"Scrub her till the stench of the slums is erased."
Lord Lyndsay's cutting words rang a relentless tirade inside Catriona Fraser's brain; a constant and biting reminder of the reality of her heritage.
She held no illusions.
She was a complete fake. Yet somehow she had managed to fool everyone these past few days.
Now, as another night heralded another ball, with ever more strangers who held her with unmistakable censure, Cat wasn't convinced she was up to the charade.
Yet, she had no choice. It was do...or die.
Drawing level with at the head of the grand staircase, her gloved hand gripped the mahogany handrail with a deathly intensity. A hush settled over the sea of faces below.
Every manner of luxury and titled wealth filled the elegant ballroom. Chandeliers glittered with the flicker of a thousand burning candles, the smoky haze misting across the domed ceiling. The flushed faces of the overly perfumed and bejeweled matrons, whose beady eyes never left their protegees unless it was to survey the latest young buck to hit the Ton, turned in a unified wave in her direction.
Whispers, about her.
The hussy. Who was she? Where had she come from?
Their whispered questions and speculation, bestowed in her a sense of power. Tonight, she reveled in that power.
A tempered smile curved the corners of Cat's glossed mouth and she lifted her chin a fraction higher. She could, and would, do this.
"Lady Fraser, can I help you?"
The richly textured male voice jolted Cat back to reality. She lifted her gaze from the melee of the Duchess of Alderman's annual ball, to fall on a black-suited chest.
A very broad, strong, muscled chest.
The man bowed. "The Countess of Holesworth, I presume?"
Cat's breath stilled and her mouth felt suddenly very dry. She wiped the tip of her tongue across her parted lips, aware of his interested dark gaze as she did so. "You know my name?"
His mouth curved slightly on one side, eyes twinkling with the glitter of mischief. "Everyone knows you, Madame."
Cat clutched her reticule, and struggled to find her voice.
The game had begun.