Home > Heartless(7)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Catherine sighed – she had never been skilled at slipping easily into a joke half told.

And then there was the Most Noble Pygmalion Warthog, Duke of Tuskany. Cath had often found him to be awkward and distant and a terrible conversationalist. As their eyes met, she was surprised to find that he was watching her and Margaret.

She wasn’t sure which of them turned away first.

‘Are you looking for someone, Lady Catherine?’ Margaret inched closer – uncomfortably close, settling her chin on Cath’s shoulder – and followed her gaze.

‘No, no, I was only . . . observing.’

‘Observing whom?’

‘Well. That’s a fine waistcoat the Duke is wearing tonight, don’t you think?’ she asked, aiming for civility as she inched out from beneath Margaret’s chin.

Margaret curled her nose in disgust. ‘How could anyone notice his waistcoat? When I look at the Duke, all I see is the way he insists on turning up his nose at everyone else, as if being the Duke of Tuskany were any great achievement.’

Cath cocked her head. ‘I think his nose does that naturally.’ She pressed a finger to her own nose and pushed upward, testing it out. It didn’t make her feel elitist . . .

Margaret blanched. ‘For shame, Catherine. You can’t go around mocking everyone else like that! At least, not in public.’

‘Oh! I didn’t mean to cause offence. It’s just sort of snout-like is all. He probably has an excellent sense of smell. I wonder whether he couldn’t track down truffles with a nose like that.’

Cath was spared from her defence by a rough tap against her shoulder.

She turned and found herself staring at a black tunic covering a puffed-up chest. Her gaze travelled upward to a scowling face half hidden by a single eye-patch and messy hair peeking out of a white beret.

Jack, the Knave of Hearts, who had been knighted out of pity after losing his right eye in a game of charades.

Her mood sank even further. This ball was off to the most horrible of starts. ‘Hello, Jack.’

‘Lady Pinkerton,’ he drawled, his breath smelling of mulled wine. His eye darted towards Margaret. ‘Lady Mearle.’

Margaret folded her arms over her chest. ‘It is of intolerable impoliteness to interrupt a conversation, Jack.’

‘I came to tell Lady Pinkerton that this is a black-and-white ball.’

Cath lowered her eyes and tried to look sheepish, though with every reminder she was becoming less embarrassed and more annoyed. ‘There seems to have been some miscommunication.’

‘You look stupid,’ said Jack.

Catherine bristled. ‘There’s no cause for rudeness.’

Jack huffed, scanning her dress again. And again. ‘You’re not half as lovely as you think you are, Lady Pinkerton. Not a quarter as lovely even, and I’ve only got one eye to see it.’

‘I assure you I don’t—’

‘Everyone thinks as much, just won’t say it to your face like I will. But I’m not afraid of you, not one little bit.’

‘I never said—’

‘I don’t even like you all that very much.’

Catherine pressed her lips tight and inhaled a patient breath. ‘Yes, I do believe you told me that the last time I saw you, Jack. And the time before that. And the time before that. You’ve been reminding me how much you dislike me since we were six years old and dressing up the maypole, if I recall correctly.’

‘Yes. Right. Because it’s true.’ Jack’s cheeks had reddened. ‘Also, you smell like a daisy. Except, one of those awful, stinky ones.’

‘Naturally, one of those,’ said Catherine. ‘Heaven forbid I mistake that for a compliment.’

Jack grunted, then reached up and pulled on one of her curls.


The Knave had swivelled on his feet and marched away before Catherine could think of a response, though she would later wish she had taken the opportunity to give him a good kick in the shins.

‘What an oaf,’ Margaret said after he had gone.

‘He most certainly is,’ agreed Catherine, rubbing her scalp and wondering how long she’d been there and how much longer she would have to stay.

‘Of course,’ Margaret continued, ‘it is most deplorable of you to encourage such oafish behaviour.’

Catherine spun towards her, aghast. ‘I do not encourage it.’

‘If that’s what you believe, I suppose we must agree to be disagreeable,’ said Margaret. ‘And the moral of that is—’

But before she could extrapolate some nonsensical proof of ill behaviour, a blare of a trumpet echoed through the ballroom. At the top of the steps, the White Rabbit proclaimed in his nasally voice –


The White Rabbit blew the horn again, then tucked the instrument against his side and bowed. Cath turned with the rest of the guests as the King emerged at the top of his own private staircase. The entire chessboard of aristocrats rippled with bows and curtsies.

The King wore full regalia – a white fur cloak, black-and-white-striped pantaloons, glossy white shoes with diamond-studded buckles, and a heart-tipped sceptre in one hand. This was all topped with the crown, trimmed with more rubies and diamonds and velvet and a central heart-shaped finial.

It would have been a striking ensemble, except the fur had some syrupy substance near the collar, the pantaloons were bunching around one knee, and the crown – which Catherine had always thought looked too heavy for the King’s tiny head – had slipped to one side. Also, His Majesty was grinning like a loon when Catherine rose from her curtsy.

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