It took an effort not to let the old tailor's words pierce her armor. She knew all too well what people saw when they looked at her—if they saw her at all. It was the very reason she'd settled on her plan. And she wasn't about to be thwarted now. Not by Mr. Doyle. Not by anyone.
She considered ringing the bell again. She hadn't come this far to be so easily rebuffed. But what good would it do to summon Mr. Doyle back? She couldn't very well force the man to accept her business. Unless...
She supposed she could offer to pay him a higher price.
According to Evelyn's sources, Miss Walters had paid thirteen pounds for her latest habit. Surely Evelyn could manage to scrape together a few shillings more?
Long seconds of indecision passed, marked by the heavy ticking of a wall clock. It counted down the minutes until she must return to her uncle's house in Bloomsbury.
No, she decided at last. She wouldn't bribe Mr. Doyle. She couldn't. It was a point of principle. Of personal pride. If he didn't think her worthy of one of his creations, she'd simply have to find another tailor. Someone with comparable skill and artistry.
If such a person existed.
Marshaling her emotions, she turned toward the door, only to be halted by the sound of a deep voice behind her.
"The shop closes at seven."
"Yes, I'm aware. I was just..." She glanced back. The words died on her lips.
A man stood behind the counter. A tall, powerfully built man, with rich copper-colored skin and hair as black as new coal. The harsh planes of his face were half-shadowed in the gaslight, making him look almost sinister.
Her mouth went dry.
So, this was the owner of the voice she'd heard behind the curtain. The voice that had made her heart beat faster. That was still making her heart beat faster.
She moistened her lips. "I was just leaving." But she didn't go.
She was caught by his insolent gaze. It drifted over her, seeming to take an inventory of her entire person, from the top of her three-times-made-over felt hat to the hem of her brown poplin skirts.
Her breath stopped. Never in her life had a man looked at her thus. So bold and knowing. She had the unsettling sensation that he could see straight through the fabric of her clothes, all the way to the naked skin that lay beneath.
Heat rose in her cheeks. "Are you Mr. Doyle's assistant?"
His eyes met hers. They were as dark as his hair. Black and luminous, like obsidian glass.
Which wasn't possible, she knew. It must be a trick of the light. "Something like that," he said, a wry undercurrent in his tone that was just shy of amusement.
Her embarrassment swiftly gave way to irritation. It was one thing to be insulted and dismissed by Mr. Doyle, but to be laughed at by one of the man's underlings was something else altogether. She fixed him with her most disapproving glare. "May I say, sir, that the service in this shop is execrable."
"You have a particular complaint?"
"I have." She returned to the counter, very much on her dignity. "You may tell your employer that just because a lady wears spectacles, and just because she's new to London and hasn't yet availed herself of a dressmaker, does not mean she's a bluestocking."
He was silent for a taut moment. "With respect, ma'am, a business has its reputation to consider."
"And I have mine to establish." She leaned over the counter. "I am not a bluestocking. I don't attend intellectual salons or meetings on rational dress. I don't secretly write novels or newspaper editorials. And I certainly don't dabble in scientific experiments. I have only two passions in life: horses and fashion. I'm well-equipped to cut a dash with the former, but I need Mr. Doyle's assistance with the latter."
"Even if what you say is true, Doyle would still be obliged to refuse you. His female clients exist in a different sphere—"