The Cracked Slipper

The Cracked Slipper

A Cracked Slipper Novel, Book 1

Regular price $14.99
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fantasy series · fairy tales · strong female lead · mythology & folk tales

“Alluring... Alexander writes sensitively about dreams falling short of reality...[she] does a solid job of taking a fairytale and remixing it with feminist themes and dark edges…" —Publisher's Weekly

When Eleanor Brice loses a glass slipper, she unexpectedly gains a royal fiancé and a way out of her abusive stepmother’s house. Unfortunately, eight years of mistreatment, isolation, and clandestine book learning hardly prepared Eleanor for life at Eclatant Palace, where women are seen, not heard. According to Eleanor’s eavesdropping parrot, no one at court appreciates her unladylike tendency to voice her opinion. To make matters worse, Gregory Desmarais, Crown Prince of Cartheigh, spends his last night of bachelorhood on a drunken whoring spree. 

Before the ink dries on her marriage proclamation, Eleanor realizes she loves her husband’s best friend, the intellectual, surprisingly sensitive former soldier, Dorian Finley. As Gregory’s mercurial nature comes to light, Eleanor wrestles with her feelings for Dorian, flounders in her new role, and makes powerful enemies—foes who use Eleanor as a scapegoat in a magical plot to unseat the royal family.

Eleanor Brice is a princess. She lives in an enchanted castle. She even has her own unicorn. But she’s lived through childhood trauma, she has insecurities and anxieties, and she makes dreadful relationship choices. In short, she’s a real woman in a fairy tale world, and this is her happily-ever-after.

— scroll down to read book sample —

REVIEWS

"...fast-paced and believable...In this fantastical novel, Alexander has set up a strong chemistry and an unforgiving society...I appreciate the well-developed, complex, and strong female characters." —San Francisco Book Review

“Stephanie Alexander gives happily ever after a mature dose of reality by combining magic with medieval conventions and male-dominant politics, adding a sophisticated and fantastical twist to the beloved Cinderella fairy tale. Readers who enjoy witches, wizards, unicorns, and dragons will be especially intrigued by the mythology behind the beautiful kingdom of Cartheigh.” —A. G. Howard, author of the Splintered Series   

"Hauntingly beautiful." Ann Hite, author of Ghost On Black Mountain

“…an irresistible and compulsively-readable spin on the Cinderella story…a sensuous and sumptuous tale that will captivate anyone who thinks they know what happens in happily every after. Dear reader, prepare to be enchanted." Erika Marks, author of Little Gale Gumbo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Alexander grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Drawing, writing stories, and harassing her parents for a pony consumed much of her childhood. After graduating from high school in 1995 she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the College of Charleston, South Carolina. She returned to Washington, DC, where she followed a long-time fascination with sociopolitical structures and women's issues to a Master of Arts in Sociology from the American University. She spent several years as a Policy Associate at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), a think-tank focused on women's health and economic advancement.

Stephanie embraced full-time motherhood after the birth of the first of her three children in 2003. Her family put down permanent southern roots in Charleston in 2011. She published her first novel, The Cracked Slipper, in February 2012. The first printing of the series sold over 40,000 copies. Stephanie has appeared on local and national media, been a contributor on many writing blogs and in writing magazines, and regularly joins with book clubs for discussions of her work. 

In addition to her personal writing, Stephanie returned to the College of Charleston as an Adjunct Professor of Sociology, and launched her freelance ghostwriting and editing business, Wordarcher, LLC. She has ghostwritten dozens of books, from novels to memoirs to academic theses. Beginning in the Fall of 2015, as a single working mother, she attended law school on a full academic scholarship, earning her juris doctor with honors from the Charleston School of Law in December, 2017.

She currently practices family law in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, the Charleston suburb that is the setting of her latest novel, Charleston Green. Her personal experience rebuilding her life after divorce inspires both her legal work and her fiction. She published the second edition of The Cracked Slipper and its sequel, The Dragon Choker, in early 2020. The series is now complete with the release of final book in the series, The Glass Rainbow, in April 2020. 

Her award-winning first Southern fiction novel, Charleston Green was released in April 2020 and is the 2020 Readers' Favorite Book Awards Silver Medalist for Paranormal Fiction.  

Stephanie and her husband live in the Charleston area with their blended family of five children and their two miniature dachshunds, Trinket and Tipsy. She is represented by Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit Associates, New York, NY.

