So Alexia found herself alone in a blue room with a vampire queen.
After Felicity and Madame Lefoux departed, the shop turned into a frenzy of fashionable ladies in pursuit of hats, but Biffy’s staff of assorted shopgirls had it well under control. He did a quick lap to ensure no lady was purchasing anything that did not suit her coloring, complexion, demeanor, station, or creed. He then left his accessories to the tender mercies of Britain’s shopping public and retired down to the contrivance chamber to catch up on necessary paperwork. He was engaged at first, it must be admitted, in beautifying said paperwork by trimming the corners and adding necessary swirls and flowers to the text.
It had all happened rather organically. Because he was there most nights, and the contrivance chamber was the new dungeon for Lord Maccon’s wolves, Biffy had assumed responsibility for a good deal of pack organization. Professor Lyall didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he rather approved, so far as Biffy could tell. He wondered if the professor, after decades of sole stewardship, was relieved to have someone else take on part of the burden.
Since Madame Lefoux had removed all her machines, instruments, and gadgets, the contrivance chamber was a good deal more cavernous. Biffy thought it could use some nice rose-patterned wallpaper and a brocade cushion or two. But, given that its new purpose was as a full-moon prison, there was no point in wasting wallpaper on werewolves.
The dandy circled the huge room slowly, imagining himself swanking about a massive ballroom in one of Paris’s fancy hotels—except he was checking the security of the pulley system, not waltzing with worldly Parisian ladies in obscenely large headdresses. Everything seemed to be secure. Gustave Trouvé had done an excellent job. The massive cages, iron coated in a silver wash, were strong enough to hold even Lord Maccon, yet they rose to the ceiling via a cranking mechanism that even the weakest claviger could operate. Biffy looked up contemplatively at the bottoms of the cages and wondered if he might not turn them into some kind of chandelier. Or at least ornament them with some ribbons and a tassel or two.
He settled behind his small desk in one corner of the room. There was pack business to attend to: a puzzle over one of the new recruits and a petition from a loner for one of his clavigers to be put up for metamorphosis. Several hours later, he stood, stretched, and packed away his work. He considered the fact that all around town, plays were ending, clubs were filling with smoke and chatter, and the gentlemen follies were at large. Perhaps he might change and catch the last of the evening’s entertainment before sunrise. He had been required, by dint of association, to give over some of his dandified ways after becoming a werewolf, but not all of them. He fingered delicately the unruly curls of his hair. Some young men about town had recently assumed a certain level of scruff and simulated messiness. Biffy liked to think it was his influence.
The pack town house was dark. Everyone was taking advantage of the lures that London had to offer with little risk of accidental change for the youngsters or chronic boredom for the elders. He was making his way upstairs when he caught a smell, an unusual one not ordinarily associated with his abode. Something spicy and exotic and—he paused, trying to think—sandy. He turned, tracking with small short sniffs, following the alien scent toward the back of the house and the servants’ domain.
Biffy heard the murmur of voices, his fine wolf hearing alerting him even through the shut kitchen door. Men’s voices, one of them deep and authoritative, the other higher and more lilting. The first sounded familiar, but it was difficult to tell who it was, as they both were speaking in a foreign tongue Biffy couldn’t quite place.
The conversation ended and the outer door to the kitchen opened and shut, letting in the sound of the back alley and a brief whiff of rubbish. Lightning fast, Biffy nipped into the shadows under the staircase at the far side of the hall, watching for the other party of the conversation.
Floote emerged from the room. The butler did not notice Biffy, merely gliding about his duties.
Biffy stood a long time in the dark, thinking. Then he realized what language it had been. Interesting that Lady Maccon’s pet butler spoke fluent Arabic.
“Well.” Alexia stood before the queen of the Woolsey Hive and narrowed her eyes at the woman. “Here I am, Countess, at your disposal. How can I help?”
“Now, Lady Maccon, is that any way to address your betters?” Countess Nadasdy didn’t move from her stiff pose.
Alexia privately suspected, due to the tightness of the dress, that she couldn’t.
“You have taken me away from an evening with my family, Countess.”
“Yes, on the subject of which, we understood Lord Akeldama would have primary care for the abomination and yet…” The vampire let her words trail off.
Alexia understood perfectly. “Yes, and he does. Prudence lives with him. And please refer to my daughter by her name.”
“But you live next door and visit quite frequently, I understand.”
“It is necessary.”
“A mother’s love or a child’s affliction?” The countess widened her cornflower-blue eyes significantly.
“Someone has to cancel her out.”
The countess grinned suddenly. “Difficult is she, the soul-stealer?”
“Only when she isn’t herself.”
“Fascinating way of putting it.”
“You simply must learn to relax your standards, Countess, or Prudence could run ragged all over London, even getting so far as Barking.” Alexia, nettled that she had been offered neither seat nor tea, allowed some of her annoyance to creep into her voice. “Is this the nature of your summons or did you have something particular you wished to discuss with me?”