“Just us rats,” Dan said, making rodent-like sounds and gestures.
“I knew I smelled something,” Hank Edwards said, smiling broadly as he entered and put out his hand to shake Dan’s.
Penelope gasped to see Hank. Not only had she forgotten all about Hank since she’d first met him, but she’d forgotten how impossibly attractive he was. “You two know each other?” she asked weakly, a look of disquiet gripping her face as she tugged to pull her tight collar away from her neck.
“Far too well,” Hank said, tucking Dan under his arm in a headlock.
“I’ve tried to shake him, Miss Price, but he always comes back begging for more,” Dan said, elbowing his friend in the ribs. “What brings you here, Hank? Nostalgia?”
“Nothing so sentimental, you old softy. Miss Price’s friend, Miss Zara, asked me to stop by … I’m not exactly sure why.”
“I doubt she does either!” Dan teased.
“Anyway, wise guy, I came to see if Miss Price could use a hand with anything. This shop can be somewhat foudroyant.”
“Foo-droi-whaa?” Dan asked, then leaned in to whisper to Penelope, “He’s just showing off in front of you, Miss Price.”
To Penelope’s relief, she understood Hank’s meaning, although she found his vocabulary to be somewhat lofty for a simple small town handyman. “Oh yes, Mr. Edwards, I admit to being overwhelmed wherever I look in this shop. I’ve never seen anything like it really. I can certainly use all the help I can get. You see, I wish to turn the back storage room into—”
“A tearoom, yes. Word gets around at the speed of light in the Grove,” Hank said.
“I’ll say,” Penelope remarked to herself, marveling at the efficiency with which information spread through the borough.
“If you were smart, Miss Price, and I can tell you are,” Dan said, “you’d lay out your vision for the place with Hank then let him loose. He has a knack for making things look good.”
She nodded in assent as she gazed appreciatively at Hank in his tweed pants and tailored shirt. “I’ll say,” she muttered softly.
“What was that, Miss Price?” Dan asked.
Penelope realized she’d spoken her thoughts out loud and immediately she broke into a sweat of mortification.
“I … uh … what sort of things,” she scrambled to say. “Are you some sort of decorator, Mr. Edwards?” she asked, looking away from him as she spoke.
“More like architect,” Dan answered.
“Wishful architect. I didn’t get too far with it,” Hank said, uncomfortable talking about himself and shifting from one foot to the other as he ran a hand through his hair.
Penelope felt her breath catch and face flush. She had no idea why. It would become a condition that occurred with frequency in days to come.