SAMPLE FROM THE CRACKED SLIPPER

Prologue: Escape

In a ballroom packed with those who live their lives governed by strict decorum, a harried woman elbowing her way through the crowd attracts considerable attention. This is doubly true when the woman in question has been on the arm of the crown prince for most of the evening. She does not bother excusing herself. She plows on regardless of who blocks her path, be it a strapping soldier or a frail grandmother. Her corset is a tight fist around her chest, and she fights for a clean breath through a hundred conflicting perfumes and the scent of burning candles. The spell is slipping through her hands. She trips over pieces of tulle dangling from her petticoats and is jerked backwards as others step on what trails behind. It seems inevitable she will be left standing in the middle of the ballroom in her servant’s rags.

The tide of her luck changes as the very person who seeks to prevent her from leaving unwittingly allows her escape. Trumpets blare, but the poor buglers are so suddenly and unexpectedly called upon that their normally synchronized fanfare becomes the braying of a troupe

of confused donkeys. Callers bedecked in the royal colors of purple and green shout commands through golden megaphones.

“Fall back! Make way for Prince Gregory! Make way for the prince!”

Like hundreds of trained dogs the assembled guests retreat to the far sides of the ballroom. She finds herself alone in a wide aisle, a stranded bride in the heart of a great chapel. Prince Gregory jogs toward her, followed by assorted friends and advisers. The king himself huffs along

at the end of the procession. Apprentice magicians check their enchantments. Fireballs hover with subdued crackling above the guests’ heads, and giant butterflies freeze mid-flutter. The musicians grind to a halt, but the room hums with chatter and expectation.

“Wait!” calls Gregory. “Please, stop.”

She hesitates, pulled by his insistent voice and crestfallen face, and in those few seconds the delicately embroidered sleeve of her silver gown slips over her shoulder. She hoists her skirts and sprints the last hundred or so steps.

The whispering crowd heaves a collective gasp that explodes into an uproar. She can no longer hear Gregory, but the voices of the callers ring out.

“Guards! Do not let her pass!”

The soldiers manning the entrance bumble about, not knowing who they’re after in the milling throng of full silk skirts and polished black boots. She blows past them, a silver blur. Once through the archway she still has to maneuver a flight of stairs, cross the cavernous expanse of the Great Hall, pass the next set of guards at the two-story wooden doors, and descend another flight of stairs. She must find her coach, with its driver and six white horses that, upon close examination, bear a distinct resemblance to a parrot and a half-dozen goats. Most daunting, the two Unicorn Guards in full war regalia standing sentry at the head of the drive.

I’ll never make it, she thinks.

She does not slow down when she reaches the first staircase and has no chance of recovery. Her right heel strikes the edge of the second slick marble stair, and her leg shoots out from under her. She crashes to her bottom and slides down the rest of the steps. Her dress hikes up past her knees as the marble flies past in alternating stripes of black and white. Both elbows scrape along behind her, but her attempts to stop only succeed in turning herself sideways. Her right slipper flies off and a sharp pain slices through her left foot as it bangs off the banister. By the time she comes to a rest at the base of the staircase she is looking up the way she came. She pushes her petticoats out of her face.

She has no time for humiliation, and jumps to her feet. Her shoe sits halfway up the staircase, too far away to retrieve. She reaches under her skirt and yanks off the other one. She is used to running barefoot.

And here she will be remembered, a thousand times, a million times, until the tumble down the stairs is forgotten and she flees with perfect poise and grace in one unbroken glass shoe. Few will know her as she is now. Just an unnamed girl, disappearing into the night, clutching a cracked slipper.

Part 1
Chapter 1: Conciliatory Sentiments

In the days of Eleanor Brice’s childhood her teacher had high hopes for her, perhaps a calling to magic. Unfortunately, Eleanor showed herself to be decidedly unenchanted at an early age. No matter how Rosemary cajoled, she could not draw one spark from Eleanor’s skinny arms, or pull one spell out of her perpetually tousled blond head. Odd eyes or not, strange signs be damned, Eleanor would not be a witch. So, after her father’s death and her stepmother’s inheritance of the family estate, Eleanor became a maid. So she remained until age eighteen, when she became the most envied woman in the kingdom of Cartheigh.

Three days after the Second Sunday Ball and her unexpected change in fortune, Eleanor returned to the Brice House to collect her few belongings. She climbed from the elegant white carriage and wrapped her arms around herself, uncomfortably aware of the bare skin above her tight bodice. She greeted the liveried carriage horses. They bowed, the plumes between their ears waving like purple cattails on a marsh breeze, and nickered their respects.

