Today's Reading

For the first time since Evelyn entered the shop, she knew that all would be well. Once he saw her ride—once he clapped eyes on Hephaestus—he would see she was worthy. More than worthy. "Tomorrow, then? At dawn?" She extended her gloved hand. "You won't be disappointed, Mr. Malik."

An odd expression passed over his face. As if she'd taken him off his guard. Surprised him in some way—or offended him. "You have the advantage of me."

Her confidence wavered. "I'm sorry. I—"

"I don't know your name."

"Oh, that." She instantly brightened, stretching her hand out still further. "Evelyn Maltravers."

"Miss Maltravers." His hand engulfed hers, large and strong.

And—good heavens. She felt it everywhere. That warm, pulse-pounding contact. It resonated deep within her, the strangest sensation. Something both alarming and exhilarating. As if a jolt passed between them. The spark of something new. Something important.

Her gaze jerked to his, and she saw it there, reflected in his eyes. He felt it, too.

His black brows lowered. "It is miss, isn't it?"

She nodded mutely, heart thumping hard.
 
He gave her a searching look. And then he released her hand. "Tomorrow at dawn," he said. "Don't be late."

* * *

Ahmad climbed the creaking stairs to the set of bachelor rooms he rented above the tea dealer's shop in King William Street. Far from the fashionable traffic of Mayfair, it was an undistinguished address in a neighborhood rife with warehouses and commercial enterprise. A place a man could lose himself among the bustling shoppers and the shouts of overzealous hawkers.

His door was located at the end of a narrow corridor. A soft strip of light glowed from beneath it. He heaved a weary sigh. He'd hoped to have a bit of privacy this evening to work on the dress he was making for Viscountess Heatherton.

It was the first of what promised to be many commissions for the season. A chance to see his creations displayed not by the courtesans of Rotten Row but by a high-ranking member of fashionable London society.

"Is that you, Ahmad?" Mira's faint voice rang out.

"Who else?" Unlocking the door with his key, he entered the sitting room to find his cousin occupied at the round wooden table in the corner. She was hand-stitching a length of point appliqué lace onto the bertha of Lady Heatherton's unfinished ice-blue muslin evening dress. He scowled at her. "What are you doing here?"

Mira glanced up from her sewing. At four and twenty, she was six years his junior. Like him, her hair was black, but where his eyes were dark, hers were a stunning shade of olive green. A testament to her mixed Pathan and English ancestry.

Her mother, Mumtaz, had been Ahmad's aunt, an Indian lady residing on the outskirts of Delhi. After the death of his own mother, Mumtaz had taken Ahmad in, treating him as her own. A good, kind woman, she'd succumbed to a sweating sickness in the summer of '46. On her deathbed, she'd made Mira's natural father—a British soldier—promise to take Mira back to England with him. Ahmad had accompanied them, vowing to watch over his cousin.

And he had watched over her.

Her father had died of drink not long after they'd arrived in London, leaving Mira alone and penniless on the streets of the East End. Her survival had been completely dependent on Ahmad. He'd done the best he could for her, but he'd been only fifteen, still just a child himself.

Together, he and Mira had experienced some of the worst the metropolis had to offer. But their luck had changed of late, and much of that due to the kindness of Mira's employers, solicitor Tom Finchley and his wife, Jenny. Mira acted as companion to Mrs. Finchley. Ahmad had worked for the Finchleys, too, until last year, when he'd finally been in a position to strike out on his own.

"Mrs. Finchley had no need of me today," Mira said. "I was perfectly free to call on you this afternoon."

"You've been here that long?"

"Since five o'clock."

Of course she had. The fire was lit, coals glowing cheerfully in the hearth. She'd tidied the room as well. Plumped the cushions on the threadbare sofa and straightened his heaps of books and half-finished sketches.
...

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