see disclaimer chapter 1
For Tessa, business continued as usual. Her days were spent balancing books, making sure the girls received their lessons and in general, ensuring things ran smoothly. She spent evenings supervising the Salon. Unfortunately, the men who frequented her house were now harassing her to entertain them as she had obviously done with Leopold. Every morning she fell into bed exhausted, weary from fighting off the ever-increasing advances.
Leopold spent his days dodging his uncle. The family patriarch was determined to see his nephew married at any cost. He had planned a ball in one week's time and informed Leo he was to decide on his bride. Ensconced in his rooms, Leopold nursed the hurt that Tessa had inflicted. How could she think so little of him? How could he choose a wife when his heart belonged to Tessa?
While the rest of the world had lunch, the girls at Tessa's Salon gathered around the table for breakfast. Gus, the jack-of-all-trades that lived there, was known for his sumptuous meals. Tessa wandered in just in time to hear the latest gossip.
"Did you hear? The Duke of Albany is supposed to announce his choice of bride at the ball his uncle is throwing. Can you believe that?"
Another girl wistfully said, "I guess that's one more man we can forget about seeing around here."
Cherie laughed. "Come now! How many married men do we entertain? Besides, I'm sure he and Miss Tessa will patch up this little misunderstanding and they will carry on as they were."
Tessa cleared her throat. All heads swung around to her. "I don't think you should spend your time gossiping about the upper class." The girls were amazed. They had always discussed the rumors that made their way to the Salon. "What's more," Tessa continued in a soft voice, "I would appreciate you leaving my personal life out of it."
Cherie had the good sense to blush. Tessa returned to the library. Her life had now become fodder for the gossipmongers. She had been very careful to lead a quiet life, as quiet as she could. Now that was ruined. Her life was lost to her and so was Leopold.
She sat staring at a huge tome that lay in front of her on the desk. Her books were not balanced. No matter how often she tallied the columns, it didn't add up. She examined each entry, all were marked paid in full. Never in her life had she not been able to rectify her accounts. Maybe she had been sitting here too long. She entered her bedroom to fetch the paper she had left on the dresser. She hadn't finished perusing it this morning. It was just the break she needed. Her eyes fell on a model sitting on her desk, Leopold's invention. He had left it. Tears choked her. She had driven away the only man that had shown her any kind of respect. She ran fingers gently, lovingly over the miniature. She missed his company. A thoughtful look crossed her face. Something occurred to her and she had to double-check it. She returned to her ledgers.
There was the discrepancy. She had an entry for every time she and Leopold had spent the night together, but had never required payment. It had gone past the realm of business but out of habit she had kept up the books. There was an entry marked paid, the last night he had spent with Cherie, before Tessa had banned him. Seeing that brought all the anger and hurt back up from where she had buried it. She sat down to compose a note, just as she would have done for any other patron with an outstanding balance.
It has come to my attention that you have an outstanding account. Please make arrangements to take care of this immediately. If you cannot remit the payment in person, please contact me to arrange the monies to be picked up.
She summoned Gus to deliver her note. Her heart twinged at the thought of him reading it, but she ignored it. It was just business.
"Your Grace, a letter arrived for you," Otis informed him. Leopold was making notations in his journal on one of his experiments.
"Thank you, Otis." He took the cream colored envelope and inspected it. There was no clue as to who had sent it except that he could tell it was from a lady. The paper held a faint floral scent and the writing was definitely feminine. It must have to do with the upcoming festivities. Other posts had come to the house, the writers trying to gain Leopold's favor even before the ball. He sighed as he worked the envelope gently open. The whole thing seemed silly. He unfolded the page. A frown creased his brow as he read the contents. "How dare she?" he growled. He flew down the stairs, shouting for his horse to be brought around. He snatched his coat from Otis outstretched hand, and shoving arms into sleeves, stormed out the door. He leapt upon his waiting steed and with a "Ya!" headed to the outskirts of town. He would put an end to this nonsense once and for all.