London, 23rd July 1938
Georgie sat with her eyes fixed on the ceiling, tracking the light glinting off the chandelier and noting several cobwebs that hadn’t been dismissed by the cleaning staff prior to this evening’s ball. The glory of the London Ritz held fast in its reputation, but in its pockets and corners the renowned hotel might have been fading just a little – clearly dirt and dust soiled even the rich. And yet the thought made Georgie feel oddly comforted; if this glamorous venue – a place she could have only dreamt about in her childhood – was hiding behind a façade, then there must be others who sported such a veneer. Maybe even a good portion of this well-populated ballroom. It made her feel less of a fraud.
She shifted on her bar stool in an effort to bat away the waves of unending heat. The barman caught her eye and she smiled meekly, trying not to give the impression of being either stood up or lonely, when she was neither. Still, he looked back with sympathy. Others in the room might not have noticed Georgie’s awkwardness, the way the strap of her dress cut into her shoulder, lent to her by a cousin who was clearly half a size smaller. Or the shoes pinching at each little toe, biting into her flesh as she was forced to endure a dance with the office lothario and his two left feet.
She’d managed to excuse herself after one long and painful tune, retreating to the bar, where she now sat, nursing a Martini. The dance floor was full again, as correspondents mingled with reporters and photographers, watching editors and their wives twirling amid the heady table chatter of wordsmiths putting the world to rights. The summer media ball was where hardened London hacks let their hair down for just one night and forgot about the simmering rivalry of Fleet Street – who was first to the story, who bagged an exclusive, and who splashed the biggest headline. For Georgie it was intoxicating, though not nearly as effective as the very strong cocktail mixed by the barman who, in his pity, had added a second shot of vodka. The music and the heat were making her head swim, but she was enjoying the spectacle too much to leave.
‘Sitting this one out?’