I wonder what that was about, said Charlotte.
Pardon, he said and turned back.She stood staring at where he’d been for a few moments, relieved at first that she hadn’t been forced to make conversation yet, then soon, actually sorry that he’d gone. Just his presence had set her heart to pounding, and the feeling prickled in her the delightful expectation of things to come.
As she ascended the main staircase on the way back to her room, she bumped into a woman bending over her own boots, the curve in her back declaring that she wasn’t wearing a corset.Dratted drawers, said the woman, straightening.She was unnaturally buxom, in her fifties, and sported short, bleached hair heavily sprayed and an attached fake bun of a slightly different shade. Her eyes widened when she saw Jane, and her surgery-tightened skin stretched to admit a wide smile.
Well, hello, you’re new, aren’t you? My name’s Miss Elizabeth Charming, like Elizabeth Bennet, see? But don’t you like the last name? It was Mrs. Wattlesbrook’s idea. I’d thought just to go ahead and name myself Elizabeth Bennet, because I mean to bag a Mr. Darcy, but she thought Elizabeth Charming was more enchanting. Anyhoo, my friends call me Eliza. She stuck out her left hand, the ring finger of which still bore the mark of a recently removed wedding band. Jane shook it awkwardly with her right hand, then bobbed a curtsy.Hello, I suppose I’m Jane Erstwhile.
You’re one of those Americans.
Jane frowned, confused. Clearly this woman was also from the United States, possibly from a southern state—the accent was unclear. Then Jane realized that she was attempting to sound British, over-pronouncing words and occasionally dropping an r. The effect made her sound like a little girl in desperate need of a speech therapist.Issy thought back to the blonde woman. Hers would be nothing like that! she thought indignantly. Hers would be warm, and inviting, and cosy and indulgent and somewhere to come and enjoy yourself, not somewhere to come and feel like you were atoning for bad behaviour. Hers would be a lovely focal point for the community, not for people to neck raw carrots while typing on their BlackBerries. Yeah. Exactly!
‘I’ll take it!’ she said suddenly. The agent looked at her in surprise.‘Don’t you want to know how much it is?’ he asked.
‘Oh yes, of course,’ said Issy, suddenly totally flustered. What on earth was she thinking? She wasn’t qualified to run a business! How could she manage? All she could do was bake cakes and that would never be enough, surely. Although how, a little voice inside her said, how will you ever know unless you try? And wouldn’t you like to be your own boss? And have your lovely cleaned-up, gorgeous local café in this perfect spot? And have people come from far and wide to taste your cupcakes and sit and relax for half an hour, read the paper, buy a gift, enjoy a little bit of peace and quiet? Wouldn’t that be a nice thing to do every day: sweeten people’s lives, give them a smile, feed them? Wasn’t that what she did in her life anyway; didn’t it make sense to take it to the next level? Didn’t it? Now she had this once-in-a-lifetime cash; this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?‘Sorry, sorry,’ she said, confused. ‘I’m jumping way ahead of the gun. Can I just have a brochure?’