“You look as if you’re…” But his voice died away and he shook his head. “I’m not certain what it looks like.”
“A woman at work, hopefully.” Portia dropped the spent stamen and positioned the forceps about the next one. Two of them should be enough to pollinate the tulip’s ovaries, leaving four fully-loaded stamens for her sample papers. A careful snip, and the second came free.
He almost laughed. “I would have said, a lady.”
His stare hadn’t wavered, and a gentle heat rose in her face. Perhaps he wasn’t entirely a dandy; the weathered tan across his forehead and cheeks implied he sometimes walked without wearing a hat, which in turn implied a country residence. This time she made certain to thrust the stamen deeply into the puckered stigma; the pollen needed to reach the seed pods, or else this part of her task was in vain.
And still he stood, staring down at her and occasionally speaking, in full view of the park’s gardeners. She’d best hurry before he drew the ranger’s wrath down upon her. “If you care to differentiate, then please, do feel free. But the kindest thing you can do for me is walk away.” The third separated stamen she settled into the fold of a sample paper, balanced on her thigh and weighted against accidents with her gown’s hem.
He squatted. Boots crinkling about his ankles, knees and elbows splaying to the sides, hat held in both hands over his breeches’ fall-front as if to hide something.
Rather like a toad. Alytes dickhilleni, perhaps.
Except his eyes no longer bulged. Instead, a keenness sharpened his stare, although his eyebrows tangled even more deeply. One curling lock of bay hair brushed across his forehead with a breeze she couldn’t feel, down in the dell, and his mouth widened, ends starting to curl up. If his tongue flicked out, the image would be complete.
“Come, tell me what you’re doing.” He drummed his fingers atop his beaver hat’s crown. “I promise I won’t laugh.”
He laughed. Of course.
My Christmas Regency, Scandal on Half Moon Street, is now available from Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. As links go live, I'll fill them in.
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