This week we have an exclusive sneak peek at Kate Stradling’s upcoming novella, Soot and Slipper. In this reimagining of Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella,” our heroine yearns to join a party of masqueraders but meets with unexpected opposition.
Her greatest obstacle? Oh, life itself. NBD.
Chapter 1: Only A Party
Eugenie only wanted to go to a party.
It didn’t seem like a lot to ask, but the dying light in her step-mother’s eyes said otherwise. Marielle blinked, a rapid reaction to mask her welling tears. When she looked away to the wall with her bottom lip caught between her teeth, Eugenie knew it was too much.
She should have squelched the desire.
“I suppose,” Marielle started after a weighty swallow, but her throat choked on anything further. Eugenie crushed her worn apron in clenched fingers, the magnitude of her frivolity striking her in full. In reaction to her dismay, Marielle grasped her wrist with one small hand.
She ducked her head into Eugenie’s view—not a difficult task, given her petite stature. “It’s not that I don’t want you to go. It’s just—”
“The money,” Eugenie finished for her.
Marielle’s brows arched, and her feathery voice vaulted into childlike pitches. “No! That is, yes, but not how you think. It’s just… this is their chance, Florelle and Aurielle, their chance to mingle with their peers without any stigma of poverty clinging to them. It’s not that I don’t want you to go, but you’re so beautiful, and they’re…”
She didn’t say the word, and guilt flashed across her face, that she could speak of her own children so unfavorably. But she was right. Florelle and Aurielle didn’t take after their delicate mother in anything more than stature. They inherited more clumsy features from their father, the late Baron Lavande. His portrait hung in the family gallery—not in a place of prominence, as that would be inappropriate—and every time Eugenie gazed upon the hooked nose she could see Florelle, and the deep-set eyes were Aurielle’s own. Their mouths, wide and thin-lipped, bore no resemblance to the puckered rosebud before her now, and their hair hung limp in shades of mouse-brown instead of their mother’s lustrous silver-blonde.
It wasn’t the younger Elles’ fault that they inherited such strong features. Still in the bloom of youth, they were pretty in their own ways, just not according to current social preferences. A masquerade would conceal those surface flaws and allow others to see them as they truly were.
Which wasn’t… great, but at least they wouldn’t have any aesthetic judgements working against them.
“Don’t you see, Eugenie?” her step-mother asked, her voice warbling as she teetered close to tears. “Once you reach your majority, everything here is completely yours alone. You can cast us all out on the streets if you wish—”
“I would never—!”
She silenced the girl’s protest with a patient smile. “Of course you say that now, but things change. If you marry, you would want to live here with your husband, and he might not like three extra women underfoot. My daughters and I have nothing to call our own, nothing beyond the small allowance their father left for them, which is hardly enough to live on, as you know.”
Eugenie swallowed the rising lump in her throat. A fortune awaited her, a fortune that her step-mother refused to touch. Her step-sisters had gone to finishing school on the remnants of their father’s wasted estates, pinning their matrimonial hopes on acquiring as much gentility as they could. They returned with social graces and affectations, eager to please any prospective husband with their twittering laughs and fluttering lashes.
Marielle’s smile faded as her eyes became distant. “If either one of them can find a husband thanks to these masquerades, all our futures will be secure. As long as… don’t take this the wrong way, Eugenie. As long as the gentleman doesn’t develop a preference for you instead.”
Eugenie blushed to the roots of her golden hair, her face afire. Any man who would transfer his affections based on looks wasn’t worth having. And if he transferred them after already engaging himself to another, doubly so.
Her disappointment retreated behind a mask of false good cheer. “I don’t have to go. It was only a whim. Of course I’ll stay home.”
Her step-mother tempered her relief with regret. “I’m so sorry. We’ll make it up to you, somehow.” And she squeezed Eugenie’s hand in reassurance before releasing her again. Her attention shifted to the piles of yellow satin and iridescent gauze upon the work table. “The costumes are coming along beautifully.”
Eugenie’s nerves bubbled up her throat in an anemic chuckle. “I’m only working with your old dresses. Sun, moon, and stars. If you’re not careful, you might steal away their suitors yourself.”
Marielle’s laugh tinkled like a small, silver bell. “As long as he’s rich, it doesn’t matter.”
The words twisted her step-daughter’s heart. That a lady of title and refinement should be reduced to such mercenary ambitions—
But such it was. She had neither skill nor stamina to earn her own living and remained at the mercy of social standards she didn’t create.
And the best Eugenie could do was support her.
So she would continue to sew and alter and embroider, and when the grand evening arrived, she would stay home.
Even though she wanted more than anything in the world to go.
Curious how Eugenie gets to her party after all? Soot and Slipper is in the editing/publishing phase of book production but will be available soon!