If Carter hadn’t been so happy to see the effect he was having on Miss Danvers, he would feel sorry for her. She was truly at sixes and sevens since he’d arrived. That was a good sign. He much preferred that to apathy. The rail ride home had been pleasant with him keeping the ladies entertained. He had also brought a lunch basket with him, compliments of Ross & Hager, a fine restaurant he patronized whenever in London.
They shared pâté, cheese, fruit, crackers, cold chicken, and apple tarts, along with lemonade. He thought he’d made progress in his courtship of Miss Danvers. Especially when she stumbled from the steps leaving the rail car and landed very nicely in his arms, all warm and soft and womanly. The surprise on her face when she looked up at him had soon turned to something else as they stared briefly at each other.
However, when they parted at the rail station, she thanked him for the meal and quickly linked her arm in Lady Pamela’s and practically dragged her to the hackney he’d hired for the two ladies, leaving him no chance for a private word with her.
Not to be deterred, he made the trip today in the pouring rain because he had to see her again. The day before had been taken up with business he needed to attend to for himself and Berkshire while the man was on his wedding trip.
“Is there anything else I can help you with, Mr. Westbrooke?” Miss Danvers said.
Ah, if only you could read minds, Miss Danvers. You would know precisely how you can help me.
Carter offered her one of his best smiles. One that generally got a lady to agree to just about anything he proposed. “Can I get you to call me Carter? I feel we are friends enough for that allowance.”
He barely got the words out before Miss Danvers shook her head. “No. I don’t believe that is proper. We only just met.”
“I see,” he said, cupping his chin with his index finger and thumb. “How long do we need to know each other for that to occur? Or does it depend instead on how many times we are together? Or perhaps on whether we are in a crowd, or alone?”
She was just beginning to grin when the door to the store opened, the little bell ringing, announcing the presence of someone to interrupt his conversation.
He did not imagine the breath of relief Miss Danvers blew out as she said, “Excuse me.” She skirted around him and hurried over to the young woman with a small child clinging to her skirts. What mother brought her young child out in this rain? Especially when he was making progress with Miss Danvers, he groused.
He resumed browsing the shelves. He did truly want to buy a book since he spent most of his leisure time reading. A perfect evening for him would be a small glass of brandy or port at his side as he sat in front of his fireplace reading a good book. He oftentimes imagined a wife sitting there alongside him, doing her embroidery or reading, as well. Then when the night grew late, they would hold hands as they climbed the stairs together and spend time in bed making love.
He had always intended to marry, but at thirty years of age, he’d never met anyone with whom he felt he could share the rest of his life. He attended the dances at the Bath Assembly Rooms on occasion and knew many of the single women in the town. At least those who were on the hunt for a husband.
Despite his mother’s insistence, he refused to enter the London Marriage Mart fray. The mothers there were downright scary. His brother, Charles, had been caught in a noose by a young lady who he accidentally compromised. Luckily for him, Lady Hastings turned out to be not such a bad wife.
Since he’d never seen Miss Danvers, either at London society events or the Bath Assembly, and had not met her at any other social event in the past year she had lived in Bath, he assumed she was not interested in a husband. It was quite preposterous to assume that a beauty like her would not have men dropping proposals at her feet left and right.
He returned the book he’d been looking through and glanced over at Miss Danvers, who was bending down speaking to the young child.
She had a way of speaking that mesmerized him. She was all hands and gestures when she spoke, even though he was quite certain the proper boarding school she had attended would have frowned upon that. What baffled him was why a woman as beautiful as Miss Danvers, along with her charming personality and kindness, was not searching for a husband.
There was no doubt in his mind that she’d been brought up a lady and her parents would expect her to make a successful match. If she didn’t want a husband, he wanted to know why. He was almost certain she was suffering from a broken heart.
He managed to keep himself busy while Miss Danvers dealt with the customer. After a lengthy discussion and a purchase of two children’s books, the woman and her charge left the store.
