Chapter 12: Family Ties

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"Hey," Rob said as he struggled to keep up with Maggie as they marched from the Shoemaker's shop toward the city gates. "Could you slow down a little?"

The stone-paved boulevard was thick with shoppers, merchants and the occasional horse cart, but Maggie threaded a path so deftly she never so much as broke stride. Rob, on the other hand, seemed to bump into every other person Maggie left in her wake.

"If you want to see your patients," she snapped, "we need to move at my pace, not yours."

Rob took off his glasses to wipe the dust from the lenses, then stuck them back on his sweaty face. "Look, maybe you can keep this up all day, but I can't. Even if we get back after dark, I don't think I have much to worry about, given how you handled those guards."

Maggie halted her march. "I will strangle her. If I see her again, I won't hesitate to strangle the life out of her."

"I'm not sure that's wise."

"Don't worry. I'll wait until after the ball so you can be seen with your damned princess."

"For crying out loud, I don't want anything to do with Cynda. She's totally not my type."

Maggie snorted in disbelief. "What, you don't like wealthy and beautiful?"

"I don't like spoiled and bossy. Besides, I'm—"

"Doctor?" a woman's voice said from behind them. "Doctor, is that you?"

"Greta?" Rob said, as she joined them. "And Hans. What are you guys doing here?"

"My sister and I are out shopping," Hans answered, warily eyeing Maggie. "Your cousin eats an astonishing amount of food."

"That he does. But we can afford it."

"Perhaps. But food is scarce this time of year, before the first harvest. Even those that can afford good food cannot always find it."

Rob knew Hans was speaking the truth, but on a gorgeous day like this, with the trees and meadows bursting with greenery, it seemed crazy that food stores should be tight and poorer townsfolk might be going hungry. "Hans, just do your best. I'm confident you'll get what we need. And, ah . . . you guys know Maggie, of course."

"Magda. You're looking well," Greta said, to which Maggie replied with a grunt. Hans kept silent.

"Now, doctor," Greta continued.

Rob had met Greta a dozen times, but like most people in town, she used his title instead of his name. "Please, call me Robert. Or Rob, even."

"Robert," she said, blushing slightly. "I've heard talk that you're preparing to take a wife. Can this be true?"

"No! Where did you hear that?"

"It's everywhere," Greta said, a giggle slipping from between her lips. "All the ladies are hoping you might notice them at the Harvest Grand Ball. The dressmakers in town are burning candles late into the night in preparation. I wonder, if I may be so bold, whether you have an partner for the ball? I thought that, if you didn't want to attend alone, we might—"

"I'll meet you at the gate," Maggie snarled to Rob before stomping off.

"Such a temper," Greta said. "No wonder she hasn't a husband. But that's always been her way. Now, about the ball."

Rob watched Maggie disappear into the crowd. He felt bad for her; it seemed like she was overreacting, but he could also see the pain it was causing her. "Greta, I don't even know if I'm going."

Greta's mouth opened wide in astonishment, as if Rob didn't know whether it was night or day. "But you must!" she said. "The Harvest Grand Ball is the social event of the entire year!"

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