Authors: Gail Carriger
Tags: #Fiction / Science Fiction / Steampunk, Fiction / Fantasy / Historical, Fiction / Fantasy / Contemporary, Fiction / Romance / Fantasy, Fiction / Fantasy / Paranormal, Fiction / Fantasy / Urban
“If you think that necessary, little one. Is there trouble?” He set her down; huge hands still gripped her shoulders firmly.
“Yes, there's trouble.” It was true enough, even if the trouble was him.
“Then I'll go.” He whirled and ran.
Rue spared a moment to be grateful he was wearing clothing; the state he was in, it could have gone either way. She regretted that even in sunlight he could move faster than most humans. She should set a deckling to track him, but even if she was willing to risk the life of one of her crew, it was too late. He'd vanished.
The horror of it prickled her all over â sharp, painful spikes. Her Paw was going mad. She hadn't noticed. She'd been too caught up in leaving home, in exploring India, and angry queens, and her pretty ship, and her pathetic romance. And now she'd set him loose through London, where he could kill someone. Or himself.
Rue could only hope he found Mother soon. He wouldn't harm Lady Maccon. Mother always said, “Your father's instincts are different with us, infant. It has to do with smell and family. Don't take advantage, but you should know when he's wolf he'll always try to protect you. Don't take it as an insult. He can't help it, poor dear.” Mother would handle everything. She would make it all better. That was the awe and the grace of Lady Maccon.
Except that this didn't seem like a thing that could get better.
Rue had been raised with pack. Rue
pack. She knew what it was to be a werewolf. A little. She also did not understand in the slightest. She never hunted on instinct. Even at full moon she could stay in control. She never craved flesh. She simply liked to dash about hairy and on four legs once in a while. But she had
she understood werewolves and their moods and forms. Yet she'd never realised a werewolf could be in human shape, yet still a wolf.
She let out a shaky breath and tried to find her equilibrium but her mind would not stop.
Paw will have to leave off Alpha. Will he be challenged? Will he be killed? Could I get him out of London first? Could I take him somewhere safe? Where could we go where Alpha's curse would not get him? It takes all Alphas in the end.
Much to her own surprise and embarrassment, fat tears burned down her face.
Quesnel turned from where he'd tracked her father with his dart emitter and saw her crumble. Which was humiliating, because she had just decided not to trust him, and she really couldn't tolerate that loving sympathetic look in his eyes.
He took a step towards her, arms open to enfold her in a soothing embrace.
She couldn't suffer
either. She put both her hands up to ward him off.
Then there came a swirl of fabric and the scent of apple blossoms.
Primrose was there.
Primrose was making calm sweet noises, wrapping Rue in soft gentle arms and guiding her back aboard the
and away from all the staring. Away from Quesnel's hurt sympathy. Away from Paw's glassy wolf eyes. Up the gangplank and through a silent mass of sombre decklings and a strangely agonised-looking Percy, and down the stairs, and into the privacy of the captain's quarters.
There Rue could heave out the sobs of certain loss that come with change. For Paw was meant to be immortal, and for the first time Rue knew that he was not.
In Which the Maccon Family Is Quite Imprudent
rimrose stayed, rubbing Rue's back and making sympathetic noises. Primrose was good like that. She didn't ask what was wrong.
Finally Rue said, “I” â sniff â “hate” â sniff â “stays.”
“Let's get you out of that corset, then, shall we?” Which was a mark of how good a friend Primrose was, for she was normally the most proper young thing and tried not to know that Rue rarely wore underpinnings. Now she pretended delight at helping her strip and climb into a comfortable tea-gown.
Rue loved her for the pretence.
“Prim, something's wrong with Paw.” Rue sat on the edge of the counterpane and looked at her hands, trying not to cry again.
Primrose perched next to her. “Yes. I do believe you might be right about that.”
“It's Alpha's curse.”
Prim did not mollify that horrible statement with platitudes. “Do you know how old he is, your father?”
“Is that what it looks like, the curse?”
“It differs, depending on the Alpha. There are not many cases recorded, as most don't survive long enough. Prim, he looked right at me and yet did not see me. And in his eyes there was only the wolf. No Paw.”
