Authors: Mia Shales
K A T E
A Universal Truth
Mia Shales is a Pen Name
of author Michele Shalev
Copyright © Michele Shalev, 2015
All rights reserved
Sundown Publishing – A Wish for Love Series
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Do not duplicate, copy, photograph, record, store in a database, transmit or merge via any electronic, optic, mechanical or other means – any part to the material from this book. Any type of commercial use of the material included in this book is absolutely forbidden without the author's explicit written permission.
Another great book by Mia Shales
Kate leaned on the tall ladder in Mr. Mallory’s store. On each yellowing page of the antique book she held were several straight, orderly rows, beautifully handwritten in black ink. Her long tapering fingers turned the pages with the utmost care as she examined the volume attentively.
Mr. Mallory’s bookstore was Kate’s favorite haunt in Oxford. Four large halls were completely covered, from floor to high ceiling, with thousands of old and new books.
rugs covered the floor and comfortable, time-worn armchairs graced each room where Kate, finding calm and serenity, could imagine realms far more romantic and exotic than the humdrum world.
Raising her head she saw Emma talking earnestly to Mr. Mallory at the front of the store. She lowered the book and studied them. Pale blond curls tumbled softly about her older sister's attractive features, a small upturned nose and angelic blue eyes reflected her sweet, appealing nature and generous heart. Mr. Mallory was eighty with a shock of white hair and a bushy mustache of the same color. Never without frameless round spectacles balanced precariously at the edge of his nose, he reminded Kate of Geppetto, Pinocchio's father, and she smiled to herself as he waved his arms about with great enthusiasm while explaining something to Emma. Yes, at times he looked exactly like the wood-carver. She turned her attention once again to the book and tried to concentrate on reading.
The entrance bell chimed and Kate again lifted her head. Despite the distance it was easy for her to see that the two men who entered the store and faced Mr. Mallory and Emma were extremely good-looking. One had even, genial and open features framed by smooth fair hair, fashionably styled. He was the first and, Kate was quick to note, the only one who greeted her sister and Mr. Mallory. She also noted the smile that spread across Emma's face as he said something Kate couldn't hear.
The second was the handsomest man Kate had ever seen. He was tall and athletic with short brown hair. In comparison with his friend's light skin, and despite the fact that the brown of his hair was mixed with strands of gold, he had a somewhat dark complexion. Under the short leather coat his shoulders were broad and Kate's eyes slid involuntarily to his strong narrow hips and the muscular legs in dark pants. The distance between them prevented her from seeing his eyes clearly and she suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to determine their color. Her eyes followed his straight nose and the sensual curve of his closed lips. Without a doubt, he was a very impressive man.
The fair man's lips continued to move as Emma and Mr. Mallory turned to look with interest at his darker companion. He still did not smile, nor had he said a word since entering the bookstore. Kate judged the two men to be about thirty. They did not look like lecturers at any of the local colleges. Clearly they were strangers in town, probably tourists looking for reading material on Oxford.
She waited curiously to see when the silent man would say something. He stuck his hands into his pockets and stood at ease. He was enveloped by an aura of concentrated power. Kate could feel the strength and self-confidence radiating from him, extending throughout the room, encircling her and arousing her senses. His posture was languid, hinting at indifference and arrogance. He’s simply bored, she decided. Speak up, she thought, say something.
Just then he turned and looked directly at her. Kate blushed and quickly lowered her head, trying to appear immersed in the book. It was clear to her that this man was very conscious of his strength and also, she had no doubt, of his effect on women. Kate was suddenly discomfited by her disheveled appearance. Brown pants several sizes too large held up at her hips by a belt and an enormous old sweater that blurred the outlines of her graceful slim figure. But worst of all was the worn rain hat that completely covered her silky brown hair and hid most of her face. It was too late to remove the hat. He might think the gesture was meant for him and there was no way Kate was ready to contribute to puffing up his ego. His or that of any other man! Her life without a man, and thus in her opinion without heartbreak or pain, was quite satisfactory. She stole another look at the small group. He still had not said a word. Conceited, she thought, her opinion crystallizing. He was arrogant, haughty and insensitive, the last man on earth with whom she would want to have a friendly, much less an intimate, not to speak of a loving, relationship. Kate felt the heat spread to her cheeks. What on earth was she thinking of?
