Elizabeth didn't answer for a moment, just stood there watching the egg whites turn opaque. "Susan," she finally said, "look at me."
Susan looked at her. "And?"
Elizabeth grabbed a handful of the faded green fabric of her dress and shook. "How can I go to a fancy house party dressed as I am? I may be desperate, but I have my pride."
“We shall cross the bridge of your clothing when we get to it," Susan decided firmly. "It shouldn't matter, anyway. Not if your future mate cannot see the room beyond your face."
"If I hear that phrase one more time—"
"In the meantime," Susan interrupted, "we must sharpen your skills."
Elizabeth fought the urge to smash the yolks.
"Didn't you say there was a new overseer at Lady Danbury's?"
"I said no such thing!"
"You didn't? Oh. Well, then, it must have been Fanny Brinkley, who must have heard it from her maid, who must have heard from—"
"Get to the point, Susan," Elizabeth ground out.
"Why don't you practice on him? Unless he's horribly repulsive, of course."
"He's not repulsive," Elizabeth mumbled. Her cheeks started to burn, and she kept her face down so that Susan wouldn't see her blush. Lady Danbury's new estate manager was far from repulsive. In fact, he was just about the most handsome man she'd ever seen. And his smile had done the strangest things to her insides.
Too bad he didn't have buckets of money.
"Good!" Susan said with an excited clap of her hands. "All you have to do is make him fall in love with you."
Elizabeth flipped the eggs. "And then what? Susan, he's an estate manager. He isn't going to have enough money to send Lucas to Eton."
"Silly, you aren't going to marry him. Just practice upon him."
"This sounds rather coldhearted," Elizabeth said, frowning.
"Well, you haven't anyone else upon whom to test your skills. Now, listen carefully. I picked out several rules with which to start."
"Rules? I thought they were edicts."
"Edicts, rules, it all amounts to the same thing. Now, then—"
"Jane! Lucas!" Elizabeth called out. "Breakfast is ready."
"As I was saying, I think we should begin with edicts two, three, and five."
"What about four?"
Susan had the grace to blush. ' That one, ah, concerns dressing in the first stare of fashion."
Elizabeth just barely resisted the urge to fling a fried egg at her.
"Actually"—Susan frowned—"you might want to begin all the way at number eight."
Elizabeth knew she shouldn't have said a word, but some devil inside forced her to ask, "And what is that?"
Susan read: " 'Your charm must appear effortless.' "
"My charm must appear effortless? What the devil does that me—Ow!"
"I think," Susan said in an annoyingly bland voice, "it might mean that you're not meant to wave your arms about so that your hand smacks the tabletop."
If looks could have killed, Susan would have been bleeding profusely from the forehead.
Susan stuck her nose in the air. “I can only speak the truth," she sniffed.
Elizabeth continued glaring as she sucked on the back of her hand, as if pressing her lips to the spot were actually going to make it stop hurting. "Jane! Lucas!" she called again, this time practically yelling. "Hurry, now! Breakfast will get cold!"
Jane came skipping into the kitchen and sat down. The Hotchkiss family had long ago dispensed with serving a formal morning meal in the dining room. Breakfast was always served in the kitchen. Besides, in the winter, everyone liked to sit near the stove. And in summer— well, habits were hard to break, Elizabeth supposed.
Elizabeth smiled at her youngest sister. "You look a touch untidy this morning, Jane."
"That's because somebody locked me out of my room last night," Jane said with a mutinous glare toward Susan. "I haven't even had a chance to brush my hair."
"You could have used Lizzie's brush," Susan replied.
"I like my brush," Jane shot back. "It's silver."
Not real silver, Elizabeth thought wryly, or she would have had to sell it off already.
"It still works just the same," Susan returned.
Elizabeth put a halt to the bickering by yelling, "Lucas!"
“Have we any milk?'' Jane asked.
"I'm afraid not, dear," Elizabeth replied, sliding an egg onto a plate. "Just enough for tea."
Susan slapped a piece of bread on Jane's plate and said to Elizabeth, "About Edict Number Two ..."
“Not now,'' Elizabeth hissed, with a pointed look toward Jane, who, thankfully, was too busy poking her finger into the bread to take notice of her older sisters.
"My toast is raw," Jane said.
Elizabeth didn't even have time to yell at Susan for forgetting to make the toast before Lucas came bounding in.
"Good morning!" he said cheerfully.
"You seem especially chipper," Elizabeth said, tousling his hair before serving him breakfast.
"I'm going fishing today with Tommy Fairmount and his father." Lucas gobbled three-quarters of his egg before adding, "We shall eat well tonight!"
"That's wonderful, dear," Elizabeth said. She glanced at the small clock on the counter, then said, “I must be off. You lot will make certain the kitchen gets cleaned?''
Lucas nodded. "I shall supervise."
"You shall help."
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