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Authors: Amara Royce

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Historical Romance

Never Too Late

BOOK: Never Too Late
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THE PLEASURE OF A KISS

“What, my lordship, have you been wondering all evening?”

“Whether your lips really do feel like rose petals or I just imagined that.”

He could see she remembered the kiss as well as he did. The hunger in her eyes was indisputable, but something battled with desire.

“You should not speak to me so.”

“I cannot seem to help myself.”

“What can you possibly be thinking?”

“I think you are unlike any woman I have ever met. You hold contrary views. You speak to me as if you are intimidated by no one. You intrigue me. Surely you would not begrudge one kiss. What harm could that do?”

She leaned down to him, whispering, “Curiosity can be fatal. I don’t know why I’m doing this.”

Then she touched her lips to his . . .

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Never Too Late

MARA ROYCE

eKENSINGTON BOOKS

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

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All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

Table of Contents

THE PLEASURE OF A KISS
BOOK YOUR PLACE ON OUR WEBSITE AND MAKE THE READING CONNECTION!
Title Page
Dedication
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-one
Chapter Twenty-two
Chapter Twenty-three
Chapter Twenty-four
Chapter Twenty-five
Chapter Twenty-six
Epilogue
About the Author
Copyright Page

To my husband

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My journey toward publication began several years ago, and many people have bolstered my every step.

To my agent, Jessica Alvarez, thank you for your tremendous enthusiasm, insight, and encouragement. To my editor, John Scognamiglio, thank you for being so easy to work with and for believing in my work.

Thank you to the wonderful members of the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum—especially to forumites Diana Gabaldon, Joanna Bourne, Beth Shope, and Kristen Callihan, all exceptional novelists and excellent teachers of the craft of writing. Very special thanks go out to forumite Barbara Rogan, also a novelist, editor, and former literary agent; I had the pleasure of taking one of her online writing courses, offered through
Writer’s Digest
. Barbara’s teaching and feedback have been tremendously helpful, and she continues to be a valuable source of encouragement and guidance. Thank you as well to past and present forumites, too numerous to name, who have helped me hone my skills and grow as a writer.

Thank you to the online writing forum at the Absolute Write Water Cooler. In particular, thank you to Absolute Write’s creator, MacAllister, for creating and maintaining such a wonderfully informative and diverse playground for writers.

To my dear friend Chris A., thank you for all you do to help me stay sane.

To my parents and my in-laws, thank you for your seemingly bottomless well of love and support and free meals.

Finally and most importantly, to my husband and my son, thank you for your love, encouragement, acceptance, love, humor, affection, love, indulgence, patience, and even more love. Thank you for knowing what I need before I do. You two are everything to me.

Chapter One

London, June 1851

 

Evans Principle 1: Customers must, at all times, be treated with civility, no matter how uncivil they may be.

 

 

I
f she hadn’t been dusting the reading nook so beloved by customers, young and old, Mrs. Honoria Duchamp, owner and proprietress of Evans Books, would not have heard the cruel comments about her from some society mum shepherding her daughter to matrimonial slaughter. Now it echoed in her mind: “Did you see that woman, Margaret? Did you? Take a close look at her and at this cramped, suffocating little shop. This is the best you can hope for if you don’t marry well. Do you think that shriveled-up mouse of a woman wanted this menial life?” The mother’s sharp voice had grown shrill toward the end of this little speech.
It just goes to show
, she thought,
nothing good can come of dusting
.

If she hadn’t been feeling particularly content right then, the comments likely would have wafted through her mind with no more impact than a falling nettle in a forest, just one more lifeless wisp. This time, though, the cruel depiction of her as a cautionary tale sliced through her equilibrium. What she’d seen as enough was seen by others as cramped and suffocating. She felt small, her ambitions lacking. It felt almost true.

“You see, Margaret”—the mother’s voice cut through the bookshelf between them, interrupting her self-reflection—“do you see why I harp on you about finding a good match?”

“Yes, Mother.” Resigned flat tone. Honoria quirked her brow. Ah, yes, all too common a conversation in the advice section. She could almost picture the young lady; they always wore pale clothes, always wore their bonnets primly, always sported pristine white gloves that meant they couldn’t actually handle any of the books themselves, for fear of muss.