“Mistress Brice. M’lady, m’lady, m’lady.”

The soldiers fell back as she passed, a line of stiff, uniformed dominoes. Eleanor smiled at them, but not a one met her eyes. She lifted the skirts of her pale pink afternoon gown and stepped over a few puddles.

It seemed the cobblestone drive had lengthened by several miles in the two days she’d been gone. Her wounded foot throbbed in her leather shoes, and she longed for the comfort of her glass slippers. She climbed the steps of her father’s house and found the Fire-iron door unlocked, so she opened it.

“Hello?” Her voice bounced off the crystal chandelier, with its missing candles in need of replacing, and floated up the spiral staircase.

“They’re hiding.”

Eleanor started at the familiar warbling voice. She glared at the red and blue parrot perched on a disintegrating trellis.

“Chou, you mustn’t creep up on me like that.”

Chou Chou shook himself. “Is it my fault I blend with the roses?  Besides, you’re as jittery as a thirsty drunk on a fasting day.” The parrot lit on her shoulder and whispered in her ear. “You were born to be the lady of this house, even if you’ve served in it for years.”

“Mother Imogene and Sylvia would disagree with you.”

“Dragons teeth, darling, it wouldn’t be the first time.” Eleanor jumped when Chou opened his beak. “Go sit in a tree where you belong! Eleanor, find my parasol or I shall brain you with my lace hanky!”

Eleanor laughed through her nerves and pinched his beak. “Why, Mother Imogene, red feathers do suit you. You sound just like Chou Chou, and I know you two are such good friends.”

She closed the door behind her, shutting out her guardians’ awkward reverence. Long-dead relations peered down at her from the walls, as if they did not recognize the young woman who had wiped their painted faces and dusted their gilded frames for the past eight years.

She walked through the front hall, the sound of her shoes sharp, muffled, sharp as she crossed planks then rugs then planks again. Out of old habit, she gave wide berth to the decorative table below the chandelier. A crude sculpture, two intertwined roses carved into a lump of raw ashwood, sat in the middle of the luminous Fire-iron tabletop, like an ugly bonnet atop an elegant coiffure. Years ago she’d accidentally knocked the statue onto the floor with her clumsy ten-year-old fingers. Mother Imogene had beat Eleanor until blood ran from the child’s nose. It stained her gray dusting cloth the purplish color of her bruised face. She’d never touched Imogene’s statue again, nor forgotten the shock of her stepmother’s enraged protection of such a seemingly trivial knickknack. The statue remained perpetually and mysteriously dust-free, so Eleanor could only assume Mother Imogene looked after it herself.

Eleanor ran her fingers along the walls, with their wide vertical stripes. Blue, green, gray, repeat. She peered into the empty sitting room. The shadows announced afternoon tea with their long faces, but no one had laid out biscuits or folded the napkins.

“Perhaps you’re right, Chou,” she said to the bird on her shoulder. “Maybe they are hiding.”

The swish of petticoats behind her proved him wrong. She turned, Chou Chou’s red wings flapping around her head, and faced her stepmother.

Imogene Easton Brice descended the spiral staircase in that stiff way Eleanor had always hated, where her head did not move except as one with the rest of her body. According to the lady herself, Imogene was known for her beautiful dancing when she first arrived at court. Even at near forty years of age she was clearly beautiful, with her dark shiny hair and delicate features, but Eleanor could never imagine anyone so stiff as a wonderful dancer.

Imogene’s daughters, Margaret and Sylvia, trailed behind her. Their matching red and gold pinstriped gowns against the equally stripy walls made Eleanor’s eyes want to cross. The three women stopped before Eleanor, their silk skirts bumping up against one another in a discomfited receiving line. Margaret stood between her mother and sister like the cracked cup in a mismatched tea set. Sylvia, at seventeen the younger sister by two years, was a replica of her mother from her eyes to her hair to her nose in the air. Margaret, on the other hand, had her late father’s frizzy brownish hair, and his pinched face. Just-like-that-miserable-drunk, Imogene often said.

Margaret joined Imogene in a deep curtsy and held the pose. Sylvia curtsied, but kept her eyes pinned on the floor. Eleanor could practically see the heat rising off her head. She had a brief picture of Sylvia bursting into flames in the front hall. If she did so, Eleanor would make no move to put her out.

