“I don’t see why you have to go to Lancaster again.” Fiona snapped as she stacked the bags of cloves that had just arrived.
“Listen, it’s a chance in a million. It would make a massive difference to our balance sheet.”
“Do you think that there actually is a stash of blue moonstones?” Fiona heaved the wooden box of nutmegs onto a counter and grabbed the nail puller. “And the shop is doing okay, thank you. It’s making a profit every month and we haven’t seen the effect of the extra seating and Lady Freydis’ announcement yet.”
“You are the one who wants a house.” Steve tried to pace in the small back room. “It’s not cheap getting one with decent storage.”
“We could probably get somewhere nice for the rent we are paying on the flat and just keep the lockup.” Fiona struggled as the nail puller slipped.
“When do you think we would have time to enjoy a bigger house?” Steve asked. “And we wouldn’t have time to look after a garden either. We are barely at the flat as it is. Let me do that.” He reached for the nail puller but Fiona snatched it away.
“You may hardly be at the flat,” Fiona spat at him, “but I’m there loads. In fact, if I didn’t sometimes visit Jeanette or here with Mrs Tuesday, I’d be spending all the evenings there, mostly alone. I work the café on late nights for the company, because you are hardly at the flat.”
“That’s not fair.” Steve said, aware that there was some truth in what Fiona was saying. “I’m home sometimes.” It sounded hollow to him and he hurried on. “Listen, I know there are issues with Leanna at Lancaster, but I’ve got it under control. And even if the blue moonstones are an excuse, they have a hoard of Roman coins. They are worth working with.” He watched Fiona struggling with the crates. “Please, Fiona, let me do that.”
“I think you’re too busy because you’re getting ready to go to Lancaster.” Fiona could feel sobs rising in her throat. “And take the imp with you this time. He’s trying to adopt a cat and it’s getting on my nerves.”
Armani peered cautiously out of Steve’s jacket pocket and then sank slowly down again. Steve ignored him. “If you want to get into the crate, go for it. I hope you aren’t still working on it when I get back tomorrow.” He stormed out.
Fiona slumped on the chair in the corner, dropping the nail puller and trying to control her tears. The last thing she needed was for Kadogan or Lady Freydis to get involved. She shouldn’t have been like that. She should have sent Steve off with an image of a wife that was loving and sweet and welcomed him home. Now he was driving towards a fairy with a serious crush on him who would make him feel like a hero.
She didn’t look up when the door opened but braced. Then she relaxed as a large mug of Orange Pekoe tea was placed gently next to her.
Dean sat next to her. “I remembered that this was your favourite when things were going badly for you, and that you took sugar in this but not in your other teas.”
Fiona managed a smile. “Thanks.”
“Are you okay?” Dean asked. “I heard some shouting and Mrs Tuesday was looking worried.”
“Kadogan and Lady Freydis didn’t hear, did they?” Fiona said, alarmed.
Dean shook his head. “They said something about sorting out the van, so they are in the back yard. They’ll probably know something has happened.” He looked at the chipped edge of the crate. “Do you want me to open that?”
Fiona was too exhausted to argue but watched, blankly, as Dean stood and pulled the slats apart with little effort. He shrugged. “Vampiric strength has its uses.” He put the bags of nutmegs on a far counter and perched on the small table opposite her. “I’m not really in a position to give advice.”
Fiona took a sip of her tea. The strong and slightly sweet brew warmed her as she held on to the mug with both hands. “Please don’t. I’ve had enough advice on my love life to last a lifetime.”
“Steve loves you.” Dean said. “He really does. He’s just not used to being in one place for long. He’s spent the last few years travelling in all sorts of strange places and he’s had some seriously traumatic experiences, so it’s hard for him to change.”
Fiona took a breath. “Everyone else can see how much Steve loves me. Why can’t he show me?”
“Because he doesn’t know how, yet.” Dean managed a smile. “If I thought it was just empty words, I’d be begging you to come back to me. I messed up the best thing that ever happened in my life, and I can see Steve doing the same thing.” His smile faded. “Anyway, I thought I would bring in a cuppa and let you know that it can work out.”
“Thanks.” Fiona managed. “I appreciate that.” She hesitated. “It can’t have been easy. I’m sorry things turned out for you like this.”
“So am I.” Dean said. “But it is what it is. You and Steve…” He looked at the door. “What the hell is that racket?”
Fiona trailed after Dean, still clutching her mug of tea. For a moment, every scrap of strength she had drained out of her. A group of elfen were standing in the middle of the shop, right at the start of the lunchtime rush, and setting down boxes and bags in what looked like a choreographed heap. As more people started filing in and edging around the stack, Fiona scrabbled together what was left of her mental energy and carefully placed her mug next to her till with all that was left of her control. “You can’t leave that there.”
