Adrianna continued to smile for the rest of the day but it didn’t have the same, carefree attitude it once had. But no one looked closely enough to notice the difference.
Adrianna had a few more visitors that afternoon, wealthy women hoping to get on the right side of one of the most eligible brides in Verenia and possibly gain their sons or brothers an advantageous match. Adrianna was realising now more than ever that she was a prize everyone was fighting to win. She didn’t like it any more than she had before.
But she smiled through all the visits, listening to the women praising their single, male relatives. She knew her father would want to know who had spoken to her and what they had said. He wouldn’t be interested. Duke Giordano only had eyes for Count Alberto, so no matter how rich Adrianna’s other suitors were, unless they were a direct member of the royal family, they didn’t stand a chance.
Adrianna couldn’t wait for the day to end, spending every conversation staring at the clock on the mantelpiece in the drawing room, imagining the evening with Matteo and his friends that lay ahead. And yet even that was tinged with a sort of sadness. Lady Lagana’s anger at Adrianna’s association with radicals didn’t give her any sort of pleasure. Adrianna might have liked fighting against the world, but she had thought Lady Lagana would have been one of the people to stand by her side and support her in her struggles. She didn’t want to argue with her. But at the same time she wasn’t going to give in to pressure and not support what she believed in. Adrianna felt like she was stuck between a rock and a hard place with no way of escaping.
When she finally bid goodbye to her final visitor of the day, Adrianna breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that in a few more hours she would be sneaking out of her bedroom window and running away from the house.
“Lady Adrianna,” a servant said, bowing low as he addressed his mistress. “Your father requests your presence in his office.”
“Thank you Gregori,” she replied. “I will be with my father in a few moments.”
The servant bowed again, acknowledging Adrianna’s words, then backed out of the room to return to the Duke. Adrianna walked over to the fireplace and observed her reflection in the mirror that hung behind the clock on the mantelpiece. Her powder was wearing a little thin but apart from that she looked just as she had when she had finished getting ready that morning. Her hair was perfectly in place thanks to Adrianna’s maid’s excellent hair pinning skills and despite being bored to death by unwelcome visitors, she was looking fairly fresh faced and cheerful.
Adrianna didn’t want to go see her father but she knew there was no way of getting out of it so decided it was better to get it over and done with quickly rather than drag it out.
She arrived at the door to her father’s office within a few minutes of leaving the drawing room. It was at the other end of the house and up two flights of stairs. She knocked and entered when permission was given.
A horrid sense of déjà vu gripped Adrianna as she walked into the darkened office and she had to take a deep breath to calm herself. This meeting wasn’t going to be like last time. She wasn’t going to let it get out of hand.
“Sit down,” the Duke said, leaning back in his chair as Adrianna obeyed. “I’ve heard that you’ve had many visitors today. Anyone of interest?”
“Not particularly, Father,” Adrianna replied. “Both Lady Ortino and Cavaliere Pagano’s wife, Isabella, came calling and told me about their sons.”
“Franco Ortino is twenty-one and has a minor position in the King’s household.”
“I think I know the boy,” the Duke muttered to himself. “A good lad, not with many prospects to become great but a fine boy. And Cavaliere Pagano’s son?”
“I didn’t catch his name but he is eighteen and already a favourite of Prince Niccolo, or at least so his mother tells me.”
“To my knowledge he hasn’t made any appearances at court and the Prince hasn’t spoken about him to me or anyone I know. It’s probably just a ploy to gain our interest. Anyone else present anything interesting?”
“I don’t believe so,” Adrianna said. “You are already familiar with the other families I received visits from today.”
“Very good then, Adrianna. That’ll be all for today. I shall see you at dinner this evening.”
“If I beg a favour of you, sir,” Adrianna said, her hands clasped tightly together in her lap. “May I be excused from dinner tonight. I am feeling exhausted from all these visits and late nights and was hoping I could get an early night so I will be ready for Prince Niccolo’s party tomorrow night. I am very anxious to make a good impression on their majesties and want to appear my best.”
“Very well,” the Duke replied, shocked by his daughter’s request. “I hope you feel better rested tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you,” Adrianna said gratefully, curtsying as she rose from her chair to head out of the door.
The Duke leant back in his chair and watched his eldest daughter leave. She puzzled him. One minute she was criticizing him for his archaic and repressive approach to life, saying he was restricting her unfairly, but now she seemed to be throwing herself into the life of a Venerian woman with enthusiasm and seriousness. It pleased him that she was beginning to treat her role as the eldest Giordano daughter with respect and a clear and focused mind. He still had hopes that she would become the wife of an incredibly powerful man and raise her family up to heights that Duke Marco Giordano’s father couldn’t have imagined.
Duke Marco had ambition that others in his family had lacked and a thirst for blood that many would have deemed inappropriate or unsettling. Adrianna had inherited his stubbornness and drive. He just hoped she would be able to use it to the right ends.