Authors: Helena Fairfax
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
Contemporary Romance by Helena Fairfax
One rainy day in London, Wyoming man Kurt Bold walks into an antique shop off the King’s Road, looking every inch the romantic hero. The shop’s owner, Penny Rosas, takes this handsome stranger for a cowboy straight from the pages of a book…but Kurt soon brings Penny’s dreams to earth with a thump. He’s no romantic cowboy—his job is in the City, in the logical world of finance—and as far as Kurt is concerned, love and romance are just for dreamers.
Events in his childhood have scarred his heart, showing him just how destructive passionate love can be. Now he’s looking for a wife, but wants a marriage based on logic and rational decisions.
Penny is a firm believer in true love. She’s not the sensible wife Kurt’s looking for. But when he hires Penny to help refurbish his Victorian house near Richmond Park, it’s not long before he starts to realise it’s not just his home she’s breathing new life into. The logical heart he has guarded so carefully all these years is opening up to new emotions, in a most disturbing way…
The Antique Love
The tall man stood in the doorway for a second, his keen grey eyes sweeping the interior. There was a hush in the melodious murmur of customers, and for a couple of disorientating moments, Penny’s shop appeared to go into slow-mo. Then he stepped inside, his boots sounding the wooden floor, and headed toward the display in the window. His leather satchel, slung casually from one shoulder, clinked with each footfall as he strode past Penny’s counter. A few drops of rain darkened his blonde head and faded shirt, and as he passed, a hint of fresh mountain air seemed to follow in his wake. Penny leaned forward, eyes wide, following his broad shoulders as he made his way to the antiques in the window.
She touched her assistant’s arm. “See that guy who’s just walked in?” She tilted her head in the direction of the doorway and lowered her voice. “Do you think he’s a cowboy?”
The leather boots and the hard-looking gentleman stood in the window, oblivious to the attention they were receiving. When Tehmeena failed to look up, Penny tapped her arm and raised her voice. “I said that guy’s got to be a cowboy. What do you say?”
Tehmeena finally raised her head from emptying coins into the cash till, and proceeded to roll her eyes. She and Penny had been friends for a long time, and she was used to her boss’s occasional flights of fancy.
“I’d say why don't you take a look outside?” she asked, turning back to her cash register. “See any white horses tethered up?”
Penny made a pretence of swivelling her head to scan the street outside. She’d worked this shop floor since leaving school and knew exactly what she was going to see. Sure enough, there were crowds of exhausted shoppers crammed onto the pavement, a never-ending line of stationary cars and red buses, and drizzle. Endless grey drizzle. Yep, everything just normal for a Saturday in London—plenty of traffic but a distinct lack of horses.
She turned back to Tehmeena with a sigh. “I guess not,” she conceded.
“We’re a long, long way from the Wild West, Pen.” Tehmeena emptied the last of the bags with a short rattle of coins. “And I don’t think daydreaming is going to rustle us up a hero.”
Penny let out another sigh, this time a particularly hopeless one. Tehmeena lifted her head and regarded her thoughtfully.
“Everything all right?” She glanced over to the corner, where Penny’s desk stood piled high with paperwork. “Anything I can help with?”
“No, no.” Penny raised her head. “You’ve got enough to do. I just need to get to the bottom of all this.” She waved a hand toward the mountain of paper and smiled a little wryly. “Sorry to leave you in the lurch.”
“No problem. And don’t apologise. It’s not your fault. It’s all David’s fault for walking out on us like this.”
Penny grimaced in acknowledgement before shifting herself from the counter to move to her desk. Her business partner's sudden and inexplicable storming out had certainly left them high and dry. She took her seat and picked up a pen, determined to give the accounts her utmost attention, but despite herself she found her gaze drifting back to the customer in the boots and denim shirt. The guy
to be a cowboy, whatever Tehmeena said. They might be in London, but he had the rugged outdoor looks, and he
had the walk. His gait was loose limbed, as though the man was more used to striding through wide open spaces than sidestepping litter on a city street. A sense of boundless vigour clung to him and permeated her cluttered antique shop. Penny let her wistful gaze linger a little longer before bringing her attention back to the files on her desk. She choked down a sigh. Tehmeena was right, no point dreaming. The dull truth was she was in rain-soaked west London, struggling with the accounts, and just about a million miles from the mountains of Virginia.
She picked up the next file, willing herself to concentrate. A collection of invoices fell out in a heap, and the sight of David’s handwritten notes amongst them only added to her depression. When the cowboy crossed her line of vision again, she lifted her head. His presence was a distraction, and it seemed it wasn’t just Penny who’d noticed him. The other shoppers were straightening up in their wet raincoats, casting him surreptitious glances as he wandered around the shop. Even Tehmeena looked up from the long queue of customers, before catching Penny’s eye with a grin. Oblivious to the attention he was attracting, the cowboy bent his rain-soaked head over a box of vintage postcards. Penny watched him pick his way through the pile and wondered what he would make of the long-forgotten greetings from English seasides and country cottages. Occasionally, she heard a quiet laugh break from him at some of the saucier jokes before he dropped the card back in its slot and picked up the next.
