Marius looked thoughtful. “But it makes excellent sense.” He paused and then said carefully. “Have you told Fiona who your father is?”
Steve shook his head. “We’ve only been dating a short while and it didn’t seem the right time.”
“You should tell her sooner rather than later.” Lord Marius said quietly, watching the customer approach Fiona at the till.
Steve nodded but some instinct drew him closer to the counter. Fiona did not look pleased to see the customer who was holding his phone out to show her something.
“Fiona, what’s this about you being in a relationship?” He brandished the phone in front of him. “And what about this shop thing? When did you start working in a shop? What happened to your job in Leeds?”
Fiona opened and closed her mouth a few times before scrabbling her seriously scattered wits together. “You owe me £700, remember, for the car repairs.”
“We always shared our money.” The man waved his hands loosely. “But how come you’re working in a shop and who are you with?” He looked around the shop as he was suddenly the focus of a lot of attention. “I’m her boyfriend.”
“Ex-boyfriend.” Fiona said. “Dean, you’re my ex-boyfriend. You dumped me, remember?”
“I was always going to come back,” Dean said. “So, go on, then, who is he?”
Steve put a hand on Dean’s shoulder, turned him round and punched him in the face.