Heroes Are My Weakness(8)By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
She heard footsteps above her and moved closer to the staircase. “Mr. Shaw? It’s Annie Hewitt. The door was open, so I let myself in.” She looked up. “I’m going to need—” The words died on her tongue.
The master of the house stood at the top of the stairs.
HE DESCENDED SLOWLY. A GOTHIC hero come to life in a pearl gray waistcoat, snowy white cravat, and dark trousers tucked into calf-hugging black leather riding boots. Hanging languidly at his side was a steel-barreled dueling pistol.
An icy finger slithered down her spine. She briefly considered the possibility that her fever had come back—or her imagination had finally shoved her over the cliff of reality. But he wasn’t a hallucination. He was all too real.
Only slowly did she tear her gaze away from the pistol, the boots, and the waistcoat to see the man himself.
In the dim gray light, his hair was raven black; his eyes a pale, imperial blue; his face chiseled and unsmiling—everything about him the embodiment of nineteenth-century haughtiness. She wanted to curtsy. To run. To tell him she didn’t really need that governess job after all.
He came to the bottom of the stairs, and that was when she saw it. The pale white scar at the corner of his eyebrow. The scar she’d given him.
Eighteen years had passed since she’d last seen him. Eighteen years of trying to bury the memories of that ugly summer.
Run! Run as fast as you can! This time it wasn’t Crumpet she heard in her head but sensible, practical Dilly.
And someone else . . .
So . . . We finally meet. Leo’s perpetual disdain was gone, replaced by awe.
Harp’s wintry, masculine beauty was a perfect match for these Gothic surroundings. He was tall, lean, and elegantly dissolute. His white cravat emphasized the dark complexion he’d inherited from his Andalusian mother, and his teenage scrawniness was a distant memory. But his air of trust fund entitlement hadn’t changed. He regarded her coldly. “What do you want?”
She’d given her name—he knew exactly who she was—but he acted as though a stranger had stepped into his house.
“I’m looking for Will Shaw,” she said, hating the slight tremor in her voice.
He stepped down onto the marble floor, which was inset with black, diamond-shaped onyx. “Shaw doesn’t work here any longer.”
“Then who’s taking care of the cottage?”
“You’d have to ask my father that.”
As if Annie could simply dial up Elliott Harp, a man who spent winters in the South of France with his third wife, a woman who couldn’t have been more different from Mariah. Her mother’s vivid personality and eccentric, gender-bending style—pipe stem trousers, white men’s shirts, beautiful scarves—had attracted half a dozen lovers as well as Elliott Harp. Marrying Mariah had been the answer to his midlife rebellion against an ultraconservative life. And Elliott had provided the sense of security Mariah had never been able to achieve for herself. They’d been doomed from the beginning.
Annie curled her toes inside her boots, ordering herself to stand her ground. “Do you know where I can find Shaw?”
His shoulder barely rose—too bored to waste energy on a real shrug. “No idea.”
The ring of a very modern cell phone intruded. Unnoticed by her, he’d been cradling a sleek black smartphone in his opposite hand—the one not caressing the dueling pistol. As he glanced at the display, she realized he was the one she’d seen last night galloping across the road with no regard for the beautiful animal he’d been riding. But then, Theo Harp had a dark history when it came to the welfare of other living creatures, animal and human.
Her nausea was back. She watched a spider creep across the dirty marble floor. He silenced the call. Through the open door behind him—the one that led to the library—she glimpsed Elliott Harp’s big mahogany desk. It looked unused. No coffee mugs, yellow pads, or reference books. If Theo Harp was working on his next book, he wasn’t doing it there.
“I heard about your mother,” he said.
Not—I was sorry to hear about your mother. But then he’d seen how Mariah had treated her daughter.