“Do I look nervous?” Flynn fidgeted one the new suit Penny had obtained for him. She had insisted that he couldn’t walk into a gala with a rich girl wearing the same outdated suit he’d worn the last two times.

“You’re not crashing a party this time, and people will definitely notice what you’re wearing. I’ll put something together for you.”

Now she ordered him to hold still as she adjusted his bow tie.

“Yes, you do look nervous,” Harvey said. “You should probably stop looking like that.”

“Thanks, Harvey. That’s very helpful.”

“I’m not sure why you’re doing this.” Harvey leaned back in his chair while Penny fussed with Flynn’s hair. “I know you like her and I’m sure she’s a nice girl, but you’re treading on very thin ice here. Even if she doesn’t ever discover who you are, you’re going to go home once this business with Benedict Radcliffe is over. What do you plan to tell her before you disappear out of her life forever?”

“I told her when we met that I was only here visiting family,” Flynn replied tersely. “Besides, people are starting to notice her. She’s bound to find some eligible rich guy soon enough and she’ll forget all about me. It’ll be fine.”

“Assuming that Ivy is fine once you’re gone, how are you going to feel about it?” Penny asked, arching an eyebrow.

“I’ll be fine. Everything will be fine. I have to go or I’m going to be late.”

“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Harvey called after him. Flynn tried not to slouch as he waited for Ivy at her front door, but he was nervous and kept stuffing his hands into his pockets. Ivy came hurrying into the foyer a few minutes after a maid had let him inside. Her hair was secured back from her face with a crystal hair clip and she had a long coat on over her dress.

“Sorry,” she said. “I would’ve been down sooner but Ginny is sick, so it took her a while to help me get ready. I annoyed her until she agreed to do my makeup. Let’s go.”

Flynn followed her to a carriage waiting out front for them, climbing inside and sitting across from her. He still didn’t know what to do with his hands and he felt vaguely claustrophobic inside the carriage.

“Is your father also staying home?” he asked.

“He went ahead of us, but he’s only popping in for a little while. He doesn’t want to leave Ginny for long while she’s sick. He’s extra protective since we lost our mother.”

They arrived at a large, impressive building and someone took Ivy’s coat when they stepped inside. Flynn forgot to be nervous for a moment as she smoothed out her dress. It was dark purple, with a sleeveless and very clingy bodice covered in tiny crystals and a silky, flowing skirt. Now she was the one who looked a little nervous.

“I left my hair down, like you said.”

“You did,” Flynn agreed.

“I was a little unsure about the color of the dress.”

“It’s very pretty.”

“We should probably go in now.”


They just stood there for another few moments, staring at each other. Then it occurred to Flynn that they actually had to move in order to enter the ballroom area, so he linked his arm with hers and guided her toward the room everyone was disappearing into. A few glances were thrown their way but it didn’t bother Flynn too much, until they entered the ballroom and he found himself standing at the top of a sprawling set of steps with a crowd of people turning to see who had arrived. He had to resist a sudden urge to bolt.

A lot of gazes stayed on the two of them as they descended into the throng of partygoers, and Flynn could sense people whispering about them. Ivy clung tightly to his arm. Clearly she wasn’t very comfortable with all this attention either.

A few people greeted them as they walked through the room, making their way to the long banquet table against the far wall.

“We always end up wherever the food is,” Ivy said, laughing softly. Flynn smiles slightly.

“I find chewing is a good way to avoid unwanted conversation,” he said. They hovered near the table for a while, admiring the opulent room until the orchestra began to play and people started dancing. It was a very common dance number that even Flynn knew. He finished the small puff pastry he’d been eating and turned to Ivy.

“Do you want to dance?” he asked.

“With you?”

“Did you have someone else in mind?” he laughed and she blushed furiously.

“No. I want to dance with you. Um. I mean, I’d like to dance. With you. If you want.”

He offered his hand and she took it and pulled him toward the dance floor. He could feel people looking at them again but tried to ignore it. They were probably looking at Ivy more than him anyway, and they should be looking at Ivy. He concentrated on the steps, trying not to stumble or make a fool of himself. He tuned out all the nosy gazes and just focused on his movements and on Ivy as they twirled around. He almost didn’t even notice when the music stopped. Ivy was flushed so he led her out of the throng of dancers.

“Maybe a break from the dancing,” he said and she nodded.

“I could use a bit of fresh air,” she said. “There’s a little courtyard outside, we could sit out there for a few minutes?”

“It is warm in here,” Flynn said. There was a towering fountain in the center of the courtyard and Flynn grimaced.

“Let’s hope no one tries to drown you in this one,” he grumbled.

“I’m not sure they’d dare with you here. Whoever it was sure took off fast when you showed up last night.”

“They’re lucky they did.”

They sat on a bench beside the fountain and Flynn was grateful for the cool breeze.

“It was pretty brave, you running in to save me.”

”I really didn’t do anything all that heroic,” Flynn said, tugging at his collar. “I just yelled.”

“You charged at a murderer without hesitating and saved my life. It was brave,” Ivy replied firmly. “I’m glad that you’re my partner.”

“Yeah, I’m glad about that too.”

She turned abruptly and hugged him tightly, startling him and nearly causing him to topple off the bench. When he recovered he hesitantly hugged her back. It was nice but he realized he was lingering far too long, and Penny’s incessant warnings about him forming “more than friends” feelings sounded annoyingly in the back of his mind. He gently untangled from Ivy.

