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[indie-author-excerpt] Information about this scene:
Lily’s father, the town tailor, has become more and more distant since her mother died, and he finally disappears altogether. Lily can at least buy some food to eat when Theophilus, the Lord of Ribeauville, brings beautiful wool cloth for a new tunic, along with his usual deposit. When they both learn that Willis, her father, is living in Strazburg, Theo goes to bring Willis home, but he returns alone. Lily delays the bad news by insisting on doing a fitting on his tunic. Her touch is a little more stimulating than her father’s ever was….
Lily did not know what had changed. For just a moment, her lord had appeared angry, and now he jerked at the tunic like it did not fit properly when, in fact, she had done admirably well. “Please, my lord,” she interjected when the pins and threads tacking the tops of the shoulder became visible between the pieces of fabric. “You do not have to decide now. You also do not have to destroy it. I will fix whatever has displeased you.”
He froze. His hazel eyes, heated instead of droopy with kindness, flicked onto her. “Will you?”
She retreated another step, unsure of his meaning. The distrust on his face oddly combined with sudden, intense interest. This fitting had become very strange. Her insides had sparkled when she touched him. Could he have sensed that? “My lord, if you are satisfied with the general fit, I will have plenty of work to do. You can decide about the sleeves and hem another day.”
He straightened, finally letting the hem drop, but kept his narrowed eyes on her. “I like the sleeve where you have it. I am undecided on the hem,” he finally intoned with careful enunciation.
She lifted her hand to indicate his arm. “Can I just mark it, sir? The roll will come undone when you take the tunic off.” His eyes narrowed even further. He nodded curtly. She scurried to find her chalk and made one quick streak of white on the sleeve. “Should I help you?” she asked, trying to recover their professional manner of dealing with one another.
“No. Wait outside while I change,” he ordered.
Oh, dear. She rushed out the door, flustered. What had happened? Everything had been fine until she’d begun making adjustments to his hem. That had felt horribly awkward to her. Had it bothered him too? She had been trying to do her job briskly, just as her father had always done. Maybe a man did not mind another man touching his hem but very much minded a woman doing so. Lily sighed, pressing her back against the wall, then resting her head there, as well. Even though she occupied the same world she always had, every day brought unforeseen and unfamiliar questions and challenges. She did her best to guess and fool her way through it all. In truth, the only time she felt comfortable in her own skin was when she worked on the lord’s tunic. Or at least she felt comfortable when her lord was not in the tunic as she worked on it.
She sighed. If only her father had returned. He would have that hem rolled and marked in a thrice. He would explain Riculf. He would talk to Cluny and set her life on the right course again.
Her lord emerged, once again smartly attired in the green tunic and mantle she had sewn last spring about this time. He did not know she had sewn it. Her father had done the fitting. She had made every cut and stitch. “Father is never coming back, is he?” she blurted.
The question did not surprise him. He stood straight and proud and confident in his own comfortable life. “Not soon enough,” he said.
At first she did not understand the answer. Then it clicked. Not soon enough to help you. Not soon enough to manage Riculf or Cluny. Not soon enough to return you to normalcy or even respectability. “He lives with a woman?” she asked, eager to familiarize herself with all the ugliness at once.
Her lord cursed softly under his breath. “Yes. He misses your mother desperately.”
Her hand flew up, and she pressed the back of it to her mouth, stifling an unwanted sob of distress. She turned away to compose herself. “It must be very difficult for him,” she observed with the feeling of seeing things from a great distance.
“I did try, Lily. I reminded him of his duty to you. I reminded him of your mother. I tried every argument.”
Unwarranted resentment boiled up in her. Who was this Theophilus to involve himself in her life? Why should she feel gratitude when he stood so calmly to tell her how bad things were? Why should he be allowed to make her uncomfortable in her own shop? How dare he? She bit the inside of her cheek against the angry, unfair slander she wished to shout at him. “Thank you, my lord,” she gritted as meekly as she could manage. “I appreciate your efforts today. I am sure you have pleasanter plans for tomorrow. Now, I must continue my work.”
She forced herself stiffly through the door. She did not close it until she heard her lord’s retreating footsteps. The tunic waited, lovingly spread on the worktable. Her strange, quick anger receded, replaced with the more sane and familiar despair. Her fingertip traced across the slightly overlarge shoulder to the clever neckline. This neckline was the only perfect thing left in the entire world, as near as she could tell. Tonight, she would rework the shoulders. Tomorrow, she would sew the pleats and join the body pieces and sleeves. Soon, she promised herself, she would make tiny invisible stitches around this neckline, and that would be one right thing. And she must consider the embroidery. She must devote some time to the pattern.
Blessedly immersed in her work, she did not let herself think about Father anymore.
About the Author
Jill Hughey has loved historical romance since sneaking peeks at her mother’s library years ago. She has enjoyed writing just as long. She prides herself on deep character development, and settings that take her readers on long, satisfying journeys to places they have probably never been in a book before.
Jill lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. Her hobby is singing lessons, in which she studies classical soprano and some lighthearted works.
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