75. The Snake

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Sarah felt it like the roar of ten thousand bees. An anxious buzz filled the Diamond Club.

Predictions circulated the room as if carried by wings, drifting from one group to the next. From the bar to the bathroom, from the tables to the dance floor, everyone was talking about one thing.

Who's going to win Amateur Night?

At the judges table across the room, three officials debated with vehement expressions, their hands moving in emphatic gestures. Sarah wondered if that might be a bad sign. What if they didn't like her idea to sing the poem?

Henry collected Sarah's yellow sweater from the back of her chair and held it up, helping her into it. He looked ready to escort her home, but several young ladies bustled over, congratulating her for a marvelous performance.

Once those admirers moved on, Sarah put her arm around Henry's back. "We can't leave just yet. The winner of Amateur Night hasn't been announced."

"You're a winner in my book."

"If that's the case, I'd like to collect my prize."

Henry gave a grin. "What did you have in mind?"

"A glass of seltzer water! My throat's as dry as a cactus in the desert."

Henry chuckled. "You got it!" And he wandered over to the bar.

Sarah released a contented sigh and allowed her gaze to float around the room. Where was Mrs. Bell? They had chatted earlier, but not about the competition or writing poetry. Instead, they had talked about women's rights, or rather the lack thereof. Women still couldn't vote. In the workforce, they held low positions. Even when they performed the same duties as men, they received less pay. Despite all that, Mrs. Bell reminded Sarah that it was important to remain positive. And now, Sarah wanted to find the matriarch of the Bell Family and thank her for being such an inspiration to her.

Pivoting on her heels, Sarah had looked over the entire room when a looming figure stepped in front of her. She looked up.

Edward!

He stuck out his chin in a cocky expression. "Miss Sarah, I see that you and Henry Louis are back together."

Sarah couldn't believe it. "Look, we've been through this before. Who I choose to see is my business."

"Sweetheart, I'm only looking out for your best interests. This Henry character is a nobody, and you should send him packing. There are far better fish out there."

"What? Like you?" she said, fuming.

Edward stepped forward and grabbed Sarah's wrist. "Let's stop all this pretending. I can see right through your game. You used me so you could sing your poem here tonight and get your dear Henry back. Isn't that right?"

Sarah tried to pull away from his grip, but it felt like a steel vise. "Let me go!"

A moment later, Henry charged over. "Hey!" He slammed the glass of seltzer on the table, and the liquid spilled over the rim. Then he clapped a hand down on the back of Edward's shoulder. "Take your hand off the lady, or there's going to be a problem."

Edward whirled around. He released Sarah, and she darted over to Henry's side, massaging the soreness in her wrist. "And who's going to give me a problem? You? You were a no-good bum for the Rooks. And from the looks of things, you're an even bigger bum for the Pioneers."

Sarah looked at Henry, a vein pulsing on the side of his neck. He looked ready to pop Edward in the jaw. Sarah felt her own heart thumping against her chest. "Henry, it's not worth getting into a fight."

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