Chapter 3- A New Friend

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It had been a whirlwind.

Eliza had barely any time to herself that night. Men wanted to dance with her. Friends wished to reconnect. Society elders wanted to size her up as a potential wife for their relations. She swept the room in her beautiful blue ball gown as everyone gossiped about the girl who'd managed to snag the prince's first dance.

Her mother had commented upon every single man she had danced with. Lady Marianne seemed satisfied that Eliza had caught the attention of enough eligible bachelors.

Nobody had stopped talking about her dance with the prince.

As promised, Eliza had told Rose everything when she slipped into her room after they returned home. They repeated the act over breakfast, with Rose pretending to be aghast at the gossip. Nobody was fooled though- Rose was a terrible actress and was also barely keeping herself awake. Marianne allowed her to take a break from tutoring to get a nap.

Eliza was torn between bliss and disbelief.

Oh, and today's feeling was nervousness.

She'd received an invitation to walk in the gardens with Lady Alice Keller, AKA one of the big three competitors for the prince's hand.

Hannah had joked that Eliza was now Enemy No. 1 for the unmarried ladies of the court over her dancing with the prince. Eliza hadn't been worried- she knew she wasn't in the running- but then remembered that he realistically should have asked one of the three. She'd also attracted quite a lot of attention at the ball.

What if Lady Alice sought to castigate her?

Still, Eliza wasn't stupid enough to turn down a social invitation without a genuine reason- that would be the height of all manners. She also did want to make some new friends.

Dressed in a yellow day dress and gloves, Eliza walked down to the gardens. She was still thinking about the prince, however stupid that was. It was just an act of kindness, nothing more.

There Lady Alice was, waiting by the Cupid water fountain. Taking a deep breath, Eliza walked forward.

"Lady Elizabeth!"

Lady Alice had a broad smile on her pretty face as she headed to greet Eliza. She was a generally pleasant looking woman with soft brown hair that framed her gentle face. It looked as though she was genuinely excited to see her.

"Lady Alice," Elizabeth greeted her in a curtsy.

"It is so lovely to meet you!" Alice beamed, "I hope you enjoyed the first ball- it's your first one if I recall. I thought you might want a welcome, it must be so strange living in the capital."

"That is most gracious of you and yes thank you, I did."

"You and the prince made the most handsome pair."

Eliza was testing the waters, "Well it was only once dance."

"You were very good though, you put us all to shame."

"Oh no, the ladies of the court are most talented at dancing."

"I wish I was as effortless as you though."

"Look, Lady Alice, you must know that I was not trying to start trouble or influence the prince. I know he is to marry you or one of the other old money girls. I'm not silly enough to think anything of what was genuine kindness."

To her surprise, Alice laughed kindly.

"Oh Lady Elizabeth, I did not mean to scare you. I hope you did not think I invited you out here to make threats."

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