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shana galen

A Prince in Her Stocking

Christmas in Duke Street
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Excerpt

Lucien rolled his oft-mentioned eyes. In Glynaven, poetry worse than the volume he'd just perused had been written about his leonine eyes. They were brown—a golden brown, yes—but brown. He might think it ludicrous, but he was not above using those eyes to persuade the Merriweathers to allow him to continue his frequent browsing.

At this point, he was not above anything. Oh, how the mighty—and haughty—had fallen.

He turned, intent on returning to the shelf of mediocre poetry, and almost rammed into a petite blond woman, who circled her arms frantically for balance. Acting on instinct, he reached out and caught her shoulders, hauling her back to her feet. Lucien realized immediately he wasn't quite as gentle as he might have been. The force of his action sent the woman careening toward him, and he was forced again to right her.

He held her shoulders, ensuring she was finally stable.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I didn't see you there."

She had the fair complexion typical of the English, and a pink flush crept over her cheeks when he spoke. "It is my fault," she said in a voice little more than a whisper. "Please forgive me."

She wore spectacles, and her eyes behind the lenses appeared quite large and blue. Those were the sort of eyes one should honor with bad poetry. They were the blue of the Mediterranean Sea.

"Excuse me," she whispered, looking down so he had a view of the top of her head of golden hair. She'd pulled it tightly back and secured it at her nape with a black comb.

"If you would release me, sir?"

Lucien released her as though she were poison and stepped away. "I apologize. I didn't realize—"

"No apology necessary. Excuse me." She moved toward a small round table of books in the center of the shop, her black skirts swishing as she moved.

Lucien returned to his shelf of poetry only to find someone else had taken his place—a woman with a bonnet trimmed in yellow flowers and a black net veil over her hair. He could not see her face. He turned to occupy himself with the novels until such time as the lady moved on, but the shelf of novels was also occupied by a tall well-dressed gentleman and a woman in a dark green redingote. He thought he recognized the woman as the shopgirl from Markham's Print Gallery, which was situated just next door. She often watched the bookshop when Miss Merriweather was away on an errand, and she'd always been kind to him.

The shop was damnably crowded now that the holidays approached. Lucien took a book from a shelf he'd already searched and looked through it in order to appear to be shopping. He wondered about the woman he'd bumped into earlier. She must have been a widow to be dressed in such severe black without any adornment. Was she one of the many women who frequented the shop, or was this her first visit? He did not recall having seen her before, not that he paid much attention to the shop's patrons. He was engrossed in searching the books. He continued his search, ignoring the slight headache from lack of food and drink. Lucien withdrew another book, examined every page, then replaced the volume. Before he withdrew the next, he glanced behind him, hoping he'd see the Englishwoman in black again.

© Shana Galen


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