Must she pay for the sins of her mother?
Miss Charlotte Danvers has just received a life-altering shock. After spending most of her life in France in an elite school for girls, first as a student, and then as a teacher, she decides to return to London and take up residence with her mother.
When she arrives at her mother’s townhouse in London, she is stunned to discover that the woman who raised her is the well-known courtesan, Mrs. Danforth.
After an angry and tearful confrontation with her mother, Charlotte leaves London and makes her home in Bath. All goes well until she meets Mr. Carter Westbrooke, close friend and business partner of Charlotte’s best friend’s husband, Lord Berkshire.
After only a few weeks, Mr. Westbrooke declares his intentions to Charlotte to make her his wife. She can be no gentleman’s wife but cannot bring herself to tell him why. Must she run again?
Miss Charlotte Danvers stepped out of the hackney she’d taken from the rail station to her mother’s home right outside of Mayfair in London. She was excited at the surprise she planned for Mama.
Charlotte had spent most of her life in France at an exclusive girls’ school. Once she graduated, with her mother’s encouragement, she’d taken a teaching position at the school. That was three years ago, and now she was ready for the next phase in her life. The first step was moving to London to be with her mother.
She dropped the knocker on the front door as the hackney driver piled her luggage on the doorstep.
The door opened to an older man, obviously the butler, who stared at her as if he’d seen a ghost. “Miss Danvers? Surely that must be you.”
“Yes!” She grinned. “I don’t know who you are, but you seem to know me.”
He bowed at her but looked a bit uncomfortable. “I would know you anywhere Miss Danvers. You look remarkedly like your mother.”
“Yes. I’ve been told that many times.” When the man continued to stare at her, she said, “May I come in?”
He stepped back, quite flustered. “Of course. My apologies, miss.”
Charlotte drew off her gloves as she looked around the house she’d never seen before. Her earlier years had been spent in the country with a family who were friends of her mother. Mama told her she did not want her breathing in the putrid London air. Then at ten years of age, she’d been sent to the school in France.
“I hope my mother is home.”
“Yes. She is. If you would retire to the drawing room, I shall inform her of your arrival.”
Goodness, it all seemed so formal. What she wanted to do was race upstairs and find her mother and shout “surprise!” Wouldn’t that bring a smile to her face?
Within minutes, the sound of footsteps rapidly coming down the stairs had Charlotte jumping up to meet her mother at the door to the drawing room. “Mama. Surprise! I left my position at the school and decided it was past the time I should join you here.”
Mama looked quite pale under the makeup she wore. Charlotte had never seen makeup on her mother’s face, so it was a surprise. She immediately decided she liked her better without face paint.
Her mother hugged her. “My dear. Yes, this is quite a surprise.” She leaned back, her hands resting on Charlotte’s shoulders and regarded her. “Why didn’t you wire that you were coming?”
Charlotte grinned. “Then it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”
“No. Indeed it would not.”
For the first time she could ever recall, Mama seemed to be at loss for words. “Are you well, Mama? Is something wrong?”
“Yes. No.” She waved her arm around. “I am just trying to recover from this shock . . . rather, surprise.”
“Yes. Isn’t it wonderful? I decided it was time to start my life as a woman and maybe even look for a husband.”
Mama drew a lace-edged handkerchief from the cuff of her dress and patted her face.
“You seem quite fancy,” Charlotte said, “are you going out for the evening?”
“No. In fact, I am expecting some guests in a few minutes.”
Charlotte clapped her hands. “Excellent! I shall love to meet some of your friends.”
Mama paled even more and licked her lips. “My dear, as much as I would like you to meet my friends you do look quite peaked. I propose you retire to one of the bedchambers upstairs and enjoy a hot bath and some dinner, then a good night’s sleep. We shall have a nice long chat in the morning over tea and one of Cook’s famous breakfasts.”
Although she did feel quite tired, she was disappointed that Mama didn’t want her to meet her friends. “Perhaps you are right, Mama.”
Her mother took a deep breath and let it out, her color returning somewhat. “I shall have Carlson—he is the man at the door—direct you to a lovely room that you can use. I’ll then have Amy—my lady’s maid—prepare a bath for you in the bathing room.”
