There. There they were. Saliva pooled in her mouth as she stared at the two dozen diablotins, the dark thin disks of chocolate covered with nonpareils, tiny, tasty white balls of sugar. For years Mother had forbidden her candy, insisting it made her spotty, but still Katherine had found a way.
It meant imp or gremlin in French.
A defiant little smile curved her lips and she popped one of the disks into her mouth.
Oh, delicious. Delicious—exquisite—beguiling—magical—except that words couldn't even come close to describing it. She closed her eyes, savoring. The taste was both bitter and sweet, the chocolate smooth and rich on her tongue; the little nonpareils crunched between her teeth, yielding up a tantalizing contrast of textures.
But one wasn't enough. And time was short. Katherine opened her eyes and rapidly consumed three, four, five diablotins, waiting for the rush of pleasure that always came with eating chocolate. No wonder the ancient Aztecs believed that cacao seeds, from which chocolate was made, were a gift from the gods, or that they valued the seeds so greatly they used them as currency. She'd read that in one of her history books, at present hidden away in a locked box under her bed.
And speaking of books...
What excellent news that her contraband volume of Shakespeare's plays was on the way. At school they could only read the Bowdlers' version, The Family Shakespeare, edited—eviscerated was more like it—in a way that supposedly protected a maiden's fragile sensibilities. All the really good parts had been removed, the bits having to do with bad people using bad words, no doubt, and doing bad deeds. Katherine could barely wait to read them all.
She smiled, really smiled. She was feeling it now. For a few precious moments she would feel happy. Good. Alive.
Until Céleste came back, did whatever she was going to do with her hair, and she'd have to go downstairs. Ugh. Another excruciating evening spent with her parents and their—what was a good way to describe them?
"Guests" didn't quite do them justice. Katherine preferred "leeches in human form." Hovering a few rungs below Society's topmost echelon, they doubtless had received no better invitations elsewhere, and so here they flocked, the best her parents could do. They ate, they drank, they borrowed money, they expected the Brooke servants to wait on them hand and foot, and for all she knew they were smuggling the silver into their trunks.
This was bad enough, but it had also struck her that none of them appeared to have ever read a book from start to finish. And their conversation—if one could call it that—reflected this sad fact. Mealtimes were interminable.
But at least she would know, all throughout the next several hours, that concealed in her armoire, at the far end of a drawer beneath a pile of silk stockings, were eighteen more diablotins, waiting for her to come back.
At around the same time...
On the road to Whitehaven
Many people would have considered Captain Hugo Penhallow to be a man in trouble.
He had almost no money, and no income to anticipate; an old house was his only property. In addition, he had a large family to support: a widowed mother, a younger sister, and three younger brothers. His profession for the past eight years, in the Army, was no longer a viable one, for he had recently sold out. As the son of a gentleman, naturally he had no training for any other occupation. And, finally, several months ago he had badly broken his left leg and so now, when he was fatigued, he walked with an unmistakable limp.
Yet here was Hugo, riding north along the Longtown Road on this cool, cloudy afternoon, sitting his horse with casual grace and whistling cheerfully, giving all the appearance of a person without a care in the world.
This was, in fact, largely how he was feeling.
For one thing, he was on his way home, and he'd soon be with his dear and delightful family, whom he hadn't seen once during those eight years, as he had been sent to the annoyingly obstreperous territory along the Canadian border. Letters had helped bridge the distance between himself and home, although he was fairly certain that not all of them were delivered or received, it being not uncommon to have placed in his hands a missive that looked as if it had been in a battle itself, so bent and begrimed was it.
As for the financial difficulties, Hugo wasn't ignoring just how dire they were, but he was taking action: he had decided to capitalize on his two chief assets, both intangible but clearly of significant value in certain circles.