There was absolutely nothing remarkable about Miss White at all, and that is exactly why the assassin chose her.
She was not unpleasant to look at and dressed modestly. When she conversed, her words were brief and catered to the fashion, but she managed to do so without sounding vapid or rehearsed. She wanted for very little, as her parents had died not so long ago and left her with a comfortable inheritance, which included a house in town with a staff of four. She presented as stable and secure, believing that one day a man would come along with a satisfactory standing and pleasant enough appearance, for whom she could settle.
The assassin intended to tear that plan apart, which came as a surprise to both of them.
They met over a book, quite literally. Miss White walked with a purpose and a parcel under her arm, undistracted by the other vendors along the sidewalk. The assassin attempted not to seem hurried as he walked in the opposite direction, wiping his blade clean under his coat. Fortunately, he had secured it in its sheath before he collided with Miss White and knocked the parcel out of her hand. The paper tore, and three books clattered to the ground.
With a surprised “Oh!” and no gesture of reproach, she knelt to gather them. The assassin glanced over his shoulder. The shouting men running toward them were far enough away. He leaned to collect a book that had fallen just out of reach, and handed it to her.
“My apologies,” he said.
“It’s quite alright,” Miss White said. “Thank you.” She looked him in the face as she accepted the book. Her eyes widened slightly and her lips parted.
The assassin was accustomed to this response. He smiled and nodded, touching his hat. The pounding of footsteps was growing closer.
“Have a lovely day.”
“Oh!” Miss White sounded disappointed by his abrupt departure, as if she had wished to say something and had not found the words. “Oh…”
Men shouting “Murder!” broke through the crowd behind him. Even more were approaching from the direction in which he had been heading. The assassin sniffed and turned back to the flustered young women. She had not moved, but gazed forlornly at her books.
“Forgive me for prying,” he asked with his most charming smile, “but did I see correctly you were reading Shelley?”
Her face lit up and she clasped the books fondly. “Yes, that is correct.” She flushed and struggled for words. “Are-are you an admirer?”
“Oh, very much so—!”
The two groups met and the air swelled with shouting. The assassin widened his eyes with feigned shock, but his hand moved unconsciously to ensure he had tucked his bloody kerchief deep enough into his pocket. When he turned back to Miss White, her eyes flickered back up to his face. Her smile faltered, but did not disappear. He smiled again and flicked a hand to dismiss the cacophony.
“Love, hope, and self-esteem, like clouds depart
And come, for some uncertain moments lent.
Man were immortal and omnipotent,
Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,
Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.”
Her smile and the flush in her cheeks returned. The men quieted enough for the assassin to hear, “—looked no different than any other man! Slit his throat clean through and walked away like nothing—”
Miss White’s eyes drifted back toward the crowd.
“Joseph Thorne,” the assassin said with a small bow, and held out his hand.
“Catherine White,” she said. Her form was perfect as her hand lit upon his.
A voice behind them shouted, “He says a man with a knife ran this way!” He pointed down the way the assassin had been going. Thorne watched them continue down the street with feigned curiosity.
This time Miss White distracted him. “Do you also read Mary Shelley, sir?”
“Unfortunately, I have not,” he replied absently.
The noise faded almost to the normal bustle of the street. Thorne turned his full attention to her.
“Her ideas are unconventional, yet her skill is equal to any man.” She looked timid as she said this, as if voicing her own opinion were a rare occasion.
“She will be my next investment, then,” he assured her quickly. He touched his hat, anxious to be on his way again. “Thank you, Mrs. White.” He turned.
“Miss White,” she hurried to correct him.
He raised his brow with feigned surprise. “Miss White. Have a lovely evening. I hope you enjoy your books.”
Once more, she searched breathlessly for words to delay him, but none came. She was still standing where he had left her as he turned the corner and disappeared.
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