Hattie Glover’s Millinery – Bonnie Dee

“VOTES FOR WOMEN! It is our right!” the shouts of the suffragettes marching down Providence Street toward the park were muted yet audible inside Hattie’s shop. She watched the women through the display window beyond a line of severed heads sporting elaborately plumed, flowered, and beribboned hats. The march had stalled due to some bottleneck ahead. She prayed it was not the police come to break up the demonstration. Her motive in hoping so was not as altruistic as Hattie would have liked. As much as she admired and supported the women’s cause, she was more concerned about having a riot immediately outside her place of business. Windows might be broken. Customers would definitely be put off. Even as she thought this, a pair of ladies dressed in stylish day dresses and light linen dusters stopped on the sidewalk to stare at the protesters. They leaned together in whispered conference, their broad-brimmed picture hats keeping them a good three feet apart. The purple-dyed ostrich feathers on the taller woman’s hat seemed to quiver in indignation. A moment later, the pair turned heel and retreated in the direction from whence they’d come. “Blast!” Hattie muttered. “What’s that?” Rose called from the glass display case of gloves she was replenishing. “Did you need me, Mrs.

Glover?” “Nothing, dear. Merely noting that our coffers are languishing with every second the marchers linger at our doorstep.” “But, Mrs. Glover, don’t you find the suffragettes courageous and daring? I should love to stand with them to hear Mrs. Pankhurst or any other leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union speak.” Rose came to join her employer at the window. “Surely you agree that we women deserve a say in government.” “I do. But I don’t want history to be made right outside my millinery. Violence is often paired with these demonstrations, and mere proximity casts us in a bad light.

Reputation is crucial for a woman in business. Remember that.” For a woman living in the world, Hattie might have said. She knew first-hand what a ruined reputation meant for a female, having lost hers once upon a time when she was Hortense Gladwell rather than Harriet Glover. “Yes, ma’am. Sorry, missus. I spoke out o’ turn.” Rose’s nearly perfect grammar slipped into the colloquial accent of her childhood whenever she grew nervous. The poor thing was easily cowed by the slightest chastisement. Although the bright-eyed redhead showed flashes of innate pluck and determination, as well as a merry sense of humor, at any remonstration from Hattie, Rose collapsed like chiffon in the rain.

“Honestly, I am not finding fault with you merely expressing a belief,” Hattie assured her. “You’re allowed to disagree with me.” “Yes, ma’am,” Rose repeated. Her blue eyes reflected the afternoon sunlight as she gazed raptly at the long line of women on the street. “Ain’t—Aren’t they a sight, though? Wish I was brave enough to wear one of those sashes. But I never could be.” Despite her remonstrance, Hattie wanted to blurt that Miss Rose Gardener could do anything she liked if she simply straightened her backbone and stepped forward into risk. But it would be hypocritical to suggest what she would never do herself. Hattie knew there were some risks that simply weren’t worth taking. “Have you finished trimming Miss Pruett’s straw boater? ‘More cherries,’” she mimicked the young lady’s high-pitched, breathy voice.

“‘And a scarlet ribbon! I want to be seen.’” Rose giggled at her mimicry. “Mrs. Glover, you’re such a stitch.” Hattie smiled. “And you need to get to stitching. Those cherry clusters aren’t going to fasten themselves.” Rose laughed harder at the jest as she headed toward the back room. Hattie took a quick look around to admire her shop as she did many times a day. Satisfaction and pride filled her until it felt as if the buttons would pop off her bodice.

