Read Prada and Prejudice Online

Authors: Mandy Hubbard

Prada and Prejudice (8 page)

Tomorrow, I'll get to the bottom of this.

Chapter 12

When I get up the next morning, I hurry to breakfast, which is served in the sunroom, a much smaller room than we'd dined in last night.

I'm glad we're somewhere else. I don't want to remember the absolute disaster of dinner the night before.

It all started when a servant walked into the drawing room after my piano-playing debut and said dinner was served. I'd skipped lunch in order to explore Harksbury, so naturally I was hungry. So I got up and headed to the dining room.

Except I was the only one. Everyone else assembled in pairs, and I got stuck at the end with an elderly guy who was most definitely not as rich as the others. And as we followed the parade into the dining room, I realized we were placed in order of
importance.

One guess who was at the back.

Me. Now why did that feel just like high school? So much for this dinner supposedly being in my honor! Not that I wanted that much of the spotlight, but still.

It went downhill from there. I talked to the servants again. Yeah, that's most
definitely a
faux-pas. You could have heard a pin drop when I asked if they had ketchup. And then I stuck a knife in my mouth to eat a piece of chicken. Faux-pas number two. Oh and apparently I was supposed to hold a piece of bread in one hand and the fork in the other while eating fish. Faux-pas number three.

I seriously could not keep up with them and barely made it out alive.

This morning, I'm relieved to see Emily at the table, quietly eating alone. At least I can do everything wrong and she won't care.

There aren't any servants around, so I just dig into the ham and fruits available on the sideboard. "So, uh, no bacon?" I joke. They always seem to prepare way more food than we could ever eat.

These people have never heard the word
moderation
before.

Emily looks up from her plate. "Victoria
--
er
--
Her Grace believes bacon is for the lower class."

"Oh," I say, not sure how I'm supposed to respond. It seems kind of weird to decide we can have ham and not bacon, but whatever. I don't get anything in this century. I take my plate and sit down at the table across from Emily. The summer sun is already streaming through the windows. It must be at least ten or eleven. I've given up keeping track of time here; they seem to run on their own clock.

The room falls silent again. "So, Emily," I say.

She's been pushing her food around for ten minutes, and when I break the silence, she looks up as if she's forgotten I was even in the room.

"This fiance of yours
...
have you mentioned him before? I don't recall." Do I sound casual? I hope so.

She shakes her head and then looks back at her plate. What happened to happy, bubbly Emily
--
the one I've come to know and like? The one who is part-girl, part-puppy dog?

"No. We've only just become engaged."

"Where did you meet?"

"At his estate, after my father arranged it."

I don't like where this is headed. "Why did your father arrange it?"

Her voice is flat. "For the marriage, of course."

I
really
don't like where this is headed. "You don't mean
...
he introduced you to him so that he could
...
arrange your marriage,
do you?" I know I sound really dense, but I've never encountered a real, live arranged marriage. I thought they were mythical. Sort of like unicorns.

She just nods, but I see her swallow, and I wonder if she has a lump in her throat like I do. She's looking down, but I don't think she sees anything on her plate. Has she blinked? At all?

"And
...
do you like him?"

She sets down her fork. "He is
...
an agreeable sort of man. With great wealth. I shall want for nothing," she says. But it sounds ridiculous. It's like she's reading off cue cards.

I shift in my chair. It's suddenly hard and uncomfortable. "But do you love him?"

"I shall want for nothing," she repeats. Her eyes are a little shinier than they were thirty seconds ago. She picks up her fork, but her hand trembles a little bit when she grips it too hard.

"Emily .. . you can be honest with me. We're friends."

Even as the words leave my mouth, I want to take them back. Emily is such a nice girl, and here I am, lying straight to her face, over and over. Betraying her trust as I masquerade as her friend.

Yet somehow even though I know she's friends with
Rebecca,
I kind of feel like we're friends too. There's just something about her that makes me trust her, even as I do nothing to earn
her
trust.

That's when the waterworks start. She blinks several times, but the tears still escape and leave shiny, salty trails down her perfectly round cheeks. "I could never love him. He is callous and rude. He is thirty years my senior and quite set in his ways," she says, her voice quivering.

Thirty years older?
He's ancient!

My jaw hangs open as I stare at her. She drops her fork with a clatter and picks up a napkin and dabs at her eyes, staring toward the ceiling. The cracks in her happy facade are spreading, and I think she's about to completely crumble.

"Does your father know how you feel?"

She nods. "Yes. I've pleaded with him, but he will not be swayed. I think he tired of hearing my appeals, and that's why he sent me to stay for two months at Harksbury. It is his wish that I will return home at peace with his decision."

This is so wrong, on so many levels. I can't even get words to come out of my mouth because there are too many spinning around in my head. Everything I come up with is empty and stupid.

1815 is
so
screwed up. First the secret daughter Alex has
...
now an arranged marriage? Could things get any more twisted?

I've landed in Regency England: 90210. Just as much drama; a lot less glamour.

Emily wipes her nose with a napkin and inhales deeply. "I was so pleased to see you when you arrived. You are so smart and independent; I just knew when you arrived early that it was a gift to me. You are my dearest friend, Rebecca. You must help me."

Oh, wow, I feel like such a jerk right now. The real Rebecca is probably brilliant and would know just what to say in this situation. She'd probably have a hundred plans for things to do, and she'd launch right into action and find Emily a way to freedom.

I can see it on Emily's face. She's looking at me with such hope, like I'll fix everything.

She wants nothing to do with whoever this Denworth guy is. And I know in this moment, whatever I do, I have to get her out of it. I owe it to her.

