In the original version of a key scene, Nick mentioned that Lady Tassell once took away his puppy.
“I think when wanting something doesn’t help you get it, there’s maybe not much point to wanting,” she said.
“I’m not a child anymore,” he said. “I shouldn’t still be sulking because my mother gave away my puppy when I was six.”
Her jaw dropped. “Your mother did what?”
He turned a little pink. “I wanted a dog of my own. Begged, really. For months. Finally she gave in. He was a splendid little spaniel I imaginatively named Caesar. But he took to pissing under her desk and she gave him to the gardener.”
For a moment, Phoebe couldn’t speak, she was so angry. What kind of person gave away their child’s puppy? You would hate a dog pissing under your desk, the reasonable part of her pointed out. It didn’t matter. She could feel herself starting to tremble with fury. The bright red flush was next. “That—that—” she sputtered. She picked up a mug of ale and took a large gulp to calm herself. It didn’t work, and she nearly choked. She slammed the mug down on the table. “Who would do that?” Lady Tassell had always seemed so kind when she came to the shop to order broadsheets, or in church at Christmas. “She’s a monster.”
Mr. Dymond laughed, setting the bread and cheese back on the counter. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“I would.” She and Will had used to compose aloud letters to the Intelligencer when something appalled them, mimicking the pompous tone of some of their most ornery contributors. They had always signed them “A Sincere Friend to Liberty.” By the end they were usually laughing. She began one now. Dear sir, It has been brought to my attention that a certain Lady Tassell has been guilty of the most grievous affront to the maternal calling. I call upon the good citizens of— It was no use. She wasn’t laughing. “Ask me for anything,” she said fiercely. “Anything. Whatever you want, you can have it.” If he asked her to marry Mr. Moon, right now she would agree. But she hoped—what she really meant—
She didn’t think Mr. Moon even crossed his mind. His lips parted and his eyes darkened. He swallowed. “Owen is in the next room,” he said, and his voice cracked.
And there was the hot flush. But it wasn’t rage any more. She didn’t care about Owen. She—
She cared about Owen. She had to. She could not create another scandal when her family was already neck deep in them. “He has to go home sometime,” she said grimly, and picked up the mugs of ale.
The afternoon dragged after that. The work remained as urgent and demanding, and yet when she looked at the clock, enough time had never gone by. Her bright, shaky rage faded, leaving her with a anticipatory, hollow feeling that bread and cheese did nothing to fill. Why had she said that? What had possessed her to say that? She had as good as offered herself to him—and he had obviously taken her meaning. He must think her a trollop.
Owen pulled the last Intelligencer from the platen at seven o’clock. It took him another half-hour to clean and oil the press and clean the ink from the galleys.
“You can break down the type tomorrow,” Phoebe said. “We’ll finish folding these when they’re dry. Get some rest. It’s going to be a long week, with Jack gone.”
Owen glanced between the two of them, then took off his apron and rubbed the ink off his hands with a solvent-soaked rag. He picked up his coat, wished them both a pleasant evening, and walked out.
Their eyes met. Her heart pounded like a drum.
He laughed, a soft, self-mocking sound. “Don’t look so frightened,” he said gently. “I don’t mean to hold you to it.”
She was conscious of an overwhelming disappointment.
“But thank you for your kindness.” He smiled at her, a bright, soft smile without a shred of resentment or disappointment. Was it real? Or was it what he thought she wanted to see?
Either way, it was like a knife in her chest, slicing deep and laying open her own meanness and cowardice. He had told her of a childhood hurt and she had leapt to offer him her body. She had tried to disguise her own deepest desires as kindness, had wanted him to ask so she wouldn’t have to. She would always rather help than ask for help, given the choice.
“It isn’t kindness to return honesty with dishonesty,” she said with difficulty. “I should have listened to you, not turned the conversation towards—” The words stuck in her throat.
His mouth curved wryly. “I didn’t mind.”
She had been waiting for this all afternoon. Hell, all month. She wanted him. It was now or never. “I shouldn’t have tried to make you ask,” she said. “I should have—”
The smile slipped from his face, his eyes darkening. “Yes?”
“I should have asked, myself.”