Mama hurried from the room, giving Charlotte time to look around. It was a well-appointed room in the taste she would expect from her mother. The furniture was elegant and well-made. The walls were papered with a pale green and rose stripes, with cream-colored wainscoting.
The man who met her at the door entered the room. “Miss, I had the footman bring your luggage up to the bedchamber Mrs. Danforth chose for your visit. If you will follow me, I will direct you there.”
The man looked confused. “Yes, Miss, that is the name your mother goes by.”
“How very odd.” There was no reason to inform the servant that this was no mere visit, but a permanent move to be with her mother. They’d been separated most of her life and now it was time for them to live together.
The bedchamber was as charming as all the other rooms she’d seen in the house. No surprise there, since Mama had excellent taste.
A middle-aged woman dressed in a maid’s uniform greeted her as she entered the bedchamber. “Miss, your bath is ready. If you will follow me, I will show you where the bathing room is. I will be happy to unpack your things while you bathe.”
“Thank you. Right now, all I need is in that small brown satchel. My nightgown, slippers, dressing gown, and other personal items are in there.”
Despite her long journey and the soothing bath and wonderful dinner, Charlotte enjoyed in her room, she was still restless. Sleep would not come for hours, she was sure. She had a hard time accepting her mama’s edict that she needed rest and should not meet her friends.
The sound of carriages drawing up to the house and then conversations from Mama’s guests had been teasing her for a couple of hours. From what she could hear, the group seemed quite lively and free-spirited. Laughter erupted on occasion and someone played the piano.
Suddenly, she decided to dress in something simple and join the party. If she were going to begin her life as a woman, she must make decisions for herself. Hadn’t she decided, without Mama’s knowledge and consent, to leave her position at the school and join her mother in London?
Within minutes, she had shrugged out of her nightgown and dressed in a plain day dress since all her more formal gowns were hanging in the armoire horribly wrinkled from the trip.
With a quick glance in the mirror, she smoothed back her hair and left the room, excitement making her heart beat fast. This was her first party!
She didn’t see Mama at first. There were about thirty guests, all dressed quite formally, which made her re-think her decision to come down dressed as plainly as she was.
A woman walked up to her, a glass of some sort of liquid in her hand. “I had no idea that Alice had a daughter, but you must be. You look exactly like her.” Then she bent closer. “A much younger, version, though.” She sipped her drink, winked at Charlotte, and walked off.
Whatever the woman said to two other women had them both turning her way, their eyebrows raised. Within minutes, she heard ‘daughter’ murmured among the crowd. She made a beeline to Mama, suddenly uncomfortable with the attention she was getting.
Not shy by nature, nevertheless, it seemed like her surprise to her mother was also a surprise to her friends. She felt a bit let-down that Mama had never told her friends that she had a daughter.
“Dearest, what are you doing here? I thought you were asleep by now.” Her mother’s face had grown taut, revealing lines Charlotte hadn’t noticed before. A gentleman walked up to Mama and touched her on the arm. “Is everything all right, my dear?”
He was an older man, very elegant and noble-looking. Even with his gray hair, he was a good-looking man with deep blue eyes and laugh crinkles at the corners. He eyed Mama with concern.
Mama smiled at the man. “Everything is fine, my lord.”
She didn’t introduce Charlotte to the man who seemed to be quite familiar with Mama. Truth be known, Charlotte had felt off-center since she’d arrived at Mama’s house. By now she thought Mama would have gotten over her surprise arrival, but she seemed even more disconcerted than she had been earlier.
“I was too restless. I thought maybe spending some time down here with your friends would be nice.” Charlotte mumbled the last part of her statement, aware of the gentleman next to Mama smiling at her.
Mama waved at a tall man in a livery, most likely a footman. “Please escort my daughter back to her room.”
Charlotte’s jaw dropped. Her mother was treating her like a child! “Thank you anyway, I shall find my own way.” She glared at her mother. “Since I am not welcomed here.” With a flounce of her skirt, she turned and strode toward the door. At the doorway, she turned back to see the gentleman and Mama in deep conversation.
She was almost to the staircase when a man called, “Wait.”
