Today's Reading

"Tell me about you, darlin'," Genny encouraged with a gentle smile. "What do you do to keep occupied? What have you been taught other than prayin'?"

Shyly, Cecelia she pulled her notebook away from her middle where she'd kept it, extending it to the woman.

Genny looked down at the book for a pregnant moment, opening it with two careful fingers as though she expected a monster to be flattened between the pages.

Cecelia held her breath as the woman began to turn the pages with increasing speed until she met her gaze with shining eyes.

"No one told me you were an artist, little doll." Cecelia crinkled her forehead in bemusement.

She was no artist. No poet or otherwise. She'd attempted those pastimes with painstaking effort when she was isolated, to disastrous effect.

She snatched the notebook that was extended back to her and looked down at what she found there. Just exponents and theorems, limits and derivatives, formulae, functions, and corresponding graphs.

She glanced up to see a satisfied smile reveal Genny's brilliant white teeth. "You'll take to where we're goin', honey, of that I have no doubt."

Cecelia nodded, afraid to ask. She sank into the cloak, trying to pluck an emotion from the bevy of them swirling through her like a storm. Was she relieved? Apprehensive? Sad? Elated?

Some perplexing concoction of all these things, she decided as she watched Wexler leave the parish cottage.

Mostly, she was hungry.

"I'm famished." Genny once again seemed to read her mind. "Let's stop at the Crossland Inn for the night and get you fed and washed. I hear they have these splendid little cakes sprinkled with—"

"Oh, I'm not allowed cakes," Cecelia informed her with no little distress. "To indulge is to sin."

Genny reached forward and grasped her hands, imprisoning both of them in her firm, strong grip. Her eyes glowed like bronze heated in the forge of her temper as she tossed her tight blond curls away from her cheeks.

"You listen to me. You push all notions of sin and abstinence out of your head, hear? Your life is your own. From now on, you want cakes? You eat cakes. You drape yourself in color and you eat and wear and enjoy whatever you desire whenever you fancy. From this day forward, you deny yourself nothing. You feel no shame. You are who you are, and what you are is beautiful."

The kindness stung Cecelia's eyes with tears. "I'm not beautiful. I'm fat."

Genny contemplated that for a moment, her lips twisting pensively before she said, "Honey, some people are going to tell you that, but when they do, you remember my words and you mark them because this is my area of expertise. When you grow, you are going to devastate men. With those eyes and lips, that hair and skin, with what you have beginning to show beneath that dowdy old frock..." Genny rocked back, fanning herself as though the temperature in the carriage had suddenly spiked.

"You'll be a force to be reckoned with and make no mistake. 'Course, there will be those who prefer little waifs with little waists. And you'll find that most men are too delicate to abide a woman whose brain can do what yours can. It'll intimidate the tarnation right out of them. But honey, you'll wield a power you don't yet understand. You'll capture, control, and destroy any number of men."

Cecelia bit the inside of her cheek, suddenly feeling very overwhelmed and light-headed again. "I don't want to destroy anyone." And she'd never imagine holding a captive, not after what she'd been subjected to.

Genny's face softened, and she tucked back a renegade curl from Cecelia's cheek. "I was told you'd be sweet, like your mama."

"You knew my mother?" Cecelia grasped onto that with both hands, brimming with questions. "I met her once, when she visited," she said vaguely. "Visited wher—"

"Let's go see about those cakes!" Genny rapped on the ceiling of the coach, and the horses lurched forward with a slap of the reins. "After a huge supper, a hot bath, and a good night's rest, we're gonna go fit you with some proper gowns in any color you want. You never have to worry about money again, and isn't that a blessing? You've a fortune at your disposal now, as you're the heir to one of the most important, most influential people in London society."

It took several tries for Cecelia to regain her breath to ask, "Is it my real father?"

Genny's lips pressed together. "I'm sorry, sugar, but I can't say. Just know that it's someone who cares for you very much. Someone who loved your mother."

Cecelia allowed that answer to assuage her for a couple of weeks as she was whisked into a cocoon of expensive hotels, ships, and villas. Of seamstresses, chefs, haberdasheries, and lady's maids. She visited Paris on her way to their destination, awestruck by the glamorous city and even more dazzling inhabitants.

The Ecole de Chardonne institute for girls might have been the most romantic Gothic castle she could possibly conceive of. The staff there fell over themselves to accommodate her as she was escorted to the enchanting tower with a collection of windows overlooking the sparkling Lake Geneva. This was to be her new home.

She was humbled. Grateful. Sufficiently awestruck. And yet when she sat upon her bed in the tower at the end of the day, the same emptiness tormented her. Because even though her windows were large and grand instead of small and grimy and she had all the food, warmth, and care she could conceive of...

She was still alone in the dark.

This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book RomeAntically Challenged by Marina Adair.

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