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Sophie Handley is a charming flirt—just like the fiancée who jilted Lieutenant Charles Cantrill after he was wounded at Waterloo. Yet her assistance in helping veterans is proving invaluable. And when she offers to feign a courtship to appease his family, he finds their arrangement curiously appealing....
Sophie has been groomed from birth for a life of easy comfort. Then financial ruin obliges her to reevaluate all her plans and dreams. Helping veterans and their wives helps her see what's truly important—and gives her the chance to enjoy the lieutenant's very appealing company. Somehow Sophie must help his embittered heart to see she's found her permanent place—by his side, and in his arms.
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Author Lily George writes about common people facing uncommon challenges to love and faith. She loves writing clean romance novels you can share with your grandmother and daughter.
Lily George lives in northwest Texas with her husband and precocious child, and they are restoring a 1920s farmhouse. You can read more about her work by visiting www.lilygeorge.com.
Oh, botheration. All the buildings in Bath looked precisely the same. Sophie Handley clutched her bonnet with one hand, clamping it tightly to her curls as she tilted her chin upward. Her intuition fled—she was completely and utterly lost. There was no sign of a haberdashery anywhere on this street. Sophie scoured the directions, written in Mrs. Wigg's undulating hand, once more. Very well. She had come up Charlotte Street, just as the housekeeper instructed. But then, had she taken a right or a left at George Street? Neither. She'd walked straight ahead—yes, that was the Circus, directly in front of her. So should she retrace her steps? Or keep going toward the Circus?
Something splashed onto her piece of foolscap, smearing the ink. She scanned the swollen clouds in the slate gray sky. Botheration—an afternoon shower. Rain fell in fat drops, dampening the foolscap so that it folded itself limply across her glove. And she had no umbrella. Of course. She'd left it behind, as this was supposed to be a mere dash to secure a few buttons for Lord Bradbury's daughter's frock. And yet here she was, lost in the very middle of Bath, with no parasol.
Sophie bit her lip in frustration. She had come to Bath full of purpose and promise, determined to strike out on her own as a seamstress to a wealthy family. And she was coming perilously close to failure, as she could not even go to the shops without getting lost and drenched.
If only there were a way to catch her bearings, but Bath was nothing like home. To find her way in Tansley Village, she had only to note the position of the sun or the moon and then navigate her way across the fields, the sweet moor grass swaying in the gentle breeze. The scrubby hills and valleys were as familiar to her as the face of a dearly beloved friend—but she wasn't home any longer. She gave her head a defiant toss. She had chosen to leave home and come to Bath. And she had chosen a life as a servant. So she had better find her way to the haberdasher and quickly, and then return home to continue work on Amelia Bradbury's riding habit.
She turned back down Gay Street. At the intersection she would try heading in the opposite direction. She shouldered past the milling throngs on the sidewalks, wealthy lords and their well-dressed ladies, scruffy children darting to and fro, and servants soberly dressed in black and white. All of them, every man jack of them, seemed to have an umbrella.
Sophie tossed her now-sodden scrap of paper into the gutter and folded her arms across her chest, holding them closely for warmth. She tucked her chin down, so that most of the moisture rolled off the brim of her bonnet. She assumed a casual air of nonchalance, as though she had forgotten her umbrella on purpose, and hastened her steps along George Street. But oh, it was hard to seem collected when a cold droplet of rain worked its way down your neck and under the back of your frock.
She turned the corner of George Street, colliding with something warm and strong. "Oof!"
"I beg your pardon." Whatever or whomever she had collided with had a lovely baritone voice. "I hope I haven't injured you, miss."
"Oh, no." Sophie righted her bonnet, which was knocked askew by the force of their collision. She turned her head upward, her cheeks hot with embarrassment. "It's my fault, really. I was hurrying along and paid no heed to where I was going."
The brick wall straightened, tilting his umbrella back. His face—she knew that face—
"Lieutenant Cantrill?" she gasped. Of course—she knew he lived in Bath. Her sister, Harriet, had told her that much. But she hadn't seen a familiar face in her two weeks of living in Lord Bradbury's home, so it was rather disconcerting to see someone she knew after drifting along an unfamiliar landscape for so long.
"Miss Handley?" One eyebrow quirked, and a half smile crossed his face. He was much handsomer than she recalled. In fact, when he was at Harriet and John's wedding, she hardly noted his presence. But here, on the sodden streets of Bath, he wore the air of a rescuer, a strong and solid presence in a sea of the unknown and strange. He tilted his umbrella over her and offered her the crook of his elbow. "Are you quite all right? Do you need assistance?"
