Under the image is another excerpt of my current work in progress, Candle’s Christmas Chair. I posted the first 800 or so words a few days ago, so read them first if you want to follow the story. (Or wait a few weeks – I’ll be publishing the whole thing as a free book. I’m aiming at having it out before Christmas.) DISCLAIMER: this is raw. No editing, no proofreading.
Miss Bradshaw was as lovely as he remembered. Such a shame that she preferred other women! He’d refused to believe it at first, when her friend hinted it to him after she had run off. What a fool he had made of himself over her.
“So can you sell me an invalid’s chair, then,” he asked her.
She sighed, and in a patient voice explained, “I need to know more about how the chair will be used, Lord Avery. We have chairs suitable for street use, chairs that work well in a park, chairs that can be easily pushed inside a house, even chairs that can be propelled by the occupant. What sort of chair do you require?”
“I see.” That made sense. What didn’t make sense were the signals he was receiving. Three years ago he’d been as close to an innocent as a 19-year-old with a father like his could be. But his time in the Coldstream Guards had taught him a great deal, including what to think when a women’s pupils dilated, and she became breathless and flushed.
Perhaps it was wishful thinking. Certainly, his own anatomy had a strong opinion about what to do with the delectable Miss Bradshaw and his own arousal might be predisposing him to misread hers.
“Can you show me each different type and explain what the different uses are, please, Miss Bradshaw?”
There. That should win Candle at least 15 minutes to observe her while she showed him around.
She stood her ground. “Who is the chair for, Lord Avery.”
Good point. He needed to remember his key purpose in coming here, which had nothing to do with pursuing the elusive Miss Bradshaw.
“My mother was injured in the same accident that killed my father,” he told her baldly. “She is paralysed from the waist down. I wish to buy her a chair so that she is not totally dependent on being carried to go where she wishes.”
Mis Bradshaw’s lovely grey eyes softened and warmed. He remembered how changeable those eyes were. They go cold with disdain, hot and stormy with anger, and warm with compassion. Lying eyes. He had to keep reminding himself that she had made a fool of him.
“Ah, your poor mother. Yes, we will certainly find a chair for her. And what sort of places does she wish to go?”
Min showed Lord Avery the inside chairs first. He was very taken with the Merlin chairs, named after the inventor, a clockmaker who had built a self-propelled chair after he’d broken his leg. Lord Avery asked her to demonstrate how to turn the handles on the arms, and then insisted on trying the chair himself, folding his great length in order to fit.
“I think we should have one of those,” he said, brushing past her as he circled the chair, examining it from all sides. He skimmed his hands down the chair’s sides, gently caressing, and Min’s mouth went unaccountably dry.
“Yes, well,” she said. “Over here we have the outdoor chairs.” She had designed them for different types of surface, changing the size and pitch of the large wheels on either side of the chair, and lengthening or shortening the undercarriage to change the distance between the chair and the small front wheel that the occupant could turn in order to steer.
Once again, Lord Avery insisted on trying the chairs, handing her into each one, parading her solemnly up and down the workshop, and then handing her out. Fortunately, he seemed focused on the chairs, and didn’t notice her fingers trembling. His effect on her seemed stronger than ever.
“I like this one,” he said, finally, pointing to the one chair they hadn’t tried.
“I am sorry,” she told him. “That one is not for sale.”
“But it would be perfect,” he said. “The wheels are broad, so Mother won’t sink into the grass when she strolls in the garden, and they are slightly skewed to give her greater stability. The longer undercarriage also improves stability, but it isn’t long enough to impair turning, so she will be able to manage even the paths in the maze. It’s perfect.”
He’d listened to her every word. More; he’d understood exactly what she was trying to do.
“It is a prototype,” she explained. “I do not sell my prototypes, and I do not manufacture until the prototype has been thoroughly tested.”
He was nodding before she’d even finished. “That’s even better. Let us test it for you. And once you are satisfied, you can sell us one of the new models.”
