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Authors: Katherine Reay

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BOOK: The Brontë Plot
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Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Acknowledgments

Discussion Questions

An Excerpt from Dear Mr. Knightley

April 2

April 7

April 12

About the Author

“Did you ever know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them?”

—C. S. L
EWIS
,
T
HE
G
REAT
D
IVORCE

Chapter 1

W
ednesday was Book Day. With so many other demands, Lucy felt it important to pick a day, name it, and savor it.
By
plopping it in the center of the week, she secured a shining moment to anticipate at the week's front end and a delicious one to revisit at the back. And in so doing she could endure the mercurial whims and incessant demands of her clientele any day of the week.

Book Day always began with the twist of the old key in the lock, the street still quiet, despite being located in the center of Chicago's Old Town, and a hip-check through the door that read
Sid McKenna Antiques and Design
. First Lucy would touch base with her favorite online booksellers, monitor the current auctions, and place bids, keeping a keen eye on special requests or tempting offerings clients might find irresistible. After, she'd open the mahogany corner cabinet first, the nineteenth-century breakfront second, and rub Fredelka Formula into her beloved books' soft leather covers, dust their gold-tipped edges with a worn linen rag, and gently separate
any pages humidity had fused. And, if there was time, she'd relish a passage or two.

This Wednesday, Lucy silenced the shop's alarm and leaned against the doorjamb. She let her eyes roam, as it was one of the first mornings in which the sun beat her to work. Sid's gallery always brought a smile of satisfaction, one of complacency—as if the space was her own and not another's. But that thought never took root because she could never imagine possessing Sid's brilliance. Sid McKenna married substance with style—from the deep-red lacquered door mounted on the far wall next to the Louis XIV end table to the black-and-white monographs of unknown artists stacked on its top, and those resting beneath a carelessly laid Montblanc pen. Sid threw down a disparate but symbiotic alchemy of beauty with every flick of his wrist, and this mix of old and new with the something unexpected had firmly established him as Chicago's premier interior designer.

Lucy closed her eyes and absorbed the shop's scents. Underneath the jasmine, she caught the tang of the polish she applied to the furniture every other day, buffing each piece until it felt velvety and gleamed. She also caught the musty scent of ink on paper within the books stacked for sale, on their sides so as not to warp their fragile spines. And dancing beneath it all, she caught a hint of fresh pine from her favorite organic floor cleaner, the one she found at a one-man shop in Vermont.

She glanced to the corner. The books . . . Lucy opened her bag and pulled out her latest acquisition. While it wasn't a particularly fine find, of no distinction and without provenance,
the novel was one of her favorites. And it wouldn't take much to make it something special. A good inscription always helped. A story behind the story, the generational passing from hand to hand, always added interest and a few dollars.

She turned the pages, absorbing snippets—
an unbroken hush
;
a demoniac laugh—low, suppressed, and deep
; or a man growing
quite savage in his disappointment
—as she carried it to the right front corner of the gallery and opened the cabinet's glass case.
Delicious.

“Welcome home,” she whispered. She held it to her nose and inhaled the leather, dust, ink, and history in a single whiff before placing it on its side atop two others. “All the sisters, together. Again.”

Lucy stepped away as a soft “Good morning” drifted across the room.

Sid McKenna leaned on the workroom doorjamb. “I tried to say that gently.”

“You're not supposed to be here,” Lucy moaned. “What happened to my quiet Book Day?”

Sid chuckled and held up both hands. “I know, ‘trespassing on sacred ground' and all that, but I have a meeting this morning and need the Benson drawings. I'll be out of your hair in a moment.”

He turned back into the workroom and grabbed things at random. At six foot two and lithe, Sid exuded an energy that, although twenty years younger, Lucy only dreamed of possessing. His brain and body moved like a kaleidoscope, myriad directions at once, but all congruent and, in the end, masterfully creative.

“What are you doing?”

“Veronica is wavering. She declared yesterday that she's ‘not good at big decisions,' so I'm taking things to give her a sense of space and texture. Tactile stuff. She needs to
feel
that her home reflects her family and her wants and is not being imposed on her.” He tossed Lucy a smooth leather ball slightly larger than a golf ball. “That ball has the same silky texture of the leather we selected for her study and the same relief stitching, but in cream. And this lamp carries the knobbiness and aesthetic of the small industrial sculpture we chose for her living room.” Sid loaded his treasures into a box. “She better not like that more, though; I found it at Goodwill.”

Lucy joined in the hunt. “Most of the cuttings have arrived; you can take this bag too.”

“Excellent. Those have Seussian textures.”

“They're smooth, they're bumpy, they're fancy, not frumpy? Something like that?” Lucy caught Sid's wink and continued to survey the room, looking for more inspiration. “Your sweater!”

Sid looked down. “What about it?”

“It's the exact color of the paint I prepped for her powder room. The one you're going to stipple with umber? Be sure to point that out.”

“So it is. I knew something felt good about this color today.” Sid narrowed his eyes at her. “Or you could give me a cutting of your hair.”

Lucy grabbed the precisely clipped end of her low ponytail and held it before her nose. “Not funny. And it's auburn. A lovely auburn.”

“You keep telling yourself that.” Sid chuckled, hoisted the
box high, and headed for the alley door. “Enjoy your morning and don't neglect any hapless soul who might invade the shop.”

“I'll try.”

