- Author: Kerrigan Byrne
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Felicity Goode made certain she was alone in the hallway before she pressed her ear to the door.
It wasn’t like her to eavesdrop.
But lately, she’d been doing all sorts of things out of the ordinary.
Today, her inquiry was one of a personal nature, and if she wasn’t mistaken, she’d identified two masculine murmurs on the other side.
What she had to say needed no audience.
Before she could ascertain a single thing, the cool surface of the door fell away from her heated cheek.
It shouldn’t have shocked her to find her brother-in-law Dr. Titus Conleith gripping the handle.
It was his office after all.
And yet, here she was, flustered to the point of speechlessness at the sight of his classically handsome features, arranged into a bemused expression.
“Felicity?” His brilliant whisky eyes flicked over her as if cataloguing a rudimentary clinical assessment. To her absolute discomfiture, the perplexed wrinkle beneath the chocolate forelock over his forehead deepened to a frown line. “Were you listening at the door?”
“I wasn’t— that is— I’m not— you see, what transpired was—” A gather of guilt and nerves blocked her throat, forcing her to make an unladylike noise before she could speak in complete sentences. “I simply didn’t want to disturb you if you were in a— private consultation.” She peeked over his wide shoulder into his stately office.
He motioned inside as if gesturing to another. “Actually, I was consulting with—” Turning, he paused, scanning the length of his lair surreptitiously before his eyes narrowed. “With… myself, evidently.”
“I see,” Felicity nodded. Genius often coexisted with eccentricity, and Dr. Conleith was famously the most brilliant surgeon in the realm. No doubt he had to verbally manifest some of what resided in his brain into the world to organize it into coherence.
They stood in awkward silence, each obviously searching for the next thing to say.
As a little girl, Felicity had fancied herself in love with Titus Conleith.
He’d been a handsome, strapping stable boy at her father’s estate, with a wide smile and wider shoulders. It wasn’t only his gentle way with her painful shyness, or their shared love of esoteric and scientific literature that put her at ease.
It was that he never treated her like a moth in a family of butterflies.
Even though that was the reality of her life.
Her eldest sister, Honoria— whom they fondly called Nora— was the uncontested beauty of the Goode sisters. Then came Prudence, adventurous and lovely as she was lively, not to mention Felicity’s own mischievous and magnificent twin Mercy, who was brilliant and bold and always wont to create loud— if entertaining— calamity.
More often than not, Felicity might as well be part of the furniture.
Titus had a knack for making people feel seen.
Alas, his heart had always belonged to Nora.
After consulting several romance novels on the subject of love and passion, Felicity came to the easy conclusion that her tender feelings for the man were more appreciative and filial than amorous.
Considering he was now her brother-in-law, it all worked out for the best. Still, though, she couldn’t help but be tongue-tied in his presence.
Or anyone’s presence, really.
Unlike the rest of the Goode girls, she was terrible at interaction.
“Was there something you needed?” Titus prompted gently, belying a curious tension whitening the hand holding the doorknob.
Taking in a deep breath, she nudged her spectacles up the bridge of her nose and smoothed at the waist of her pale blue bodice. “Might I… impose upon you for a moment?” She gestured expectantly at his office.
Fine lines branched from his eyes as he pasted on a smile too grand for the occasion. “No imposition at all. Do accompany me as I go to—”
“I’d rather speak in private,” she said. “i-in your office, more specifically.”
Why hadn’t he invited her in? It wasn’t at all like him not to be gracious to the point of indulgent.
He checked over his shoulder once more, as if hesitant, then slowly pulled the door wider, allowing her entry.
The undoubtedly masculine room might as well have been another world from the sterile atmosphere of the Alcott Surgical Specialty Hospital, over which he resided as chief of surgery. As fastidious as the man was with his medical implements, his paperwork was hopelessly disorganized. Strewn about in alarming disarray until one could only guess what his desk looked like.
The scent changed as she passed the threshold, no longer sharp and sanitized, but soft and familiar. Comforting. Perhaps it was just the old books lining the many shelves, or the decorative and fragrant sachets of lavender she’d harvested herself from the glasshouse at Cresthaven Place. She’d had the idea to hang the sachets from the bronze velvet drapery cords.
This office was used to convey terrible diagnoses, the news of the death of a loved one, or possibly distressing information regarding procedures Titus was about to perform.
While volunteering at the hospital, Felicity had become convinced that the room should not only appear calming and friendly, but it should smell that way, as well.
Something else hung in the air today, though. Something sharper than the camphor-like scent of lavender. A watchful expectancy, perhaps. It seemed as if the motes of dust moved with more frenetic energy than the two of them warranted.
As if… the stillness contained some magnitude she identified but was unable to understand.
She felt suddenly exposed. Gooseflesh erupted everywhere, washing her spine in chills and tightening her nipples.
Glancing at Titus, she quickly ascertained the odd atmosphere wasn’t at all emanating from him.
Then… what? The question certainly couldn’t be whom, because they were alone.
So why did she feel the very devil’s hot breath on her neck?
Rather than taking his post behind the desk, Titus leaned his hip against the edge as he gestured for her to sit in one of the comfortable velvet chairs facing him.
She declined with a tight shake of her head.