Home > Heartless(5)

Author: Marissa Meyer

‘We could – wear – the white one?’

Her mother crossed her arms. ‘My daughter will be wearing red tonight like a true . . . never you mind that. You’ll just have to go without dinner.’

Cath groaned as Mary Ann cinched the corset one more time. Having to suffer through the bindings was bad enough, but going without dinner too? The food was what she looked forward to most during the King’s parties, and all she’d eaten that day was a single boiled egg – she’d been too caught up with her baking to think about eating more.

Her stomach growled in its confinement.

‘Are you all right?’ Mary Ann whispered.

She bobbed her head, not wanting to waste any precious air to speak.


Before Catherine could catch her breath, she found herself being squashed and wrangled into the red velvet monstrosity. When the maids had finished and Catherine dared to peek into the mirror, she was relieved that, while she may have felt like an encased sausage, she didn’t look like one. The bold colour brought out the red in her lips and made her fair skin appear fairer and her dark hair darker. When Abigail settled the enormous necklace on to her collarbone and replaced her pearls with dangling rubies, Catherine felt, momentarily, like a true lady of the court, all glamour and mystery.

‘Marvellous!’ The Marchioness clasped Catherine’s hand in both of hers, that peculiar, misty-eyed look returning. ‘I’m so proud of you.’

Catherine frowned. ‘You are?’

‘Oh, don’t start fishing now.’ Her mother clucked her tongue, patting the back of Cath’s hand once before dropping it.

Catherine eyed her reflection again. The mystique was quickly fading, leaving her feeling exposed. She would have preferred a nice, roomy day dress, covered in flour or not. ‘Mama, I’ll be overdressed. No one else will be so done up.’

Her mother sniffed. ‘Precisely. You look exceptional!’ She wiped away a tear. ‘I could scatter to pieces.’

Despite all her discomfort, all her reservations, Cath couldn’t deny a hot spark behind her sternum. Her mother’s voice was a constant nag in her head, telling her to put down the fork, to stand up straight, to smile, but not that much! She knew her mother wanted the best for her, but it was oh so lovely to hear compliments for once.

With one last dreamy sigh, the Marchioness mentioned checking on Cath’s father before she fluttered out of the room, dragging Abigail along with her. As the door to her chambers closed, Cath yearned to fall on to her bed with the exhaustion that came from being in her mother’s presence, but she was sure she would rip an important seam if she did.

‘Do I look as ridiculous as I feel?’

Mary Ann shook her head. ‘You look ravishing.’

‘Is it absurd to look ravishing at this silly ball? Everyone will think I’m being presumptuous.’

Mary Ann pressed her lips in apology. ‘It is a bit of butter upon bacon.’

‘Oh, please, I’m hungry enough as it is.’ Cath twisted inside the corset, trying to pry up some of the boning that dug into her ribs, but it wouldn’t budge. ‘I need a chocolate.’

‘I’m sorry, Cath, but I don’t think that dress could fit a single bite. Come along. I’ll help you into your shoes.’


THE WHITE RABBIT, master of ceremonies, stood at the top of the stairs with a puffed-up chest, smiling twittishly as Catherine’s father handed him their announcement card. ‘Good eve, good eve, Your Lordship! What a stunning cravat you’re wearing tonight, so perfectly matches your hair. Like snowfall on a balding hill, is how I’d describe that.’

‘Do you think so, Mr Rabbit?’ asked Cath’s father, pleased with the compliment. He spent a moment patting his head, as if to confirm the flattery.

The Rabbit’s gaze darted to the Marchioness. ‘My dear Lady Pinkerton, I’m sure my eyes have never seen such rare beauty, such outstanding elegance—’

The Marchioness brushed him off. ‘Get on with it, herald.’

‘Er, of course, I am your humble servant, my lady.’ Flustered, the Rabbit stuck his ears straight up and raised a trumpet to his mouth. As the ditty echoed throughout the ballroom, he proclaimed: ‘Presenting Whealagig T. Pinkerton, the most honourable Marquess of Rock Turtle Cove, accompanied by his wife, Lady Idonia Pinkerton, Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, and daughter, Lady Catherine Pinkerton!’

As the Marquess and Marchioness descended the steps into the ballroom, the White Rabbit’s pinkish eyes skipped to Catherine, widening as they took in her voluminous red gown. His nose twitched with repugnance, but he was quick to mask it under another sycophantic grin. ‘Why, Lady Pinkerton, you look so . . . er. So very noticeable.’

Cath attempted a faint smile and moved to follow her parents down the steps, but as soon as she looked down into the ballroom she gasped and reeled back.

A sea of black and white stretched before her.

Ivory-tailed dress coats and ebony elbow gloves.

Pale starfish fascinators and crow-feather bow ties.

Chessboard leggings. Zebra face masks. Black velvet skirts trimmed in rhinestones and icicles. Even some of the Diamond courtiers had pasted black spades on to their stomachs to disguise their identifying red marks.

Noticeable, indeed.

There was still the rare spot of red in the crowd – a rose tucked into a buttonhole or a ribbon lacing the back of a gown – but Cath alone wore red from head to toe. As if her dress weren’t enough, she felt sudden redness rushing up her neck and across her cheeks. She felt eyes snagging on her, heard the intake of breaths, sensed the glower of distaste. How could her mother not have known this was one of the King’s black-and-white balls?

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