An older couple approached the register to purchase a stack of periodicals so she went to take care of them. The husband, all business, made pleasantries about the weather, but the wife, her plump figure swathed in gray worsted, looked with kind eyes at Honoria and reached out to pat her left hand while she wrote out the bill of sale with her right.

“Don’t you take those careless words to heart, dearie.” The wife’s touch was gentle, warm. “My niece lost her man in a railway accident two years ago, and with two little mouths to feed yet. She’s remarried now to a kind older gentleman who wanted companionship. ’Course she’s only one-and-twenty yet.”

“Ethelyn, must you?” At the husband’s low chiding, the woman withdrew her arm. “No one needs to know your family business.”

“Oh, bother. Freddy, I’m sure the missus could do with a kind word or two. Now, dear, keep in mind you have a lovely face, regardless of your age. Don’t lose hope!”

One couldn’t lose something one never had. Honoria was quite content with her single life; she’d never hoped for a husband, at least not since taking over the family business. She deflected the conversation adroitly and professionally as she recorded the sale in the ledger. “May I interest either of you in this tract about abolition or perhaps this new commentary on art by Ruskin? Both are quite well written and informative. Here is a fascinating anonymous article on child labor.” She fanned a selection of pamphlets on the counter.

Stressful as it could be, owning a bookstore had its advantages. Aside from the financial independence, meager as it was, she was constantly surrounded by the one thing she loved. Words. Knowledge. Countless worlds and lifetimes. The eternal truths and fantasies of humanity. All bound in paper and leather and stacked two stories high. The printing press was, she was sure, the most magnificent invention of the modern world. The customers she’d inherited from her father trusted her professionalism and helped to build her clientele and her economic stability. While she could avoid participating in the social world, she couldn’t prevent it from entering her Greek Street storefront.

The husband gruffly said, “No, thank you,” as he collected his change, then gave his wife his arm as she bid a good morning and glanced back one last time, sympathetic, as they walked out. Of course, the woman meant to be comforting, but even such well-intended condescension had long since grown tiresome. She watched the two stroll blithely out of view, so charmingly a couple even as they bickered, and started sorting the most recently received titles stacked behind the counter.

“Now take these books,” said the anxious mother from the back corner. “We’ll study them tonight. Tomorrow you’ll work on your vocal and piano lessons. We must prepare for the season. What was that book Mrs. Nesbeth suggested? Something about letters.
Ladies with Letters
?
Letters for Ladies
?”

The woman’s raised voice, nasal and piercing, suddenly filled the shop. “Miss! Oh, miss, we need your help over here.”

She stifled a groan as she made her way to them, anticipating which volume regarding letters they might possibly want. The daughter, Margaret, held a stack of five advice manuals to her chest, as if they could coalesce into a fairy godmother, complete with pumpkin carriage and princely suitor. A pretty girl, probably around age seventeen, with fine ash-blond hair and brown eyes—and, yes, fetchingly dressed in pristine white frock, bonnet, and gloves, the young miss looked hesitant and yet curious. She noticed the girl’s eyes roaming other corners of the store, perhaps for more interesting fare.

“Miss, do you have
Letters for Ladies
?” This from an extravagantly coiffed older woman, clearly young Margaret’s high-strung mother, dressed in the newest fashions but somewhat awry. Like a painting ever so slightly askew, the woman’s clothing seemed . . . off. Perhaps it was the garish yellow or the excess of blonde lace, trying too hard to appear refined. “My neighbor highly recommends it for all young ladies of good breeding. I would assume any smart bookseller would have a copy, but I can’t seem to find one.”

She swallowed hard.
The customer must always be treated with civility, even if said customer is a pill, a massive, chalky pill to be choked down with gall!

“I believe you may mean
Letters to Young Ladies
by a Mrs. Lydia Sigourney, It was a very popular volume for several years, but so many other more recent books have taken over the shelves. We should have a copy, though, along this wall,” Honoria explained as she examined the shelves methodically. She’d grown accustomed to relaxing her eyes ever so slightly, not reading specific titles but seeking appropriate patterns of lettering and coloring. By the time she got to the bottom shelf, the mother behind her was audibly exasperated.

BOOK: Never Too Late
13.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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