Authors: Kate Brian
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
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This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events,
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Book design by Andrea C. Uva
The text of this book is set in Filosofia.
Manufactured in the United States of America
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CIP Data is available from the Library of Congress.
ISBN 978-1-4424-1238-5 (eBook)
For Matt, who somehow lived through it,
and for Lanie, who is somehow still sane
Even at the tender age of sixteen, Elizabeth Williams was the rare girl who knew her mind. She knew she preferred summer to all other seasons. She knew she couldn’t stand the pink-and-yellow floral wallpaper the decorator had chosen for her room. She knew that she would much rather spend time with her blustery, good-natured father than her ever-critical, humorless mother—though the company of either was difficult to come by. And she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that going away to the Billings School for Girls was going to be the best thing that ever happened to her.
As she sat in the cushioned seat of her bay window overlooking sun-streaked Beacon Hill, she folded her dog-eared copy of
in her lap, making sure to keep her finger inside to hold her place. She placed her feet, new buckled shoes and all, up on the pink cushions and pressed her temple against the warm glass with a wistful sigh. It was September 1915, and Boston was experiencing an Indian
summer, with temperatures scorching the sidewalks and causing the new automobiles to sputter and die along the side of the roads. Eliza would have given anything to be back at the Cape Cod house, running along the shoreline in her bathing clothes, splashing in the waves, her swim cap forgotten and her dark hair tickling her shoulders. But instead, here she was, buttoned into a stiff green cotton dress her mother had picked out for her, the wide white collar itching her neck.
Any minute now, Maurice would bring the coach around and squire her off to the train station, where she and her maid, Renee, would board a train for Easton, Connecticut, and the Billings School. The moment she got to her room in Crenshaw House, she was going to change into her most comfortable linen dress, jam her floppy brown hat over her hair, and set out in search of the library. Because living at a school more than two hours away from home meant that her mother couldn’t control her. Couldn’t criticize her. Couldn’t nitpick every little thing she wore, every book she read, every choice she made. Being away at school meant freedom.
Of course, Eliza’s mother had other ideas. If her wishes came true, Billings would turn Eliza into a true lady. Eliza would catch herself a worthy husband, and she would return home by Christmas triumphantly engaged, just as her sister, May, had.
After two years at Billings, eighteen-year-old May was now an engaged woman—and to a Thackery, no less: George Thackery III, of the Thackery tanning fortune. She’d come home in June, diamond ring and all, and was now officially their mother’s favorite—though truly, she had been that all along.
Suddenly, the thick oak door of Eliza’s private bedroom opened and in walked her mother, Rebecca Cornwall Williams. Her blond hair billowed like a cloud around her head, and her stylish, ankle-length gray skirt tightened her steps. She wore a matching tassel-trimmed jacket over her dress, even in this ridiculous heat. The Williams pearls were, as always, clasped around her throat. As she entered, her eyes flicked over Eliza and her casual posture and flashed with exasperation. Eliza quickly sat up, smoothed her skirt, straightened her back, and attempted to tuck her book behind her.
“Hello, Mother,” she said with the polished politeness that usually won over the elder Williams. “How are you this morning?”
Her mother’s discerning blue eyes narrowed as she walked toward her daughter.
“Your sister and I are going to shop for wedding clothes. We’ve come to say our good-byes,” she said formally.
Out in the hallway, May hovered, holding her tan leather gloves and new brimless hat at her waist. May’s blond hair was pulled back in a stylish chignon, which complemented her milky skin and round, rosy cheeks. Garnets dangled from her delicate earlobes. She always looked elegant, even when she was destined only for a simple day of shopping.
Standing over Eliza, her mother leaned down and snatched the book right out from under Eliza’s skirt.
?” she said, holding the book between her thumb and forefinger. “Elizabeth, you cannot be seen at Billings reading this sort of rot. Modern novels are not proper for a young lady. Especially not a Williams.”
Eliza’s gaze flicked to her sister, who quickly looked away. A few years ago, May would have defended Eliza’s literary choices, but not anymore. For the millionth time Eliza wondered how May could have changed so much. When she’d gone away to school, she’d been adventurous, tomboyish, sometimes even brash. It was as if falling in love had turned her sister into a different person. If winning a diamond ring from a boy meant forgetting who she was, then Eliza was determined to die an old maid.
“Headmistress Almay has turned out some of the finest ladies of society, and I intend for you to be one of them,” Eliza’s mother continued.