‘”Tha’ wants to talk to Min about they chairs,” said the man in the office, and directed Candle Avery to the far corner of the carriage-maker’s yard.
Candle strode through the light rain, dodging or leaping the worst of the mud and puddles. Min. Short for Benjamin, perhaps? Or Dominic?
No, he concluded, as his eyes adjusted to the light inside the shed. The delightful posterior presented to his eyes belonged to neither a Benjamin nor a Dominic. The overalls were masculine, but the curves they covered were not.
She was on a ladder, leaning so far into a bank of shelves that lined the wall opposite the door that her upper half was hidden, but he had no objection to the current view–said delightful posterior at his eye level and neatly outlined as she stretched, a pair of trim ankles showing between the top of her sensible half boots and the hems of the overalls.
“Botheration.” Whatever she was reaching for up there, it was not obliging her by coming to her hand. Perhaps his lofty height might be of service?
“May I help, Ma’am?” he asked.
There was a crash as she jerked upright at the sound of his voice, and hit her head on the shelf above. As she flinched backward from the collision, the ladder tipped sideways, spilling its occupant into Candle’s hastily outstretched arms.
The curves were everything he thought, and the face lived up to them. A Venus in miniature, black curls spilling from the kerchief that held them away from the heart-shaped face, that quintessentially English complexion known as peaches and cream, grey eyes fringed with dark lashes.
Grey eyes that had haunted his dreams for three long years, ever since she had bedazzled him at a house party for the amusement of her friends, and then left without saying goodbye.
Grey eyes that turned stormy as he held her a moment too long. He hastily set her down.
“Captain Avery. No, it is Lord Avery, now, is it not? My condolences on the death of your father.
He bowed his acknowledgement, his mind racing. Bradshaw Carriages. He hadn’t made the connection. Had he known when he was courting her that she was a carriage-maker’s daughter? He didn’t remember anyone mentioning it.
But he did remember that her friends called her Minnie. Miss Minnie Bradshaw. Min.
Lord Avery was broader than she remembered. He’d been little more than a boy at that horrid house party, but even then the tallest man she had ever met. Isolated and nervous in that crowd of scheming cats who only invited her to humiliate her, she’d believed him when he claimed to care.
With him at her side, she’d braved the crush at the ball. Short as she was, she usually found such occasions overwhelming. People looked over her, bumped into her, ignored her. But Lord Avery – Captain Avery he’d been then – kept her safe. She’d even, for the first time in her life, been enjoying herself at a ball. Right up until she overheard his best friend explaining that Avery despised her common origins and was only courting her for her money.
That had been Min’s last venture into the aristocratic world her parents had educated her for. She’d come home to Bath, and told her mother that she would marry, if marry she ever did, in her own class. But none of her suitors had ever measured up to the tall red-headed guards officer who even now, standing here in her workshop, turned her knees to jelly.
What was he doing in her workshop? Why would he tracked her down?
“Can I help you, Lord Avery?” She couldn’t do much about the colour that pinked her cheeks, or the way her heart pounded. But she could, and did, keep her voice level and and her tone cool.
He was immediately all business. “I am after a chair, Miss Bradshaw. It is still Miss Bradshaw?”
She nodded, seething. How dare he comment on her marital status. She wanted to tell him that she’d refused five proposals in the last three years. But he was continuing: “The Master at the Pump Rooms told me that Bradshaw’s makes the best chairs in Bath, and the man in the office sent me here.”
“I see. And what sort of a chair do you require?”
His brows drew together. “An invalid’s chair. That is what you make, is it not? What your father makes, I mean?”
He might as well know the whole of it. She was not ashamed. And if his eyes turned cold and scornful, what was that to her? She was, no doubt, just imagining the warmth she saw. As she had imagined his admiration so long ago.
“You were right the first time, Lord Avery. I design the chairs. And I make each prototype for my assistants to copy.”
“I say,” he said, “good for you!” And he smiled at her. She remembered those smiles. And, though her mind knew he couldn’t be trusted, her foolish heart didn’t believe her.