Major Channing helped Alexia out of the tram, and they made their way up the wide steps to the front door. Alexia felt a little odd, pulling the bell rope at what once had been her home. She could only imagine what Major Channing felt, having lived there for goodness knew how many decades.
His face was stoic. Or she thought it was stoic; it was difficult to tell under all that handsome haughtiness.
“She certainly has made”—he paused—“adjustments.”
Lady Maccon nodded. “The door is painted with silver swirls. Silver!”
Major Channing had no opportunity to answer, for said door was opened by a beautiful young maid with glossy ebony hair, decked out in a frilled black dress with crisp white shirt and black pin-tucked apron front. Perfect in every way, as was to be expected in the countess’s household.
“Lady Maccon and Major Channing, to see Countess Nadasdy.”
“Oh, yes, you are expected, my lady. I’ll inform my mistress you are here. If you wouldn’t mind waiting one moment in the hall?”
Lady Maccon and Major Channing did not mind, for they were busy absorbing the transformation the countess had enacted upon their former abode. The carpets were now all thick and plush and blood red in color. The walls had been repapered in pale cream and gold, with a collection of fine art rescued from the wreckage of the hive’s previous abode on prominent display. These were luxurious changes that neither appealed to a werewolf’s taste nor suited his lifestyle. One simply did not live with Titian paintings and Persian rugs when one grew claws on a regular basis.
Major Channing, who hadn’t seen the place since the pack left it, arched one blond eyebrow. “Would hardly have thought it the same house.”
Lady Maccon made no answer. A vampire was oiling his way down the staircase toward them.
“Dr. Caedes, how do you do?”
“Lady Maccon.” Dr. Caedes was a thin, reedy man, with a hairline paused in the act of withdrawal and an interest in engineering, not medicinal matters, despite his title.
“You know Major Channing, of course?”
“We may have met.” The doctor inclined his head. He did not smile nor show fang.
Ah, thought Alexia, we are to be treated with respect. How droll. “My husband would have attended your summons, but he was called away on urgent business.”
“A family matter.”
“I do hope it is nothing serious?”
Alexia tilted her head, playing the game of reveal with aplomb. She had been some time now a member of the Shadow Council and was a quick study in the fine art of conversing upon matters of great importance yet saying nothing significant. “More bedraggled, I suspect. Shall we proceed?”
Dr. Caedes backed down, having to follow the niceties of conversation that he and his kind had insinuated into society. “Of course, my lady. If you’d care to follow me? The countess is awaiting you in the Blue Room.”
The Blue Room, as it turned out, was the room formerly occupied by the Woolsey Pack’s extensive library. Alexia tried to hide her distress at the destruction of her favorite retreat. The vampires had stripped it of its mahogany shelving and leather seats and had papered it in cream and sky-blue stripes. The furniture was all cream in color with a decidedly Oriental influence and, unless Alexia was very much mistaken, Thomas Chippendale originals.
Countess Nadasdy sat in an arranged manner, draped to one side over the corner of a window seat. She wore an extremely fashionable and extraordinarily elaborate moss-green receiving dress trimmed with pale blue, the skirt tied back so narrowly that Lady Maccon wondered at the queen’s ability to walk about, and the sleeves were so tight Alexia very much doubted the vampire could lift her arms at all. Biffy had tried to foist such absurdities upon Alexia, but only once, at which juncture she insisted that mobility was not to be sacrificed for taste, especially not with a child like Prudence dashing about. Biffy hunted down daringly cut fluid styles influenced by the Far East for his mistress to wear instead and said no more about it.
The countess had the ample figure of a milkmaid who had partaken too freely of the creamy results of her labors, which did not suit the style of the dress at all. Alexia would never have said a word, but she shuddered to think of Lord Akeldama’s opinion on such a figure in such attire. She planned, of course, to describe it in detail to her dear friend as soon as possible.
“Ah, Lady Maccon, do come in.”
“Countess Nadasdy, how do you do? You are adjusting to rural life, I see.”
“For a girl with as unsullied a nature as I, the countryside is unobjectionable.”
Lady Maccon paused, verbally stymied by the countess using the words unsullied and girl to describe herself.
The vampire queen glanced away from Lady Maccon’s ill-disguised discomposure. “Thank you, Dr. Caedes. You may leave us.”
“But, My Queen!”
“This is a matter for Lady Maccon and I, alone.”
Alexia said quickly, “Countess, may I present Major Channing?”
“You may. Major Channing and I are already acquainted. I’m sure he won’t mind allowing us a few moments of privacy?”
Major Channing looked like he would mind, but realizing that Dr. Caedes was about to leave his queen with a preternatural decided it was all in good faith.
“I shall be just outside the door, my lady, should you need anything.”
Alexia nodded. “Thank you, Channing. I’m convinced all will be well.”