It's what Rebecca would do. So it's what I must do.

Wait
--
what if it's what I am
supposed
to do? What if it's the reason I'm here? What if somehow breaking Emily's engagement is my
mission?
My purpose? I found myself in Rebecca's shoes so I'd be in a position to assist Emily.

If I do this, it could fix everything. And if it doesn't, well, then I'll try something else.

There's got to be a reason someone from the twenty-first century is stuck in 1815, right? It's so I can assert my modern sensibilities and fix some things.

"Don't worry, Emily. I'll help you. We'll break your engagement."

I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how I'm supposed to help her.

But I know I have to. I just have to develop a plan.

Immediately.

Chapter 13

I am in heaven. Well, as close to heaven as you can get in 1815. After watching what must have been eight different servants bring bucket after bucket of hot water up to my room, I have a full tub of gloriously warm water to soak in. And I'm not leaving until it's cold and I'm all wrinkly.

There's some kind of scented oil in the water, and if I didn't believe in aromatherapy before, I do now. This is the most relaxed I've been in over forty-eight hours.

Since I didn't get to go to the club with Angela, Mindy, and Summer, I'm going to make up for it tonight, Regency-style at the Pommeroy dance. I'll dress to the nines and flirt with some hot guys, and have the time of my life.

When the water gets too cold to tolerate, I get out and put on a cotton nightgown the maid left out for me. Emily insisted that we get ready for the dance together, which is probably a good thing
--
I need major help figuring out what I'm supposed to wear to something like this.

I've never even been asked to homecoming. Tonight will probably be the first time I ever actually dance with a guy. Crazy. I had to travel two hundred years to go to a freaking dance.

But whatever. I'm going to make the most of it and dance the night away, even if I am wearing weird clothes and they don't play any music I recognize.

I grab a string that disappears into a hole in the wall. It's supposed to connect with a bell somewhere and tell Eliza that I need her. I can't hear it, so I just have to assume it's ringing in some far-off land. I heard Emily once call it 'below stairs,' but I have no idea which stairs she was talking about.

In any case, it must work because Eliza arrives a few minutes later and immediately sets to work on my wet hair, combing and putting it into little rags that are supposed to help give it a curl, until there are so many they're piled all over my head. I feel very fifties retro when she's done.

"Aren't you supposed to be off today?" I ask.

"I was, miss. The whole afte'noon."

I scrunch my brow. "Well, I think you should take tomorrow off too. If anyone has a problem with that, send them to me."

She looks confused, like this has to be a trick.

"You deserve a day off. Don't worry."

"Yes, miss," she says, suddenly looking very, very happy.

"Just promise me you'll sleep in," I say.

Her lips curl into a smile as she curtsies. "Yes, miss."

"Great. Well, I think you can go. I'm going to be getting ready over in Emily's chambers."

As soon as she's gone, I'm ready to go to Emily's room. I walk toward the door in my cotton nightgown, but stop halfway there. It seems .. . bizarre to leave the room like this.

I'm wearing a thin nightdress that barely covers my butt. I haven't seen my bra since day one, so until I get the corset back on, I can't possibly walk out my bedroom door.

I stare at the bell pull again, wondering if I should call back Eliza and ask her for something else to put on. And directions to Emily's. Why hadn't I thought of any of this before I sent her away?

But I feel kind of bad, bugging her so much. I'm not used to having someone at my beck and call. It's kind of weird. So the only solution is to grab one of the blankets off my bed. I look silly, but I wrap it around my body until I look like a big burrito.

Yeah. Modest. That's me.

I peek out my door and look both ways. No one is around.

I'm pretty sure Emily said her room is in the opposite wing, and that if I take this back staircase, I can get there without going by the front entry.

That works great in theory, except Harksbury really is bigger than my high school and I get lost. I'm pretty sure I pass the same creepy portraits three times. I think their eyes might be following me, like in Scooby-Doo. I even think I take the servants' stairs at some point, because they're narrow and lit only by a single small window, so there's no way Victoria or Alex would take them. Alex probably wouldn't even fit, he's so tall. It's good I won't run into them, because hobbling around wrapped in a blanket like this, I look like a complete buffoon. A half-naked, burrito buffoon.

At some point I realize I've made it to the opposite wing. I spot the courtyard through a set of leaded glass windows and the view is the opposite of the one I've seen from my wing. Thank God. It would have been terrible to wander much longer, looking like I do. I could have run into
--

Alex.

Alex!

Just seeing him makes my anger boil.

He's staring at me, his mouth slightly agape, his eyes wide. Is it me, or is he blushing?

Hasn't he ever seen a burrito-girl before? Or is it these dead-sexy rag-curlers in my hair that only an old lady would wear? Not only am I a burrito, I'm a geriatric one. Fabulous.

"Uh, I'm looking for Emily's room," I say. I tighten my grip on the blanket, hoping none of me is hanging out anywhere it shouldn't be.

He doesn't speak, just motions me to follow him. I walk beside him, the blanket dragging behind me. There are about a thousand things I'd like to say to him right now
--
Eliza's pitiful schedule, that poor lady's letters
--
but I can't possibly have a serious conversation looking like this, so I don't say any of them.

When we get to the door, it's open, and he steps aside so I can enter. He's so close to the door that I end up brushing past him when I go by.

"Thanks," I mutter. As an afterthought I curtsy, but I'm not sure he can even tell because the blanket just sort of mushrooms out. I scurry through the door and slam it behind me, and then fall against it. Alex is probably staring right at the door in his face. Bet he doesn't get
that
every day. It almost makes me feel better.

"Oh. My. God. I'm a walking disaster," I say to Emily.

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