Authors: Prideand Petticoats
who in every crisis
tells me that I only have to do
the best I can.
who reminds me that it’s the journey,
not the destination.
It ain’t proper. It just ain’t proper. You acting no…
Freddie groaned as the first wave of nausea hit. The…
Freddie put a hand over his eyes and tried to…
Charlotte watched her “husband” retreat. Even though he must be…
Freddie strolled into Brooks’s in full dandy mode—despite his…
In her explorations that day, Charlotte had discovered that not…
Freddie plowed through the house, tugging Charlotte in his wake.
Charlotte would have laughed if Dewhurst hadn’t made her so…
Charlotte smiled when she learned that Dewhurst had decided to…
Freddie chuckled. It appeared they’d arrived at a temporary truce,…
Charlotte’s cheeks fired so hot, she was afraid she might…
Freddie waited until Charlotte had gone to her room before…
Charlotte took Lucia’s advice and sipped her champagne. Now that…
Freddie threw a quick glance at the French doors, wondered…
Charlotte wandered about the town house that evening as though…
“You want to make me yours?” Charlotte said, turning to…
Freddie drank in the sight of Charlotte as though it…
Charlotte resisted Freddie only until she realized that doing so…
As an immaculately dressed Lord Dewhurst led Lady Dewhurst through…
Charlotte couldn’t believe what she’d seen. One moment Cade had…
“Lucia, you do not know how close I came to…
t ain’t proper. It just
proper. You acting no better than a brazen hussy,” the dark-skinned woman beside Charlotte grumbled. “You hear me, Miss Charlotte?”
Charlotte stopped in front of a dilapidated gray building on Thames Street near London’s Custom House. “Yes, Addy.” She’d heard her maid loud and clear all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Six weeks of Addy’s huffing and harrumphing, and Charlotte was ready to use the braided cords of her reticule to strangle the woman. Looking down at the small shabby pouch she held in one gloved hand, Charlotte mused that the frayed braiding would probably snap if she so much as yanked it closed too quickly. The slim strings had no hope of holding up against Addy’s solid neck. Gingerly
pulling the black reticule open, Charlotte glanced a last time at the smeared address on a crumpled yellow paper, then stuffed it back inside.
“Look around you, girl. This ain’t no place for a lady,” Addy said.
Charlotte took a quick survey of their surroundings and didn’t argue. They’d been in London all of three hours and she’d yet to escape the smell of rotting fish, unwashed bodies, and stale liquor. She and Addy had departed their ship at the London docks, trailing their scant luggage behind them as they made their way past the Tower of London and into the city.
As they’d walked, the terrain and the inhabitants had become steadily rougher. Charlotte couldn’t imagine this city at night. It was dangerous in the sunlight—or at least what passed for sunlight in England’s fog-shrouded capital.
Thank George Washington that they had finally arrived. She tried not to wonder why the building before them looked more like a dockside tavern than a residence. “Well, we’re here now,” Charlotte said.
“We here? You ain’t really going to knock on that door?” Addy asked. “Head hard as a cast-iron pot,” she mumbled.
Charlotte frowned at her. “Oh, hush. You’re the stubborn one. I keep telling you I’m trying to make things better.”
“We can make do without no charity from
Cade Pettigru. Troublesome rascal.” She muttered the last.
“Addy, Cade is a good man, and he’s been a good friend to our family for years. We can trust him, and we need his help.” She didn’t add that he was very likely their last hope.
Addy straightened to her full height, which was almost six feet. “Chicken spit. I satisfied with a roof a new shawl. Oh, and I could do with a heap of some simple home-cooked food.”
Charlotte winced at the reference to the repulsive fare they’d endured on the long sea voyage. The main staple had been cabbage soup, and Charlotte, who’d never cared for cabbage, had been forced to abandon it for bread and water after one particularly noxious bowl made her violently ill. She, too, longed for the delights of home—cornbread, sweet potatoes, fried chicken. Most especially she longed for the warmth and friendliness of Charleston. She hated these English with their harsh accents and arrogant manners.
But she would endure them. One glance at Addy reminded Charlotte of her reasons. The expensive shawl Addy had received as a gift from Charlotte’s father and had always treasured was now little more than a rag, and Addy’s dress was wrinkled and dusty. But worse than Addy’s scuffed shoes and tattered shawl was her face. It was heavily lined with weariness, giving her cheeks the ap
pearance of the hull of a shipwreck—a once-proud vessel left to wither in the sun.
Charlotte turned back to the gray ramshackle building and took a deep breath. If only Addy knew how much Charlotte hated surprising Cade like this, how low and common she felt asking him for money, Addy wouldn’t be so hard on her. What if Charlotte asked him to be her new business partner, and he turned her down? It would be beyond humiliating. But Charlotte could see no other way. She was responsible for Addy, and she would not allow the older woman to suffer any more than she already had.
