“Raphe Faryndon, at your pleasure.” Raphe straightened up from his bow and stretched out his hand.
Wynefrede looked up at him, at the way his hair flopped down over his eyes, his slightly crooked smile, and his warm eyes. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Margarett and Benedicta being pulled out onto the dance floor by two other gentlemen.
“You look familiar,” she told Raphe. “Have we met before?”
“Four hours ago, at the Chubb-Baggins Leper Sanatorium and Heritage Medicine Hospital.”
“No, that’s not it.”
“I made that joke about dancing skeletons.”
She shook her head.
“And yesterday, on the trip to the Krim historical society. I dropped a vase on your foot. Again, I’m so sorry.”
“I have no memory of that.”
“The day before, I was taking a stroll around Grosvenor Circle and you joined me, and we stopped at a bakery for marchpane cakes.”
“I remember the cakes,” Wynefrede said. “But I’ve met so many people these last few days that I’ve been having trouble keeping track.”
Raphe held out his hand again. “Would you care to dance? Maybe I can make a more memorable impression if I trip and fall in an amusing way.”
She took his hand.
It took a couple of minutes for Wynefrede to find the rhythm. She’d only learned the basse dance a few days before and this was her first chance to practice it for real. Raphe counted the steps out loud but soon enough they both had the hang of it.
“By the time the Royal Season is over, we’ll probably be good enough to enter dance competitions,” he said.
“Or open a dancing school.”
They spun around, narrowly avoiding a collision with another couple. “
“So you’re a princess,” he said. “Is that because you went for the premium package, or because you know the organizers? Or maybe the queen herself?”
“Me? None of those. My parents? Probably all of the above.”
“Having the right parents — that is very period-appropriate,” he said.
“And you? What’s your fake Krim title?”
“Viscount. Viscount Raphe Faryndon. A very lowly title, I’m afraid.”
“Does that mean that you’re broke?”
“Relatively speaking, probably,” he said.
“So what brings you to the Royal Season?”
“The usual,” he said. “The end of a long-term relationship, followed by several years of throwing myself into my work. Now I’ve got some time off and wanted to do something completely different. A cousin of mine had been on one of these a few years ago, raved about it, so here I am. And you?”
“I like to keep my parents happy. And they want to see me happy. They think that being alone makes me sad and unhappy and keep trying to fix it.”
“Are they wrong?”
“You mean, am I perfect happy being single? You must have read the gossip column.”
“Are you kidding? The font was illegible and the spelling was atrocious. I couldn’t get through more than a sentence of it. One of the servants read it out loud to me. It made me feel like an illiterate snob.”
“It’s odd to have servants, isn’t it?”
“I keep having to remind myself that they’re real people, not bots,” Raphe said. “But some people really take to it. It’s a little disturbing. I’m glad that I’m not actually living in the 1500s. Seeing people being treated as if they were less than human would be difficult. I’d have a hard time being a noble back then.”
“Who says you’d be a noble?”
“True. Odds are, I’d be a lowly peasant, spending his whole life carrying sacks of grain back and forth while rats nibbled on his toes.”
The song ended, and they drifted towards the balcony, accepting glasses of wine from servants along the way. Then ended up leaning on the stone parapet, looking out over the gardens. These, two, were lit by hundreds of small lights.
“The thing I like most about being alive today is today I’m a viscount, and tomorrow I might go back to school, major in medieval studies, and be back here as a guard or a servant next year. It’s nice to be treated like royalty, but its probably even more fun to hang out with the working stiffs and gossip about the royalty behind the backs.”
“It sounds like you’re confessing to being the Nightingale.”
“Me, no,” he said. “I’m bad at spelling, but not that bad.”
“I think the spelling mistakes were intentional. For historical authenticity.”
“Still, not really my thing. Also, the gossip was a little cruel. Even if any of it was true, which I doubt, the writer probably took minor incidents and blew them up out of all proportion.”
“So you’re saying you’re not secretly a murderer?”
“Not that I know of. But the night is still young, and Nigel has been very annoying.”
He turned back towards the ballroom. “He’s the chap in the purple jacket dancing with Benedicta.”
Benedicta was easy to spot in the crowd. She was taller than most other women there and had a full head of long, wavy hair that was very nearly orange. Nigel must have been the shorter gentleman dancing with her. Wynefrede caught glimpses of his face as he spun around.
“What did he do?”
“He keeps trying to pick a fight. He desperately wants to fight a duel with a romantic rival. If he comes calling at your residence, make sure he leaves his sword at the door. Otherwise, you might wind up with some nasty blood stains in your parlor.”
“Maybe he’s the secret murderer,” she said, giving Nigel another look.
“You sound intrigued,” he said.
“Maybe that’s because I’m also a murderer and having a hobby in common would give us something to talk about.”