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“He’s not so bad, I suppose,” I say to Midge as she sits in the chair across from me. Her light hair is up today, tied in a bright magenta scarf, and she wears silver hoops in her ears. As usual, she’s topped her gypsy attire with her ruffled white apron.
“Is he walking yet?” she asks.
“Denton said he can hobble around on crutches. We’ve taken a few walks around the meadow. They seem to raise his spirits, though he’d never admit it.”
“Has he spoken of his kingdom?”
I shake my head. “If anything, he’s purposefully avoided the subject.”
She makes a thoughtful noise and then peers across the table, into my cup. When she finds it nearly empty, she tops it off with tea from the silver pot between us.
Today’s blend is rich and warm, with spices the traveling gypsies buy from the merchants who travel to the southern islands.
I add several lumps of sugar to my cup and then point to it. “This is especially good today. What is it?”
“A little of this and that,” Midge says cryptically, as usual.
“Will you package some up for me before I leave? I think Lionel would enjoy it.”
Midge raises a brow. “It’s Lionel now, is it?”
“What do you want me to call him? The prisoner?”
Laughing, she sits back in her chair, smoothing her apron over her lap. “Would you like some scones as well?”
I still have some money left, plenty to buy a few little things.
“Yes…and a few of your sweet biscuits.”
She stands, off to fill my request.
Sipping my tea, I think. I’ll stop by the grocer on the way home and pick up a package of sugar, maybe visit Jillian for milk. Lionel would probably enjoy a proper tea.
As I smile to myself, imagining his grumpy face when I tell him what I have planned, the shop door swings open.
“Good afternoon, Denton,” Midge says from behind her counter after the herbalist steps inside. “I’ll be right with you.”
“I have the burn salve you requested.” He holds up a tin, not yet noticing me.
“Already?” she turns back to him, smiling. “I just ordered it this morning.”
I watch, intrigued, as the tips of Denton’s ears go pink.
“I didn’t want to leave you waiting.”
Abandoning my order, Midge comes around the counter. “That’s very kind of you—I hope it wasn’t any trouble. How much do I owe you?”
“Nothing.” He clears his throat when she begins to protest. “I already had the infused oils on hand—it was no trouble.”
Shaking her head, she gestures for him to sit. “Fine, but at least let me treat you to a cup of tea. Go—sit with Genevieve. I’ll be right over.”
Startled, the herbalist turns toward the tables, finally spotting me. He lifts a hand in greeting, looking oddly relieved and embarrassed—both at the same time. “Hello, Genevieve.”
“Hello, Denton,” I say, unable to hide my smirk.
“How is your patient faring?”
“He’s as testy as ever, but he seems fine.”
The herbalist laughs and joins me. “Have you been making him walk?”
“I have, just as you instructed.”
Midge joins us, setting a cup and saucer in front of Denton and then pouring him tea. “Here you are.”
She reclaims her chair, sitting next to Denton, seeming oblivious to the fact that the herbalist keeps stealing glances at her.
I rise when we’re finished, paying Midge for the packages she wrapped for me. “I best be going now. Thank you for the tea, Midge.”
The door opens, and several patrons enter—travelers, I believe, since I don’t recognize them. Midge hurries to assist them, playing the part of hostess perfectly.
Denton reluctantly joins me, eyeing the newcomers with a vague look of disappointment. “I should go as well.”
I want to nudge him back, tell him to have another cup of tea or buy a scone, but I decide it’s best to leave him be.
“Stop by my shop before you leave the village,” he says as he goes. “I’d like to check on Lionel. I’ll walk back with you.”
“All right,” I agree. “I won’t be long.”
He nods and then steps out the door. I wait until Midge has seated her patrons, and then I jerk my head, telling her to come over.
“I thought you were leaving,” she says, her eyes bright. “Did you decide two of the sweet biscuits aren’t enough?”
“Denton likes you,” I say at a whisper, grinning like a fool.
“Oh.” Her face goes perfectly blank. “No, I don’t think so. He sat with you after all, and he’s been so attentive with your prince.”
