As surreptitiously as she could, Rose rolled her shoulders. They ached from being hunched over her notepad, and her back wasn’t much better. She was used to long hours with Lady Caro, but Mr Evans put them to shame.
He was relentless. From their arrival this morning until now, he’d interviewed without pause. One person would leave, another would enter, and he would begin his questioning again. They had interviewed all the guests, the live-in staff, the delivery men, and they were next to start on the day staff.
Currently, they were experiencing a rare lull. Gaze distant, Mr Evans sat sprawled in his chair, long legs stretched before him with his elbow bent on the arm of the chair and two fingers propping his temple. He didn’t appear relaxed, though. Overall, his posture was one of intensity, as if he sorted and catalogued all the information he’d gleaned.
Remaining quiet, she clasped her hands in her lap and, again, subtly stretched her shoulders.
At the infinitesimal movement, Mr Evans’ gaze snapped to her, his dark eyes narrowed. “What is wrong?”
“I apologise, sir. I did not mean to disturb you.”
“That is not what I asked, Miss Webster. What ails you?”
“It is nothing.”
“Again, not what I asked.”
Pinching the webbing between her thumb and forefinger, she counted to five. “I am a bit stiff, sir.”
His brow furrowed. “Why?”
Was he seriously asking her why? “We have been here all morning, sir.”
As he looked around, realisation lifted his brows. “It is afternoon.” He stood abruptly. “Come.”
Startled, she looked up at him. “I beg your pardon?”
“Come. Your muscles have seized from unusual posture and inaction. We will stretch them. Also, you will eat. You have missed lunch.”
She blinked. She did not know how to respond, but— “You have missed lunch also.”
He waved his hand, as if food was not a consideration for him. “Stand, Miss Webster, and we will rectify your ailments.”
Bemused, she stood and proceeded him from the room. Long strides took him down the hall, and she hurried to follow. Of a sudden, he stopped and she slammed into his back, her hands flying up to brace herself. He was hard and unyielding, his muscles firm. Face burning, she dropped her hands.
He gave her an impatient look. “Where are the stables?”
Confusion chased away her embarrassment. “Outside?”
“I know that, Miss Webster. How do we get to them?”
“Oh. This way.” She started in the direction she knew the stables to be.
“Via the kitchens, Miss Webster.”
They did as he bade, the cook providing them with cheese, chicken, bread and a pitcher of lemonade. Mr Evans did not wait for her to consume the food, instead exiting the kitchen in the direction of the stable. Again, Rose hurried to keep pace, this time struggling with the basket containing the food along with her notebook.
“Miss Webster.” Looking up from the basket, she found Mr Evans frowning at her. “Give me the basket.”
She shook her head. “I can manage, sir—”
“Perhaps you can, but there is no need. I am stronger than you. I shall carry the basket.”
He was so confusing, this man. “Sir, you are gentry. You should not—”
“Miss Webster,” he said evenly. “Do not make me tell you again.”
His tone brooked no disagreement. Wordlessly, she handed him the basket.
Taking it, he said, “How are your shoulders?”
“Better for the exercise.”
He nodded. “Good.” He looked about them, his gaze arrested by a bench under a willow tree, seemingly placed there the enjoy the vista of the valley. “Perhaps I could use some sustenance as well. Let us sit.” Again, he took off, his long legs eating the ground.
By the time she reached the bench, he had already seated himself and began to spread out the food. Hesitantly, she seated herself beside him and, when he didn’t protest the familiarity, helped herself to some bread and a glass of lemonade.
They ate in silence.
“Polly Mayweather mentioned a son.”
Finishing her bite, she glanced at him. Brow creased, he stared ahead, a hunk of cheese forgotten in his hand.
Polly Mayweather…oh, the downstairs maid. A son? Whose son?
Glancing askance, he captured her with his dark eyes. There was a lighter ring around his pupils, an amber brown with flecks of the same in the inky darkness of the iris. Her breath grew short, and she wanted to lay her hand on his cheek. She wanted to push the lock that had fallen forward behind his ear, wanted to draw his face to hers, wanted to see if his mouth was as soft as it looked…
Wrenching her gaze away, she admonished herself. He was not for her. He had never been for her. She knew this, had accepted it long ago. There were different sorts, and never the twain shall meet. That he kept blurring the lines was no reason to forget herself.
Deliberately, she forced her thoughts back to his comment. Polly Mayweather. Cleaned the hearths. She reported she’d cleaned Lady Caro’s, Lord William’s, and…Lord William’s son’s. “Yes. Lord Henry Faringdon.”
“I have not interviewed Lord Henry Faringdon.”
She didn’t know why. As Lady Caro’s maid and secretary, she should have kept tabs on who was where, but the last fortnight had been whirlwind and—she was loath to admit it—his departure may have escaped her notice. “It is odd he was not in the house. Perhaps the grooms will know his whereabouts? Maybe he took a horse out this morning.”
He scowled. “I specifically instructed all to remain in the house until I interviewed them.”
“Some don’t always listen to instruction.”
He grunted, clearly again lost in thought.
She ate her lunch quietly, enjoying the breeze on her skin. The ache in her shoulders had lessened but had not left completely. It never fully did.
“How is your luncheon?”
Again, an abrupt question. She was beginning to realise this was just his way. “Very good, sir.”
He scowled. “No need for sir. Call me Evans, if you must call me anything.”
“I cannot do such a thing. It is not done.”
His breath exploded. “I have no care for rules. I am called Evans. Why should you not call me such?”
“Perhaps, when we are as we are now, I can call you Evans.”
“You mean alone?”
She shivered. Not for you, Rose.
He stood. “Come, we must to the stables.”
Again, she followed him, admonishing herself again all the while. She had no business entertaining fancies best left to the girl she had been. He was here to solve Sir George’s murder and ease Lady Caro’s pain. In a few days, he would be gone and, if she allowed herself to fall again like the silly girl she had been, she would have no one but herself to blame for the inevitable heartache.
He was not for her. When would she learn this lesson?