As Emma set out a meal, Anna found a rag and cleaned the window so she could see out into the yard. It was then she saw the man.
He wore no hat. The gentle breeze whispering about the hillside blew his overlong chestnut-colored hair into his eyes. Thoughtlessly, his hand came up to toss it back in a movement that was nearly sensual. He wore dark brown cord trousers and a black long coat, left open to reveal a cream woolen shirt. His boots were worn and dusty and over his shoulder hung a canvas bag, not unlike the ones sailors carry.
For a timeless moment, Anna watched, fascinated, as he stopped beside Maisie and gave her a most disarming grin. Unable to hear what was being said, she walked down the path towards them. Nearing the cart, she saw the man lift his head and stare at her with undisguised interest.
“It’s a beautiful day.” His voice was musical and pleasant to the ear, like most Irish tones are. The small lines at the corners of his blue eyes crinkled when he smiled, as though smiling was something he did a lot.
So he is Irish. Anna’s first thought about him came unbidden.
“This fella is lookin’ for work, Miss Anna,” said Maisie.
Anna stared at him. An odd sensation stirred in the pit of her stomach, one she instantly recognized. It made her angry even to think she could find any man attractive again after all that had happened to her, especially a tramp off the roads. What on earth was the matter with her? Annoyed, she stiffened her shoulders.
“There is no work here.” She dismissed him with a frown. The harshness in her tone made Maisie’s eyes widen.
“I’d have thought there is plenty to be done here,” the Irishman commented with a lazy smile.
“That may be—” Anna faltered as Maisie, tugging at her arm, pulled her away.
“We need help. We can’t fix this place on our own.”
“I know, but I do not want just anyone coming off the road,” Anna whispered back defiantly. “Besides, as yet I don’t know whether I can afford to hire a man.”
“Excuse me, ladies.” The Irishman strolled over to them. He looked at Anna. “Is your husband around? Maybe I should talk to him?”
Lifting her chin a fraction, Anna stared coldly. “I have no husband.”
He shrugged with only a touch of arrogance and, again, the lazy smile. “All the more reason, then, to hire me.”
“Miss Anna, please, just until we get on our feet,” pleaded Maisie.
Anna tried to think clearly about the situation and ignore the rapid heartbeat this man’s smile created. True, they did need someone, but preferably not this fellow. He was too good looking, too sure of himself. Anna felt apprehensive just from his mere appraisal of her. She didn’t like it at all, but, at the same time, the convenience of him being on hand and willing to work outweighed her doubts.
Sighing, she glanced at Maisie and then at the Irishman. “Very well, I will give you a two week trial at fourteen shillings a week. Agreed?”
His smiled widened. “Agreed.” He winked at Maisie.
“You can start by unloading this cart and stacking everything in the front parlor. Maisie will show you where.”
“Right you are, Ma’am. By the way, the name is Brenton O’Mara.” He grinned.
Anna blushed. How foolish to forget to ask his name. “Mrs. Thornton,” she said woodenly. The man irritated her and she instantly regretted hiring him. Something was there when their eyes met that made her question her very sanity. Turning on her heel, she went back inside.
To Gain What's Lost, a historical novel, is out December 14th 2011