In this scene, from early in the book, Sukey and Toogood are cleaning the kitchen together, and Toogood is also partway through cleaning Sukey’s boots, because it was stressing him out how dirty they were. My little perfectionist baby. Okay not little, he’s very tall, but.
Lemon juice stung her fingers as she restored the shine to Mrs. Pengilly’s copper, while Mr. Toogood rubbed down the whitewashed walls.
But vigorous scrubbing, well…it got the blood pumping. Sukey was flushed and breathing hard, and all at once even looking at him seemed indecent. Muscles shifted under his breeches as he rubbed vigorously at a tomato stain that had been on the wall (Sukey reflected guiltily) since Michaelmas.
His big apron hugged half his wool-covered arse, leaving the central seam to her lustful gaze. He had one of the finer arses it had ever been her privilege to gawk at. The small of his back dipped nicely and then flared in a firm, commanding curve. Even my arse is better than yours, it proclaimed truthfully to the world. And the way it moved…
He turned away from the wall to pick up her boots. Face burning, Sukey dropped her eyes to the jelly mold she was cleaning. I’d like a jelly mold in the shape of his arse. She stifled a giggle. When Mrs. Grimes said hard work kept you warm in winter, this wasn’t what she meant!
He opened a small tin, rubbing oil onto her damp boots with a bit of cloth. Catching her watching his hands, and thinking her curious as to his methods, he explained, “Neat’s-foot oil and a bit of tallow.” His voice as good as rasped across her nipples. She wanted him to look up from suckling at her breasts to calmly inform her of something in just that tone.
Examining the boot, he scooped a bit more oil out of the tin. “Don’t use too much, for the leather needs to breathe. And always put it on when the shoe is still half-wet.”
It set up some very peculiar feelings in her chest, the care he took with it. As if her old, ugly boots mattered. As if they were precious. Her merry lust turned wistful and aching. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had taken so much care with anything to do with her.
An old memory surfaced, of her mother combing her wet hair and cutting it carefully to bring out the curl, her fingers gentle in Sukey’s scalp. Her hair had been golden when her mother used to do that. She’d thought Mrs. Grimes stopped because it grew dark, but looking back, her mother must have only been busy, finding herself on her own with a child to feed.
She drifted closer to Mr. Toogood, as if he could somehow make her feel like that again, safe and cherished and ignorant.
When she reached his elbow, he turned to look at her. Her mouth went dry. “How old are you?” he asked abruptly.
She froze. Why did he ask? How old was old enough for kissing?