Still reeling, Evan didn’t bother going to breakfast the next morning, or supper, and Lily hadn’t bothered exchanging a single word when she’d followed Mrs Brookes into the carriage this evening either.
That suited him just fine. That reckless kiss had been a mistake and if he wasn’t careful, someone like Lily could be a serious distraction from his grand master plan. And he’d made a pact with himself not to allow any serious distractions till he’d ticked off every one of the five points on that plan. Then, and only then, could he make a new plan and perhaps that next one might allow him to think about sharing his life with someone.
What was wrong with being ambitious? Or enjoying life? He had had enough misery and disappointment in his to last a lifetime. And who was she to judge him anyway? Lily had always had a home, a family and if her admission about her mother’s good job in Cheapside was any gauge, she’d had a darn sight more than him growing up. But he’d dragged himself up by his bootstraps, worked his fingers to the bone and now, with the future he had always dreamed of within spitting distance, he had to keep his eyes on the prize. Keep both hands firmly on the reins and stay on the right path.
The path that hadn’t failed him so far.
That meant no more distractions and certainly no more kissing Lily Brown. That woman’s kisses were deadly if that first one was any gauge. He hadn’t been able to think straight since. A stupid, harmless, dallying kiss shouldn’t do that.
Irritated, he unclipped the bags of oats from the horses, ready to stow them before the opera finished. Mrs Brookes would soon emerge out of the back door into this alley as the audience spilled out the front.
“Hello, handsome.” Two young ladies wandered past, one very much giving him the eye. He tipped his hat and smiled.
“Good evening.” It wasn’t his place to judge what they did for a living, and by the heavily painted faces it didn’t take a genius to work out these were ladies of the night. Like him, they were waiting for the opera to finish. Unlike him, they had to scrabble around for every penny, demeaning themselves, simply to make ends meet.
“It’s a cold night, ain’t it?” The bold one posed, allowing her shawl to fall from her shoulders in blatant invitation. “You look like you need warming up.”
And she looked like she hadn’t eaten anything in a week, if those bony shoulders were anything to go by. “Where are you girls sleeping tonight?” Because for the flotsam of this city, that was rarely in a bed.
“With you—if you fancy it.”
It was the proud bravado which did it. “Here.” He rifled in his pocket for a coin and handed over a shilling. “There’s going to be more snow tonight so get yourselves off the streets. Go see Mrs Jones in Kendrick’s Yard round the back of St Giles. It should be enough to get you both bed and board for tonight. As I recall, Mrs Jones does a good stew.”
Overwhelmed at his kindness, the girl smiled. “Thank-you, sir.” She ran her hand down his arm. “For the shilling and restoring some of my faith in men.” Then she kissed his cheek at the exact same moment Lily emerged through the back door.
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