Authors: Gail Carriger
Tags: #Fiction / Science Fiction / Steampunk, Fiction / Fantasy / Historical, Fiction / Fantasy / Contemporary, Fiction / Romance / Fantasy, Fiction / Fantasy / Paranormal, Fiction / Fantasy / Urban
Lady Maccon focused on her daughter. “What's happened, infant?”
Rue examined her mother. Lady Maccon seemed more frustrated than was normal, even for her.
If she's been holding Paw back from insanity, she's had to stay touching him, flesh to flesh, whenever they were both awake.
Rue had never once doubted that her parents adored one another, but that kind of thing would strain any marriage.
“Had a little bit of a chat with Paw earlier. Although, I did most of the chatting. Paw was there but he also
if you take my meaning?”
Mother's face blanched, as much as it could, for she was swarthy. She collected herself and tsked. “Oh for goodness' sake, you two, let's sit like a proper family.”
They sat and stared at one another in awkward silence, which was quite familial.
Paw broke it. “Little one, did I drop by for a visit this afternoon? Or was that a dream?”
“I thought werewolves didn't dream.” Rue didn't answer his question.
He continued musing. “I
stop by. I'm certain of it. Massive ladybug ship. And you were there and so was that blister Lefoux. And he was
you!” His voice rose.
Then he rose as well and marched back to the door, ripping it open. Luckily it was built for such abuse.
Uncle Channing reappeared with more than supernatural speed, suggesting that he had been listening at keyholes, although with werewolf hearing a keyhole wasn't necessary.
Paw didn't care. “As a personal favour, I'd like you to go keep an eye on this Quesnel scrapper. You know him, Lefoux's spawn. He seems to be hunting rather the wrong prey.”
“Oh, really, Paw!” Rue was moved to protest.
With a nod and an avaricious gleam in his eyes, Channing clapped his top hat to his head and headed out.
Lady Maccon took this all in stride and stayed focused on her daughter. “Kissing? In public? Is that wise?”
Lord Maccon slammed the doorâ¦ againâ¦ and rounded on his wife. “How can you be so calm? He was
on our daughter!”
“Husband,” said Lady Maccon in
tone, “sit down! Our Rue has her majority. I should hope she has had more kissing than I at twenty-one. Young women need
experience. Rue, dear, remind me to discuss the precautionary arts with you at some point soon.”
Rue looked nonplussed. She supposed she ought to have expected this from Mother. Lady Maccon always had a ready answer that was slightly more practical than anyone expected.
Lord Maccon sputtered. “But he was kissing her! And he is quite a bit older. And she was letting him. And people saw.”
Lady Maccon raised her free hand in an awfully familiar silencing gesture. “Now, now, let's take this one step at a time. Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldamaâ”
, full name. I may actually be in trouble.
“I will allow that kissing someone is indeed necessary for your education.”
“Thank you, Mother.”
“Although your father may not agree with me.”
“He does not,” Paw grumbled.
His wife continued as if he hadn't spoken. “But you really can't be seen to do so with a commoner in broad daylight, certainly not in front of your crew. And likely a few builders.” Rue winced. “And perhaps some croquet players?” Rue winced again.
“He deserved it,” said Rue petulantly. “He was being a rotter.”
“So you kissed him?”
Lady Maccon looked to her husband with a satisfied expression. “See there, revenge kissing, no harm done.”
Rue couldn't help it; something about her mother always got her into trouble. It was that maddening calm. “Although, to be fair, when Paw arrived, Quesnel was kissing me back.”
Paw came half off the couch on a growl.
Lady Maccon looked less pleased. “Was he indeed? Quesnel Lefoux? Interesting choice. You realise his mother and I are friendly?”
Lord Maccon made a funny huff noise. His wife tugged gently at their joined hands and he subsided back into the couch.
Mother added, with only a minor glare in his direction, “Although not quite as friendly as we might have been.”
Rue didn't follow the byplay. “I like him well enough for a dalliance.”
“Dalliance!” Lord Maccon positively roared.
His wife made a funny sputter noise that might have been outrage or amusement or outraged amusement. “Our girl is thoroughly modern, dear. Young people have a different perspective on such things. Will you be continuing this particular croquet match?”
