Today I am shining the spotlight on Jill Hughey’s contribution to the Love Historicals anthology, Once Upon A Kiss.
BLURB for VAIN:
Lily had her life planned, neat and tidy as thread on a spindle, until her mother died and her father snipped at the seams of her future by abandoning Lily in their shop. A nobleman unexpectedly gives her hope when he brings fabric for a special garment. Lily survives on his first payment, and immerses herself in sewing and embroidering an incomparable tunic for him, as her tidy plan continues to unravel.
Theophilus, Lord of Ribeauville, takes his responsibility to his townspeople seriously and, therefore, does not dally with local women. Desire wars with duty when Lily glances up at him while adjusting the hem on his Easter tunic. As her deteriorating circumstances push them together, Theo and Lily learn that the path to his heart just might be through his wardrobe, though the exquisite outfit she creates is the only part of her that fits in his precarious aristocratic world.
She rushed out the door, flustered. What had happened? Everything had been fine until she’d begun making adjustments to his hem. That had felt horribly awkward to her. Had it bothered him too? She had been trying to do her job briskly, just as her father had always done. Maybe a man did not mind another man touching his hem but very much minded a woman doing so. Lily sighed, pressing her back against the wall, then resting her head there, as well. Even though she occupied the same world she always had, every day brought unforeseen and unfamiliar questions and challenges. She did her best to guess and fool her way through it all. In truth, the only time she felt comfortable in her own skin was when she worked on the lord’s tunic. Or at least she felt comfortable when her lord was not in the tunic as she worked on it.
She sighed. If only her father had returned. He would have that hem rolled and marked in a thrice. He would explain Riculf. He would talk to Cluny and set her life on the right course again.
Her lord emerged, once again smartly attired in the green tunic and mantle she had sewn last spring about this time. He did not know she had sewn it. Her father had done the fitting. She had made every cut and stitch. “Father is never coming back, is he?” she blurted.
The question did not surprise him. He stood straight and proud and confident in his own comfortable life. “Not soon enough,” he said.
At first she did not understand the answer. Then it clicked. Not soon enough to help you. Not soon enough to manage Riculf or Cluny. Not soon enough to return you to normalcy or even respectability. “He lives with a woman?” she asked, eager to familiarize herself with all the ugliness at once.
Her lord cursed softly under his breath. “Yes. He misses your mother desperately.”
Her hand flew up, and she pressed the back of it to her mouth, stifling an unwanted sob of distress. She turned away to compose herself. “It must be very difficult for him,” she observed with the feeling of seeing things from a great distance.
“I did try, Lily. I reminded him of his duty to you. I reminded him of your mother. I tried every argument.”
Unwarranted resentment boiled up in her. Who was this Theophilus to involve himself in her life? Why should she feel gratitude when he stood so calmly to tell her how bad things were? Why should he be allowed to make her uncomfortable in her own shop? How dare he? She bit the inside of her cheek against the angry, unfair slander she wished to shout at him. “Thank you, my lord,” she gritted as meekly as she could manage. “I appreciate your efforts today. I am sure you have pleasanter plans for tomorrow. Now, I must continue my work.”
She forced herself stiffly through the door. She did not close it until she heard her lord’s retreating footsteps. The tunic waited, lovingly spread on the worktable. Her strange, quick anger receded, replaced with the more sane and familiar despair. Her fingertip traced across the slightly overlarge shoulder to the clever neckline. This neckline was the only perfect thing left in the entire world, as near as she could tell. Tonight, she would rework the shoulders. Tomorrow, she would sew the pleats and join the body pieces and sleeves. Soon, she promised herself, she would make tiny invisible stitches around this neckline, and that would be one right thing. And she must consider the embroidery. She must devote some time to the pattern.
Blessedly immersed in her work, she did not let herself think about Father anymore.
You can pick up Once Upon a Kiss for 99 cents at several retailers: