Authors: Gail Carriger
Tags: #Fiction / Science Fiction / Steampunk, Fiction / Fantasy / Historical, Fiction / Fantasy / Contemporary, Fiction / Romance / Fantasy, Fiction / Fantasy / Paranormal, Fiction / Fantasy / Urban
Uncle Channing tensed.
Rue, never one to back down from a challenge either, reared up. She was under no delusion as to her chances. Uncle Channing was the pack Gamma, not to mention a professional soldier. He was a tall rangy fellow who made for a big rangy wolf, but any leanness was deceptive, as in both forms he was composed mainly of muscle. Rue, on the other hand, made a tough-looking scrappy sort of wolf, but she wasn't big, vicious, or muscly. This was not going to be a fair fight. But she might distract the pack long enough for the drones to get away.
Uncle Channing leapt, teeth bared.
And was knocked out of the way by another wolf, slighter than Channing, with dark brown colouring and blood-red chest fur.
Uncle Rabiffano was â technically â pack Beta, although he never much acted like it physically. He ran a very well-regarded hat shop not too far down the street from Claret's.
Rue had never seen Rabiffano fight. In fact, if anyone asked, she would have said he couldn't. He was more the type to shame a fellow into doing what he wanted. A few slow blinks of disapproval from those sad eyes and perhaps a cutting remark, and nearly any werewolf would do as Uncle Rabiffano suggested, even Paw.
However, it turned out he
He might be smaller than Uncle Channing, but he was also sober, and quick. Really,
Rue sat back on her haunches in shock, watching as the most urbane and sweet-natured of her uncles turned into a whirling dervish of teeth and claws.
Channing, surprised by the attack and by its ferocity, whined and whimpered as his tender nose and ears were savaged. He wobbled to his side and then flopped on his back, presenting his stomach as quickly as possible.
Rabiffano took this as his due with one final nip of reproach.
Channing subdued, the oxblood wolf turned his angry yellow glare on the rest of the pack.
The ones sober enough to have realised what had just happened were already backing away from the drones. Hemming, whose form Rue had stolen, was sitting at Winkle's feet, wrapped in her striped dress like a bathing towel and looking thoroughly ashamed. Channing remained lying on his back. Which, given Rabiffano's expression of annoyance, was a good decision.
Two of the pack, Ulric and Quinn, in human form, were too far gone on the formaldehyde. Oblivious to the fight, they were actually pushing at the drones â male ones, thank heavens; at least they weren't so stupid as to shove a lady. But stillâ¦ pushingâ¦ in public!
Rabiffano attacked them. He leapt against Ulric, teeth going for his neck and fortunately getting only shoulder. He took a bite out of the meaty part of the man's upper arm, ruining Ulric's coat and leaving him surprised and bloody, lying in the street.
Then Rabiffano went for Quinn. The simpleton met him head-on, without bothering to shift. Rabiffano sliced for the man's face. When Quinn flinched away, showing his neck in sudden realisation of who had attacked, Rabiffano veered off, only to chomp Quinn's thigh. Again he was gnawing at a meaty part that wouldn't cause any real damage.
It must hurt Rabiffano terribly to have to enact justice. Not only because he liked his fellow pack members, but also because he disliked the wanton destruction of perfectly good clothing. It was Uncle Rabiffano, after all, who took most of the pack shopping.
He's disciplining them
But that's Paw's job!
Except Paw wasn't there. She looked around, hoping to see her father's massive brindled form barrelling through the crowd, but nothing disturbed the fascinated onlookers.
The whole uncouth business had taken only a few minutes, but it was a scandal so outrageous it could not possibly be kept secret. The entire London Pack had just behaved very badly indeed, and their Alpha was missing. The morning papers were going to make mincemeat out of progressive integration policies.
On the bright side
my transgressions will be forgotten while the three parentals deal with this mess. That's something.
Nevertheless, she couldn't suppress her fear. This was the London Pack, the tamest werewolves in the country. They didn't drink, certainly not in public! Something must be very wrong for them to be so out of control. Rue had the horrible feeling it was to do with Paw. All those rumours she had tried not to hear, to deny. All those pitying looks.
She shook herself like a wet dog.
No! He's fine, simply getting a little absentminded in his old age.
It was only a matter of time before BUR appeared with the Staking Constabulary in tow. Rue would rather not be in wolf form when they did so. Supernatural creatures may be out in society but they weren't permitted to be untidy about it. Reports would need to be filed. Uncle Rabiffano would have to explain everything. The others were clearly not capable of coherent speech. Rue thought it best â given Queen Victoria's oh-so-recent admonition to stay out of trouble â that she make herself scarce.
She nodded to Rabiffano, who was circulating, keeping a careful eye on the remaining pack. He inclined his head in response. Then, tail high, decorum paramount, Rue relieved Uncle Hemming of her gown, leaving him bare. His dignity didn't concern her. With a toss of her head, she flicked the dress to drape over her back so as to drag as little as possible. Holding it carefully with her teeth, she trotted towards Dama's carriage.
Winkle, shaking his head, followed.
Ten minutes of manoeuvring later, Winkle managed to extract them from the crush, by which point BUR had arrived and hustled all those involved back inside Claret's for questioning. The spectacle was over.
Once they were far enough out, Rue's tether to Uncle Hemming snapped and her human form returned. She pulled the striped dress back on. It was a little worse for its werewolf encounter, but then wasn't everyone?
She bit her lip and fretted. Paw hadn't turned up at all, not even with BUR. Was he sick? Missing? Dead? Well, more dead than normal? She would not let herself think that he was losing control. Missing or sick would be preferable.
“Winkle, please hurry,” she yelled out of the window. “I do believe something awful may have happened to one of my parents.”
Rue lived with her adoptive father, Lord Akeldama. Dama was many things: vampire, rove, potentate, fashion icon, and nobbiest of the nobs. He ruled over a house of impeccable taste and harmonious design replete with assorted stunning works of art, scintillating conversation, and beautiful young men. Rue appreciated his skill, and mostly bowed to his authority, although as he was no longer her legal guardian so she did not technically have to.
Her blood parents, Lord and Lady Maccon, and their werewolf pack lived in the townhouse adjacent. It was only as tasteful as Uncle Rabiffano could impose, otherwise being characterised by dark wood, practical accoutrements, and the general aura of a bachelor residence over which Lady Maccon wafted like a hen in full squawk.
The two residences were connected via a walkway hidden behind a large holly tree. Rue had found it a fun, if wildly erratic upbringing, for three more different parents one could never find than Dama, Paw, and Mother. Nothing was ever agreed upon, except teatime. Rue adored her Paw, who was a big softy and always let her have her way with only token protestations. She respected her Dama, in whom love was tempered by razor wit and a strict adherence to etiquette. But she was in awe of her mother. Given Rue's metanatural abilities, one might have expected this. For while Rue could steal werewolf form from Paw and vampire form from Dama, Alexia Maccon could cancel both out. Only Rue's soulless mother could put a stopper in all her fun. And usually did.
Lady Maccon was
. She couldn't be managed or charmed. She wouldn't be moved once she made up her mind. She was as tough as old boot leather and as inevitable as clotted cream when scones were in the offing.
So it was with real fear that Rue overheard her indomitable mother in conversation with Dama sounding
“He won't listen to me. That in and of itself isn't unusual, but this has gone on far too long. I'm worried he may be beyond saving. It's past time the plan was enacted. We need to leave. Soon. Have you heard from India at all? Is he coming home?”
“Really, my dove, why would you think I know anything about
? Why don't you ask your husband's Beta?”
Rue paused in the hallway, ears perked.
Uncle Rabiffano? What has he to do with anything? He seems the only one able to control himself these days.
“My dear Akeldama. This is serious.” Her mother sounded almost cross with the vampire, yet he was one of her favourite people.
“My darlingest of Alexias, I am
serious. I resent the implication that I should be.”
“Not even about love?”
“What do you take me for â
? Wait, before you continue on at me, I do believe we have an audience.” Dama opened the door and tilted his head at his daughter. “Good evening, Puggle. What have you been up to? Your gown looks as if it has been dragged through the streets by a dog.”
“You aren't far off, actually. Is that Mother? May I speak to her?”
Dama quirked an eyebrow over the edge of his monocle. His movements were always precise â calculated. “Mmmm, you know I'd rather not be involved in one of those
. But if you insist, come in. You're sure you won't change first?”
“It is rather urgent.”
Lord Akeldama waved her in. Tonight he was dressed sombrely, for him, in teal and cream with a gold monocle and gold rings on all of his fingers. His hands sparkled as he gestured for her to sit.
Lady Alexia Maccon was taking tea, nose up and commanding in one of the wingback chairs. She didn't rise as her daughter entered the room, as it was, after all, for Rue to go to her.
Rue did so, delivering a polite peck on the cheek and then sitting opposite on the settee.
Dama remained standing, leaning with a studied casualness on the back of one of the other chairs.
Rue's mother did not demure. “Infant, please tell me you didn't look like this when you saw the queen? Your hair is down. And the state of your gown defies comment.”
“Apparently not, as both you and Dama have now commented.”
Lady Maccon narrowed her eyes.
“Mother, really. What do you take me for â a harridan? No, don't answer that. I assure you, I was perfectly respectable during my audience with the queen. You may ask Winkle for confirmation. Where is Winkle anyway?” But Winkle had squeaked off the moment he heard Lady Maccon's voice. He, like all the drones and most of the pack, knew never to come between Lady Maccon and her daughter when there were
incidents to explain
. The ladies tended to engage in verbal skirmishing that became semantic battles in which bystanders were skewered.
Dama's expression said he wished to vanish as well. But this was his house, and he was host, and twenty years of intimacy and shared familial responsibility were not enough to cause him to abandon a guest in his drawing room, not even when his daughter was there to entertain. Standards
“Tea, Puggle?” He came around to pour her a cup. It was a rhetorical question. As far as Rue was concerned, the answer to the great question of life, “Tea?” was always “Yes.” And Dama was perfectly well aware of this character trait.
Rue sipped the tea gratefully, mustering her courage and attempting to frame her worries about the pack in a manner that would offend her mother least. Meanwhile, she withstood Lady Maccon's opening tactics: a series of sharp, fast questions on her visit with Queen Victoria.
If Mother has the wherewithal to be concerned about that, then there can't possibly be anything seriously wrong with Paw. Can there?
“Oh, Mother, you should be perfectly pleased with everything. Queen Victoria was utterly beastly, took me to task for all the things both you and Dama already reprimanded me for. Said something about rescinding my legal protections and rights.”
Mother and Dama exchanged a look.
“Majority?” queried her mother. “The government
“Just so.” Dama did not look as surprised.
Rue only just stopped herself from foot stamping. “I
it when you two do that!”
Lady Maccon ignored her daughter and added, to the vampire, “We have to assume we've done enough training. It's more than I had.”
“Mmmm,” was all the vampire said, and then to Rue, “Go on, precious dove, what else?”
Rue glared at them but said, since they would find out at the Shadow Council meeting later that week anyway, “She also took away my sundowner status, which I call most unfair. I never even got to kill anybody, not really.”
“Sometimes you remind me so much of your father.” Lady Maccon sniffed. “Violent leanings. Can't have been my doing.” She chose to ignore the fact that she had, in her younger days, a well-deserved reputation for biffing people with her parasol.