The Blood Spell (Ravenspire, #4)(3)

She’d seen this woman a few times at the market or when Blue and Papa spent time at the castle, and Blue had no interest in catching her attention now. Dinah Chauveau, head of the Chauveau family, had a reputation for ruthlessly running her quarter and for making life miserable for anyone who tried to cheat her.

She also had a reputation for zealously punishing anyone caught violating the law against magic.

Swallowing hard, Blue gave Maurice and Dinah a wobbly smile and hurried toward a selection of jewels resting inside a locked glass case. Her breath felt too thin, her blood too thick as she turned her back to them and prayed they hadn’t seen anything that could get her in trouble.

“We can resume our discussion of your failure to meet the terms of our contract once you get her out of here.” Dinah’s voice was cold and precise.

“What can I get for you today, Blue?” Maurice asked from beside her elbow. His brown face was folded in on itself, like a grape shriveling beneath the harsh summer sun, and his hands shook a bit with age, but his eyes were as shrewd as ever.

“Pink sapphire!” Blue’s words were too loud, too rushed, and she folded her arms over her chest to give her hands something to do as magic tingled across her palms, reaching for the jewels that Maurice was pulling out of the case.

“I don’t have pink today, but here’s a blue and a white, and both are just as lovely,” he said.

Blue shook her head. “I need pink for the potion I’m working on.”

“I can get my hands on one soon enough and have it delivered, no extra fee.”

“That’s fine.” Blue turned toward the crates and began rattling off the list of other items she needed, an itch between her shoulder blades where Dinah’s gaze rested. Blue hadn’t had a chance to check the rest of the ingredients she wanted to buy, but there was no way she could risk it now.

Maurice quickly wrapped up her purchases and loaded them into her burlap sacks. “Where’s that young girl you use for deliveries and such?”

Blue frowned as she reached inside her cloak for the metal she hoped would pass as gold. “I’m not sure.” Ana should’ve been here by now. She was usually very prompt, and she knew Blue needed help on market day.

“If you can’t carry all these yourself, I’ll deliver the rest later for a small fee.” Maurice’s eyes brightened, and Blue laughed.

“I’ve experienced your small fees before, Maurice. I can carry it all or find a child to help me.”

Schooling her face into a mask of composure, Blue pulled out the chunks of pale yellow metal she’d created the night before. It was almost gold. And maybe almost would be good enough. She didn’t want to cheat Maurice. She just wanted to test her experiment. And if anyone in the market could instantly spot a fake, it would be Maurice.

His eyes narrowed as she handed him the chunks of almost-gold. “Pretty pale for gold.” He held it up to a bar of sunlight slanting in through the roof and turned it this way and that.

Blue flinched as Dinah took a step closer, her gaze on the metal as well.

Maurice brought the metal up to his mouth and bit gently. His brow folded into a frown. “Soft like gold, but the color’s a little off. Where did you get this?”

Her face heated. “The shop.”

It was as much of the truth as she was willing to give them. If anyone realized what she was doing, she and Papa would no longer be safe. Blue would bet everything they owned that one of the less scrupulous brokers who managed the illegal gambling dens throughout the city would be at their door within an hour with a plan to force Blue into working for him. And if a broker didn’t get to her first, somebody else would.

Everyone in the kingdom would want a piece of the girl who’d figured out how to use alchemy to turn ordinary metal into gold.

Maurice’s voice was rough. “Somebody cheated you, Miss Blue. This is a good imitation, but it isn’t gold. Do you remember who paid with it?”

She shook her head and hurriedly grabbed a handful of coin out of her other pocket. Laying the coin out on Maurice’s table, she took the almost gold out of his hand and pocketed it again.

“That’s useless, Miss Blue,” he said. “Unless you want to turn it over to the magistrate so they can hunt for the person who gave it to you.”

“Oh, no. That’s fine! I mean, obviously it’s not fine, but I’m sure I can use it in one of my potions or something.” Her voice was too bright, but she couldn’t seem to change it. Gathering her bags from Maurice, she slung them over her shoulder, staggering a bit under their weight, and then bid a hasty farewell to Maurice, nodding respectfully to Dinah on her way out.

Scanning the crowd around her once more, Blue hurried to the end of the row. Where was Ana? Had she forgotten it was market day? Or had another, more lucrative job come up?

A tiny whisper of fear poisoned Blue’s thoughts as she stopped to examine the crowd again.

Children went missing in Falaise de la Mer. Everyone knew it, though no one could really explain it. It was always the children whose parents were in prison or who’d died working dangerous jobs for one of Balavata’s brokers. Children no one would really miss.

But Ana wasn’t a girl no one would miss. She had a regular job with Blue at the Mortar & Pestle. She had friends. And to the best of Blue’s knowledge, no one had gone missing from the Gaillard quarter for years. Besides, Ana had failed to show up twice before, and both times she’d returned after a few days, apologizing for leaving Blue on her own and explaining that she’d been hired for a cleaning job by one of the wealthier families of the city, who paid Ana twice what Blue could.

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