“Miss Danvers, may I entice you to join me for lunch?” He glanced out the window, something he’d already done before he raised his question. “It appears the rain has stopped. If you will do me the honor of accepting my invitation, I can escort you in my carriage to whichever restaurant you fancy.”
She hesitated, her teeth clamping down on her lovely lower lip. He wanted to cover those lips with his own and run his tongue over them until she opened, allowing him to taste her. Feel the velvet of her mouth, the softness of her tongue. “I am sure Lady Berkshire doesn’t expect you to bypass lunch to take care of her store.”
Miss Danvers shook her head. “No. In fact, when Lady Berkshire was in town, she, Lady Pamela, and I met every day here in the store for a late lunch, or I guess you could call it tea. But Lady Pamela is unable to meet today since she has a new pupil and she needs more time to evaluate her music skills.”
Lady Pamela had mentioned on the trip home from London that she taught piano, violin, and voice to young students. It amazed him that someone with her stutter could teach voice. But Miss Danvers had assured him that Lady Pamela sang like an angel.
“Then you are free for lunch.” He didn’t want to make that a question and give her a chance to find some excuse.
The indecision on her face was almost comical. It was as if he was asking her to run away to Gretna Green with him. “It’s only lunch, Miss Danvers,” he said softly.
She laughed. “I know that. I was just thinking about the propriety of it.”
The woman was certainly overly concerned with propriety as if she’d been raised in a convent or by a vicar, rather than a posh school for girls. He would love to delve further into her childhood to see what had made her the way she was.
“We will be in a public restaurant. It is daylight. There is nothing to be worried about. I guarantee you I am a gentleman.”
She studied him for a minute, then said softly, “I believe you are.”
Why that simple sentence brought such a jolt of happiness to him was disconcerting. Surely, he wasn’t that taken with Miss Danvers.
She grinned and he almost lost his breath. Yes, he was that taken.
“If you are certain you are not concerned about risking your life considering my record with you so far, then very well. It will only take me a few minutes to put the closed sign on the door and fetch my coat and hat.”
He fought the inclination to shout hurrah! As he’d pointed out to Miss Danvers, it was only lunch.
She sat very demurely across the seat from him in his carriage, her hands placed delicately in her lap. Despite his assurances that he was a gentleman, she still looked a bit nervous and continued to lick her lips as she gazed out the window. Every time he saw that sweet little pink tongue run around her lips his cock hardened. He’d never been attracted to the sweet, demure, fragile type of woman before, but this one had him twisted in knots.
Even though she was all sweetness and light, he had a strong feeling that she was steel underneath. To make her own way from London to Bath, and support herself, showed bravado rarely seen in a young lady.
“I told my driver to take us to Sally Lunn’s House since you had no preference. I hope that meets with your approval?”
“I love Sally Lunn’s buns.” Lottie laughed. “I find the need to laugh every time I say that.”
Her joy was contagious. “Yes. I agree. It is quite musical. And the buns are wonderful.”
The carriage stopped in front of Sally Lunn’s House on North Parade Passage, across from The Parade Gardens. Carter stepped out of the coach and turned to help Miss Danvers down. His large hand swamped her small, delicate one. He looked up at her as she took his hand and their eyes met. Her chocolate brown expressive eyes and the touch of her hand did something very strange to his insides.
Carter had never really thought much about love at first sight, believing it was something found in silly romance novels, but it was beginning to appear that not only was there such a thing, but it had happened to him.
Either that or he was coming down with an ague.
Lottie shivered as she took Mr. Westbrooke’s hand in hers as he helped her from the carriage. He looked as startled as she felt, almost as if something unusual and rare had passed between them. She needed to stop this nonsense. Anything more than friendship between her and Mr. Westbrooke was doomed from the start.
She was who she was, and he was . . . a man. She’d sworn on her tearful trip from London over a year ago that for her men and marriage was a crushed dream. If not happy, she’d at least been content with that certainty. Until . . .
Chastising herself, she focused her attention on the lovely restaurant. She’d always loved Sally Lunn’s buns and enjoyed the history behind one of the oldest buildings in Bath. According to the current owners of the bakery and restaurant, the building was erected in 1482, and the famous Sally Lunn began baking her buns there in 1680.
