Lottie could not believe she was flirting with Mr. Westbrooke. She never had the chance to flirt, but she assumed that was what she was doing. She hated to admit something about the man charmed her. And it felt quite good, actually. She had behaved foolishly in jumping from the table and running off like a skittish colt. Quite childish, in fact, and somewhat disastrous for Mr. Westbrooke’s trousers.
When she finally calmed down, she realized if he knew who her mother was, he would have said so immediately. That was not the type of thing a man kept to himself if he hoped to entice a courtesan’s daughter into his bed.
She had the feeling that Mr. Westbrooke was honorable. A gentleman, whether by birth or behavior it didn’t matter. She had acted like a lady her whole life, but she certainly wasn’t one by birth.
Far from it, as she had learned.
“Thank you,” Lottie said to the footman who placed a plate of food in front of her. She truly was no longer hungry: the little bit she’d eaten having satisfied her appetite. But considering the trouble Mr. Westbrooke had gone through, and the guilt for chasing her from her meal to which he had professed, she picked up her fork and gave it a try.
“I find I am fascinated by your employment.” His easy smile did unfamiliar things to her insides. Nice, unfamiliar things. A spicy scent emanated from him that was pleasing to her senses, and his eyes held her captive. She could be in quite a bit of trouble with this man. Hopefully, this breakfast would be the only time she spent with him.
“Are you one of the Upper Ten Thousand yourself?”
That question took her by surprise and proved he did not know her. He might know her mother, but he hadn’t made the connection, which was a possibility since she resembled her mother so much. She breathed a sigh of relief. “No,” she laughed. “Not at all, but I was educated in a private boarding school for young ladies in France.”
“Miss Danvers, you grow more interesting by the minute.” He viewed her over the rim of his glass.
Lottie shook her head and placed her fork and knife on the plate to signal she was finished. She really did need to leave some space for that delicious looking cake. “I am hardly interesting, Mr. Westbrooke.”
“I disagree. I think you are extremely interesting.”
Just then Lord Berkshire rose and addressed the group. “My friends, my lovely new wife tells me it is time for us to cut the wedding cake.” Cheers followed his announcement. Obviously, Lottie and Mr. Westbrooke were not the only ones interested in the sweets.
“Here, here,” Mr. Westbrooke shouted, holding up his glass of wine.
“Only one piece for you, Carter,” Lord Berkshire said. He turned to Addie and said sotto voce, “He would eat the entire thing if we let him.”
Addie and Lord Berkshire each cut a small piece then the cake was whisked off to the kitchen where it would be cut into helpings for the guests. Mr. Westbrooke’s attention had been taken up by Lady Pemberton, the woman on his other side who was a friend of Mrs. Mallory’s, which left Lottie attempting once again to converse with Mr. Filbert.
She had noticed Addie and her new stepson, who sat on the other side of his father, communicating by moving their hands, which she found fascinating. Addie had told her and Pamela about the method called sign language that Lord Berkshire had learned about and how it had helped his son. She wondered what it would be like for a young lady about to make her debut if she were deaf. It crossed her mind that a school to teach sign language to the hard of hearing, whether from birth or old age, would be quite beneficial in Bath.
The cake had been served, along with steaming pots of tea. By the time the meal had ended, Lottie felt the need for a nice long walk. She moved her chair back. “Please excuse me,” she mumbled to Mr. Filbert and Mr. Westbrooke.
Mr. Westbrooke immediately stood. “Are you off to Bath today, Miss Danvers?”
“No. Lady Pamela and I are staying one more day and then we will take the rail back to Bath tomorrow.”
She viewed him warily.
He took her arm and moved her forward. “I say that because I am staying at Lord Berkshire’s home tonight and will return to Bath myself by rail in the morning.”
She could no longer tell herself he had no interest in her. While it was not something she planned to encourage, it was rather nice to have the attention of a man for a short while. Especially a man as charming and handsome as Mr. Westbrooke.
Then he confirmed his interest. “Would you care for a stroll before you retire to your bedchamber? I think all that food would digest better after a walk.”
She hesitated then decided to enjoy herself for once instead of constantly hiding from everything. “Thank you, Mr. Westbrooke. I think a walk is an excellent idea.”
She took his arm, and they strolled the area around the Mallory townhouse. The air was crisp and clean and raised her spirits considerably.
“Do you attend the Assemblies in Bath, Miss Danvers?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I never seem to have the time.” She didn’t want to add that it was unseemly for a young woman to attend the Assemblies unescorted. But she feared the response that comment would bring from Mr. Westbrooke.
