Excerpt Chapter One
“A curiosity shop in Florida? Wouldn’t that be like starting a bottled water shop in the Lost City of Atlantis?” Corinne Rothburn cocked a curious eyebrow in the direction of Laira.
Laira shrugged, and turned her attention to the stuffed gorilla. One decked out fashionably in a floral gingham jumper and faux pearl earrings that currently occupied the front counter of Clandestine Curios, a shop recently opened in the downtown business district of Clearview, Florida. “This is a community of unique and wonderful people who love unique and wonderful things,” she said as she gestured broadly toward her storefront, which came complete with Ouija boards and eight balls, antique dolls, decorative fans and screens, and T-shirts emblazoned with lively phrases both comical and cryptic. “And business, I must say, is very strong.”
The shop stood as just another positive aspect of life in Clearview, where Laira took up residence two years ago. Although she stood as a mere mortal with no magical powers or persona, she felt comfortably at home with the fairies and vampires, elves and werewolves who populated this mystical city. Clearview, while not her hometown, was a place where the impossible happened, and where the unconventional―and even paranormal―reigned as customary and every day. Thus it seemed the perfect home for a girl who was anything but typical.
Since her school days, Laira’s love for the unique and outright bizarre earned her ridicule from fellow students at the Midwestern prep school she’d attended. Their reaction also elicited, she supposed, by her short, unstyled crop of platinum blonde hair and stark white complexion. Her acute fondness for surreal, at times unearthly hues of nail polish and lipstick, and a slight form--one guy called it wiry and, she was pleased to report, his toes still bore the imprint of her stiletto heel―clad frequently in black probably didn’t help.
The proverbial last straw arrived in grand fashion just after graduation, when she approached her local city council about the possibility of opening a curio shop. This store, she told them, would unite the ridiculous and the sublime to offer fun, innovative products to the public.
Her ears still rang with their reviling laughter. Soon after their unanimous rejection of her proposal, she relocated to a place where dreams were encouraged, and the unusual was, well, pretty much usual, if not outright commonplace.
For some reason, she found a city council peopled primarily by ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and fairies seemed more receptive to a shop specializing in the curious and otherworldly. Laira truly basked in the glory of a personal dream come true.
As her July 4th holiday sale approached, however, Laira found herself faced with a unique quandary, unique, even for her. How, she wondered, can one stock funny, freaky summertime gifts that are still, as per the season, hot and romantic? For once at a loss for fresh marketing ideas, she’d contacted her Aunt Corinne, a long-time favorite relative who also happened to be a doll and curio collector.
“Bring me your strangest, sexiest, totally sellable item, and I’ll pay you top dollar,” Laira shrugged uneasily. “Well, as ‘top’ as I can afford after our rent and light bill are covered.”
Seemingly eager to oblige, Corinne walked into Laira’s shop today with what appeared to be the fruit of a long, exhaustive search. A dollhouse that, Laira had to admit, was the most beautiful she’d seen.
With two stories, four sturdy walls, and a gracefully sloped roof, the house appeared solid and classically designed. Yet its truly eye-catching element, she found, was its ethereal lavender hue. A luminous coating flowed untainted over the surface of the house, accented with glittering gold trim.
Leaning forward, Laira peered through a clearly planed bay window that distinguished the main floor of the house. She gaped as she saw two silk-upholstered, floral print chairs sitting at opposite ends of the window, atop a lush carpet of candlelight ivory. The ceiling of this room boasted the elaborate decoration of a miniature mural, cherubs in radiant flight across a background of crystalline sky.
Her gaze slowly shifting downward, Laira saw that a model fireplace held noble court over the opposite end of the room. Flanked by a cherry wood mantle and the likeness of a glowing fire within, this fireplace came topped with miniature china dishes and silver-cut pottery. Finally pulling her admiring glance away from her newfound treasure, Laira straightened to once again face her beaming, closely watching aunt.
“Aunt Corinne, this dollhouse is a rare find, simply beautiful,” she nodded officially. “I think, though, it might be better suited to a doll museum or antique store.” Shrugging, she reached upward to pat her aunt’s velvet-clad shoulder. “It’s a beautiful piece, Auntie, but for this shop I need something, well, curious.”
Rolling her eyes, Corinne thrust her small, delicate hand into the upper floor of the house, where she withdrew a small but well-detailed figurine. “Is this ‘curious’ enough for you, Dearie?”
Again leaning forward, Laira’s eyes widened as they perused the likeness of an absolutely stunning man. One with wide, dark eyes, long hair that fell well past his broad shoulders, and carved, literally, she guessed, features.
The doll’s impressive form came covered in what appeared to be a period costume. One that consisted of a long azure blue jacket with brass buttons, a pair of sleek black slacks, and polished boots with shiny buckles.
“Did he come with the house? I’m impressed. I’d be even more impressed if he stood about five and a quarter feet taller and could talk.” Upon further inspection, she took keen, appreciative note of his full lips, and arm muscles that bulged through the fabric of his sleek, finely tailored jacket. “Okay, he wouldn’t even have to talk. Really.”
“Yes, that doll came with the house. A handcrafted collectible I bought a few years ago from a family in my neighborhood.” Gesturing freely toward the doll, Corinne winked slyly. “He, my dear, is your curiosity.”
Laira shrugged. “A hottie, yes. A curiosity? Not so much.”
“I beg to differ,” Corinne pursed her lips, well, curiously, as she perused the figurine. “In all my years as a collector of dolls and their houses, I’ve seen some homes that come complete with entire miniature families. Parents, kids, sometimes even pets.” She wrinkled her forehead, seeming to conduct a mental cataloguing of her extensive collection. “Others contain two dolls, one male, one female. A few come with only a female figurine.” She pinned her niece with an intent, meaningful stare. “Never, Laira, have I seen a house that came occupied by a lone male doll.”
Laira raised her eyebrows. “So what we have here, Aunt Corinne, is a well-dressed, perpetually single male in an exceptionally well-decorated home.” She nudged her aunt playfully. “Uh-oh.”
“Hardee. Ha. Ha.” Corinne gritted her teeth, but relaxed visibly when Laira enveloped her in a warm, grateful hug.
“I adore the doll, Aunt Corinne, as well as the house. This will make the perfect front window showpiece for my Fourth of July display.” Pulling back slightly, she addressed her aunt with a quizzical gaze. “What do I owe you?”
Corinne chuckled, and kissed her niece’s forehead. “I don’t need your money, dear. That smile is payment enough.”