Life had been its usual tangle of parties with Oscar and Charlie and mother trying to force Pride and I into marriage.
Needless to say, we were not impressed when she announced that she was throwing us a huge party for our seventeenth.
'Watch how Beauty behaves, dear,' she smiled earnestly, 'And you'll soon be married off into a lovely family, and Pride will marry too, and we'll all be so happy!'
I snorted at that. Yes; marry off the daughter that doesn't conform to your idea of a good woman and you won't have to worry anymore, Olive.
I stood with Pride after we had dined, conversing quietly about the other party we were going to have, the one we were far more interested in. Beauty was finishing her turn on the piano, hoping to impress one of the leering young men in the corner. I observed a young girl that seemed to be with them - indeed, as I continued to watch, one of them went over to her seat, grabbing one slender arm and pulling her roughly. They were drunk, and the girl was clearly hurt by them.
‘Who on God’s Earth are those brutes?’ I spluttered, shocked at their behaviour.
‘Ironic, Envy: that’s Ainsley Brute and I think the fair one is Luther Emmet, that creature laughing at Brute’s wife.’ Pride’s lip curled.
‘Why are they here?’ I spat furiously.
‘Please promise to keep your temper, Envy…’ Pride hesitated. ‘Mother has spoken to Luther’s parents… Both parties are expressing a desire for you two to be wed.’
I gritted my teeth against the anger: I would not embarrass my father by causing a scene tonight. ‘Marvellous information, Pride. Who is Brute’s wife?’
‘Elena; her father is Dr. Harrison Tandra, my lecturer at the medical college. Elena’s mother died of puerperal fever.’
‘Envy dear!’ My mother’s screechy voice echoed across the room. ‘Take your turn at the piano!’
Huffing, handed Pride my glass and crossed to the little piano platform. I sat gracefully, smoothed my skirts, poised my hands above the keys. My father smiled gratefully at me.
‘Announcing my beautiful daughter, Envy Elizabeth Waters!’
The ivory was familiar beneath my fingers, and I played one of my own compositions easily. I breathed deep and opened my mouth.
‘Raindrops on my window-pane…’
‘Summer parties halted again…’
Pride sang his part well, our voices intertwined, soprano and bass, delighting the audience. There was not just applause, but cries and cheers, and an appreciative whoop from somewhere in the corner.
A gunshot crack silenced it all. Elena was whimpering, cowering, and a heavily intoxicated Brute was laughing at her. My composure slipped. Toss aside what was expected of me tonight; no man got away with that while I knew about it. I clicked across the room to him. I was tall, and with my shoulders squared, I was formidable at least. For a second, we stood nose to nose, myself trying not to reel at the hideous stench of alcohol and sweat, and then he grabbed my shoulder. The rest of the evening was rather blurry, but Pride put me to bed that night with a swollen lip and sore knuckles.
Brute, on the other hand, was concussed in the hospital.
Mother was livid. She banished me to my floor for the next day. Usually, this would come as no bother to me, but our party with our real friends was supposed to be that night I was confined. I paced back and forth in my room. I’d never been faced with this issue before, and to worsen matters, I was alone: Pride was at the college today. My hawk eyes swept the room. Ah, the window! If I could pick the lock I was fairly certain that I could climb down the rose trellis.
No doubt that I was bored though, here on my own. I dropped onto my bed, unsure of what to do. Piano? No, not without Pride. I could paint, perhaps. Then a better idea caught me; I could go to my kitchen upstairs and bake with my maid. She was a dear little thing, Ella, around fourteen, and I treated her with far more kindness than my mother and sister when she first started working for us; I eventually took her from my mother and had her work for just myself and Pride. I paid her more than my mother would’ve dreamed; I let her home for all the holidays and bought her a birthday present each year. I had my flaws but I was not unkind to my staff.
I tinkled the little bell-chain that would call her to the kitchen, and hurried up there myself. She was waiting in her neatly pressed uniform, auburn hair swept off her rosy face.
‘You called me, Miss Waters?’
I smiled. ‘I did, Ella, I’m rather in need of good company and I wondered if you would take your hand to baking with me?’
‘What are we baking, Miss Waters?’
‘I think…’ I got my heavy recipe wallet from the shelf and flicked through three generations of sweets. ‘I think we will settle for the chocolate rose cake, Ella. Be a sweetheart and get everything from the pantry.’
I clattered around with pans and bowls and wooden spoons while she collected the ingredients. We measured and mixed and added rose-geranium oil to the batter, which was beautifully fragrant and rich with cocoa.
I licked the spoon slowly, watching Ella bend down to put the cake in the oven. She had such a sweet, trim form in that uniform. I pondered her form out of the uniform and grew rather warm at the notion. Hm…
‘Did you know, Ella, that chocolate is an aphrodisiac?’ I licked the spoon more slowly, holding eye contact with her.
Her face blushed. ‘I did not, Miss Waters.’
Oh gosh. A blushing, blooming, submissive teenager in that uniform so unbearably close to me in such a hot little room…
I closed the space between us, placing a grip on her waist and kissing her. She tasted like chocolate; she melted into me easily and I could not stop my hands from straying over her willowy body. I slipped a hand under her skirt and she shivered.
‘Come to my room, Ella,’ I whispered.
‘Won’t be done for an hour or so.’ I kissed her and she melted into me again. I ran up the stairs with her, to my decadent room and enormous feather bed, where we were soon laid intertwined. Clothes were shed easily – I’d not bothered with a corset that morning – and we were tangled beneath the blankets in a matter of minutes. She was pure, I could tell in an instant, so I took care to be gentle on her, though her agitated breathing spurred me.
We lay rather warm and tired a while later, giggling at our breaking the rules. My mother and father would’ve shot me where I laid for this. I let a hand trace freely along Ella’s thigh, but she stopped me.
‘I think that the cake will be done now, Miss Waters.’