About the book
"You've become my gravity. I'll never be free of your force."
As the niece of an old apothecary, Miss Verona Raycraft has led a quiet, reserved life caring for the shop and her ailing uncle. A life that is turned upside down when the most infuriating, brash Marquess she has ever met walks through the door.
In search of a medicine man close to the family estate to monitor his father's failing health, Abraham McCochran, Marquess of Wilton, thinks he's lucky when he learns of one such man. Only to find a very beautiful, very opinionated woman.
As Verona and Abraham slowly bridge the gap between them, whispers start floating around the manor. Whispers about an old incident everyone seems too afraid to speak of or name. An incident that unknowingly to her, marked Verona's whole existence. And nothing is over yet.
There was only one place in the entire world where Verona Raycraft felt at home, and that was her uncle’s apothecary shop. The sign just above the entrance door bore the familiar apothecary rose and her uncle’s name: Henry Raycraft, Apothecary. It had recently been painted anew, and now stood proudly promoting her family’s business. Well, the only family she had left.
Verona looked about, as if she herself were a customer, gazing in awe at all the apothecary jars containing ready-made remedies and syrups, and knobbed drawers, which concealed roots and seeds and dried leaves. Mortars and pestles stood in order of their size, cleaned and ready for their next use. Even though she had seen them countless times, water jars with leeches would always make her stop and stare.
The shop was busy. That was partly why Verona’s uncle started retreating into the shadows of the business. His age and health, which had been growing weaker and weaker with each passing year, were not allowing him the privilege of being on his feet all day long and serving neighbors and people of the village. Now, Verona had taken over the apothecary completely, with Henry occasionally visiting the shop for the sake of the good old days.
On this particular morning, Verona found herself at the front counter, leaning over Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Her uncle’s apothecary library was quite vast, and she had already read all of those books at least once. However, occasionally, they would obtain a new book, and any new book signified new knowledge, which might be of service.
Verona’s gaze was lowered, and she had been so immersed in the book that she barely heard the door open. If it weren’t for the bell, she would not have heard it at all.
She watched as a man entered, lean and dressed in the latest fashion. His face had been hidden by his hat, which he only took off upon approaching her. The intense green of his eyes immediately struck her, as he widened his lips into a smile.
“Good day,” he greeted her cordially, as his eyes intriguingly flashed over the book she had been reading, then back at her, with equal inquisitiveness. “You must be Miss Raycraft.”
“Indeed, I am,” she nodded, not the slightest bit surprised at this man knowing her name. After all, it was written up there on the sign. “How may I help you?”
One glance ascertained that he was not a member of their usual clientele. Men such as himself preferred to procure the services of larger apothecaries in London or of physicians themselves. He had the aura of noble birth, that indifferent wave of the hand which could never be learned. One could only be born with it. She wondered if the man was merely lost and wandered in here in search of directions.
“You could be so kind as to let your uncle know that Abraham McCochran, Marquess of Wilton, is here and needs to see him on an urgent matter,” he spoke cockily, his Roman nose raised up, his chin aimed upward.
Verona frowned. It was obvious that this man was of noble birth. Those clothes could never keep it a secret and neither could his bearing. Did he really need to accentuate it in this manner and make it even more apparent? His title would not buy him any special treatment, he could be certain of that. If he wasn’t, she would be happy to show him otherwise.
Moreover, did he need to state it as if her uncle was expected to immediately stop doing whatever it was he was doing to come and serve this man, just because he said so? It was absolutely outrageous.
“While I truly would like to oblige you, Lord McCochran, I’m afraid that simply isn’t possible,” she replied, making sure to accentuate his name more than any other word.
A part of her congratulated herself on this little victory. After all, who did he think he was, prancing in here, demanding her uncle’s presence, as if he were the King himself?
“Excuse me?” he frowned at her response, which was anything but welcoming and typical of a local village shop. He seemed not to have heard her well, but she could see that note of amusement on his face, mixed with just a little bit of disbelief.
“I said, that isn’t possible,” she repeated equally calmly, unable to hide a little smirk. A triumphant one, at that.
“And why is that?” He lifted his eyebrow as he spoke.
“For the simple reason that my uncle isn’t here,” she explained, as if her hands were tied.
She could serve him just as well as her uncle, only now she was rather reluctant to do so. If he needed any remedy or medicine, let him go to London, where they would probably kiss his feet. She would certainly do no such thing.
