Everyone in the room fawned over the young girl as she made her way across the ballroom on the arm of her father, the Duke. Adrianna smiled at everyone as she passed, making sure she appeared to be enjoying herself.
The truth was that almost everyone in the room was a complete stranger to Adrianna. Half of the room was filled with the Duke’s political friends, allies and their wives, the other half were a mixture of his weaker political opponents and rich nobles with no political interest. Adrianna knew her presentation into society was purely a way for her father to gain more allies in order to secure his hold on power.
She knew this because that was all women were used for, as bartering pieces in the political games men played.
“Congratulations,” Lady Lagana exclaimed, embracing Adrianna with all the warmth of a mother. “You are so beautiful. I wish your mother could be here to see you tonight all dressed up.”
“She’ll be happy that you could be here. You seem to be the only person I know tonight.”
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world, you know that.” Lady Laguna looked upon Adrianna and her two sisters as her daughters since the death of their mother, her best friend.
“But I don’t know what I’m meant to be doing. I don’t know any of these people, I don’t know what to say.”
“Your father will introduce you to people he thinks you should know. That’s the point of this evening, to present you to society and for everyone to get to know who you are.”
“You mean who I pretend to be,” Adrianna scoffed.
“Don’t start this now,” Lady Lagana pleaded. “It will hurt both you and your father if you don’t make a good impression.”
“Adrianna,” the Duke called, distracting the two women from their conversation and indicating that his daughter should join him.
“I’ve been summoned,” Adrianna joked.
“Don’t talk about your father like that,” Lady Lagana pleaded. “He’s just trying to do the best for you. Now go on before you get us in trouble.”
“Adrianna, I have someone to introduce you to,” the Duke said, smiling as he took his daughter’s hand, linking it through his arm. “This is his highness, Count Alberto Duca, third son of his royal highness, Prince Niccolo.”
“Your highness,” Adrianna curtsied, her skirts billowing around her as she sank to the floor, looking up at the Count from under her dark eyelashes. “It’s an honour to be introduced.”
“The honour is all mine,” Alberto said, taking Adrianna’s hand and kissing it, lingering as the girl rose again. “It is a pleasure to see the eldest daughter of Duke Marco Giordano, one of the most influential politicians today. I’m sure you know how important your father is.”
“I know that he is very important, but can’t possibly attempt to understand the work that he does,” Adrianna simpered, parroting the words her father had told her to say. Political interest wasn’t attractive in women her father had told her. Women were meant to have no opinions other than those given to her by her male relatives.
“I’m sure you would find it very dull,” Alberto laughed. “It’s all very tedious. But let’s not talk about such dull things, this is a joyous occasion. We should be celebrating.”
“Are you a dancer, your Highness?” The Duke hinted.
“Indeed, your Grace.”
“My daughter is a very keen dancer. I would be honoured if you would ask her for the opening dance.”
“It would be my pleasure,” Alberto said, holding out his arm for Adrianna to take and lead her out onto the dance floor. Adrianna obediently took his arm and allowed herself to be led into the centre of the ballroom.
The Duke gestured sharply to the quartet, sitting in the corner of the room, who instantly picked up their instruments and prepared to play.
“You are very beautiful,” Alberto said as his arm went around her waist and he held her hand with his. “Very like your mother.”
“You can’t be old enough to have known my mother. She died when my youngest sister was born.”
“I don’t see a lot of your father in you.”
The music started and Alberto began to move elegantly across the floor. The skirt of Adrianna’s dress made a gentle swishing sound as it brushed against the floor as they moved. Adrianna felt uncomfortable in the Count’s arms, unsure of what to do or say in this sort of situation. She couldn’t possibly be herself, her father would kill her. If she allowed herself to talk freely about the things that interested her then Alberto would never look at her again. Her views on politics and the treatment of women would definitely be a turn off for any respectable gentleman, especially the son of the heir to the Venerian throne.
“You are a very good dancer,” Adrianna said, thinking that complimenting the Count might help her stay on his good side.
“It helps when I have such an agreeable and talented partner,” he replied, twirling Adrianna around so her head began to spin. “Your father was right when he said you were a good dancer.”
“I believe he said I enjoyed dancing, not that I was any good at it.”
“You are quite right I’m sure.”
From the look on the Prince’s face Adrianna could tell that she had said the wrong thing and decided to keep silent for the remainder of the dance.