As the Duchess of Haverford topped up their tea from a fresh pot, Charlotte helped herself to her fifth petit four. Though she had been nervous to meet Her Grace on her own, there were advantages to having tea with a Duchess. Monsieur Fournier’s little cakes were at the top of that list, with the delicious orange pekoe coming in at a close second.
Her Grace smiled indulgently. “Marvelous, aren’t they?”
Charlotte’s eyes rolled in ecstasy as she bit into the smooth pink icing. “I can’t get enough of them. I have dreams about them. The baby already has expensive tastes, God help me.” She idly stroked her enormous belly. “I eat them as fast as Cedrica brings them.”
“Do you see her often?” She lit up at the mention of her relation.
“As often as she can get away. She has been occupied with Fournier’s, of course, but stops by for tea perhaps once a week.” She finished the cake with a sip of her tea. “Mrs. Phillips says I ought to cultivate more ‘advantageous’ friendships to ease my way into the ton, but who could be better than the wife of a French chef?” She laughed. “Cedrica is my dearest friend and I so look forward to our talks.”
Her Grace looked up from her tea with gentle concern. “How has the ton been treating you? Have you had many invitations?”
Charlotte sighed. She had been a countess for all of six months, a change she had embraced with rather more enthusiasm than society had accepted her. Actresses did not marry earls, after all. London’s shopkeepers, on the other hand, had embraced her with open arms. “I have had some,” she said carefully. “Apollo’s friends, mainly. Aldridge has been lovely.”
“I would certainly hope so.” There was pride in her voice as she spoke of her son. “He and Apollo have been friends for years. They used to spar in the parlour.”
“Now they spar in ours!” Charlotte laughed.
“Apollo is a dear boy. I wanted to thank you both for your generous donation to the girls’ school.” Her Grace stirred a drop of cream into her tea.
“Of course! I was hoping to speak to you about the school, actually.”
Her Grace smiled. “I would be delighted to talk about the school. It’s one of my favorite subjects.”
“As you know we have the orphanage in Southwark. We have more children than we have space to keep them, and so many of them are little girls. We were wondering if perhaps we might be able to sponsor a number of them to have places at the school. They’re bright enough, and I know if they have the right education, they might be able improve their situation–”
“Say no more.”
Charlotte stiffened, unsure of how the Duchess would react. Would she object to admitting working class orphans into her beloved school?
“I think it’s a wonderful idea.”
Charlotte sighed in relief. The orphans were fast becoming a crusade of hers; just the thought of helping them brought tears to her eyes. She could not be happier that she was now in a position to help them. “I’m so pleased.”
“What shall we call it?”
“Scholarships often have names, sometimes in memory of the person leaving it. As you and Somerton are thankfully in good health, is there someone else you might name it for?”
Charlotte grinned as it came to her, her heart so full of joy she thought it could burst. “Might we call it the Artemis Rothschild Fund? In memory of Apollo’s late sister.”
Her Grace smiled indulgently, and Charlotte wondered how much she knew of Apollo’s family history. “Of course.”
HOLLY AND HOPEFUL HEART
Read the story of Charlotte Halfpenny and the Earl of Somerton in the Bluestocking Belles’ box set, Holly and Hopeful Hearts.
When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?
BUY LINKS for HOLLY AND HOPEFUL HEARTS
Amazon US: http://ow.ly/INwa3049Ey3
Amazon UK: http://ow.ly/ZMuH3049ELM
Barnes & Noble: http://ow.ly/LqCI304jGuS
About Jessica Cale
Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series, The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in North Carolina. Visit her history blog at www.dirtysexyhistory.com.