Matteo dragged Adrianna into the crowd, smiling and nodding at people as they made their way across the room. Adrianna had no idea where she was being taken but she allowed herself to be blindly led by Matteo, trusting he would know what he was doing.
“Matteo,” a voice called from somewhere close by. “Over here.” Adrianna looked to see where the voice was coming from and saw an arm waving above the heads of the crowd. The pair made a beeline for the floating arm, Matteo in the lead.
“There you are,” Matteo exclaimed as he approached a table surrounded by people. “I was beginning to think you were hiding from me.”
“You know us,” the woman who’s voice Adrianna assumed went with the waving arm said jovially, “always finding the strangest places to sit.”
Adrianna couldn’t help but stare at the woman as she greeted Matteo. To Adrianna, she was stunningly beautiful. Duke Giordano would have described her as wild, but to his daughter she appeared exotic with a mass of tight ginger curls pulled back from her face with pins and eyes the colour of bay leaves in the height of summer.
But although her beauty stopped Adrianna in her tracks, it was the lack of a frame around her eyes that shocked her the most. This woman wasn’t wearing a mask.
“Wonderful speech,” she said to Matteo, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him tightly. Admiration and awe was suddenly tinged with an irrational jealously as Adrianna watched this strange woman touch Matteo in a way no woman would be allowed to behave in Adrianna’s world.
“As I told Adrianna,” he replied, pulling out of the embrace, “I had an excellent audience.”
“Yes,” a man from the table cut in, “there were far fewer interruptions tonight, it meant that we didn’t have to listen to you droning on for any longer than was necessary.” The small group that had gathered laughed at this joke and Adrianna couldn’t help but join in the good spirits.
“So this is Adrianna,” the woman said, turning her attention away from Matteo and towards the young woman in black by his side. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. Matteo has told me you’re quite the firecracker.”
“I’m not sure what he means by that,” Adrianna replied, looking questioningly at Matteo, “but I’m very glad I’m here.”
“And we’re very glad to have you,” the woman replied.
“Listen to how posh and polite she sounds,” another female voice said from the table. “How cute.”
“Now then Georgiana,” the woman with the red hair reprimanded, taking Adrianna’s hand protectively, “we are to be nice to our guest. Maybe if you’re very good Adrianna will manage to teach you some manners.” The group laughed again, and even Adrianna managed a smile. “Let’s get you a seat,” the woman said kindly, “and then we can introduce you to our select group.”
Adrianna gratefully took the chair offered to her in between the man who had joked about Matteo’s speech and a skinny older woman with streaks of grey running through her pitch black hair.
“Alexander,” the man on her right hand side introduced himself. “Wonderful to meet you.”
“And you,” Adrianna said, immediately growing fond of the big man. Alexander had big broad shoulders and his arms looked like tree stumps attached to the bulk that was his torso. But his dark eyes were kind and his wild curls that were so similar to the redhead’s, but a muddy blonde colour and a beard to match, made him look much friendlier.
“How rude of me,” the woman with the red hair exclaimed as she took her seat next to Matteo. “I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Ava.”
“Hello Ava,” Adrianna said, wondering if she was going to have to greet every person around the table in the same way.
In total there were eight people seated around the table, including Matteo and Adrianna and of the women only Ava was not wearing a mask. The older woman on Adrianna’s left was called Luciana and was very softly spoken, not at all what Adrianna had expected from a radical.
The man sitting opposite her was Pepe, a thin man of about Adrianna’s age. His brown hair flopped into his eyes and he had to keep adjusting the rusty pair of optics he wore to make sure they didn’t fall too far down his nose.
The final person sitting at the table hadn’t caught Adrianna’s attention until Ava pointed her attention towards her and suddenly Adrianna couldn’t believe that she hadn’t seen the familiar face before.
“Dialta?” She exclaimed.
“What on earth are you doing here? You should have found me when I got here.”
“You arrived in such a flurry I thought it would be rude of me to barge my way to the front and find you. And I knew Matteo would bring you here to meet us eventually.”
“You know her?” Matteo asked, surprised.
“Yes, Lady Lagana introduced us under a week ago, but I had no idea that you were part of this too.”
“Lady Lagana doesn’t know,” Dialta confessed. “If she did she would never support me in the way that she does. I would be left outside in the cold with no way back in.”
“Well you can be sure that she won’t hear it from me,” Adrianna reassured Dialta.