Lady Kingair nodded.
“I’m with you, my lord. But I prefer to travel a little more formally.”
“Very well. We shall meet you there.” At which Lord Maccon swooped down upon his wife, one hand firmly occupied in keeping the shawl secure about his midriff. “Please, be cautious, my love, train or no train.”
Alexia leaned into his embrace. Uncaring for the watching eyes about them—everyone there was family, after all—she touched his chin with one hand and arched up into his kiss. Prudence, accustomed to such activity, did not move in her mother’s lap. Conall disappeared out into the hallway to remove the pink brocade and change form.
Mere moments later, a shaggy wolf head peeked back into the room and barked insistently. With a start, Lady Kingair excused herself to follow him.
“My hallway,” remarked Lord Akeldama, “has never before seen such lively action. And that, my sugarplums, is saying something!”
Lady Maccon left her daughter asleep in her adopted father’s drawing room. She changed out of her evening gown and into a visiting dress of ecru over a bronze skirt with brown velvet detailing. It was perhaps too unadorned for a vampire queen, but it was eminently appropriate for public transport. She commandeered one of the drones to assist her with the buttons, seeing as Biffy—her lady’s valet, as she liked to call him—was busy with his hats. She tucked Ethel into a brown velvet reticule, checking to ensure the gun was fully loaded with sundowner bullets. Alexia detested the very idea that she might have to actually use her gun. Like any well-bred woman, she vastly preferred merely to wave it about and make wild, menacing gestures. This was partly because her marksmanship was limited to sometimes hitting the side of the barn—if it was a very large barn and she was very close to it—and partly because guns seemed so decidedly final. Still, even if all she intended to do was threaten, she might as well be able to fulfill that threat adequately. Alexia abhorred hypocrisy, especially when munitions were involved.
She took a moment to lament her lack of parasol. Every time she left the house, she felt keenly the absence of her heretofore ubiquitous accessory. She had asked Conall for a replacement, and he had muttered mysterious husband-with-gifts-afoot mutters, but nothing had resulted. She might have to take matters into her own hands soon. But with Madame Lefoux indentured to the Woolsey Hive, Alexia was at a loss as to how to locate an inventor capable of producing work of such complexity and delicacy, not to mention fashion.
Floote materialized with two first-class tickets from London to Woolsey on the Tilbury Line’s Barking Express.
“Lord Maccon will not be joining me, Floote. Are any of the men available to act as escort?”
Floote took a long moment to consider his mistress’s options. Alexia knew she had tasked her butler with quite a conundrum. With drones, werewolves, and clavigers to choose from, distributed among two households and currently bumbling about most of London, there was quite the crowd for even a butler of Floote’s cranial capacity to keep account of. All Alexia knew was that Biffy was working and that Boots was visiting relations in Steeple Bumpshod.
Floote took a small breath. “I’m afraid there is only Major Channing immediately available, madam.”
Alexia winced. “Really? How unfortunate. Well, he will have to do. I can’t very well travel by train alone, can I? Would you tell him I request his attendance as escort, please?”
This time it was Floote’s turn to wince, which for him was a mere twitch of one eyelid. “Of course, madam.”
He glided off, reappearing moments later with her wrap and Major Channing, the London Pack’s toffee-nosed Gamma werewolf.
“Lady Maccon, you require my services?” Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings was a man who spoke the Queen’s English with that unctuous precision instilled only by generations of the best schools, the best society, and an overabundance of teeth.
“Yes, Major, I must visit Woolsey.”
Major Channing looked as though he would quite like to object to the very idea of accompanying his Alpha female into the countryside, but he knew perfectly well that Lady Maccon would ask for him only if she had no other alternatives. He also knew who was most likely to bear the brunt of Lord Maccon’s wrath if she were allowed to travel alone. So he said the only thing he could say under such circumstances.
“I am, of course, at your disposal, my lady. Ready, willing, and able.”
“Don’t overdo it, Channing.”
“Yes, my lady.”
Lady Maccon eyed the Gamma’s outfit with a critical eye. He was in his military garb, and Alexia wasn’t entirely certain that was appropriate for calling on vampires. But do we have time for him to change? To give insult by being very late indeed or by bringing a soldier into the house of a vampire queen? Quite the conundrum.
“Floote, what time does our train depart?”
“In one half hour, madam, from Fenchurch Street Station.”
“Ah, no time for you to change, then, Major. Very well, collect your greatcoat and let’s be away.”
They rode the train in an uncomfortable silence, Alexia pondering the night out the window and Major Channing pondering an exceedingly dull-looking financial paper. Major Channing, Alexia had discovered much to her shock, was interested in figures, and as such was bursar to the pack. It seemed odd for a man of breeding and snobbery to dally with mathematics, but immortality did strange things to people’s hobbies.