On any given day they see a number of strangers come in and out of the shop — her own growing reputation coupled with Carla’s already-established one is enough of a draw to bring people from all over the world. Skeptics and believers alike come for answers they believe or dismiss as they see fit, and for her part, Lucia hardly remembers them except for a few longtime customers that beg handholding for every decision of their lives.
She likes this one, though, with his dusty golden hair and neatly-trimmed beard, with his bright blue eyes and the clean white teeth in his smile. The smell of strange magics hangs around him like nothing she’s encountered before, and she wants to bury her nose in his throat and see if she could find the source in his dusky skin. It’s a slow afternoon — Sundays are the worst days for business, when everyone goes to church and gets frightened into avoiding magic and other divination for a while — and Carla’s off at the market, haggling; she won’t be home for a few hours yet. She hitches a hip on the arm of his chair, not quite close to touch, and flutters her fan, allowing brief glimpses of a coy smile as he tells her about his travels — he’s a businessman, he says, deals in a little bit of everything, but with an interest in timepieces. Every now and then he gestures to punctuate his point, and brushes her hip fleetingly each time.
Lucia likes the sound of his voice, too, low and charmingly accented. It draws her in and down when she should keep her distance — oh, Carla would smack her silly if she saw this! — but then, Carla’s not here, and Lucia bends towards him when his voice lowers, laughing when he turns his own head and his mustache tickles her ear when he talks.
“Such a lovely young lady,” he says, “you must be quite the heartbreaker, aren’t you?” and there’s a peculiar emphasis to the heart that she almost worries about, before he touches her arm, his fingers warm even through the leather of his glove, and delicately strong.
“Dance for me,” he adds, both a question and a command. “Give me a reading.”
As she’s been taught, she opens her eyes wide and innocent as they can go. “Oh,” she breathes, and covers her mouth with her fan. “What will you pay me with, rich man?”
He reaches up with his other hand and she holds obediently still, though she shivers with his fingers brush the corner of her mouth.
“A kiss,” he promises. “A kiss for the pretty girl and her pretty fortunes.”
“They’re not always so pretty,” she warns, but when she slides off the arm of his chair he lets her go. She pulls out her pack of cards, well-worn and familiar, shuffles them loosely, and puts her foot out in the first step. This was something Carla had never taught her: she’d watched and she’d learned through osmosis and the energies of the cards themselves. They knew her and they loved her, and they guided her steps as she needed. In the pale warm darkness of her sitting room she lifts her arms and slides out one foot; she closes her eyes and sees
a gambling man a laughing man a man who grinned with all his teeth bared at a stranger and shuffled his cards d’you fancy a game, love? d’you? and darkness bleeding in through the cracks in the walls, shadows appearing where nothing was what is that and moonlight off a blade a key a lock a shock of messy brown hair blue eyes angry so angry where is she? WHERE IS SHE? and the clatter of knucklebones against a smooth marble floor and
there’s a card in her hand. Lucia spins and stops and opens her eyes.
“The Wheel of Fortune,” she says and is surprised at the sound of her own voice: rusty and dry, like she’s had nothing to drink for days. She swallows a few times as she walks back to his chair, putting a little twist and sway to her hips that she knows he watches. There is something unreadable in his eyes, and the closer she gets to him, the more he smells familiar — more like the things Veronica used to dabble in, before she ran off, more like the things that Carla would smack her for even considering, darker than she’s ever been allowed. Still, she leans against his chair and holds the card for him to see.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” he asks. The look in his eyes says he already knows. He leans back, slow and smooth as honey, tilting his head back to look at her. His arm, from elbow to wristbone, is pressed against her leg, hip to knee.
Lucia lets the other cards come back to her and slides the Wheel of Fortune into its proper place. She leans down and smiles brilliantly, the sweet pleased expression that Carla made her practice so many times in the mirror without end — men like that sort of thing, they like knowing you’ve not a brain in your silly little skull — not that I think you do, sometimes, you girl! — and that you’ve done everything to please just them. Makes ’em careless, so you use what you’ve got to work things to your advantage, you hear? — and her hair, loosened, slides over her shoulder to brush his.
“Luck,” she says. “Lots of very good luck, but only for a short while. Only …” she pauses, sorting out the flash-memories of her vision. “Only until nightfall. Better take advantage of that while you can, hmm?”
She’s not surprised at all by the hand at her waist — she leans in willingly, as he pulls her down into his lap. This close, he smells less like magic and more like a man, though there is something persistant and odd to him that will not go away. He’s the one who grins now as she puts her arms around his neck, and he says, “Oh, I think I will.”