St. Augustine, East Florida Colony
The instant Dinah saw the three naval officers, she ducked into the mercantile and hid among the stacks of goods. To her relief, the men, grandly uniformed in indigo wool, gold braid and black bicorne hats, continued up St. George Street. Yet she could not help but notice the well-formed profile of the captain among them. A strong jaw. High cheekbones. Jet-black hair tied back in a queue. She wondered what color his eyes were.
What was she thinking? She quickly turned her attention to a display of awls and knives laid out on a shelf.
"How may I help you, Miss Templeton?" The rotund, middle-aged proprietor approached her, admiration gleaming in his dark eyes. "Some silk for a new gown, perhaps? My latest shipment of lace has arrived and--"
"No, thank you." Dinah lifted her basket of lavender flowers from her arm and held it like a shield as the widower moved closer. Coming in here had been a mistake.
"I do not require anything." Tension tightening in her chest, she hurried toward the door.
He reached it first, and his eyebrows arched. "I have tea from China and..."
Dinah drew herself up to her full height and lifted her chin. "Please allow me to pass, Mr. Waterston."
He mirrored her posture, although his shorter height did not reach hers, and he sniffed. "I must say, Miss Templeton, for a girl with no family, you certainly do put on airs. Would you not prefer to be mistress of your own home instead of living with Mr. and Mrs. Hussey?" His shoulders slumped, his gaze softened and his lips curved into a gentle smile. "You could do worse than marrying a responsible merchant such as myself."
A twinge of pity softened her annoyance. "As I have told you before, sir, we truly would not suit."
Even if she found the merchant's offer appealing, which she did not, his reminder of her orphaned state did nothing to recommend him, nor did his reference to her living situation. She did indeed have relatives, but they were all far away. And yes, she would like to be mistress of her own home. But in truth, not one of the many unattached men in St. Augustine suited her, in spite of her friends' attempts at matchmaking. After four years in this small city, she had no doubt God had consigned her to a state of spinsterhood.
"I wish you a good day, sir." She slid past Mr. Waterston and walked out into the street, lifting a silent prayer of thanks that the encounter had ended without unpleasantness. She encountered quite enough unpleasantness every day at home.
Coming to this city had not been her preference, but she'd had no other choice. Even before the beginning of the war that now raged in the northern colonies, she had felt twice displaced. Her parents died when she was very small, and her relatives had been unable to take her in. Then, when the dear spinster ladies who reared her died of a fever, the elders of the Nantucket Friends Meeting placed her with the Husseys, for Mrs. Hussey had also been reared by the Gardiner sisters. Once the war began to escalate, Artemis Hussey insisted upon removing to this safe haven, where no rebels could threaten to tar and feather him for his Loyalist views. Over these past four years, he had grown more and more disagreeable and usually aimed his dissatisfaction at Dinah rather than at his wife, Anne.
But as Dinah continued on her way, thoughts of Artemis vanished amid the chatter and clatter along the dusty street. When she reached the Parade, the grassy common in front of the governor's house, she approached several well-dressed ladies who were whispering behind opened fans, their admiring stares aimed across the green lawn.
Elizabeth Markham, a friend near her...
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