I nodded my thanks, accepted the candle, and curled

“I nodded my thanks, accepted the candle, and curled my fingers around the copper.

As I left, I debated about the coin. If I gave it to Father, he’d most likely give it to Bryn for supplies, which we wouldn’t see. But, with Bryn at my side and a copper in hand, I could go to the bakery, avoid the baker, and buy some flour. After all, a copper wasn’t enough to buy a loaf of bread these days.

Bryn waited for me outside. I handed her the candle, and she placed it in her bag without comment.

“I’d like to go to the bakery and see how much flour I can purchase,” I said, stopping her when she would have turned home. She raised her brows at me, no doubt surprised by my willingness to linger in town when wearing a dress, and followed me without comment.

The door to the bakery stood propped open and waves of heat rolled out. No one lingered within to trade gossip today. I stepped onto the porch and quickly ducked inside the store. Miss Medunge sat on a stool behind a counter lined with a narrow variety of fresh bread. She smiled at me and waved me in.

“The bread’s been picked over already. This is what’s left until dinner,” she said, pointing to the loaves.

“I’m interested in purchasing flour, however much a copper will get me,” I said, setting the coin on the counter. I could almost taste the biscuits I imagined Bryn would make.

She pursed her lips in thought. “Just under two handfuls, I think. Do you have a bit of cloth for it?”

I cringed. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Don’t worry. I can loan that if you promise to bring it back.”

Nodding my promise, I watched her go through the door to the bakery. The aroma of fresh bread made my mouth water as I waited. When the door swung open, I looked up expecting her smiling face but, instead, met the eyes of the baker. In his hand, he held a small bundle of cloth tied with a bit of string.

“Benella, I couldn’t believe it when my sister told me you were here to buy flour,” he said while his eyes wandered over me, mostly lingering on the exposed skin of my neck and chest. “And so prettily attired. I didn’t know you owned a dress.”

I didn’t care for his tone.

“Here is the copper,” I said, scooting it across the counter with one finger.

He smirked at me and held out the flour, waiting until I reached for it to grab my fingers with his other hand. He petted them with his own sweaty digits.

“Perhaps, I will see you later,” he whispered, setting the flour bag in my palm.

I said nothing, staring at him while maintaining a straight face. Eventually, he released my hand, and I turned and slowly made my exit. Sweat beaded on my upper lip when I stepped out into the cool air, but my fate didn’t turn any better. Tennen stood near Bryn, and they spoke quietly. When he heard me, he looked up with a gleam in his eyes.

“Needed to see the baker?” he asked with a laugh.

Bryn, not liking that I’d immediately stolen his attention, pouted prettily, but he ignored her.

“Yes. We had a spare copper and needed flour.”

A blaze of anger lit in his eyes, and he took a step toward me. Bryn stopped him with a simpering hand on his arm.

“Tennen, our walk?”

He looked down at her, and for a moment, I saw his disdain. Then, his face cleared, and a smile curved his lips.

“Of course.” He took her by the arm and led her up the road toward our house. I followed with my flour protected in my hands.

When we reached the cottage, Tennen bowed his farewell and left without looking at me again. Bryn walked inside as if nothing had happened. I handed her the flour and fled to Father’s study, content to read until he returned home.

Hours melted away while I devoured the words on the pages. I’d stopped attending school years ago when I’d quietly corrected Father after class, regarding one of the mathematical concepts he’d been teaching. Since then, he let me use his study whenever he wasn’t home. I remembered most everything I read that interested me, and many things did. The botany book he’d used to identify the primrose captivated me until he strode through his study door.

“What a lovely sight. A pretty girl reading a book,” he said. Neither of my sisters showed much interest in books, but he didn’t fault them for it.”