The next day dawned dry and bright, but if Celine had hoped to wake to a mind free from Daniel then she was thwarted early. She arrived at the dining table for breakfast to be greeted with an envelope bearing her name.
Adelaide watched her as she sat. ‘You have a letter, Celine.’
‘Yes, I see. From Papa I presume.’
‘No. It was posted in London.’ Adelaide raised an eyebrow. ‘I hope you don’t mind but I did open it. On your father’s wishes. You know he is very protective of you.’
‘Of course.’ Celine suppressed her irritation.
‘I did not know you had made the acquaintance of Maria McCarthy,’ Adelaide continued. ‘I’m not sure your father would approve. She was from a very good family but there was a scandal only last year. She was betrothed to one of the Heaton boys but eloped with an American at the last moment.’
An American? Whoever Maria McCarthy was, Celine had never met her. Could this woman’s American husband be a friend of Daniel?
Celine opened the envelope. Inside was a note, one thin sheet of paper covered with neat handwriting which answered her question.
My dear Celine,
Please accept my invitation to join me at the theatre this evening. It is a very interesting bill featuring one Daniel Johnson, an eminent Shakespearean tragedian, at the Olympia Theatre. My husband and I are considering investing in this very theatre and I would value your opinion on its worth. My carriage will call for you at six.
So it was Daniel. But how had he obtained Celine’s address? And would Adelaide permit her to go?
‘Can I ask how you met Mrs McCarthy?’ Adelaide said.
‘At the academy,’ Celine lied. ‘She and her husband are keen on the arts in general. Please may I go? I am only here for a few more months after all. What harm can it do?’
‘What harm? Well, she is a woman of loose morals, Celine, she may influence your thinking. I have met her. She is very beautiful and I am sure she can be extremely persuasive.’
‘Oh, let the poor girl go, Adelaide and let us eat in peace. It is one evening and you can check tomorrow that Celine’s morals haven’t been corrupted.’ Arthur overruled his wife as she narrowed her eyes at him.
‘Very well,’ she relented. ‘But I want it noted that I was against this little expedition. I do not trust that woman.’
Never had Celine taken so much care over an outfit as she did that evening. Finally deciding on a short-sleeved gown of silk that matched her navy blue eyes, she spent over an hour fixing her hair. Half an hour before the appointed time Celine was in position, watching from the drawing room windows that overlooked the street outside. Every grand carriage that passed made her heartbeat quicken but Maria McCarthy was very much on time, no earlier and no later than six o’clock. The carriage pulled up and a footman jumped to the ground, striding to ring the bell of the Harper house.
Celine rushed to the top of the stairs, pausing to allow the butler to answer the door, then descending as gracefully as she could manage. Adelaide came into the hallway to see her off.
‘Remember, Celine. Any behaviour that could possibly be construed as less than fitting and I will send you back to your father.’ Then, less sternly and with a smile. ‘But do enjoy yourself.’
Maria watched as the footman helped Celine into the carriage, a small smile playing about her lips as the younger woman took her seat opposite. She was quite as beautiful as Adelaide Harper had suggested, with an air of sophistication that made Celine feel like a naïve child. Her dark hair and eyes suggested an exotic ancestry, perhaps Spanish, Celine thought.
‘Celine.’ Maria’s voice was rich and deep. ‘How are you?’
‘I am very well, thank you, Mrs McCarthy,’ Celine replied. ‘Although I am rather puzzled. How did you know where to find me? And why? I presume it has something to do with Daniel?’
Maria smiled, broadly this time. ‘My child, all will soon become clear.’
And off they set, Mrs Harper waving Celine off with a false smile, knowing in her heart that this had been an unwise decision.