Matteo managed to contain his radical outbursts for the rest of the evening and instead listened to the conversations of the people around him. Occasionally Adrianna would meet his eye and they would both smile knowingly and return to their conversations.
The dinner was wonderful. Adrianna could see why people joked about Matteo continuing to come back just for the food. There wasn’t a full plate in sight by the time the meal was over and everyone was feeling decidedly fuller than when they had arrived.
“That was wonderful,” Adrianna complimented Sir Eduardo as her dessert plate was cleared away. “I can’t think of the last time I had such a lovely meal.”
“I’m sure the meals at your father’s house are just as good as this one.”
“They might very well be, but I’m not allowed to eat them. I have to watch my figure to make sure my corset will still do up after I’ve finished eating,” Adrianna laughed.
“So what do you eat?” Matteo asked from across the table.
“Not a lot,” was Adrianna’s short reply. “Usually the same as what my father has but in smaller quantities.”
“I remember those days,” Countess Novia said without smiling. “I don’t miss them at all. I like my food too much to watch what I eat.”
“I didn’t mind it,” Lady Basso mused. “But I don’t miss not being able to eat when I want. I always used to get peckish before dinner but was never allowed to eat anything. Then when dinner was ready I didn’t feel like eating.”
“How did you survive?” Adrianna asked, leaning in closely.
“I was very good friends with a girl who worked in the kitchens and she smuggled food to me. I don’t know how I could have survived without her.”
“You men have it so easy,” the woman two seats down from Adrianna, who had been introduced as Juliette Nasca during dinner. “You can behave as you like, talk in any way you want and parents will still try and sell you their daughters. You can do no wrong.”
“That certainly applies to many of the men in this room,” Matteo said, “but I don’t see many parents wanting to marry their daughters to me.”
“That’s only now Matteo,” Eduardo said, “but wait until your father gains some more influence. You’ll be the heir to one of the biggest fortunes in the country and everyone will want to get into the favours of Matteo Contadino.”
“Not if I have my way,” Matteo said. “I want to marry someone of my choosing, someone who likes me for the person I am, not one of the dolls thrust in my face by money grabbing families.”
“You certainly are a man who knows what they want,” Countess Novia said with a secret smirk that she directed at Adrianna. “Its so refreshing to see that in young people. I hope that your dreams aren’t crushed in the way mine were. And before you ask, I’m not going to speak about it. It doesn’t do to dwell on the past which is why I don’t do it.”
“And we all love you for your cheeriness,” Juliette said, raising her wine glass in appreciation.
“It’s because I always look to the future. You can’t change the past but you never know what will come from the future. That’s what makes it so exciting and full of hope.”
“I think that calls for a toast,” Eduardo said, picking up his wine glass. “To the future and all the surprises it may hold.”
“Here, here,” was the resounding murmur from around the table.
“To the future,” Adrianna said, her eyes locking with Matteo’s across the table as she brought her glass to her lips. She smiled across the rim as Matteo did the same.
“The future,” he echoed.
“Look at the time,” the Countess exclaimed, making Adrianna break her eye contact with Matteo and hurriedly put down her glass. “I told your father I would have you home by midnight and it’s nearly that time already. I should get you home or your father will never let me convince him to let you out again.”
“But the evening is only just getting started,” Lord Basso protested. “We can’t let the newest member of our group leave first.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you all but we really must go,” Countess Novia said, standing from her seat and nodding at Adrianna to do the same. Matteo stood from his seat as Adrianna rose too.
“I’ll walk you two ladies to your carriage,” he offered.
“How kind of you,” Countess Novia accepted, smiling.
Adrianna shook hands with everyone sitting around the table, murmuring goodbyes and wonderful-to-meet-yous as she went. It took a good few minutes for her to make her way around everyone but as soon as she made it back to where she had started, Countess Novia was escorting her out of the room, Matteo at her other side.
Their carriage was waiting for them as soon as they opened the front door, but Matteo insisted on walking all the way to the carriage door with them, holding it open for first Countess Novia, then Adrianna, to step in.
“I wish you a safe journey ladies,” he said through the window of the carriage door. “Good evening Countess. Good evening Adrianna.”
“Until tomorrow night,” Adrianna replied in hushed tones.
“Yes,” he replied in the same tone. “Tomorrow night.”