She shook out her wet skirts and took his arm. It was his damaged one, the one he'd lost at Waterloo. Her fingertips brushed against the leather straps that held his artificial forearm to his biceps. His jacket fit snugly over his shattered limb, so that unless she had touched him for herself, she might never have known that he had been injured. Without thinking, she gave his elbow a slight squeeze—so lightly that he might never discern it.
He coughed a bit—so suddenly and so shortly that it might have been to cover a gasp. She didn't mean to embarrass or discomfit him. Why had she done that, after all? Better to pretend she stumbled a bit and had grasped him for support. She tangled her foot in the soaking-wet hem of her gown and lurched forward ever so slightly, and squeezed his arm once more. "Oh, thank goodness you came to my rescue." Sophie affected the breezy tone of voice that always caught men's ears—the lilting and musical cadence that had, since she was a tiny slip of a girl, gotten her everything she wanted. "I am lost and forgot my umbrella. I was at my wits' end, I assure you."
"I see." He steered her through the milling crowd on the sidewalk, managing to set them on a clear path without bumping into a soul or spearing anyone with his umbrella. How extraordinary. She sidled a bit closer, reveling in the feel of being with someone who knew exactly where he was going and precisely how to get there.
He spoke once the mob thinned out. "Where are you going?"
"Well, I was trying to find the haberdasher at the Guildhall Market. The housekeeper wrote out my directions, for I am new to Bath and get lost easily. And it seems I've done it again." She glanced up at his profile. He wore a stern, almost abstracted expression, his firm lips turned downward and his face bent low, as though he were walking against the wind. "Thank goodness for you, sir. I was quite unsure what to do next." She prepared to flutter her eyelashes and purse her mouth so her dimples would show, but he never looked her way.
"Guildhall Market? That's a bit of a hike from here. You really did get lost, didn't you?" Lieutenant Cantrill turned the umbrella so that the pelting rain no longer touched her gown. "I'll help you find it. Here—let's turn down Milsom Street. It's a good cut-through."
They passed another row of shops—a confectioner's called Munn's, a modiste and a shop that sold nothing but cheese. How extraordinary. A cheese shop. At Tans-ley, if one wanted cheese, one had to go milk the cow. But of course, they couldn't afford to keep a cow, so they relied heavily on the one shop in the village that kept everything from sugar to foolscap.
They walked in silence as Sophie drank in the sights. She wasn't jaded yet after two weeks out of the countryside. Everything still retained the crisp edge of newness. Sheltered from the rain and warmed by the lieutenant as he strolled along by her side, Sophie permitted herself to relax the tiniest bit and enjoy their walk.
"It's very kind of you," she murmured as he steered her onto another street. She had no idea what this one was called, and would likely forget, anyway. So...why not try to wheedle a smile from her rescuer? "If it's not too much trouble, Lieutenant."
"Not at all." His voice was pleasant but distant. "I live near there, anyway. Was just on my way home."
"Oh, really? Where do you live?" She maintained her light and breezy tone. He would pay attention to her soon, wouldn't he? At least dart a glance her way?
"I have a flat on Beau Street. Near Mrs. Katherine Crossley's flat." He still spared her no glance, and his tone remained polite but disinterested.
"Aunt Katherine! I had no idea you two lived so close to one another," Sophie replied with a merry laugh. "She helped me to get this position with Lord Bradbury. I am on my way to pick up a few notions for Amelia Brad-bury—I am her seamstress."
"Yes, your sister wrote that you would be coming to Bath to live here. She mentioned that you might be willing to assist me in my work with the veterans' group." Was that a spark of attention in his voice? She must pursue it.
"Yes, of course I will." He spoke of that charity for indigent soldiers that Harriet was so interested in. Hattie had told her something about it, but she couldn't remember much. Seeing it had caught the lieutenant's interest, she pressed on. "Tell me more about it."
He looked down at her, and a light sparked in the depths of his brown eyes. "Well, I was hoping you and I could work together, as it were. You see, I get on very well with the soldiers, being a fellow comrade in arms. But the widows are reluctant to ask me for assistance. I know they need help, but they cannot bring themselves to ask a man. So I thought perhaps they would feel more comfortable if another woman were there, helping out."
Work together? "That sounds fine." While she had his full notice, she flashed her dimples by giving him a slow, easy smile. He straightened and turned away from her, a flush staining his thin cheek. So he was susceptible to flirtation, then? She chuckled inwardly. It was so delightful to be walking with a young man again, smiling and talking playful nonsense rather than working away in her sewing room. She had almost forgotten how fun being a woman could be.
"We're here. Guildhall Market." The lieutenant's voice was cold and remote once more, as though he had shut a door between them. She didn't like that tone of voic...
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Book Description Love Inspired, 2012. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Brand New!. Seller Inventory # VIB0373829337
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