The millinery was all hers, from the extravagant chapeaus on each mannequin’s head to the display case of satin, lace, and kid gloves. Racks of ribbon, laces, beads, feathers, sequins, netting, and fabrics filled one end of the room, enticing customers to request ever more elaborate concoctions. Unadorned hats in a variety of sizes and styles were available to choose from. From a black-veiled mourning bonnet to the most extravagant Merry Widow, Hattie could fulfill every woman’s image of herself with a hat tailored to that customer’s desires. She returned her attention to sprinkling a cascade of faux cherry blossom petals around the mannequin heads in the window and noted that the marchers were moving on at last. Hattie watched a woman bend over to talk to a girl of about twelve or so. Both wore very plain, outmoded garments. They were clearly working class yet marched beside a society matron dressed in the latest Parisian style, including a gold turban on which sequins glittered in the sunlight. The contrast between the marchers and the sight of all of these women from different stations in life banded together in a common cause made Hattie’s throat tighten with emotion. The bell over the door rang as someone entered the shop.

Hattie swallowed the lump, dashed away foolish, sentimental tears, and turned to greet her customer with a smile. “May I help—” The rest of her customary greeting came out as an unintelligible gurgle, for the person who had entered the millinery was not her normal sort of client. On rare occasions, gentlemen did stop in alongside their fiancées, wives, or, more often, mistresses, but the shock of this particular fellow was not due to his gender. Hattie had quite simply never seen such an attractive man. His face and figure were handsome, for he had finely-drawn features and a trim athletic build, but more than that, his presence crackled with vitality. Bright blue eyes beamed joie de vivre and mischief. Such a man could mean nothing but trouble to any woman who came within his orbit. Hattie stilled the rise of answering energy in her body and calmed herself before repeating, “May I help you, sir?” “Indeed.” The fellow had been studying the shop, but now gazed directly at Hattie. Another jolt of ridiculous attraction stabbed her.

She waited for it to pass while scolding herself for such nonsense. The only time she’d allowed herself to be swept away on a tide like this, it had nearly drowned her. Foolish girl, what have you done? Her aunt’s voice still haunted her. “What are you looking for?” Hattie asked. He examined her from head to toe in less than a heartbeat, yet it felt as if his gaze lingered caressingly. Heat unfurled from deep inside to coil through every part of her. Again, she banished unwelcome feelings. He answered her question flippantly. “Well, I’m in a millinery so … I suppose I’ve come to purchase a hat.” She did not smile at the joke, and approached the man in the light blue suit as if his presence did not send tickling fingers up her spine.

“What sort did you have in mind?” He studied the nearest mannequins. “She already owns so many hats, I don’t know if one more will impress her. But she adores them so it seemed the perfect gift.” Hattie touched the gold badge and plume on the side of a navy blue tricorn. “The military style is popular this spring if you want to choose something the lady is not likely to already possess. Tricorns are all the rage just now.” “What about one of these numbers?” The customer indicated the fussiest, most over-embellished Merry Widow on the floor. The huge picture hat had been created to the precise design of Mrs. Constance Darrow, who had passed away before claiming it. Hattie could not seem to sell the monstrosity.

Perhaps if she removed some of the garden of flowers and small birds from its brim. “If you believe your friend would like this one, I can wrap it and have it sent today.” “Hm. It’s a bit garish, is it not? Perhaps something simpler.” The gentleman seemed in no hurry to vacate the premises, unlike most men who appeared to want out of this feminine domain as soon as possible. He strolled past Hattie to study the display of trimmings. A whiff of something spicy and warm, perhaps sandalwood, teased her nose as he walked by. She smoothed the front of her bodice and followed him toward a rack that sported a rainbow array of gauzes. “If you tell me something about the woman you’re purchasing the hat for, perhaps I can be of better help.” “She wears very elegant styles, simple, yet striking.

Something involving this sheer stuff draped around her face would suit her well, I believe.” “A wide-brimmed straw with gauze draping and ties is very charming, but one must consider the hairstyle. Does your friend generally adopt the Gibson roll? One wouldn’t wish the hat to crush her bouffant too badly.” The customer examined Hattie’s hair with a frown of concentration. “She wears it rather like yours, I guess. Only it is not such a rich chestnut color.” The corners of his mouth curved slightly. Light slanting through the nearby window sent blue flames dancing in his eyes. “No. Not this color at all.