She heard a faint
“Adios, mi roja belleza pelo”
as the door clicked behind him.

Lucy knew he was gone, but called out anyway, “Again. Not funny. It's auburn!”

Lucy usually savored the quiet. There was so little of it with Sid's clients calling at all hours and Sid himself moving in and out of the gallery like a hurricane. But today was different; eight hours with not a single walk-in or anxious client made Lucy ache for a distraction. Sid's morning meeting with the Bensons and their architect had gone long. None of her friends were free for lunch. And her mom was hosting an open house and couldn't chat.

While the gallery's price points kept most casual strollers away, the scented candles, Battersea boxes, fine pens, linen stationery, and assorted table smalls usually enticed a daily few—at this point, Lucy would settle for a daily one.

The door chimed and Lucy jerked the pen, cringing as an errant drop of ink fell to the page's corner. But eager to talk to another human, she quickly blotted it and placed the opened
Moby Dick
into her desk drawer to let the ink dry. She stood, smoothing both her skirt and her ponytail, and drew her hair over her shoulder as she scrambled to the front of the gallery.

“Hello?” a deep voice called as Lucy crossed from the
workroom's concrete floor onto the polished wood. She slipped and caught herself.

“Whoa,” he called again and hurried forward.

“All good.” Lucy blew her long bangs out of her eyes and took in her visitor.
He came back!
The young man, about her age with dark brown, almost black hair and eyes equally dark, smiled at her.
Chocolate brown
—
70 percent
. “Must remember not to polish that for a while. Slippery.” She followed his gaze to her feet. “Or wear lower heels. One of the two. Maybe both.”

“They certainly make you tall.” He stood only a few inches from her now, almost eye to eye. Then, as if recognizing their close proximity, he stepped back. “I don't know if you remember me, but I was in here a couple weeks ago—”

“Kidnapped,”
Lucy blurted, then tucked her lips in.

“You remembered.” A crooked smile escaped.

“I always remember the books.” Lucy laid her hand on the base of a Chinese bell jar lamp. “Buy this lamp and I'll forget you before you hit the door.” She grinned to soften the delivery. “It was for your father. Did he like it?”

“He did. He has a wonderful book collection, and
Kidnapped
's always been a favorite of mine, so it was a win-win.”

“You've read it?” Lucy challenged.

“Is this a test?” He smiled again.

The way his smile tipped up on the left side was so perfectly imperfect that it took all Lucy's willpower not to push up the right side to match it. It had struck her with the same force the first time he'd entered the gallery too. “Perhaps,” she replied. “Did you show him the fore-edge drawing?”

“I did, and I fanned the pages just like you showed me. It's
remarkable how the picture is just on the tips.” He held his index finger and thumb together as if dotting tiny pictures in the air.

“I know!” Lucy exclaimed. She had stepped forward again and found herself too close. She retreated, one step, then two. “So . . . do you need another gift?”

“Something for my grandmother, and she doesn't need a lamp.”

I won't forget you.
Lucy felt her cheeks heat at the thought and spun away, fully aware her face now matched her hair. Several former boyfriends had told her that it was not a good look. A comparison to “Animal” from the
Muppets
had even been suggested—twice. And she didn't want this man with his adorably quirky smile to see that—to remember her flush—as his first impression of her.

Lucy surveyed the shop to buy time. She knew every item and yet she didn't want to find one too soon, because then he'd leave and might never return. She took in the Henry Moore prints on the south wall.
Too expensive
. Sid's potpourri of modern works.
Too abstract and too expensive
. The mixed media sculptures.
Too industrial
. Various silver pieces, perhaps a pillbox or dish.
Perhaps.

She returned her gaze to the man and wrinkled her nose. “I'm going to need a little more information. Is she a scented candle kind of lady? Or a pillbox? We have Halcyon Days and Moorcroft.”

“What about a book?” His whisper came out low and suggestive with a pinch of adorable uncertainty.

He's flirting?
Lucy caught another of the off-kilter smiles
and was lost. “I thought of that, but my range is fairly tight and a little pricey.”

“They're overpriced?”

“They're valued perfectly,” she shot back as she twisted the large brass key and reached for a book. “None of these are first editions, but they're beautiful and limited. And in some, like this one I put out this morning, you'll find beautiful inscriptions in the front.”

Lucy opened the small volume to reveal a swirled and loopy
To my darling Betty, 1898
above a more strident and straight-lined
Now to you, dear Laura, 1939
. “This reveals another layer of story behind the one we read within the pages, and this interaction, these inscriptions, add value to the book.”

She closed the
Jane Eyre
and fanned the pages' edges to reveal Jane and Rochester standing beneath a tree. “And, like your
Kidnapped
, this copy has a fore-edge painting. The colors are amazing; it's the famous scene when Edward tells Jane that the cord between them will snap when she leaves him for Ireland.”

“I like that moment and was very relieved that the tree didn't light up above their heads, but I like it better when she comes back and finds him at Ferndale.” He lifted one brow. “What a woman!”

Lucy's lips unfastened. She felt her jaw fall and clamped it shut. “I'm sorry I tested you.”

“English literature major.” He laughed. “You assumed I couldn't read, didn't you?”

“Not couldn't. Didn't. Clearly my mistake.”

“What's your favorite?” He stepped to her and picked up the books one by one.

BOOK: The Brontë Plot
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