They were seated in the main dining room which was a beautifully decorated space. The walls were painted a pale yellow, which along with the wide windows in the front of the building gave the space a great deal of light. In the decorating, they had kept the essence of the age of the building. Drawings and paintings along the walls of the original kitchen with Sally Lunn doing her baking were fascinating.
“I love this tea shop. If I could, I would have one of these buns every day, but I’m afraid in no time at all my dresses would no longer fit.” She smiled at Mr. Westbrooke as she picked up the menu the waiter had placed in front of them.
“I agree. This is one of my favorite spots, as well. It has so much history connected to it.”
“Are you fond of history, then, Mr. Westbrooke?”
He studied her over the top of the menu. “Indeed. It is my favorite subject. I excelled in it at school.”
Lottie stared at him open-mouthed. “How very odd. It was my favorite subject as well. I won awards every year for the school’s history essay contest.”
“Ah, yes. The private school for girls in France.”
She smiled, warmed by the memories of her school. “Yes, it was located in a small town outside of Paris.”
“Paris? I assume you are fluent in French?”
“Absolument! C’est presque ma langue maternelle.” She grinned.
“Bien joué.” He dipped his head and smiled back. “Tu m’as convaincu.”
Lottie hated the warmth that flowed through her at their bantering. They did truly have much in common. Their best friends were married to each other, they both loved history, and they both were fluent in French.
This is what she’d expected when she left France to take up what she thought would be a wonderful new life with Mama.
They studied the menu, then placed their order. Now that the preliminaries were out of the way, Lottie felt a bit more relaxed. Mr. Westbrooke possessed the skill and charm to make her feel at ease. Perhaps they could have a friendship of sorts after all since nothing more was possible.
“What made you move from London to Bath?” Mr. Westbrooke broke the silence with an awkward question.
She didn’t like the idea of lying to him, but she was certainly not going to tell him the true story. “I found when I returned to London from France, I was not comfortable there.” She shrugged. “So noisy, dirty, and smelly.”
He nodded. “Another thing we agree upon. I only visit London when I absolutely must. Like a few times a year when my mother expects the family to assemble for holidays and, of course, her birthday.” He studied her for a minute. “Do you miss your family?”
“I only have my mother.” She scrambled to think of more to say. When she’d met Addie and Pamela, they accepted her story that she and her mother had a break in their relationship, and she left London. Too ashamed of her background when she first made their acquaintance to add to the story, she told them no more. Since then they accepted her friendship without further questions.
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Westbrooke said. “When did you lose your father?”
I never had him to lose. He was probably someone passing through the night.
“I never knew him.” There, the truth. Before he could continue with the questions, she jumped in, “And your family? Do you have siblings?”
The waiter placed dishes of shepherd’s pie in front of each of them, along with a platter of jellied eels and kippers in the center of the table. Lottie scrunched up her nose.
“You don’t care for eels?”
Lottie shook her head. “No. I definitely do not like jellied eels. Or kippers, either.”
Mr. Westbrooke shook out his napkin and placed it on his lap. He picked up his fork and said, “To answer your question, I have two brothers, no sisters.”
She always wanted a sister or even a brother. Just someone else she could share her childhood with who would always be in her life. “I am envious. I would have loved a sibling.”
He laughed. “There were times when I would have packed them up and sent them off to France.”
“Are you the eldest?” The shepherd’s pie was delicious, and she almost found herself groaning with pleasure.
He shook his head. “No. My brother, Charles, Viscount Hastings, is the eldest. Then comes my brother, Peter, and then me.” He continued to eat not realizing he just sucked all the air out of the room and turned her world completely upside down.
“Your brother is a viscount?” she said holding her fork between the plate and her mouth.
He shook his head. “In some ways. It is a courtesy title from my father, the Earl of Huntingdon.”
Lottie lowered her fork and fought the nausea rising in her stomach. “Your father is an earl?”
