“Orland found her in the Outback Rocks.”
The words always burrowed under Annie’s skin like poisoned roots.
Tanner Village spread below her, a handful of humped houses and a blacksmith’s forge. What origin could they boast?
Her thoughts sank the closer she came. Her produce basket cut into her elbow. If she and Orland could live without the villagers’ business, they would. But a garden couldn’t produce oil or clothes for winter, which already chilled the air.
“Gone.” Lee Smith stormed from the forge, hammer clenched. “Someone’s taken my silver.” His voice rose to a shout. Murmuring villagers stepped out of doorways.
“Settle down there, Lee.” Timmons Ard held out his hands. “Could be lost.”
“I counted it not an hour ago.” He gestured back with his hammer. “Went into the back to get more wood, left the front open. When I looked again, my chest was empty.”
“Did you lock it?” Missus Allen called.
“Lock it every time.” He spun to take in the whole crowd. “Now which of you was it?”
Annie shrank back, but his gaze landed on her. “You. You’re from the Outback, you know your way around silver.”
“I just arrived.” She shook her basket. “I had no time for stealing.”
“Likely.” He studied her basket. “Let’s see that emptied out.”
Annie took a slow breath. “Before I do, show us your chest.”
He scowled. “I’m not letting anyone—”
“Let’s see it, Lee.” Timmons strode toward the forge. “You’re the one belching about it. We need proof it’s gone.”
Lee sputtered, but stepped inside and opened the chest.
Annie squinted at the base. She kicked it, forgetting the pain at the rattle of coins. She tapped the corner. The false base flipped open, revealing a layer of silver.
“Is this what you’re looking for?”