Home > A Texas Christmas Carol(2)

A Texas Christmas Carol(2)
Author: Karen Witemeyer

Evan rose from his chair, a glower crunching his brows down over his eyes. “I’ll dock your pay.”

Her hands fell away from her hips and slid to hide beneath her apron, but her chin lifted. “My sanity’s worth a day’s wage.”

Of all the frustrating . . . imbecilic . . .

“Fine.”

He charged around the corner of his desk, his limp barely slowing him at all with such irritation fueling his stride. Raw bread dough indeed. Mrs. Bell was lucky she was a better cook than she was a doorman, or he’d sack her this instant. She scuttled out of his way as he charged forward. Most people did. Hopefully the infernal knocking witch at his door would do the same so he could get back to work. Without further interruption.

Evan snatched his cane from where it rested near his office doorway even though it was more of an insurance policy than an actual need. His trick knee hadn’t gone out on him in several months, but one never knew when disaster might strike, and he refused to be humiliated in front of strangers or staff by falling on his face. Besides, the cane made a grand weapon to wave around in a threatening fashion, should his unwanted visitor prove stubborn.

As he neared the front door, the tapping grew louder. His temper heated in equal increments. When he finally grasped the handle, he jerked the door inward. “Cease that infernal knocking!”

The unsuspecting percussionist lurched forward but thankfully caught herself before tumbling on top of him.

The moment Evan recognized Felicity Wiggins, his relief over the near miss turned to a momentary flicker of regret. One he banished immediately. He’d spent the last two years studiously avoiding personal contact with the fair Miss Wiggins, and he wasn’t about to let his guard down now, no matter how her eyes lit at the sight of him.

Such a look had to be a pretense. No one actually enjoyed his company. A fact of which he was perfectly aware. And not the least bit sorry.

“Mr. Beazer!” she said, her voice ringing with a delight that sounded almost genuine.

He hadn’t thought her such an accomplished actress, but then, she no doubt wanted something from him, and women were at their most cunning when they wanted something.

“Good afternoon to you, sir. Hasn’t the Lord blessed us with a lovely day?”

Evan didn’t bother to look at the sky to which she gestured. “It’s December, Miss Wiggins. It’s cold and dreary.”

Her smile only brightened, ornery thing. “Nonsense. It’s a beautiful day. The cloud cover protects me from squinting, and the wind is gentle as a lamb. A rare gift at this time of year.”

Evan scowled down at her, doing his best to quell his fascination with the way the cloud-filtered light brought out the fire in the dark copper hair coiled atop her head. “Surely you didn’t seek me out to compare theories on the weather.”

“Of course not. I came to enlist your help. I’m in charge of the community Christmas baskets this year, and I—”

“Not a cent. Now leave,” he groused.

It shouldn’t surprise him that she wanted money. Everyone did. Nothing else could motivate them to beard the lion in his den. Nevertheless, a twinge of disappointment caught him by surprise. Until today, he hadn’t thought Miss Wiggins was like everyone else. But why wouldn’t she be?

“There are children in need, Mr. Beazer,” she insisted, her smile finally dimming as a flush of passion colored her cheeks. “It is our Christian duty to help them.”

“No one’s Christian duty helped me when I was a boy. I was destitute and living off my wits after the Panic of ’73 destroyed my family. Hard work and frugal living is what saved me, Miss Wiggins, not a Christmas basket filled with a week’s worth of food and secondhand clothes. Now, leave me be.”

As he stepped back and started closing the door, she followed him, her smile restored and her green eyes sparkling. “If you don’t wish to contribute money, then I’ll gladly accept a donation of your time.”

“Absolutely not. My time is far too precious to be frittered away on fluff and nonsense. Unlike you, I work for a living. Good day, madam.”

Her smile wobbled a bit but bravely held position. “I’ll give you some time to think about it,” she said, bending her neck so she could peer around the closing door. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”

What a horrifying prospect!

Evan widened the door enough to stick his head through the opening and glare at her. “I’ll not open this door again to you, Miss Wiggins. No matter how long you knock.”

Her eyes danced with mischief. “Then I suppose I’ll just have to find a window.”

 

 

two


THE LITTLE MINX PROVED AS GOOD as her word. The following day, Miss Wiggins appeared at Evan’s study window, squeezed between two hedges, and began tapping the end of a knitting needle, of all things, against the glass. No doubt she’d tested various objects to see which produced the most annoying pitch, for when he finally threw up the sash to demand she leave, he found no evidence of yarn, knitted or otherwise, on her person.

The day after that, she ambushed him after Sunday services. He always made a point to leave during the final hymn, having no desire to chat with other parishioners. This Sunday, however, his nemesis beat him to it, sneaking out halfway through the sermon. He’d harbored a brief flash of concern for her health only to be waylaid mere moments later by a woman demonstrating not the least sign of sickliness. God could not have made a more vibrant female.

Felicity Wiggins was his antithesis in every way. As warm in spirit as her copper curls were in coloring. Her sunny disposition and kind nature charmed everyone she met. Except him, of course. Ice water ran through his veins. A raging forest fire would fail to thaw him. Success in business required dispassionate calculation, so he’d rid himself of all sentiment from an early age and focused solely on what kept the ledger totals in the black. The Ice King, his partner used to call him, because of his cool demeanor and prematurely gray hair.

Like his father before him, Evan’s hair started turning gray after his twenty-third birthday. In the beginning, it needled his vanity to be mistaken for a much older man. Then he realized the power of leveraging that misperception to his advantage. Men of business were more apt to trust a man they believed to be experienced. Wise, even. And after a fall from his horse rendered Evan’s left knee unreliable, he started carrying a cane, which further enhanced the image. Now, at the age of two and thirty, most thought him in his fifties unless they took the time to notice the lack of lines on his face. Which most didn’t, since they were in too much of a hurry to escape his presence. Exactly as he preferred.

His business partner had thought it a lark to play up Evan’s “advanced” age with investors. Marlin Jacobson had been an associate of Evan’s father prior to the market crash, one who’d had the foresight not to invest solely in railroads, but in property as well. Hotels, dance halls, emporiums. Wherever people came to spend money. Property offered the stability that rail speculation did not. Evan modeled his business practices after Marlin, craving a secure bottom line more than a lucrative one. He would not be his father, cast into a poorhouse because of overconfident investing, leaving his wife and child to fend for themselves.

At first, old Marlin had pawned Evan off on men he had little liking for, no doubt expecting Evan’s scheme of running an inn that catered to the middle class an idiotic notion. Yet when Evan started turning a tidy profit for Marlin’s enemies, he changed his tune and started investing his own funds. Before he died last year, they’d successfully launched a dozen inns together.

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