December 27th, 1880
“Where did you get the orange,Wils?” Rafe had heard that the new cook was arriving today, and he wanted a closer look. He sat now with the twins in the front parlor, waiting.
Stephen scowled. “She seems to have a never ending supply of them these days.”
“Well, seeing as I’m of absolutely no interest to anyone, I can’t imagine where they might have come from.” With a grin at Rafe, she sauntered out of the parlor.
“I never said any such thing,” Stephen complained.
“Maybe not in so many words,” Rafe said, “but it’s close enough to what you meant. And don’t tell me you didn’t know what you were doing.” Stephen’s scowl only deepened. “And since when are you the moody one? I’d think you’d be thrilled. She certainly seems to be enjoying the attention. And the oranges.”
“Well, I’m not,” Stephen said.
“Is it possible your standards are a little high?” Rafe said. “He’s a duke, for god’s sake.”
“Now you sound like Edmund,” Stephen said.
Rafe rolled his eyes.“Then try this on for size. I like him. He’s honest, he’s a good man in a fight, and he’s brighter than most. She likes him, he—”
“He knows exactly two things about her,” Stephen said. “She’s off limits and she’s got power. He doesn’t like her; he’s a child crying after the shiny toy on the top shelf.”
“That’s more than a little unfair,” Rafe said. “And I’m fairly certain he’s noticed at least one or two other things about her.” More gently, he added, “We can’t keep her to ourselves forever, Stephen. You’re hardly even here anymore, which is how it should be. And—”
He was interrupted by a commotion from the back of the house as Mariana arrived with her baggage. Rafe looked at Stephen and said, “How much did she bring with her?”
When he and Stephen walked back to the kitchen, they found Casmin watching with great amusement as Mariana directed the unloading of several crates, most of which went to the kitchen and larder. Several mysterious looking packages, however, were carted up to the third floor where she had her room.
Drawn by the noise, Edmund came out of his study to investigate. He took one look and shook his head.
“This house gets stranger by the minute.” He looked at Casmin and raised an eyebrow. “She’d better be one hell of a cook.”
“Oh, she is,” Casmin said.
“I’m sure she’s got other talents as well,” Rafe said, grinning. “She’s got that stern schoolmistress look about her.”
“Don’t even think about it,” Casmin said.
One of the workmen dropped a large crate, and Mariana unleashed a torrent of what they assumed was abuse at him in loud and angry Greek.
Rafe laughed. “Oh, don’t worry. I’m not as stupid as I sometimes appear. She’s terrifying.”
As if she had heard him, Mariana’s head snapped around. “Either help or get out of my kitchen.”
“Did I just get ordered out of a room in my own house?” Edmund asked.
“Admit it, you liked it,” Rafe said.
Stephen quickly retreated from the bustle downstairs and went to his room. He sat, deep in thought, while he practiced calling fire. He hadn’t yet been able to shape it like Casmin could, or even to throw it as effectively as he had two weeks before. But he was calling it faster now, and he brought up bubbles of fire in quick succession, letting them dance on his fingertips before letting them flame out on their own. It was almost like flipping a coin, he thought, only more soothing.
“Do you think you could stop that now?” Willamina asked. She was leaning on the door-frame, frowning at him.
“Because,” she said, a whine to her tone, “it tickles.”
“Really?” Stephen asked.
She gave him the grin that had always gotten them both in trouble when they were children. “If I knew how to do it as well…”
If Rafe hadn’t made him feel so guilty earlier, he never would have said what he did next. “Well, come in then, and close the door.”
Ten minutes later, he was studying the circle he had drawn out on the floor.
“You do know what you’re doing.”
“Of course,” he said. Then he rubbed his forehead, leaving a chalk mark across his brows. “Well, I’ve seen Casmin do it a hundred times.”
“That’s very reassuring,” she said. “What’s it for?”
He cleared his throat. “In case something, er, explodes.”
“Oh, well, that’s all right then.”
He was amazed at how quickly she picked it up. Amazed, and more than a little jealous. It had taken him six weeks to get even the smallest spark, and with two hours she had a small flame dancing across her fingers. He had stepped into the circle then, rolling up his own sleeves.
“I want to try something.” He called up the flame again, and found he could quickly form it into a tight little ball. He tossed it to her, and with a laugh of pure delight she caught it, and tossed it back.
That was the day they learned how to juggle.