I was surprised to find James and Gloria already there, wearing their coats. Gloria had our coats over her arm, and she handed them to us when we reached them. “Honestly, Owen,” she scolded gently while she helped him with his coat. “That’s not the way I taught you to behave in public.”
James helped me with my coat, saying, “I hardly think we can blame the boy for all that nonsense.”
“It was magic,” I said. “It must have been that influence spell Idris likes to use, making them act that way. It created the perfect distraction for his goons to drag me outside.”
“But it backfired on him,” Owen put in. “Those crazy women saved our lives. If they hadn’t been chasing me, I don’t know what would have happened.”
“I’m sure you could have handled the situation,” Gloria said. “Now, get in the car and let’s get home. I said we didn’t want to stay long, and now you see why. These socials never go well.”
Dinner was a lot less awkward and uncomfortable than lunch had been. The events at the church social gave us plenty of conversational fodder. Owen looked like he would have been happy discussing anything other than what a good marriage prospect the women in town thought he’d make, but I was relieved to see that Gloria apparently thought none of those women were good enough for her boy. I couldn’t tell how much she approved of me, but at least she didn’t have a prospective bride already picked out from among her neighbors’ daughters.
When we’d finished eating, I helped clear the table and offered once more to help with the dishes, but Gloria shook her head sternly. “They’ll wait until morning,” she said. “James and I are ready to turn in, but you two young people are welcome to stay up as late as you like.”
“Just don’t stay up late enough to catch Santa Claus in the act,” James added with a wink. “He doesn’t like that.”
Owen and I went back to the parlor and sat by the fire, side by side on the formal velvet sofa. It was as good as a chaperone, since it was the kind of sofa that forces you to sit up straight and behave properly. I couldn’t imagine snuggling on that sofa. Arawn lay contentedly at Owen’s feet and promptly went to sleep. “Well, that was an experience,” I said.
“I hope I don’t have to tell you that church socials here aren’t always like that.” He sighed. “And now I’ll be the focus of gossip for months. Gloria and James will have to visit me in the city because it won’t be safe for me here.”
“And the city is that much safer? You know, with our enemies out to get us, and all? Now I’m definitely sure that skeleton guy is the same one I saw in the office the other day.”
“So, Idris is teamed up with the descendant of someone who stole Philip’s family business a hundred years ago?”
“Maybe. Mr. Bones could be freelancing. These people could be Idris’s customers. They probably wouldn’t have issues with shady magic. I just find it odd. It’s something to think about.”
“Yeah. Just what we need, another puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit. Instead of making the picture clearer, it only confuses the issue.”
We sat by the fire a little longer, stewing over this new information, then he said, “We should probably get to bed. They’re very early risers.”
“And like James said, we wouldn’t want to disturb Santa Claus.”
As we left the parlor, he paused in the doorway. “Hey, mistletoe,” he said.
Before I could look up to verify that there was, in fact, mistletoe hanging there, he’d bent to give me a firm kiss. I returned it, wrapping my arms around his neck. “Merry Christmas,” he whispered.
“And merry Christmas, yourself,” I whispered back. “But I don’t remember any mistletoe there.”
I glanced over our heads and saw a sprig of mistletoe with a red ribbon around it hanging suspended in the air over our heads. “Isn’t that cheating?” I asked.
“Are you complaining?”
“No, I’ll let this one slide.”
We kissed again, then he pulled away. “I have to walk the dog one more time before bed, so you go on up.”
“Do you need any company?”
“No, I’ll be fine. It’ll only take a few minutes. Arawn doesn’t like being outside in the cold any more than I do. I’ll see you in the morning.”
He got his coat and went outside, the dog following happily at his heels. I went upstairs, trying to be as quiet as possible. When I reached the top of the stairs, I heard voices coming from the first room that opened from the left of the stairs. I knew eavesdropping was a bad idea, but I was curious. Gloria’s voice carried clearly, saying, “I don’t see why we have to continue that way. Things have certainly changed since the rules were established.”