Asher's Dilemma

By: Coleen Kwan

“Well, I suppose not.” She chewed her lip, still pensive. “There’s something different about your eyes, though. It’s as if…as if you’ve witnessed something terrible. An accident or tragedy.”

His nape tingled. She knew him too well.

Asher shook his head. “No, ’tis merely the cold making my eyes water.”

No, he hadn’t witnessed a tragedy, but he had felt it. Could still feel it—the bone-chilling breath from the maw of torment—every time he looked at Minerva.

Chapter Two

“Minerva Lambkin, you are nothing but a brazen hussy, and this is the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Minerva muttered to herself while she sat in her hackney carriage outside Asher’s London home, linking and unlinking her fingers as she debated the folly of what she was about to do. If she had any sense she would ask the driver to return her to her lodgings, but where Asher was concerned she seemed to take all leave of her senses.

His letters were to blame. For the past fortnight since she’d parted from him in Manchester, he had sent her a letter every day without fail. And they were the most moving and tender love letters she could ever hope to receive, even more astonishing considering what a prosaic, analytical man of science he was. She had read and re-read every one of them, pausing to blush at his more risqué passages which had her tossing restlessly at night beneath her sheets. Quite simply, she burned for him, and each ardent missive from him only made her craving more unbearable.

When the opportunity to travel to London had arisen, she’d jumped at it with all alacrity, and here she was at one o’clock in the afternoon, dithering outside Asher’s house. If only she had a mother to advise her, but her mother had died unexpectedly when she was eight, leaving her in the uncertain care of her father who was now too mentally feeble even to know the time of day. No, she had only her own judgment to rely on. She gathered up her courage and exited the carriage.

Just a few short months ago she’d arrived at this same doorstep, also without warning. That time she’d been forced to walk several miles in the rain. This time, at least she had the funds to take a carriage. The stiff winds which had been howling all day tugged at her skirt and hat, forcing her to hold on to the brim as she knocked on the door. Cheeves, the butler, was his usual inscrutable self, although she could have sworn a hint of warmth lurked in his dry greeting. Just like before he led her into the elegantly furnished parlor before retreating to find his master.

She moistened her lips and checked her appearance in the gilded Venetian mirror. Anxiety and excitement had made her cheeks too pale. She pinched them nervously. Surely Asher would be gladdened by her unexpected visit? After all those letters, he had to be.

The parlor door whipped open, and Asher strode in. Her breathing halted at the sight of him. A dozen greetings, all of them unsuitable, tumbled through Minerva’s brain. Involuntarily she took a couple of steps towards him.

“Asher, I…” The rest of the sentence died in her throat at the sight of his expression—cold, flinty, decidedly unwelcoming.

“Good day, Minerva.” He paused, and his jaw clenched. It could have been pain he was fighting back, or it could just have been annoyance. “I had no idea you were here in London.”

His brusque tone made her heart shrivel. Men do not like surprises. “Perhaps I should have sent a note.”

What had she expected? That Asher would be filled with gratitude at her sudden appearance? She should have given him warning, not foisted herself upon him when he was so obviously busy. His cravat was askew, his hair untidy, and there were smudges on his long, tapered fingers. Her spirits plummeted further. She’d interrupted him during a pressing passage of work. From her own personal experience she knew how aggravating that could be.

He sighed, and with an obvious effort at politeness asked, “What brings you to London so unexpectedly?”

Minerva gathered the strings of her reticule together and answered as steadily as possible, “I’m here on business. I have a client here, a lady who lives in seclusion and doesn’t wish to travel. She has paid for me to spend a week here in London so that I may measure her and discuss her requirements.”

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