The group automatically accepted Adrianna into their circle, including her in their conversation and asking about her life, but not pressing her if they asked a question she did not want to answer. She was extremely grateful to Dialta and Matteo for keeping their mouths shut when they asked about her family.
“I don’t like to talk about my family,” Adrianna said. “I’d rather you liked me for who I am instead of associating me with my parents.”
The group nodded in an understanding way and Ava quickly changed the subject to something else. Adrianna was having mixed feelings towards Ava. On the one hand she admired her greatly for her strength and courage to walk out, in public, without a mask required by society. She was also incredibly funny and kind, showing genuine interest in what anyone was saying, even if she did ridicule them afterwards.
But at the same time she couldn’t help feeling dislike towards her. Ava’s body language towards Matteo made Adrianna’s stomach clench every time she looked in their direction. She was constantly touching him, her hand brushing his or resting on his shoulder or arm. By now Adrianna couldn’t deny that her feelings towards Matteo had grown stronger than she had thought and the idea of another woman already holding a claim on him made her want to break down and cry.
And to look at it yet another way, Adrianna knew that even if Matteo was free to love a woman and he were to choose her, the chances of it ever amounting to anything were beyond non-existent. Her father would never approve, not when a match with Count Alberto was possible. And why would Matteo want to become associated with an anti-reforming politician who survived because of his favour with the King instead of his popularity with the people.
Adrianna tried to block this out of her head, talking intensely with Alexander who had some interesting political views.
“No other country in the world has even considered a system like it,” he told her enthusiastically. “Just think of it, a political system where everyone is equal. There would be no unemployment, people would always be fed and there would be housing for all. Isn’t it perfect.”
“You’re not forcing your ideas on another helpless victim,” Georgiana, who, Adrianna discovered, everyone else called Georgie, said.
“I’m just enlightening her to all the options,” Alexander replied defensively.
“No one will go anywhere near that idea,” Pepe joined in. “It’s too much too soon. None of the aristocrats are going to be willing to give up all their land, wealth and power to spread it out evenly among everyone else.”
“Then we should take it from them,” Alexander argued back. “This country needs a revolution, I’m telling you. It’s the only way we can put Verenia back on the map as a serious political contender. Fersere and Madrimar have dominated politics in this part of the world for too long. They have been able to state what everyone should be doing and everyone blindly obeys. Verenia needs to stand up and say no, we will be different.”
“That’s all very well in theory,” Matteo said, each word measured. “But how on earth would you enforce such a system? What about the people who don’t work as hard as others, what would happen to them? And surely you need foremen and managers to oversee the general workers. How will they be treated? And that’s before you get onto how laws would be passed and how we would decide who would run the country. There are so many holes in your plan Alexander if it were a boat it would sink in seconds.”
“You may mock me now Matteo Contadino,” he retorted, “but when I’m leading the revolution and taking our country towards a bright new future, then I bet you won’t be teasing me.”
“When that day comes I will take it all back,” Matteo promised, “but until then I will remain positive that I am in the right.”
“So what would you suggest then?” Dialta asked.
“I’m not saying that we don’t need change,” Matteo insisted, “I wouldn’t be here if I thought that, but the change we do need doesn’t have to be that drastic. Reform to government, more rights for women, these are just the starting blocks of what we need to change.”
“And after that?”
“Who knows? Whatever needs to be changed to make our society better and more efficient so we can compete internationally with the rest of the world.”
Adrianna listened to the conversation with interest but could feel her eyes drooping as exhaustion began to set in. Normally she would have been in bed, asleep hours ago and she was beginning to feel the strain of two late nights on her mind and body.
“Looks like someone’s not feeling too sharp,” Georgie observed as Adrianna struggled to keep her eyes open.
“I’m fine,” she insisted. “I’m just a little tired, that’s all.”
“You should take her home,” Ava said to Matteo, her hand resting on his shoulder yet again.
“I think that’s a good idea,” he agreed, getting up from his seat and letting Ava’s hand fall, her fingertips tracing the length of his arm. “Come on Adrianna, it’s time I got you back.”
“I’m fine, honest,” Adrianna said unconvincingly, her head lolling as she lost the energy to keep it upright. “I want to stay a little longer.”
“You’ll be in very big trouble with your father if you’re not awake enough to attend Duke Niccolo’s party tomorrow night and then you won’t be able to sneak out to see us again next week.”
“I suppose,” Adrianna said drowsily, allowing Matteo and Alexander to help her up from her chair. “I do want to come back.”
“Good,” Dialta said, “because we would love you to come back.”
“Then I’ll see you next week.” Adrianna waved to her new friends as she was led away.
“So who do you suppose she really is?” Pepe asked as they watched Matteo and Alexander escort Adrianna to the door. “The daughter of a minor noble who’s come to have a taste of the wild side?”
“I think she’s genuine,” Ava replied, “but I couldn’t guess which family she’s from.”
“Dialta,” Georgie said, “you said you had met her at a party. Surely you must know who her family is.”
“I couldn’t possibly tell you,” Dialta replied, smiling to herself. “That would be breaking the promise I made her, and as you know, I always keep my promises.”