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Chapter One
There was a sneaky draft taunting me while I worked the front counter at Mim’s Whims, the hat shop I co-own with my cousin Vivian Tremont. It slipped through the cracks of our old building and snuck up on me, sliding beneath the collar of my shirt with its cold fingers and making me shiver.
Well, two could play this game. I had stopped by the Tool Shop in Marylebone over by Regents Park and picked myself up a caulking gun and the junk you put in it. I felt like a Charlie’s Angel with my caulk gun on my hip, filling in any gap that allowed November to blow its wintery breath across my skin.
I had already filled four cracks when I felt another gust of chilly air. I pulled my caulk gun out of my tool belt and whirled around, ready to fire goop into the offending orifice.
“Blimey, don’t shoot, Scarlett. I just had this suit pressed.” The man who had just entered the shop slowly raised in hands in the air as if this would make me less likely to blast him.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t,” I said. I did not lower the gun, instead I squinted at Harrison Wentworth over the top of it as if I were adjusting my aim while I tried to ignore the ridiculous fluttery feeling that filled my chest at the sight of him.
“Rough day, Ginger?” he asked. His voice was kind but his eyes were laughing at me and it looked like his lips weren’t far behind as he pressed them together as if to keep the guffaws in.
“Yuck it up, Harry,” I said. I holstered the caulk. “You’re not the one freezing to death in this drafty old building.”
“It’s Harrison,” he corrected me. “And I think it’s actually quite toasty in here.”
He shrugged off his overcoat and draped it over his arm. “Maybe you should wear more layers.”
I glanced down at my outfit. I had on a heather gray turtleneck, a black wool cardigan over a black corduroy miniskirt over thick gray tights paired with my favorite black riding boots.
“I’m pretty sure the only people wearing more clothes than me this early in November live in polar regions,” I said.
This time he did laugh. “Scarlett Parker, your Florida is showing.”
“It is, isn’t it?” I asked. “What I wouldn’t give for a martini on the beach right now.”
“I can’t offer you that, but I can give you a mulled wine and a bonfire in Kensington,” he said.
“No palm trees?” I asked.
“No, ‘fraid not.”
“No sand between my toes?”
“No bikini?”
“No, damn shame,” he said.
“Actually, that’s a high point,” I said. “With this ghostly complexion I’ve got going I’d scare even the sharks away.”
“I don’t think anyone in their right mind would notice your complexion if you went trotting by them in a swim suit,” he said. The look he gave me scorched.
And that right there is the trouble with Harry. He gets me so flustered I can’t even think. Yes, it could be his charming British accent or his wavy brown hair, broad shoulders, and his bright green eyes, but I think it was more than that. The truth is I liked Harry for more than the package. I liked him for himself.
I liked the way he was unfailingly polite to everyone from waiters to bus drivers to elderly ladies in the street. I loved the sound of his laugh and how he always seemed delighted to be laughing and it made him laugh even harder. I enjoyed the way he whistled when he made tea even though he is not the most gifted person in the whistling arts. And I loved how gentle he was with the young children and pets we frequently ran into on walks in Hyde Park. Even his own particular scent, a manly bay rum sort of smell, had worked its way into my head and I found any man who didn’t smell like Harry was lacking.
“Well, what do you say?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I hesitated.
First, I needed to be clear that this was not a date. Yeah, I know he’s the perfect male but that didn’t mean I was ready to date. My mother, bless her heart, had convinced me to go one whole year without dating. This may not sound significant but I had never gone more than two weeks between boyfriends before, so yeah, kind of a big deal.
Why did I agree to my mother’s crazy suggestion? Good question. True story, funny story, okay, it isn’t funny to me yet, but I’ve been assured that it will be someday. In a nut, my last boyfriend and I had a break up of epic proportions, the kind that found a video of me, aka the party crasher, throwing fistfuls of wedding anniversary cake at him.
Yes, you read that right. My boyfriend was married, not to me, and I didn’t take the news very well. It went viral and I pretty much had to flee the state of Florida and, well, the continent of North America. Talk about your walk of shame.
Needless to say when my cousin Viv sent me a one way ticket to London to help take up my half of the millinery business we had inherited from our grandmother Mim, I was all in. It’s been eight months now and it’s begun to feel like home.
I love my cousin and our friends, but as the holiday season approached, and the cold air took up permanent residence in our abode, I was surprised to find I was feeling more homesick than I had expected. And I did not want to throw myself at Harrison because I was feeling lonely and pitiful, so I needed to be very clear on the boundaries.