“Yes. But I am a lowly Mr. Westbrooke.” He shook his head and smiled. “Thank heavens. I would not want the responsibility and confinement of a title.”
A loud buzzing began in her ears and Lottie felt as though his voice came from a distance. This man was a member of the ton. One of the Upper Ten Thousand. He came from nobility. His blood was bluer than the ink she used for her correspondence. She pushed her food away.
“I say, Miss Danvers, are you all right? You seem to have gone quite pale.”
She used all the training she’d had over the years on how to conduct oneself in polite company and offered a smile. “I am quite well. It turns out I am not as hungry as I thought.”
He continued to study her. “Perhaps it’s the sight of the eel and kippers. I can have the waiter remove them.” He turned and signaled for the man to approach their table.
“Will you please take the platter way?”
“Tea.” Lottie managed to get out. “I would like some tea. And I’m finished with my food.”
“And please remove my companion’s plate and bring tea.” Mr. Westbrooke turned to her once the waiter left with the dishes piled in his arms. “I am sorry you’ve lost your appetite. I do believe it was the eels and kippers that did you in.” He offered her a soft smile that made her want to cry.
He was such a nice man. So thoughtful and caring. Someone that she would have wanted to marry before her life changed forever. Although she didn’t expect to become involved with a man, she had the feeling if things were different, Mr. Westbrooke would be someone she could care for.
Or even love.
She would not weep.
Carter continued with his lunch but kept a close eye on Miss Danvers. Something had definitely upset her. The only thing he could think of was when he mentioned his brothers and father. Did she have some sort of dislike of the nobility? Had her heart been broken by a member of the ton? That would certainly explain why she left London to strike out on her own.
No matter what the reason was, the remainder of the lunch was stilted and uncomfortable. Miss Danvers didn’t eat any of the tarts or biscuits that were placed on the table with the tea but did down two cups of the brew. She responded to all his questions with one-word answers until he began to feel as though their time together was turning into the Spanish Inquisition.
Reluctantly, he called for their bill, paid it and assisted her outside back to his carriage. The sun had peeked through the clouds while they were in the restaurant, which should have cheered him since he loved the sunshine, but he still had the let-down feeling of having lost Miss Danvers.
They said very little on the way back to the store. He helped her from the carriage and escorted her to the door. She took a ring of keys from her reticule and slid one of them into the lock. Before she opened the door, she turned to him. “Thank you for lunch.”
“You are welcome, but I feel as though you really didn’t enjoy yourself.” He placed his knuckle under her chin and moved her head so he could look into her eyes. “What happened?”
She pulled back and began to fidget with her reticule. “Nothing. Everything was fine.” She smiled, but the effort didn’t reach her eyes. Her sad eyes.
“Then may I ask you to attend the Assembly with me this Saturday?”
She turned the knob and moved so quickly to enter the store that she almost fell over a small table with a display of books. He reached out and grabbed her and she quickly pulled away. “I am afraid I will be unable to attend.” Her face was flushed, and she looked about to cry.
It was time to withdraw. Whatever had upset her continued to bother her and he seemed to be making things worse. “Very well. I am sorry you will not be able to attend.”
When she said nothing in return, but looked away, waiting for him to leave, he gave her a short bow and said, “Thank you again for spending time with me, Miss Danvers. Have a pleasant day.”
She nodded and he left the store.
Carter went over in his mind the entire time they were together and concluded that the lunch was truly a surreal experience. No matter how many times he considered their brief conversation, the only thing that stood out in his mind was when he said his father was an earl and his brother held his courtesy title of viscount.
Even if she’d had a bad experience with someone from the ton, her reaction to knowing about his family was excessive. However, not the sort to give up easily on something that had become important to him, he decided not to take her actions today as final. When he wanted something, he did not give up until it looked hopeless.
It was far too soon in their acquaintance for him to assume Miss Danvers had no interest in him. He’d known enough women to sense when there was interest, and Miss Danvers was not immune to him. He would retreat, give her some time, then forge his battle again.