But in Poppy’s experience, that had always been part of choosing something . . . viewing what was available and then comparing costs until one arrived at something that was neither the most expensive nor the least. Harry, however, seemed to view this approach as an affront, as if she were questioning his ability to provide for her.
Finally it was decided that the outside would be done in elegant black lacquer, the inside upholstered in green velvet and beige leather with brass bead trim, and the interior paneling would feature decorative paintwork. There would be green silk curtains and venetian blinds in lieu of mahogany shutters . . . morocco leather sleeping cushions . . . decorative welding on the outside steps, plated carriage lamps and matching door handles . . . it had never occurred to Poppy that there would be so much to decide.
She spent what was left of the afternoon in the kitchen with the chef, Monsieur Broussard, the pastry chef, Mr. Rupert, and Mrs. Pennywhistle. Broussard was involved in the creation of a new dessert . . . or more aptly, trying to re-create a dessert he had remembered from childhood.
“My great-aunt Albertine always made this with no recipe,” Broussard explained ruefully as he pulled a bain-marie, or water bath, from the oven. Nestled inside were a half dozen perfect little steaming apple puddings. “I watched her every time. But it has all slipped from my mind. Fifteen times I have tried it, and still it’s not perfect . . . but quand on veut, on peut.”
“When one wants, one can,” Poppy translated.
“Exactement.” Broussard carefully removed the dishes from the hot water.
Chef Rupert drizzled cream sauce over each pudding, and topped them with delicate pastry leaves. “Shall we?” he asked, handing out spoons.
Solemnly, Poppy, Mrs. Pennywhistle, and the two chefs each took a pudding and sampled it. Poppy’s mouth was filled with cream, soft tart apple, and crisply imploding pastry. She closed her eyes to better enjoy the textures and flavors, and she heard satisfied sighs from Mrs. Pennywhistle and Chef Rupert.
“Still not right,” Monsieur Broussard fretted, scowling at the dish of pudding as if it were deliberately being obstinate.
“I don’t care if it’s not right,” the housekeeper said. “That is the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life.” She turned to Poppy. “Don’t you agree, Mrs. Rutledge?”
“I think it’s what angels must eat in heaven,” Poppy said, digging into the pudding. Chef Rupert had already shoved another spoonful into his mouth.
“Maybe a touch more lemon and cinnamon . . .” Monsieur Broussard mused.
Poppy twisted to see who had spoken her name. Her smile dimmed as she saw Jake Valentine entering the kitchen. It wasn’t that she didn’t like him. In fact, Valentine had been very personable and kind. However, he seemed to have been appointed as a watchdog, enforcing Harry’s mandate that Poppy should refrain from keeping company with the employees.
Mr. Valentine looked no happier than Poppy as he spoke. “Mrs. Rutledge, I’ve been sent to remind you that you have an appointment at the dressmaker’s.”
“I do? Now?” Poppy looked at him blankly. “I don’t remember making an appointment.”
“It was made for you. At Mr. Rutledge’s request.”
“Oh.” Reluctantly Poppy set down her spoon. “When must I leave?”
“In a quarter hour.”
That would give her just enough time to tidy her hair and fetch a walking cloak. “I have enough clothes,” Poppy said. “I don’t need more.”
“A lady in your position,” Mrs. Pennywhistle said wisely, “needs many dresses. I’ve heard it said that fashionable ladies never wear the same frock twice.”
Poppy rolled her eyes. “I’ve heard that as well. And I think it’s ridiculous. Why should it matter if a lady is seen in the same frock twice? Except to provide evidence that her husband is wealthy enough to buy her more clothes than a person needs.”
The housekeeper smiled sympathetically. “Shall I walk with you to your apartments, Mrs. Rutledge?”
“No, thank you. I’ll go along the servants’ hallway. None of the guests will see me.”
Valentine said, “You shouldn’t go unescorted.”
Poppy heaved an impatient sigh. “Mr. Valentine?”
“I want to walk to my apartment by myself. If I can’t even do that, this entire hotel will start to feel like a prison.”
He nodded with reluctant understanding.
“Thank you.” Murmuring good-bye to the chefs and the housekeeper, Poppy left the kitchen.
Jake Valentine shifted his weight uncomfortably as the other three glared at him. “I’m sorry,” he muttered. “But Mr. Rutledge has decided that his wife shouldn’t fraternize with the employees. He says it makes all of us less productive, and there are more suitable ways for her to occupy herself.”
Although Mrs. Pennywhistle was usually disinclined to criticize the master, her face grew taut with annoyance. “Doing what?” she asked curtly. “Shopping for things she neither needs nor wants? Reading fashion periodicals by herself? Riding in the park with a footman in attendance? No doubt there are many fashion-plate wives who would be more than pleased by such a shallow existence. But that lonely young woman is from a close family, and she is accustomed to a great deal of affection. She needs someone to do things with . . . a companion . . . and she needs a husband.”