Rue tilted her head, humouring her. “Not at the moment. I believe Mr Lefoux needs to stew. He thinks himself far too enticing. I won't be played with, croquet or no croquet.”
“Good girl, very wise,” approved her mother.
“Rejecting him because he kissed you back?” Lord Maccon perked up, not following but hopeful.
Rue finally sputtered to a halt. “It's no good. This is too bad. I can't be discussing this with you. You're my parents. Who I go about kissing, or not kissing as the case may be, really is none of your business.”
At that, Lady Maccon became annoyed. “Of course it's our business! You're a proper lady, or as proper as we could turn out given the circumstances. You can't go around kissing coquettish Frenchmen willy-nilly. It's not done and the papers will positively float off the stands. Frankly, I'm not convinced Mr Lefoux is a top choice. I don't keep full accounts of your generation, but isn't he a terrible philanderer? Wasn't there something about an opera girl a few seasons ago?”
Rue was about to point out that what she meant was that she didn't want to discuss the specifics of the kissing, when a tremendous galumphing clatter in the hallway made further speech impossible and indicated that the pack was departing for the evening.
“Should you let them out?” Rue wondered aloud before she could stop herself.
Lady Maccon sucked in a breath.
Lord Maccon said, very deadly and quiet, “Are you questioning my authority?”
Rue dropped her gaze submissively, took a big breath, and leapt. “No, Paw. I'm questioning your control.”
She wasn't certain what such a bald statement might do. Would he drop Mother's hand and shift, charge at her, roaring? Would he crumble like a child into confessions and tears? But what
happen was almost worse. There was nothing but silence. Rue glanced up through her lashes.
Mother was grey under her olive skin, her eyes sad. Paw was hunched, small as he could get, which wasn't very. Her indomitable parents, Rue realised, looked defeated.
The silence stretched.
Desperate to see something of their normal dynamic, Rue sacrificed her own pride. “Look. I like Mr Lefoux. I think he's a prime piece, if you take my meaning. And it's good if one of us is well versed, don't you think? Paw, don't answer that. Regardless, I believe he is attracted to me, although I doubt he takes me very seriously.”
“I canna be listening to this,” said Lord Maccon. And then on a roar, “What do you mean he
doesn't take you seriously
“Oh, Paw, be fair. I don't take me seriously most of the time. Why should anyone else? Besides, I'm not sure I want serious â it can be such a bother.”
Lord Maccon looked exactly as if he wanted to bash heads, possibly hers and Quesnel's.
Rue soldiered on. “Besides, I don't think Mr Lefoux takes anything seriously except maybe inventions and boilers. He's charming, undoubtedly, but not a lot more than charming. I
hurt when he wandered off to Egypt and abandoned me, but I've learned my lesson. I believe he'll give me a good education, but keeping my heart out of it seems the best approach.”
Lord Maccon looked pained, as if he wanted to stopper over his ears, but then he roared again. “He abandoned
Mother, accustomed to the roar, was briefly distracted. “Did you say
Rue nodded, noting the emphasis with interest. “Then he returned to London without telling me and installed this tank in my boiler room without asking, so he's clearly not to be trusted.”
Mother arrowed in on that like a pointer on a dead partridge. “What kind of tank?”
“I don't know! That's the annoying part.”
Lady Maccon focused on her husband, ignoring Rue with an abrupt thoroughness that Rue had grown accustomed to over the years. “I need to talk to Genevieve.”
“Must you?” grumbled her father.
She turned back to Rue. “Go on, infant. You were saying about the boy?”
Rue shrugged. “That was it. I only want a bit of fun. I think I've got it sorted so I don't get hurt. Neither of you need worry on that score.”
Paw still looked upset. But Lady Maccon took Rue at her word. Mother was like that, mostly accepting of other people's assessments of themselves. She was eminently pragmatic, which came with being soulless. She also mistakenly assumed everyone else was equally practical. This ought to have gotton her into trouble, living with werewolves, but most of the pack accepted her at face value, too. They treated her not as another pack member as much as an anchor located well below the emotional aetheric currents upon which werewolves bobbed.
