Home > Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(3)

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove #4)(3)
Author: Tessa Dare

Oh, bollocks. Pauline winced. She knew she should have done it herself. But she’d wanted so fiercely for Daniela to show that wretched old bat she could do it.

Now the wretched old bat cackled in triumph.

Confused, Daniela smiled and tried to laugh along.

Pauline’s heart broke for her sister. They were only a year apart in age, but so many more in understanding. Of all the things that came a bit more difficult for Daniela than other people—pronouncing words that ended in consonants, subtracting from numbers greater than ten—cruelty seemed the hardest concept for her to grasp. A mercy, in Amos Simms’s family.

“Not the clayed sugar,” Rufus Bright moaned.

Sally boxed him across the ear.

“I just scraped it from the cone,” he apologized, rubbing the side of his head. “Bin was almost full.”

“Well, it’s entirely useless now,” said Mrs. Whittlecombe smugly.

“I’ll pay for the sugar,” Pauline said. She felt instantly nauseous, as if she’d swallowed five pounds of the stuff raw. Fine white sugar came dear.

“You don’t have to do that,” Sally said in a low voice. “We’re practically sisters. We should be real sisters, if my brother Errol had any sense in his head.”

Pauline shook her head. She’d ceased pining for Errol Bright when they parted ways years ago. She certainly didn’t want to be indebted to him now.

“I’ll pay for it,” she insisted. “It was my mistake. I should have done it myself, but I was in a hurry.”

And now she would certainly be late for her post at the Bull and Blossom. This day only grew worse and worse.

Sally looked pained, caught between the need to turn a profit and the desire to help a friend.

In the corner, Daniela had finally realized the consequences of her error. “I can put it back,” she said, scooping from the sugar barrel and dumping it into the alum, muddling both quantities with her flowing tears. “I can put it right.”

“It’s all right, dear.” Pauline went to her side and gently removed the tin scoop from her sister’s hand. “Go on,” she told Sally firmly. “I think I have some credit in the ledger.”

She didn’t just think she had credit. She knew she did. Several pages beyond the Simms family account, there was a page labeled simply PAULINE—and it showed precisely two pounds, four shillings, and eight pence of credit accrued. For the past few years, she’d saved and scrimped every penny she could, trusting Sally’s ledger with the safekeeping. It was the closest thing to a bank account a serving girl like her could have.

Almost a year, she’d been saving. Saving for something better, for her and Daniela both. Saving for someday.

“Do it,” she said.

With a few strokes of Sally’s quill, the money was almost entirely gone. Eleven shillings, eight pence left.

“I didn’t charge for the alum,” Sally murmured.

“Thank you.” Small comfort, but it was something. “Rufus, would you kindly walk my sister home? I’m due at the tavern, and she’s upset.”

Rufus, apparently ashamed of his earlier behavior, offered his arm. “ ’Course I will. Come along, Danny. I’ll drive you in the cart.”

When Daniela resisted, Pauline hugged her and whispered, “You go home, and tonight I’ll bring your penny.”

The promise brightened Daniela’s face. It was her daily task to gather the eggs, count and candle them, and prepare them to sell. In return, Pauline gave her a penny a week.

Every Saturday evening she watched Daniela carefully add the coin to an old, battered tea tin. She would shake the tin and grin, satisfied with the rattling sound. It was a ritual that pleased them both. The next morning the same treasured penny went into the church offering—every Sunday, without fail.

“Go on, then.” She sent her sister off with a smile she didn’t quite feel.

Once Rufus and Daniela had left, Mrs. Whittlecombe crowed with satisfaction. “That’ll be a lesson for you, bringing a simpleton around the village.”

“Go easy, Mrs. Whittlecombe,” a bystander said. “You know they mean well.”

Pauline flinched inwardly. Not that phrase. She’d heard it countless times over the course of her life. Always in that same pitying tone, usually accompanied by a clucking tongue: Can’t be hard on those Simms girls . . . you know they mean well.

In other words, no one expected them to do a cursed thing right. How could they? Two unwanted daughters in a family with no sons. One simple-minded, the other lacking in every feminine grace.

Just once, Pauline wanted to be known not for meaning well, but for doing well.

That day wouldn’t be today. Not only had everything gone wrong, but as she regarded Mrs. Whittlecombe, Pauline couldn’t muster any good intentions. Anger bloomed in her chest like a predatory vine, all sharp needles and grasping tendrils.

The old woman placed two bottles of tonic in her netted bag. They clinked together in a way that only increased Pauline’s anger. “Next time, keep the fool thing at home.”

Her hands balled into tight fists at her side. Of course she wouldn’t lash out at an old woman the way she’d once fought the teasing boys at school, but the motion was instinctive. “Daniela is not a thing. She is a person.”

“She’s a half-wit. She doesn’t belong out of the house.”

“She made a mistake. Just like all people make mistakes.” Pauline reached for the bin of ruined white sugar. It was hers now, wasn’t it? She’d paid for the contents. “For example, everyone knows I’m incurably clumsy.”

“Pauline,” Sally warned. “Please don’t.”

Too late. With an angry heave, she launched the bin’s contents into the air.

The room exploded in a blizzard of white, and Mrs. Whittlecombe was at the storm’s dead center, sputtering and cursing through a cloud of powder. When the flurries cleared, she looked like Lot’s wife, only turned to a pillar of sugar rather than salt.

The sense of divine retribution that settled on Pauline . . . it was almost worth all that hard-earned money.


She tossed the empty bin to the floor. “Oh, dear. How stupid of me.”

Griff regarded his mother and that smug smile curving her lips. This time she’d gone too far. This wasn’t mere meddling. It was diabolical.

Not Spinster Cove.

He’d never visited the place, but he knew it well by reputation. This seaside hamlet was where old maids went to embroider and consumptives went to dry.

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