Adrianna could still feel the stranger’s eyes on her as she walked around the room searching for Countess Novia. His gaze unnerved her, like he was studying her or something.
“Countess Novia,” Adrianna called pleasantly as she spotted the Countess. “I was wondering if I could have a word with you.”
“Of course Adrianna,” the Countess replied, taking Adrianna’s arm and linking it with hers. “What’s bothering you? Are you having a good evening?”
“The evening is wonderful, I’m having such a good time already. I was just wondering if you could tell me who that young man was. The one standing by the wall with the curly blonde hair.”
“Ah, you mean Mr Contadino. He’s a lovely young man, the son of a merchant who made fortune in trade. They’ve started to move in slightly higher circles since his father retired and became a man of leisure. Not the highest circles of course; he won’t be being invited to court anytime soon, but most of the good families invite them to gatherings.”
“He’s a merchant’s son,” Adrianna muttered to herself, watching him out of the corner of her eye. “What does he do?”
“He’s lives with his father and is just a general gentleman about town, but don’t let that put you off. He’s very political.”
“So he’s interested in my father, that’s why he’s watching me,” Adrianna said resentfully.
“I highly doubt it,” Countess Novia exclaimed. “He isn’t interested in that sort of politics. He’s fighting against people like your father who uphold the old system.”
“You mean he’s a radical?” She replied, regaining interest very quickly.
“You could say that. He campaigns for equal rights for women and reform of the current system. He thinks the people who run the country should be chosen by the people, not chosen by the King.”
“Really?” Adrianna murmured, now not caring if he saw her looking at him. “Interesting.”
“Indeed. I’m not surprised that he’s watching you.”
“Because I’m Duke Giordano’s daughter?”
“Partly, maybe. But when I told him about you he seemed very interested in your views.”
“Your political views, on the status of women and the wearing of masks.”
“I didn’t think people knew about that,” Adrianna said, worried, looking back at the Countess.
“Not in general, no. But Lady Lagana told me about your radical views on the status of women because she knows I share the same views. Women shouldn’t have to hide behind a mask to prove that she has a ‘master’, and those who do stand up for themselves shouldn’t be shunned for their behaviour.”
“You really think that?”
“And you don’t?”
“I do think that all of what you said is true, but why would someone like you, who has everything, want to change the system?”
“I don’t want to change the system as such, I just want women’s voices to be heard.”
“And there are other people out there who think that?”
“There are many people, both men and women, who share our views. They just aren’t all brave enough to say so.”
“And Mr Contadino is one of those people?”
“Yes, Matteo shares those views, and he’s one of the people brave enough to speak out. You should talk to him sometime, share ideas. I’m sure you’ll get on well. But that’s enough about politics; your father would kill me if he saw us talking like this. We should find you a nice young man to have the first dance with, someone your father would approve of.”
“Good luck with finding one of those,” Adrianna joked. “I can’t think of many people my father would approve of.”
“Oh I’m sure I can find someone. You wait here and I’ll see who I can introduce you to.”
Countess Novia swept off into the sea of people, leaving Adrianna standing alone in the middle of the ballroom.
“I thought she’d never leave,” a deep voice said from behind Adrianna’s shoulder. “I couldn’t wait to meet Lady Adrianna Giordano. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“And I’ve a bit about you Mr Contadino,” she replied, looking up into the stranger’s face.
“Please call me Matteo. I hate Mr Contadino, it makes me sound so old.”
“Then don’t call me Lady Adrianna, it makes me sound stupid.”
“OK then, so we’re just Matteo and Adrianna.”
“Good,” Adrianna replied, looking up at Matteo through her eyelashes. “So why were you watching me?”
“I like to think I have an eye for a pretty girl, and you are truly beautiful.”
“You’re also a flatterer. I know your type, trying to get to my father through me. Don’t think I don’t know how significant my father is.”
“I don’t doubt you know how desirable an alliance with Duke Giordano is, but that’s not what I’m after. I’d rather have an alliance with you.”
“Because I’ve been told you share my views. Am I wrong?”
“Not at all.”
“Then would you be interested in getting to know me better?”
“I would be very interested. Shall we talk?”