“You told him to sit with me,” I point out.
She gives me a noncommittal shrug, not quite meeting my eyes.
“What is this?” I demand, waving my hand in front of her face. “What are you doing?”
“I’m not doing anything.” She shoos me toward the door. “Go on now—I have customers.”
My face falls. “You don’t like him? Why? Denton is so nice—and handsome. Every girl in Dragon Ridge wants him.”
She purses her lips, looking very much like she wishes I’d drop the subject. “You like him, Genevieve. What kind of friend do you think I am?”
I roll my eyes. Apparently, Midge is as bad as my dragons. “Midge, I don’t like Denton. Not like that. Yes, I like to look at him—who wouldn’t? But, no, I’m not besotted. If you like him, please”—I wave my hand toward the street—“go with my blessing.”
Midge studies me. “Are you certain?”
“Very certain. Now get back to work—stop ignoring your customers. What kind of lackadaisical shopkeeper are you?”
Laughing, she shoves me out the door. “Goodbye, Genevieve.”
“Thank you for the tea,” I call over my shoulder.
Before I leave the village, I walk across the street to buy sugar from the local grocer and then cut around the back of the building, heading to the stands that are located in the main square.
Luck is with me today—not only do I manage to bypass the Eldentimber tree and its nosy residents, but Jillian is at her stand, selling wheels of cheese, jugs of milk, wooden crates of eggs, and rolls of carded wool.
“Hello, Jillian,” I say as I step up to her stall. “You saved me a trip to your farm.”
The pretty girl smiles, looking genuinely pleased to see me. “Hello, Genevieve.”
She has soft brown hair, soft brown eyes, and a soft voice—there is nothing sharp or abrasive about Jillian. Her manner is gentle, and her dairy cows seem as happy as cows could be. If a rabbit were to take human form, I imagine they’d be just like her.
But Jillian isn’t a shifter like some of the other village residents. She’s a gimly.
Gifted with magic, gimlies can spot possible futures and heal certain wounds and ailments. However, the better they know a person—the more they are personally connected with their future—the less they can see.
Rumor has it that Jillian and the others like her in the village only see occasionally snippets of our lives because our community is so small and interwoven, and even those glimpses are brief and cryptic.
And thank goodness. Just imagine how awkward it would be otherwise.
“What can I help you—” Jillian cuts herself off, thoughtfully staring into space. When she looks back, she gives me a sheepish smile. “Your friend prefers cream to milk, so there’s no reason to buy both unless you want to make a chowder. But you might not want to attempt that now because it looks like you’re more likely to scorch it than not.”
All right—it’s still a bit awkward.
“I’ll…just take the cream then,” I say, deciding not to argue with Jillian’s use of the word “friend.”
She nods as if that’s a wise decision and assists me with my purchase.
“Genevieve, wait,” Jillian says after we say our goodbyes.
I turn back.
She gestures toward the farmer’s stand. “You should buy some peas before you go.”
“I don’t particularly like peas.”
Jillian presses her lips together as if holding back a smile. “You should buy them anyway.”
“All right…” I say, shaking my head.
Not long later, armed with my packages of tea and pastries, a jug of cream, and a massive basket of fresh peas, I step into Denton’s shop.
He glances up, looking surprised. “You have your hands full.”
I roll my eyes. “Jillian told me to buy peas, so I bought all that Sean and Cora were selling today.”
“It’s best to listen to her advice,” the herbalist says with a sage nod.
“Yes, well, now I’m going to have to eat them.”
With a laugh, Denton comes around his workbench and offers to relieve me of the heavy basket. “How about I carry them?”
Gladly, I shove them into his hands. “If it’s no trouble.”
He gives me a mischievous smile. “Anything to help you, Genevieve.”
Barking out a laugh, I say, “You flirt well enough, Denton, but I found you out. You like Midge.”
Instead of denying it, the herbalist flushes just like he did earlier in the tea shop and heads out the door. “Careful, or I’ll make you carry this yourself.”
I scurry after him, laughing, wondering what I’m going to do with all those peas.