Charlotte turned to see a young man, quite handsome actually, approaching her. He offered a slight bow. “I had no idea that Alice had a daughter. You are stunningly beautiful, like your mother.”
“Thank you.” Never comfortable with praise about her looks, Charlotte dipped slightly and put her foot on the first step.
“May I speak with you a moment?” He reached out and touched her hand, which caused her to shudder. The man looked at her in such a way that she felt dirty. He looked her up and down like he was buying horseflesh.
“I think not, sir. I have the beginnings of a megrim. If you will excuse me.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Miss Danforth. I just wanted to ask when you might be accepting a protector?”
“I am Miss Danvers, not Danforth.” After her automatic correction, she took a second look at him, replayed his words in her head. The expression on his face, his question about taking a protector, her mother’s overreaction at her arrival earlier, and the sort of people who were Mama’s ‘friends’ caused a horrible thought to take hold of her mind. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The words were barely above a whisper.
“Oh, come now, Miss Danvers. There can be no other reason why your mother suddenly decided to show you off. What I don’t understand is why she dressed you so plainly. You need to make use of those curves. And the neckline is much too high.”
Her heart beat so fast, the thumping so loud, that she barely heard her own words. “And for what reason would my mother be showing me off, sir?” She knew she shouldn’t ask that question, but she suddenly had no control over herself.
He frowned. “To follow in her footsteps as a well-known courtesan, of course.”
One year later
Charlotte, who was now known as Lottie to her friends in Bath, took a final look in the mirror, pleased with her appearance. She rarely dressed so formally since she didn’t attend the Assemblies and other social events in Bath where she’d lived for the past year, preferring to keep to herself, always afraid someone would recognize her.
However, today was Addie Mallory’s wedding day. She, Addie, and Pamela were the best of friends and met for tea every day in Addie’s bookstore, Once Upon a Book. Recently, Addie met Lord Berkshire and his adorable son, Michael, a deaf child. When his lordship asked Addie to accompany him, Michael, and Michael’s governess to London for the purpose of seeking help for his son, he and Addie were caught in a compromising situation forcing them to marry.
From what Lottie saw when they were together, though, a marriage between them didn’t appear to be much of a hardship for either the bride or the groom. There was definite affection between them. Maybe even more than that.
Addie had asked Lottie and Pamela to be her bridesmaids. Pamela was happy to do it, but Lottie had declined and thankfully Addie didn’t question her further. They were both aware that Lottie had some sort of history in London and since that is where the wedding was taking place, Lottie preferred to stay in the background.
She was confident that her deep blue gown with the modest neckline, long sleeves, and loose-fitting skirt would not attract any unwanted attention. The guest list was quite small, and she hoped no one on the list recognized her as Mrs. Danforth’s daughter. The clear glass spectacles she’d had specially made changed her appearance a bit.
Lottie slid a pearl-studded pin into her wide-brimmed straw hat, with the lovely blue flowers that matched her gown, to anchor it to her head. She glanced out the window, thankful that there were only a few clouds in the sky, so she needn’t worry about rain ruining her outfit.
Satisfied with her appearance, she left the room she’d been given in the Mallory townhouse in Grosvenor Square. She knocked lightly on the door to Pamela’s room. She opened the door and, as always, Lottie broke into a smile at her friend’s current dilemma.
Pamela had a terrible stutter that only grew worse when she was flustered—as she was now—or when she met new people—which she was about to do. Pamela’s dress was buttoned incorrectly, leaving the hem sort of on an angle. Her chignon was not doing a very good job of keeping her blond curls out of her face.
She took one look at Lottie and burst into laughter. “I k-know I’m a m-m-mess.” She held her arms out to display the disaster.
“Here, let me help you.” Lottie quickly refastened Pamela’s gown and did her best to smooth back her curls. “Have you any more hairpins?”
Pamela nodded and hurried across the room to her satchel withdrawing a small box that she held out to Lottie. “Here.”
Within minutes, Lottie had Pamela looking well put together. They linked arms and walked down the corridor to Addie’s room.
“Oh my, you look beautiful,” Lottie gushed as she and Pamela burst into Addie’s room.
