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Chapter 26, Part 3 (End Chapter 26)

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Ezra had suggested that when the little ones were down for the night, Mara and Dixon return for further discussion. Mara bowed out, but Dixon agreed to the meeting.

He entered the pub just as a young local son sang a favorite ditty to the guests' delight about a maiden pleased her true love was "as steady as a rushing river." Meanwhile, a traveling magician impressed the folks, showing off his talents at prestidigitation. He made cards fly through his fingers, coins vanish and reappear, and empty mugs levitate, all to the delight of the onlookers.

Nancy and Celestine bustled about, keeping the spirits of the guests up and their mugs filled.

Dixon sat with his back against the wall. The quiet figure of a man in the opposite corner caught his attention. A hooded cloak partially hid his face. Slowly nursing his drink, he seemed to watch every person's every move.

Ezra's eyes followed Dixon's gaze. He grinned. "One of mine," he said.

"And that one?" Dixon's eyes flashed to the opposite side of the room where a young woman sat alone. Though silent, her demeanor seemed to shout that her space was off limits. Even to a casual observer, she appeared ready to spring at any moment, at the slightest sign of danger.

"Yes, that one too." Ezra motioned for Celestine, then asked her to bring drinks.

Dixon refused with a shake of his head.

"Actually, Celestine will bring me tea, not ale. I never have more than two brews in an evening. She knows I mean to keep my wits about me."

"Very well then. I'll have one too."

After Celestine left, the innkeeper sat quietly, watching Dixon. "You miss her?" he finally asked.

"Rowena?"

"Mhmmm."

"Terribly." Dixon closed his eyes. "I keep thinking I hear her voice. I keep waiting for her to come around the corner. I—"

"You were still in love with her," Ezra interrupted.

Dixon started. "What?"

"Oh, come on, a man would have to have been blind not to have known."

"That was a long time ago." Dixon shook his head. "It was just the longing of a young man who should have known better. I was subject to my oath. She was married for goodness sake."

"I see. So now Mara's got your eye."

Celestine stopped with the tea.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Dixon said, looking down, after she walked away.

"So, she's fair game?"

Dixon's eyes shot up.

Ezra laughed. "That's what I thought." He shook his head. "She's a good woman."

"Among the best. But of course, she's committed now. And even if she wasn't, she wouldn't be interested in me—so there's no cause for concern."

"Now that's where you're wrong. Or perhaps you didn't see her reactions to Nancy and Celestine?" The innkeeper paused. "And that's why you have to be very careful."

Dixon was silent for a time. He patted his thigh. "I'm sure you're mistaken. We've been thrown together for the time being, for good or for bad, that's all."

Jules approached. "Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all. I'd appreciate your input." In part, Dixon was relieved that the subject of conversation would be changed. He turned to Ezra. "Mara's convinced there might be information at sanctuary for us," he paused, "or for her, that is. She wants to do some research. Since she couldn't leave the infants, at least for an extended time, to the care of others, she decided we'd all come to the city."

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