Today's Reading

"Leo Lockland," she said, with the sort of enthusiasm normally reserved for tooth extractions and undertakers. "You've returned."

"It's good to see you, Kitty." His voice was deeper, richer than she remembered.

"It's Kat now," she said coolly.

Leo's brows rose a fraction of an inch. "I was standing here, one second ago, when the duchess called you Kitty."

She counted to three in her head. "Poppy is like a sister to me. The same rules don't apply," she replied slowly, as if she were speaking to a child.

"I've known you since you wore braids."

"That's why I did not insist that you address me as Miss Beckett," she retorted. "A decision which I am now regretting."

Leo cocked his head, conceding the point. "Then I guess I'll count myself lucky."

"It's been an age since we've seen you here," Kitty said, keeping her tone neutral lest he think she'd missed him. "I am sorry about your father."

His jaw twitched. "Thank you."

An awkward silence ensued, and Poppy cleared her throat. "How long have you been away, Leo?"

"Four years," he said, his voice laced with something akin to regret.

Poppy clucked her tongue as if she couldn't imagine being away from her beloved sea for so great a time. "You must have missed the salty spray of the ocean, the soothing rumble of the waves."

"Indeed." Leo's gaze flicked to Kitty and back to the duchess. "I have missed much about Bellehaven."

Kitty barely refrained from rolling her eyes. After working with her in his grandfather's office for three years and being a constant thorn in her side for the entire duration, he'd left without a word.

She supposed she shouldn't have been surprised, for that was the way of the world. People came into her life, stayed for a bit, then vanished, like bottles drifting out to sea. But each person who left took a piece of her with them, leaving her a bit more hollow, a bit more brittle on the inside.

Sometimes death stole people away, as it had her parents when she was just a girl. Other times happier circumstances—perhaps marriage or a new family—pulled her closest friends in different directions. No one was to blame, really. But the least a person could do was say goodbye, and Leo had not. She'd been more wounded by his sudden departure than she cared to admit, even to herself. Perhaps especially to herself.

Now he was back, acting as though he expected to pick up where they'd left off. But time had not stood still for Kitty. She'd continued her apprenticeship under Leo's kindly grandfather, Mr. Sandford. She'd honed her skills and begun to make a name for herself. Now she was counting the days until she officially came into her inheritance and could strike out on her own.

"Kitty, er, Kat," Leo said. "I wondered if I might have a word."

She inclined her head. "Go on." 

"In private," he amended.

"I shall leave you alone," Poppy said, her shrewd eyes narrowing slightly. To Leo, she added, "I hope you will pay a visit when my husband and I return to Bellehaven in the fall. In the meantime, please look after Kitty."

"I don't require looking after," Kitty huffed, indignant, as her friend glided away. "And, in case you hadn't noticed, he's hardly a suitable governess!"

"She knows how to ruffle your feathers," Leo said with a wink.

In all the hours they'd spent working directly across from each other, he'd never winked at her like that. As if he knew all her secrets. Suddenly warm, she withdrew her fan from her reticule.

She shot him a too-sweet smile, hoping to get back on familiar footing. "What did you wish to discuss?"

He hesitated a beat, so she continued. "Allow me to guess. You're upset because your favorite drafting pencil has gone missing, and you think I've hidden it." She'd certainly been guilty of that a time or two.

His eyes crinkled at the corners. The lines there were deeper than she recalled, but in a way that suited him, dash it all. "No," he said. "Try again."

This excerpt ends on page 14 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book Wild Life by Opal Wei. 

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