“I look like a bride.” Addie smirked. “Something none of us ever planned on.”
When the ladies first became friends, they assured each other that they were finished with the husband hunt. Though unusual, they were happy to make their own way as single women living on their own and providing their own income. It was quite freeing.
Lottie had not had the benefit of suitors or a ‘husband hunt’ since her unexpected arrival at her mother’s house, and her subsequent quick move to Bath, squelched any idea Mama had for finding her a husband.
“Yes. And that is what you are,” Lottie said in answer to Addie’s statement. “Who would ever have guessed when Lord Berkshire walked into your bookstore the morning I was there to pick up my books, that he would end up your husband?” Lottie shook her head.
“I am sure stranger things have been recorded throughout time.” Addie adjusted the top of her veil with a ring of fresh flowers that Addie’s mother must have had a devil of a time finding at this time of the year.
“Adeline, it’s time to leave for the church, dear.” Mrs. Mallory entered Addie’s room, studying her hands as she pulled on her gloves. She looked up and came to an abrupt halt. The woman’s eyes filled with tears and she raised her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my.”
Lottie felt her own eyes tear up, thinking of her mama, who, while she had certainly not forgiven her, she still missed something dreadful. She longed for her mother in little ways every day. Every time she smelled roses or fresh baked cookies like she and Mama used to eat in the bakery near school. Even though Lottie had spent all those years in France in a private boarding school, Mama had made the strenuous trip to visit her at least twice a month. They would stay in a fine hotel, eat decadent meals, and shop for ribbons, hats, perfumes, and jewelry. They saw the shows and visited the museums and laughed a great deal.
Unable to bear any more hugs and kisses between Addie and her mother, Lottie swiped at her eyes. “Enough of this,” she said, waving her hand around. “I believe it is time for the church.”
The four women made their way downstairs where Addie’s father, Mr. Mallory, and brother, Marcus, waited to escort the ladies to the church.
“What a bevy of beauties,” Marcus said as he made his bow to the ladies.
Lottie immediately froze at the man’s words. A quick look in his direction assured her that he was not looking directly at her, but at his sister. Lottie let out the breath she’d been holding. She’d been nervous when she and Pamela had first been introduced to the young Mr. Mallory, but he didn’t seem to know her, much to her relief.
She would be happy when this wedding was over, and she and Pamela were on the rail back to Bath.
They all trooped down to the two carriages to carry them to the church. Lord Berkshire had loaned one of his rented carriages so they could all travel at the same time to St. Paul’s Cathedral where the wedding would take place.
The time passed quickly, and the ceremony was lovely. Lottie tried very hard not to wish for things she would never have. She was truly happy for her friend and was looking forward to helping her out by minding her store while she took her wedding trip and dealt with a legal problem involving her new stepson.
Lottie and Pamela had been taking turns running Addie’s bookstore while Addie had been in London with Lord Berkshire. Lottie managed to take several shifts in addition to the work she did teaching young girls every week on the finer parts of being a lady. She tried not to laugh every time she thought of that term and how fast her student’s parents would pull their daughters out of her lessons if they ever found out about her mother. They wouldn’t be able to get their daughters far enough away from her.
But Lottie’s years of training at the exclusive school she attended in France gave her the knowledge and confidence to take young girls under her wing and teach them dance, manners, watercolors, polite conversation, embroidery, and all the other things their parents wanted them to know before they were launched into Society.
The attendees at the wedding ceremony were joined by about fifty other guests for the wedding breakfast at Mr. and Mrs. Mallory’s townhouse. Lottie was seated between Lord Berkshire’s elderly uncle, Mr. Filbert, and the man who acted as witness for Lord Berkshire, his friend and business partner, Mr. Carter Westbrooke.
Mr. Filbert was slightly deaf and charming, trying his best to keep up a conversation even though she suspected he missed just about every other word. On the other hand, Mr. Westbrooke made her extremely nervous.
He was young, not deaf, but unquestionably charming. And quite handsome. His black as night wavy hair fell in loose curls around his head. As startling as his hair was, his blue eyes were of a shade so deep she had not seen it before.