Primrose likely didn't follow but she nodded. “You might want to talk to someone who knows more about this situation.”
“Dama?” Rue scrubbed at her face with her hand.
“No â your mother. I know it's not your favourite thing to do, but I believe you should confront her. They must have been hiding this from you. We weren't out of the country so long that he should have deteriorated this quickly.”
“Unless I wilfully refused to notice.”
“Rue, be kind to yourself. Even you aren't
“It takes a lot out of me, confronting my mother. I need a plan, in case she doesn't have one.”
Prim gave her a look. “You mean if you disagree with hers? Your mother always has a plan.”
“Fair point. Do you think Percy would look up Alpha's curse, see what he can find?”
“Of course. I'll ask him. You believe there's something we can do that hasn't been tried before?”
“To stop Alpha's curse? I doubt it. But we might isolate him for the safety of others.”
“And stop him being challenged and killed by some whippersnapper? To what purpose? So he can die alone and insane? Be fair to him, Rue.”
Rue closed her eyes and swallowed. Primrose was right. She couldn't decide her father's fate any more than he could dictate hers. “I have to try
Primrose stood and went to the porthole. “A few hours until sunset. I'll put Percy on it.”
“What happened to Quesnel?”
Primrose looked severe. “Mr Lefoux has gone about his business. He tried to follow us but Percy sent him on his way.”
“Did he really? They didn't start yelling at each other again, did they?”
“No, thank goodness. My brother has been known to be capable in emergency situations.”
“Is this an emergency situation?”
“Yes, I do believe it might be. Now I'll go and talk to him. Should I fetch tea?”
“Would you join me?”
“By all means. I'll stay as long as you need.”
Rue found a small smile somewhere and pasted it on. “Would you read to me?”
It harkened back to their childhood days. Primrose was a quick study and had read earlier than Rue, who was frankly too lazy to bother with book learning overmuch. Primrose would read to Rue out loud in her halting child's treble. As they got older, Prim would do the voices and get all dramatic. Rue could read herself by then, but she liked being spoiled.
Primrose gave a tinkling laugh. “I'd be delighted. German poetry perhaps?”
“Something less painful, I think.”
Primrose disappeared briefly. Tea arrived a quarter of an hour later, brought in by a worried-looking Virgil. He'd been sent by Percy, because tea detail wasn't ordinarily Virgil's responsibility. Footnote followed, or was pushed gently into the room by some redhead hovering out of view. The feline performed his catlike duty by jumping instantly onto Rue's lap and purring up a storm.
Primrose followed shortly. “I've brought you Byron â always makes things better.”
Cook had included a few custard Ã©clairs â Rue's favourite. She managed to inhale two while Prim sipped tea and read Byron in ridiculously sepulchral tones. Everyone was being so nice, Rue almost felt the urge to cry again. She put her tea down and buried her face in Footnote's fuzzy coat, which smelled faintly of cheese.
In the end, it did make her feel better. Byron was so ridiculously melodramatic it quite made her feel as if she were overdoing it herself. Tea, poetry, and cat duly applied, Rue girded her loins. The sun had set and it was time to approach her mother.
Percy appeared just as she was heading out. His hair was sticking up all over, as if he'd been tugging at it.
“Prudence? About your quandary?”
Rue was eager. “Do you have anything for me?”
“Aside from suggesting he stay in permanent contact with your mother? That might stave off Alpha's curse.”
Rue shuddered. “I wouldn't wish that on anyone.”
Percy shrugged. “Well, then, there's always Egypt.”
“Oh? Oh! The God-Breaker Plague you mean?”
“Yes. There's very little written about it, and the more recent stuff is classified. But it does make immortals mortal, so it might counteract the curse. He'd go ahead and die, though. I mean, just like the rest of us.”
Rue hugged him fiercely. “Thank you, Percy.”
“Oh leave off.” He brushed her away gruffly, but his eyes crinkled in pleasure.
Rue hailed a hackney. She considered herself a New Woman, thus she did not think it odd to travel alone in public hire, even if Primrose frowned upon it and Aunt Ivy thought it perfectly scandalous.
Nothing awful happened during the three-quarters-of-an-hour drive. She paid her fare, bidding the man on the box a pleasant evening, and took a deep breath to settle her nerves.
