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The ladies gathered in Countess Alladay’s parlour, dressed to impress in their finest daywear and indulging in a certain amount of discreet rivalry. Lady Barnes (new money, little class) had paid her dressmaker well to ensure nobody else wore the same cut or pattern; young Lady Annabelle Greaves (high on class, low on money) had been laced into her corset so tightly that she couldn’t do more than nibble on a single biscuit all evening looking like she might faint at any moment, but she did have an enviably small waist. At the back, near the door, Genevieve Moore sat feeling distinctly uncomfortable and out of place.

She was invited to these soirees and dinner parties because her father commanded the ship, and this made her one of the most eligible young ladies in society. At the same time, she was only tolerated at these soirees and dinner parties because of her father, and likewise forced to attend them because of her father.

She eyed the doorway. Lady Marsden sat nearby, making an exit practically impossible. The woman was like a loudhailer wrapped in corsets and skirts. From the look on her face, she was not pleased to be here and would, no doubt, take great pleasure in preventing anyone else’s escape.

Genevieve sipped tea from fine china and looked around the room, assessing her options. Countess Alladay was sitting quite close to Miss Amelia Huntingdon. That no doubt explained Lady Marsden’s displeasure. Her son had been angling for Amelia’s hand against the young count, but his style and class were no match for the young count’s title. The countess was now fawning over her prospective daughter-in-law quite openly, so she had obviously invited Lady Marsden in order to gloat.

On the other side of the room, however, Duchess von Aaden was holding court. Genevieve smiled and put her teacup down. This was her chance.

She leaned over to Lady Marsden and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper.

“I hear that Duchess von Aaden is introducing her daughter Catherine to society at the Spring Ball this year. May I assume your son Charles will be there?”

Lady Marsden stared at her for a moment, not understanding. Egads, the woman was slow sometimes.

“Well, of course we will attend the ball. I’m not sure…”

Genevieve cleared her throat gently and glanced back at the Duchess. “The Duchess, as I understand, is already filling out Catherine’s dance card. Of course, if you’re too late, Charles could always dance with a less popular lady. I think I might still have a few spaces on my card.”

She knew full well that her dance card was empty and likely to stay that way, but it was a little lie to imply urgency. Understanding slowly dawned across Lady Marsden’s face. She made a hasty excuse and heaved herself to her feet, pausing to speak to exactly three other ladies before she reached the Duchess, thus thinly disguising her clear intent. Genevieve watched for a moment before turning to slip out of the door.

She left the ladies with their fine china, gossip and hatred, skipping nimbly down the corridor to a servant’s door, and then down the stairs into the depths of the ship. She had an arrangement with one of the engineers; if he was still on duty she had been promised a proper look inside one of the big engines. If not, well there was bound to be a proper party going on somewhere down there.

© Kari Fay