‘Penny for your thoughts,’ Mr Pierce said, with an energetic smile belying his defeated demeanour. Jane too felt the disappointment of not having solved it, time ticking away as outside the rain fell ever slower. Against her better judgement, she went to sit beside him on the chaise.
‘I…’ Jane began, unsure, her tired mind muddled.
Mr Pierce retrieved a penny from his pocket, and she laughed, eliciting a broad, deadly smile from him.
Slowly, seductively, he took her hand, and placed it in her palm. She swallowed hard, trying to…remember something other than what her body screamed for.
‘They seemed…typical.’ John nodded, leaning back, though that didn’t stop warmth travelling through her, his touch lingering on her hand. ‘I…’
‘Out with it. Your instincts are useful, and though I’m still uncertain about your ghost, your impressions are important.’
‘Mrs Hanson…felt familiar. I can’t…think why, but then if Mr Hanson’s from here, perhaps I knew her before.’
‘Mr Hanson is from here. Mrs Hanson… Well, she didn’t say, did she?’
‘Not that we asked,’ Jane pointed out, and John shrugged. ‘Likely she just reminded me of someone.’
‘Likely. Now, what else? I can see there’s more.’
Jane grinned, then stopped, remembering the inconsequentiality of it.
‘Upon searching their room yesterday, I noticed the Hansons’ trunk was identical to Mr Willcombe’s. The elder.’
‘Call the younger Fred. He won’t mind. As for the trunks…’
‘I’m sure the maker produced more than one.’
‘They were exactly the same. Even in…wear, or so it seemed.’
‘Hm.’ John leaned back, thoughtful, his arm resting on the chaise’s back, fingertips dancing near her shoulder. ‘Identical trunks, and a hidden connection to Mr Willcombe in Hanson’s case. Though I can’t reconcile the man, and a careful murderer, unless he’s an expert play-actor. Which doesn’t mean we’re dismissing any of it,’ he added, glancing over, his head lolling back so that he seemed…carefree.
‘So what now?’
‘We’ve at least another day. We should…rest. Regroup tomorrow.’
Jane smiled gently, loath to sacrifice any of the few seconds they had to save Fred’s life, but a well-rested mind would serve better.
Mr Pierce’s fingers brushed her shoulder, and fire blazed through her veins.
Meeting his gaze, she found the same heat in her blood, in his eyes.
But now isn’t the time for such things.
‘When this is over, Miss Powell… I’ve been wanting to ask for some time… My life… I’ve been alone a long time. I liked it that way. Thought it best, considering the danger, and unpredictability of my life. However, when I met you… I would never bring you into harm’s way, know that. But I cannot…not ask. Would you consider…a courtship?’
Jane smiled, so widely her cheeks hurt.
It wasn’t merely his offer, but his endearing hesitancy. She’d thought…many things. As was natural when someone of a…higher station showed an interest, but to know he was…serious, as serious as her feelings for him were…
‘Yes, Mr Pierce,’ she said softly, and he smiled, relieved, and excited. ‘I should like that. There is danger in every life, and I don’t fear that in yours. Though, I’ll demand regular offerings of wildflowers, as before.’
‘I can manage that.’
‘I should go,’ she said after a moment…gazing. ‘See if I can assist elsewhere. Good evening, Mr Pierce.’
‘Good evening, Miss Powell.’
Jane rose, hesitated, then grabbed her courage, and kissed his cheek before leaving.
Once she had however, her elation soured.
Before there’s any courting, the truth must out.
And I doubt he’ll want you then.
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