” Warmth rekindled in Hattie’s lower regions. She tamped it down before her cheeks could flush. Men often attempted to trifle with her. She knew how to quash such inclinations. “Is this gift for your wife, or perhaps your daughter? Maybe your mother or grandmother?” She named all the females in a man’s life the mention of whom would make him feel guilty for dallying. His smile broadened as if he knew exactly what she was doing. “Ah, no. This lady is merely a good friend.” Mistress, Hattie mentally translated. “This is a farewell gift as our ways must soon part.

” “I see.” “Something tasteful would be just the thing. I trust your judgment as far as decorating it. A friend pronounced you the finest milliner in London.” He glanced around. “And I can see that you have quite a talent.” Notwithstanding Mrs. Darrow’s vulgar hat, which Hattie wished she had not put on display. She felt unaccountably pleased at his assessment, even though she felt quite certain this fellow handed out compliments like penny candy. “Thank you,” she replied.

Again his eyes pierced her. “Thank you for creating a perfect gift that will say, I appreciate you, and pray we may remain friends.” The end of an affair with a meaningless token. Hattie’s temper prickled on behalf of this unknown paramour. What a cad the man was. She should not find him attractive at all. She drew his attention back to the mannequins and pointed out a side-angled straw with a minimum of embellishment. “Will this do? If so, I will wrap it for you.” “No hurry. Make one similar to it and I will stop by to pick it up.

” There was no way she would create a hat on account for a stranger who might never return. Bad enough when her regular customers were slow in paying their bills. Such was the hazard of being in trade. The more prestigious the client, often the worse they procrastinated, even if they were wealthy. “I’m afraid I must ask for payment in advance,” Hattie said firmly. Another smile carved a groove on either side of his mouth. “Of course. How much?” Hattie quoted a price, then retreated behind the counter. Her customer paid the required amount, and she slipped the money into her cash box under the counter. “May I have an address for delivery?” He shook his head and a lock of dark hair escaped its pomade to tease his forehead.

“I’ll return in… How long will it take?” “Two days. If you don’t wish to wait, you may take the display model with you,” she urged. Now the transaction was complete, the fellow leaned lazily against the counter. “I don’t mind returning. Are you always so eager to be rid of your customers? On another day, I might be persuaded to buy a pair of gloves or a fur tippet or something.” “I don’t sell tippets. And it isn’t the season for them.” With his money in her till, she could afford to be rather caustic. Her sharp tone only spurred him to laughter. “I don’t blame you for thinking me a reprobate, but I wish to assure you I am at least an honest one.

” “Are you certain you understand the definition of the word?” He grinned. “Aren’t you a clever thing?” His patronizing tone made Hattie bristle. “I am not a ‘thing’ at all, but a person, a business person to be precise. One who demands respect from her customers.” “I did not intend to sound so frivolous. I offer you my abject apology, madam. A woman as beautiful as you must be forced to fend off unwanted attention too often. I apologize on behalf of my gender,” he said without a smirk. “It occurs to me I never introduced myself. Guy Hardy.

” He offered a hand to shake, his expression as open as the sky on a cloudless day. “Mrs. Harriet Glover.” She took his hand to shake it once, briefly pressing palms. The effect of the touch was electric. Even after she’d returned her hand below the counter, her flesh still tingled. “You are married?” Hardy asked. “My husband is deceased,” she lied. A widow in business was not uncommon, but a single woman living by her own means was rarer than a unicorn. “I’m sorry for your loss.

” He paused. “To own a store is an admirable achievement. You must have a head for business as well as the creative touch.” His compliment seemed sincere enough, so she replied politely, “Thank you, Mr. Hardy.” He remained, looking into her face a moment longer while his fingers tapped the brim of his straw boater. Then he dipped his head and offered a farewell. “Good day, Mrs. Glover. I shall return soon for the hat.

