Home > Heartless (Parasol Protectorate #4)

Heartless (Parasol Protectorate #4)
Author: Gail Carriger

CHAPTER ONE

In Which Lady Alexia Maccon Waddles

Five months! Five months you—dare I say it—gentlemen have been sitting on this little scheme of yours and only now you decide to inform me of it!” Lady Alexia Maccon did not enjoy being surprised by declarations of intent. She glared at the men before her. Fully grown, and a goodly number of centuries older than she, yet they still managed to look like shamefaced little boys.

The three gentlemen, despite identical expressions of sheepishness, were as dissimilar as men of fashion and social standing could possibly be. The first was large and slightly unkempt. His perfectly tailored evening jacket draped about massive shoulders with a degree of reluctance, as if it were well aware that it was worn under sufferance. The other two existed in far more congenial partnerships with their apparel, although, with the first, dress was a matter of subtlety and, with the second, a form of artistic, nigh declamatory, expression.

Lady Maccon was not looking fearsome enough to inspire feelings of embarrassment in any gentleman, fashionable or no. Perilously close to her confinement at almost eight months, she had the distinct appearance of a stuffed goose with bunions.

“We didna want to worry you overly,” ventured her husband. His voice was gruff in an attempt at calm solicitude. The Earl of Woolsey’s tawny eyes were lowered, and his hair might actually have been dampened.

“Oh, and the constant vampire death threats are so very restful for a woman in my condition?” Alexia was having none of it. Her voice was shrill enough to disturb Lord Akeldama’s cat, normally a most unflappable creature. The chubby calico opened one yellow eye and yawned.

“But isn’t it the most perfect solution, my little lilac bush?” exalted Lord Akeldama, petting the cat back into purring, boneless relaxation. The vampire’s discomfiture was the most manufactured of the three. There was a twinkle in his beautiful eyes, however downcast. It was the twinkle of a man about to get his own way.

“What, to lose possession of my own child? For goodness’ sake, I may be soulless and I am, admittedly, not precisely maternal, but I am by no means heartless. Really, Conall, how could you agree to this? Without consulting me!”

“Wife, did you miss the fact that the entire pack has been on constant bodyguard duty for the past five months? It’s exhausting, my dear.”

Lady Maccon adored her husband. She was particularly fond of the way he strode about shirtless in a fit of pique, but she was finding she didn’t actually like him at the moment—the fathead. She was also suddenly hungry, a terrible bother, as it distracted her from her irritation.

“Oh, indeed, and how do you think I feel being on the receiving end of such constant supervision? But, Conall, adoption!” Alexia stood and began to pace about. Or, to be more precise, waddle fiercely. For once, she was blind to the gilded beauty of Lord Akeldama’s drawing room. I should have known better than to agree to a meeting here, she thought. Something untoward always occurs in Lord Akeldama’s drawing room.

“The queen thinks it’s a good plan.” That was Professor Lyall joining the fray. His was probably the most genuine regret, as he disliked confrontation. He was also the one truly responsible for this plot, unless Alexia was very wrong in her estimation of his character.

“Bully for the ruddy queen. Absolutely not—I refuse.”

“Now, Alexia, my dearest, be reasonable.” Her husband was trying to wheedle. He wasn’t very good at it—wheedling looked odd on a man of his proportions and monthly inclinations.

“Reasonable? Go boil your head in reasonable!”

Lord Akeldama tried a new tactic. “I have already converted the room next to mine into a positively charming nursery, my little pomegranate seed.”

Lady Maccon was really quite shocked to hear that. She paused in her wrath and her waddling to blink at the vampire in surprise. “Not your second closet? Never that.”

“Indeed. You see how seriously I am taking this, my dearest petal? I have relocated clothing for you.”

“For my child, you mean.” But Alexia was impressed despite herself.

She looked to Lyall for assistance and tried desperately to calm herself and behave as practically as possible. “And this will stop the attacks?”

Professor Lyall nodded, pushing his spectacles up with one finger. They were an affectation—he had no need of them—but they gave him something to hide behind. And something to fiddle with. “I believe so. I have not, of course, been able to consult with any queens outright. The hives refuse to admit to an extermination mandate, and BUR has not yet determined how to prove definitively the vampires are”—he coughed gently—“trying to kill your child. And by default, you.”

Alexia knew that the Bureau of Unnatural Registry was handicapped by a combination of paperwork and proper appearances. That is to say, because it was the enforcing body for England’s supernatural and preternatural subjects, it had to seem at all times to be obeying its own laws, including those that guaranteed the packs and the hives some level of autonomy and self-governance.

“Monsieur Trouvé’s homicidal mechanical ladybugs?”

“Never did trace the vampires’ agent in Europe.”

“The exploding gravy boat?”

“No appreciable evidence left behind.”

“The flaming Mongolian poodle?”

“No connection to any known dealer.”

“The poisoned dirigible meal that Mr. Tunstell consumed in my stead?”

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