"I really must go," Adrianna said many hours later, getting up from the table. "I don't want to be missed."
"Will you be with us at the protest?" Alexander asked, looking up at her with an expectant expression in his eyes. She looked around the table and saw that all her friends were looking at her with the same pleading look written across their faces.
"I'm so sorry," she said, forcing the words out with all her strength. "I wish with all my heart that I could be there but I can't."
"Then what on earth are you doing here?" Georgiana demanded. "You're alright as long as it's just talking but as soon as action is proposed you run."
"Hold on there, George," Ava protested. "Not all of us are as free to make their own choices as you and I, others have to think more carefully about their decisions.
"Then why has she even bothered to come here?"
"Back off," Dialta said firmly, also standing in Adrianna's defence. "I understand exactly where Adrianna is coming from, which is why I won't be at the protest either."
"And what's your excuse?"
"I have a family who depends on me staying in the favours of a certain gentlewoman. If she finds out that I've been coming here then she'll have nothing more to do with me. If that should happen then you will lose me forever for I will not be able to come to these meetings. My family needs me too much."
Dialta's speech knocked the entire table into silence. Even Georgiana would not dare argue with her.
"I really must go," Adrianna said, only just feeling brave enough to break the silence.
"And I fear it is time for us to take our leave also," Rowena added. "It has been wonderful to meet you all and I shall make sure we are here for another of your meetings next time we visit." Everyone stood to bid Rowena and Artem goodbye and Adrianna and Matteo waved quickly, taking their leave at the same moment as their guests.
"You did not have to leave on my account," Adrianna said after they had left the back room.
"It was growing late anyway," Rowena replied, "and I don't like to leave Anya alone for too long. She has hardly seen me over these past few days and I miss her."
"Send her my love," Adrianna insisted. "What time will I be required tomorrow?"
"Not until noon. But you will need to bring a dress for the evening with you; the Prince is throwing another ball for us and I'm sure he and Alberto will be expecting to see you."
Matteo's whole body tensed beside Adrianna and she felt her stomach sink. She had not thought Matteo to be the jealous type but what man wouldn't feel threatened by another superior to him in fortune and title? It didn't matter that Matteo had Adrianna's heart, if her father wanted her to marry Count Alberto then there was very little he could do about it.
The couples said their goodbyes in the darkness outside and as Rowena hugged Adrianna she whispered softly in her ear. "Take your chance at happiness, it may never come again."
"What do you mean?"
Rowena's eyes rested for a moment on Matteo. "You know exactly what I mean. I was lucky enough to get a second chance but not everyone can say the same and I don't want you to look back with regret about things that might have been. Don't let anything pass you by."
Rowena gave her friend a kiss on the cheek and walked away before Adrianna could say anything.
"Are you alright?" Matteo asked, slipping his hand into hers and turning her around.
"Yes," Adrianna replied distractedly, watching Rowena and Artem climb into their carriage.
"You miss them? Don't worry about it, you'll see them tomorrow."
"It's not that. Rowena just said something."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not it's fine," Adrianna said, squeezing Matteo's hands. "Let's go."
"If you want Matteo said, keeping hold of her and until she was sitting in the buggy. "Where do you want me to take you?" He looked at Adrianna with a deep seriousness she hadn't seen in him until the moment in the cupboard earlier. He wanted her, she knew that, but Rowena's words had unsettled her. She wasn't sure if her friend was telling her to throw caution to the wind ot if she wanted Adrianna to be careful so she wouldn't look back with regret.
"Take me somewhere no one can find us."
"Are you sure?" Matteo asked nervously. "I don't want you to day that because of me, it has to be your decision."
Adrianna stopped him from speaking with a passionate kiss. "Not everything is about you," she breathed as their lips parted.
"You know what? When you say it like that, I don't care." He kissed her again, his arm sliding around her waist and pressing their bodies together.
"Let's go before someone sees us," Adrianna insisted.
"Who's going to see us out here? It's dark and in a rough part of town; people aren't going to be hanging around on street corners watching us. It's far too dangerous at this time of night."
"All the same, I'd like to go somewhere that's just for the two of us, somewhere a bit less public."
"As my lady commands," Matteo teased, stealing one last kiss from Adrianna's lips before taking up the reins and urging the horse into a slow trot.