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One day, Camille left. She was never satisfied with what life had to offer her in the Glass Kingdom. She never fell in love, never found anyone worthy enough. So, with a kiss and a hug and a fond fare-thee-well, she went off on her mare to seek adventure. The sea glass was our only connection. We spoke as frequently as we could, but our lives were beginning to diverge. She had her adventures and I had my duties.
The cold winter morning air had Abigail quickly drawing her hood over her hair, but it was far from a travesty. While her sister had shiny chestnut curls like their mother, Abigail wasn’t quite sure who she’d inherited her hair from. Straight and thin and the color of tree bark. Or dirt, as some rascals had teased and taunted until Camille had gotten her hands on them.
Intent on blending with the servants and thus only needing to speak with the merchants, Abigail kept her head down and her basket close. The markets were near enough that a brisk walk would bring her feet to them faster than a carriage could be prepare for her. Besides, she didn’t mind a good walk; it gave her plenty of thinking time.
She lightly chewed at her lip as the cold air danced around her face to edge into her cloak. Madeline was so skittish she wasn’t sure if Abigail was going to be able to prepare her to even meet the king’s nephew, the man next in line to the throne after Prince James, at least until the prince and his mermaid wife had a child.
Abigail remembered Prince Grant, the king’s younger brother, with fondness. He was a man who believed strongly in duty, family, and strong liquor. While James and Adrian had sat by his side to listen to Grant’s tales of adventure and battles from his youth, Abigail had hung just outside of the glow of the fireside. Grant always knew she was there, but respected her shyness and never pushed her to come to his side. He was something of a jolly man, but often took serious turns as the man who ran the family’s ancestral land, Murant Holdings.
King Gray and Prince Grant had had awful rows when she was younger (everyone always overlooked the little girl who never spoke and always hung back in corners and shadows until the halls were empty). She remembered the day Prince Grant had chosen to remove himself from succession. As much as the prince loved his family, the crown was never something he wanted. He’d been even more unhappy when the king named Adrian as second-in-line until his own son bore an heir. That was the day Adrian and Andalissa had packed up and left the city.
With the prince’s betrothal to the mermaid princess set to be announced any day, royals were beginning to trickle back into the city, filling manors that had long lain empty and gathering dust. Spaced as far apart as they were, Abigail could only feel the undercurrent of frenzied movement as servants rushed to prepare the manors for their masters and mistresses. It would be nice to have the streets populated once again, but also brought terror to her at the thought of all the parties and balls that they would throw.
The one bright spot was Adrian and Andalissa were likely coming back. It had been ten long years, and she’d often wondered how much the brother and sister had changed. Adrian had always tolerated her tagging along and pretending to be in peril so he and James could practice their fighting skills. Andalissa had always gotten herself and Camille in trouble, much to Abigail’s amusement. No one would have expected two stunningly beautiful girls to prefer mud to jewels, much less their mothers.
Just how much Adrian might have changed, though, troubled her. She wanted to do what she could to help Madeline win him, but she really didn’t know the Duke anymore, much less what he might look like now.
It was while she was chewing on her lips that the sounds around her became louder, the smells sharper, and the suddenly swell of people almost intolerable.
She’d entered the markets without even realizing it.
Market Circle was the largest plaza in the city and was lined by more shops than Abigail cared to patronize. Though, that included all of them except for the small bookstore tucked between the butcher and the milliner. Her mother had frequented it when Abigail had been a child, and she remembered clinging to her mother’s skirts while Genevieve wandered the aisles for new volumes from the linked world. After her father had passed, there hadn’t been any new books for her to consume.
Tucking her basket a little closer as a woman jostled her, Abigail grimaced slightly. Most days, Market Circle was full of brisk business with the fountain in the middle cheerfully burbling a hello to shoppers. But, once a week, out of town merchants were allowed to set up stalls and the shops pulled out their most enticing and valuable wares for purchase. It turned the plaza into a dizzying circle with sounds and smells that assaulted her senses from every side.