He took both her hands as she opened her mouth to reply, speaking before she could. “Please, Miss Bradshaw. It would mean so much to her. She used to practically live in her garden, rain and shine. To be able to get there again without being carried; to be able to move around and decide where she wants to go–it would mean the world to her.”
His big hands cupped hers, his thumbs stroking across her trapped fingers. For a moment, she was almost mesmerised, but then she tugged her hands away, and he released her instantly.
“But you wanted it for Christmas.” It was a weak protest, close to a capitulation, and he clearly knew it.
“But this is even better, don’t you see? She’ll get the use of a chair immediately, without waiting for Christmas, and at Christmas she’ll have one made just for her. Oh. But will there be enough time?”
It was late October. Not quite two months to go. Yes, they could do it. Min would need to start building the model before she got the prototype back, but the final testing was unlikely to turn up anything.
“I will need to upholster the chair and to run some final tests, then your mother could have it for perhaps a month? I will need to talk to her after that.”
“Of course. I’m going to take that – did you call it a Merlin? I’ll take the Merlin with the red cushions. She loves red. Could you cover the new chair in the same fabric?”
“I could possibly do the same colour,” Min agreed. Did she have enough red leather? No; she’d cut the last skin a few days ago. Perhaps she could get some from the main carriage works. If not, she would have to make a trip to the leather merchants.
He nodded, running a hand over the plush surface of the Merlin and immediately leaping to the right conclusion. “You use leather for the outdoor chairs, don’t you? They might get wet, I suppose.”
“Minnie, are you in here?” That was her cousin Daniel’s inevitable greeting, as if her presence in her own workshop was a perpetual surprise to him. He followed his voice into the room, and drew himself up to his full height, still a good eight inches shorter than Lord Avery.
The man who called Miss Bradshaw ‘Minnie’ in that familiar way was built like a bull: broad in the shoulders and chest, with massive arms and a thick neck. Candle grudgingly admitted he was handsome enough, in a thick-set kind of way, his blonde hair slightly overlong, even somewhat blocky features, and fine hazel eyes currently fixed on Avery in challenge.
Miss Bradshaw kept her smooth calm. “Lord Avery, may I present Daniel Whitlow? Daniel, Viscount Avery is here to purchase a chair for his mother.”
The bull relaxed slightly, returning Candle’s nod. “Minnie–Miss Bradshaw–designs the best chairs in Bath, Lord Avery.” He rested a proprietary hand on Miss Bradshaw’s shoulder. “You won’t regret choosing one of her chairs.”
“Two,” Candle said. “Two chairs.” How proprietary was this cousin? Not that Candle cared. Not after what she did three years ago. Or did she? If her friend was mistaken about her preferences, did she tell the truth about Miss Bradshaw’s reasons for leaving? He needed to pay attention. The bull was saying something else.
“One for indoors, and one for outdoors,” Candle explained.
“Daniel, I need dark red leather for the outdoor chair. Can I purchase some from your stock?”
The bull nodded. “Yes, we got a whole cart load of skins dyed for the big order. We could spare you a skin or two.”
“The one you’re using is a bit more yellow. I had in mind this colour.” She ran her hand over the chair as Candle had a few minutes ago. In precisely the same place, in fact. He wondered if she realised that. He shifted his hat, strategically.
The bull shook his head again. “No. Nothing that colour.”
Candle was opening his mouth to say that he’d choose another colour when the bull went on, “And I can’t spare anyone today to take you down to buy some. We’re going to be all hands working late as it is.”
“I could escort you, Miss Bradshaw?” Candle offered.
The bull examined him with narrowed eyes.
“After all, the sooner the chair is covered, the sooner my mother can try it out,” Candle went on, looking as innocent as he knew how.
It was enough. The bull nodded again. A beast of few words. “Take your maid, Minnie. Your servant, Lord Avery.”