“I believe we may, just possibly, survive, my little periwinkle.”
Lady Maccon smiled and was about to head upstairs to change her gown when someone pulled the bell rope. Being already in the hallway and hoping to keep Prudence from waking, Lord Maccon dashed to answer the door despite the fact that this was most unbecoming for a werewolf of his station, and it was someone else’s house.
“Oh, really, Conall. Do try not to behave like a footman,” remonstrated his wife.
Ignoring her, Lord Maccon opened the door with a flourish and a tiny bow—as behooved a footman.
Lady Maccon cast her hands up in exasperation.
Fortunately it was only Professor Lyall on the stoop. If any man was used to Lord Maccon’s disregard for all laws of propriety and precedence, it was his Beta. “Oh, good, my lord. I was hoping to catch you here.”
“Dolly darling!” said Lord Akeldama.
Professor Lyall didn’t even twitch an eyelid at the appalling moniker.
“You had a visitor, my lord,” said the Beta to his Alpha, looking refined.
Alexia was confident enough in her assessment of Lyall’s character to spot a certain tension. He displayed quick efficiency under most circumstances. Such forced calm as this indicated a need for caution.
Her husband knew this, too. Or perhaps he smelled something. He loosened his stance, prepared to fight. “BUR or pack business?”
“Oh, must I? Is it terribly important? We are required out of town.”
Alexia interrupted. “I alone am required. You, as I understand it, my love, were simply coming along out of curiosity.”
Conall frowned. His wife knew perfectly well that the real reason he wished to accompany her was for security. He hated sending her into a hive alone. Alexia waggled her reticule at him. As yet, there was no new parasol in her life, but she still carried Ethel, and the sundowner gun was good enough when pointed at a vampire queen.
“I’m afraid this is important,” said a new voice from behind Professor Lyall, in the street.
Professor Lyall’s lip curled slightly. “I thought I told you to wait.”
“Dinna forget, I’m Alpha. You canna order me around like you do everyone else.”
Alexia thought that a tad unfair. Professor Lyall was many things, but he was not at all tyrannical. That was more Conall’s style. It might be better said that Professor Lyall arranged everyone and everything around him just so. Alexia didn’t mind in the least; she was rather fond of a nice arrangement.
A woman moved out of the gloom of the front garden and into the light cast by the bright gas chandeliers of Lord Akeldama’s hallway. Professor Lyall, polite man that he was, shifted to one side to allow their unexpected visitor to take center stage.
Sidheag Maccon, the Lady of Kingair, looked much the same as she had almost three years earlier, when Alexia had seen her last. Immortality had given her skin a certain pallor, but her face was still grim and lined about the eyes and mouth, and she still wore her graying hair back in one heavy plait, like a schoolgirl. She wore a threadbare velvet cloak that would do nothing to ward off the evening’s chill. Alexia noted the woman’s bare feet. Clearly, the cloak was not for cold but for modesty.
“Evening, Gramps,” said Lady Kingair to Lord Maccon, and then, “Grams,” to Alexia. Considering she looked older than both, it was an odd kind of greeting to anyone unfamiliar with the Maccon’s familial relationships.
“Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter,” responded Lord Maccon tersely. “To what do we owe this honor?”
“We have a problem.”
“Oh, do we?”
“Yes. May I come in?”
Lord Maccon shifted, making an open-hand gesture back at Lord Akeldama, this being the vampire’s house. Vampires were odd about inviting people in. Lord Akeldama had once muttered something about imbalance in the tether ratio after Lady Maccon entertained Mrs. Ivy Tunstell overly long in his drawing room. He seemed to have adjusted tolerably well to Prudence and her parents living under his roof, but after the Ivy tea incident, Alexia always made certain to entertain her guests next door, in her own parlor.
Lord Akeldama peeked over Lady Maccon’s shoulder, standing on tiptoe. “I don’t believe we have been introduced, young lady.” His tone of voice said much on the subject of any woman darkening his doorstep with plaited hair, a Scottish accent, and an old velvet cloak.
Alexia pivoted slightly and, after a quick consideration, decided Lady Kingair was just lady enough to warrant the precedence, and said, “Lady Kingair, may I introduce our host, Lord Akeldama? Lord Akeldama, this is Sidheag Maccon, Alpha of the Kingair Pack.”
Everyone waited a breath.
“I thought as much.” Lord Akeldama gave a little bow. “Enchanted.”
The female werewolf nodded.
The two immortals evaluated each other. Alexia wondered if either saw beyond the outrageousness of the other’s appearance. Lord Akeldama’s eyes gleamed and Lady Kingair sniffed at the air.
Finally Lord Akeldama said, “Perhaps you had best come in.”
Alexia felt a surge of triumph at the achievement of such civilized discourse under such trying social circumstances. Introductions had been made!
However, her pleasure was interrupted by a high-treble query from behind them. “Dama?”
“Ah, I see somebody is awake. Good evening, my puggle darling.” Lord Akeldama turned away from his new acquaintance to look fondly down the corridor.