Goodness. Just look at it. Thick as my ankle.
Diana Highwood took her glove and worked it like a fan, chasing the flush from her throat. She was a gentlewoman, born and raised in genteel comfort, if not opulent luxury. From an early age, she’d been marked as the hope of the family. Destined, her mother vowed, to catch a nobleman’s eye.
But here, in the smithy with Aaron Dawes, all her delicate breeding disintegrated.
How could she help staring? The man had wrists as thick as her ankle.
As always, he wore his sleeves rolled to the elbow, exposing forearms roped with muscle. He pumped the bellows, commanding the flames to dance.
Broad shoulders stretched his homespun shirt, and a leather apron hung low on his hips. As he removed the glowing bit of metal from the fire and placed it on his anvil, his open collar gaped.
Diana averted her gaze—but not fast enough. She caught a moment’s glimpse of pure, superheated virility. Sculpted chest muscles, bronzed skin, dark hair . . .
“Behave yourself,” he said.
The words startled her breathless.
He knows. He knows. He’s realized that refined, perfect, gently bred Miss Highwood comes to the smithy to gawp at his brute manliness. Behave yourself, indeed.
She felt ridiculous. Ashamed. Exposed.
He wasn’t speaking to her. He was speaking to his work.
“That’s it.” Perspiration glistened on his brow. With a steady hand and a low, rich baritone, he finessed the broken clasp. “Be good for me now.”
Diana turned her gaze downward, focusing on the floor. Neatly swept and fitted stones paved her half of the smithy, where visitors waited for their work. The ground around the forge was packed with black, smudgy cinders. And the border between the two could not have been more stark, or more meaningful.
Here was the division between customer and smith. The line between the world of a gentlewoman and a working man’s domain.
“There we are,” he said. “That’s the way.”
Oh, goodness. She could look away from his thick forearms and his muscled chest. But that voice.
She gave herself a brisk shake. Time to put a stop to this silliness. She was a grown woman, turning four-and-twenty this year. It was surely no sin to admire Mr. Dawes. He was an admirable man. However, she ought to concentrate on the many reasons that had nothing to do with carnality.
The Highwoods had come to this seaside village for Diana’s health, but she’d come to think of Spindle Cove as home. During their stay, she’d learned a great deal about rural life. She knew a good village smith was indispensable. He shoed the farmers’ draft horses, and he mended the oarlocks on the fishermen’s boats. When neighbors were ailing, he pulled teeth and set broken bones. The nails struck on his anvil held the whole village together.
This forge was the glowing, iron heart of Spindle Cove, and Aaron Dawes was its pulse. Strong. Steady. Vital.
She watched him striking off beats with his hammer. Clang. Clang. Clang.
Now her eyes were fused to that forearm again.
“This weather,” she said, trying to change the subject. “It’s been a dreadful March, hasn’t it?”
He grunted in agreement. “Near a fortnight now without sun.”
He plunged the heated metal into a waiting bucket. A cloud of steam rose and filled