A Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred #3)(8)

By: Joanna Shupe


But never nice.

“I am sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “I should go. I am quite awful at this and I have already insulted you.” She grabbed for her gloves and hat. She kept talking, her mouth moving, but he was unable see enough of her face to make out the words.

He touched her arm to stop her and then started writing. You have not insulted me. I am surprised, is all.

“Does that mean I may continue walking through your gardens each morning?”

A laugh bubbled up in his chest. The girl was persistent, at least. She stood close to read his ledger, her head barely reaching his shoulder. He could see the fine hairs at her temple and the sweep of her brown lashes. Her skin was flawless, the features delicate and symmetrical. She was absolutely stunning, a woman to turn heads everywhere she went.

“I shall take a different path, if you wish. One that does not lead me near your . . . whatever this is.” She waved her hand around the greenhouse he’d converted into a workshop. “I won’t bother you. Please, Oliver.”

He put his hands on his hips and stared out the glass at the wide expanse of growth. Guilt nagged at him. He was being unnecessarily cruel. What had her trespassing harmed? If she stayed away from him, what did he care? She had appeared peaceful out there just now, almost happy. Did she truly like the place that much? He thought of his mother, leading him around the tall hedges when he was a boy.

This is my greatest joy, she’d told him, seeing you enjoy a place I love so much.

It would have made his mother happy to know Christina appreciated the gardens, too.

He went back to his ledger. Use the gardens as much as you like. I do not mind.

“Truly?”

Excitement brightened her expression, brown gaze sparkling, and his mouth dried out. He swallowed and looked down at the paper. Why do you like them? It is not even spring.

“It is quiet. I am able to be alone there.” She bit her lip. “Well, almost alone.”

He could understand the need for solitude. That had been his main priority in the past decade.

She pointed to the equipment resting on the counter. “What are you working on?”

Various wires and tools littered the surface of his workspace. He had been perfecting his design for an electric hearing device that would assist the partially deaf to hear. It would not help him, but it would change the lives of millions of people around the world.

Instead of attempting to explain it, he pointed at her with both hands. “Come here,” he signed, curling his arms toward himself. Without any fear or hesitation whatsoever, Christina closed the distance between them. He picked up the earpiece and held it near her ear. Then he switched on the large battery and lightly tapped the microphone with his finger.

Her eyes rounded. “Oh, my.” He tapped again. “How remarkable,” she said, handing him the earpiece. “That will help people to hear?”

Yes, it will. Not the completely deaf, he wrote on his pad with a pencil. It is not a cure.

“How do you know it works if you cannot hear the sounds?”

Vibration, he wrote and put a finger on the earpiece. It was the same way he was able to enjoy music.

“Remarkable.” Christina’s gaze sparkled in genuine fascination. Oliver had not shown anyone this version yet, so her interest was a positive sign. “Have you sold it?”

It is too bulky and too expensive. This model would cost at least four hundred dollars.

Her eyes bulged at the figure, a number so high as to be impractical for most anyone. “And you are trying to bring down the cost?”

“Yes,” he signed but did not elaborate. He doubted she came here to discuss his efforts to create a high-voltage dry cell battery.

“May I sit and watch you work?”

“Christina,” he signed, spelling out the letters of her name, lingering on the last letter in frustration.

“Oliver,” she signed back, the movements perfectly executed, and her expression was so full of fake exasperation that he nearly laughed.

You have been practicing, he wrote.

A slight flush crept over her cheeks, captivating him. “Just those letters. I hope you will teach me more someday.”

He hung his head to hide a smile. He did not want to like her but she was adorable and obviously intelligent. No pretension, as one might have expected with an English aristocrat. His plan to remain aloof seemed a losing battle, a coat that no longer fit. Perhaps if he showed her a few simple signs then she would leave. I suppose I could, he wrote. Then you must go.

She nodded eagerly. Using four fingers and a flat hand, he touched his temple, his elbow pointed at the ground, and then shifted his hand to the right. “Hello,” he signed.

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