She opened up her accounts and forced herself to concentrate for a good half hour before allowing herself to look up from the papers. When she did, she was surprised to find the cowboy still there in her shop, now engrossed in the shelves of rare books. He was giving each one the same quiet attention he had devoted to everything else since he’d come in off the wet streets. She watched curiously as he reached to remove one of the editions from a high shelf, the damp fabric of his shirt tightening over his shoulders. Although the book’s title was hidden in his wide-knuckled hand, Penny recognised the red binding instantly. It was a copy of
, one of her favourites. As the quiet cowboy turned the pages, she tried to work out what he made of the passionate encounters taking place within. His stillness gave no clue, and his expression was hidden as he concentrated on the text. The man closed the book, gave the gold lettering on the spine another close examination, and replaced it carefully where he had found it. Leaving the bookshelf behind, he moved away from Penny toward the glass cabinet containing antique china, his boots sounding the wooden floor with each step.
Penny followed his straight back before wrenching her gaze once more to her desk. The image of a starry sky and a campfire and the muted sound of guitars in the warm night flashed through her mind. She examined the next invoice. What she’d give to be away from all this paperwork and in Texas country right now. And she’d even forego the cowboy. Right now she’d settle for curling up by that campfire in solitary splendour with just a copy of
She forced her tired eyes back to her paperwork.
FAO David Williams
,” said the invoice. “
We refer to our letter of 6th January and would remind you that we are still awaiting payment for a pair of Edwardian fluted standard lamps…”
Penny tossed the invoice down with the others and shook her head. Another one. It didn’t make sense. Her antique business had never had a cash flow problem. At this rate, she was in serious danger of upsetting some carefully built-up goodwill with her suppliers.
She put her head in her hands and massaged her brow. There was no sound of guitars, but at least the muted murmur of the shop’s customers was quite restful. When a booted step approached her desk, her eyes fluttered open behind her fingers.
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
The voice was low and courteous, the accent unmistakeable. So, it wasn’t just her imagination. Definitely a cowboy. Penny kept her hands over her face, unwilling to peep out in case the pleasant apparition disappeared. Maybe she’d fallen asleep and was dreaming. No one but a real and actual cowboy would say ma’am so politely in this part of London, unless they were talking to the Queen.
She removed her hands from her face to find her gaze on a level with a well-defined chest in a faded denim shirt. When she tilted her head, a pair of pleasant grey eyes gazed down into hers.
A slow, enchanted smile banished her frown lines, and for a couple of seconds they regarded each other curiously. Close to, the cowboy seemed even truer to the stereotype. The faint lines etched around his eyes suggested a man who’d spent some time in the sun’s glare, and his features had a weather-beaten ruggedness not usually found on city streets. A deep tan highlighted the lines etched on each side of a mouth which lifted slightly at the corners. She found the cowboy regarding her with the same intense scrutiny he had devoted to every other item in the shop.
Penny was suddenly conscious her face had been creased and tired when she’d looked in the mirror that morning and that her blouse had become a little tight in recent months. She felt a little as though she were being examined and almost certainly found wanting. She lifted a hand to smooth down the hair escaping from her ponytail.
If the cowboy noticed her discomfiture, he gave nothing away, merely indicating the cash desk where poor Tehmeena was still dealing with a queue.
“I’m sorry to trouble you,” he said. “The other lady seemed busy, so I wondered if you could help?”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Penny pushed her chair back and stood up hurriedly. “It’s not usually like this. We’re a bit short-staffed.” She ran a hand down her skirt, everything about her feeling rumpled. “What was it in particular you were interested in?”
“I’d kinda like to look in that cabinet,” he said, indicating the antique china in the far corner. “Would that be possible?”
Penny fumbled with a slim chain around her neck to produce a key. “If you’d like to show me which piece?”
The cowboy gave a small nod and stepped aside to allow her to lead the way. As she passed him, she caught the scent of his rain-soaked skin and the overwhelming sensation of the great outdoors. There was a sense of grandeur about him, somehow, as though the confines of the shop were too narrow to contain him. And so as they approached the display and the cowboy indicated the vase that had caught his interest, Penny cast him a look of surprise. It wasn’t a piece she would have expected a man like him to wish to see, although it was certainly unique.
“It’s Victorian,” she said, raising her eyes to his curiously. “A Coalport.”
She bent to unlock the glass door and removed the vase with care, lifting it closer so that he could see. “It was used to hold potpourri. Made in Coalport in Wales around 1850.”
The cowboy took a step closer, bending his head over her outstretched hands before giving a low whistle. She held the tiny vase toward him a little nervously. She was reluctant to entrust her fragile china to such an uncompromisingly masculine figure and was relieved to feel him take it with surprising gentleness. He placed the tiny vase with great care in one large palm, using the long fingers of his other hand to turn it this way and that.
Penny could understand his close scrutiny. The vase was a striking piece. Despite its tiny size, every available inch was ornamented with dramatic flowers in startling shades of pink and cornflower blue, deep reds and cream. Two turquoise and gold handles arched up from each side of the vase toward a lid bright with gilt. On top of the lid, the crowning glory was a handle which burst into the shape of an exuberant gold dahlia. If the cowboy was looking for quiet British understatement, then this certainly wasn’t it. The vase, tiny though it was, was ablaze with ornamentation.