She kicked a stone across the pathway and grumbled. First Professor Leigh, and now the Costellos. Couldn’t she be given a break for even a second to throw her thoughts into order? At most, she could use this hour.
The stone bounced down three dips before a shadow robbed Zara of the last light under which she observed the road. Zara looked up, about to spout some remark of polite distaste to the man in her way.
Thank goodness she had bitten her tongue for a minute! Tall and lanky with a dash of grey on the tips of his dark hair, the figure casting the shadow in the gaslight folded his arms over his brown suit, an attaché case dangling from his fingers.
“Uncle Freidrich! What are you…?”
“Good nighttime, Zara.”
Oh, lordy, he was using that tone again. What did he want?
Instead, she asked, “What are you doing here?”
“What are you?” he retorted. “I daresay these streets are not a place for young women to be after dark.”
It took a lot of effort on Zara’s part to stop her snorting. As if Freidrich cared!
She scooped a fallen lock out of her eyes. “I needed some fresh air. Are the rest of the family here?”
“I alone came ahead – for business.” Freidrich unfolded his arms, displaying the case with pride.
“Excuse me,” Zara said. Five minutes of conversation was more than enough time spent alone with Freidrich. Zara hoped his fiancée knew what she was getting herself into.
Simultaneously, they both stepped to the left. Zara leant to the right and Freidrich did the same. She scowled. As she stepped back to the left, he went to cross her path, and their feet caught. Freidrich tumbled, a curse falling from his prim lips.
That was more like it. “Not so much your father’s son now, eh? I remember the ‘graces’ of Aimee. Your mother had no more class than my grandmother did – and yet they were treated so differently. How was that fair?”
Freidrich snarled and he lunged at her wrist. Trapped within his grasp – even if it was simply to pull himself up – Zara shrieked. Only when Freidrich was looking down upon her again did they both realise that the case had fallen open, bright sheets of writing paper covering the curb.
He snarled again, releasing Zara so that he could gather the papers back into his arms. One had drifted across Zara’s foot. She lifted it.
“Frei –” But, even in the poor light, words had caught Zara’s eye and, in turn, her throat. ‘Proposition for social reform’ gleamed in Freidrich’s own hand. She skim read some of the text – enough, indeed, to cause that hot taste of disgust to rise up in her throat.
“Freidrich. What is this? You want to rid The Continent of the middle and lower classes?”
His case was back in his hands; his eyebrows were raised.
“That will mean less of the mixed ones,” he said with much deliberation. She knew he was deciding the best way to get the paper from her. Zara brought it closer to her chest. “When Uncle Phillip dies –”
“Don’t talk about my grandfather like that!” she cried. “How can you even say ‘dismiss the middle class’? It would mean the end of me, of my education. You want to destroy your own family?”
It was horrific. Zara stared at Freidrich for as long as she could, noting that his eyes locked onto hers as long as she kept them. She twisted the paper in her hands until it was a slip – small enough to hide in her coat pocket.
But the motion of her hands had finally caught Freidrich’s attention.
“Here! Give me that document.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I won’t let your superciliousness destroy us.”
It was tucked alongside her inkpen and her key to the time-manipulator. Taking a deep breath, Zara uncoiled her fingers from her pocket.
And she ran.