Amelia absolutely hated dinner with her stepfather and aunt. She never knew if it would end in a cold and chilly goodnight, or if it would end in beatings.

She chose a dress that would hopefully satisfy her aunt, as she was never satisfied with what Amelia wore. A white watered silk that set off her pale hair, sleeves loosely puffed, the neckline and wide skirt edged in blue box-pleated ribbon. She had Paulina arrange her hair into a knot, with curls that fell elegantly over it. '' Thank you.'' she whispered, and she picked up her skirt gracefully to descend the stairs.

Her aunt was waiting for her, gowned in a terribly bright red, the sleeves black net, and with rubies studding the top of the skirt. Her dark blonde hair was woven into an intricate braid coiled into a bun, and she wore a ruby necklace-Amelia's mother's. She had not worn it very much, preferring lighter, daintier things, but it had been hers.

''Well, I suppose that is suitable.'' her aunt sighed. They went into the dining-room, where they sat at the table and another of the maids, Mary, served them a cream of chicken soup.

Amelia picked up her spoon, and dipped it into her soup, swallowing it. The first course went by quickly.

The next was roast beef, cooked perfectly. Her aunt daintily bit into her roast beef, and Amelia followed suit.

Her stepfather did not eat, but instead stared at Amelia intently. When she turned to meet his unrelenting gaze, she asked, ''Why, is there something wrong with me that you stare at me so?''

Her stepfather turned his head away, and began to drink his wine. The he put his glass down. ''It is high time you married, Amelia. You are of the age to do so, after all.'' Oh, now he wanted to show that he cared. Or at least to make her think he cared.

''Who do you have in mind?'' Amelia questioned.

''At the moment, we have no one.'' her stepfather admitted. ''But we shall find someone.''

Her stepfather's eyes normally rested on her aunt, but tonight, they were on her, and Amelia shrunk a bit in her chair, hoping that her posture wouldn't be corrected.

When they had finished the course, they were served the main dish of roasted mutton, mashed potatoes, and peas.

Amelia, as always, took dainty bites of her food, which her aunt nodded approvingly at, but her stepfather insisted on staring.

After dessert, strawberry tarts with Chantilly cream, Amelia rose and bid her stepfather and aunt good-night, kissing them each on the cheek.

Then she picked up her skirt and ascended the stairs, but she soon heard footsteps behind her. She turned, and saw her stepfather. ''Did you want something, or was there something you forgot to tell me?''

Her stepfather said nothing, but instead stepped closer to her. Amelia could smell the wine he had drunk on his breath, and she stepped back from him, knowing very well he was drunk. He tried to pull her to him, but she stepped away and hurried up the stairs, wondering if her aunt had put him up to this. She could hear him following her, but she reached her room, and locked the door behind her.

He pounded at the door for a brief time, but she said nothing so as not to encourage him. Finally the pounding stopped, and she could hear him going down the stairs. She undid her hair, not wanting to trouble Paulina, who had fallen asleep on the floor, poor girl, and unlaced her dress as best she could, leaving her undergarments, and removed her slippers.

Saying her prayers, she then climbed into bed, and fell asleep. In her dreams, she could see her mother laughing and playfully waltzing around to her father's piano playing. How she missed them! She had been the most wonderful thing in their life, she knew.

XXX

The next morning, she woke up to Paulina kindling the fire, and an apricot silk dress with lace collar and full skirt laid out on the bed.

''Good morning, Paulina.'' Paulina smiled at her, and Amelia slowly slid out of bed. She tugged the dress over her head, and Paulina buttoned up the back, adjusting it so the lace bertha fell perfectly over her collarbones, and the skirt fell perfectly to the floor.

Her hair fell in rather tousled ringlets, and Paulina arranged them in such a manner that they looked neat and pretty, adorning them with silken ribbons.

''There you are, Lady Amelia. Your stepfather went to bed quite drunk last night. His snores woke me up.'' Paulina said, and Amelia giggled.

The carriage driver waited for her outside, and she stepped into the carriage. It seemed her aunt was sleeping late today, and she certainly didn't intend to leave her visit to Adella after she woke up.

Adella waited for her outside the door, and ran to her as soon as she stepped out.

''Come along, Amelia. Mr Rowe is in the study.''

Amelia complimented Adella on her dress, a very lovely one of lilac silk with elbow sleeves edged in thin lace and full, bustled lace drapery on the back of the skirt.

Her friend's white-blonde hair fell around her shoulders in perfect ringlets, and a gold locket, a gift from her betrothed, Thomas Berkeley, hung around her neck.

Her eyes glowed with a happiness Amelia had yet to feel, and her complexion was rosy.

Amelia followed Adella into her house, and into Mr Kleinman's study, where Mr Fredrick Rowe waited, hands clasped behind his back.

''Lady Amelia, a pleasure to meet you. For what purposes have I been called here?''

''Shall I have cook make a cup of tea?'' Adella suggested, and Mr Rowe nodded.

''Yes, that would be fine.'' Adella summoned a maid to have the cook make a cup of tea, and Amelia turned to Mr Rowe.

''Now, your friend said you wished to consult me on a legal matter.''

''I wish to know if I have an account at the bank-if Papa left me one.''

''Oh, indeed, you do!'' Mr Rowe said. ''Your father left you a great deal of money.''

Amelia sat down, all of a sudden. ''He did?'' She had not thought that it might be true. That any of it might be left-

''Lady Amelia, you-''

''I didn't know.''

Mr Rowe looked surprised that Amelia didn't know. ''I would have thought he told you, on his deathbed, perhaps.''

''No, he never did.''

''Your money was placed into an account for you to do as you wished, and still, you never touched it. For five years.''

''My aunt and stepfather never told me.'' Amelia said.

The maid came into the room with a platter holding the tea, and placed it on the desk. Adella sat down on a settee.

When the maid left, Mr Rowe continued, ''I beg your pardon, Lady Amelia, but what do you mean by aunt?''

''My father's sister.''

''Your father was an only child, and as for your mother, I don't know about her. When did she arrive?''

''After my mother's death, three years ago. She said that she and Papa had been estranged.''

''The woman that calls herself your aunt is an imposter, as you have no aunt that I am aware of-or uncle. You are the heir to your family, and unless you do not marry, your line will die out. I would advise that you start considering a suitable husband.''