London, England, 1851
Ding ding ding! The bell over the bookstore door tinkled.
The woman who entered was small, trim, and alone. She wore a large, unfashionable, brown hat, gloves, and a navy blue day dress with a fitted bodice and full skirt.
Finnegan, unpacking a box of dusty old books in the rear of his store, hoped she had coin to spend. Business had been slow. The Great Exhibition had easily lured away his customers. The giant crystal palace, machines that could sew whole coats in minutes, and motor cars were more fascinating than books, even to him. Murphy’s Fine Used Books could not compete with 13,000 exhibits, especially when the whole point was to show the rest of the world how superior England was. Everyone in London was there. Everyone, except Finnegan Murphy, and this odd looking girl.
She did not seem to see him and, with her head turned away, her hat hid her face. Finn watched her slowly draw her gloved fingers over a shelf of leathery spines, books he kept lovingly organized by subject and author. Horticulture, botany, flower arranging.
She moved on, and he glimpsed the tilted corner of her mouth as it lifted into what had to be a smile. She was young, too young to be in a shop unaccompanied unless she was a working girl. A governess perhaps, educated enough to read, though one never knew these days. He’d had gypsies and clowns wander over from the Exhibition and, as different as they were, he had been glad to see paying, book loving customers.
History, culture, architecture. This girl passed them all by.
Finn’s usual, cheery, “Good morning! May I help you find something?” died as only a thought. Instead of speaking, he stepped down an aisle, shielding himself from the girl’s view, watching her.
She wiggled long, white fingers free of ladylike, ivory-colored gloves, and removed her ridiculous hat. Her hair was dark and pulled smoothly into a twist at the nape of her neck. The resulting coiled bun looked heavy, and Finn had a vision of her with it loosened. He imagined it reached her waist, and that silken tendrils would flirt with the full breasts held so primly covered by her sensible dress. He imagined nipples as lush as baby-pink fruit, cool on his tongue.
When she turned cat-slanted, amber eyes his way, and their gazes locked, he knew he was lost, though he knew not why. She was exotically pretty, yes. A book lover, obviously. And, those eyes were mesmerizing, true. But, what set her apart from other pretty girls who liked books? Would something justify the violent lust burning through his body as he watched her?
“Forgive me, Miss. I didn’t hear you come in,” Finn lied, wiping dusty hands on the white smock worn to protect his clothing while handling the books. He rounded the corner, and came face to face with the woman he found so inexplicably arousing.
She was a tiny thing, barely reaching his shoulders. Her hands trembled as she hastily tugged her gloves back onto her fingers. “And, I did not see you, Sir. Quite all right.” Her voice was soft, and held a slight quiver.
“May I help you find something? Dickens, Browning, Brontë?”
“No, thank you. Might I just explore?”
“Absolutely. Please, take all the time you would like.” Finn escaped, sidestepping away from her, quickly past mystery and science, back to where the crate of books waited to be sorted and shelved.
Good god! What was wrong with him? His breath was ragged. His heart pounded, and his cock had been stiff from the moment she had walked into the bookstore.