“And who, pray, is running the apothecary?” His brows furrowed, stunned that the man he came in search of was not here, where he was obviously expected to be.
If she didn’t know any better, Verona would think that she had suddenly turned invisible. Who indeed was running the apothecary? The question made her smirk again, but she managed to stifle the need for it. Despite all, she did not wish to come off as impolite. Factual, but not impolite. A bad reputation had a tendency to spread like wildfire, and their business certainly had no need for it.
“Why, I am, of course.”
Another victory for Verona. She could see it in the stifled shock in his eyes, in the way his lips trembled. Maybe he wanted to cry out in shock or laugh—she couldn’t tell.
“I didn’t know that a woman could be an apothecary—perhaps only an apothecary’s assistant,” he continued, his every word grinding against her skin uncomfortably, like a hairbrush pushed against the direction of hair growth.
She managed to control her irritation under the guise of a sigh. Evidently, this man was assuming that she was incapable of running her family’s business simply because she did not wear a pair of trousers, but rather a skirt. How utterly absurd and small-minded.
“Why don’t you just tell me what it is you need?” she repeated, at first aiming for a sharp retort, but then immediately changing her mind, still aiming for that factual politeness.
“I need to speak to your uncle.”
That same unpleasant grinding against her ears, and this time, against her nerves as well.
“My uncle has retired, so I’m afraid that you shall need to speak to me about any medicinal requirements, lest you wish to choose another apothecary which you are, of course, welcome to do.”
The moment she gave him her answer, her eyes darted for the door.
You are free to leave. If anything, you would be doing us both a favor.
The man before her seemed to hesitate. He was stunned, in disbelief at what he’d just heard, and surely, the way it was spoken. Verona was certain that a man such as himself never had a woman speak to him in such a manner. He didn’t know one thing, and that was that Verona had lost everything worth losing in life. That lack of any fear had made her into a person who refused to allow anyone to make her feel less than she was. This man had entered her uncle’s shop with an aura of being more, being better. In Verona’s eyes, sick people were all the same, with equal rights to healing.
Then, without a word of opposition to anything she had said, he reached into his coat pocket, extracting a note.
“This is a matter of great urgency. These are the orders written by my father’s personal physician,” he explained, sliding the note across the hardwood countertop to her.
She took the piece of paper, making sure not to graze his fingers with her own as she did so. His looked fine and soft, as if they barely lifted anything heavier than a piece of paper. Not that she would have expected him to.
“We already have a ready-made batch of Royal English Drops,” she took on a professional tone as she spoke, seeing him as merely another customer. She had chosen to disregard his initial comment and not dwell on it any longer. “As for this powder here,” she tapped the final line, “I would need to compound it.”
“How long will it take?” he wondered, not sounding displeased or annoyed. Merely curious.
“Not more than fifteen minutes,” she explained.
“Are you familiar with the correct proportions of the necessary ingredients?” he asked, and Verona caught herself grinding her teeth.
Was he himself an apothecary? If he were, why didn’t he make it then?
“Yes,” she spoke perfectly calmly, not allowing the irritation storm to pierce through the veil of serenity on her face. “My uncle has taught me from an early age, all he knows and I assure you that I am perfectly capable and knowledgeable enough to dispense any prescriptions people bring here.”
“I shall wait,” he chose not to offer a retort, and before she offered a brisk walk around the street, he seated himself on a little bench by the shop window, with his left leg crossed over the right one.
His eyes dared her to say something, anything. But Verona didn’t think it would be a good idea to speak her mind once more. It might cost her more dearly this time, so she made sure to bite her tongue, and briskly turn around, disappearing into the room which served a twofold purpose. It was a stillroom and kitchen, and right before she slid through the doorway, she could feel the heat of his gaze burning through the backside of her gown.
Once surrounded by copper pipes which were frequently heated for distillation of necessary ingredients, Verona was at ease, although her heart still acknowledged that discourteous man’s presence in the shop. She couldn’t forget he was there, even if she wanted to. She quickly took the nearest mortar and pestle and set about making the necessary concoction.
It took her exactly thirteen minutes to bring it to a conclusion. She corked the little jar carefully, writing the required name on it. She quickly inspected it, just to be certain that she had done everything according to the rules. Usually, she would check twice. This time, however, something told her she ought to check it a third time.
