Way back in 2009, when the editors at Egmont and I were putting the first novel together, this scene, from Hamish's point of view, appeared right towards the end. At the time, it felt as if a new story was starting up. The overall plot had finished, and this was like an extended epilogue. Plus as this came at the end of the book, there was more kissing.
Now that I'm launching the Ondine series into the USA, starting with The Summer of Shambles, in June 2013, I had another look at this scene and ... still felt the love.
I also felt it could fit right about the place where Margi's engagement party was winding down, but before Hamish turned back into a ferret. (And before Ondine insulted her mother and was sent to her room.) I always regretted that I didn't give Ondine and Hamish more time together, and now I can fix it.
BUT, it wouldn't be fair for those fabulous, wonderful and loyal fans who have already bought the paperback to miss out.
“I like being human again,” Hamish said, tilting his head down so he could make eye contact with her lowered gaze.
A lock of dark hair fell over his forehead. An ache started in Ondine’s heart. Heavens above, he was so handsome a girl could completely lose her head. As if to deny her feelings, she picked up a slice of savoury tart and shoved it into her mouth. It didn’t matter that only moments ago she’d been touching her feet and her hands were probably covered in germs. All she wanted to do was stuff her mouth with food so that she didn’t say something stupid.
Ordinarily she loved Chef’s food. No wonder Cybelle had fallen for him – the man cooked like an angel! Yet right now, Ondine couldn’t taste anything because the presence of this Scot had invaded all her senses and turned the food to dust.
Hamish very much wanted to kiss Ondine, there and then. She’d suddenly gone shy, and that wasn’t like her. But then, he’d also gone a bit shy, and that wasn’t like him at all.
“Ondi, do ye still like me?” She couldn’t still be thinking about Lord Vincent, could she?
Before the lass could answer, Chef and Cybelle walked out, each with one of those pull-along shopping trolleys grannies love so much.
“There you are. Time for market,” Cybelle said.
“Wh-ut?” Ondine’s voice didn’t come out the right way to Hamish’s ears. He was having trouble working out how to make words as well. They were under some kind of new, restricting spell that made regular speech a handicap. Normally he had no problem on the chatty front. What was the point of being himself again if he talked gibberish with the girl he wanted to impress?
“We always go to market at this time,” Chef said, “Seeing as you’re both up, you can help.”
“Happy to help,” Hamish managed. He had to start repaying their hospitality somehow.
As if sharing an unspoken thought, Cybelle nodded at Chef and took his hand. Then they walked together out the side gate. It gave Hamish an idea. He held his hand out for Ondine. For a moment he wasn’t sure if she got the clue, until she blinked and slipped her hand in his. Warmth surged up his arm and into his heart at the contact. Her soft, small hand in his felt absolutely perfect, as if it belonged there. Then she smiled and he beamed back, his brain momentarily at a loss for something sensible to say.
So unlike him.
They walked, hand in hand, a few paces behind Cybelle and Chef, in the dark pre-dawn morning. The streets were quiet, broken only by the sounds of their footsteps.
Their paces fell into a natural rhythm as they reached the market, and found themselves looking a hidden world of traders and businesses that were never seen by everyday people. The kind of people who valued their sleep.
Lanterns of every shape and colour hung from the rafters to light the way. Even at this early hour, the markets were teeming with people like ants around a banana skin.
They crossed the street where Belle and Chef had already gone, falling further behind. Ondine leaned closer to Hamish, “Stick close to me, it can get pretty crowded. If you get lost, we’ll meet back at this corner, OK?”
“Not a problem,” holding her hand just that little bit tighter.
For someone used to seeing the world from ankle height, the early morning market proved an exciting and daunting place for Hamish. It was something like a mixture between a madhouse and a stockyard. Stalls filled with chickens squashed up beside grocers selling mountains of fresh vegetables and fruit. And the smell! Animals, fresh fruit, bruised fruit, vegetables, flowers and spices all mixed in his nostrils. How nasty would it be to get here any later? The heat of the day would stink the place right up.
“How much for the box of oranges,” Ondine asked one of the traders.
“For a beautiful girl, only five schlips,” the grocer said with a beaming smile.
“Five! Do I look like I’m made of money? I’ll give you three,” Ondine haggled.
“I have five daughters to marry off, be gentle with me. Four and a half crowns.”
“They’re all mushed underneath the top layer, I bet. Three and a half, and that’s my final offer.”
Hamish stood there, trying to keep his jaw from falling as he watched Ondine beat the price down, all the while she kept smiling and being so very nice about sending the grocer broke.
With pantomime agony, the grocer said, “Take it, please, before I leap into the river.”
