“It obviously hasn’t cut into her jewelry and plastic-surgery budget. Forget her. Let’s go in.”
Wrapping her arm securely over his, he marched her into the ballroom as cheerfully as a revolutionary leading a French aristocrat to the guillotine.
But it was no good. The rest of the evening was just as Letty had feared. As lovely and magical as the afternoon had been, the ball sucked the joy out of everything.
Darius insisted on keeping her by his side as he greeted his society guests, each of whom had paid thousands of dollars to attend this ball, ostensibly for the benefit of college scholarships for foster kids but mostly just to have a good excuse to party with friends and show off new couture.
Letty felt their hostile stares, though with Darius beside her, none were as brave or foolhardy as Mrs. Alexander. None of them said anything to her face. Instead, the cream of New York society just stared at her in bewildered horror, as if she had a contagious and fatal disease, then looked at Darius as if they were waiting for him to reveal the punch line of whatever joke had inspired him to bring a pariah like Letitia Spencer to the Fall Ball when he could have had any beauty in the city for the asking.
She heard whispers and felt their hard stares as she and Darius passed through the crowds in the ballroom. When he briefly left her to get drinks, she felt vulnerable, alone. She kept her eyes focused on the floor, trying to be quiet and invisible, as if facing wild animals. If they didn’t notice her, they might not tear her to shreds with their teeth and claws.
It didn’t work.
Within moments, three former debutantes blocked her
like bouncers at a bar.
“Well, well, well.” A skinny young woman in a designer gown gave her a hard-edged smile. “Letitia Spencer. This is a surprise. Isn’t it, Caroline?”
“A big surprise.”
Letty vaguely recognized the two women from her school, where they’d been a year older. They were looking at her now with the cold expressions of mob enforcers. She could suddenly imagine how her father must have felt right before that thug had broken his arm.
But the third woman stood a slight distance from the first two. It was Poppy Alexander. She and Letty had once been study partners, sophomore year. Poppy just stood there, looking pale and uneasy.
“Excuse me.” Letty backed away. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“You don’t want trouble?” The first woman’s lip twisted scornfully. “How very amusing.”
“Amusing,” Caroline echoed with a sneer.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“You’re a disgrace to society.”
“If you had any decency, you’d disappear or die.”
Poppy stood silently beside her friends, looking faintly sick, as if she wished she were a million miles away. Letty sympathized with that feeling.
The first woman continued with a sneer, “You might think you’re safe on Darius Kyrillos’s arm, but...”
“Ah, there you are, Letty,” Darius said smoothly, coming up behind them. “I brought your drink.” Turning to the other women, he gave a charming smile. “Ah. Augusta. Caroline. And Poppy Alexander. How lovely to see you.”
“Hello, Darius,” they cooed with weak smiles, then departed, the first two with a final venomous glance at Letty, Poppy hanging her head, looking guilty and ashamed.
Emotions Letty knew well.
“Everything all right?” Darius murmured after they left.
She exhaled, blinking fast. “Fine. Just fine.”
The night only got worse. It was past ten when the formal dinner was finally served, and Letty felt half-starved as she sat down beside Darius at the prestigious head table. But as she felt the glares from the four other couples at the table, she could barely eat a bite of salad or the lobster with white truffle cream. At any moment, she half expected one of the hedge fund millionaires or society wives might smash a three-hundred-dollar champagne bottle against the table and attack her with it.
That might have been preferable to the waves of unspoken hatred overtaking her like a blast of heat from all sides. During the unendurably long meal, Darius tried several times to start conversations with the others at the table. Each time, he succeeded. Until he tried to include her. Then the conversation instantly died.
Finally, Letty could stand it no longer.
“Excuse me,” she breathed, rising from her seat. “I have to—”