Assumptions and Appearances

Author’s Note: So today I went looking for something for a Friday Foible. I had no idea where I was going to find one. My characters do make mistakes, plenty of them, but usually there’s a lot of context around those things (or the whole story revolves around a particular mistake in some cases,) and so that left me kind of puzzled as to how to snippet something like this.

I searched my documents for “mistake,” and after browsing a few stories where the word came up, I picked this particular one from a historical fiction. Verity makes an assumption she shouldn’t when she meets the inspector, and it makes for an interesting dynamic between them.

Assumptions and Appearances

Verity knew herself to be ill-mannered, even disgraceful. She paced about the drawing room with agitation—no, excitement. A part of her had been wanting something like this to happen—not a murder, no, even she was not that perverse, but she wanted something beyond the dull existence of tea parties and beautiful gowns and her father’s suitors.

She had wanted something beyond Penbrooke for a long time now, something far greater than the role of her father’s heir. He indulged her, and she was grateful for it. She knew she would have been fortunate to have even half his forbearance and the freedom that came with it, but it was not nearly enough. If her father was more willing to spend time in London, even, where she might have more of a chance to do something, but he wasn’t.

She knew why her father had gone to retrieve the policeman himself, claiming his duty as the major landowner, but she knew that what he wanted was to interview the policeman, to send him straight back to London if he was found lacking.

She didn’t know why he got that role, as he had always said she had better sense and understanding than he did, and she should like to have been there when the inspector arrived to form an opinion for herself. She heard the carriage pulling to a stop out front, and she rushed to the window, peering through the curtains. She could see nothing from here save the back wheels.

She frowned, turning away with unfortunate timing, the door opening in time for her to have been seen prying. She pulled her skirt free from where it had caught on the chair, smoothing it down as she faced her father and the inspector. No, impossible. How on earth had this young man escaped his valet in such a state? His clothes were not cut to fit properly, done in a colour that did not suit him, and his hair was not styled.

Her father had lied, then? It was not the police he’d brought here but a suitor for her? Yet—he was in such a state as to make that nearly unthinkable. “Father, I thought you had gone to meet the policeman’s train.”

“Of course I did, Verity.” Her father used that old tone—a warning to stop whatever game she thought she was playing, but she played no game. He did.

“You cannot possibly expect me to—do you take me for a fool all of a sudden? What, were the clothes meant to trick me? You will not convince me that Lord Rathmore’s son is a policeman.”

“This is Inspector O’Hallaran,” her father said, but she saw new consideration in his eyes as he turned again to their guest.

“You are mistaken, milady,” O’Hallaran said, his eyes drifting to the part of her skirt that had been caught earlier. “I am indeed a policeman, and I have never had the undoubted pleasure of meeting Lord Rathmore.”

She looked at him and shook her head. She knew faces, and there was no mistaking that sharp brow, those clever yet stormy grey eyes. True, he did not share the expression that the baron did—one of a rather scandalous nature—but O’Hallaran was related. He must be—Oh. She’d made a terrible mistake, as usual. She flushed. Good heavens, she’d the bad sense to call attention to the fact that he was a by-blow.

She swallowed down her embarrassment and made herself face him with a cool and pleasant smile as suited the occasion. “I am certain that you wish to begin your investigation, Inspector. What can we do to assist you?”

He smiled, and she could see touches of the woman that his mother must have been, for O’Hallaran’s nose was not quite as angled as Rathmore’s, his jaw not as rigid. She noticed him fidget, thinking him possessed of a restrained vigour. Tidier clothes would certainly have revealed a fine physique. Was that because he was a policeman?

“I should begin by asking you and your father some questions.” O’Hallaran’s speech was beautiful, precise but tinged with with the barest hint of an accent.

“Please sit down,” she said, gesturing to the chairs. She knew she should sit next to her father, but she would rather not at present. Her father took the armchair, and she frowned—why did he force her to sit next to O’Hallaran? To punish her for her mistake earlier? “I suppose that this is—I do know that this is no social occasion, but you have had to travel, so perhaps refreshments are still in order.”

O’Hallaran sat down on the other end of the divan. He seemed as though on the brink of refusing—someone of his station ought to refuse—but he nodded instead, another smile coming to his lips. “Yes, please. Coffee, if you have it.”

“You are fond of coffee?”

He shifted in the chair, and when his eyes turned their attention directly to her, she felt her stomach twist. She was as lost as a foolish débutante at her first ball. “Rather say I am Irish and have not the same affection for tea as the English.”

She had to bite her lip to keep herself from reminding him that a part of him was very English. “Father does not care for coffee, you see. It is my vice, not his, and I am forced to import it rather against his wishes. Everyone advises him that it is not a proper thing for a woman’s delicate nature.”

“Is there much of you that is delicate?”

She shook her head. “I fear not.”

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