Home > Loved and Found

Loved and Found
Author: Christi Caldwell

 

Prologue


London, England

Years Earlier

The girl was hiding.

Or, ten-year-old, Thaddeus Phippen thought she was hiding. She kept sticking her auburn head out of the doorway and peering back and forth down the hall.

He knew, because at that precise moment, he was hiding, too.

If she was hiding, she was doing a deuced bad job of it.

If she wasn’t…then Thaddeus had no idea what she was doing.

But then, girls were peculiar creatures.

And he said that, as someone with a sister of his own.

Just then, the girl ducked her head out for a fifth time and peeked about the double-glazed, robin’s-egg blue, curved door panel.

Aye, if she was intent on hiding, whoever was searching was most certainly going to find her.

And Thaddeus, son of a bricklayer, and a worker under his father’s employer, the builder, Mr. Webb, found himself…intrigued.

Because it was his first assignment working for Mr. Webb, and it was also the first time in the whole of his ten years of existence Thaddeus had ever seen a lady. At least up close, and this small.

With emerald-studded hair combs in her auburn hair, and a lacy white dress, she positively sparkled and shined like Thaddeus hadn’t known a person could. She was certainly too grand to talk to, and yet Thaddeus couldn’t make himself look away.

He certainly should.

Mr. Webb was conducting a meeting with the Duke and Duchess of Huntington on the upcoming renovations to their townhouse, and while he did, Thaddeus was supposed to be out in the barn.

And he’d surely be sacked if his employer—or if anyone—discovered him hiding in the household belonging to a duke. It was just that Thaddeus had never before seen a nobleman’s home, and he’d been intrigued enough to sneak off and slip inside when his employer had been conducting business within.

And the house was nothing short of a palace, with each room large enough to fit fifteen or more single-room homes, not unlike that which he shared with his family of five.

The windows gleamed, letting bright slashes of golden rays come streaming through. Living with his family in their own hovel, in the toughest part of London, it was often cloaked in such thick, heavy fog, he’d not known sun was even a reality in England.

They had shiny porcelain statues of little people and sheep tucked upon various mahogany tables.

So many sheep.

Yet, with all that he’d found himself most intrigued, he was riveted by that little girl hiding.

Because he’d also not known that fine little ladies who belonged to a duke and duchess did something such as hide, like he did.

“Thaddeus?” That furious whisper came from somewhere in the corridor. “Thaddeus?” It grew more frantic, and frustrated.

His elder brother, Martin. The one who’d gotten him this job, and the one who took the work he did for Mr. Webb as seriously as if he himself were the builder.

Silently cursing, Thaddeus forgot his curiosity with the little lady and leaned back inside the parlor he’d taken refuge in.

He caught the faint tread of approaching footfalls.

“You’re going to get yourself sacked,” Martin whispered as he neared the place Thaddeus had shut himself away.

And for a moment, Thaddeus suspected he’d been found out, and by his elder brother, no less.

He held his breath, keeping the air trapped in his chest, until Martin’s footfalls grew closer and closer, and it became harder and harder to not exhale the breath he kept lodged inside.

And then those footfalls grew more and more faded, and then diminished altogether.

Thaddeus waited a moment more and then released the painful breath he’d been holding.

He scrunched up his mouth.

He should go.

He really needed to.

After all, it would hardly be fair to his father and brother were Thaddeus to be discovered lurking about the home of Mr. Webb’s client.

With a sigh, and unable to resist another look, Thaddeus stole a further quick peek out the doorway.

“Are you hiding, too?”

Thaddeus frowned, as those crisp, polished tones, belonging to a proper lady, echoed around the hall.

And then he found her.

She was still hiding in the room across the hall.

She stared back with the widest, biggest blue eyes he’d ever seen.

Curious eyes.

Except—Thaddeus frowned—she couldn’t be staring at him. He was hiding, and he was the best at it.

If there were any doubts, however, that he’d been found out, and by a little lady, no less, the answer was made clear a moment later, when the girl darted out from the room opposite his and raced headlong for Thaddeus and his hiding space.

The moment she reached him, she pushed the door closed; the hinges didn’t so much as squeak, and the quiet click as she shut the panel, was the only telltale sound.

And up close, she was more magnificent than anything or anyone he’d ever seen in his whole ten years. And Thaddeus wasn’t one to note girls. But this one…this one was unlike any one…any person he’d ever seen.

Her auburn curls kissed by streaks of gold were the same shade of that streaming sun that rarely made an appearance in London. Thaddeus widened his eyes. And her skin. Why, it was the finest, softest looking anything he’d ever seen, but she had freckles upon her rounded cheeks. Her skin had a faint bronzed color, like she played in the sun, and the gods had graced her with the same sheen as those golden statues the fancy toffs stuck in their households.

The girl cocked her head. “Can you talk?”

Of course, he could.

He opened his mouth to say as much.

But she’d tipped her head, and those curls bounced, and he found himself just as intrigued by those ringlets because he didn’t know hair could curl that way. Like a perfect corkscrew.

So, he managed nothing more than a nod in answer to her question.

“Who are you hiding from?” The slight emphasis she placed on that particular word indicated he’d been right in his thinking. She was hiding.

“You knew?” he blurted.

She puzzled her little brow.

“That I was here,” he said, reminding himself to speak in a complete sentence, and not to keep staring at her like a dunderhead. It’s just…he’d never seen a person like her this close, in his life.

“Since the moment you snuck in,” she said, with a proud puff of her chest.

Thaddeus frowned.

And here he’d thought he was better than that. He was. He’d just been sloppy this day, and given where he was, and the work he did, it was perhaps the most dangerous time to be sloppy.

“You’re hiding from my mother and father, too,” she predicted.

“Who…are your mother and father?” he asked, dread pitting in his stomach; even as he asked, he knew. Because the girl before him could only be the daughter of a duke or prince, but with the way she shined, certainly nothing less.

“The duke and duchess,” the girl muttered, with a regret to rival his own.

Thaddeus’s gaze slipped over the top of her head, and he swallowed hard…and loudly.

Oh, trouble on Sunday.

Hiding with the duke’s daughter, his employer’s client’s daughter? This was bad.

“You’re hiding from them, too? Aren’t you?” she asked a second time.

Hot Books
» House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
» A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire
» From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)
» A Million Kisses in Your Lifetime
» Deviant King (Royal Elite #1)
» Den of Vipers
» House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City #2)
» Sweet Temptation
» The Sweetest Oblivion (Made #1)
» Chasing Cassandra (The Ravenels #6)
» Steel Princess (Royal Elite #2)
» Wreck & Ruin
» Twisted Hate (Twisted #3)
» Angry God (All Saints High #3)
» The War of Two Queens (Blood and Ash #4)