“Lady Adrianna,” a voice called urgently, hands shaking her roughly. “You must wake up, my lady,” the voice insisted, cutting through Adrianna’s dreamy state and pulling her into the real world.
“What’s happened?” She asked once she was fully aware that she had woken up. “Is someone hurt?”
“You have slept all morning, my lady,” the terrified serving girl by her bedside told her. “And his Grace is looking for you. He says he must speak to you urgently.”
Adrianna’s heart sank. She had been caught out of her bed last night and her father was ready to make her pay for it. She climbed out of bed quickly, not wanting to keep her father waiting and make him even angrier than he would already be when she finally came before him. She dressed quickly, trying to ignore the clothes she had hidden behind her changing screen the night before and hoping that her maid wouldn’t think anything of the black dress that was lying in a heap on the floor.
As soon as she was presentable, her hair pinned up off her neck and her mask securely in place she hurried out of her room and went in search of her father. It didn’t take long to find him; prowling the corridors like an animal on the hunt for its next kill.
“Adrianna,” he called when she came into his line of vision. “I wish to talk to you.” She followed him into the library, the room closest to where they were, shutting the door firmly behind him. “I trust you slept well,” he said, not looking at his daughter so she couldn’t read his face.
“Yes, very well,” she replied, unsure of what he was expecting her answer to be. “I benefited a lot from my early night.”
“I am glad,” he said flatly. “You’ll need all of your wits about you tonight. In fact, that is what I want to talk to you about.”
Adrianna felt her nerves wash off her as she realised that her late night wanderings had failed to be discovered. Instead she was being called in for a pep talk before they left for the castle and Prince Niccolo’s party.
“Count Alberto will be there tonight so I want you to pay special attention to him if he does choose to speak to you.”
“Of course, Father,” Adrianna replied dutifully, determined to keep up her façade of being a good daughter.
“And if he were to show you any favours then you will accept them gracefully and with many thanks.”
“What sort of favours?”
“Anything from asking for your hand in a dance to a gift he may have chosen for you. I am unsure of how he will choose to act towards you but whatever happens you will be above all things gracious and ladylike.”
“I understand, Father,” Adrianna replied. “Was there anything else you wished to tell me?”
“I would like you to wear your blue silk tonight with the matching mask. It becomes you very well and you must look your best to ensure that Count Alberto notices you. Nothing is settled so we must continue to impress him if we are to gain a firm proposal of marriage.”
“Very well,” Adrianna replied simply. “If that is all?” She was already edging towards the door behind her father’s back as he stared out of the window.
“You may leave,” he said not turning to look at her. Adrianna left the room in a dignified manner, shutting the door slowly behind her so it barely made a sound as the catch clicked into place.
Then she began to run, along the corridor, down the stairs and out into the garden. She removed her shoes and stockings, enjoying the feel of the soft grass against her toes as she flew across the lawn. With the exception of the situation with Count Alberto, everything was right with the world for Adrianna. She had found new friends, people who understood her and shared her beliefs, but most importantly, she was high on the joy of falling in love with a man who returned those feelings. If she had known she was alone, with no one watching her, she would have shouted for joy as she ran along the lawn, but it wasn’t to be. She was well aware that there were servants in every room of the house, and one would no doubt have already caught her running around barefooted like a common street child.
She ran right to the back of the garden where the trees that grew there had been untouched by the gardener’s hands. Their branches still cast shade over the lawn and it was here that Adrianna threw herself to the ground, her hair coming loose from the pins her maid had stabbed into it and spreading wildly around her head.
“Matteo Contadino,” she whispered to herself, enjoying the feel of the name on her lips. “It’s a good name,” she decided.
The sun was shedding some warmth down on her, like it sometimes did in spring, but there was still the cold bite of winter that hadn’t yet left the air. But Adrianna didn’t notice this. All she could think of was Matteo and the future. Summer was near; she could feel it and she welcomed it, for summer held all sorts of possibilities.