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Pretty girls in pretty dresses, partying until dawn.
Irresistible boys with mischievous smiles and dangerous intentions.
White lies, dark secrets, and scandalous hookups.
This is Manhattan, 1899.
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Beautiful sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland rule Manhattan's social scene. Or so it appears. When the girls discover their status among New York City's elite is far from secure, suddenly everyonefrom the backstabbing socialite Penelope Hayes, to the debonair bachelor Henry Schoonmaker, to the spiteful maid Lina Broudthreatens Elizabeth's and Diana's golden future.
With the fate of the Hollands resting on her shoulders, Elizabeth must choose between family duty and true love. But when her carriage overturns near the East River, the girl whose glittering life lit up the city's gossip pages is swallowed by the rough current. As all of New York grieves, some begin to wonder whether life at the top proved too much for this ethereal beauty, or if, perhaps, someone wanted to see Manhattan's most celebrated daughter disappear...
In a world of luxury and deception, where appearance matters above everything and breaking the social code means running the risk of being ostracized forever, five teenagers lead dangerously scandalous lives. This thrilling trip to the age of innocence is anything but innocent.
448 pages; ISBN 9780061579714
The Richmond Hayes family
Requests the pleasure of your company
at a Ball in honor of the architect
on the evening of Saturday
the sixteenth of September
at nine o'clock at their new residence
no. 670 Fifth Avenue
in the city of New York
Costumes are required
They have all been asking for you," Louisa Holland told Elizabeth, quietly but firmly.
Elizabeth had spent eighteen years being groomed as her mother's prized asset and had become, among other things, an expert interpreter of her tones. This one meant Elizabeth was to return to the main ballroom and dance with a partner of her mother's choosing at once, most likely a young man of enviable, if slightly inbred, lineage. Elizabeth smiled apologetically at the girls she had been sitting with—Annemarie D'Alembert and Eva Barbey, whom she had met that spring in France and who were both dressed as courtesans from the Louis XIV era. Elizabeth had just been telling them how very far away Paris seemed to her now, though she had only stepped off the transatlantic steamer and back onto New York soil early that morning. Her old friend Agnes Jones had been perched on the ivory-and-gold striped damask love seat as well, but Elizabeth's younger sister, Diana, was nowhere to be seen. Most likely because she suspected that her behavior was being monitored, which, of course, it was. Elizabeth's irritation at the persistent childishness of her younger sister flared up, but she quickly banished the feeling.
After all, Diana hadn't enjoyed the formal cotillion debut that Elizabeth had two years ago, just after her sixteenth birthday. For the elder Holland sister there had been a year with a finishing governess—she and Penelope Hayes had shared her, along with various tutors—and lessons in comportment, dance, and the modern languages. Diana had turned sixteen last April with no fanfare during Elizabeth's time abroad. The family had still been in mourning for their father, and a big to-do had not seemed appropriate. She had simply started attending balls with Aunt Edith in Saratoga during their summer stay there, so she could hardly be held responsible for seeming a little rough.
"I'm sure you are sorry to leave your friends," Mrs. Holland said, steering her daughter from the feminine hush of the parlor and into the main ballroom. Elizabeth, in her shepherdess's costume of white brocade, looked especially bright and especially tall next to her mother, who was still wearing her widow's black. Edward Holland had passed away at the beginning of that year, and her mother would be in formal mourning for another year at least. "But you seem to be the young lady most in demand for waltzes tonight."
Elizabeth had a heart-shaped face with delicate features and an alabaster complexion. As a boy who would not enter the Richmond Hayeses' ballroom that evening once told her, she had a mouth the size and shape of a plum. She tried to make that mouth smile appreciatively now, even though she was concerned by her mother's tone. There was a new, unsettling urgency in Mrs. Holland's famously steely presence that Elizabeth had noticed almost as soon as she'd departed from that great ship. She had been gone since her father's burial nine months ago, and had spent all of spring and summer learning wit in the salons and how to dress on the Rue de la Paix and allowing herself to be distracted from her grief.
"I've already danced so many dances tonight," Elizabeth offered her mother.
"Perhaps," she replied. "But you know how very happy it would make me if one of your partners were to propose marriage to you."
Elizabeth tried to laugh to disguise the despair that comment raised in her. "Well, you are lucky I'm still so young, and we have years before I even have to begin picking one of them."
"Oh, no." Mrs. Holland's eyes darted around the main ballroom. It was dizzying, with its frosted glass dome ceiling, frescoed walls, and gilt mirrors, situated as it was at the center of a warren of smaller but equally busy and decadent rooms. Great potted palm trees were set up in a ring close to the walls, shielding the ladies at the room's edge from the frenetic dancers gliding across the tessellated marble floor. There appeared to be four servants to every guest, which seemed ostentatious even to a girl who had spent the last two seasons learning to be a lady in the City of Light. "The one thing we do not have is time," Mrs. Holland finished.
Elizabeth felt a nerve tingle up her spine, but before she could prod her mother about what that meant, they were at the perimeter of the ballroom, close to where their friends and acquaintances waltzed, nodding hello to the lavishly outfitted couples gliding across the dance floor.
They were the Hollands' peers, only seventy or so families, only four hundred or so souls, dancing as though there would be no tomorrow. And indeed, tomorrow would probably pass them by while they slept under silken canopies, waking only to accept pitchers of ice water and shoo away the maid. There would be church, of course, but after an evening so glittering and epic, the worshipers would surely be few. They were a society whose chief vocations were to entertain and be entertained, punctuated occasionally by the reinvestment of their vast fortunes in new and ever more lucrative prospects.
"The last man to ask for you was Percival Coddington," Mrs. Holland told Elizabeth as she positioned her daughter next to a gigantic rose-colored marble column. There were several such columns in the room, and Elizabeth felt sure that they were meant to impress as much as to support. The Hayes family, in building their new home, seemed to have seized on every little architectural feature as an opportunity for grandeur. "Mr. Coddington inherited his father's entire estate this past summer," her mother went on, "as you well know...