Verity stood with the cloth in her hand as she considered. Had she wanted to marry Michael Lovelace nearly twenty years ago?
She'd been pregnant with Jane, and it had seemed the natural thing to do – but had she really wanted to be his wife?
She supposed that she must have. There must have been a time when his smile had made her feel good, when his jokes had made her want to giggle, his touch had sent the blood racing through her veins.
Yes, of course there had! It was just that it was hard to remember those days. He spent so little time at home. His business demanded attention six days of the week, and on Sundays he often played golf in the mornings. After lunch he cut the lawn if it needed it, otherwise he cleaned the car or fell asleep in front of the television.
She knew that Michael wasn't the only man to follow the same dull routine every weekend.
Her friend Susan Edwards was always complaining that her husband Bill did the same thing, but she said it with a smile on her face and a look in her eyes that told a different story. The magic was still there for Bill and Susan, but Verity knew that it had gone missing from her life, though she wasn't sure whose fault it was.
For a long time, while Jane was still a small child, she'd been happy enough; they had still shared a small joke or an intimate smile, but of late even those things had vanished. They hadn't had sex for weeks – they hadn't made love for more than two years, and there was a difference.
Verity hadn't forgotten what it felt like to make love, to know the warmth and satisfaction, the sharing that comes from being close to the man you care for. She had loved Michael once, perhaps she still did deep down.
He was still undoubtedly an attractive man with his thick, slightly wavy hair, which was a darkish blond in colour, his blue eyes and rather heavy brows. But his character had changed of late and there were times now when she felt she was living with a stranger, and someone she didn't always like very much.
To a casual observer, Verity was the very essence of Today's Woman. Efficient, well groomed, with an air of confidence, a friendly manner and a look in her eyes that warned she meant what she said. Dealers liked her because she was businesslike and they knew where they stood with her. She didn't lie about her stock and she'd become known for having good, genuine pieces. But she had something more, a vitality that made her eyes shine and her laughter was infectious, though she wasn't aware of it herself.
Verity was brought out of her reverie as the shop bell pinged and two men came in. She had seen one of them several times before, a dealer in his fifties who bought things from her occasionally, but she was sure the younger man hadn't been in before. He was tall and well built with soft brown hair that waved slightly back from his forehead and greenish blue eyes, and he towered over his rather short and chubby companion.
"Mrs Lovelace," Harry Barton said and grinned at her. Harry always wore a suit and his shoes were highly polished. He was a cheerful, confident man who loved his work and Verity rather liked him. "You're looking gorgeous as usual, and this shop smells like a dream." Harry was part Irish and known in the trade as a charmer.
"It's the potpourri," she said with a smile. "That sunshine is nice. It was rather cold when I came in this morning but I should think it's getting a bit warmer out now, isn't it?"
"Summer is on its way, slowly but coming," he replied and gestured to his taller companion. "This is my sister's boy, Joshua Roberts. He was working as a carpenter for a furniture business but the firm went bust last month, nothing to do with Josh here."
He gave his nephew a jovial poke in the ribs. "I've taken him on with me. He's a craftsman, and I think he deserves better than to be a carpenter. He could be a restorer of fine furniture, and he'll be good at it."
The younger, good-looking man pulled a wry face as he looked at Verity.
"What my uncle means is that I'm useful to carry things, but if I take the right classes I might make a restorer of antique furniture one day."
"Good restorer's are few and far between," Verity told him. "I hope you stick at it, Mr Roberts. I was disappointed with the last piece I had done."
"Next time give me a buzz," Harry said. "I can probably point you in the right direction. I know a couple of good men in the area."
Verity gave him one of her dazzling smiles. "That is kind of you, thank you, I shall."