When she first arrived in Bath, she had the horrible feeling that everyone—especially men—who looked at her saw her mother. After a few months of practically hiding, she slowly eased her way into a somewhat normal life with her friends and her students. One that she enjoyed very much.
“Ah, so you tutor your young charges on Saturday evenings?” His smirk told her he didn’t believe for one minute that she didn’t have the time to attend a dance or two.
“Mr. Westbrooke!” She placed her hand on her chest. “Surely you are not calling me a liar?” She hoped her grin told him she was—dare she say it—flirting with him again. It felt rather nice, actually.
He bowed. “I would never do so, Miss Danvers. Let us just say I am questioning your memory. Does that suffice?”
As much as she was enjoying herself, she knew once she returned to Bath, she would resume the life she’d made for herself. This meant very little in the way of public events. Mr. Westbrooke was nice, and she rather enjoyed his company, but nothing could ever come of it.
With her background that she held close to her chest, she was not exactly marriage-worthy.
Once again, Carter checked the note he’d received from Berkshire confirming what time Lady Pamela and Miss Danvers were taking the rail back to Bath. He thoroughly enjoyed the stroll with Miss Danvers after the wedding breakfast, but when he pressed her as to when she was leaving the next morning, she’d withdrawn and became evasive about it. This had left him wondering if he’d done something wrong.
He picked up his satchel and headed for the front door. Berkshire and his bride were traveling to Brighton Beach for a short wedding trip. Carter had wished them a safe journey before he retired for the night. Then spent the next few hours tossing and turning and thinking about the beautiful woman with the deep brown eyes and sad demeanor.
It was a cloudy day, typical cool weather for London in November. He shrugged into his overcoat and made his way down the stairs to the waiting hackney. Traffic, as always, was heavy, but he arrived at Paddington Station in plenty of time for the rail to Bath. Since it was mid-morning, the flow of passengers was not as burdensome as earlier or later in the day.
There were enough people, however, to make searching for Miss Danvers and Lady Pamela difficult. Nevertheless, he strolled around and eventually just as the rail pulled into the station, he spotted the two women.
He purposely stayed back and watched them as they supervised the loading of their luggage onto the train, then mounted the stairs. He quickly handed his satchel to a porter and followed them up.
He was in luck because they took a double seat facing another double seat which he commandeered before anyone else could grab it. “Good morning, ladies.” He removed his hat and placed it on the seat alongside him to discourage any potential seatmates. He certainly did not want another man staring at Miss Danvers the entire trip.
“G-g-good morning, Mr. Westbrooke,” Lady Pamela said, her face lighting up with pleasure.
He turned toward Miss Danvers. “How are you today, Miss Danvers?”
“Fine. Thank you.” She turned and looked out the window, but before she did, he’d seen a bit of a smile on her face.
It appeared they were back to one-word answers. Well, he had a few hours to work his magic on the lady. He’d never had a problem before wooing a woman he was interested in. However, most of those efforts were spent on seduction. This time he was faced with a lovely young virtuous miss. The game was the same, the outcome different.
Although he wasn’t certain what outcome he was anticipating, he had a good idea what direction he was headed with Miss Danvers.
Two days after returning from Addie’s wedding, Lottie sat at the back of Once Upon a Book going over the ledger. It appeared Addie’s word blindness also carried over into her math ability. She had reversed several numbers, which Lottie fixed.
She really did enjoy helping in the store. At first, she’d been nervous thinking every man who walked into the place would know her, but eventually she calmed down and began to enjoy the work.
In fact, after a year in Bath, she’d begun to feel safe. The trip to London hadn’t ended in the catastrophe she had feared. The entire time she fought the inclination to visit Mama. Then she remembered how her mother had deceived her, her whole life, and the feeling vanished.
She smiled as she remembered the trip back to Bath on the rail. Mr. Westbrooke was so charming that Pamela’s stutter lessened, which didn’t happen very often.
He had teased, cajoled, and flattered until Lottie gave in and allowed herself to enjoy his company. He told them interesting stories of his travels as a young man fresh out of University. She hung on his every word, seeing the exotic places through his eyes. Aside from her time in France—which had been spent behind the high brick walls of her school—she hadn’t been anywhere.
Even though he’d showered them with attention, it was obvious his main interest lay with her. Even Pamela mentioned it when they parted ways at the rail station.
“It appears y-you have a s-suitor, Lottie,” Pamela said as they settled into the hackney to return to their respective homes.
“No. I do not have a suitor. Mr. Westbrooke was just being charming and making the long trip to Bath more pleasurable.”
Pamela laughed. “I don’t t-think so. He was n-nice to both of us, b-but he looked at y-you in a special way.
