Lily hesitated about taking the proffered blanket as a point of principle until good sense took over.
“Thank you.” She draped it around herself gratefully, huddling into it. Trying not to enjoy the residual heat of his body and the fresh scent of soap buried in the woollen fibres. “I knew I should have worn another layer.”
The way his green eyes twinkled, she could tell he was smiling beneath the veil of his knotted scarf. “This weather would freeze the knackers off a brass monkey.”
“My dad used to say that all the time.” Long-forgotten memories of her cheerful father coming home from a long shift at the docks and shaking the rain or the snow or the cold from his body before he hugged his two little girls and then noisily kissed her mother made her smile.
“Used to say?” He glanced at her warily, obviously anticipating the sting in the tale. There was always a sting in the tale when you came from their world.
“Don’t be. He’s been gone a long time and would be angry that I was wasting my time mourning him.” He’d been an eternal optimist, her father. Even when riddled with consumption and hacking up his lungs, he always believed something good would turn up. “But my mother’s still going and doing well. She’s a seamstress. A good one. Works in Cheapside for a fancy modiste. Earns decent money, too. My little sister’s been apprenticed there as well.”
“You weren’t tempted to follow them?”
She shook her head. “I don’t have the patience for it. Or the touch. What about your parents?”
He shrugged, unoffended. “Never had any. Grew up over there.” He jerked his head back towards Bloomsbury. “At the hospital.” The local term for the huge Foundling Hospital, which dominated the landscape beyond genteel Russell Square.
“I’m sorry.” Because she was. It might do a lot of good, but the hospital had a reputation, and as many children died there as left it in the end.
“It wasn’t so bad. Never had to worry about your food or your board, and there was always someone to talk to.” He burrowed further in his greatcoat, reminding her of his noble sacrifice, and she instantly felt bad. “And we got an orange at Christmas.” He chuckled. The deep, rich sound came from somewhere deep within his chest. “It’s funny what you remember sometimes, isn’t it? As a kid, I spent 364 days wishing for that orange, then I’d gobble it all up on Christmas morning and spend the rest of the day annoyed with myself that I hadn’t rationed it like some of the other boys did. They’d still be enjoying theirs on Boxing Day while I was already counting the days till the next one. I wish I knew who sent them. I’d go thank them. It’s the little things, isn’t it, that improve your day?”
Like a warm blanket from a stranger with twinkling green eyes. She shuffled closer on the perch and draped half over his legs, then stuck out her hand. “I’m Lily, by the way. Lily Brown.”
He took it, and her silly pulse quickened. “Evan Temple. They named me after the church I was left at.”
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