This post is part of the October Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s theme is masquerades.

The Prosperity Masquerade was the social event of the early autumn season, and invitation in hand Virginia was going to make her presence known, wearing the family’s hand-me down costume as befit any son or daughter of Marshals Vincent and Patricia MacNeil. Prosperity Ranger or not.

When she arrived, whispers ran throughout the crowd, about the scandal of an ex-Ranger appearing at a Prosperity Masquerade and young master Sullivan’s motives for the invitation. Partly out of a mean-spirited desire to see how far those flames could be fanned and partly out of a need to express her gratitude in person, Virginia sought her host out, given a wide berth by everyone that recognized her.

Jacob stood at the center of the crowd, visibly ill at ease. He was dressed as a motley jester–the very costume two generations of Sullivans had worn before him–but the front hung open, revealing the young man’s mud-spattered Ranger uniform and gun belt, and the three-pronged hat was in his hands rather than on his head. Virginia was drawn closer to Jacob as revelers moved about him like river waves, and moments later they were face to face.

“Virginia…I was hoping you might come,” Jacob said when he spied her.

At a loss for how to respond, Virginia bit her lip. “How have you been?”

“Nothing’s been right since…then,” Jacob muttered. “Nightmares, rumors, the Ide on the warpath after all they did for me…everything’s unraveling.”

“What do you mean?

“I…I can’t explain it,” said Jacob. He waved Virginia away. “I need to get out of here. I’m suffocating. Please, enjoy the ball.” Before she could protest, he had slipped away, shedding his costume piece by piece and leaving each on the floor as he went.

“What are you doing here, MacNeil?” someone barked. It was Ellen Strasser, resplendent in a dress of eastern silk and wearing a Venetian mask. “Only Prosperity Rangers and their invited guests are allowed to attend! ‘Washout’ doesn’t qualify.”

“Jacob invited me,” Virginia said, spinning her invitation between two fingers. “If you’ve got a problem, take it up with him.”

Suddenly Virginia was up against the wall with Strasser’s arm across her throat. “Don’t you even think of dragging the young Mr. Sullivan’s name through the mud with your presence here,” Strasser hissed. “Isn’t almost getting him killed enough?”

“It got me an invitation,” Virginia said. “Maybe you should try almost getting Jacob killed next time. Then you can be his guest instead of just being here because you’re a Ranger.”

Strasser drew a derringer from her bustle. “Invitation or no, you are leaving. Now.”

The widow Sullivan appeared behind them, dressed all in white and speckled with crepe paper snowflakes. “Is there a problem here, Strasser? As a Ranger you ought to know that firearms are prohibited at town events.” A Colt Army glistened in the holster at her side.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post an entry of their own about masquerades:
Auburn Assassin (direct link to the relevant post)
Hillary Jacques (direct link to the relevant post)
Aimee Laine (direct link to the relevant post)
Ralph Pines (direct link to the relevant post)
Veinglory (direct link to the relevant post)
Laffarsmith (direct link to the relevant post)
PASeaholtz (direct link to the relevant post)
Madelein.Eirwen (direct link to the relevant post)
Amy Doodle (direct link to the relevant post)
CScottMorris (direct link to the relevant post)
FreshHell (direct link to the relevant post)
IrishAnnie (direct link to the relevant post)
Lilain (direct link to the relevant post)
Dolores Haze (direct link to the relevant post)
Aidan Watson-Morris (direct link to the relevant post)
Aheila (direct link to the relevant post)
WildScribe (direct link to the relevant post)
Hayley Lavik (direct link to the relevant post)
Semmie (direct link to the relevant post)
Bettedra (direct link to the relevant post)