“Mr. MacRae,” Lady Merritt said, “this is my secretary, Miss Ewart.” She gestured to a pair of sleek leather chairs in front of a fireplace framed by a white marble mantel. “Would you like to sit over there while I speak with her?”
No, he wouldn’t. Or rather, he couldn’t. It had been days since he’d had a decent rest. If he sat for even a few minutes, exhaustion would overtake him.
He shook his head. “I’ll stand.”
Lady Merritt gazed at him as if he and his problems interested her more than anything else in the world. The private tenderness in her eyes could have melted an icehouse in the dead of winter. “Would you like coffee?” she suggested. “With cream and sugar?”
That sounded so good, it almost weakened his knees. “Aye,” he said gratefully.
In no time at all, the secretary had brought out a little silver tray with a coffee service and a footed porcelain mug. She set it on a table, where Lady Merritt proceeded to pour the coffee and stir in cream and sugar. Keir had never had a woman do that for him before. He drew closer, mesmerized by the graceful movements of her hands.
She gave him the mug, and he wrapped his fingers around it, relishing the radiant heat. Before drinking, however, he warily inspected the half-moon-shaped ledge at the rim of the cup.
“A mustache cup,” Lady Merritt explained, noticing his hesitation. “That part at the top guards a gentleman’s upper lip from the steam, and keeps mustache wax from melting into the beverage.”
Keir couldn’t hold back a grin as he lifted the cup to his lips. His own facial hair was close-trimmed, no wax necessary. But he’d seen the elaborate mustaches affected by wealthy men who had the time every morning to twirl and wax the ends into stiff little curls. Apparently the style required the making of special drinking mugs for them.
The coffee was rich and strong, possibly the best he’d ever had. So delicious, in fact, that he couldn’t stop himself from downing it in just a few gulps. He was too famished to sip like a gentleman. Sheepishly he began to set the cup back on the tray, deciding it would be rude to ask for more.
Without even asking, Lady Merritt refilled his cup and prepared it again with sugar and cream. “I’ll be but a moment,” she said, before going to confer with the secretary.
Keir drank more slowly this time, and set the cup down. While the women talked, he meandered back to the desk to have a look at the shiny black contraption. A typewriter. He’d seen advertisements of them in newspapers. Intrigued, he bent to examine the alphabet keys mounted on tiny metal arms.
After the secretary left the room, Lady Merritt came to stand by Keir’s side. Noticing his interest in the machine, she inserted a small sheet of letter paper and turned a roller to position it. “Push one of the letters,” she invited.
Cautiously Keir touched a key, and a metal rod rose to touch an inked ribbon mounted in front of the paper. But when the arm lowered, the page was still blank.
“Harder,” Lady Merritt advised, “so the letter plate strikes the paper.”
Keir shook his head. “I dinna want to break it.” The typewriter looked fragile and bloody expensive.
“You won’t. Go on, try it.” Smiling at his continued refusal, she said, “I’ll type your name, then.” She hunted for the correct keys, tapping each one firmly. He watched over her shoulder as his name emerged in tiny, perfect font.
Mr. Keir MacRae
“Why are the letters no’ in alphabetical order?” Keir asked.
“If you type letters that are too close together, such as S and T, the metal arms jam together. Arranging the alphabet this way helps the machine operate smoothly. Shall I type something else?”
“Aye, your name.”
A dimple appeared in her soft cheek as she complied. All Keir’s attention was riveted on the tiny, delectable hollow. He wanted to press his lips there, touch his tongue to it.
Lady Merritt Sterling, she typed.
“Merritt,” he repeated, testing the syllables on his lips. “’Tis a family name?”
“Not exactly. I was born during a storm, on a night when the doctor wasn’t available, and the midwife was in her cups. But the local veterinarian, Dr. Merritt, volunteered to help my mother through her labor, and they decided to name me after him.”
Keir felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Although he was half starved and had been in the devil’s own mood for most of the day, a feeling of well-being began to creep over him.
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