The man giving directions turned and sneered at Fiona. He was tall, slim and clean shaven and his mid brown hair was long and pulled into a loose pony tail. “You have no idea who you are talking to. I’m Thistle and I’ve taken over from Egerton at Tadcaster.” He dusted an imaginary speck off his silk shirt. “I’m here to see Lady Freydis.”
“I said – you can’t leave that there.” Fiona said. The café would be packed within the next twenty minutes. “Get it out of here.”
“I don’t talk to shop girls.” Thistle said. “Where is my prince?”
Fiona took a breath. “Out.”
“I have been sleeping with the owner.” Thistle said, smirking. “She seduced me. You will get fired.”
Lady Freydis appeared, “I somewhat doubt your passion, Thistle, as Fiona Adderson is very loyal to her husband.” She glanced briefly at Fiona who was white with fury. “Perhaps you should leave now.”
“Fiona would vouch for me.” Thistle waved a hand airily and ignored the elfen frantically tugging at his sleeve with magnificent unconcern. “She is a sweet little thing, but a candle to your sun, my lady.” He swept a bow to Lady Freydis.
Fiona stepped forward, her fists clenching and unclenching. “Perhaps Lady Freydis could introduce us.”
“I’m sure Thistle recognises you.” Lady Freydis weighed up the fury in Fiona and decided that today was not the day to play. “Thistle, you are talking to Fiona Adderson. She isn’t exactly just a shop girl.”
“Although any employee in this establishment should be treated with respect.” Fiona said. “I believe I asked you to leave.”
“We got off to a bad start,” Thistle smiled sweetly at her. “But it’s just a misunderstanding. Besides, I can’t leave without presenting my tribute.” He smirked again at Lady Freydis. “I have much hoarded treasure.”
“You surprise me.” Lady Freydis said.
“I have many ways to surprise you.” Thistle waved an autocratic hand and his helpers rushed forward, a few of them looking apologetically at Fiona.
Fiona blinked. As the boxes were cut down and the sacks and bags rolled back, treasure after treasure spilled out. Crystal drops on fine strands of horse hair were draped over soft, woollen cloth pattern with Celtic-style swirls. Petrified wood was carved into glowing, burnished figures and candlesticks and delicate, woven grass bowls held a tumble of jet and amber beads. She looked around. The shop was filling up. Some were tourists and were obviously interested in making a purchase. Others were members of Lady Freydis’ court and their eyes were gleaming at the display. Unfortunately that display was right were the queue for sandwiches normally formed and it was getting more complicated and confused by the second.
Lady Freydis stepped closer to Thistle and ran a feminine hand down his face. “All this treasure? To show your wealth?”
“To offer to you, my prince.” Thistle said, catching her hand and kissing it.
“This treasure is indeed of a splendid appearance.” Lady Freydis said. She raised an immaculate eyebrow and the boxes and bags collapsed suddenly into a pile of leaves. “You actually tried to give me a gift of fairy gold?”
“We’re trying out a new magic act.” Mrs Tuesday said hastily as the tourists gasped and stepped back.
“I’d like to book you for our Christmas function.” A portly, bald man said quickly. “That was seamless.”
“It needs some work.” Mrs Tuesday said, taking him by the elbow and discreetly guiding him to the counter. “But we are offering free tea or coffee to anyone affected by the inconvenience.”
Adele scuttled out with a brush as Elaine encouraged the queue back to its normal position before diving behind the counter to help with the drinks. Fiona was furious.
“How dare you drop dead leaves over my clean floor.” She hissed.
There was amusement in Lady Freydis’ expression, but she put a firm hand on Thistle’s shoulder. “Why don’t you come into the back room with me.” She said. “I can explain the right things and the wrong things to gift to a Prince.”
“It was an excellent illusion.” Kadogan said. “I was completely fooled.”
“Then I shall give an excellent explanation.” Lady Freydis said.
For one moment Fiona felt almost like the floor was shifting under her, as the confusion and worry washed over her in a wave that left her gasping for a breath. Then she ran past Thistle, who was obviously regretting his grand gesture, and started bringing up the extra supplies for the lunchtime rush.
For those interested, I am finally actually definitely going to be publishing a newsletter next week (if I can get it to work), and if you would like to subscribe, the link is here. I plan to include any news and links, a household tip from Mrs Tuesday and a piece of original fiction, ideally once per month. I’m doing all I can to make sure that it complies with all the legal stuff, but I am keeping to the spirit that I require enthusiastic consent to add you, that I will take you off the list as soon as you like, and I will treat any contact details you leave with respect and care.