The Shapeshifters' Library Book 1
The St. Nicholas Eve Excerpt
Gregory and Liberty paraded back into the rotunda and on to the entrance to the Children’s Room. Children in pinafores and breeches clustered around Bliss in her shimmering princess dress. The children turned, saw Gregory, and little voices called, “St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas.”
Gregory placed his hand on Liberty’s waist and escorted her to the middle of the room. “Children, this is Lady Liberty.”
Children cheered and tiny hands clapped. “Lady. Lady.”
Gregory whispered to Liberty, “Say something.”
“Welcome children. To the library. On St. Nicholas Eve.”
The quartet’s violin player fiddled a merry tune, as a huge Newfoundland in a silver-studded harness pulled a cart to the doorway.
Gregory smiled. “And now, it’s time for presents.”
The children cheered. The dog lumbered in and small hands reached out to pat the gentle giant who, compared to the toddlers, appeared as large as a draft horse. Gregory stepped to the cart. “Stand back.” The children obeyed. “Now, one at a time.” He reached into the cart and took out a small toy horse and beckoned to a little girl in a crisp petticoat. She skipped forward to receive her painted wooden horse and a large orange. Liberty selected a book from the cart for the girl, who skipped off to show her friends.
Bouncing in stiff, shiny shoes, children waited their turns. Next a boy was given a miniature dog and cart. He held it high for all to see, then accepted his book. One by one, each child received a small toy, an orange, and a book. Every child seemed more thrilled with simple wood animals than if they’d received the latest electronic wonders. The entire scene was reminiscent of another more charming century.
When all the children had received gifts, the fiddler announced, “Time for St. Nicholas to leave,” and the children let out a collective, “Ah.”
Gregory reached one more time into the cart and presented a wrapped gift to Bliss. “Dear lady, for your kind ministrations to the children.” Bliss curtsied.
As children raced past to show toys to parents and grandparents, Gregory took Liberty’s arm. No longer the center of attention, the couple walked to the rotunda. Sparkling lights reflected like stars on the glass dome above.
“I cannot stay,” Gregory said softly. “I’m tired.”
Liberty nodded. “Thank you for making this night so beautiful.”
“Shipsfeather always celebrated St. Nicholas Eve like this. I am grateful your library made it possible once again. Now you see why this town and people are so special.”
“Where did the children’s gifts come from?” She looked around. “And where is the dog cart … and the music? This was the most magical night of the year.”
He laughed. “Ah, now you want magic explained. Tonight is only the beginning of the Season. The true magic will happen on the night of the Winter Solstice.”
“What could be more beautiful and amazing than tonight?”
“Nothing could be as amazing and beautiful as you. You are a most good and wonderful woman, Liberty Cutter, my Mistress of the Fete.” He leaned down and kissed her lips. A tender kiss tasting of cinnamon and warmed cider. Straightening, his eyes held her gaze.
“Tonight,” she whispered, “I feel like a princess.”
“You are a princess. My princess, dear one.” He lifted her hand to his lips. “Sweet Liberty.” He slid his hand into his jacket pocket. Holding her left hand, he slipped a ring onto her finger. “Forever, my princess, my love.”
She gasped as warm gold encircled her finger. She looked down at the intricately carved band. When she looked up, he was gone. Over the music and laughter, she heard the sound of boots descending the stairs.