Chapter Thirteen

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I was feeling mixed emotions when Robbie guided the horse and four-seater buggy into the main street of town. I was excited to be able to afford a new dress with my first pay, but also a little nervous to be back in town since my run-in with the law.

Constable Doyle had started rumours about me, and being such a small town, gossip spread like wildfire throughout. I was uncertain on how the locals would treat me; did they really believe I belonged in gaol, or were they so caught up in their own lives that they didn't really care?

I was about to find out.

We came to a halt alongside a row of stores, and I gazed up at the dark clouds hovering above us. It had threatened to rain all morning, but I had hoped it would hold up long enough for us to get back home again.

I had permission to bring Libby and Annie along with me to pick out some new school supplies, and they were ecstatic when they heard the news.

They had been so well behaved sitting in the backseat of the buggy, giggling and pointing along the way, and I even taught them how to play I Spy which they thoroughly enjoyed.

After Robbie and I stepped down from the buggy, we each helped a girl out, too small to get down on their own.

"I have some errands to run, but I'll wait for you ladies here. Take your time," Robbie said, smiling at us.

"Thanks, Robbie," I replied, smiling back.

After Robbie strode away, I took the girls' hands and we made our way up the street, girls merrily bouncing alongside me.

We turned a few heads, but no nasty glares or comments as of yet.

"Where should we go to first?" I asked them, keeping an eye out for a store that sold school supplies.

"Let's find you a pretty dress, Miss Fletcher," Libby replied, looking up at me.

"Wonderful idea, sweetheart," I replied, receiving a big grin in return.

"The bakery!" Annie squealed on the opposite side of me, hopping up and down.

I laughed. "Are you hungry already?" She nodded vigorously. "How about we browse through the dress store first, and then we can get some morning tea."

"Yes, Miss."

We spotted a store with mannequins in the window, so thought that was the most obvious place to look.

A bell above the door jingled as we stepped inside, and we were greeted by two women; the older one had to be nearing sixty, and the younger one was around my age. They grinned at me first, and then their eyes lowered to the children. I was confused when the older woman's brown eyes met mine once more, her smile turning to a frown of disapproval.

"These are Mrs. Shore's children," she uttered, whether to myself or to the younger woman, I wasn't sure.

"That's right," I replied with a firm voice, wondering why it mattered whose children they were.

"You're not the nanny, so you must be the new governess. The one who broke into Mr. Clay's home."

"Mother, don't gossip," the younger woman scolded.

Anger was rising inside me, but I tried to keep my cool. "If that were true," I said, "Do you really think Mr. Valentine would allow me inside his house and be all right with me spending so much time with his grandchildren?"

"I heard it from Constable Doyle himself," she said, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

"And you believe the word of a man who was a convicted criminal himself?"

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