Taking a deep breath, she walked back out. Seeing her, the man rose, and approached the front counter. She placed a small glass bottle of the Royal Drops and the jar on the polished surface that separated them, then withdrew, as if his invasion of her personal space was the worst thing that could befall her. In a way, it was.
“Here you are,” she said, still with that aura of competence and courtesy that was required of her as someone in business with people.
“Thank you,” he said, surprising her with the kindness of his tone.
For a moment, she thought she was wrong about him. Perhaps she had jumped to conclusions. Only, Verona had always been a good judge of character and was not prone to making such mistakes. Indeed, his face was certainly most handsome. It was such a shame that he did not possess the necessary manners to go along with it.
“That will be—”
He interrupted her by placing the money on the counter. Then, with a swift nod of the head, he rushed out, ringing that bell once more, and within mere seconds, another chime sounded the entrance of a dark-haired woman, dressed in a crimson cloak. Verona immediately recognized her.
“Good morning, Susannah, a bottle of rosewater?” She welcomed the distraction of a new customer.
“Why, yes, dear Verona,” Susannah, whose husband had been a longtime friend of her uncle’s, replied. “I’m afraid I’ve run out.”
“Not to worry,” Verona smiled. “We haven’t.”
A quick exchange ensued, and then Verona heard the bell chime again. Only this time, it left her in silence. Silence, but never unease. This apothecary shop had been her home for over fifteen years, ever since…
Verona swallowed heavily in an effort to prevent an onslaught of memories washing over her that were precious, but painful. In an effort to busy herself, she went into the back once more, and started measuring ingredients. A batch of rosemary and honey linctus was set to boil. Verona welcomed the sticky sweet scent that spread all around her.
All of a sudden, she remembered that man once more. That rebellious lingering smile. Those piercing eyes. The way he spoke to her. The insolence. The utter impropriety. The sheer delight. She could sense that would not be the last time their paths crossed.
“What have you bought, Uncle?” Verona rushed over to him to help, as he burst in through the door, carrying a large box in his hands. Together, they placed the large, lavender-colored box right on the counter.
“Oh, merely some herbs, new jars, that sort of thing,” he explained. It was only then that she had noticed his face was etched with worry.
His usual countenance was cheerful. Even when he was concerned about something, he made sure to hide it from her. She appreciated it, but at the same time, she didn’t want him to think she was that fragile, especially now that he was aging. She wanted him to know that he could rely on her, for whatever he needed.
“Is everything all right, Uncle?” Verona inquired, feeling somewhat anxious.
Her uncle had always been a man who found it difficult to explain his feelings in words. Instead, he would show it through his actions. He patted his hands together, as if endeavoring to rid himself of some imaginary flour that had been stuck on his palms. Then, he walked up to the window, proceeding to stare down the street at passers-by.
“You look like your dear parents so very much, Verona,” he said out of the blue. “Sometimes, when I listen to the sound of your voice, I feel like your mother is talking, and she is still with us. When I look into your eyes, I see my brother in there, staring back at me.”
Talking about her parents was never an easy feat for Verona. Yet conversation kept their memory alive. It helped her to remember the good times, not only the pain that their absence had left.
“I feel like they haven’t left us at all,” Verona tried to smile, but it was more for his sake than for hers.
This was not the kind of conversation they would usually have, bent over the front counter of the apothecary. This was a private conversation, reserved for the comfort of their home. She could tell there was something her uncle had been meaning to share with her.
“But they did leave us,” he reminded her, as if a reminder of that was necessary. Abruptly, he turned to face her once again. “Sometimes, especially as of late, I feel as if I’ve been selfish.”
“Selfish?” she grimaced. “What do you mean, Uncle?”
“Taking you in after the death of your parents was something I never even pondered. It was merely as it should be. Now, I fear that by keeping you so close to me all these years, I have somehow done you a disservice.”
“I still don’t understand,” Verona shook her head, feeling somewhat puzzled by this unexpected conclusion on part of her uncle. He had been anything but selfish in his actions towards her. In fact, it was she who felt that she had somehow imposed herself onto his life, and he had to focus on her more than on himself.
“I watch you in this apothecary every day—”
“And, I assure you, Uncle, that it is exactly where I wish to be,” she interrupted him, sensing the direction in which his words were headed.
“Your mind, dear Verona, never ceases to amaze me,” he continued. “You’ve learned our craft so easily, as if you had been born with it. Your Latin is better than a learned man’s, for which you should be very proud. I know I am.”
