City of Ash

City of Ash by Megan Chance Read Free Book Online

Book: City of Ash by Megan Chance Read Free Book Online
Authors: Megan Chance
sapphires and rubies. No one could fault my elegance at least. They would recognize the Stratford breeding in my bones.
    It was not far to go. Only four blocks until our carriage was before a home that was small by Chicago standards. Like ours, it was on a hill overlooking the city and surrounded by other houses, one of which was very large, and a vacant lot. There was a stable in the back and a cow beyond in a fenced enclosure. The pathway was unpaved; my slippers, which had been dyed to match the gown, were filthy by the time we reached the front door.
    At least they had servants, I thought, as a woman in an apron opened the door and ushered us inside. I’d been afraid Mr. Brown’s wife might answer herself. She took our cloaks and Nathan’s hat and said, “The other guests are waiting for you.”
    We were the last to arrive. Apparently, fashionably late in Chicago was only late in Seattle. Something to make up for already. Mrs. Brown, a diminutive woman in a rather plain brown silk, whose only decoration was the cameo brooch at her collar and the dangling pearls at her ears, eyed me suspiciously as we were introduced, but she was coolly pleasant.
    “I do hope you enjoy your time in Seattle,” she said, her gaze dipping to my very low décolletage—it was the fashion in Chicago, but I was dismayed to find no one here wore anything even half so low. I was scandalous already, and through no fault of my own, and I saw Nathan’s jaw tighten.
    But I smiled my best smile and said, “I expect to like it very much,” and was pleased when she seemed a little impressed, as if she’d expected terrible manners and coarseness from a woman as notorious as I. “How happy Mr. Langley and I were to be invited to your home this evening. We are quite the strangers here, I’m afraid.”
    It prodded her into courtesy. She took Nathan and me about the room, introducing us. The party was more intimate than I’d expected—only twenty, and most of them were disappointingly undistinguishable. Not an artist or writer or even a sea captain among them. It reminded me of my grandmother’s suppers, which were so dull and boring I’d learned to escape them as oftenas I could, and these people might have been her contemporaries, not in age but in demeanor. There wasn’t a woman there who didn’t look askance at my gown, nor a man who didn’t eye it surreptitiously, though everyone was polite enough, and my smile was beginning to wear as we went in to supper.
    The dining room was small, with barely enough room to house the table. Mrs. Brown had decorated it prettily with evergreens and red ribbon, and candles burned brightly in a simple candelabrum of highly polished silver. The plates were simple as well, a plain white bordered with green.
    Nathan was seated near Mr. Brown, and I nearer Mrs. Brown at the other end. At least Seattle adhered to the basic society rules; no man sat next to his wife. On one side of me was Mr. Thomas Porter, a tall, exceedingly thin man who also worked in the mining company offices, and on the other Major Shields, who looked to be a man who enjoyed himself. I found myself leading the conversation, as both men seemed incapable of it—as tired as I was, I tried to be witty and charming, yet neither seemed interested in clever little bons mots and philosophizing. Instead the conversation turned to politics and the possibility of impending statehood.
    “There will be plenty of positions for good and honest men,” declared the major. “Men who wish to lead us into a new century.”
    Mr. Porter leaned forward. “We have too few men with such ambitions. I wish to God the city council would do something with all these vagrants in the hills. Transients everywhere.”
    “There are worse problems to contend with.” The major took a sip of his wine. “What about you, Langley? Have you political aspirations?”
    Nathan looked up. “I should think the new company will take most of my efforts, at least in the

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