Heart's Desire

Heart's Desire by Jacquie D'Alessandro

Book: Heart's Desire by Jacquie D'Alessandro Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jacquie D'Alessandro
H EART’S D ESIRE
     
    CHAPTER ONE
     
    Halstead, Kent
    June , 1838
     
    William Lawton swore under his breath as the bell above the shop door jangled, announcing the arrival of a customer. He pulled his attention from the dusty crate he’d just opened and glanced at the mantle clock. Twenty-three minutes past closing time. Damn it all. He should have turned the lock and flipped the carved wooden sign propped in the window to “closed” when he was in the front of the shop a half hour ago, but as neither his grandfather nor his father had ever closed Lawton’s Antiques and Curiosities so much as one minute before six p.m., William had been loath to break with tradition.
    Unfortunately, as often happened when the anticipation of discovering a new treasure had him firmly in its grasp, he’d become completely engrossed in removing the stubborn wooden top of the crate in the back room and forgotten the time. And now, just when he’d finally managed to pry open the damn ed crate, his curiosity well and truly whetted to examine the contents, he’d have to abandon the project.
    Bloody hell. Everyone in Halstead knew the shop closed at precisely six, which meant this late-arriving customer was no doubt a visitor. Probably one who wanted nothing more than to browse, pump him for information about the village’s history, then depart without making a purchase. Not only would William be forced to make idle conversation when he’d rather be working, but he’d also be late for dinner. As if on cue, his stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
    Bloody double hell.
    “That will teach me to lose all sense of time,” he muttered. With impatience scraping at him to return to his task, he brushed the dust off his hands as best he could and strode toward the front of the store. He’d simply tell whoever had entered that they’d have to return the next day, a decision he mentally seconded when a whiff of the meal Mrs. Worthington had prepared for his dinner wafted down from his rooms above the shop. He lifted his chin and took an appreciative sniff. Lamb stew. He could almost taste the savory concoction of meat, potatoes, and vegetables. No one prepared a lamb stew like his long-standing housekeeper, and he’d be damned if he’d allow the meal she’d left him to turn cold while he listened to a bunch of palaver from a tardy stranger.
    Bristling with impatience, not to mention his newly recalled hunger, he crossed the threshold into the front section of the store, pausing in the archway when his gaze fell upon the figure of a woman. She stood in profile to him, her features obscured by both the peacock feather curving around the wide , semicircular brim of her dark blue bonnet and the golden shaft of early evening sunlight spilling through the window panes. A single glance at her fine , cream-colored gown, the fabric printed with small bouquets of flowers, its long sleeves fashionably shirred and puffed , as well as the delicate lace draped over her shoulders marked her as a woman of means. No doubt passing through on her way from London to rusticate at a country estate or one of the resort towns popular with the Quality.
    She leaned over the glass counter , and William heard her quick intake of breath. He barely suppressed the groan that rose in his throat. Something had obviously caught her fancy, the price of which she’d probably wish to haggle over endlessly . Damn it, he really wasn’t fond of cold lamb stew.
    He moistened his lips to voice a greeting, one he hoped wouldn’t sound overly insincere, and stepped forward. The floorboard beneath his boot creaked. The woman quickly straightened and turned toward him. Their gazes met.
    And everything in William froze. His limbs. His breath. His heart. Recognition slammed him like a battering ram to his gut. He hadn’t seen her in two years. Two years, three weeks , and seventeen days , his inner voice whispered. Not that he kept account of the

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