Scarlett Peckham’s magnificent Secrets of Charlotte Street series continues, and I have the great honour of revealing the cover of the third standalone in the series, as well as giving you a sneak peek.
They ordered supper, and when the meal came Alice dug in heartily, delighting in a tender slab of venison and plump potatoes crisped in goose fat.
Henry picked at his roast turnips and stewed beets. Alone with her, he was too ill-at-ease to have an appetite.
Alice looked meaningfully at the vegetables on his plate. “Don’t you ever get hungry, Henry?”
He was surprised by the question, since she knew the strictures of his diet.
“Vegetables and grains are very filling, and I sometimes have an egg or a bit of cheese.”
She met his eye. “But don’t you ever get hungry?” she repeated. “For more than you allow yourself.”
He wanted to laugh at the irony of such a question, coming from her. He wanted to throw back his head and cry out can’t you see?
He was so tired of pretending.
He put down his fork. “Alice, I’m always hungry for more than I allow myself.”
He realized she thought he was referring to what happened in the church.
Well, perhaps he was.
She tapped her lip, as if coming to some resolve. “Then we must order something delicious.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean I wished—”
But she was already flagging down the serving girl, requesting sweets. He protested, but when an apple tart studded with currants and dusted with cinnamon arrived, Alice added extra cream and dug a fork into the center, taking the best part for herself.
He liked the girlish way she licked cream off her spoon, closing her eyes in delectation.
She caught him smiling. “I thought you disapproved of rich foods.”
“I do. For myself. But you deserve them.”
She smiled, her dove’s eyes glimmering in the candlelight. “And why is it that I deserve them, and you do not?”
“Because you are a naturally regulated person, and I only aspire to be.”
The playful glimmer dulled in her eyes. She shook her head. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I am a sensualist by nature, which goes against my principles. Even a small bit of indulgence and I find myself becoming profligate. And so I must impose great discipline to live up to my ideals.”
This time, he was certain he was talking about what happened in the church.
Her face made clear that she knew it too.
She stared at him, a tiny sliver of her tongue resting on a tine of her fork. And then she speared the fork into the dessert again and prepared a perfect bite, with fragrant tender apples, succulent currants, swirls of caramel sauce, and a dollop of cream so sweet he could smell its freshness across the table. She held it out to him.
“Take a bite,” she ordered.
He couldn’t. This had gone too far.
“Alice…” he protested.
She leaned closer. “Henry,” she whispered, “I promise I won’t let you have more than you can bear.”