“I feel that there is something hiding underneath that ripple of praise,” she concluded expertly.
“One could never lead you gently towards a conclusion,” he chuckled. “You always led yourself there first. Ah, Verona, you are more like my brother than you’ll ever know.”
The unexpected mention of her father once again made her heart clench painfully inside her chest.
“What I wished to say, with this overly long introduction, was merely that I feel guilty for keeping you away from the life you were destined to lead. A life with a family, married, with children to bring us both happiness and good cheer.”
Verona felt caught off guard by this. Her silence spoke more than her words ever could. Up to a certain point, he spoke the truth. There was no going around it. Verona would watch as her best friends got married and had children. She watched them grow round, then with sweet babes in their arms, one after the other. Only her own arms remained empty year after year.
She was still considered young—well, not overly so, but she was not considered past her prime. Not a spinster, but not quite in her best years. Most of her life, she felt lost in some kind of a limbo. As a child without parents, and now, as a woman without men to court her.
Deep down, Verona believed she still had enough time to make her choice of a good husband, once she unlocked the mystery that had been following her ever since the death of her parents, like a shadow she could never hide from.
“Now, seeing I am your father figure, it is my duty to find a good husband for you, and I admit, I haven’t been doing a very good job of it so far, but I promise—”
“Uncle, I assure you that I am perfectly content where I am, tending to you, and the apothecary, and…” her thoughts trailed off.
She knew exactly what her uncle would say to her mentioning the accident. However, unlike him, and the rest of the world for that matter, she could not let it go. She could not leave it in the past where it very well ought to have been left. For her, the pain and anguish were as fresh as if the accident itself had happened merely months ago, not years.
“You can’t keep living in the past, my dear,” he reminded her tenderly. “Life is to be led in the present.”
“Do not tell me you believe the official account, Uncle?” she asked him, incredulous, although she knew exactly what he would say. They had had this conversation one too many times not to.
“You know I don’t, but…”
Even though she had been only a child of eleven, Verona remembered the nighttime visit of the constables. She remembered their solemn faces when they came to announce the death of her parents, and with them, the death of the life Verona had known until that moment.
A broken wheel. That was all it took to snatch two loving parents from the arms of a girl who still desperately needed them.
Her uncle had taken her in immediately, and during one of those sleepless nights when Verona knew that nothing but nightmares would plague her dreams, she got up and sneaked into her uncle’s study. She found the report the constables were willing to share with the family. One thing she read in it would continue to plague her for years to come. That broken wheel had the telltale signs of a saw’s jagged teeth.
Even the mind of a child understood what that meant. Her parents’ untimely death was not an accident, no matter how often the constables would repeat it, and despite the painful fact that no arrest was ever made.
Just an unfortunate accident.
She had heard that statement more times in her life than she could count. Enough times so that the phrase had become etched inside her child’s mind and heart. But not enough times to make it true.
“You are too young to let heartache run your life,” her uncle repeated more than once. “Your parents wouldn’t want you to become obsessed with their death. They would want you to focus on your own life.”
“This is my life,” Verona had replied, already having come to terms with this fact. She doubted she could possess an identity that was devoid of that essential part of her being—the mysterious death of her parents.
Finding out the truth was what kept her going, even as a little girl, to whom the world seemed like such a frightful place, without the loving care of her parents. Certainly, her uncle had done his best, and she would never be able to repay his kindness and love. However, her identity lay with her parents and with whoever was responsible for their death.
Her uncle sighed heavily to himself. Verona had always been a stubborn girl. She inherited that from his side of the family. Uncle Henry and his brother, William, would always make sure to get whatever it was they wanted, and Henry could see that exact same trait in his niece.
“You worry too much, Uncle,” Verona was the first to shift their conversation towards a new direction. “You know your health won’t allow it. And, honestly, neither will I.”
Her uncle chuckled. “After all those years taking care of you, I never believed the day would come when the roles would be reversed.”
“You just dislike the fact that you can’t do whatever you wish any longer,” Verona reminded him, and they both laughed.
Immediately, the bleak cloud of mystery had dispersed, and the apothecary of her uncle was once again a warm place filled with the safety of childhood memories and dreams. It was exactly this feeling of safety which allowed her to be bold and ask a question that had been weighing on her heart for the last hour or so.
