“Your girlfriend juggles? Impressive.”

Flynn shot Harvey an annoyed look. “She is not my-“

“Shh, the next girl is starting her act.”

Flynn rolled his eyes. “Penny did a nice job with the dresses.”

“She’s a stunning talent,” Harvey agreed. “Is Violetta in the pageant? There’s no swirling vortex of doom hovering over the festival, so I figured she wasn’t here.”

“Sometimes she dials back on the vortex,” Flynn smirked. “But I doubt she’s entered. Cordelia is adverse to charity unless a donation will get her something in return. Plus I don’t think draining someone’s essence to sustain your life force counts as a talent. I’m sure she’s at the festival though, hunting for her next victim.”

“I’m surprised she’s not married yet. Does she lose control and bite their heads off too soon?”

“You know Cordelia won’t approve of anyone until she finds the most prestigious and advantageous match. Just any eligible bachelor won’t do.”

The final pageant act finally ended, and people pressed in a little closer to the stage to await the judge’s decision on who would be crowned queen. Flynn spotted a familiar flash of dark hair and icy blue eyes through the crowd and tugged Harvey off to the edge of the crowd, ducking behind a food stand.

“What on earth is wrong with you?” Harvey demanded.

“We spoke her name and summoned her,” Flynn said, peeking around the booth. “I saw Violetta and Crispin.”

“Ah. Well then, by all means. Keep skulking about the funnel cake cart then. Funnel cake sounds good actually.”

Flynn poked his head around the cart again, watching as the pageant girls lined up on stage together. He kept one eye on Ivy, who still looked flustered and like she wanted to be anywhere else, and one eye on the crowd so he’d be able to see his siblings coming. He didn’t even listen to the announcement of the pageant queen, but there was thunderous applause when the announcer said her name and he glanced up to see them placing a flower crown on Genevieve’s head.

“Splendid, splendid. Congratulations on another win, Miss Brownwell. Now we will begin the auction, and as always we will begin with the queen herself.”

Flynn was glad he’d slipped out to the edge of the crowd as everyone jostled to get closer, bidding so rapidly that the poor man keeping track could hardly keep up. Flynn didn’t see any more signs of Crispin or Violetta but he stayed tucked away behind the food stall anyway, rolling his eyes when Harvey joined him, giant funnel cake in his hands.

“Is this really the time for funnel cake?” Flynn asked.

“It’s always the time for funnel cake.”

Someone finally won the date with Genevieve, for some ridiculous sum that Flynn didn’t pay attention to. The next girl stepped forward as Genevieve was directed off stage and Flynn was practically falling asleep against the back of the funnel cake stall out of sheer boredom until he heard Ivy’s name. He peered around the corner to see her nervously step forward, clasping her hands in front of her. The auctioneer started the bidding at a slightly lower number than he had for the previous girls and Flynn saw Ivy’s ears turn pink. There was a beat of silence before someone raised their hand. The auctioneer nodded his way and continued the bidding.

“Harvey, I need to ask you a huge, ginormous, important favor.”

“You’re very cute and I’m flattered but no, I will not go out with you.”

“Oh shut up, idiot. I need you to bid on a date with Ivy.”

“Flynn I appreciate the effort but I already have Penny and I’m really a one woman man.”

“I need you to bid on the date so I can go with her.”

“So Penny was right, you do have a thing for her.”

“No, I just...would you please just do this? If she goes with someone else they’re just going to be a jerk. I’ll owe you one.”

“You’ll owe me more than one,” Harvey grumbled.

“Please, Harvey? I promise I’ll pay you back.”

Harvey heaved a dramatic sigh. “The things I do for love.”

“The bid is at fifty now, so bid a hundred.”

“I beg your pardon-“

“Thanks, buddy.” Flynn took his funnel cake and shoved Harvey out into the main crowd and watched him call out a hundred, rather resignedly.

“With more enthusiasm,” he hissed and Harvey glared at him.

“I have a hundred, can we go a hundred and ten?” the auctioneer asked. A few people glanced around to see who had hiked the bid so high, and it apparently got others interested in bidding more themselves so there was a brief but fairly intense bidding war that Harvey finally won at three hundred, which earned Flynn more dagger eyes.

“I swear on my life I will pay you back,” Flynn said.

“With interest,” Harvey said, snatching back his funnel cake. “You’re lucky I’m such a hopeless romantic. Here, this is the paper that says you’re her date. Don’t get anyone pregnant.”

“It’s not that kind of date,” Flynn scowled.

“You go to that tent and collect your lady fair. Speaking of which, here comes mine. Penny, my radiant sunflower.”

“Funnel cake? Flynn let you have funnel cake? Flynn, he’s going to be all hopped up on sugar now,” she complained.

“Sorry. I’ll put him down for a nap later but right now I’ve got a date. Thanks again, Harv.” He slipped away while Penny began interrogating Harvey about what was going on. He stopped short when he saw Violetta talking to someone near the pageant tent. If she spotted him she’d probably get him arrested. With a huff, Flynn stayed hidden, growing impatient.

Finally Violetta finished her conversation, taking Crispin’s arm and the two of them swept into the remaining crowd, which parted quickly. A few brave souls offered them greetings, which went largely ignored. When they were out of sight, Flynn finally approached the tent, handing over the paper that said he was a winning bidder. He was waved inside and went in search of Ivy. She had changed into her normal clothes and was sitting at a small vanity table, looking miserable.

“Where is this guy anyway?” she muttered. “Probably making me wait on purpose. I bet he’s fat. And old. And has a hairy mole on his chin.”

“Now that’s a fine thing to say,” Flynn said, startling her. “I try very hard to maintain my figure. And I had that mole removed years ago.”

“Flynn!” Ivy exclaimed, jumping up so fast her chair tipped over. “What are you doing here?”

He waved the paper at her. “Picking up my date.”

Her eyes widened. “You bid on me?”

“Of course.”

The other girls still in the tent had stopped their chatter to blatantly stare, clearly eavesdropping on their whole conversation.

“But...why?” Ivy asked.

“I thought your performance was great. I’ve always wanted to date a juggler. So, shall we go?”

“I-yes. Yes, let’s go.” Ivy shyly reached out and took the arm he offered her, and Flynn led her out of the tent, feeling plenty of eyes on their backs as they went.

“I really did think the performance was good,” Flynn said, steering her away from the pageant stage. “How long have you been juggling?”

“Since I was little. I just kind of had a knack for it. I never planned on doing it in public though. But my dad made me do this dumb pageant and I needed to do something for the talent portion. I didn’t think true crime knowledge would really be considered appropriate.”

“I don’t know, word could’ve gotten around. It might impress that J.T. Butterball character you idolize.”

“J.R. Bogues!” Ivy said in exasperation, swatting his arm.

“So, Miss Ivy; what do you want to do for your big date tonight?”

“Oh.” She flushed. “I hadn’t thought about it.”

“I think I might have an idea. Come on.”

Flynn bought a giant box of donuts and then led Ivy to an old lighthouse on a hill above the bustle of the city.

“It’s not quite the same as a stranger’s roof,” he said dryly, leading her up the steps. “But there is a pretty impressive view.”