The rest of the evening played out in the same awkward manner. When the music ended, Count Alberto delivered Adrianna back to her father, complimenting her dancing skills once more before excusing himself.
Throughout the rest of the evening Adrianna was introduced to every person in the room. She didn’t care much for the men, her father’s allies who treated her like an object rather than a person, looking her up and down and accessing her virtues and her flaws. Many of the women were not much better. There were a few that smiled kindly at her, mostly the ones closer to her age, but the majority looked down on her like she was a nobody.
“Can I leave yet?” Adrianna pleaded to her father after she had made her first trip around the room, sharing pleasantries with everyone.
“Of course you can’t,” the Duke replied. “You have to be here until everyone has left. It’s what is expected of you.”
Adrianna fought the urge to argue with her father and say she didn’t care what was expected of her, she wanted to do what she wanted to do. But she kept her mouth shut.
Instead she danced with all the gentlemen her father directed her towards without complaint. She smiled politely at all her guests and listened attentively to everything they said to her.
“Adrianna,” Lady Lagana called out, making Adrianna turn. “There is a friend of mine I think you should meet.”
Adrianna groaned inside but walked over anyway, trying to keep her happy façade in place.
“May I introduce Miss Dialta Manera, a very good friend of mine who has just been presented to society, just like you.”
Adrianna embraced the pretty young girl Lady Laguna had presented to her. There was something about her that appealed to the Duke’s daughter; something vulnerable in her pale complexion and frail figure that made her want to get to know Dialta better.
“It’s wonderful to meet you,” Adrianna said warmly. “Have you been to many parties since you came out?”
“Not really,” the girl replied nervously. “This is the first big party I’ve been to and that’s thanks to her Ladyship.” She smiled at Lady Laguna. “I don’t know why people would want to invite me to anything. I’m not anywhere near as important as most of the people here.”
“But I am sure you’re much more interesting,” Adrianna smiled. “Most of the people here are right bores and the rest are only here because of my father. I don’t think anyone in this room is here because they are interested in me.”
“I’m here because of you,” Dialta insisted. “Lady Laguna has told me so much about you that I couldn’t wait to meet you.”
“I’m very flattered I’ve made such a strong impression. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.”
“Adrianna,” the Duke called. “Baron Dorian has requested the next dance.”
“Duty calls,” Adrianna said apologetically to Dialta and Lady Laguna. “I’ll come and talk to you later if I can.” She hurried around, her skirts swishing across the floor as she headed towards another middle-aged man with a slightly too large waist and not enough hair on his head. Her evening had been filled with dancing with many such men, all seeking to gain a higher position in the Duke’s favour.
The next moment she got a moment to escape from her father’s supporters Adrianna began searching the room for Lady Laguna and the young girl with her. A few minutes later she spotted Dialta in the corner of the room watching everyone pass her by.
“Why are you hiding over here?” Adrianna said as she sat in the chair next to the young girl.
“Her Ladyship had to go speak to someone and I wanted to keep my head down and I thought no one would spot me here.”
“You shouldn’t try and hide, you should be out there talking with the other guests.”
“They won’t want to talk to me. I don’t have status or power and I’m just a woman, my thoughts don’t matter.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you that,” Adrianna said, clutching at Dialta’s hands earnestly. “Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean that your voice isn’t worth listening to because it is.”
The Duke was standing on the other side of the room, surveying all the people around him, when his eye caught the sight of his daughter sitting in on a chair next to a frail looking girl and was clutching her hand. He excused himself from the conversation he had been engaged in and strode across the room in Adrianna’s direction.
“Can I speak to you?” He asked sternly without even looking at the young girl Adrianna was sitting with. When he received no response he took hold of his daughter’s arm and pulled her out of the seat and into the room. “What are you doing?”
“I was just talking to her. She’s a friend of Lady Laguna’s and she introduced me to her earlier. She said we could be good friends.”
“I don’t care what Lady Laguna said,” Duke Giordano snapped. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about and doesn’t know what’s best for you. That is my decision and I don’t want you talking to that girl anymore.”
“She’s a nobody. I can’t have my daughter seen to be talking with nobodies. It sends out a message that you are a nobody and I can’t have people thinking that.”
“But surely there is no harm in talking to her as long as I ally myself with some more influential people too.”
“This is not a conversation I’m going to have with you. You will do as I say.”
“We will discuss this later.”