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"Penny daily, sir, penny daily! Latest edition!" the newsboy called, his pointed chin thrust upward as he shouted.
The sun shone hotly over the tarmacadam surfaces of Trafalgar Square as Judah Shield, hearing the lad's call, strode to the base of Nelson's Column to buy a newspaper. He had an hour before his meeting at Redcake's Tea Shop and Emporium, only a mile away, and was desperate to look at the employment notices. Never was a man more in need of a position than when he'd bet nearly all his army pay on an Indian gem shipment that wouldn't arrive in England for another two months.
"Latest scandal in the navy! Trouble at Osborne House!" The boy thrust a paper into the hands of an elderly dandy and tucked away the penny.
As the man tottered away, clutching his paper and cane, Judah reached for the newsboy's next paper. His hand collided with someone's wrist.
"My apologies," Judah said, taking the paper and tossing the boy a penny.
"Eddy Jackson at your service, milord." He grinned and slipped the penny into his pocket.
"No milording for me," Judah told him, thinking his years in the army should have knocked the aristocratic polish off him. His civilian clothes were years out of date for London.
Next to him, the lady whose wrist he had touched raised a delicate eyebrow. Or rather, a forceful eyebrow, as the damsel in question had formidable dark brows over a pair of piercing blue eyes. They created a sharp contrast to her blond hair, giving her the appearance of off-kilter strength.
She wore a gray-blue dress that didn't appear to be stylish, though he couldn't know for sure, being only a week off the boat from India, but her slim-fingered hands were genteel, though perhaps more reddened than they should be. A lady whose household could only afford a maid-of-all-work?
He doffed his bowler and held out the paper to the fetching miss.
"Oh, I couldn't," she said, clutching her reticule.
"I insist, please." He thrust it at her and pulled another coin from his pocket, tossing it to Eddy, who handed him a second paper.
Turning with military precision, he strode across the Square, still perturbed by being called "my lord." He no longer wanted to use his courtesy title. Truly, even "captain" seemed wrong, since he'd left the army.
His mother had not served him well upon her deathbed earlier this year. She had written him after surgery, perhaps thinking there would be time to explain, though a massive infection had robbed them of that time. How could she have sent a letter informing him he was not the late Marquess of Hatbrook's true son, but a bastard?
Even worse, she had not informed him of his true father's name. She'd set him loose from the birthright he'd thought was his own.
Until he had seen his brother, the current Marquess of Hatbrook, he hadn't known Hatbrook did not care. In fact, he admitted he had been the one to accidentally uncover their mother's sordid past. Still, Judah felt cut adrift from family life, in a way similar to how he'd felt when he'd joined the army then had been posted to India seven years before.
Oh, it had been exciting, true, but he had missed England. Funny that he would arrive back during the heat of summer when what he remembered was the fog, wind, and cold.
"Are you following me, sir?" said a voice at his elbow.
He discovered the young miss was directly next to him, clutching her paper. "Not at all. I am on my way to an appointment."
"It is coincidence, then," she said, matching his stride.
"Why would you think I would follow you?"
Her shoulders lifted and fell, a graceful movement that somehow drew his attention to her full bosom, hidden under sprigged muslin. He felt a spark of interest, though his attentions were best focused elsewhere until he had secured his future, one that did not involve taking money from his brother.
"I have an appointment at Redcake's." He attempted to keep his tone cool, though his blood ran warmly through his veins and risked the consequence of tightening his already snug lower garments.
"Why, so do I," she said. "It is a coincidence for certain."
He wondered why the lady seemed so paranoid. A strict father? Or lover? It didn't matter to him. He had no time to chase potential mistresses and he wasn't wife hunting either. His brother had chosen to restore the family fortunes by hard work. Hatbrook's recent marriage to a woman from a wealthy family had been a love match. Judah could do no less than follow the example and make his own fortune.
So, he had rented a small house on Adelaide Street with a valet and housemaid, both new to their present positions and related to long-term retainers of Hatbrook House. He'd eat meals out and look for employment.
The woman smiled tentatively at him. "I apologize, but you cannot be too careful on the streets around here. It has been rough going this summer."
Realizing the lady walked quickly in an attempt to keep up with him, he smiled vaguely in her direction. Had the ladies of London become so forward in the last seven years? Or had she decided he was now her protection from street ruffians?
"What kind of a place is Redcake's?" he asked. "I have never been there."
"It's quite nice, the first perfect place for ladies to relax. Not that gentlemen are unwelcome, but the atmosphere is most genteel. What is unusual is that a woman is at the helm. A marchioness, no less."
His own sister-in-law, Alys, who was born a Redcake. He had not yet met her. She had been raised to be a baker, not an aristocrat, and his curiosity about her was intense.
"Ah. I am meeting a lady there."
"Not for a tryst, I hope," she said sharply. "It is not that kind of establishment."