Mr. Westbrooke was the sort of man who gave his entire attention to the person he was speaking with, making them feel as if they were the most important person in the room. His eyes were riveted on her face when he looked at her, and she felt as though he looked at her far too much.
He was dressed quite fashionably in charcoal gray trousers, a silver and blue waistcoat with a crisp white shirt, black ascot tie, and a fine wool jacket in black.
“So, Miss Danvers, the new Lady Berkshire tells me you have been friends with her ever since she moved to Bath.”
“Yes.” She picked up her fork and continued to eat, staring at her plate. If any of her students saw her, they would be aghast. She gave several lectures on polite conversation at balls, dinner parties, and other social events. Every rule she gave them was slowly but surely being broken by their teacher.
“Do you live with your family in Bath?” Mr. Westbrooke took a sip of his wine and continued to look in her direction.
Be polite. This is your best friend’s wedding.
“No.” She wished the blasted wedding breakfast over. So far no one had approached her to see if she was Mrs. Danforth’s daughter. In fact, no one even gave her more than a glance. Except for Mr. Westbrooke.
The man in question was apparently not daunted by her abrupt—and very impolite—answer. He continued, “I don’t remember seeing you about town.”
She sucked in a breath in horror. “Do you live in Bath, Mr. Westbrooke?”
Please say no.
“I do. I have a legal practice in Bath where I run my various businesses as well. Lord Berkshire and I are long-time friends. We attended Harrow together.”
“How very nice.”
Avoiding men had been her strategy from the time she had fled London and made her home in Bath. She did not want to have anything to do with someone who might have spent time in her mother’s bed. Just the thought made her stomach cramp. Since she had no way of knowing who Mama’s clients had been over the years, it was best to avoid all men.
“Lady Berkshire also said you and Lady Pamela, have been running her store since she’s been in London. That is quite nice of you.”
It appeared Addie had done quite a bit of chatting about her and Pamela to this man. “I would do anything for Addie.” She hesitated. “I apologize, I mean Lady Berkshire.”
Mr. Westbrooke laughed and took another sip of wine. She decided at that point that his smile should be illegal. “You need not apologize to me. I’m sure no one would be surprised to hear you refer to your close friend by her first name.”
“Nevertheless, it is poor manners and not the correct thing to do.”
He leaned in close, causing her to move back. “Do you always do the correct thing, Miss Danvers?”
She did not want this man’s attention. She wanted no man’s attention. They were always after one thing. That one thing had destroyed her mother’s life and consequently her life as well.
“Please excuse me.” She stood abruptly, knocking her glass of wine onto his leg. One look at his surprised expression and she turned on her heel and left the room.
Carter jumped back as the contents from Miss Danvers’ glass of wine hit his thigh, the glass bouncing off and landing at his feet. The liquid—thankfully a white wine—splashed a bit onto his waistcoat as well, but not too much damage had been done, for which he was grateful, since he and a change of clothes were in different locations. Luckily, Miss Danvers had consumed most of her wine. He reached out and accepted a napkin from the footman’s hand.
“My goodness, Mr. Westbrooke, what happened?” His hostess, the new Lady Berkshire viewed him with concern.
“Nothing to trouble yourself over, my lady. Miss Danvers merely had an accident with the wine.” He blotted the liquid, hoping it would dry before the meal ended.
Lady Berkshire moved to stand, but her husband placed his hand over hers. “I think Miss Danvers is fine.” He glanced over at Carter, a slight nod telling him he’d witnessed the mishap.
With everyone resuming their meal, Carter considered what had just occurred. Miss Danvers had looked both terrified and repulsed when she scrambled from her seat and made her quick exit. He felt the need to follow her and assure her whatever he’d said that caused her to run like that was meant in jest and he had no intention of harming her or seducing her.
Truthfully that last part wasn’t quite accurate. Even with the spectacles, Miss Danvers was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. And he’d seen, danced with, conversed with, and slept with, enough of the fairer sex to make such a statement. He would not be a healthy young man if he didn’t like the idea of bedding her.
