Today's Reading

Servicing other customers, she'd put off approaching him as long as she could. Finally, she'd made her way to him, knowing he was taking in every aspect of her as she was him. His thick black hair brushed past his collar—lighting upon those broad shoulders as though the strands wished to eternally caress them—and was styled in such a way that a portion of the right side of his face was covered, which made him appear more mysterious, a man who possessed secrets and was extremely skilled at keeping them.

Something about him seemed familiar but she couldn't quite place how she might have come to know him. Perhaps she'd passed him on these streets that after three long months were finally becoming familiar, or he'd come in another night and not sat at her table. Although she couldn't imagine forgetting him if she'd ever seen him at the Mermaid. "What may I bring you, good sir?"

A barely perceptible widening of those onyx eyes that had steadfastly been studying her with an appreciation that had caused her to sound a bit breathy. "Scotch."

His voice had been a deep rumble that had shimmied through the entire length of her, like the warm and comforting sensations she experienced when she came in from the bitter cold and approached a blazing fire. She'd been disappointed that he'd uttered only a single word. But then when she'd returned with his drink, he'd shown an interest in her past, which was a secret she was skilled at keeping because if anyone learned the truth—

It did not bear thinking about.

As she now wended her way among the tables after leaving him, she decided he did not bear thinking about.

An arm suddenly whipped out, wrapped around her waist, and rudely jerked her off her feet so she landed hard on a sturdy lap comprised of thick thighs. His other hand going to places on her person it most certainly should not, pinching what she'd given him no permission to pinch, the young man grinned broadly, his eyes filled with mischief. "What 'ave we 'ere? Who ye be, me lovely?"

Reaching back, she grabbed a nearly full tankard resting near the hand of one of his mates and proceeded to dump its contents over his ginger head. With a curse and a yell, he abruptly released her. In all due haste, she scrambled off his lap and beyond his reach. "Pardon my clumsiness. I'll get you another."

She'd have rather conked him on the side of the head with the tankard but knew she was going to be in enough trouble as it was. The Mermaid prided itself on how well it treated its patrons, regardless of how many or how few coins lined their pockets. Striding quickly, she made her way to the bar and slammed the pewter tankard down on the polished woodgrain. "Guinness."

The bartender, who also managed the place, sighed as though she was the bane of his existence, probably because she was. "I've told you before, you can't be dumping beer over heads."

It was the third time she'd done it since she started working here ten days earlier. She considered defending her actions but had done so twice before already and received no sympathy whatsoever from him, just a stare that hardened with each word spoken, so she merely nodded in acknowledgment of the undeserved scolding. Until recently, an admonishment had never been directed her way. She didn't much like being treated with so little consideration or having her opinion carry no weight, but then there was a good bit about her new life that she didn't favor. As a matter of fact, there was nothing at all about it that she did.

"I'll have to take this pint out of your weekly earnings."

Striving to reflect contrition so she wouldn't find herself dismissed, she nodded again. At this rate, she was going to have no weekly earnings. "Jimmy pinched her bum, Mac," Polly, another one of the serving girls, said. "I saw it."

"How could you have seen it, Polly? You were standing right there."

"I've got good eyes."

"Not that good." He turned away and began filling the tankard.

Polly looked at her sympathetically. "They was just having a bit o' fun."

"But it's not any fun at all, is it?" She was certain Polly of the ample cleavage had endured her share of being dragged onto laps. Although she might not have minded. She was forever laughing and flirting with the chaps, seeming to have a grand time doing something that Althea disliked with every fiber of her being.

She was disappointed to see the large fellow she'd only just served leaning down to say something to the cackling Jimmy. Probably wanted to ask what her bottom felt like. But then Jimmy abruptly stopped laughing. She'd heard of people turning as white as a ghost but had never seen anyone actually do it. Until now. Jimmy looked as though the man had effectively and quickly leeched all the blood from his veins.

"Jimmy won't be touching you no more," Polly said with a bit of triumph, "now that Beast has had a quiet word with him."

"Beast?"

Polly looked surprised but nodded. "Yeah. The big bloke."
...

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