Mrs Brookes looked at her reflection in the mirror, tugged one of the loose curls Lily had arranged to fall over her shoulders, then turned to face her. “Too much?”
“I suppose that depends, doesn’t it? If you were going to church, I’d have to warn you you were wearing too little and you’d likely be arrested.” The gauzy nightgown left little to the imagination. “But for a night in, your three daughters conveniently gone to Whitstable to visit their grandparents and a besotted husband hurrying home to celebrate your anniversary, I’d say it was just right.” Lily grinned at her mistress knowingly. “Cook’s gone to visit her daughter and Mrs Tusk left an hour ago, so you’ll have the house completely to yourself tonight.”
Her employer smiled wickedly. “And what about you, Lily. Will you be spending Valentine’s with our handsome new coachman? I saw the frisson between you in Brighton. That man looks at you like a starving dog at a butcher’s window.”
Lily shook her head, determined to put a brave face on it. “Evan is only on the market for browsing, Mrs Brookes. Not purchasing. He has this lofty plan which he’s adhered to since he was little and, apparently, he refuses to be distracted from it and fears I would only get in the way.”
The older woman groaned. “Oh men! Sometimes they are so stubbornly stupid. When it’s plainly obvious he adores you and you him.”
“My heart isn’t engaged this time.” She hoped saying it aloud might make it true. It didn’t. Her poor heart was heavy and wounded all over again.
Mrs Brookes knew her too well to deny it. “Still—I have my pride. It’s his loss if he doesn’t want me. I shan’t be chasing him.”
“Don’t give him what he thinks he wants, dear!” Mrs Brookes snatched the brush out of her hand and wielded it like a sword. “As that will only make you both miserable. Trust me, I know. Augustus was hell bent on focussing on his art and didn’t want any distractions either, but I decided to ignore that because I wanted him. Twenty-five years later, we are both thoroughly delighted I ignored his lofty plan and replaced it with my own.”
“So what did you do to change his mind.”
“I flatly refused to allow him to avoid me or forget about the attraction and affection which simmered between us. And my advice is, if you want him, go and get him. Right this minute. He’s decent, noble and honest, and clearly adores you, so I’ll wager he won’t put up that much of a fight.”
Ten minutes later, feeling daft, vulnerable but determined to fight for them, Lily knocked on Evan’s front door. As he opened it, she took a deep breath. “I was wondering, Evan Temple, if you’d be my Valentine? Nothing more.” Yet. “So you don’t need to panic.”
“Clearly great minds think alike.” He produced a single red rose from behind his back, then leaned to brand her mouth with a searing kiss. “As you are exactly what I need to tick off number five on the six-point grand Temple master plan.”
She took the rose confused and narrowed her eyes. “I thought there were only five points on the grand Temple master plan?”
“That was the old plan—but plans, like minds, can change, can’t they? And I’ve decided I’ll get my own stables eventually, so what difference does it make if it takes a couple of years longer? The wait won’t be so bad, my darlin’, if I have you and your pretty freckles beside me.”
“You mark my words, we’ll get it sooner.” With her palm in the centre of his chest, she slowly pushed him back towards the bedroom. “As it just so happens, I’ve already saved fifteen pounds, three shillings and sixpence to put towards it.”
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