As the stars leaned a little closer to earth, watching Scarlett and Julian, in the hopes of witnessing a kiss as magical as Caraval, Donatella began to dance beneath of canopy of spying trees, wishing she had someone of her own to kiss.
She twirled from partner to partner, her slippers barely touching the ground, as if the champagne she’d sipped earlier contained bits of stars that kept her feet floating just above the grass. Tella imagined that in the morning she’d most likely regret having drunk so much, but she enjoyed this sensation of floating—and after everything she’d been through, she needed a night of abandon and forgetting.
Tella continued eating cakes of liquor and draining crystal goblets full of spiked nectar until her head spun along with the rest of her body. She practically fell into the arms of her newest partner. He pulled her closer than the others had. His large hands snaked determinedly around her, bringing with them a new surge of pleasure. Tella liked the confident way he touched her. As he tugged her toward the edge of the party and farther from the crowd, she imagined feeling his hands on places besides her waist. Maybe he could help her take her mind off all of the things she’d been too afraid to share with her sister.
Tilting her head back, Tella smiled up. But the night had grown dark, and her vision was blurry. He didn’t look like any of the Caraval performers she knew. When her partner leaned closer, all Tella could see was a shadowy smirk as his hands trailed down. She sucked in a breath when his fingers dug into the folds of her dress, touching her hip bones as he …
It happened so rapidly, Tella stumbled back.
One moment the young man had his arms around her, drawing her close as if he might kiss her. Then he was walking away. He moved so fast, it made Tella wish she’d not drunk so much. Before she made it more than two steps, he vanished into the crowd, leaving her cold and alone and—with something rather heavy in her pocket.
A chill swept over Tella’s naked shoulders. Her head might have been spinning, but she knew the item weighing down her skirts had not been there before. For a moment she tried to entertain the thought of it being some kind of key—perhaps her stranger was hoping she might follow him back to his room for that kiss they never shared. But if that’s what he wanted, Tella didn’t imagine he would have run off so quickly.
“I think I need another glass of champagne.” Tella mumbled the words to no one in particular as she edged away from the crowd. Aside from being wrapped in paper, she could not tell what the object in her pocket was, though she had a prickly feeling it was meant for her eyes alone.
Music from the party faded as she edged toward a secluded tree, lit by hanging candles that flickered white-blue light as she reached into her pocket.
The object she pulled out fit inside the palm of her hand. Someone had wrapped a note around a thick coin. But it didn’t look like any currency Tella had ever seen. Tella shoved the coin back in her pocket after unwrapping the note.
The handwriting on it was crisp and precise.