“How does one dress for a bonfire?” I asked.
Yes, I was stalling. I needed more information. Harry knew I wasn’t dating and he’d said he was willing to wait, which I hadn’t believed, but it had been months and as far as I knew, he really wasn’t dating anyone else. Another point in his favor, unless this was his sly way of getting me to go on a date without actually asking me on a date, boys can be sneaky like that.
“Bonfire?” Viv asked as she entered the store front from the workroom in back. “Who’s dressing for a bonfire?”
“We all are,” Harrison said. “My boss is having a huge Guy Fawkes party and you’re all invited.”
“Me, too, yeah?” Fiona Felton, Viv’s apprentice asked as she followed Viv into the room.
“Absolutely,” Harrison said.
Now I was irritated that it had not been a covert way to ask me out. I’m impossible, I know.
“Who is Guy Fawkes?” I asked.
All three of them turned to look at me. This was another one of those moments where I just felt utterly American.
“Ginger, really?” Harrison asked.
“Do you know who Bigfoot Wallace is?” I countered.
“Basketball player,” he guessed.
“No.” I laughed. “But he’s an American folk hero, so don’t be judgy just because I don’t know who Guy Fawkes is.”
“Was,” Fee said. She blew an orange corkscrew curl out of her eyes and smiled. “He failed to blow up Parliament in 1605.”
“Oh, he does have Bigfoot Wallace beat then,” I said. “He was a Texas Ranger, one of the good guys actually.”
“Guy Fawkes night is bonfire night,” Viv said. She looked delighted as she looped her arm through mine. “You’ve never been here for bonfire night before, this will so much fun.”
For Viv alone I would freeze my tail feathers off and go to the bonfire. Things had been strained between us for the past several weeks. You see, Viv is the eccentric artist in our business while I am more the people person. She and Fee create amazing hats for people and I charm them into buying them. It’s a system that works for us.
Unfortunately, Viv takes after our grandmother in more than just her creativity. She is also impulsive, rash, brilliant with ribbons, and has been known to disappear for weeks at a time, chasing down some crazy artistic whim or another. Recently, she had leveled me with the news that she is married.
Shocking, right? It wouldn’t be so bad but so far she had refused to give me any details. I don’t know his name, where he’s from, how they met, how long they’ve been married, or where he is right now. I badgered, cajoled, begged, pleaded, whined, stomped my feet, and bellowed, but Viv could not be moved. She has refused to tell me absolutely anything about her husband. Not one darn thing. It has sort of festered between us like a hot boil because, yeah, I can be like that sometimes.
“Where’s the party?” Viv asked.
“My boss’s house in Kensington,” Harrison said. “He’s hoping to make a splash in the society pages.”
“We can wear some hats from the shop,” Fee said. “It’ll be a nice opportunity to advertise our creations amongst Harrison’s posh clients.”
“I thought we were his posh clients,” I teased.
“Well, there’s certainly no one quite like you…three,” Harrison said.
His gaze moved away from me to include the others and again I was charmed stupid by his ability to make me feel that I alone had his attention but he was sensitive enough to include the others.
I glanced at Viv, with her long blonde curls and big blue eyes, she was a woman who turned heads everywhere she went. And then Fee, with her West Indies heritage, boasted a lovely dark brown complexion and was tall and thin, a model’s figure, and she kept her hair in a curly bob that she liked to streak with unusual colors, currently it was orange. I’d seen men literally walk into walls when she passed by. Then there was me, medium height, medium figure, too many freckles to count and shoulder length auburn hair that was on the thin side. I most definitely got by on my personality.
Still, Harrison was right. We made a threesome that was hard to ignore, mostly because Viv made us wear her most outrageous hats whenever we went anywhere together. I wondered if that was why he had invited us.
“Aren’t we a bit small scale to be invited to your boss’s shin dig?” I asked.
“Ginger, you’re overthinking it,” Harry said. “It’s a bonfire with music, mulled wine and a view of the city’s fireworks.”
Both Fee and Viv nodded in agreement as if I was being silly for thinking that a bunch of milliners at an investment broker’s party was weird. But they didn’t see what I saw, which was that Harry wasn’t meeting my eyes.
Perhaps because I hadn’t dated him and gotten bored with him just yet, I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about Harrison Wentworth and covertly studying the man who took up entirely too much of my free thinking time. In any case, I knew him and I knew he was hiding something. I was sure of it. And now, wild horses couldn’t keep me from the party.