Lottie waved her off but couldn’t lie to herself. Mr. Westbrooke had indeed shown her more attention than Pamela, and the special way Pamela said he watched her made her insides tingle.
She closed both the ledger book and the thoughts that were teasing her mind. She stood and stretched, looking around the store. She loved books as much as Addie did. When things were slow, she allowed herself to wander the shelves and pick out a book to read that interested her. It had been pouring outside since she’d opened the store earlier, so chances were this would be a very slow day.
She was so captivated by Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that she actually jumped when the front door opened and the little bell hanging over the door rang. She glanced up to see Mr. Westbrooke walking toward her. “Good day, Miss Danvers.”
Lottie slammed the book shut and stood. “Good day to you as well, Mr. Westbrooke. Whatever brings you out in this terrible weather?”
He slid his wet umbrella into the umbrella stand by the door. “I had the urge to buy a new book.”
The twinkle in his eyes told her that was not the absolute truth, but she preferred to ignore that. She also valiantly tried to disregard her racing heart, the tingle low in her stomach, and her suddenly dry mouth. “Well, since you are so hungry for a new book, we have many.” She waved her arm around and banged her hand into one of the shelves. “Ouch.”
“Are you all right?” He hurried to her side.
For goodness sake, she was nothing but a bumbling idiot around this man. Besides the wine she’d dumped onto his lap at the wedding breakfast, she also tripped over who knew what during their stroll, then stumbled into his arms alighting from the rail when they returned from London. She’d been quite annoyed with herself on how much she enjoyed his strong arms wrapping around her and the scent of tangy outdoors that emanated from his person.
She nodded. “Yes. Quite.” She surreptitiously rubbed her hand. “Do take your time and browse.”
He bowed. “Thank you. I will do that.”
Lottie returned to her book, but no longer did it hold her attention. She was too riveted by the man pulling out a book, flipping through the pages, returning it to the shelf, and repeating the action several times over. His time was spent in the history area of the bookstore.
Why didn’t he say something to her? The silence was killing her. She did not believe for one minute that Mr. Westbrooke was so in need of a book to read—since most gentlemen had their own libraries—that he came out in the pouring rain to find one. And then chose this bookstore among all the others in Bath.
Had Pamela been correct, and he was interested in her as a suitor? The initial jolt of excitement was quickly quelled by her common sense telling her that probably was not so, and even if it were, she had no intention of getting involved with a man. That led to courtship and eventually a proposal of marriage.
Unfortunately, not something she could consider.
Back to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. With determination, she returned to her book and read about three sentences before she looked up at Mr. Westbrooke again. His damp-from-the-rain hair was curled over his collar in the back of his head and skimmed his forehead. She had the urge to run her fingers through the silky black strands and push them back. Except they would probably just fall back again. Was she to stand there all day pushing his hair back? She giggled.
He looked up.
She looked back at her book, her face flushed.
Peeking at Mr. Westbrooke from underneath her eyelashes, the side view she had of him was impressive. Strong chin, full lips, aristocratic nose—somewhere in his ancestry there had been nobility—and a casual stance, with one knee bent as he flipped through the pages of the tome he held. Were he not wearing an Inverness cape she would also see his muscular thighs, broad shoulders, and trim waist.
Not that she’d noticed any of that during the wedding breakfast.
She returned to her book. One full paragraph. She looked up again. Why was he not speaking to her?
He turned toward her, and she quickly looked down at her book, knowing another blush was climbing up her face. She studied him from under her lashes to see him grinning in her direction. The devil take it, he’d caught her watching him.
She closed the book and stood. It was not proper for her to be reading while there was a customer in the store, anyway. She strode, quite purposefully, to the front of the store and pulled out the feather duster from under the counter. Humming nothing in particular, she tackled the first bookcase; dusting enthusiastically, even though she’d performed that task earlier.
“This seems like a good book.”
Lottie jumped at the sound of Mr. Westbrooke’s voice so close to her. She drew in a sharp breath to see him standing not more than three feet from where she dusted. “Excuse me?”
He held up The Archipelago on Fire by Mr. Jules Verne. “Have you read it?”
Her tongue caught in a tangle, she could only shake her head. Why was he standing so close that she could smell his bath soap? It was time to take control. After all, she was an employee. Or a substitute. Or a friend of the owner. Or all three. “No. I have not read that book.” She backed away to make her escape and crashed into the bookcase behind her. Four books fell to the floor. When she bent to retried them, so did Mr. Westbrooke and they knocked heads.
“Ouch.” She rubbed her head and dropped the book she had picked up. Feeling like a fool, she said, “I apologize, Mr. Westbrooke. It seems it is not healthy for you to be around me. I dread to think what mishap I will bring about next. Your very life could be in danger.”