In other news, we are told Mr Augustus Brookes is soon to be bestowed with the honour of Royal Academician. This, Gentle Reader, will no doubt double the already eye-watering price of having the esteemed artist paint your portrait, so get your commissions in quick before the rumour is official…
—Whispers from Behind the Fan
Despite her frosty expression, she was a glorious armful. Beneath several thick layers of clothing, she had a fine figure on her. One Evan couldn’t help but admire yesterday when they’d collided in the kitchen. A very pretty face, too, when she wasn’t scowling, and one that was dusted in freckles. Now that he could see it up close as she blinked up at him, clutching his lapels for grim death in case he dropped her on the slushy pavement, you could barely put a pin between the flurry of them smattering her neat little nose. “I’m not your darlin’!” Her flattened palms pushed him away roughly as she righted herself. “And I’ll thank you to keep your grubby hands to yourself in future!”
Not quite the gushing thank-you he expected. “You’re welcome, miss. It was no trouble at all to catch you.” The housekeeper had warned him Lily had a bit of a chip on her shoulder about men. Something about a sweetheart who had wronged her last summer. Not that that was his fault, and he had saved her! “How about next time I leave you to fall on your backside then?”
That brought her up short. “Thank you for catching me.” But the words came out too clipped for him to completely forgive her, so he didn’t bother helping her up in case his grubby hands offended her further.
He had no time for prickly women. Or prickly men, for that matter. Evan much preferred to sail through life with a smile on his face, because everything was always better with a smile and the belief there was always a glimmer of something positive on the horizon—albeit a long way away. That attitude had certainly helped him survive his first fourteen years in the Foundling Hospital, and the seven subsequent years he’d spent as an apprentice before he’d earned his freedom. Bad things happened to people like them. That was just a fact. But you dusted yourself off, plastered your smile on, kept your eyes fixed on your goals and strode forward to better, or the relentless misery of life at the bottom crushed you to embittered dust.
Like it clearly had this one.
They drove in total silence for the first fifteen minutes as he tried and failed to ignore her. She certainly made no attempt at conversation. He decided it was best to leave her pickle herself in unsociable bitterness. It was none of his business, after all. But when her teeth started chattering and her lips got a bluish hue, his good-natured conscience started to niggle and he knew he couldn’t ignore her anymore.
“Here…” Evan unravelled himself from his blanket and the oilskin he’d carefully draped over it to keep out the wet and passed the whole lot to her. “I suspect you need this more than me.”
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