Helene wanted cinnamon, which only came from the edges of The Wilds, so was only available during the markets. Then there were the fresh herbs called thyme and tarragon that only came from the linked world. Violet, the House Keeper of Olidan Manor, also wanted some ribbons for Muriel’s gowns. That was one Abigail wished she could accidentally forget, but didn’t want to call Muriel’s attention to herself or Helene or Violet. Least of all Violet, who had been hired shortly after Abigail had been born as her nurse and had quickly been raised to House Keeper.
A large human colliding with her knocked her out of her head, and her basket out of her hands. Large hands grabbed her before she followed her basket, knocking her hood off and exposing her to the cold air.
“I’m so sorry!” a tenor voice rang out somewhere over her head as the hands were reaching out to pull her hood back over her hair.
Startled, Abigail could only blink as her basket was shoved back in her hands. She nearly screamed when a male face lowered to stare her right in the eyes.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his green eyes looking over her, concern flickering through his eyes.
She blinked at him, her hands clenched around the basket handle, but he didn’t seem to notice as he kept fussing with her hood and cape, making sure she was covered and warm. There was something familiar about his eyes, but, no matter how hard her mind searched through the archives of her mind, she couldn’t find it.
“I’m sorry,” he was saying. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.” He smiled and finally pulled away from her. “My cousin is getting married, so I’m here for a gift for his bride. Welcome her to the family. But I don’t know anything about her, so I guess I’m a little preoccupied.” He tilted his head to one side. “Say, you’re a lady. If you don’t have anything pressing, would you be willing to help me out?”
Abigail only blinked again. This man had run into her, fussed with her cloak, and was now asking her to help him shop for his cousin’s future wife? What was wrong with him? If her feet hadn’t suddenly felt like a brownie had played a trick on her and turned them to stone, she’d be slowly walking backwards and as far away as she could. Or screaming into her sea glass for her sister’s help. Camille was always ready to jump in and hurt someone if they were hurting Abigail.
“My Lady?” he asked, one eyebrow rising as he waited for an answer.
And then it hit her. It was the eyebrow quirk. It almost always lifted just like that when Adrian was waiting for something. It used to annoy James, but Abigail had always thought it was adorable.
This man was Duke Adrian Murant, one of her many distant cousins, and the son of the king’s younger brother. The man she hadn’t seen in ten years. The man Muriel wanted Madeline to marry.
Almost as an instinct as soon as her brain recognized him, Abigail moved to drop into a curtsy. But Adrian quickly grabbed her arm to pull her up before pulling her a step closer and looking around furtively.
“Shh! Please. I’m here incognito. I don’t want the people to know I’m out and about. I can’t stand all the fawning and Your Highnesses. I don’t know how you ladies don’t get motion sickness from all the bobbing. Say, you know who I am, but I haven’t been around the city much. Am I that recognizable?”
Abigail paused and then opened her mouth, but was saved from having to say anything. She’d forgotten how much Adrian liked to talk.
“I suppose James and I look enough alike that most people can put two and two together,” he went on. He frowned and pulled the hood of his own cloak further down his face. “I’ll have to be even more careful. Maybe you could walk with me so I can pretend I’m talking to you and everyone will leave us alone. What’s you name, anyways?”
She froze. There was no getting out of this one. He was waiting for her, his eyes expectant, his smile kind and welcoming.
Swallowing hard, Abigail croaked out her name, her heart racing. She hadn’t spoke to Adrian in ten years. He’d grown up. She’d grown up. He was as talkative as ever. She was a shy as ever. She barely knew this man anymore! Would he even remember her?
“Gail?” he asked. “That’s a pretty name. Do you mind helping me out, Gail?”
Her mind raced. Yes, she did mind. Very much. She was only hoping to drop into the markets, grab what Helene and Violet needed, and then race away as quickly as possible. But she’d also accidentally promised Madeline she’d help her win over Adrian, and Abigail hated to break a promise.
Almost as though he could read her mind, Adrian took a step back, his smile falling a little. “Sorry. That was probably a little too forward of me. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around strangers.” He laughed nervously. “I’m used to knowing everyone. I’m sorry, Gail. I’ll leave you alone. Just please don’t tell anyone you saw me.”
Flashing a last smile, Adrian turned and vanished into the swelling crowd. Abigail sighed audibly. Whether she was relieved he was gone or disappointed she wasn’t keeping her promise to her new sister, she wasn’t sure. But at least she was alone.
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