Fletcher's Woman

Fletcher's Woman by Linda Lael Miller Read Free Book Online

Book: Fletcher's Woman by Linda Lael Miller Read Free Book Online
Authors: Linda Lael Miller
prisms gleaming like bits of a shattered rainbow, over a polished oak table. Six floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on a garden of budding roses and a three-tiered marble fountain.
    She thought of the tent where she’d taken her breakfast, and a small, rueful smile curved her lips.
    â€œI’m Mrs. Hammond,” the housekeeper announced brusquely, as she led the way through a swinging door and into the largest, cleanest kitchen Rachel had ever seen.
    She stared at the gleaming copper kettles hanging on theyellow walls, at the glass-fronted cupboards filled with exquisite china. “My name is Rachel. Rachel McKinnon.”
    Mrs. Hammond turned. There was a quickening in her expression, and her thick hands tugged at the full-length apron protecting her dark, rustling dress. “McKinnon,” she mused, seeming to taste the name. “McKinnon. Now that name is right familiar to me.”
    Rachel shrugged offhandedly. “It’s common enough, I suppose.”
    â€œMcKinnon?” Mrs. Hammond shook her neatly groomed gray head. “You don’t hear that often, like you do ‘Smith’ or ‘Jones.’ ”
    Rachel was intimidated—by her surroundings, by Mr. Jonas Wilkes, and by this stern-faced, disapproving housekeeper. Nervously, she ran her hands down the skirts of her ruined, icy dress. “Y-You’re very kind—to go to all this trouble, I mean.”
    Mrs. Hammond took a steaming teakettle from the cook-stove, poured water into a bright yellow china pot, and measured in several generous scoops of tea. Her expression softened slightly as she looked at Rachel, and there was a note of unexpected kindness in her voice when she spoke again. “No trouble. Here—come and stand by the stove while I find you something warm and dry to wear.”
    Rachel approached the great, gleaming monster of a stove. It’s nickel scrollwork glinted and shone, even in the dim light of a stormy day, and the warmth was wonderful. “Thank you.”
    â€œAnd don’t be worrying about your poor, spoiled dress,” the woman called, as she marched off toward the swinging door leading back to the dining room. “We’ve got a thing or two around here that will probably fit you.”
    Rachel trembled, huddled close to the stove. Her eyes fell with longing on the yellow teapot, and the curling steam from its spout brought a tantalizing scent to her nostrils.
    She drew a deep breath and waited.
    After perhaps five minutes, Mrs. Hammond returned, bustling and pink-cheeked, a long, flannel nightgown clutched to her rounded bosom. “There’s a little dressing room right around the corner,” she said. “Why don’t you get out of those wet clothes while I pour us some tea?”
    Rachel took the soft gown in eager fingers, her eyes downcast, and obeyed.
    The dressing room sported a huge enamel bathtub, softchairs, and an exquisite painted silk screen to disrobe behind. Awed, Rachel stepped around it and peeled off the hateful calico dress and the sodden cotton drawers and camisole beneath it. The flannel gown felt wonderfully smooth and warm as it fell against her skin.
    What would it be like to wear such things as a matter of course and take baths in a room apparently reserved exclusively for the purpose? Did her mother live this way?
    Rachel smiled to herself. At Miss Cunningham’s, in Seattle, she’d taken her baths in the middle of the kitchen floor, scrubbing furtively, ever fearing that one of the other tenants might wander in.
    She drew a deep breath and hurried back to the kitchen, where Mrs. Hammond graciously poured tea.
    It was almost like being a lady.
    Rachel drank one cup of strong, fragrant tea and longed for another, but demurred when Mrs. Hammond offered it. She’d behaved scandalously enough, arriving as she had, sopping wet and in the carriage of a relative stranger. It wouldn’t do to add gluttony to her sins.
    Half an

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