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Outside London, 1892
Meg Piddington tried the heavy door one more time, to no avail. "It's locked." She leaned against the barrier and eyed her fellow captive.
"I told you that already," he said, the slight hint of an Irish brogue tickling at her ears. He leaned against a table stacked with small boxes.
"Well, how are we to open it?" she asked.
"I'm thinking." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "If you would but keep your mouth shut, I might think of something useful."
She shot him an exasperated look, which he didn't even notice.
Shut her mouth, indeed.
She took the opportunity of silence to study him as he propelled himself away from the table and began to move about the room. Gareth Mandeville had been in her father's employ for only a handful of weeks. And he'd been in London only a few weeks longer than that, or so she'd been told. At the moment he crouched and leaned and moved things about, presumably trying to locate a way out of the locked storeroom.
Tall and undeniably handsome, he had attracted Meg's notice the moment she'd seen him in her father's confectionery. Something about him looked as if he'd feel more comfortable in a ballroom than in a factory. The way he carried himself, or perhaps it was the refinement of his well-sculpted features.
Light from an oil lamp flickered across his face as he turned to examine a shelf. He had the sort of eyes, thickly lashed and intense, that could see into a person—into the tiny, hidden places that housed dreams. She'd never stood so close as to determinetheir exact shade, but she pegged them for an intoxicating brown.
He turned and examined another stack of boxes. No matter what time of day she'd seen him, he always had a shadow of stubble outlining his mouth and along his chin. She knew it would feel devilishly prickly to the touch. His mouth, even though set in a frown, was enticing. Full-lipped and perfectly crafted, it was nearly mesmerizing to look at.
Oh, good heavens, she was becoming quite dramatic.
"How the bloody hell did you get locked up in here with me in the first place?" he muttered.
Attractive, but surly. Some women might find that mixture appealing, but Meg suspected that after a while it would begin to lose its effect. She frowned at him. "What is that supposed to mean?" she asked.
His glance trailed across her, taking his sweet time as his eyes slid down her body. She shivered in response.
"It means, what are you doing here?" he asked. "It's well past dark. What are you doing out at night all alone? Do you not require a chaperone or something?"
She thought she detected a slight smile. He was baiting her. "I do not need a keeper, if that is what you're implying. I can very well take care of myself, thank you very much." Perhaps he didn't know who she was. "My father owns this factory; I have every right to be here."
"I know who you are."
Then again, perhaps he did. "Well, what are you doing here this time of night?" She planted her feet and crossed her arms over her chest. She wasn't certain, but she believed that it wasn't customary for employees to be here after hours.
He shrugged. "I was working late," he said, then turned away from her to examine a tower of boxes stacked on the floor.
Evidently she was wrong. Not only did she not know if it was legitimate for employees to work late, she still hadn't figured out all the different rooms. This part of the factory housed the main divisions; her father's office overlooked the grinding and mixing floor. There was still much to learn.
A voice inside her insisted that she should probably be alarmed. It was late. Not the middle of the night, but still past dark, and she was alone in a factory with a strange man. Well, not precisely strange in the odd or peculiar sense, but more so in the never-spoken-to-him-until-today sense. For all she knew, Gareth was a ravager of innocents. She barely suppressed a shiver.
Then she sighed with resignation. No, her father would never have sent her out if he believed she might be in danger, she reminded herself. She was being silly and allowing her imagination to wander to one of the many adventure stories she'd read in the past. Where ladies wound up in all sorts of trouble.
Since her papa had broken his leg, he'd had to do business from Piddington Hall. Tonight he'd sent her to the factory to retrieve last quarter's ledger book for a meeting with his factory director the following morning. But before she made it into her father's office, she heard a noise and came in to investigate. Then the door had shut behind her. And locked.
She'd found the source of the noise. It was Gareth digging through his locker. And here they were, half an hour later, locked in with no discernible route of escape. She surveyed the room. Lockers neatly lined one side of the room. These were used by the employees to store any belongings they brought with them to work, as the men were using this storeroom until their dressing room was completed. The other side of the room housed supplies: shelves and tables piled with smaller boxes, and larger boxes stacked into towers on the floor.
She walked closer to him and peeked over his shoulder to better view what he was examining.
"What did you find?" she asked without moving away from him.
He straightened, causing his back to brush against her arm. Stepping away, he turned to face her. "Boxes," he said flatly.
"I can see that." She frowned. "You're not terribly friendly, are you?"A slight grin slid onto his face. "No, I don't suppose I am." Deliciously Wicked. Copyright © by Robyn DeHart. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.