When she swept into the city’s social calendar, Mercedes Ryann was an explosion in furs. Cultured and intelligent but with a flair for the wild and flamboyant, many of the social register scions found themselves inexorably drawn into her orbit. The Ryann clan had been on the outs for decades, since Mayor Ryann had ended his life in a bathtub with his mistress, and the titular head of the family, Mercedes’ uncle Wilhelm, was all to happy to let his niece rebuild the family. There may have been the occasional dolorous whiff of scandal in the way Mercedes comported herself, but her wealthy suitors and the sudden, volcanic reemergence of the Ryanns into the discourse meant it was a net gain.

Naturally, there was more to the story than that.

When a young woman had managed to make it up to his permanent suite in the Royale Hotel without being noticed by porters or stopped by his own bodyguards, Wilhelm Ryann had taken notice. She had proposed a simple idea: pose as his niece in order to help bring the Ryann family back to local prominence. She asked for no money, no furs, no jewels, only pemission–and made it quite clear that she would proceed with the scheme whether or not it was granted. Wilhelm was the most sober-headed of the five Ryann brothers; that was the reason he alone was still alive with what dregs were left of the family fortune. But something in that mysterious woman’s eyes had convinced him, and when she turned up at the Society Ball in an appropriate outfit brandishing cards of introduction with the Ryann name, Wilhelm knew he had made the right choice.

Their agreement was thus: in exchange for use of the Ryann name and some of their assets, she would bring the family back into the fold and share half of what she earned.

And, were it not for Liliane Harkness, the plan might have proceeded without a hitch.

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