Eleanor was unsure of how to proceed. “Stand up, please.”

The three women straightened. Eleanor still looked down on them, as she towered over each one by several heads. Imogene did a quick sweep of the pink gown, but her gaze lingered on the Fire-iron and diamond  necklace resting on Eleanor’s chest. Her white hands clenched one another. Eleanor did not trust them, even folded demurely before her stepmother’s tiny waist. She was aware of her own hair hanging down her back. She’d always worn it twisted up off her neck while she worked, and this afternoon it felt like a blond banner of rebellion. Margaret’s mouth twitched a wordless hello, but still Sylvia did not look up. The silence stretched on.

“Did you want to speak with me?” Eleanor asked.

“Welcome home, my lady,” said Imogene. “Happy rumors have reached us. Are they true?”

“Yes. Prince Gregory has proposed.” Margaret gasped and covered her mouth. Eleanor went on. “We’re to be married in two weeks.”

“Our deepest congratulations.”

Sylvia muttered something that sounded like dragonshit.

“Pardon?” said Chou. He hopped onto Eleanor’s head. His talons clenched in her hair.

“Yes—pardon,” said Imogene, with a glance at her younger daughter. “Your pardon, lady, if I’ve ever appeared…harsh. You must know I carried your best intentions in my heart.”

“Indeed,” said Eleanor.

The impartial reply seemed to encourage Imogene. “Of course. Your father’s lack of decorum—and the influence of those conjuring oddballs—”

“You mean the witches of Afar Creek Abbey?”

Imogene nodded. “Your father allowed Rosemary too much sway over you. After he passed on, HighGod bless him, I—I hoped to teach you to be a lady.”

“Many girls find the path to ladyship by starving, freezing, and emptying chamber pots,” said Chou.

Imogene flushed an ugly red.

“Frequent beatings only encourage only good posture. Long sessions locked in a broom closet lead to the most elegant manners. Lye soap has a wonderful effect on the hands—”

“Peace, Chou,” said Eleanor.

“Please,” Imogene said, “would you put in a good word at court for your stepsisters, if only for the sake of Margaret? I know you’re fond of her. Perhaps you would even have a place for her in your chambers, if it’s not too much.”

Chou let out an outraged squawk, but Eleanor shushed him again. “Your apology means nothing to me,” she said to Imogene. “I won’t deny Sylvia a place at court, because I will not embarrass the prince or the king by joining in petty behavior. I will prove those connected with the Brice name are worthy of their association. Sylvia will have to secure her own place, and I hope she has the brains to do so without humiliating us. As for Margaret…”At the sound of her name Margaret smiled weakly.

“I’ve not forgotten your past kindness. I’ll think on your request to join my ladies.”

“It’s as much as we could expect,” said Imogene.

Chou seethed in her ear, but Eleanor dropped a shallow curtsy. Her stepfamily had to follow her. Chou left her shoulder and fluttered about the front hall. He hissed and dropped a pat of bird shit on the floor.

Eleanor called over her shoulder as she walked down the kitchen passageway. “I believe I left a mop on the porch.”

Eleanor and Chou met no smell of baking bread as they wandered through the kitchen. No shrill laughter or scathing reprimands. Something built in Eleanor’s chest as she ducked low-hanging pots and baskets, and the Brice House held its breath. She stepped into the rear courtyard, and the stones let out a sigh of dust and chicken feathers and flapping laundry.

Eleanor exhaled with them. Eight years of checking her opinions, and suffering for the ones that would not be suppressed. She remembered her stepmother’s snidely given refusal to allow her to attend the Second Sunday Ball, despite her noble birth and King Casper’s royal decree. A donkey can’t be a unicorn, girl, even with a golden horn.

Gregory’s face swam before her mind and she shivered. She thought of the teasing spark in his light brown eyes. His ring-laden hand gripping hers.

Oh, Mother Imogene, I shall never listen to you again.

She squinted into the HighAutumn sunlight after the house’s gloom. Chou flew ahead of her, over two acres of patchy dirt and grass, toward the outbuildings lining the edge of the estate. Eleanor’s steps were light, the damage done by the cracked slipper forgotten. She hummed the tune from her first dance with Gregory.