My, but the lady had an impetuous tongue. What business was it of hers? "I am astonished you would find me such a danger to your sensibilities."
She stopped dead on busy Regent Street, allowing others to stream around her as she stared at him. Carriages and carts passed by slowly, the scent of fresh bread and horse manure wafting through the warming air.
What did she see? He had no visible scars. He'd shaved off his military mustache on the ship. He knew his thick brown hair was neatly trimmed, his sideburns in check, his attire appropriate. His gaze had been called piercing, but never alarming. Perhaps it was his military bearing that had alarmed her gentle femininity.
"Why are you grinning?" she demanded, gathering curious stares from passing gentlemen.
"I'm grinning at you," he replied, resuming his walk. "Really, you'd think I was a Thuggee."
She trotted to keep up. "I can see the parallel, though you did buy me the newspaper."
"Women don't usually read the news," he observed.
"My cousin is very often late for appointments," she told him. "I thought the paper would amuse me."
"Ah. You are soon to find out if she has surprised you, as I believe we are nearly at the tea shop." He nodded to her. "Good day to you."
She stopped again, perhaps to gape at him. He passed through the iron gates that led to a small, neatly cobbled courtyard outside the building proper, observing the window display of pastry his brother had written about in his letters, somewhat plaintively, as he had an illness of digestion that prevented him from enjoying the goods he so loved.
Once inside, Judah found himself in a wide entryway. The polished wood floor gleamed and the ceiling hung verdantly with ferns. Most palpable was the scent of fresh baking, the best possible advertisement for such a place. To the left he could see the tearoom, lit by large windows facing the street. Ladies in fashionable garments were dotted around the room at small tables, though he did see two with gentlemen. On the right bustled a bakery with glass cases full of cakes, pies, and other items. People of all ages moved past him carrying distinctive white boxes, embossed in gold and tied with red ribbon.
The enterprise was comprised of these two parts, plus a delivery service, sales to businesses such as hotels, and a party service, for which cakes were the calling cards. All of this he had learned from a clipping his brother had sent him from a business paper, about Sir Bartley Redcake selling his flagship to the Marquess of Hatbrook just before he married Sir Bartley's oldest daughter.
What Judah did not know was why his sister-in-law had requested an interview with him here. He had promised to visit the family in Sussex when he had time as he did not intend to be a complete stranger to the extended family, who might not know of his shameful secret.
He turned, frowning at the name, and saw a pretty full-figured girl in a black uniform smiling at him. "Yes?"
"Goodness, I thought it was you. You have the same mouth and chin as the marquess." She studied him most impertinently. "But your eyes are a completely different color. And you are so tall!"
He tilted his head. "Are you a friend of the family?"
"I'm Betsy Popham. I make cakes with Alys, that is to say, her ladyship." Her smile became sheepish. "I've known her for nearly three years."
"I understand, and 'Captain' or 'Mr. Shield' is good enough for me."
She looked confused, and for the first time he realized his discomfort with the courtesy title might cause him some trouble outside the family. After all, his late mother had a well-tarnished reputation, but no one actually knew he was not his father's son.
"Never mind." He folded his hands together behind his back.
"Oh, I understand. You were a military man, and no doubt quite proud of being a captain."
He chuckled. That was a good explanation. He liked this girl, whom he judged to be in her late teens. Sharp like the slightly older lady from Trafalgar Square, but without the paranoid edges. "How did you come to work here?"
"My father has been with the company since before the Red-cakes left Bristol. We moved when Sir Bartley set up here and he promoted my father to bakery manager. I've worked here since the day it opened."
A door opened in front of them, apparently one that led into back rooms. A tall, curvaceous redhead dressed in a striped gray and lilac gown stepped into the entryway.
"There she is," Betsy said, waving at the lady.
The Marchioness of Hatbrook smiled and held out her hand. "Captain Shield, I would have recognized you anywhere."
Once Judah's brother stepped out from behind the lady, he recognized her too. Then he moved closer and took her hand. The scent of cake and oranges filled his nostrils. Now this was the Alys his brother had described to him in letters. Ambrosial Alys, he had called her.
He couldn't hold back his smile. "Such a pleasure to finally meet you."
"All settled in?" the marquess asked.
Hatbrook had met him at the docks when he first arrived, and tried to persuade him to live at Hatbrook House in Belgravia, but his wife hadn't been feeling well at the time and had remained in Heathfield. At least she was in the full bloom of health now.
"The private dining room is free," Betsy said.
"Excellent," the marquess said, rubbing his hands together. "We have business to discuss."
"I was surprised you didn't want to live at Hatbrook House," the marchioness said to him as they traversed the dining room. "It is so large, and we are not always there."
Judah waited to respond until they were seated at an intimate dining table for four. The room was as well appointed as any at a club, with upholstered chairs, an ornate fireplace, and a cage filled with stuffed birds. A gasolier hung over the dining table and sconces were spaced along the walls for excellent lighting.