“Uncle?” she started off inquisitively, and he immediately raised an eyebrow, his box once again in his hands, as he headed towards the stillroom with it. “Do you perhaps know the Duke of Barkenburgh?”
Verona slyly remembered the name on the prescription, and purposefully chose to inquire about him, and not the man who had visited their shop. However, the moment she mentioned that name, her uncle almost dropped the box, only managing to regain balance with it in the last minute.
“Uncle, are you all right?” Verona rushed over to help, but her uncle seemed fine. Only a few deeply set lines on his forehead revealed that for some reason, he did not like her question.
“Why would you ask me about that man?” he asked, his voice stern, but with obvious effort to suppress it.
“Because his son visited our shop this morning,” Verona replied, slightly shaken at such a reaction. She had clearly struck a nerve, and her uncle did not like it one bit. Now, her curiosity was piqued. “He brought a prescription for a batch of Royal English Drops and a specially made powder.”
“Did you serve him?” he wondered.
“Naturally,” Verona frowned. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t have?”
“No, no,” he shook his head quickly. A little too quickly.
“Of course not,” he replied, even more hastily this time. “Anyone who comes to our shop is welcome to what they need.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you know that man?” Verona asked.
“Perchance, I have met that man once or twice before,” he shrugged, in a vain effort to make it seem that the man’s name was unimportant. “I am an old man, Verona, my memory isn’t what it used to be. I was merely surprised that he would send anyone to a local apothecary, for the mere reason that the Duke would send for a physician.”
“Indeed, the prescription was written by Doctor Sullivan.”
“Once again, I am surprised that they would not procure services of an apothecary in London.”
“Why would they, if we’re closer?” Verona queried.
Her uncle sighed, showing obvious displeasure at prolonging this conversation.
“Such people deem themselves better than the rest of us commoners,” he explained as best as he could, although she understood exactly what he was referring to. “A local apothecary usually isn’t good enough for the likes of them. But, you see, sickness chooses not. A rich man or a poor man, they ail in the same manner, and for us, that is all that matters.”
“Of course,” Verona nodded, still wondering why the mention of that man’s name shook her uncle so much. It was apparent that he was unwilling to divulge his reasons, and she respected him enough not to force it out of him.
“Now, why don’t you help me with these in the stillroom?” he smiled, and once more, Verona all but forgot about the handsome Marquess who had challenged her skill and expertise.
“I’d love to,” she smiled back, beaming at every opportunity to mix potions and brews, creams and lotions. Any work with her hands provided her with a serenity of the mind.
Yet, this time, it was more difficult to achieve. Those deep green eyes would come back to haunt her, reminding her of a song she believed she had never heard before. Her uncle’s reaction marred the memory of the man. What could have been the cause of it?
She would leave it for the time being, she decided. But her heart assured her that was not the end of the story. Perhaps, it was only the beginning.
Abraham found himself in the streets, leaving his carriage a little further away from the apothecary that had caught his attention. In all honesty, it was not the shop itself. It was the woman inside the shop, whose notions of the world seemed to be in stark contrast with everyone else, which made her so worthy of interest.
He pushed the door open with poise, striding in, his hand in his pocket, to make sure that he hadn’t forgotten the prescription. Truth be told, his initial plan was quite different. He was not all that keen on making such a trip twice in one week, which was why he thought he would simply ask for enough medicine to last for at least two weeks, hopefully more.
Only, plans were meant to be broken, something Abraham himself wasn’t fond of. He had forgiven himself the audacity of this imposition, and agreed to visit Miss Raycraft’s apothecary once more, just to see her cheeks flare up at the insinuation that she was not a real apothecary but could be considered merely an assistant.
The bell chimed softly, but it was an unnecessary sound. The object of his curiosity was leaning over the counter, her attention once more buried inside a book. A part of him wished he were more silent, so he could admire those fine porcelain features of her face, but the moment she heard the bell, she lifted her gaze to meet his.
“Miss Raycraft,” he greeted her first.
The initial response was indifferent politeness, but a second later, when she realized that he had been there once before, indifference was substituted by a sudden flaring up of the cheeks. Barely perceptible, but Abraham was quite knowledgeable in the skill of making ladies blush. Sometimes, it was due to no effort of his. It was merely his persona.
“Lord McCochran,” she greeted him back gravely, closing the book. “Is anything the matter?”
“Why would it be?” he smiled.
“With the drops and the powder, I mean,” she explained, frowning a little. “Were you not here a mere day ago?”