“Done! Hamish, grab that box please,” Ondine handed over the money.
The grocer cast a look at Hamish, “This man, he is your husband?”
“Oh no, he’s just here for the muscles,” she laughed.
Hamish found himself laughing too, although it was difficult because the orange box was so heavy.
“In that case, Muscles, come back later and meet my daughters, you’ll have to marry one of them as I can no longer afford to feed them.”
Ondine dismissed his banter. “Follow me Hamish.”
In another lifetime, Hamish wouldn’t have been seen dead in a market, haggling with people. Shopping just wasn’t his thing. Yet, here, with Ondine as his guide, he found himself happily following her around the stalls, carrying all her goods without complaint.
Smiling, no less! What was wrong with him?
He’d never felt this… strange and yet comforting sense of … domestic life. Perhaps it was the effects of being human again, of experiencing life as it should be. Or maybe the joy came from being around Ondine.
The next sight made his insides clench tight for all the wrong reasons.
Ferrets. In cages. Piled five high. It was too much to bear and he shut his eyes. Acid burned his gut. Nasty things moved in his throat so he swallowed hard.
“Oh dear?” Ondine said as she saw the caged animals.
The girl had the good sense not to make a scene.
“Can we move on?” Hamish looked away, mind reeling at the thought that it could well be him going stir crazy in one of those the tiny cages. There but for Old Col go I.
“Why don’t we buy them and set them free?” Ondine asked.
In his heart he knew she was trying to be helpful. Setting ferrets free? Where would they go? He’d been lucky, he’d landed on his feet when he’d met Ondine.
He thought about talking to them, asking what they wanted. Then he realised he couldn’t. The noise they made was just that, noise. He couldn’t understand them any more than Ondine could.
“Let’s get out of here,” he hefted the boxes of fruit and vegetables and moved them away.
“Are you alright? You’re looking peely.”
Hearing one of his words with her accent sounded twee, but it had a serendipitous effect in that he momentarily forgot the nausea brought on from seeing his fellow ferrets in a cage.
“It’s OK. I just wasn’t expecting to see that. They won’t be sold for food or fur, if that’s what you’re worried about. They’ll be sold for rabbit hunting.”
Ondine gave him a sympathetic look, before she moved towards a display of pumpkins the colour of the morning sun. She hadn’t bought his explanation, but she wouldn’t press him on it either.
A woman who left a man alone to his thoughts. What a marvel. The tension eased from his shoulders and he swallowed hard, falling in line behind Ondine.
After an hour more of shopping and haggling, Ondine and Hamish carried their boxes of food to the street corner, where they waited for the others.
“Chef and Belle should be back soon,” Ondine craned her neck to try and see above the milling crowd. The sun was coming up, but the extra light didn’t help find her sister. “I’m too short. Help me stack these boxes.”
Doing as he was told, Hamish piled the boxes on top of each other, so she could climb up and see over people’s heads. He held her hand steady; enjoying the warm buzz each time he touched her skin.
Errant thoughts eh? What can you do about them?
With a shudder, Ondine’s balance failed and she wobbled on the top box. His heart lurched in fear. In a flash he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her close.
“It’s OK, I’ve got you,” he said.
She slipped further down in his arms and they were nose to nose. “So you have,” she said, sounding breathless.
From behind his ribs, Hamish’s heart came alive as he held this feisty young woman in his arms, “Did you see Chef or Belle while you were up there?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“So they could be a while then?” He was fascinated by how much Ondine’s eyes were dilating.
“Yes,” it came out as a breath. “Could be.”
A voice inside his head said, “You idiot, you’ve gone and fallen in love.” And then a moment later, another voice in his head said, “Good for me, then.”
If he kissed her now, would she kiss him back?
A new – female – voice, piped in from the sidelines. “Are you right there?” It was Belle, standing beside Chef, both of them dragging their filled trolleys behind them.
“We have to get all of this back into the cool room.”
Although they’d pulled away at the rude intrusion, Hamish found himself unable to wipe the smile off his face. And from the flushed look of Ondine, perhaps his feelings would be reciprocated.
Something lurched behind Hamish’s ribs.
One spell broken, another taking its place?
 Ferrets are incredibly handy at Ferreting. This involves finding a rabbit warren, blocking off all exits bar one, and sending a ferret or three into the burrow. All the trapper needs to do is wait at the exit with a large Hessian bag and an appetite for rabbit stew.
 In which further grocers claimed Ondine would send them to the poor house and that they’d have to come begging at the hotel for food, or sell their children on the black market. In Brugel, traders take drama classes so they can bring their A-game to haggling.