"Cousin Lewis wants Alys to upgrade to electricity," the marquess said.
Judah raised a brow.
The marchioness smiled. "Michael gifted this business to me after our marriage. Lewis is my cousin, not yours, if you were uncertain."
He was certain of very little regarding his relations now. "Quite a gift, my lady."
She smiled. "Indeed, but circumstances continue to change. Please, do call me Alys. We are family now."
Family. She said the word so easily, a lady sure of her place in the world. He had once had the same certainty, but no more.
Young women wearing the same black dress uniform as Betsy stepped in, carrying trays with tea, scones, and eggs. Judah watched without comment as his brother took an egg instead of a scone, something he never would have done as a child. He did wonder how much one could truly know a person by letters, however. His brother had gone off to school when Judah was five. When he joined the army at seventeen, his brother was still at school. They hadn't seen each other for more than holiday visits in over twenty years. At least they had been faithful correspondents.
"Are you planning to sell the establishment?" Judah inquired.
"No, no," she said hastily, buttering a scone. "It has been such a successful year. We did a brisk line in Golden Jubilee cakes. Our retail line of Victoria serving ware was very profitable too. I have learned more this year than in any other, I can assure you."
"You have been managing the entire enterprise?"
"We had one gentleman for three months, but his behavior toward the cakies was inexcusable." She colored at the memory. "But I can no longer shoulder the burden."
He looked more closely at his sister-in-law.
His brother cleared his throat. "We have expectations, at the beginning of spring."
Judah lifted his teacup. So he was to be an uncle. "Congratulations to the both of you."
The marchioness blushed and nodded.
"I understand now. At some point the work will simply become too much."
"Yes, and the air is much more pleasant at Hatbrook Farm. London in late autumn and winter is not so nice."
"What about the social whirl?"
"I do not know if you are acquainted with my personal history, but Society was never an interest of mine."
"Nor my brother's, I understand."
"Exactly. We are happier down at the Farm at this moment. What do you say, Judah?"
Confused and startled, he set down his teacup. "What are you asking?"
"That you manage Redcake's," Alys said, sweeping an arm around the room. "All of it. The supply piece is the easiest, since most of our goods come from my father's mills and factories. Except the porcelain, which was an innovation of that manager we had so briefly."
His breath stilled. Could finding a position be as simple as this? Wasn't this taking money from his brother something he'd promised himself not to do? "I have no experience," he countered.
"You have insisted to me that you want employment, instead of taking your rightful place in Society," Hatbrook said.
"That is true, but managing such a place as this is not a position for someone just starting in London. Should I not work on accounts or supplies or some such, and earn the manager position?" He didn't want to take anything from the family that he didn't earn, desperate as he was for work. The coal bill needed paying, and he must have new clothes. The rent on the house would send him to the workhouse soon enough, not to mention the servants' wages.
Alys smiled. "I like you, Judah. I really do. If you would simply agree to come in every day while we are gone, I promise to teach you everything I know during September and October, before we retire to the Farm for the winter."
"You are leaving?" Yet another shock.
His brother smiled. "Off to France on the first train tomorrow. Alys needs to rest and I have some research to do in the Loire Valley."
"This feels like a sneak attack," Judah said.
His brother's smile widened. "You wanted employment, Judah. I recognize your reasons for not taking an allowance from the estates, even though you are entitled and welcome to it. Legally, you are not a bastard, no matter what Mother did."
"I didn't mean for you to offer me a position. I didn't want to take anything from you."
"I am well aware of that, as much as I wish you felt differently. Alys made this decision. She said she would know what to do as soon as she saw you."
He glanced at the lady, who was frowning at one of the scones. He noticed the minutest speck of black in the dough. "A problem?"
She glanced up. "We pride ourselves on unadulterated flour. Or, I should say, the mills do. This is probably just a random bit of bug, but it is something to keep an eye on."
Excerpted from One Taste of Scandal by HEATHER HIESTAND. Copyright © 2013 Heather Hiestand. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 13, 2014
I just adored this book. Magdalene was a good girl from the SCANDALOUS CROSS family. She was genteel poor and she loved art. Judah come home from India after receiving a deathbed letter from his mom saying he wasn't his father's child. He came back and wanted 2 things, to find his real father and to work for a living. He started as manager at Redcake's Tea Shop and Emporium for his sister-in-law. Maggie had a drunk, newly widowed and violent brother, 2 young nephews and another brother who was a super young rogue at home. Al she wanted was to leave, marry a title and live as did before the money was gone. Judah collected people not things. He met Maggie and noticed her art AMD got her a job cake decoration at Redcake's. Then he collected young Edy, the newspaper boy, and je mobbed in with Judah. This book had the quirky and hilarious characters from MAQUESS OF CAKE and some new ones. I give this book 3 fingers up and 5 toes.
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Posted November 11, 2014
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