She tried to appear surprised when she heard her name as the four advanced towards her, Mr. Mallory in the lead, followed by Emma who was talking to the fair man while the darker man, his hands still in his pockets, brought up the rear.
“Mr. John Bayhem, Mr. Matthew Camedon, let me introduce you to Emma's sister Dr. Kate Evans,” Mr. Mallory followed protocol when making the introductions.
Kate looked at them from beneath the wide brim of her hat. The blond man was John Bayhem and the other, Matthew Camedon.
“How can I help these gentlemen, Mr. Mallory?” She asked.
Mr. Mallory cleared his throat.
“Mr. Bayhem claims with all due caution and modesty that a complete and finished novel from the year eighteen hundred and five, in the original handwriting of none other than our friend Miss Jane Austen has fallen into his hands.”
A quick glance at Mr. Mallory revealed a distinct glint of humor in his eyes.
Mr. Mallory resembled nothing more than a kind and jolly bear, but Kate well knew that behind the rumpled exterior lay an unusual personality. His bookstore was famous throughout Britain. His wisdom, his learning and his reputation had spread far. He was one of the most important authorities in England, indeed in all English speaking countries, of original manuscripts of eighteenth and nineteenth century British writers and poets. Over the years he had assembled a remarkable collection of rare manuscripts, as well as first editions of most of the important literary figures, which enriched the shelves of his private library. The tome she held contained poems by the romantic poet William Wordsworth. Handwritten, and with illustrations by the poet, Mr. Mallory had brought in the book that morning for Kate's perusal.
Kate turned to Bayhem.
“I would say the chances are remote that the manuscript you have is an original novel by Austen but I wouldn't entirely discount the possibility. It is certainly worth a closer examination. Do you have the manuscript with you, Mr. Bayhem?”
While she was talking to John Bayhem her eyes were irresistibly drawn to Matthew Camedon who stood beside him with an inscrutable expression. His eyes were brown, a deep brown like the earth after the rain, but the brown was uneven with glints of green and yellow. His eyes made her think of a tiger stalking his prey. The bright gleam in his amazing eyes as he focused on her made it clear he was very much aware of her meticulous scrutiny of his face. She looked away. Let him think what he wanted. His opinion mattered not one whit.
“Please call me John, it will be much easier if we address each other by our first names,” said Bayhem in a friendly tone. “As for your question, the answer is no. I found the manuscript about a week ago while renovating a house I bought lately in Bath. After consulting with Matthew, whose opinions on literature I value most highly, I sought the opinion of an expert in London who was kind enough to refer me to Mr. Mallory. The manuscript is at this moment in the safe of Matthew's house where I will be spending most of the summer. Mr. Young, the London expert, advised that I refrain from handling the manuscript or exposing it to the light. As Matthew and I are in Oxford on other matters I thought we would take the opportunity to persuade Mr. Mallory to spend the weekend in Matthew's house in Northamptonshire to examine the manuscript.”
“What do you say to that, Kate?” Mr. Mallory asked with undisguised surprise. “These honorable gentlemen are asking me to leave Oxford, close the store for three whole days, and journey to Mr. Camedon's house to inspect the manuscript.”
“Your fee and all expenses will be generously covered,” Bayhem hurriedly assured him. “I’m sure you will find your stay in Matthew's house enjoyable. Bellewoodplain Manor is one of the most beautiful in England, isn't it Matthew?”
“There are those who think so,” Camedon said dryly.
Kate began to feel hostile towards the man. He didn't even try to be polite. His severe expression as well as his silence were in sharp contrast to the easygoing manner, politeness and friendliness of his friend. She ignored him and addressed Bayhem.
“Mr. Mallory can't up and leave the store and travel to Northampton without good cause, beautiful as Mr. Camedon's house may be. His health is not the best and besides, this is the last week of the semester and the start of the tourist season. Every day scores of tourists come to Oxford and Mr. Mallory's presence in the store is essential.” She spoke slowly and evenly as though explaining to a child.
