Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 26

After a year and a half of ghosting about a finishing school for intelligencers, a place riddled with tracks and malevolent mechanicals of all kinds, she found her own house easy by comparison. Most of the human staff were already downstairs attending to early guests and dressed gentlemen. A few mechanicals trundled along, under orders, none of them equipped with proximity alarms or remotely interested in Sophronia. She belonged here; why should it matter that she was out and about?

Her parents and sundry older siblings were already at the ball. Petunia was upstairs screaming at Bumbersnoot, so there was only the twins to worry about. They must be off causing mischief for her mother, as Sophronia made it through the house and out into the garden without attracting attention. Or perhaps she had learned more than she thought at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s.

“I have a message from Lady Kingair,” said Pillover, without the courtesy of a greeting. He was slouching on a rail of the gazebo, plucking dolefully at a camellia bush.

Sophronia respected brevity. “I was hoping someone might.”

“I’m the best and most trustworthy option of a bad lot, I suppose.”

Sophronia held out her hand.

Pillover shook his head. “Naw, it came via Vieve, verbal only. Too dangerous to keep written, scamp said.”

Sophronia flipped up her hand, looking about to make absolutely certain they were enjoying complete privacy. A few stable hands walked toward the front of the house from the barn. Carriages were beginning to arrive. They were out of earshot. Above them the basket of Sophronia’s misappropriated airdinghy nested comfortably. Someone could hide in there, she supposed. Quickly she pulled out her letter opener and jabbed through the wicker of the gondola. No one screamed and there was no blood, although Pillover watched her do this with mild disgust.

Sophronia jumped back down and nodded at him to continue. She stashed her letter opener.

Pillover said, “Sidheag says her werewolves are in trouble. Kingair Pack has been disgraced.” Pillover looked as if he had swallowed something unpleasant. “They were caught planning to murder Queen Victoria. Lord Maccon has abandoned them and is contemplating challenging Lord Woolsey to take over the pack near London.”

“Oh, my goodness!” said Sophronia. “Treason?”

“Attempted treason.”

“And Alpha abandonment.” Sophronia could understand the Laird of Kingair’s anger, but it put everyone at risk. A werewolf pack without an Alpha could be very dangerous. Quickly, she calculated the next full moon. Right ’round the corner; without an Alpha, the pack’s madness could be particularly brutal. “I hope the clavigers are ready.”

Pillover continued, “Sidheag has gone to London to intercept Lord Maccon, try to turn him back to his duty. He’s needed to keep the Kingair Pack in order, especially now. Seems his Beta planned it all and Lord Maccon killed him before heading south.”

Kingair had no Alpha and no Beta? Sophronia paled. She’d never heard of such a thing in the whole history of openly accepted supernaturals. Who is controlling the pack? They could run mad. Every one of those werewolves was an uncle to Sidheag; this would account for her upset. Her one and only family was fractured beyond all possible repair. This was the werewolf version of those unspeakable divorces so popular on the Continent! “Poor Sidheag! What are we to do?”

Pillover shrugged, sublimely unconcerned. Or perhaps he always expected bad news and thus was never surprised by it. “I’m only the messenger.”

Further discussion was stopped by a whip crack of a cry. “Ho there, young man!”

Pillover jumped away from Sophronia, barking his elbow on the gazebo railing. “Ouch!”

Sophronia turned to face the house. “Mumsy!”

“Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, what are you doing alone in the garden with a boy!”

“Um,” said Sophronia.

Pillover rubbed his elbow.

Mrs. Temminnick turned her wrath on the unfortunate young man. “Mr. Plumleigh-Teignmott, this is too bad! I am shocked, shocked, I say. After we welcomed you into our home last winter! I trust you will make an honest woman of my daughter?”

“Mother! Pillover is only fourteen!”

“Oh ho, Pillover, is it? What have they been teaching you at finishing school? To meet a young man in the gardens, alone and unchaperoned…”

“Really, Mother! He is a veritable hobbledehoy. Don’t be silly.”

“Oh, thank you for that,” muttered Pillover, utterly dejected. Which fortunately made him seem less threatening.

Sophronia said smoothly, “My school has trained me to recognize when a young man offers no risk. He is my dearest friend’s younger brother. I asked him to see me ’round the garden. I was feeling most unwell after that cart ride, and the rain has abated somewhat.”

“Don’t you dare talk back, young lady!” Mrs. Temminnick looked at Pillover with new eyes. He did seem as if he could barely muster enough energy to hold his own head up, let alone menace her daughter. It obviously took great effort for him to speak to, let alone kiss, a lady. There was clearly no threat to her daughter’s reputation, aside from the fact that they had been caught alone together. Mrs. Temminnick checked to see if anyone else had noticed. No one had. Still, the value of having her youngest daughter trussed up at only sixteen?

Sophronia perfectly followed her mother’s thought process. “Mumsy, the ball is to start soon; everyone must be looking for you. If you leave quickly, Pill and I will return separately, with no one the wiser.”

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