Today's Reading

"Why, thank you," Annabelle said slowly. "Awfully overeducated, rather."

Miss Greenfield giggled, sounding very young. "I'm Harriet Greenfield," she said, and extended a gloved hand. "Is this your first suffrage meeting?"

Lady Lucie seemed too absorbed by her own ongoing speech about justice and John Stuart Mill to notice them talking.

Still, Annabelle lowered her voice to a whisper. "It is my first meeting, yes."

"Oh, lovely—mine, too," Miss Greenfield said. "I so hope that this is going to be a good fit. It's certainly much harder to find one's noble cause than one would expect, isn't it?"

Annabelle frowned. "One's...noble cause?"

"Yes, don't you think everyone should have a noble cause? I wanted to join the Ladies' Committee for Prison Reform, but Mama would not let me. So I tried the Royal Horticulture Society, but that was a miss."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"It's a process." Miss Greenfield was unperturbed. "I have a feeling that women's rights are a worthy cause, though I have to say the very idea of walking up to a gentleman and—"

"Is there a problem, Miss Greenfield?"

The voice cracked like a shot, making both of them flinch. Bother.

Lady Lucie was glaring at them, one small fist propped on her hip.

Miss Greenfield ducked her head. "N-no."

"No? I had the impression that you were discussing something."

Miss Greenfield gave a noncommittal squeak. Lady Lucie was known to take no prisoners. There were rumors that she had single- handedly caused a diplomatic incident involving the Spanish ambassador and a silver fork...

"We were just a little worried, given that we are new at this," Annabelle said, and Lady Lucie's flinty gaze promptly skewered her. 'Holy bother.' The secretary was not a woman to mask moods with sugary smiles. Where a hundred women clamored to be domestic sun rays, this one was a thunderstorm.

Surprisingly, the lady settled for a brusque nod. "Worry not," she said. "You may work together."

Miss Greenfield perked up immediately. Annabelle bared her teeth in a smile. If they lobbied but one man of influence between the two of them, she'd be surprised.

With a confidence she did not feel, she led the girl toward the busy hackney coach stop where the air smelled of horses.

"Identify, approach, smile," Miss Greenfield hummed. "Do you think this can be done while keeping a low profile, Miss Archer? You see, my father...I'm not sure he is aware that working for the cause is such a public affair."

Annabelle cast a poignant glance around the square. They were in the very heart of London, in the shadow of Big Ben, surrounded by people who probably all had dealings with Miss Greenfield's father in some shape or form. Keeping a low profile would have entailed staying back in Oxford. It would have been much nicer to stay in Oxford. A gent nearing the hackneys slowed, stared, then gave her a wide berth, his lips twisting as if he had stepped into something unpleasant.

Another suffragist nearby did not seem to fare much better—the men brushed her off with sneers and flicks of their gentlemanly hands.

Something about these contemptuous hands made a long-suppressed emotion stir in the pit of her stomach, and it burned up her throat like acid. 'Anger.'

"It's not as though my father is opposed to women's rights as such— oh," Miss Greenfield breathed. She had gone still, her attention fixing on something beyond Annabelle's shoulder.

She turned.

Near the entrance of Parliament, a group of three men materialized from the mist. They were approaching the hackneys, rapidly and purposeful like a steam train.

Uneasy awareness prickled down her spine.

The man on the left looked like a brute, with his hulking figure straining his fine clothes. The man in the middle was a gentleman, his grim face framed by large sideburns. The third man . . . The third man was what they were looking for: a man of influence. His hat was tilted low, half obscuring his face, and his well-tailored topcoat gave him the straight shoulders of an athlete rather than a genteel slouch. But he moved with that quiet, commanding certainty that said he knew he could own the ground he walked on.

...

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