She’d only seen him once since the king’s chief magician had delivered her to Eclatant Palace, the great Fire-iron castle of the Desmarais kings. Surely he would visit her today, and carriage traffic would be heavy in downtown Maliana. She did not feel like wasting time with idle conversation so she avoided the pens of the more intelligent animals, like the goats and pigs, because she knew they would ask nosy questions (she avoided the pigs in general anyway, as did most people, because it was hard to befriend an animal that would inevitably end up on your plate). Instead she cut past the chicken house, where the inhabitants were consumed only with scratching and pecking each other. She swept past the sheep, who followed her along the fence line bawling

“BAAAARLEY, BAAAARLEY,” at the top of their lungs. Luckily as soon as she disappeared behind a shed they forgot she had been there and settled back into their usual wooly stupor.

Chou stopped to harass the goats. They met him at the fence with a chorus of bleating complaints. The parrot strutted along the fence rail. “You should be honored! How many goats can say they pulled the carriage of a future Desmarais princess?” The goats were unimpressed. “Corn? Where’sa corn? Sore feet. Oh, woes-me. Corn?”

Chou’s head feathers went spiky with irritation. Eleanor left him to his squabbling and entered the wood-planked barn. She climbed into the hayloft. The ladder creaked under her weight, and the woman beside Eleanor’s tiny bed turned at the sound. Eleanor smiled into Rosemary’s well-loved face. The dark eyes and hooked nose, the straight white hair falling bluntly to her chin. Not a soft face, but one that brought Eleanor comfort.

“Dear girl,” said Rosemary. Something lumpy squashed between them when they embraced. The battered burlap sack blended with Rosemary’s simple gray witch’s dress.

“Mother Imogene didn’t find it in eight years,” said Eleanor, as she took the bag from her teacher. “Yet here it is in your hands.”

The witch shrugged her thin shoulders. “There is much of both of us inside.”

Eleanor emptied a jumble of books and papers and charcoal pencils onto the bed. Titles and subjects jumped out at her. Algebra. Carthean Poets of the Last Age. Theology. Fire-iron Tariffs of the Second Century. The Great Bond: Unicorns and the Desmarais Kings.

She held up the last, the thickest of the lot, and then picked up another volume in her other hand. The gold lettering on the smaller book read The Most Special Friendship. A green dragon and a white unicorn cavorted under a happy yellow sun on the cover. “You didn’t miss a lesson, from picture books to great theses.”

Rosemary flipped through a pile of yellowing essays written in varying stages of a childish hand. She held one before her. “Every citizen of Cartheigh should remember the importance of the Great Bond, for without it the Svelyans would be at our doors again. You were quite the young patriot.”

Eleanor took Rosemary’s hand. Her voice caught in her throat. “How can I begin to thank you? If not for you—”

“Hush, now,” said Rosemary, as she always did whenever Eleanor tried to show her appreciation for Rosemary’s years of dedication. “Your stepmother did not see fit to educate her own daughters. Your own father, HighGod bless him, would have dismissed me before your thirteenth birthday.”

“I know, but—”

“I’ve taught wellborn girls for eighty years, Eleanor. I did as you mother would have wanted.” Rosemary touched Eleanor’s cheek.

Eleanor stepped away and shuffled around the room. She pulled a tattered red horse blanket from her bed. She draped it over her shoulder, but not before pressing her nose into the rough wool. The smell of her father’s gelding was long gone, but the habit stayed with her.

“I’m sorry,” said Rosemary. “How forgetful of me.”

“No pardon needed,” said Eleanor, as she tucked her mother’s music box under her other arm. Even in the long gone days before her father’s death, Eleanor rarely spoke of Leticia Brice. Such ruminations only served to remind everyone that Eleanor herself had been the instrument of her mother’s demise. She peeked inside the music box at Leticia’s antique Fire-iron hair comb. The comb always seemed too precious to touch, like the martyr’s relics in the chapel.

She glanced at Rosemary, who rung her hands at the un-paned window. Rosemary had always encouraged Eleanor to speak her mind. Eleanor’s mouth set in a stubborn line. Rosemary would hear her gratitude, whether she wanted to or not.

“I would thank you for sending me to the ball,” said Eleanor. “If you hadn’t appeared in the garden—”

Rosemary spun around, a wide smile on her face. “I’m sure it was lovely, darling.”

Eleanor’s brow wrinkled as Rosemary disappeared down the ladder.

