Are you going to . . . ?

I’ve read Outlander and I’ve read the Little House books, but I’ve also read all of Jane Austen’s novels multiple times. You think I’d pass up a chance for a rich gentleman to offer his library to the ladies?

I am very close to being finished with the first draft of The Bear’s Wife. There are a number of storylines that will need to be shored up after that, then composting, then editing, then composting and editing again. Maybe I will publish it this summer. July-ish? We’ll see.

We were in the center aisle now, very close to one of the tall carved posts I had first spotted from outside the Ward walls. It was not only carved but painted with stylized animals piled one on top of another. A bear was at the top. There was a badger—and a raccoon—and a fox. Was the next one an eagle or a hawk? I tilted my head with indecision.

“Call it a falcon and have done, lass,” a voice said into my ear.

Startled, I looked up. It was the Bear. In a panic I grabbed my skirts and curtsied to him while I looked for Cat; she was gossiping with her perfumer, blast her.

“Sir. I didn’t see you coming, sir.”

“No? I saw that head of yours from the far side of the square.”

His upper lip was shaped like a double-curved bow; it had a down-point in the center and a delicate but definite curve up at each corner, whether he smiled or not.

He nodded toward Cat. “Has this wee pleasure-monger been corrupting you on your first payday?”

I stifled a smile. “Cat’s been showing me around. I never had . . . ” I trailed off. I really ought to stop announcing it every time I encountered something new.

He stepped discreetly closer. “Never had what?”

“Any of it. It’s very big here. That’s all.”

It was so bright in the square that his pupils all but disappeared in their pale blue surroundings. It made it hard to tell where he was looking, though it was certainly at me, and he was doing it as if he were trying to figure something out.

“Och, sir, I didn’t see you.” Cat finally appeared and bobbed a formal bow to the Bear. “I’ve been dragging this one hither and yon. We’ve got her first candied chestnuts, and her first glimpse at a real book,” she said while widening her eyes and waving her fingertips in the air. I wanted to throttle her.

“Aye, the bookmakers have turned up in rare numbers,” the Bear said, looking back at the stalls. “Everyone’s preparing for the long winter. Have you never had a book of your own, Ms. Drinkwater?”

“She didn’t know what they were,” Cat broke in. I made a silent vow to pour honey in her hair-oil, chestnuts or no.

“They’re lovely things.” He was examining me again. “Very expensive. I’d offer the use of my personal library to you both, but I don’t think it’s to your taste.”

Cat snorted with glee. “Nay, not one for musty old histories, myself. Maybe Perry here would like ‘em?”

“Anything sounds interesting,” I said with measured caution. “If I’m going to live in Bear Hollow I should learn something about it.”

The Bear’s eyes narrowed. “Done, Ms. Drinkwater. Cat’ll show you in and out of my room some morning when you both have a minute.”

“Mrs. Hailstone—“ I began.

“—defers to Hallbeorn of course,” Cat interrupted. “I’ll show her, sir. Thank the man, Perry.”

“Thank you.” I curtsied.

The Bear made a restrained bow in return. “I’ll leave you ladies to your shopping. Good morning, Ms. Drinkwater. Good morning, Cat.”

“Good morning, sir,” Cat chirruped. Her arm curled around mine in order to firmly jerk me in the opposite direction from the Bear and—I now had an opportunity to notice—Hammer. When we were safely away she squinted at me, rife with suspicion. “What did you say to him, hen?”

“What?” Creeping panic. “Why? When?”

“At your audience I suppose.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Right friendly of him, that.”



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