Charlotte pinched her cheeks to heighten their color and righted her bonnet, tucking up the loose red tendrils of her hair. “We’re here now, Addy, and I know you’ve missed Cade as much as I have.”
Addy gave her a look that said she’d missed the rambunctious young man about as much as she missed changing Charlotte’s diapers when she’d been a babe.
Charlotte held up a hand before Addy could expound on the subject. “This is the direction Mr. Porcher gave me.” She looked up and down the street, noting the trash and offal littering the ground under the windows of the dilapidated houses. “I hope this is correct.” It certainly didn’t look like where she’d imagined Cade living.
Addy huffed. “We been over land, over water, in
carriages, on foot, and even on those godforsaken beasts.” She pointed at a horse and rider clopping toward them through the crowds of dirty people. “We’s here, and if you dead set against turning around, best get it done with. The sooner you go in that there door, the sooner we can go home.”
“Not much home to go back to,” Charlotte murmured, and the feeling of loss pierced her gut like the sharp point of a dagger. “But if we can convince Cade to invest, everything will be like it used to.”
“Your heart is too soft, Miss Charlotte. Those people ain’t your friends. When you done lost all that money, they disappeared fast as a pitcher of lemon water on a hot day.”
Shame and humiliation heated Charlotte’s cheeks, and she looked down at her worn boots, the toes of which poked from beneath the skirt of her dress.
With a sigh, she straightened her shoulders and took a step forward, then paused as behind them the hoofbeats from the approaching horse slowed. Charlotte and Addy glanced ’round as the rider reined in his mount and swept his beaver hat from his dark curls. “Do my eyes deceive me, or is that Miss Charlotte Katherine Burton from Charleston, South Carolina, standing on my walk?”
The nervousness in Charlotte’s belly flitted away, and the sun pierced the skies above them.
“The one and only. But you, Mr. Cade Pettigru, are a knight on a white horse.” She fluttered her eyelashes, mocking the flirtatious Southern belles back home, and heard Addy grumble, “It ain’t proper.”
Charlotte ignored her. She needed a knight right now, and Cade was as close as they came. His horse was indeed so pale a gray as to appear white, and sitting astride the beast, Cade looked magnificent in leather breeches, knee-high leather boots, and a fine blue riding coat.
He threw his leg over his horse and jumped down. When he stepped closer, even Addy had to crane her neck to peer up at the tan, dark-eyed Southern gentleman. Looking at him was a biting reminder of her brother, and Charlotte’s resolve not to cry faltered. She could only pray that Cade was the balm she needed for her tear-swollen eyes.
He opened his arms to her, and Charlotte went willingly, laughing as he tightened the embrace into a bear hug, then swung her around until her feet left the ground and her dress belled around her. Charlotte squealed, and Addy said, “Lawd Almighty! Mr. Pettigru, you let Miss Charlotte go.” But Charlotte cried out with pleasure. It had been more than five years since he’d swung her around like this. She’d been eighteen and without a worry in the world. For a moment, she was transported back to that carefree time.
Finally Cade released her and made a bow to
Addy. Before Addy could chastise him further, however, he gathered her up and repeated his welcome. Thankfully, his treatment of Addy was somewhat more reserved. When he’d set Addy down and taken Charlotte’s gloved hands in his again, she squeezed his fingers and said, “I can’t believe it’s really you, Cade. I can’t believe how good you look.”
He winked at her. “And you’ve grown into a fine woman. What are you doing here, and why didn’t you write? I would have arranged for us to meet somewhere more suitable.”
“I’m glad you didn’t. I have something of a delicate nature to discuss with you.”
Cade raised a brow. “I see. Business or pleasure, Lottie?”
Charlotte smiled. How long had it been since someone had called her by that childhood endearment?
“Lawd Almighty,” Addy wailed when Charlotte’s smile wobbled. “Now don’t you start crying again, Miss Charlotte.” Addy pulled out her ever-present handkerchief. “Don’t you dare start, sugar.” Through the tears she was desperately attempting to hold back, Charlotte saw Addy give Cade a look that would have wilted cotton. “Now look what you done, Mr. Cade.”
Cade opened his mouth, closed it, then seemed to take careful note of Charlotte. She tried to look cheerful, but she knew that nothing could turn the
somber bonnet and the black bombazine day dress into a pretty cap and gay ball gown or make her red, puffy eyes sparkle as they used to. He put his hand on her elbow. “Come inside. I don’t have much time, but I’ll do what I can.”
