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Love Finds You in New Orleans

By:Christa Allan

Chapter One


January 1841

Grand-mère and Abram were due home from the French Market at any moment, and Charlotte could not convince Henri to leave her bedroom.

“You know Abram will throw you out the door, and after Grandmère is finished with me, I may never leave this bedroom. Forever a prisoner of this house.” Well, forever until the day of her coming-out party. Lottie knew there would be no missing that event even if she wanted to. And most days, she wanted to forget the event entirely.

Henri yawned and stared back at her.

“If your belly wasn’t so full, you wouldn’t be so content.”

He stretched and blinked a few times as if to say, “Whose fault is that?”

Of course he was right. Lottie reached for her mattress and pulled herself up from crouching on the floor to have her one-way conversation with the calico cat that eluded capture under her four-poster bed. She’d started feeding Henri the day she spotted him wobbling after the milk lady’s cart. Madame Margaret delivered the milk to Grand-mère and went on her way, but the cat with the pleading gray eyes stayed behind. Her grandmother begrudgingly relented when Lottie begged to feed him, as long as she promised he would never, ever cross the threshold into their house.

Still wearing her nightgown, all Lottie could do was peek through the muslin curtains. “Only two houses away,” she whispered, as if the words might alarm Henri. She turned around just as the spotted cat started to make his escape, and in a movement so swift that she almost toppled into her armoire, she snatched him.

Even before Grand-mère made her entrance through the wroughtiron gate at the rear of the house, with her basket sprouting colorful vegetables, Lottie had deposited the cat on the front steps. She hurried through the library and the parlor and up to her bedroom—just in time to see Agnes pick up the china saucer left under the bed.

Agnes looked over Lottie’s shoulder and then behind, toward the gallery, where Lottie’s grandmother, Marie LeClerc, could be heard already discussing dinner with the cook. “Now, Miss Genevieve Charlotte…” Agnes lowered her voice from its usual trumpet blast and set her chestnut eyes right on Lottie’s guilty face. “You forget your cup this morning when you fount the coffee?”

Without waiting for an answer, which they both knew would be one step away from the truth, Agnes slipped the saucer into the wide front pocket of her white apron. “I’m taking care of this”—she patted her pocket—“while you taking care of getting dressed for the day.”

Lottie wanted to hug her, but Agnes backed away and waved her arms in front of her to ensure her distance. “You best wash that cat off your hands before wrapping your arms round me. No telling where that mister been since you last saw him.” Agnes secured the mosquito netting to the four posters of Lottie’s bed, surveyed the room, and looked into the ceramic basin on the dresser. “Well, your water is fresh. Your grandmother gonna start calling your name if she don’t see you soon.” She walked out of the room.

After Lottie splashed water on her hands and face, she pulled the blue chintz day dress from her armoire and laid it across her bed. The skirt and bodice showed some wear, but for Lottie, that meant she could soon cut it down to sew dresses for the orphan home. Weeks ago, she had gone to the home for the first time with Gabriel when he delivered food there. She had taken a homespun summer dress covered with pink, blue, and yellow flowers that no longer covered her pantaloons. Grand-mère had been appalled the last time she’d worn it, so Lottie had decided her grandmother wouldn’t mind if she gave it away.

Not that Lottie had told her about giving it away yet. Even though her dress could clothe at least two of the girls, she feared her grandparents would not want her traipsing to an orphan home—with Gabriel, no less. How many times had Grand-mère droned, “Picking up strays again, dear?” Gabriel, the orphans, Henri—all defined as strays by her grandmother.

I’ll tell her after my twentieth birthday. It’s nearly two months away. Lottie laughed at the thought that she would be old enough to take a husband into the house and a dress out of the house on the same day. She might even write that in her letter to her parents, one she would compose later when she sat at her desk to share her day with them, as she had almost every day for the past ten years. Lottie told no one about her letters. They would have called her foolish to write to people who were never going to write her back.

* * * * *

Grand-mère informed Lottie over breakfast that she would be taking music instructions from Madame Fontenot because “playing the pianoforte reflects a lady’s culture and sophistication.”