Wanted:Mail-Order Mistress(7)

By: Deborah Hale

The nerve of the man, to talk as if she were a naughty child!

Before she could summon her voice to protest, Wilson spoke up. “Are you all right, Bethan? Nobody hurt you, did they?”

“I’m only a bit shaken.” A shiver went through her as she glanced across the river to see the crowd breaking up. “I’m safe and sound now, thanks to all of you and Mister…Mister…?”

Much as she resented his high-handed manner and gruff rebuke, Bethan could not deny she owed the man her gratitude. Wilson and the others could never have got her out of such a dangerous scrape on their own.

Abruptly letting go of her arm, the stranger bobbed a curt bow. “Simon Grimshaw, of course. What other man in Singapore would have reason to storm into Chinatown and pluck you from the mercy of an angry mob?”

Bethan’s mouth fell open. Why had she never thought her rescuer might be her intended husband? Perhaps because she’d never pictured him so young and fine looking. That was two of her three worries well scotched. She wished she could say the same of his temper.

“Why are you staring like that?” Simon snapped at Bethan as he ushered the five young people into his warehouse. Her expression reminded him of a freshly gutted jackfish in the wet market—eyes wide and mouth hanging open. “I suppose I am not what you expected.”

She shook her head slowly. “Nothing like it.”

Had she been daft enough to imagine her keeper would be a handsome young buck? Perhaps. After all, she’d been daft enough to pursue a thief into the back alleys of Chinatown.

“Well, you are not what I expected either,” he snapped, vexed with himself for giving a damn what she thought of him. “But there’s no help for it. I reckon that’s what comes of making such arrangements by proxy.”

Her dazed stare changed to a look of bewilderment, as if he’d slipped back into Cantonese. “Speaking of my proxy, where the devil is Hadrian Northmore? I’m told you have a letter from him. I hope it will explain what’s going on.”

“Er…yes.” Bethan rummaged through a reticule that hung from her elbow. “Mr Northmore told me to give it to you.”

Simon eyed her reticule with suspicion. “I thought you said one of the coolies stole that from you.”

“Not this.” She fished out a sealed packet of paper and offered it to him gingerly, as if she did not want her hand to brush his. “A silver locket I’ve had for a long time that means a great deal to me.”

Seizing the letter from her, Simon broke the seal and unfolded the paper. He wondered why a thief would have taken the locket but ignored her reticule. And how had the fellow managed to get her locket? The easiest way would be to yank it off her neck, breaking the chain. But that would have left marks and her lovely neck did not bear the smallest nick or bruise.

While a brief inspection of that fair flesh made Simon’s breath quicken, it also made the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. Was she lying to him already, over something so trivial? His earlier misgivings about taking her as his mistress redoubled, even though the prospect stirred all his senses to a keen pitch.

An awkward silence followed while he read Hadrian’s letter and digested the news. It seemed he would remain in sole charge of the company’s Singapore branch for the foreseeable future. Though he welcomed the challenge, Simon didn’t like being ambushed by this abrupt change of plans. That included taking on four new workers, none of whom impressed him a great deal at the moment. Not to mention a prospective mistress who provoked as much doubt as desire.

While he scanned the last few sentences of Hadrian’s letter, one of the boys addressed Bethan. “I’m sorry we didn’t take better care to keep you an eye on you, lass.”

“As well you should be.” Simon stuffed the letter into his pocket. “My partner confirms that he has promised you all employment. Considering how poorly you looked after Miss Conway, I shall be reluctant to trust you with much responsibility.”

He’d learned Bethan’s full name from the letter, which also confirmed she was the woman Hadrian had hired to be his mistress. But it was already too late for Simon to think of her except by her given name.

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