Heartless Page 2

‘They’re from a dream,’ she confessed, carrying the tarts to the pie-safe where they could finish cooling.

Cheshire sat back on his haunches. ‘A dream?’ His mouth split open into a wide, toothy grin. ‘Do tell.’

‘And have half the kingdom knowing about it by nightfall? Absolutely not. I had a dream and then I woke up and there was a lemon tree growing in my bedroom. That is all you need to know.’

She slammed the pie-safe shut with finality, as much to silence herself as to prevent further questions. The truth was, the dream had been clinging to her skin from the moment she’d woken up, haunting and tantalizing her. She wanted to talk about it, almost as much as she wanted to keep it locked up and all to herself.

It had been a hazy, beautiful dream, and in it there had been a hazy, beautiful boy. He was dressed all in black and standing in an orchard of lemon trees, and she had the distinct sensation that he had something that belonged to her. She didn’t know what it was, only that she wanted it back, but every time she took a step towards him he receded further and further away.

A shiver slipped down the back of her dress. She could still feel the curiosity that tugged at her chest, the need to chase after him.

But mostly it was his eyes that haunted her. Yellow and shining, sweet and tart. His eyes had been bright like lemons ready to fall from a tree.

She shook away the wispy memories and turned back to Cheshire. ‘By the time I woke up, a branch from the tree had already pulled one of the bedposts full off. Of course, Mama made the gardeners take it down before it did any more damage, but I was able to sneak away some lemons first.’

‘I wondered what the hullabaloo was about this morning.’ Cheshire’s tail flicked against the butcher block. ‘Are you sure the lemons are safe for consumption? If they sprouted from a dream, they could be, you know, that kind of food.’

Cath’s attention drifted back to the closed pie-safe, the tarts hidden behind its wire mesh. ‘You’re worried that the King might become shorter if he eats one?’

Cheshire snorted. ‘On the contrary, I’m worried that I will turn into a house should I eat one. I’ve been minding my figure, you know.’

Giggling, Cath leaned over the table and scratched him beneath his chin. ‘You’re perfect no matter your size, Cheshire. But the lemons are safe – I bit one before I started baking.’ Her cheeks puckered at the sour memory.

Cheshire had started to purr, already ignoring her. Cath cupped her chin with her free hand while Cheshire flopped deliriously on to one side and her strokes moved down to his belly. ‘Besides, if you ever did eat some bad food, I could still find a use for you. I’ve always wanted a cat-drawn carriage.’

Cheshire opened one eye, his pupil slitted and unamused.

‘I would dangle balls of yarn and fish bones out in front to keep you moving.’

He stopped purring long enough to say, ‘You are not as cute as you think you are, Lady Pinkerton.’

Cath tapped Cheshire once on the nose and pulled away. ‘You could do your disappearing trick and then everyone would think, My, my, look at the glorious bulbous head pulling that carriage down the street!’

Cheshire was fully glaring at her now. ‘I am a proud feline, not a beast of labour.’

He disappeared with a huff.

‘Don’t be cross. I’m only teasing.’ Catherine untied her apron and draped it on a hook on the wall, revealing a perfect apron-shaped silhouette on her dress, outlined in flour and bits of dried dough.

‘By-the-bye.’ His voice drifted back to her. ‘Your mother is looking for you.’

‘What for? I’ve been down here all morning.’

‘Yes, and now you’re going to be late. Unless you’re going as a lemon tart yourself, you’d better get on with it.’

‘Late?’ Catherine glanced at the cuckoo clock on the wall. It was still early afternoon, plenty of time to—

Her pulse skipped as she heard a faint wheezing coming from inside the clock. ‘Oh! Cuckoo, did you doze off again?’ She smacked her palm against the clock’s side and the door sprang open, revealing a tiny red bird, fast asleep. ‘Cuckoo!’

The bird startled awake with a mad flap of his wings. ‘Oh my, oh heavens,’ he squawked, rubbing his eyes with the tips of his wings. ‘What time is it?’

‘Whatever are you asking me for, you doltish bird?’ With a harried groan, Catherine ran from the kitchen, crashing into Mary Ann on the stairwell.

‘Cath – Lady Catherine! I was coming to . . . the Marchioness is—’

‘I know, I know, the ball. I lost track of time.’

Mary Ann gave her a fast head-to-toe glance and grabbed her wrist. ‘Best get you cleaned up before she sees you and calls for both of our heads.’

CHAPTER 2

MARY ANN CHECKED that the Marchioness wasn’t around the corner before ushering Cath into the bedroom and shutting the door.

The other maid, Abigail, was there already, dressed identical to Mary Ann in a demure black dress and white apron, attempting to swat a rocking-horsefly out of the open window with a broom. Every time she missed, it would nicker and whip its mane to either side, before flying back up towards the ceiling. ‘These pests will be the death of me!’ Abigail growled to Mary Ann, swiping the sweat from her brow. Then, realizing that Catherine was there too, she dropped into a lopsided curtsy.

Catherine stiffened. ‘Abigail—!’

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