The crush of people was almost more than I could bear. Bodies pressed in on every side, strong floral perfumes meshed with bay rum and sweat. Somewhere in the other room the musicians were putting bow to string and breath to reed; a Strauss waltz was pealing through the building. The Marquess had invited an unintended mix of societal elite; little did the lady know she had a reprobate wandering amongst her select guests. My heart beat faster as I gathered the inner fortitude to put my plan to action. My assailant was a scoundrel of the worst sort, a lord whom took it upon himself to prove his superiority through cruelty to others. He danced and flirted with the innocent, all the while making my blood boil.
As I was led to the dance floor by yet another dull young man of good breeding, I halfheartedly kept my part of the conversation. My attention was fixed on both the steps, and the location of my assailant.
A fortnight had passed since my unfortunate encounter in the alley behind Madame Margaret’s playhouse. That night saw me home without further incident; Whelan met me at the servant’s door with my trunks. My trusted maid took more than an hour washing the grime from my hair and wounds. I had not realized that one of my attackers had caressed my side with the well stropped edge of his blade. If I had donned more ladylike underpinnings instead of the striped burlesque, I would have been spared the twenty stitches Whelan applied to my skin.
Even now, breathing under the whalebone stays was difficult. I could feel the tender skin as I moved, it added to the anger that had settled over me. The icy cold of my previous encounter had eventually melted, leaving only a deep seated drive to see my molesters gave payment in full for their actions.
I had never experienced such cold determination before. I had never had to see past my own desires, proper ladies rarely do. Mama would say my one failing was my stubborn need for adventure. That need drove me to my secret dealings at Madame’s. It drove me to be more than just a polite feather-headed miss who looked to marriage to settle the world.
The education society had afforded me was nothing in comparison to the lessons learned in that alley. It inadvertently created a creature that was foreign to me. I felt outside of myself while swinging along in the dance, a smile plastered on my lips and the pistol resting heavily in my skirts.
I felt eyes on me as the music came to an end.