After a quick perusal of the street, he hurried them and the luggage inside the building, shutting the door and locking it behind her. Charlotte had the distinct sense that he didn’t want her there, and once inside she saw why. The place was indeed a tavern. It was still too early in the day to boast any customers, but the signs of their presence the night before flourished. Chairs and tables were overturned and those that stood upright were caked with thick, sticky residue. Broken glass littered the floor, and a large gray thing—Charlotte prayed it was a cat—scurried through a crack in the wall.
Cade navigated the public room with ease and showed Charlotte and Addy to an office in the back that held a desk and a large divan, pushed against a dingy window.
Charlotte stood in the doorway, finding it difficult to conceive of Cade working here. It was so different from the ornate Pettigru house in Charleston. Cade followed Charlotte inside, then hollered for a woman called Bess. No one appeared. Cade called again, and Charlotte took advantage of his distraction to give Addy a meaningful look, which she, of course, ignored.
Charlotte knew her maid was intent on playing the chaperone, but now that she’d finally found Cade, Charlotte did not want to wait to speak to him. Not to mention, sending Addy after the errant Bess was a good way to ensure she had Cade to herself. Charlotte reached over and pinched Addy’s arm. Addy scooted away.
“Where could she be?” Cade said, walking toward the office door. Charlotte reached out and pinched Addy again. Hard.
Cade turned, looking at Addy with a puzzled frown, while Charlotte tried to stare Addy into compliance. Finally she capitulated. “Mr. Cade, you and Miss Charlotte set there and talk. Lawd knows I can find my way round a kitchen to make two cups of tea. I’s be a minute.” She looked at Charlotte. “A very short minute.”
“Thank you, Addy,” Charlotte said sweetly, settling herself on the long divan. It creaked in distress, and Charlotte prayed it would not collapse. When Addy was gone, Cade crossed the room and leaned against the desk so that he faced her. His eyes flicked to the window, and a shadow passed over his features, but then he smiled at her and the darkness was gone. She returned the smile, and he shook his head. “She hasn’t changed a bit. Makes me miss my own mammy back home. She’d whip me faster than a fish on a June bug.”
“Lot of good it did,” Charlotte said. “You and
Thomas were the scourge of Charleston with all your pranks.” As soon as she’d spoken her brother’s name, Charlotte’s chest tightened, and she put a hand to her lips to quell their trembling.
Cade knelt beside her. “Lottie, what’s happened? Tell me.”
She shook her head, her voice failing her. She felt as though her throat were in the clutches of a ruthless taskmaster, intent upon squeezing every last ounce of grief from her. Finally she managed to whisper, “Oh, Cade.”
He gathered her in his arms, holding her while she wept. She’d cried enough tears to float a ship, and the ocean of salty rivulets running down her cheeks hadn’t changed anything. All the tears in the sea wouldn’t bring her father and Thomas back, wouldn’t restore her to the carefree days of the past. Cade patted her shoulder and shushed her, and Charlotte hiccupped. This was what she’d wanted, what she’d needed from Cade.
“Was it the British?” Cade asked finally, leaning back to look in her face. She nodded, and he swore. “I told your father he was a fool and a half. Leaving you home and risking his ships and skinny neck for a pile of lace, silk, and French wine.”
Charlotte nodded. She, too, had pleaded with her father and brother to cease the illegal smuggling runs, but with the British blockade strangling all trade, the value of European goods was
too high to resist. “We needed the money,” she murmured. “Prices in Charleston—” She waved a hand as though to indicate exorbitance too excessive to put into words. She left out mention of her father’s gambling debt entirely, for that remembrance was a price too high for even her shattered pride.
“And you’ve come to me for help.” Cade’s look was grim, and Charlotte knew it would turn grimmer still when she told him the true state of affairs. Cade remembered her as the spoiled Southern belle. He had no knowledge of how she’d begged and scraped and lowered herself to keep the family together. And in the end her efforts weren’t enough. The house on Legare Street, the family’s savings, the last vestiges of social respect—gone. Snatched away with the bang of the cannon and the slow sinking of
Had it really been only a year ago she’d received word? It felt like yesterday. The pain in her belly, fresh and raw, hit home like a dagger plunged to the hilt.
“I didn’t know where else to turn,” she began, but Cade shushed her.
“You did right to come to me. But as you can see, I—” He looked away, listening intently.
“What is it?” Charlotte began. Suddenly there was a crash from the public room, and the sound of Addy screeching. Charlotte would have sprung to her feet, but she was grasped from behind in a
viselike grip that all but stripped her of breath. In the shock of the moment, it took several heartbeats before she realized that her attacker was behind the divan and had probably been hiding there. Looking to Cade, she made a strangled cry of need, but he did not hear. He had a pistol in his hand and was staring at the office door. She watched as Cade rounded the desk, pulled out a drawer, grasped a sheaf of papers, and stuffed them into his waistcoat, never taking his eyes from the door.