Fina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her stomach. What now? She stepped into the narrow hall and squinted in the dim light. Her stepmother, Catherine, rounded the corner from her pa’s bedroom door. Her thick brown braid hung over her shoulder. As she whirled, her hair, like a snake, thudded against the thick wool on her back.
“I need assistance. Your father is not feeling well. You need to open the shop and stay until I can get him there.”
Of course he felt unwell. Catherine had kept him up until the wee hours, complaining about how little coin they possessed and how he needed to work harder on his next clever clock design. “Certainly, Stepmother.” She would open the shop for Pa, not for Catherine.
Fina pivoted on her heel and away from the woman who had taken possession of their home and made a mess out of everything good that her father had ever done. She wished Pa had never married again. Her jaw tightened.
Catherine did seem to provide him happiness. The way Pa gazed at her when she turned away said everything. He was besotted with her, but Fina simply couldn’t ignore the stress Catherine caused him and herself. Things had been so simple before Catherine had come into their lives. Fina just wanted that life back.
Darting into her room, she grabbed her journal. She would work on a new flower drawing to paint on the face of her pa’s next masterpiece.
Fina rushed out into the alley that separated their home from the next and headed toward the front of Wren Square. She trudged up the narrow path. A cat hissed and came at her from behind a wooden box.
She shied away, and the hem of her skirt caught on the tip of her boot. She tripped, stumbling toward one of the puddles. “Eek!”
Her sketch tablet toppled to the dirt, and she righted herself just before she splashed into one large divot that looked like water but overflowed with the vile who-knew-what that brewed in the bottom of the row.
She had landed in a puddle three days ago, and the dress still stank after four scrubbings. She wished she had more grace but had learned long ago she was prone to tumbling or knocking things over or, simply put…she struggled with her hands and feet. She picked up the cloth-bound book. Thank goodness her drawings had not landed in the bottom of the row. It would be months before Pa could afford to purchase her another one.
She hurried up the rest of the lane and rounded the corner to the front of the shop. She slammed straight into solid, dark heat. “Oh!”
Fingers wrapped about both her elbows and steadied her. She croaked into the froth of soft cotton brocade that smothered her face. The firm grasp released her. She stepped back into the man’s shadow, blinked and stared up and up into a sun-silhouetted face. Gracious, how tall can a man grow?
“Pardon me.” The deep voice raised gooseflesh on her arms. “I am waiting for Peter Byron, clockmaker, to open his shop.”
Fina stepped to his side so she could see him better. “I am here to open the shop.” She smiled and stared up into warm amber eyes. Her stomach fluttered, and she shied away, shifting her hips to ease the unfamiliar sensation. Maybe she should have had more for morning repast, but she was not still hungry. She stepped to the shop door and glanced back once more.
He wore deep brown pantaloons and a long orangish-red-and-gold vest that hung halfway down his thigh. The white shirt beneath had lace at the wrist and ruffles that looked as if he’d a fake beard about his throat. An odd fashion. He dressed like no one she had ever seen. The clothes were tailored and pressed, though. He came from wealth, and he was here to see her pa. She bit her lip. Hopefully he would purchase a clock.
“You are a bit young to be a master clockmaker,” he said.
She jerked her attention to his angular face. What an odd thing to say. An easy smile turned his masculine lips. The sun hit his eyes, making them glint with deep secrets. A red fleck sparkled on his cheek. She stared at the scarlet crescent. How odd; it winked back at her. Everything about this man was odd.
Her stomach fluttered again. What was that? She closed her eyes. Fina needed to stop ogling this man and concentrate. He was a wealthy man here to see her pa. If they sold a clock today, they could rest without Catherine complaining for the next month. She wished Pa would arrive with haste.
She circled back to the duty of opening the door. “I am fifteen, sir. My pa is the master clockmaker. He was up late working on a new clock, so I am opening the shop while he does his morning preparations.”
She jiggled the iron latch and twisted the key. Nothing happened. The door always stuck for her. Why would today be any different? She pushed and jiggled again. “Please open,” she mumbled beneath her breath.
“That is unfortunate.” His callused hand rasped the skin of her hand that held the key. Heat engulfed the flesh, and her heart jumped. She sucked in a breath. How could he be so bold as to touch her? He twisted their joined hands on the key. The lock clicked open, and the heat vanished. She narrowed her eyes, agitated. He wished to help you open the door. Indeed, that is true, but… “Thank you, sir, but you should have asked before touching me.”
He bowed his head in acknowledgment, and his long black hair slipped over his shoulder and tumbled in a smooth swath down to his waist. “I am here because I need a part for a clock that I am making.”
She stared at his loose hair. Beautiful. Could a man have hair she thought was pretty? She had never seen a man with hair so long, so shiny, so perfect. All the men of her acquaintance cut their hair at least to chin length. His shone with glints of red in the strands, as if the morning sun danced off the textured surface. How could hair do that?
It is hair, Fina. She was daft today.
She shook her head and pushed the shop door open. She stepped in, and the tick-tick-tick sound that had lulled her to sleep all her life enveloped her. She relaxed into the cocoon of protection she had always known here. Nothing could ever go wrong in this shop.
The man followed her. “I usually have my clockmaker in Paris make my workings, but I am hoping to obtain this part with haste.”
He was here for a piece of a clock. Disappointment settled in her gut. He may still purchase more. If not today, then tomorrow, her pa always said. “Why would you send all the way to Paris when you have Peter Byron here?” She relaxed her shoulders as she rounded the counter and tucked the keys on the hook that hung below the ledge.
The man said nothing and walked from one of her pa’s tall clocks to a rough-hewn shelf of smaller, intricate table clocks. He leaned in and listened, then nodded. “From the sound of the clocks you have here, I just may have to do that. There is something whimsical about the flower on each face. The feel of the drawing is also echoed in the sound of the clock. Who does the engraving?”
Heat rushed to her cheeks. “I do the drawings, and Pa has them engraved on brass.” He liked her flowers. Though what did he mean by them being echoed in the sound?
“You are talented.” He smiled, and the light in his eyes twinkled.
“Thank you, sir.” She reached up and fidgeted with a piece of her long brown hair that had slipped out of its tie. “Do you have a drawing of the part? I might be able to find the piece for you.”
“I do have a drawing, though you will not have the piece handy. It will need to be made.”
“I doubt that, sir. My pa has extras of all the workings needed to create the fanciest clock you could desire.”
A smirk curled his lips. “I am sure he has many parts… But this is not ordinary. Let me show you.”