Read an Extract
Behind her the doorbells tinkled their warning. Sara turned, then modified her welcome smile of greeting into something more restrained. This was not one of her usual clients. Not a lady at all, in fact. This visitor was not only unfamiliar but male. Very male and a highly superior specimen of the sex at that. She kept the smile cool. She was female and most certainly young enough to be appreciative, but she had too much pride to show it.
‘Good morning, sir. I think you may have gone astray – the circulating library and reading room is just two buildings further up the street on this side.’
He was studying the shop interior, but looked round when she spoke and removed his hat. That was a very superior specimen as well. ‘I was looking for Aphrodite’s Seashell, not the library.’
‘Then you have found it. Welcome. May I assist you, sir?’
Aphrodite, I presume? The question was obviously on the tip of his tongue, but he caught it with the faintest twitch of his lips and said only, ‘I hope you may.’ He glanced down at her hand, saw her wedding ring. ‘Mrs – ?’ His voice was cultured, cool and very assured.
She recognised the type, or perhaps breed was the better word. Her father was one of them, her brother another, although those two conformed only in their own unique way. Corinthians, bloods of the first stare, non-pareils, aristocrats with the total, unthinking, self-confidence that came from generations of privilege. But they were also hard men who worked to keep at the peak of fitness so they could excel at the pastimes of their class – riding, driving, sport, fighting, war.
Whether such gentlemen had money or not was almost impossible to tell at first glance because they would starve rather than appear less than immaculately turned-out. Their manners were perfect and their attitude to women – their women – was indulgent and protective. Nothing mattered more than honour and the honour of these men was invested in their women, in whose name they would duel to the death in order to avenge the slightest slur.
It was not an attitude she enjoyed or approved of. She feared it. Nor did she approve of their attitude to the rest of the females they came into contact with. Respectable women, of whatever class, were to be treated with courtesy and respect. The one exception, in terms of respect, although the courtesy would always be there, were attractive widows. And Sara knew herself to be an attractive widow.
She conjured up the mental image of a very large, very possessive, husband. ‘Mrs Harcourt.’
The warmth in his eyes, the faint, undeniably attractive, compression of the lines at their outer corners that hinted at a smile, was the only clue to what she suspected his thoughts were.
He was a very handsome specimen, she supposed, managing, with an effort that was deeply annoying, not to let her thoughts show on her face. He was tall, well-proportioned, with thick medium-brown hair and hazel eyes. His nose was slightly aquiline, his chin decided, his mouth… wicked. Sara was not quite certain why that was, only that staring at it was definitely unwise.