She was thoughtful. “I don't know the boy, not well. Young scamp of a thing running around blowing up contrivance chambers at the drop of a hat when I first met him. You'd have thought the same about his mother, though, flirty and inconsequential, had you known her when we were younger. Genevieve hides inside her inventions as a protection against affection. Perhaps her son is similar? Angelique, well, she was a different matter entirely.”
“Quesnel's blood mother.”
“He never told you? He's adopted.”
“Oh yes. Thought he got his looks from his father, did you? Oh, no, no. Angelique was this little blonde slip of a thing. Quite the beauty. Also French. Biggest pansy eyes you ever saw, dab hand with the curling iron as well. She was my lady's maid for a while there.”
“Nasty piece of work, in the end. Espionage. I rather think she might have broken Genevieve's heart. They were, you know,
for some time, back in the day.”
Rue did know that Quesnel's mother preferred the company of ladies; he had admitted as much. And Rue was Lord Akeldama's daughter, too. Dama made certain her education included all possible options. He himself preferred the company of gentlemen. Rue had, in the end, decided that she did as well â prefer the company of gentlemen, that is. Boyish French ones with pansy eyes and, as it turned out, contorted views on family and love.
“That could explain a lot about him.”
“Yes,” said Lady Maccon, “I thought you should know. Could be hazardous should you relax your stance on not taking him seriously. From my own experience, I can assure you, it was very dangerous to care for Angelique. Who knows if that kind of thing can be inherited? You see, infant, he's not a great match in terms of the particulars of class and rank, but I also worry about other aspects.”
Rue grinned. “Very thoughtful, Mother. I appreciate the information. And now if we are being perfectly honest with one another, may I ask what's wrong with Paw? Sorry, Paw, but I'm not perpetually blind to your faults.”
Lady Maccon laughed. “Too many things to list, I should say.”
Lord Maccon gave his wife a dour look. “Please don't try.”
“It's Alpha's curse, isn't it?”
Mother's wide mouth twisted in a sad sort of grimace. “Yes, dear, it is.”
Rue widened her eyes so as not to tear up. “Has he hurt anyone?”
“Not yet. Not as far as we know.”
Paw stared down at his free hand as if it held the secrets of the world, thoroughly ashamed of himself.
“Paw, don't look so. It's not like you could help it. Doesn't it happen to every Alpha?”
Mother examined the ceiling. “He thinks he's superior to the others. Stronger. Better. Yes, Conall, I know, you always have been before. Except maybe the dewan. But you aren't perfect. Trust me. At least you're nowhere near as bad as Lord Woolsey got.”
Paw looked horrified. In classic fashion, Rue's mother's attempt at consolation went wide of the mark.
“Lord Woolsey?” Rue prodded.
Lady Maccon was in a forthcoming mood. “Previous Alpha to your father, came over all violent and rotten to the core. Removing him proved to be quite the mess. Killed your grandfather, not to put too fine a point on it.”
Rue was so horrified that even her notoriously obtuse mother noticed.
“Oh, don't worry, infant. All reports seem to suggest Lord Woolsey wasn't a very nice man even before he caught the Alpha's curse. Frankly, neither was your grandfather. You'll have to ask Professor Lyall if you want the details. Lord Woolsey was before my time. Although, I do know that he turned bad enough to almost cause a civil uprising. An insane Alpha is no small thing and can have wide-ranging political implications. Which I do keep reminding your father but he insistsâ”
“Enough, woman. Enough.” Paw raised his free hand to the heavens as though petitioning for interference.
“He doesn't want you involved.”
Rue nodded, understanding her father's feelings likely more than her mother did. Paw was embarrassed. He wanted to be her strong, solid comfort. She was his daughter and she wasn't allowed to see him weak.
She couldn't stop herself from asking in a small voice, “Are you going to die, Paw?”
“Och, sweetheart, no. Well, not immediately.” Paw leaned forward across the tea table to put his hand over hers, where they were clasped together, white-knuckled in her lap. Her fingers ached, which meant she must have been clutching them together for a while, unnoticed.