Matthew Camedon finally opened his mouth. He tilted his head and looked at her coldly as he said, “I venture to say Miss Evans that it is up to Mr. Mallory to decide.”
Kate's voice was no less cool as she answered, “As you have no doubt noticed, Mr. Mallory seeks my views. My opinion counts for a great deal, Mr. Camedon.”
Kate was Mr. Mallory's protégée, the apple of his eye since she was fourteen. Her father, a close friend of Mr. Mallory for many years, had been until his retirement several years previously a professor of law at Magdalene College at Oxford. Since his retirement several years ago he rarely left the house, closeting himself in his library with his books and papers. From the time she was a teenager Mr. Mallory was partial to the daughter of his good friend the professor and encouraged her to become acquainted with the magic of the books he loved. As she matured he took an active hand in her intellectual development and under his tutelage she learned to read a vast amount of literature with a critical eye. An intelligent and spirited child she turned into a sharp-witted young woman with a broad and open-minded view of life. She showed great promise in the humanities and he enthusiastically spurred her to make the world of literature the focal point of her life. Truth to tell, Kate was easily persuaded. She developed a love of literature and especially of nineteenth century English writing. At eighteen she began her studies at Trinity College at Oxford and a year ago, at twenty-seven, she received her doctorate with honors and was accepted at the institution from which she had graduated. Twice a week she gave a course on 'The World and Works of Jane Austen', quickly becoming one of the most popular lecturers on campus.
Mr. Mallory was extremely proud of her. A childless widower, he treated Kate as the daughter he never had. Step by step he taught her all he knew about the study and examination of manuscripts and although she lacked his experience she was a quick study and over the years accumulated a great deal of invaluable knowledge.
John Bayhem stirred uncomfortably. He glanced uncertainly at Emma who smiled encouragingly in return.
“Why don't you go in my place, Kate?” asked Mr. Mallory unexpectedly and they were all, including Kate, caught off-guard.
When the first shock of surprise wore off, Kate quite enjoyed the effect of his suggestion. She leaned back on the ladder while looking at Matthew Camedon. His mouth twisted in what Kate clearly identified as a grimace of disdain. She noticed his eyes narrow as he slowly turned his gaze toward her. Excellent, she encouraged him silently, better disdain than indifference. You're getting on very well, Mr. Camedon. Neither her upbringing nor her good manners allowed her to express her thoughts out loud and she contented herself with a satisfied smile as she announced, “with pleasure.”
It was easy to assume that Camedon must be very wealthy and possibly even the scion of an aristocratic family. Northampton was a charming shire that did indeed contain some of the most beautiful houses in Britain. With the slightest of efforts she could ignore his rudeness and enjoy a very interesting weekend. She couldn't disregard the slight shiver of anticipation that spread through her body when she thought of the manuscript, even if she was aware that the chances of it being original were nil. The matter was worth examination. The author had resided in Bath for several years, her beloved father having died there in 1805. If she had indeed written a hitherto unknown novel Kate would be delighted to be the first to read it.
Despite all these excellent reasons, Kate had to admit to herself that the main reason for her speedy acceptance was the anticipation of Camedon's reaction. She waited to see if he would reject her offer outright. At least he would have to speak she thought gleefully, and she was not disappointed.
“And what, may I inquire, are Evans' qualifications that enable her to examine the manuscript and vouch for its authenticity?”
The question was addressed to Mr. Mallory and Kate repressed a smile as Mr. Mallory answered in a tone of firm assurance, a fleeting shadow across his face bearing sole witness to the deep insult he suffered at such outspoken lack of faith in his favorite's abilities.
“Dr. Evans is at this time completing a book examining the interplay of the work and character of Jane Austen. Without hesitation I can guarantee that not a single person can cast the slightest doubt as to Kate's expertise concerning the craft, style and spirit of the author. If she decides there is reason for a more thorough examination of the manuscript's authenticity, I can assure you that I shall overcome all my aches and pains and shall jump with the alacrity of a twenty year old on to the next bus bound for Northampton.”