reporter, I'd have seized the opportunity to give him the real scoop on the insecure and underpaid lives so many craftspeople led. But I knew better than to talk to Wesley. I'd made the mistake of talking off the record to him years ago, when he was earning his journalistic reputation as the York Town Crier's most incompetent cub reporter in three centuries. Like the rest of the county, I'd been puzzled but relieved when he'd abandoned our small weekly paper, first for a staff job with the Virginia Commercial Intelligence, a reputable state-business journal, and then, returning to character, for the sleazy but no doubt highly paid world of the Super Snooper, a third-rate tabloid. Why couldn't he have waited until Thanksgiving to come home and visit his parents?

'So, got any juicy stories for me?' Wesley asked.

'Get lost, Wesley,' I said.

'Aw, come on,' he whined. 'Is that any way treat your own cousin?'

'He's your cousin?' Michael asked.

'No,' I said.

'Yes,' Wesley said, at the same time.

'Only a distant cousin, and about to become a little more distant – right, Wesley?' I said, picking up a set of andirons as I spoke. It wasn't meant to be a physical threat, but if Wesley chose to misinterpret it as one….

'I'll stay out of your way; just ignore me,' Wesley said, sidling a little farther off.

Which meant, no doubt, that Wesley thought he could pick up some dirt hanging around my booth. Or possibly that he knew about the orders my mother had given me to 'find poor Wesley a nice story that will keep his editor happy.' Wesley was a big boy; why was helping him keep his job suddenly my responsibility? I'd taken him on a VIP tour of the festival last night, hoping he'd find something harmless to write about. I'd even shown him the stocks and let him take some pictures of me in them, pictures I knew he'd find a way to misuse sooner or later. What more was I supposed to do? And what had he done to upset Mrs. Waterston?

I peered out again. To my relief, Mrs. Waterston had returned to the town square. Her head was moving slowly, as if she were scanning the lane of booths leading up to ours.

And she was frowning. Maybe she saw something unsatisfactory about our entire row of booths – but no, that was unlikely. This row and the adjoining one were the showplaces, closest to the entrance, where I'd put the best craftspeople with the most authentic colonial costumes and merchandise. I'd kept the weirder stuff toward the back of the fair. More likely she was watching someone walking down the row. Someone who was about to pass my booth, or maybe even enter it….

'Hi, Meg! Has anyone asked for me?'

My brother, Rob.

'No, not yet,' I said, eyeing him. I couldn't see anything wrong. His blue jacket, waistcoat, and knee breeches fit nicely; his ruffled shirt and long stockings were gleaming white; both his shoes and the buckles on them were freshly polished; his hair was neatly tied back with a black velvet ribbon, and a tricorn hat perched atop his head at a jaunty but far from rakish angle. Not for the first time, I envied the fact that he'd inherited our mother's aristocratic blond beauty.

'Meg?' he asked. 'Is there something wrong? Don't I look okay?'

'You look fine,' I said. 'Help Michael with some of my ironwork.'

'I'm supposed to be meeting someone on business, you know,' he announced, for about the twentieth time today. 'I don't want to get all sweaty.'

'Well, work slowly if you like, but try to look busy.'

'Why?' he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.

'Because Mrs. Waterston is coming this way,' I said, glancing over my shoulder. 'Would you rather help me out or do whatever chore she has in mind for you?'

'Where do you want these?' Rob asked, snatching up a pair of candlesticks.

'I've got nearly everything out of the crates and boxes,' Michael said. 'I should probably go check on the rest of my regiment.'

'Fine,' I said. 'Rob can help me finish.'

'I'll bring back some lunch,' he said, leaning down to kiss me. 'You'll be here, right?'

'Actually, I'll probably be running up and down all day, keeping the crafters and 'the Anachronism Police' from killing each other,' I said. 'And if things get slow, I need to go down to Faulk's booth for a while.'

'Can't Faulk mind his own booth?' Michael said, frowning.

'I'm sure he can,' I said. 'But he's supposed to inspect my dagger.'

'Oh, have you finished the dagger?' Eileen exclaimed. 'The one with the falcon handle? Let me see it!'

So, now, of course, I had to show Eileen the dagger. Not that she had to twist my arm too hard – I admit, I was proud of the dagger. Eight months ago, Faulk, the friend who'd introduced me to ironworking when we were in college together, had come back to Virginia after working for the last several years with a world-renowned swordsmith in California. He'd been burning to share what he'd learned about making weapons, and, I confess, I'd caught me bug.

The last couple of months, I'd been working on a dagger, with an intricate ornamental handle and a highly functional steel blade. I'd finished it – at least I hoped it was ready for prime time. But Faulk was the expert. I'd been looking forward for weeks to showing him the dagger.

Eileen oohed and aahed over the dagger so loudly that Amanda came over to see what was going on. Michael, I noticed, was standing aloof, still frowning. I realized, suddenly, that this wasn't the first time over the last few months that he'd shown a certain coolness, even irritation, whenever I'd mentioned my dagger. What was the matter with him, anyway? He didn't seem to feel threatened by my blacksmithing; what was so different about making swords?

I turned my attention back to the dagger in time to grab Amanda's hand before she touched the blade.

'Careful!' I said. 'It's razor sharp; you could slice your finger off.'

'You get much call for working daggers?' Amanda asked.

'There's a growing market for period weapons,' I said. 'Renaissance fairs, Society for Creative Anachronism folks – you'd be surprised.'

'They let people run around at Renaissance fairs with sharpened swords?'

'No, but this is a test piece,' I said. 'Proof that I've learned the first stages of what Faulk's been teaching me about the swordsmithing craft. I had to handforge the steel for the blade, just the way they would have in the 1300s, and sharpen it to perfection.'

'Can't you just buy the blades somewhere these days?' Rob asked. 'From Japan or something? That'd be a lot easier.'

'Yes, and you can get them pretty reasonably from India and Japan, and most people couldn't afford a handforged steel blade. But even if you're usually going to buy your blades and just make the handles, Faulk says it's important to learn how they're made the traditional way, so you really understand the steel. You're much better able to choose a good blade if you know how they're made.'

Michael frowned again when I mentioned Faulk's name. Aha! Maybe it wasn't swords that bothered him – maybe it was Faulk. As I realized that, he smiled – was it a genuine smile, or was he just making an effort? – and disappeared into the crowd with a slight wave.

'Mr. Right not keen on the swordsmithing project?' Amanda asked.

I shrugged. Damn, she had sharp eyes. I'd only just picked up on it myself.

'Well, you seem to be in good shape,' boomed a voice from outside the booth.

Mrs. Waterston. We all whirled, and Rob, who had been testing the blade of my dagger, yelped as he cut himself slightly.

'I told you to be careful,' I said, taking the dagger back as Rob sucked his finger with a martyred air.

Mrs. Waterston fixed her gaze on Rob. And frowned.

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