” Before she could reply, the shop door opened and another customer entered. It was Miss Jennifer Pruett, she of the scarlet ribbons and cherries. Come to collect her hat, no doubt… except her mother was not escorting her as usual, and she was visibly upset, clutching a handkerchief to her face. Hattie hurried to the young woman’s side. “Are you quite all right, Miss Pruett? Whatever is the matter?” “I… I cannot say.” Another bout of sobs erupted. Hattie put an arm around her heaving shoulders. “Come with me to the workroom. When you feel calmer, you may tell me what has happened.” “May I be of assistance?” Hardy asked.

“Do I need to summon a policeman, young lady?” Miss Pruett shook her head and mutely waved off the suggestion with her sodden handkerchief. “N-no. Nothing like that.” “Thank you, Mr. Hardy. I will attend to this situation. I appreciate your offer of help, but it is best you go on your way.” Hattie smiled at Hardy before guiding Jennifer Pruett to the back room. * WHAT THE BLOODY hell just happened? Guy found himself on the other side of the shop door and walking down the street without a clue as to how he got there. Of course, the weeping young lady had been a shock.

He hoped no man had accosted her and that she’d be all right. But the sight of her tears wasn’t what made him feel like he’d taken a punch to the head in a boxing match. It was the smile the milliner had casually tossed at him before banishing him from her store. He’d noticed she was nice looking from the moment he entered the shop, for he always took note of pretty women. And he’d found her even more attractive as she jabbed at him with words that put him in his place. But it wasn’t until that smile left him dumfounded that he realized Harriet Glover was beautiful. More than beautiful. Smart, opinionated, capable, and lovely with her sharp green eyes and that mass of chestnut brown hair piled on her head. Made him want to pull out the pins and watch it come tumbling down—along with the barriers she had raised around herself. Imagine what a fierce lover she would be… He slapped his straw boater against his thigh before setting it on his head at a jaunty angle.

Romancing a shop girl—correction, shop owner—was not what he should be focusing on, especially when he had not yet ended his affair with Lady Anne Cromwell. He and his paramour had enjoyed each other’s company, but he had felt it coming to an end for some time now. He doubted she would mind, since the widow went through lovers almost as quickly as she discarded one hat for another. “Do you never tire of your sexual escapades, Hardy?” his friend Will Carmody had asked only yesterday. “Don’t you ever dream of finding a woman who means more to you than a few months’ fun? Someone you might share a home with as you grow old together?” “A pretty idea, but I believe it’s a myth. I know few married couples who remain faithful to one another. I’d rather be a bachelor when I take a lover than betray a wedding vow to do the same.” He spoke lightly, but Will’s questions needled him, perhaps because some deep-seated inner voice had been asking the same thing of late. Settling down did sound pleasant and peaceful after a life spent carousing and having almost too much fun. Will’s comments bothered him enough that Guy sent a barb his way.

“What about you, Professor? You don’t make any effort to seriously look for a bride.” Will smiled in his easy-going way. “Because I know I haven’t a chance. Marriage isn’t in the cards for me. I expect I shall remain a studious bachelor for the remainder of my days, for no woman would find me of interest.” It had been all Guy could do not to scold him, Make an ef ort, man! If a wife is what you wish for, you must work to present yourself as desirable. Instead, he had replied, “You are a catch. Carmody, who will make some woman a fine husband. Now, let us speak no more of romance. You should shake off the dust of your library and get some exercise.

Join me at the club for a bit of fencing.” His friend’s words about pacing himself had affected Guy enough to consider taking a break from romantic pursuits after he’d ended things with Anne. A period of reflection and reassessment was in order. But then today, he’d met a woman who set him back on his heels and aroused his interest like a stoker piling coal on a fire. “Step back, Guy,” he cautioned himself aloud, drawing the attention of a couple approaching on the pavement. The pair stared at the mumbling stranger. He smiled. “Don’t mind me. Merely offering a stubborn fool some much-needed advice.” The fellow shook his head, but his lady smiled and lowered her lashes coquettishly at Guy as they passed.

He scarcely noticed. For the first time in years, he felt no desire to look behind and watch the woman’s bustle sway away. His attention was fully occupied with inventing more reasons to visit Hattie Glover’s millinery.

.

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