Sisters of String and Glass, Part 8

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Chapter Four-continued

Determined to keep her mind focused and her eyes open, Abigail pushed her way through the crowd, following her nose to the exotic spices. Helene used the cinnamon in her sweet buns and Abigail was more than willing to move to The Wilds just to eat it every day. The only problem was that time moved very erratically in The Wilds.

With her mind firmly on her task, Abigail used her slender frame and quick feet to wind through the crowd and stalls. In almost no time at all, she managed to pick up everything she needed. This time, she let out a relieved sigh as she began to make her way back through the markets.

“Yes, yes, absolutely! Your new cousin-in-law will love this!”

Abigail’s eyes perked up at both the voice and the words. She turned to the stall on her left and saw a skinny, bald man gesticulating wildly over his wares. She frowned, recognizing him as the man who wandered the shores for sea glass. He was a dreadful craftsman who managed to turn the glass into novelty showpieces that sparkled but fell apart easily. He also charged exorbitant amounts. She knew he’d gotten away with it for years, disappearing when he got a whiff of the law and reappearing when it seemed everyone had forgotten about him.

There was no way she could let Adrian buy something for the mermaid princess from this man.

Abigail stood there as irate shoppers brushed by her, chewing on her lip. Camille would have marched right over and set the two men straight. Genevieve would have shut the man down and called in the law. Abigail? Well, she would do exactly what she was doing. Anything that required speaking to people she didn’t know was an absolute no.

Except Adrian was her cousin, and he was planning on gifting trash to the mermaid princess.

“No, you can’t.”

Startled at the words that had just come out of her mouth, Abigail nearly dropped her basket in an effort to clap her hands over her face.

Adrian and the swindler turned to her, one with wide, surprised eyes and the other with a scowl.

Abigail took in a deep breath. They were both staring at her. She was stuck. Pressing her lips together, she summoned her inner Genevieve and swept over to them, her eyes flashing.

“You can’t buy a gift for your new cousin-in-law from this man, Sir,” she said, tilting her head up slightly. “He’s a known swindler.” She swept a hand, not the one bearing the load of her basket, over the man’s wares. “Give it a day and all of these pretty baubles will be in tatters.” She turned her eyes on the swindler and pinned him with her best imperious Camille gaze. “I’ll be sure to let the City Guard know you’re back. Come, Sir, I can help you find a better gift.”

Abigail quickly grasped for Adrian’s arm, but missed by a bit and ended up awkwardly tugging at his sleeve. The Duke, though, went willingly enough while the swindler mumbled angrily behind him, his wares clattering against each other.

Once the crowd had swallowed them, Abigail’s steps slowed and she quickly released Adrian’s sleeve. Her hands shook as she clutched her basket.

“I’m sorry,” she said, dropping her gaze and trying to tuck her head further into her hood. “I couldn’t let you be taken in by that man. What he does is reprehensible.”

“Then why is he allowed in?” Adrian demanded.

Abigail shook her head. “Truthfully, I don’t know. I only come to the markets now and then. I don’t actually know how they’re run.”

“Well, then,” Adrian said. “I do still need help finding a gift for my cousin’s bride.” He grinned down at her. “It’s nice to see you again, Gail. You’re not quite as shy as you appear, are you?”

Blushing furiously, Abigail muttered a few words, but couldn’t bring herself to look at his face. Instead, she focused her eyes on the basket, the smell of cinnamon tantalizing her. What she wouldn’t give to run home and wait impatiently for one of Helene’s sweet buns!

“Well, my one idea for a gift is out,” Adrian said into the silence. “Will you help me? Please? Other than my sister and mother, I’ve never shopped for a woman before.”

Abigail grimaced, but quickly nodded. It would keep her cousin from getting himself into further trouble at the markets. And she still had her promise to Madeline to keep. How she was going to finagle any information from him was beyond her, but she could at least bring her impressions of the man she hadn’t seen since she was twelve.

“Wonderful! What would you suggest?”

Abigail peeked over her shoulder, but they were far enough away from the swindler that they could no longer see his stall. “Considering the sea glass comes from the sea, I doubt giving the mermaid princess sea glass would be a good idea.”

Adrian scratched at his head and gave her a lopsided smile. “No, I guess not, huh? What do you think, then?”

Abigail gestured for him to follow. Quickly, they dodged around people and carts until they came to a quieter section, one filled with exotic wares that were much more expensive. The Duke, though, would be able to afford it. She led him straight to the stall that had been her grandmother’s favorite. As a child, she’d tagged along with her mother parents whenever they were in town. Her grandfather loved buying the small bottles of perfumes on market day for his wife, daughter, and granddaughters. Flowers for his little flowers, he always said.

“Right here,” Abigail said quietly as they approached.

“Glass bottles? How is that better than sea glass?”

Abigail smiled. “They’re perfumes. They’re made from extracts from flowers from all over the continent. Being of the sea, it’s unlikely the mermaid princess has even seen a flower. Imagine her delight when she not only gets to see them, but smell like them. It’ll be a gift from the land to a princess of the sea.”

“That’s brilliant!” Adrian whispered. “Will you help me pick something?”

At her nod, Adrian quickly picked up their pace and called out a hearty hello to the middle-aged couple seated behind the table. Before them was a white linen covered table with jeweled bottles arrayed like gems. The light struck them at an angle, casting colored shadows across the white cloth. Abigail remembered being more taken with the colored light than the perfumes, but she did miss the smell of some of the more exotic flowers.

“Good day, Sir, Miss,” the man said, bobbing his head as he popped up to his feet. He turned to address Adrian, “Are you here for a gift for your lovely lady friend?”

“Ah, no,” Adrian said, clearing his throat. “My cousin is marrying a lady of rather high standing and I’m looking for a gift for her.”

The man shifted easily from a broad smile to a contemplative air, fingers gently tapping his chin as he looked over the tiny glass bottles. Behind him, the woman, her gray streaked hair twisted up into an elegant crown, looked up from her knitting. She studied Adrian for several moments before nodding to herself.

“The blush pink bottle, dear,” she called out to her husband, her voice soft and melodious.

The man’s face brightened. He reached out and gingerly picked up a small, round bottle of the lightest shade of pink Abigail had ever seen. A clear liquid shimmered inside and the cork appeared to be painted with gold. He held up the bottle so it caught the light and spread a pale link glow across the table.

“This, my good sir,” the woman said, “is the finest of all our perfumes. A delicate floral scent created from the loveliest flowers just this side of The Wilds. A perfume fit for a princess.”

Adrian grinned and reached for the pouch hanging from his belt. “It sounds beautiful. I’ll take it.”

The woman smiled and held up one long finger. “Just a moment, Sir. I couldn’t allow you to make such a hefty purchase without at least sampling it first.”

“Oh, uh, okay,” Adrian said, his hand still hovering over his pouch. “Shall I just…?”

The man carefully uncorked the bottle with a slight pop and then held out his hand to Abigail. Startled, she moved back a step, clutching her basket close.

“Your hand, Miss,” the man said quietly with a small smile. He glanced over at Adrian. “So the young man can sniff it. It wouldn’t be quite the same if he merely got a whiff of it from the bottle. Too concentrated, you see.”

Eyeing the man warily, Abigail slowly lifted an arm and held it out, her fingers dangling awkwardly as she held her hand out. With a small bow, the man gently took her hand, turned it over to expose the inside of her wrist, and quickly applied a small dab of the perfume to her wrist. Then he took her hand and moved it over to Adrian.

Abigail blushed furiously as Adrian bent over to smell her wrist. His breath was warm against her skin and she felt her heart begin to beat wildly. Other than her father, no man had ever been so close to her. Not even her grandfather, who was loving but not demonstrative. She only hoped her deep hood hide how red her face was. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Adrian, though, was quick about it. Straightening, he nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I think I’ll take it. I think it’ll be perfect for my cousin’s bride. Thank you.”

The man smiled and corked the bottle. At the same time, Adrian reached into his pouch to retrieve a few bits of paper. The man named the price and Adrian handed over a few of the papers.

With a smile and nod of his head, Adrian took Abigail’s elbow and guided her away. All the while, Abigail thought furiously about where she could wash off the perfume. If Muriel caught a whiff of it…

She mentally shook herself and grimaced slightly. She’d saved Adrian from making a dire mistake. She wasn’t quite sure she hadn’t just gotten herself in trouble for doing it.

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