She fascinated him. He’d been watching her since she’d caught his eye as she arrived at the church with Lady Pamela and the Mallory family. She was skittish, and nervous around him, but seemed quite relaxed when conversing with Lady Pamela and Lady Berkshire. She had remained with the receiving line once they’d entered the house, chatting with her friends, giving Carter an opportunity to study her further.
For a woman with such beauty, she did not seem at all vain or self-centered, which he’d seen in so many women who had more than average looks. In fact, given her dress for the occasion, it was almost as if she was trying to downplay her unusual countenance.
Carter glanced at Miss Danvers’ plate which still had quite a bit of food on it. He hated to think he caused her to miss her meal. He argued with himself and then finally, wet trousers or not, he pushed his chair back and stood. “Please excuse me for a moment,” he said to the lady on the other side of him.
Perhaps what he was doing was foolish, but nevertheless something he felt he needed to do. A quick search of the house brought him to the drawing room where Miss Danvers stood, gazing out the window, a peaceful look on her face. So very different than she’d appeared when she had hurried off.
In order not to startle her, Carter cleared his throat. When she turned, he said, “I hope whatever it was I said didn’t chase you from the celebration for your friend’s nuptials.”
She didn’t appear quite as jumpy, and that encouraged him to slowly enter the room.
“I apologize if I alarmed or upset you in any way. That was certainly not my intent.” He was mesmerized by her deep brown eyes and delicate demeanor. He wanted more than anything to wrap his arms around her and assure her he would never allow any harm to come to her.
She offered him a slight smile. “And I apologize for drenching you with my wine. It was accidental, you know.”
He grinned, pleased to see she didn’t move back as he approached her. “I believe you. I see no reason why you would purposely want to douse someone you just met with wine, unless he was truly offensive.”
“No. That was not the case.” She turned back to look out the window again.
“You left quite a bit of food on your plate. If you don’t return, I shall feel guilty all day for denying you sustenance.”
That brought a delightful laugh from her. The sound flowed over him like warm water: comforting yet enticing. Then she said, “I hardly think missing one meal will see me wither away.”
He held out his hand. “Please. I will feel much better if you rejoined the party. I believe Berkshire and his bride are getting close to cutting that delicious looking wedding cake, and I do not want to miss the opportunity to assuage my sweet tooth.”
She ignored his hand and moved around him, giving herself a wide berth. “In that case, I must return.” She glanced back over her shoulder and smiled, stopping him dead in his tracks, his jaw slack. “You see, I have my own sweet tooth to satisfy.”
Carter followed behind her like a puppy panting after its mistress. He had never in his entire life reacted this way to a woman. He knew deep inside it was not just her beauty, but her vulnerable demeanor and the sense of sadness that surrounded her. She’d been deeply wounded, and if it had been another gentleman to cause her such pain, he would find the man and teach him a lesson in behavior toward women.
Especially this woman.
“Is everything all right, Lottie?” Lady Berkshire glanced at the two of them as they arrived together. Hopefully, being alone with him for a few minutes would not cause a problem for Miss Danvers. The last thing he wanted was to endanger her reputation.
Carter pulled out Miss Danvers’ chair. He eyed her plate with the now cold food and waved a footman over. “Please bring Miss Danvers hot food.”
The man whipped away the plate, bowed, and left.
Miss Danvers shook her head. “That wasn’t necessary. I had enough to eat.”
“No. You didn’t, and I don’t wish to be subjected to you swooning because of a lack of nourishment.”
She lifted her adorable little nose in the air. “I do not swoon.”
“Never?” His brows rose.
“Never. A proper young lady keeps control of herself at all times.”
Carter’s eyes grew wide. “You sound like a teacher or a governess. Have I guessed correctly?”
“You are quite clever, Mr. Westbrooke. In fact, I am employed to prepare a group of young ladies who will shortly make their debut into Society.”
Another footman appeared with a new glass for Miss Danvers and then proceeded to pour wine for them both. Carter raised his glass. “Here is to wine that lands in one’s stomach, and not one’s person.”
Miss Danvers offered that mesmerizing smile again and lifted her glass. “Here is to women who accidentally upend their wine onto gentlemen who do not return the favor.” After taking a sip, she said, “You don’t intend revenge, do you?”
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.”
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.