Late again, Sylvia Dowder ran down the stairs at the Everton Domestic Society as if her skirts were on fire. It was impossible to read her handwritten pages while moving at such a pace, but she needed to send her article to the Weekly Whisper’s editor before the day was out. She’d been late last month and nearly lost her post at the newspaper.
At the bottom of the stairs, she noted her failure to sign the article. Quill in hand, she dripped ink on her brown skirt, leaned on the banister and scribbled Mable Tattler at the bottom. She would ask Gray to have a footman carry it to Free Market Square. Jumping down the last step brought her up against a wall that toppled her to the floor.
Stunned, she lay still with her papers strewn around her and the light from the transom windows blocked by whatever had felled her.
A masculine, ungloved hand reached toward her. “I’m terribly sorry, miss. Entirely my fault. Are you hurt?” His accent was strange, American perhaps. Having no gloves on, she was hesitant to touch him, but there was no help for it. She couldn’t remain on her back like a turtle. The warmth of his skin traveled up her arm, and her cheeks heated. His fingers were strong and rough. This was no gentleman’s hand. She stood as he eased her to her feet. “Not at all,” she said. “I was distracted.”
He towered over her. At her full height of barely over five feet, she craned her neck and was frozen by the most stunning pair of golden eyes, olive skin, and full lips. She blinked to focus on the whole rather than the parts. “Anthony Braighton?”
He bowed over her hand, which he still held firmly in his. “Lady Serena or Sylvia? I’m afraid I don’t know.”
The mention of her twin’s name brought reality crashing back on Sylvia. She pulled her hand back and made a curtsy. “A common mistake, sir. I am Sylvia Dowder. My sister is still living at home.”
Cocking his head, he gawked at her. “And you are now living here at Everton House, Miss Dowder?”
“I have joined the Society.” While he seemed only curious, it still rubbed her wrong, and she forced herself not to defend her decisions. Anthony Braighton was just a rich gentleman from America. His opinion didn’t mean anything.
“Because of Lord March?” The problem with Americans was they said exactly what they thought rather than keeping a conversation polite. Sylvia bit down on the inside of her cheek. The last thing she wanted was to recount the demise of her engagement to Hunter Gautier, the current Viscount of March. She had been so close to the altar before disaster struck. No. She wouldn’t think about that anymore. “My reasons are not your concern, Mr. Braighton. If you’ll excuse me, I have to see the butler.” His eyes were wide. “Have I been rude, Miss Dowder? I assure you,
it was not my intention. I only meant to convey that March’s treatment of you was abominable and no one blames you.”
Despite his effort to make things better, his mention of what everyone in London knew of her life and failure only exacerbated her mortification. Still, she could see he was sincere if mistaken. “There is no harm, Mr. Braighton. I am uninjured.”
“I am pleased to hear that. It seems I have a bad habit of offending the English with regularity.” His smile created the most charming dimple in his left cheek, and his eyes sparkled with mischief.
If she were honest, she did not mind looking at Anthony Braighton.
Best not to be too honest. “I am made of tougher stuff than most.” “Indeed.” That dimple deepened, and he raised an eyebrow. Looking at
the pages in her hand, he said, “I’m keeping you from something. Forgive me. I was on my way to see Lady Jane Everton.”
Curiosity over what troubles might bring a rich young man to the Everton Domestic Society warred with her need to have her article delivered to her editor before her deadline passed. Her training as a lady won the battle. She gestured toward the hallway, which led behind the stairs. “Lady Jane’s office is the first door on the right.”
“Thank you, Miss Dowder. Very nice to see you again.” “And you, Mr. Braighton. If you will excuse me.”
He bowed, and she rushed from the foyer to find Gray, the Everton’s’ aging butler.