Home > Heartless(4)

Author: Marissa Meyer

‘I want to be the best.’

Mary Ann settled her hands on Cath’s shoulders. ‘You are the best. And I’ve calculated the numbers again – with the expected costs attached to Mr Caterpillar’s shop, monthly expenses, and the cost of ingredients, all measured against our planned daily output and pricing. Adjusted to allow some room for error, I still think we would be profitable in under a year.’

Cath clapped her hands over her ears. ‘You take all the fun out of it with your numbers and mathematics. You know how they make my head spin.’

Mary Ann sniffed and turned away, opening the wardrobe. ‘You have no trouble converting tablespoons into cups. It’s not all that different.’

‘It is different, which is why I need you on this venture. My brilliant, oh-so-logical business partner.’

She could almost feel Mary Ann’s eyes roll. ‘I’d like to get that in writing, Lady Catherine. Now, I seem to recall we had chosen the white gown for tonight?’

‘Whichever you think.’ Stifling the fantasy of their future bakery, Cath set to clipping a set of pearls to her earlobes.

‘So?’ Mary Ann asked as she pulled a pair of drawers and a petticoat from the wardrobe, then urged Cath to turn around so she could adjust the corset laces. ‘Was it a good dream?’

Cath was surprised to find that she still had pastry dough beneath her fingernails. Picking at it gave her a good excuse to keep her head lowered, hiding the blush that crept up her throat. ‘Nothing too special,’ she said, thinking of lemon-yellow eyes.

She gasped as the corset tightened unexpectedly, squeezing her rib cage. ‘I can tell when you’re lying,’ said Mary Ann.

‘Oh, fine. Yes, it was a good dream. But they’re all magical, aren’t they?’

‘I wouldn’t know. I’ve never had one. Though Abigail told me that once she dreamed about a big glowing crescent shape hovering in the sky . . . and the next morning Cheshire showed up, all grinning teeth hovering in the air and begging for a saucer of milk. Years later and we still can’t seem to get rid of him.’

Cath grunted. ‘I’m fond of Cheshire, yet I can’t help but hope that my dream might portend something a bit more magical than that.’

‘Even if it doesn’t, at least you got some good lemons out of it.’

‘True. I shall be satisfied.’ Though she wasn’t. Not nearly.

‘Catherine!’ The door swung open and the Marchioness floated in, her eyes saucer-wide and her face purple-red despite having been recently powdered. Catherine’s mother lived her life in a state of constant bewilderment. ‘There you are, my dear darling! What are you – not even dressed yet?’

‘Oh, Mama, Mary Ann was just helping me—’

‘Abigail, stop playing with that broom and get in here! We need your help! Mary Ann, what is she wearing?’

‘My lady, we thought the white gown that she—’

‘Absolutely not! Red! You will wear the red dress.’ Her mother swung open the wardrobe doors and pulled out a full gown overflowing with heavy red velvet, an enormous bustle, and a neckline that was sure to leave little unexposed. ‘Yes, perfect.’

‘Oh, Mama. Not that dress. It’s too small!’

Her mother picked a waxy green leaf off the bed and draped the dress across the covers. ‘No, no, no, not too small for my precious little sweetling. This is going to be a very special night, Catherine, and it’s imperative that you look your best.’

Cath traded a glance with Mary Ann, who shrugged.

‘But it’s just another ball. Why don’t I—’

‘Tut-tut, child.’ Her mother scurried across the room and framed Cath’s face in both hands. Though her mother was bony as a bird, there was no sense of delicacy as she pinched and squeezed Cath’s face. ‘You are in for such a delight this evening, my pretty girl.’ Her eyes glimmered in a way that made Catherine suspicious, before she barked, ‘Now turn around!’

Catherine jumped and spun to face the window.

Her mother, who had become the Marchioness when she married, had that effect on everyone. She was often a warm, loving woman, and Cath’s father, the Marquis, doted on her incessantly, but Cath was all too familiar with her mood swings. All cooing and delighted one moment and screaming at the top of her lungs the next. Despite her tiny stature, she had a booming voice and a particular glare that could make even a lion’s heart shrivel beneath it.

Cath thought by now she would have been used to her mother’s temperament, but the frequent changes still took her by surprise.

‘Mary Ann, tighten her corset.’

‘But, my lady, I just—’

‘Tighter, Mary Ann. This dress won’t fit without a twenty-two-inch waist, although just once I’d like to see you down to twenty. You have your father’s unfortunate bones, you know, and we must be vigilant if we’re to keep from having his figure too. Abigail, be a dear and bring me the ruby set from my jewellery cabinet.’

‘The ruby set?’ Catherine whined as Mary Ann undid the corset laces. ‘But those earrings are so heavy.’

‘Don’t be such a jellyfish. It’s only for one night. Tighter!’

Catherine pinched her face together as Mary Ann tugged on the corset strings. She exhaled as much air as she could and gripped the side of the vanity, willing away the sparkles dancing before her eyes.

‘Mother, I can’t breathe.’

‘Well then, next time, I hope you’ll think twice before taking a second helping of dessert like you did last night. You can’t eat like a piglet and dress like a lady. It will be a miracle if this dress fits.’

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