He looked up to see Madame Lefoux. She carried in with her the slightly putrid scent of London and her own special blend of vanilla and machine oil. She was looking exceptionally well, Biffy thought. Life in the country clearly agreed with her. She was not, perhaps, so dandified in dress and manner as Biffy and his set, but she certainly knew how to make the most of somber blues and grays. He wondered, not for the first time, what she might look like in a proper gown. Biffy couldn’t help it, he was excessively fond of female fashions and could not quite understand why a woman, with so many delicious options, might choose to dress and live as a man.
“Another satisfied customer, Mr. Biffy?”
“Mrs. Colindrikal-Bumbcruncher has the taste level of an ill-educated parboiled potato.”
“Revolting female,” agreed the Frenchwoman amiably, “and her gowns are always so well made. Makes her that much more vexing. Did you know her daughter is engaged to Captain Featherstonehaugh?”
Biffy raised one eyebrow. “And he’s not the first, I hear.”
“Why, Mr. Biffy, you talk such scandal.”
“You wrong me, Madame Lefoux. I never gossip. I observe. And then relay my observations to practically everyone.”
The inventor smiled, showing her dimples.
“How may I help you this evening?” Biffy put on his shopboy persona. “A new chapeau, or were you thinking about some other fripperies?”
“Oh, well, perhaps.” Madame Lefoux’s reply was vague as she looked about her old establishment.
Biffy tried to imagine it through her eyes. It was much the same. The hats still dangled from long chains so that patrons had to push their way through swaying tendrils, but the secret door was now even more well hidden behind a curtained-off back area, and he had expanded recently, opening up a men’s hats and accessories section.
The Frenchwoman was drawn into examination of a lovely top hat in midnight blue velvet.
“That would suit your complexion very well,” commented Biffy when she fingered the turn of the brim.
“I am sure you are right, but not tonight. I simply came to visit the old place. You have tended it well.”
Biffy gave a little bow. “I am but a steward to your vision.”
Madame Lefoux huffed in amusement. “Flatterer.”
Biffy never knew where he stood with Madame Lefoux. She was so very much outside his experience: an inventor, a scientist, and middle class, with a marked preference for the company of young ladies and an eccentricity of dress that was too restrained to be unstudied. Biffy didn’t like enigmas—they were out of fashion.
“I have recently come from seeing Lord and Lady Maccon at the theater.”
Biffy was willing to play along. “Oh, indeed? I thought it was bath night.”
“Apparently, Lord Akeldama was left to muddle through alone.”
“It occurred to me that we have switched places, you and I.”
The French, thought Biffy, could be very philosophical. “Come again?”
“I have become a reluctant drone to vampires and you nest in the bosom of the Maccon home and hearth.”
“Ah, were you once in that bosom? I had thought you never quite got all the way inside. Not for lack of trying, of course.”
The Frenchwoman laughed. “Touché.”
The front door tinkled again. Busy night for new moon. Biffy looked up, smile in place, knowing he made a fetching picture. He wore his very best brown suit. True, his cravat was tied more simply than he liked—his new claviger needed training—and his hair was slightly mussed. His hair was always slightly mussed these days despite liberal application of Bond Street’s best pomade. One, apparently, had to bear up under such tribulations when one was a werewolf.
Felicity Loontwill entered the shop and wafted over to him in a flutter of raspberry taffeta and a great show of cordiality. She smelled of too much rose water and too little sleep. Her dress was very French, her hair was very German, and her shoes were quite definitely Italian. He could detect the odor of fish oil.
“Mr. Rabiffano, I was so hoping you would be here. And Madame Lefoux, how unexpectedly delightful!”
“Why, Miss Loontwill, back from your European tour already?” Biffy didn’t like Lady Maccon’s sister. She was the type of girl who would show her neck to a vampire one moment and her ankle to a chimney sweep the next.
“Yes. And what a bother it was. Two years abroad with absolutely nothing to show for it.”
“No delusional Italian count or French marquis fell in love with you? Shocking.” Madame Lefoux’s green eyes twinkled.
The door jingled again and Mrs. Loontwill and Lady Evelyn Mongtwee entered the shop. Lady Evelyn headed immediately toward a spectacular hat of chartreuse and crimson, while Mrs. Loontwill followed her other daughter up to the counter.
“Oh, Mama, do you remember Mr. Rabiffano? He belongs to our dear Alexia’s household.”
Mrs. Loontwill looked at the dandy suspiciously. “Oh, does he, indeed? A pleasure to meet you, I’m sure. Come away, Felicity.”
Mrs. Loontwill didn’t even glance in Madame Lefoux’s direction.
The three ladies then gave their undivided attention to the hats while Biffy tried to comprehend what they were about.
Madame Lefoux voiced his thoughts. “Do you think they are actually here to shop?”
“I believe Lady Maccon is not receiving them at present, so they may be after information.” He looked suspiciously at the Frenchwoman. “Now that Felicity has returned, will she be rejoining the Woolsey Hive?”