The woman’s cool grey eyes studied her dress. “Hmm,” she said, as though contemplating the appropriateness of the gown. Then, unable to come up with any legitimate criticism, she handed over a greyish-white cap. “Here you are. You’ll wear it at all times—especially with the house full of guests.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Delia nodded. Looking at the floppy head covering made the reality of her circumstances all too real—it stripped Delia of that part of her identity.
Just when she felt more feminine than ever before, she must become invisible once again.
She blinked back the stinging in her eyes.
“Ahem,” Mrs. Finke jerked her chin. “Go on then. Put it on. We mustn’t keep her ladyship waiting.”
Delia had never been a difficult person. On the contrary, she’d been a biddable, quiet daughter. She had always done as she was told.
She would find dignity in this. Being a companion did not have to be demeaning.
Tipping her head forward, she pulled the elastic around her head and over the knot at the back of her neck. The fabric itched where it rubbed her skin.
“This way.” Mrs. Finke wasted no more time, and Delia dutifully followed. They descended two flights of narrow stairs and then walked along a grand hallway before the housekeeper stopped to scratch at a sturdy mahogany door.
Delia followed the other woman inside and only caught sight of the lady to whom she’d act as companion when Mrs. Finke stepped aside.
“Miss Bedelia Somerset has finally arrived, my lady—she is the companion we were expecting yesterday.”
“Bedelia?” The countess fixed her gaze on Delia. Although elderly, the woman’s looks were striking—with dark grey hair, a paper white complexion, and eyes as dark as night.
Sensing something familiar but unable to pinpoint what, a shiver rolled through Delia.
But her manners jolted her into action, and she stepped forward, dipping into a respectful curtsey.
“I’m honored to meet you, my lady,” she said. “I look forward to making myself useful to you.”
It was the truth. Homesickness would set in at first, but eventually, she’d fit into this new life. She’d find silver linings.
No,not silver linings. Delia could never think of silver linings the same. Just thinking the words evoked sharp recollections of pleasure, but also affection and…
No.Not silver linings.
Hidden benefits. Yes. She would realize all the hidden benefits that she could as the Countess of St. Vincent’s companion.
“How old are you, child?” Lady St. Vincent studied her.
“One and twenty, my lady,” Delia straightened her back. Because she was not a child at all.
“You may leave us now, Finke. Miss Somerset and I must acquaint ourselves with one another before the guests begin arriving.” The countess dismissed the housekeeper and gestured to the chair adjacent to her. “The Dowager Countess of Westerley sang your praises in her recommendation. But one doesn’t genuinely know another person based on hearsay.” She leaned forward with curious eyes. “Tell me something about yourself, Bedelia.”
Since before she’d even entered society, Delia had thought she knew who she was. In fact, if asked last week, she would have told the duchess about her family, whom had been respectable before her brother put them in the poor house. Delia would have mentioned how she enjoyed reading adventure stories to her mother and assisting their cook on scones day. But then she would have changed the subject.
Because the person she’d been back in London had been an insipid, uninteresting person.
Her thoughts swirled with memories of storms, and nearly dying, and then being rescued, and most notably, meeting Jack and opening herself up to him—not only physically, but also emotionally. Delia had experienced more of life in the past few days than she had in all her one and twenty years.
How was she supposed to keep all of this to herself when this kind old lady waited to hear something interesting?
“I got off the mail coach at the wrong stop—at Half-Moon Village,” she blurted. “It was my fault. I was daydreaming, as I’ve always had a tendency to do, and by the time I realized what I’d done, they were pulling away. But that isn’t the worst of it. I’d purchased the loveliest gloves earlier that morning. I should not have. I realize that now, but I ended up stranded, and with a storm moving in, I couldn’t afford a room. I had no choice but to walk the distance between Half-Moon Village and Old St. Vincentshire.”