Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 9

The werewolf was preparing to retreat behind a whortleberry bush to change forms and dash off into the night hunting rabbits, or something equally small and fuzzy.

Instead, he approached the base of the staircase, shading his eyes against the glare of the well-lit ship. He sniffed, not in hauteur, but like an animal tasting the air.

“Lady Kingair, what’s wrong?” He sniffed again. His voice changed, becoming rough and gravelly. “What has happened?”

Sidheag moved away from her friends. “I must talk to the captain. Only he can help.”

They let her go, reluctantly.

Sidheag stumbled as she climbed down, falling the last few steps.

Captain Niall caught her easily, supernatural strength barely troubled by her weight.

Once in his arms, she folded in on herself, broken.

The werewolf said something to her, so low the girls watching could not hear. Then he set her back on her feet. They were matched in height. Lady Linette would say that they’d dance well together. Except that Sidheag was a terrible dancer.

Sidheag raised her head, saying something soft in reply. Captain Niall responded with a gentle squeeze to the arm. Overcome once more, Sidheag crumpled, shoulders heaving. The werewolf whisked her off, his supernatural speed used in sympathy for once, into the darkness of the moor and away from prying eyes.

Sophronia, Dimity, and Agatha were left once again without their friend, alone at the top of the stairs. At least Sidheag’s behavior had not been observed. The shame of it, to show weakness and then affection, with a teacher!

Dimity’s hand was pressed to her mouth, her eyes widened against sympathetic tears. Agatha looked almost as shaky as Sidheag, so that Sophronia slipped an arm about her waist. They stood like that for a long time until a polite cough caught Sophronia’s attention.

“Miss, we need to crank up the stair.”

Sophronia turned to find Soap, standing shipside.

He looked about to crack one of his customary cheeky smiles. But the moment he saw her expression, he schooled his own and flitted over to join them. “What in all aether’s happened? Sophronia, are you hurt?” Usually he was punctiliously formal. They must look truly upset for him to call Sophronia by name.

“We don’t know.” A great deal of frustration colored Sophronia’s voice.

Soap’s eyes bored into hers, as if they were alone. “Not you?” His gaze flicked to her bandaged arm.

Sophronia shook her head. “No, I’m well. Just a little scrape with a fan. It’s Sidheag.”

Dimity tugged at her sleeve. “I’m sure this is a private matter! Hush.”

“Soap is her friend, too.”

Dimity bit her lip, uncomfortable with sharing anything that had so traumatized Sidheag with an underling, or a boy, or an outsider. Despite Soap’s ongoing friendship with Sophronia, Dimity was too much a lady not to see him as all three, all the time.

Dimity hissed, “Sidheag is Lady Kingair. I know that mostly we forget she’s all over titled, being Scottish and such, but still, should Lady Kingair be friends with a sootie?”

“Oh, Dimity, don’t be so snobbish. Sidheag can choose her own friends. And he might know something.”

Soap was clearly chuffed at Sophronia’s ready defense. Still, he responded to the meat of the matter. “Know something? About Lady Kingair? Not recently. Why, is she unwell?”

Sophronia shook her head helplessly. “Something has gone pear shaped. She received a pigeon and now she’s gone off into the moor with Captain Niall.”

“And she was crying. Sidheag. I shouldn’t have thought it possible,” whispered Agatha.

Soap considered. “Pigeon, huh? I’ll see what I can dig up. And now, before we all get into trouble, would you mind backing away from the stair, please? We have orders.”

Much sobered, the three made their way at a run to their next lesson. They had Lady Linette, and even with an emotional crisis of epic proportions, it wasn’t done to be late to a lesson with Lady Linette. They couldn’t even claim fashion as an excuse—Lady Linette forgave tardiness on account of style. But all three of them had grass stains on their gowns, and Sophronia’s sleeve was ripped and bloody. They were certain to get into trouble.

“Girls, why are you so very late?” Lady Linette’s blonde curls were perfectly arranged to spill over one shoulder in a style ill suited to a woman of her years. She wore too much face paint and a dress overly poufy and of that exact shade of pale green that became no one. But Lady Linette overdressed with purpose. She was actually prettier and younger underneath, and would be quite the thing if she actually dressed her age, gave up rinsing her hair, and forayed into jewel-toned fabrics. For a reason Sophronia had yet to fathom, Lady Linette did not. She kept up the facade, and the girls, who had now mostly figured out that it was one, kept it with her. This, too, was part of their training.

Lady Linette’s anger, however, was not faked. She turned it on Sophronia. “Explain yourself, young lady.”

“Stairway wasn’t working well. It started to go up while we were still on it, caused quite a ruckus. You might want to have it checked next time you have a mechanic in.”

“Oh, indeed?”

Sophronia knew that the sooties would back her up in her fib, so long as she could get to them first. I guess I’m visiting the sooties this evening.

Lady Linette probably knew it, too, for she didn’t pursue the reprimand. “I suppose that explains your abysmal attire as well?”

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