It was after dark so the werewolves were awake, and there were a number of clavigers also surging round. Many of them, duties discharged for the day, were heading off to their theatrical obligations or other pursuits. It was the pack equivalent of the changing of the guards.
“Evening, Lady Prudence. You're not in the wrong house, are you?” A new claviger, whose name Rue did not know, let her in and gave her a small salute.
“You might well ask but I've come to call on Mother.”
“Ah. My sympathies.”
“Thank you. And whereâ¦â?”
“In the back parlour, miss, with himself. Last I checked they weren't admitting.”
“I'm sure they will make an exception in my case.”
The claviger looked doubtful, for the pack had strict instructions never to disturb Lord and Lady Maccon when they made it clear they did not wish to be disturbed.
“Your peril, my lady.”
Rue gave him a nod and brushed by, heading for the back parlour. The dining room opposite was abuzz with humanity. The uncles sat at the table ripping into huge trenchers of raw meat, occasionally hurling bits at each other, boisterous as ever. Was it rougher than normal? Less controlled?
Rafe noticed her and said something. They all quieted. Most of them hung their heads and didn't look at her. Hemming gave Rue a cocky grin. She thought about reminding him how ridiculous he'd looked in her dress, but the pack would have to wait.
Except they apparently wouldn't. From a spot near the door, hidden from her hallway view, emerged a strapping blond gentleman.
Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings was both tall and broad, although not to Paw's scale. He was entirely comfortable with his size in a way that many large men of Rue's acquaintance were not. Few big men occupied space easily; most were constantly at war with it, trying to make room for themselves. Uncle Channing was elegant. He was also painfully good-looking, not a requirement for werewolves by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Rue could never quite understand why he hadn't gone for vampire. His style was more suited to hive than pack. But pack he was. Gamma by station, which meant the only ones to outrank him were Paw and Uncle Rabiffano. In human form he had a petulant mouth and icy-blue eyes. Most of the time both were arranged into a sneer of such arrogance it kept everyone at a goodly distance. Rue had learned, over the years, that this was the point.
It never worked on Rue. She'd somehow understood from her littlest girl state that Uncle Channing wasn't intentionally mean; he was simply wounded in a way that made him scared of being prey. He hunted others as a great white wolf, vicious and bloody. And he hunted with words as a great blond man, equally vicious and bloody. Uncle Channing would do anything not to be vulnerable.
It almost hurt Rue to see him contort himself into shame before her.
He hung his head. “My behaviour last night. Please allow me to apologise. It was unconscionable. If I had known who you were, I would neverâ¦ I can't possibly make amends.”
“Pish-tosh.” Rue sounded so like her mother it startled a few of the other werewolves into smiles. “You didn't hurt one hair on my pelt. There is nothing to apologise for. What's a little growling between family, hmm?”
Uncle Channing lifted his head, icy eyes hot with hope. “You aren't angry?”
“Of course I'm not angry. It's not your fault.”
Uncle Channing looked like he wanted to protest. Only someone behind Rue said in a gravelly voice, “Channing, did you growl at my daughter?”
Rue spun to find her father looming in the parlour doorway with his wife, a slightly smaller loom, behind him. She was holding his hand. Keeping him mortal.
He seemed to be wholly Paw, tired but otherwise nothing like the creature she had encountered that afternoon.
“Paw, good, there you are.”
He ignored her. “Channing?”
“It was all in good fun, wasn't it, Uncle Channing? And Uncle Rabiffano was there to keep the peace. Nice of him, actually,” Rue prattled, squeezing past her father and into the back parlour. “Good evening, Mother.”
Rue glared at her parents' joined hands. “Got your hands full this evening, have you?”
Lady Maccon was a mite taken aback by her daughter's tone. “I don't quite comprehend your meaning.”
“How long, exactly, have you had your hands full, Mother? Since before I left for India or is this a new occurrence? Paw, would you please close the door and come in? Good night, Uncle Channing. Perhaps we will talk again a little later? No hard feelings, I promise.”
Uncle Channing nodded at her, looking relieved, but he did not move. His Alpha had not yet dismissed him.
Paw gave him one more dominating glare. “Major.” He slammed the door in his Gamma's face.