Duncan Penhale thrives on order and process. He has no interest in marriage, so when Elliott Mayfield, his guardian’s brother, offers him an inheritance if he weds, Duncan finds it intrusive. However, an inheritance means he could purchase a building and run his own accounting firm.
Hazel and Duncan believe they have found a solution to both of their problems: marry one another, claim their inheritances, and then part ways to enjoy their individual paths. But then Uncle Mayfield stipulates that they must first live together as a couple for one year.
Over time, their marriage of convenience becomes much more appealing than they had anticipated. At the end of the full year, will they go their separate ways or could an unlikely marriage have found unsuspecting love?
“Well, then, I am off to the races.”
Duncan looked up from the ledger he was copying to see Mr. Ludwig pop up from his desk on the other side of the room. Mr. Ludwig did not mean actual horse races; rather, it was a phrase he used regularly to explain that he was leaving the office.
Duncan glanced at the clock on the wall. “It is only a quarter ’til six.”
Mr. Ludwig reached for his coat and hat hanging beside the door of their shared office. They had been working together for several months now, but it seemed like a much longer period of time due to the way the man increased Duncan’s workload and continually grated on Duncan’s nerves.
“I have finished my day’s work, old boy, and will return in the morning to start anew.”
Duncan did not like being called “old boy,” but it was an-other phrase Mr. Ludwig liked to utilize in his regular speech. If the man would speak concisely and not force Duncan to translate the meaning behind the things he said, they would likely get on far better than they did. Oh, and it would be nice if Mr. Ludwig cared at all for accurate accounting practices and did not interfere with Duncan’s relationship with the partners.
“Office hours are until six thirty on Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” Duncan said slowly, as if he were talking to a child or someone for whom English was not their first language. “If you have finished the Carillon account, you may begin tomorrow’s work.”
On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, office hours for the junior clerks went to 5:30. Duncan had spoken to the partners on seven different occasions about choosing the same time to end each of the five workdays of the week so as to mitigate confusion, but they did not find the varying times inconvenient since they left whenever they wished.
The varying end time of the workdays was only one of several details that Duncan would change if he were the one making the decisions. But since he was not the one making the decisions, he had no choice but to abide by the stipulations enforced by the partners. He was the senior employee on the premises right now, and therefore it was his responsibility to make sure the rules were followed.
“Hmm,” Mr. Ludwig said as he walked to the clock located by the door and opened the glass face.
Duncan shot to his feet. “Mr. Ludwig!” He came around his desk and marched across the room while fumbling in his vest pocket for his pocket watch while Mr. Ludwig moved the hands of the clock.
Duncan was horrified. He wound his pocket watch every evening and checked the time with the clockmaker, Mr. Handlery, every Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Handlery’s clock was kept to Greenwich Time and cross-checked monthly.
Mr. Ludwig stood in front of him, the grin gone from his face. Duncan stepped left in order to move around him, but Mr. Ludwig stepped in the same direction, blocking Duncan’s path to the clock.
“I have an appointment tonight, Mr. Penhale, and I will be on my way, is that understood?”
“Changing the time on the clock does not change the time,” Duncan said, holding up his pocket watch to prove that he had possession of the actual time of day. The watch chain attached to Duncan’s vest pulled tight. He took a breath and forced himself to look Mr. Ludwig in the eye. Catherine had taught him it was an important social protocol he should use whenever possible, and he found it especially effective when he was trying to make a point, even though it made him uncomfortable.
“Office hours are until six thirty on Tuesday and Wednesdays—that is your appointment. Any other personal business you need to conduct must be done outside of business hours or with the stated permission of one of the partners. Since such permission has not been communicated to me, your early departure is a breach of policy.”
Mr. Ludwig grabbed the pocket watch from Duncan’s hand, snapping the chain, and threw it against the wall. The metal casing hit the wood panel like a stone and fell to the ground.
Duncan stared at the watch, his hands tightening into fists at his side.
“Unlike you, Mr. Penhale, I have a life outside of this miserable office,” Mr. Ludwig said, hissing through his teeth, his misty spittle hitting Duncan’s face.
“You are obligated by both employment and ethics to remain working until—”
“Go back to your desk, Mr. Penhale, and leave me be.” He moved to go around Duncan, but Duncan copied Mr. Ludwig’s earlier practice and stepped to the side, further blocking the man’s access to the door.
“You are not authorized to leave early.”
“My uncle owns this firm, Mr. Penhale, and he has about had his fill of you. One more complaint from me and you may very well find yourself on the street, is that what you want?”
“That is not what I want nor is it worth my concern. Terminating me would be a serious error in judgment, as you are a very poor clerk and I am a very skilled one.”
Mr. Ludwig laughed, but it was an odd sound that did not reflect amusement. He tried to step around Duncan a second time, and Duncan, fueled by his growing temper, once again blocked his passage.
“Take your place at your desk and finish the workday, Mr. Ludwig.”
Mr. Ludwig growled low in his throat and shoved Duncan’s right shoulder to move him out of the way. Upon the violent contact, Da’s voice sounded in Duncan’s head: Never start the altercation, Dunny, but if a bloke hits you first, hit back twice as hard.
Duncan caught himself mid-stumble, looked into Mr. Ludwig’s face to take aim, and punched the other man straight in the nose.
Excerpt from Love and Lavender by Josi S. Kilpack.
Copyright © 2021 by Josi S. Kilpack. Published by Shadow Mountain Publishing. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.
Josi has four children and lives in Northern Utah.