Heartless Page 3

Her warning was too late. A pair of tiny rockers clomped over the back of Abigail’s bonnet before the horse darted back up towards the ceiling.

‘Why, you obnoxious little pony!’ Abigail screeched, swinging her broom.

Cringing, Mary Ann dragged Catherine into the dressing room and shut the door. Water had already been drawn in a pitcher on the washing stand. ‘There isn’t time for a bath, but let’s not tell your mother that,’ she said, fiddling with the back of Catherine’s muslin dress while Cath dipped a washcloth into the pitcher. She furiously scrubbed the flour from her face. How had she managed to get it behind her ears?

‘I thought you were going into town today,’ she said, letting Mary Ann peel off her dress and chemise.

‘I did, but it was fabulously dull. All anyone wanted to talk about was the ball, as if the King doesn’t have a party every other day.’ Taking the washcloth, Mary Ann scrubbed Catherine’s arms until her flesh was pink, then spritzed her with rose water to cover up the lingering aroma of pastry dough and oven fires. ‘There was a lot of talk about a new court joker who will be making his debut tonight. Jack was bragging about how he’s going to steal his hat and smash the bells as a sort of initiation.’

‘That seems very childish.’

‘I agree. Jack is such a knave.’ Mary Ann helped Catherine into a new chemise, before pushing her down on to a stool and running a brush through her dark hair. ‘I did hear one bit of interesting news though. The cobbler is retiring and will be leaving his storefront empty by the end of this month.’ With a twist, a dish full of pins, and a touch of beeswax, a lovely chignon rested at the nape of Catherine’s neck, and her face was haloed by a cluster of jovial curls.

‘The cobbler? On Main Street?’

‘The very one.’ Mary Ann spun Cath around, her voice dropping to a whisper. ‘When I heard it, I immediately thought what a fine location it would be. For us.’

Cath’s eyes widened. ‘Sweet hearts, you’re right. Right next to that toy shop—’

‘And just down the hill from that quaint white chapel. Think of all the wedding cakes you’d be making.’

‘Oh! We could do a series of different-flavoured crumbles for our grand opening, in honour of the shoemaker. We’ll start with the classics – blueberry crumble, peach crumble – but then, imagine the possibilities. A lavender-nectarine crumble one day, and the next, a banana-butterscotch crumble, topped with biscuit crumble and—’

‘Stop it!’ Mary Ann laughed. ‘I haven’t had supper yet.’

‘We should go look at it, don’t you think? Before word gets out?’

‘I thought so too. Maybe tomorrow. But your mother . . .’

‘I’ll tell her we’re going shopping for new ribbons. She won’t mind.’ Cath swayed on the balls of her feet. ‘By the time she finds out about the bakery, we’ll be able to show her what a tremendous business opportunity it is and even she won’t be able to deny it.’

Mary Ann’s smile turned tight. ‘I don’t think it’s the business opportunity she’s bound to disapprove of.’

Cath flitted away her concern, although she knew Mary Ann was right. Her mother would never approve of her only daughter, the heir to Rock Turtle Cove, going into the men’s world of business, especially with a humble servant like Mary Ann as her partner. Besides, baking was a job fit for servants, her mother would say. And she would loathe the idea that Cath planned on using her own marriage dowry in order to open the business herself.

But she and Mary Ann had been dreaming of it for so long, she sometimes forgot that it wasn’t yet reality. Her pastries and desserts were already becoming renowned throughout the kingdom, and the King himself was her grandest fan, which might have been the only reason her mother tolerated her hobby at all.

‘Her approval won’t matter,’ Cath said, trying to convince herself as much as Mary Ann. The idea of her mother being angry over this decision, or worse, disowning her, made her stomach curdle. But it wouldn’t come to that. She hoped.

She lifted her chin. ‘We’re going forward with or without my parents’ approval. We are going to have the best bakery in all of Hearts. Why, even the White Queen will travel here when she hears word of our decadent chocolate tortes and blissfully crumbly currant scones.’

Mary Ann bunched her lips to one side, doubtful.

‘That reminds me,’ Cath continued. ‘I have three tarts cooling in the pie-safe right now. Could you bring them tonight? Oh, but they still need a dusting of icing sugar. I left some on the table. Just a teeny, tiny bit.’ She pinched her fingers in example.

‘Of course I can bring them. What kind of tarts?’


A teasing smile crept up Mary Ann’s face. ‘From your tree?’

‘You heard about it?’

‘I saw Mr Gardiner planting it under your window this morning and had to ask where it came from. All that hacking they had to do to get it unwound from your bedposts, and yet it seemed no worse for wear.’

Catherine wrung her hands, not sure why talking about her dream tree made her self-conscious. ‘Well, yes, that’s where I got my lemons, and I’m certain these tarts are my best yet. By tomorrow morning, all of Hearts will be talking about them and longing to know when they can buy our desserts for themselves.’

‘Don’t be silly, Cath.’ Mary Ann pulled a corset over Cath’s head. ‘They’ve been asking that since you made those ginger biscuits last year.’

Prev page Next page