He certainly was. He knew it. She knew it, too. She obviously wanted it to seem as if she herself wasn’t sure of it, but he could see through her ruse. Indifference was not a trait bestowed upon her. She tended to lean to either side of the extreme, but never indifference.
“Everything is absolutely perfect,” he nodded, in a low voice, sounding as casual as he could. “In fact, that is the reason I am here. I shall need some more of those same drops and powder.”
She gave him a wondering look, as if she herself was trying to figure out if there was some secretive reasoning behind his arrival. It amused him more than he believed it would to see those eyes travel all over his face, only to lock with his boldly once more.
“Oh, I see what’s going on here,” she tilted her head a little, so that a few stray curls fell over her forehead.
“You do?” His grin revealed more of his perfect teeth this time. He tried to fight it, but he couldn’t stop staring at her, his eyes burning into hers. It seemed that neither of them could look away.
“Absolutely,” she nodded. “You doubted my skills, so you wished for only a single dosage. Now that I have proven myself worthy of being called an apothecary, you came back.”
“I do believe what the original remedy lacked was a woman’s touch, you see,” he teased.
“And yet, you claimed not to know that women could be apothecaries,” she pouted her lovely lips, as his stare moved lower to them.
“Technically, I do believe that your uncle is doing you a favor by allowing you to—”
“Me being here is no favor to anyone,” she growled, while he merely grinned. “I am here behind this counter because of my skills and knowledge. Now, if you still think me unsuitable to mix a simple concoction, then you are free to obtain it elsewhere. The door is right behind you, Lord McCochran.”
It was her way to taunt him now. A flutter that started in his chest, promptly exploded inside of him. She wasn’t only smart. She was sprightly as well. Damn amusing.
“You mean to say, Miss Raycraft, you would send me back after having made such a long and arduous trip to get here?”
“I am not refusing to serve you,” she corrected him, her delicate fingers now drumming against the hardcovers of the book that lay closed in front of her. “I am merely informing you of your choices.”
“I do enjoy choices,” he chuckled.
“In that case, have you reached one?” she pouted again. “I haven’t got all day.”
“An intelligent woman like yourself does not, I’m certain,” he nodded, still with that roguish grin. “However, now that I am here, I would like to obtain what I came for.”
“Then, please give me the prescription,” she continued politely, although he could see irritation blossoming just underneath that milky white skin.
“Certainly,” he replied, as his hand dived into his coat pocket, extracting what she asked for. Then, he slid it over to her. “And, may I add, that gown color compliments your complexion wonderfully.”
She lifted her gaze, not expecting such an obvious compliment. He wondered if she liked it. More importantly, would she acknowledge it?
“It is much easier to compliment a woman’s appearance than her mind, is it not?” The corner of her lip danced in a would-be smile, but she would not let it show. Not yet.
“My dear Miss Raycraft, I do believe I have already complimented your wit,” he reminded her.
Her lips parted, but no sound came. She was affected. Nettled to realize that he was right, and yet, she would do everything in her power to remain impervious to him. He welcomed this game, for he himself relished it.
“I would like to tell you that your mother has taught you good manners, but in all honesty, I am still wondering if it truly is so since you believe it is considered polite to pay such obvious compliments to a woman you don’t know,” she said boldly, as she pressed her open palm onto the prescription, and pulled it back to her.
The mention of his overbearing mother immediately put Abraham in a much less jovial mood than he had been in mere moments ago. A grimace marred his handsome face, and his jaw clenched. If his mother had taught him anything, it was how to hide his genuine emotions underneath a veneer of superficial courtesy.
“I shall take a seat by the window,” he announced, having lost some of his buoyant mood, but still refusing to succumb completely.
“It is a lovely day outside,” she suggested. “Perhaps Your Lordship would enjoy a brisk walk, while I finish.”
“I am perfectly fine in here, thank you very much,” he replied rebelliously, defying her offer to leave her alone to her work. He came exactly to do the opposite.
“Well, all right then,” she agreed, although with little merriment.
“The lady sounds somewhat disappointed, I fear,” he taunted her some more. “If I could be so bold to say, my company is highly coveted in some circles. I am a rather amusing fellow, if given the chance.”
“Mayhap amusing, but not very humble,” she added mockingly, fighting off yet another muscle spasm in the corner of her lip, which if left unattended would explode into a true smile. One he realized he had been yearning to see.
