Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 59

His arms relaxed to his sides.

Shaggy came over all suspicious at this, perhaps because Felix, highest rank among them, had deferred to a winking Sophronia.

He said, “Come to think on it, he doesn’t look much like the duke. Do we trust his story? These boys could be with the hive.”

Stubby did not agree. “In those getups? Never have I known a vampire drone to be anything less than perfectly turned out.” His gaze shifted over Dimity. “That one is a positive sight.”

Felix bristled; now these criminals were insulting a lady friend.

“Who are you to judge?” he wanted to know.

“That’s enough out of you, lordling,” replied the second flywayman, pointing his gun with even more surety at Felix.

Felix had clearly reached his limit. Short tempers, reflected Sophronia, were a severe liability in her line of work. The young lord jerked in Shaggy’s direction. The flywayman was tenser than he seemed, for he shot Felix, right then and there.

The sound of the gun seemed particularly loud in the quiet countryside.

SESSION 12: BUMBERSNOOT TO THE RESCUE

Time seemed to slow.

Birds in a nearby hedgerow took off in a small cloud.

Dimity screamed.

Sophronia leapt forward to Felix, her heart in her throat, absolutely terrified. “Felix!”

He was rocking around on his back, clutching the side of his thigh, his pretty face screwed up in agony. It must be bad, for he was getting his clothes all over dusty from the track. They were borrowed duds, but Felix was generally respectful of all clothing.

Sophronia skidded in to kneel next to him. “Where were you hit? Felix!”

The viscount took a short moment to look into her worried green eyes. His own blue ones were leaking tears of pain, even though he was patently trying to contain them. “Curses, that burns! God, you’re beautiful.”

Sophronia forgave him the bad language in fine company. This once. She also forgave him the compliment. It couldn’t be too bad a wound if he was still able to flirt. Although the flywaymen were listening with interest and she was still dressed as a boy.

“Hush. Let me see,” she said.

Reluctantly, Felix took his hands away from his leg. “Kiss it and make it better?” he pleaded, winsome as an injured child.

“Are you delirious? They’re listening,” she hissed.

“Ria, my dove, I enjoy wearing kohl and favor well-tailored waistcoats. I already have somewhat of a reputation.”

Sophronia tsked and looked to his thigh.

Stubby said to his companion, “Supposing that actually is the duke’s eldest, do you think he knows his son is a prancer?”

Sophronia found the comment somewhat of a relief for her own part; at least her disguise held. Felix was remarkably untroubled by any questioning of his manhood.

She said, “See what I mean?”

He whispered, teeth gritted under her gentle ministrations, “All rumors will be put to rest once you agree to marry me.”

“Oh, of course,” replied Sophronia, “because it always works out exactly like that. You’re ridiculous. No wife ever cleared a man’s character, not without a great deal of trouble on the lower decks. So to speak. I should know, we’ve studied somewhat on the subject.”

“Ouch, darling, must you be so rough?”

“Just stoppering up your silly mouth.”

“I know a better way.” He pursed his lips at her. He was still writhing and crying, mind you. She was a little relieved—at least this meant he hadn’t been in league with the flywaymen from the get-go.

Sophronia finished her examination of the wound, and in the absence of brandy extracted her vial of lemon tincture—it was alcohol based, after all—and poured it over the gash.

Felix shrieked. And then, panting, said, “Thank you, fine physician. That makes it feel so much better, and all sweetly scented.”

“Stop your whingeing. It’s not serious. It only grazed the surface skin, see there.” Sophronia pointed, face free of worry. Underneath, however, she was thinking that it was bleeding rather much. He wasn’t going to be able to walk. She untucked her shirt and began tearing the hem for a bandage.

Behind her, Sophronia heard a faint sigh and a thud as Dimity collapsed in a faint. She must have caught sight of the blood. Wonderful.

Sidheag, bless her heart, held her position but had pulled out her sewing shears, which she now brandished in a threatening manner. It was odd for young Lord Kingair to be brandishing shears, but so much else was going on, and so much else was odd, this didn’t seem to clue the flywaymen into anything in any substantial way.

Stubby did not seem to be inclined to charge.

Shaggy was actually looking guilty at having shot a peer in cold blood.

Then from behind the flywaymen came a shout of rage. Someone had been watching their confrontation from the airship, probably through a spyglass. Now that someone climbed out of the dirigible and trotted in their direction with the sedate upright steps of a hound on the scent.

This man was no flywayman but a gentleman. His suit was of impeccable heavyweight tweed, perfect for floating over the countryside on a damp afternoon. He had paired it with a daytime top hat banded in green, and carried a cane with a spiked wooden top and a silver-tipped bottom, a sundowner weapon designed for killing supernaturals.

It was the band that caught Sophronia’s attention. She knew that the flywaymen occasionally allied with Picklemen; now she knew that these particular flywaymen were hosting a Pickleman of their very own.

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