Today's Reading

CHAPTER 1

The Art of Obtaining Discreet Entry

Avoid as much as possible going out in the evening, especially on frivolous errands.
—Samuel and Sarah Adams, The Complete Servant

How will you get inside? Mrs. Devery's question echoed in the back of Rosalind Thorne's mind as she climbed out of the hired carriage. They do not admit women at Graham's.

That was the first problem. Had Rosalind needed to get inside a respectable house, she could have followed the daisy chain of her acquaintance to find a plausible reason for visiting. There were, however, limits to even Rosalind's carefully cultivated connections. Fashioning an anonymous admission to one of the most exclusive gaming clubs in Pall Mall had proved beyond her powers, until tonight.

Tonight Graham's was holding its Selenite Ball. Once a year, the club members welcomed London society's richest and most riotous inhabitants. Champagne and brandy would flow and tables would groan under the weight of the food prepared by the club's French chef, and most important for Rosalind's purposes, women would be welcomed into the club's exclusively masculine preserve.

Rosalind clutched her blue silk cloak closed with one hand and held her white and silver face mask with the other as she shouldered her way through the opulent crowd. Ladies and gentlemen done up in enough colors to outfit a hundred stained glass windows jammed the steps. Precious stones, some of which were surely genuine, sparkled on every throat, bosom, and brow. Rosalind was not the only woman to affect a mask. Creations of gold lace and peacock feathers adorned the faces of some who did not scruple to expose their shoulders, arms, bosoms, and most daringly, their ankles.

Graham's Club had three sets of doors facing St. James's Street, and all of them stood wide open in an attempt to accommodate the flood of fashionable visitors.

Rosalind selected the doors farthest to the right, and inserted herself into the particolored current with the efficient yet unobtrusive sidestep she'd perfected for navigating crowded ballrooms.

When she reached the golden doorway, the liveried footman shook his head at her until all his chins wagged. "Now, then, ma'am, I will need to see your invitation."

Rosalind was as devoid of invitation as she was of any intention to join the festivities. She stepped closer to the footman and, in a familiar manner that would have shocked any respectable house or manservant, took his hand.

"I am here to meet a friend," she breathed as she pressed the coin into his palm.

The man looked at her mask, and closed his hand around the coin. He also stepped back, and bowed deeply. Rosalind gathered her hems and sailed past him with a straight back and smooth step that would have made her old deportment master smile.

How will you know where to go? Mrs. Devery had asked. You will not know what the place looks like inside.'

This much, at least, was easy to solve. The circulating library kept a number of guidebooks describing the more notorious sights and haunts of London. The article in Clubs of the Metropolis: A Comprehensive Guide had proved most detailed. Rosalind looked about her now, matching that description to what she saw.

Dozens of flambeaux and beeswax candles lit Graham's marble entrance hall. A pair of brightly rouged women in low-cut gowns of pale green silk glanced curiously at Rosalind, but did not pause as they joined
the shining river that flowed up the famous (according to the guidebook) marble and gilt stairs. On either side of that sweeping stairway stood a pair of poorly executed, larger-than-life gilded statues of naked women. They were crowned in stars and holding aloft fans of playing cards in one hand while the other beckoned the members to come try their luck. These were meant to be representations of the goddess of fortune. Privately, Rosalind thought the goddess of fortune should have a word with her
solicitor.

But surely you'll be recognized.

That had been a genuine worry. Graham's counted many sons of aristocratic families among its members. Rosalind could not risk being seen unescorted in a place she had no business even entering. That meant not one, but two, disguises became necessary, the first to get her through the door, and the second to render her invisible once she was inside. It also meant that she could not make use of the attended cloak room or retiring room to effect her transformation. But as she had hoped, behind each of the great,
gilded statues, there was a narrow, shadowed space that was simple enough for Rosalind to fade into.
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