“No one else I’ve ever met would go through all this with me,” she said. “Ginny is the only one who really puts up with me, but she would probably have a heart attack if she knew what I’ve been up to. Everyone else just thinks I’m weird, assuming they realize I even exist.”

“After the wedding and definitely after tonight, I promise they know you exist,” Flynn said quietly. “And they don’t be forgetting it any time soon. And you’re not weird, Ivy. Well. You are, but in the best way.”

She smiled, but then glanced away, seeming slightly shy. “I just...I want to thank you, I guess. For being my friend. And for coming with me tonight. You look very nice, by the way.”

Flynn stared down at his feet, feeling a little guilty. Ivy considered him her friend but he hadn’t even been up front about who he was. He was a big pile of nothing and she deserved someone who was something.

“Ivy,” he said slowly. “I want you to know that you’re not just existing in Ginny’s shadow. You’re special. I knew it when we met, and people in that ballroom are finally starting to figure it out. You need to see it too, and you can have anything and anyone you want.”

Her face had gone pink and she didn’t seem to know what to say. Flynn cleared his throat.

“Well. We should probably head back inside now.” He stood and offered her his elbow again. They had just stepped inside the front door and were heading to the ballroom doors when a dark haired figure came sauntering out in a rustle of black and ice blue satin. Flynn’s stomach dropped into his feet as Violetta met his gaze and drew to a surprised halt. She glanced from him to Ivy and back again and her red lips quirked up ever so slightly.

“Flynn,” she exclaimed, sweeping right towards them. “What a surprise to see you here.”

Ivy had been giving him a curious look when he had suddenly stopped walking, and now she appeared downright confused.

“You two know each other?” she asked.

“Oh yes, Flynn and I go way back,” Violetta said cheerfully, patting Flynn on the shoulder. “Don’t we, Flynnie?”

“Don’t,” he said in a low voice but he knew it was no use.

“I am quite surprised that you know each other though,” Violetta went on. “Wherever did a Brownwell sister meet the likes of Flynn?”

“At the Larner party,” Ivy said, eyes narrowed. “What do you care?”

“I do care,” Violetta replied, her pretty face the picture of sincerity. Flynn didn’t know how she could go from looking like a shark to looking like a wide eyed lamb so quickly. She was giving Ivy a look of the deepest concern. “I care,” she continued, “because I don’t want to see such a sweet young girl be taken advantage of.”

“What are you talking about?” Ivy demanded.

“Violetta,” Flynn said, hating that he had to beg.

“Since you brought him along I have to assume he hasn’t told you who he is,” Violetta said. She cocked her head, waiting for an answer. Ivy’s silence seemed answer enough. Flynn stepped back, putting some distance between himself and both of them. His shoulders tensed.

“Flynn is not a member of the upper crust like you and I, Ivy, even if he did a fine job tricking you with the charming smile and the nice clothes, though I have no idea where he got them. He’s from Seahollow, some small nothing town down the coast. He spends his days lugging around barrels of fish or some such thing. Why on earth would a man like that be escorting around a wealthy, single young lady and deceiving her about his identity?” Violetta shook her head with a reproachful “tsk.”

“I wasn’t after anyone’s money,” Flynn growled, glaring at his half sister. Ivy was staring at him, but he couldn’t meet her gaze.

“But you are a pathetic liar,” Violetta said with a shrug. “You didn’t tell her who you really are.”

“No,” he said quietly. “I didn’t.”

“Dreadfully sorry, Ivy,” Violetta said. “Such a pity that you just can’t trust anyone in this big cold world.” She shot Flynn a disdainful look and then strolled casually past them and out the front door.

“So she was telling the truth?” Ivy asked faintly.

“I wasn’t trying to deceive you, Ivy,” Flynn sighed. “When we met I was pretending to be a guest at that party, I couldn’t very well admit I had snuck in.”

“You could have told me later,” she said. He forced himself to meet her gaze. Anger, hurt, and confusion warred in her expression. “You lied to me. We were supposed to be partners.” Her voice rose angrily. “I thought you were my friend, and you’ve been lying to me this whole time!”

“Yes,” Flynn said softly. His family had always looked at him like he was dirt and he had never felt so much like it as he did in that moment. Ivy’s eyes were damp with unshed tears as she glared at him. Penny and Harvey had been right about this being a bad idea; now he’d ruined everything.

“I’m sorry,” he said, backing away from her. He couldn’t bear to be here anymore. “I should never have spoken to you. It was inappropriate on my part, and I promise I won’t be bothering you anymore.”

He turned away before she could say anything more, striding to the door. He heard her stomping after him, struggling to catch up in her fancy dress and shoes.

“Hey,” she snapped. “You can’t just-“

“Miss Brownwell, I’ve been trying to catch you all evening!” A jovial looking older man intercepted her on the front steps. “I missed your father earlier and wanted to ask how he’s doing.”

“He’s quite well, Mr. Grammage, thank you, but I really can’t talk-“

“And how is your sister? Someone had mentioned she was ill, I do hope it’s nothing serious?”

“Just a cold, but I-“

The conversation faded as Flynn kept walking quickly away. He rounded the corner and kept going until he couldn’t hear their voices anymore.