The Hundred Heralds Street wove through most of Maliana on its way to Eclatant Palace. The grandest homes were furthest from the noise and smells of Smithwick Square. The Brice family was unimportant in the complicated hierarchy of the privileged, and their wealth from the self-made smarts of recent memory, so the Brice House was closer to the heart of town. Once through the gates, the white carriage rattled along for only half a mile before the elegant stone manors and their spacious grounds were replaced by wooden-walled, thatched roofed shops of all kinds; milliners, cobblers, bakeries, and butchers. Townsfolk lined the streets. Their gawking and jostling along the edge of the roadway slowed the royal procession to a limping crawl.

Chou did not join Eleanor and Rosemary in the coach until they reached Smithwick Square. He tapped on the window and Eleanor opened it a crack. He squeezed his way inside, collapsed on the seat, and rolled onto his back. His scaly feet pointed at the ceiling.

“Water, please,” he said.

Eleanor poked him. “Sit up, you’re shedding feathers all over the royal seat cushions.”

“Where have you been, Chou?” asked Rosemary.

“Spying, of course,” said Eleanor. She offered him a drink from her water flask.

“For your benefit,” Chou said between gulps.

“Darling Chou, you’re my eyes and ears.”

Chou shook himself and paced the cushion. “I clung to the front door and peered through the letter slot, you know. A difficult grip, but a fine vantage point.”

Eleanor and Rosemary murmured admiration.

“So, at first it was just la-di-da. Imogene telling Sylvia she must show respect. Sylvia cursing. Dragonshit!” Chou did not just repeat Sylvia’s favorite profanity. His voice became hers, with all its prissy spite. “Then it got interesting. Perhaps I should just repeat it?”

“Yes, please do,” said Eleanor.

Chou opened his mouth and Eleanor felt as if she herself were standing outside the door with her ear pressed to the letter slot.

Sylvia: “To think I just bowed down to that bitch in her borrowed fancies! I think I’m going to be sick!”

Imogene, harried: “Will the king let him do it? He’s only twenty-one, after all. Childhood, for a man. And everyone of worth in the city in an uproar about it.”

Sylvia: “It’s absurd! He can’t marry her. He just can’t! She’s so—so skinny and so damnably tall. Like an alley cat on stilts.”

Margaret’s tentative voice entered the conversation. “She has lovely hair, Syl…and her face…if you’ d just look—”

She has devil eyes, Margaret. Everyone’s always said so! And she can’t dance—”

Imogene again. “She out-danced you on Second Sunday, and you’ve had years of lessons!”

“That’s not fair, Mother. She was mysterious…he only wanted her because no one knew who she was. I can’t believe we didn’t see through that silly spell of Rosemary’s!”

“If you’ d used the skills I’ve taught you, no spell would have mattered.” Chou increased Imogene’s anger and volume with each word. “A colossal waste of years of planning.”

“I’ll go to the palace myself. I’ll tell everyone the truth about her. She’s no lady—”

Chou interrupted himself. “Imogene slapped Sylvia across the face.”

“No!” said Eleanor.

Chou nodded and went on.

Imogene again: “Don’t you understand the position we’re in? If things continue as they are, Eleanor Brice will be princess, and someday queen, and we’ve made her life rather unpleasant over the last eight years, if you don’t recall. One word from her and we could lose everything. This house, our income. We could be banished!”

Margaret: “Mother, I don’t think Eleanor would be so vengeful. Perhaps we could put all our past animosity behind us.”

 Imogene: “Ha! Margaret, you’re a bigger fool than you look. Better that HighGod had sent me Eleanor for a daughter and condemned you to the hayloft. As for you, Sylvia, it is of the utmost importance you marry as soon as possible, while her position is not yet cold Fire-iron.”

Sylvia: “Marry? I just came out.”

Imogene: “No matter, there’s no time for being choosy or flittering away at parties with silly boys. We must find you a powerful match, and soon. In fact, I already have someone in mind.”

“I’m sorry to say that’s the end,” said Chou in his own warble. “They retired to the sitting room. No mention of the lucky gentleman who’s caught Imogene’s fancy.”

“We’ll find out eventually, I suppose,” said Eleanor.

“One fact is clear,” said Chou. “While Sylvia may have an eye for a fancy gown, Margaret is a better judge of a lovely face.”

Eleanor kissed his silky brow and leaned her forehead against the window. Margaret’s conciliatory sentiments held some appeal, but apparently Imogene had no such notions. Eleanor watched the colorful people of her city going about their daily business. The bubble of confidence that had filled her chest at her father’s house was suddenly made of granite. “Thank you, Chou. Enlightening, as always.” 

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