“Humility is for those who do not know their strengths.” She had been hiding a smile, and yet, he could not stifle his own grin.
“Well, I am fortunate then that I do know mine,” she waved his prescription in front of his face victoriously. “I shall make you a larger batch this time, to save you the trip. So it might take me a little longer.”
He did his best to hide his disappointment. He had already planned to come see her again, and soon. She, on the other hand, wished to save him the trip. Should he consider her thoughtful or merely disinterested in their banter? For now, he opted for the former.
“That’s all right,” he nodded. “I prefer to wait.”
He watched her disappear into the back room, over which stood a little wooden sign that said Stillroom. It had no doors, only a little curtain, which she pulled the moment she entered. A little sigh of disappointment escaped him.
In all honesty, Abraham had never preferred to wait. He had been taught, from an early age, that he would be waited upon, simply owing to the fortunate circumstances of his birth. Eventually, with the slight and never-ending prodding of his mother, he had come to believe it to be true.
Abraham turned his back to the window, preferring instead to focus on what he could not see. The weather had indeed been lovely, as Miss Raycraft had mentioned. But it was not the weather he had come out for on this particular morning. So he continued to sit calmly, like a domesticated beast, waiting for her arrival.
Eventually, his patience was rewarded. She appeared suddenly, as if she had materialized out of thin air, with two jars in her delicate hands. He supposed she would walk around the counter, and walk over to him, but she did no such thing. She remained on her side of the room, as if the separation of the counter allowed her some sense of decency.
He stood up and did the required walking himself. Then, he leaned onto the counter. His green gaze swept across her face which was still slightly flushed. It suited her marvelously. Just a dash of poppy red with those gracefully pale porcelain cheeks.
“Here is what you require, Lord McCochran.” Even her voice was beautiful, washing over his ears like fine silk. Abraham knew that there was more to his interest than merely her wit, which was, truth be told, quite impressive.
It was something else, something which drew him to her with inexplicable force, and he knew he would be returning shortly, despite her efforts at preventing him from doing so.
“Thank you, Miss Raycraft,” he smiled. “Oh, and I find all that lord business far too formal. Why don’t you refer to me simply as Abraham?”
“That would infer we are friends,” she had her guard up all the while with him. He guessed she was like that with every man who wished to pique her interest. Although, surely not many had succeeded in that endeavor.
“Are we not?”
“Pardon my bluntness, but no.” The way she brushed him off so casually only managed to make him more eager to learn more about her. “We are in a professional arrangement, which ends the moment you walk out that door behind you, which I suppose shall be pretty soon.”
“And what if I decide to remain here for another hour or so?”
Finding out what made her cheeks blush even more fervently than this would, indeed, be an hour well spent.
“Why would you?” She finally allowed herself a chuckle, and Abraham knew that he finally received what he had come here for. “This is not a waiting room of any sort.”
“Perhaps I enjoy the smell of herbs and powders in the air,” he waved his fingers theatrically.
“Then I shall provide you with some, courtesy of us, naturally, and have you off on your merry way,” she said, with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. “We are a very busy apothecary, you see. I cannot have my customers just lollygagging about in the shop.”
“Yes, you certainly cannot,” he nodded, on the verge of bursting out into boisterous laughter, but managing to refrain from doing so.
At that moment, he reached into his pocket, and placed a few shiny coins on the counter. She frowned.
“That is twice the amount of the asking price for the drops and the powder,” she noticed, hesitating to accept the money. He knew of apothecaries who wouldn’t even mention it. They would merely pocket the money that was being given. She chose to speak up about it. Admirable.
“I am in the habit of rewarding work I am satisfied with,” he explained, shrugging.
She was obviously weighing it inside her mind, trying to figure out if this was some sort of a trap. It amused him to watch her analyze him and his actions. It meant that he had intrigued her as much as she had intrigued him. Quickly, he acted before she would be given the chance to refuse his generosity.
“Thank you very much for your service,” he added, before she could say anything. “I bid you a good day… Verona.”
He left her with the resounding sound of her own name, then closed the door behind him, with that satisfying chime of the bell above the door. He walked with a spring in his step, but it disappeared the moment he reached his carriage and opened the door to enter.
Certainly, Verona had been the sun to his days this entire week. And Heaven knew that he was in dire need of it, for back at the mansion, a storm seemed to be brewing.
Reluctantly, he gestured to the driver to head on home.
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