“Did anyone see you?” Matteo asked as they ran along the road away from Adrianna’s house.
“I don’t think so,” she replied, trying to get her words in between breaths. “And if they did, nobody came out to stop me.”
“That’s good. Was it difficult getting away?”
“Fooling my father was the easy bit. It turns out escaping from a bedroom window and climbing down a tree is slightly more complicated than I had first thought.”
“I’m not surprised,” Matteo laughed breathily. “You’re wearing a tent.”
“I’ll have you know this is the height of fashion,” Adrianna exclaimed, pretending to be mortified. “Matteo, can we slow down?” Her pace slowed, dragging her companion to a quick walking pace. “I’ve done enough running for this evening. How far is it to the meeting? Are we walking all the way?”
“Only part of the way. I have a carriage waiting for us on the edge of town. We should be at the meeting in fifteen minutes at the very most.”
“Good,” Adrianna said quietly, nodding to herself like she had to make sure she fully understood. “Are we very late?”
“Only a bit, but no one will mind. The meeting can’t start without us anyway.”
“I don’t want people hanging around for my sake,” Adrianna protested.
“I think you’re going to have to learn that not everything is about you,” Matteo teased. “It’s not you they’re waiting for.”
“They’re waiting for you?”
“No need to sound so surprised,” Matteo chuckled. “I think you’ll find I can give quite the inspirational speech when the occasion calls for it.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Adrianna replied, smiling to herself and looking wide-eyed up at her companion’s face. “So what are you speaking about tonight?” She asked, snapping herself out of the dreamlike state she had allowed herself to slip into.
“Now if I told you then it wouldn’t be a surprise. No one knows what my speeches will be about beforehand, not even me.”
“You mean you haven’t written it?”
“Not in so many words, no.”
“Are you mad?” Adrianna exclaimed. “Making up a speech, on the spot, in front of a group of people. That would terrify me.”
“But that’s the thrill of it. Once you feel their eyes on you and the blood starts pumping faster through your veins; there’s no other experience like it.”
“It’s my idea of torture.”
“Is it any different from talking to the group of people you met last night?” Matteo asked, one eyebrow raised questioningly. “Because that’s all it is. Sharing your ideas with like-minded people. There is just a little more added pressure when you give a speech because everyone is listening to you, but the chances are they will all agree with you.”
“I’m not sure. I don’t know many people who share my opinions.”
“Well you’re about to be introduced to quite a few more.” Matteo smiled affectionately at his companion, a smile that sent ripples of warmth through Adrianna as she smiled shyly back. “Here we are,” Matteo suddenly said, his focus shifting in an instant.
He led Adrianna over to a small buggy, just big enough to fit the two of them, the horse standing patiently tied to a hitching post at the edge of the rough road.
“I didn’t dare bring her all the way up to your house,” Matteo explained, “because I was scared I would draw attention to myself, and there were no hitching posts nearer to you so I had to leave her here. We wouldn’t want our transport wandering off without us.”
“Of course not,” Adrianna replied, laughing a little at Matteo’s half-joke. She approached the buggy, wondering how she would be able to get in without appearing unladylike, when Matteo offered her his hand.
“Allow me,” he said. Adrianna gratefully took his hand and stepped gracefully up and onto the seat, trying as hard as she could to stop her skirts from spreading too much.
Matteo bounded up elegantly beside her, taking his seat quickly and picking the reigns up from their position wrapped around the handrail in front of him.
“Hold on tight,” he said, winking at Adrianna before he urged the horse forward. He managed to pick up a lot of speed very quickly, making Adrianna grip tightly to the edges of the buggy, a wild grin on her face. In any other situation she might have felt scared, but now her stomach was filled with excitement as they flew along the road. Somehow, Matteo’s presence next to her made her feel safe. She trusted him with her life.
The streets flew by, going first towards the centre of town, then away again, heading for the suburbs. Adrianna lost track of where they were going, just enjoying the ride.
When they finally stopped they were in a part of town Adrianna did not know. There were no gaslights on the streets and she could see very little as Matteo tied the horse to a hitching post outside a tavern. A sign swung above the entrance, a golden lion on its hind legs, and the letters underneath the image declared that this wasThe Prancing Lion.
“It doesn’t pay to linger too long out here,” Matteo said, quickly helping Adrianna down from the buggy. “I’ll have the doorman watch our horse. He’s a trustworthy fellow and I know he’ll stop anyone who dares steal it.”
Adrianna immediately felt fear return to her chest. She was clearly in a part of town her father wouldn’t even consider her going to and if she was discovered then it wouldn’t be worth her living any longer.