Lily was pleasant company on the long drive. Mrs Brookes wanted to get the journey done in a day, but after giving Evan strict instructions not to make it painful, they stopped three times along the way to rest the horses and stretch their own legs. It was dark by the time they finally rattled into Brighton and the busy inn near the theatre where they would stay.
He left Lily and the innkeeper to organise the family while he settled the horses, fed them and brushed them down himself. By the time that was done, he expected to be eating alone, but she was waiting for him in the taproom, which was a pleasant surprise.
They were halfway through their dinner when she looked like she had suddenly seen a ghost. He followed her gaze to the bar and the newly arrived barkeep drying the tankards. Like Evan, he was tall and dark and for some inexplicable reason he hated him on sight. “Do you know him?”
“I used to.” She seemed to suddenly shrink as if she were trying to hide behind him.
Concerned, Evan squeezed her arm. “Is everything alright, Lily?” As it was plainly obvious it wasn’t.
She still stared transfixed as a pretty brunette emerged out of the back room and smiled at the man. Thinking nobody was watching, he patted her bottom affectionately.
Lily suddenly pushed her plate away, clearly ready to bolt. “I need to go!”
Evan caught her hand and anchored her in place as the man suddenly noticed her and all the colour bleached out his face too. “Who is he?”
“He used to be my fiancé, until he found a better prospect. How typical that the innkeeper’s daughter he left me for works in this inn!” She was upset, her normally sparkling blue eyes dimmed and his heart broke for her. “And how typical she’s a looker too when I’d tried to convince myself it was only her money he preferred over me.” Then her lovely eyes widened. “He’s headed this way!” She tried to tug her hand away and Evan held it firm under the table and laced his fingers in hers.
“Then stay put, girl. Be proud. He was clearly an idiot if he chose her over you.”
“Hello, Lily.” The man Evan had the urge to punch approached their table nervously, twisting the towel in his hands as if expecting a scene. “I never expected to see you here?” His eyes drifted to Evan, his expression briefly put out by his presence before he masked that irritation. “What brings you to Brighton?”
Beneath the table Evan squeezed her fingers to remind her to straighten her shoulders and stare this scoundrel straight in the face, and he was proud of her when she did. “Mrs Brookes is singing in the theatre tomorrow.”
“You still work for them, then?” The man’s eyes flicked to Evan again. “And what are you, their coachman?”
Needing to put the blighter firmly in his place, Evan stood, making sure he topped him by several inches before he stuck out his hand. “I am indeed. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Evan Temple. The Brookes family’s loyal coachman and Lily’s devoted fiancé.”
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