With a cry of distress, he registered the smear of cream on his shiny shoe.
When he bent to examine the carnage, Sophronia shot.
She was still not fast enough.
He got the trencher up and caught her bolt at its center with one hand while his other was occupied extracting a handkerchief to repair the damage.
It was Sophronia’s last bolt. But she followed her shot with a charge, whipping out her bladed fan into an arc of deadly metal, the leather guard off and fallen to the deck.
She had it in and against the vampire’s neck before he could straighten upright.
He let her, surprised.
Professor Lefoux tutted. “Did I say other weapons were allowable? Besides, what good is that fan? It’s not wood.”
Sophronia snapped the fan closed and backed off. “I wanted to see if I could get that close.”
Professor Braithwope gave her a funny look. Well, funnier than usual. “You know, pretty little miss, you could have simply offered me your carnet de bal. I would be delighted to dance with you.”
“Oh, really, Sophronia, now you’re in the way of everyone else,” Professor Lefoux reprimanded her.
Sophronia turned to return to the line, but the vampire caught her hard about the waist and dragged her close.
Sophronia swallowed suddenly, frightened. Professor Braithwope’s eyes, absent of intelligence, followed the movement of the muscles in her throat.
Why didn’t I wear a high-necked gown?
“Sophronia.” Professor Lefoux’s voice was soft but firm. “Cover your neck and back away slowly.”
Sophronia could wriggle enough to bring her fan up and flick it open in front of her bare throat, but the vampire’s arm about her waist was like iron. She could not shift it, and she certainly could not back away.
“Don’t you want to dance, little one?” Professor Braithwope’s voice was a seductive rumble. His funny little mustache, always one to lead the charge, looked menacingly fluffy. It was like a cat with its back arched and its fur bristling. Below the bristle, Sophronia could see the points of fangs sticking out of his mouth.
“Your neck is very white,” complimented the vampire.
“Thank you.” Sophronia was pleased her voice didn’t shake. “I’ve worked hard over the years with lemon and buttermilk under Mademoiselle Geraldine’s guidance. I started out with freckles, you know?”
“I’ve always been fond of freckles.” Professor Braithwope leaned in. “Little spots of delicious seasoning, whot.”
Then Professor Lefoux was there, crowding in on them. She stuck her arm right in front of the vampire’s face. She had nicked her wrist slightly, probably on a crossbow bolt.
The arm around Sophronia’s waist slackened.
She spun out and dashed away, shaken.
Dimity hugged her with one arm. “You all right?”
Agatha’s eyes were huge with concern and she patted Sophronia’s shoulder in awkward sympathy.
Preshea muttered, “They ought not let him stay on board. He’s not safe. This is a school, for goodness’ sake!”
Sophronia jumped to the vampire’s defense, surprising everyone. “You think the outside world is so very safe?”
“You say that, after nearly being bitten?” Preshea was shocked.
“It’s happened before and it will happen again.” Sophronia reached for calm. Part of the training. Only Dimity could feel her shiver.
They watched—crossbows slack at their sides, resting among the folds of wide skirts—as Professor Braithwope sucked at Professor Lefoux’s wrist. It was oddly intimate and embarrassing and disgusting.
Sophronia looked away, busying herself by holstering her fan.
Dimity allowed herself to be shrugged off. “Sophronia?”
“I’m perfectly spiffy, thank you.” Sophronia’s voice was steady, though her brain kept reliving her brush with fang. She forced herself to analyze the encounter as Lady Linette instructed. After every unladylike action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Consider the necessary, analyze the consequences, clean up the mess.
Sophronia thought about the vampire’s movements and the strength in that arm encircling her waist. Professor Braithwope’s reflexes were good enough for the crossbow, but they weren’t what they once were. And he seemed only able to focus on one task at a time.
She moved away from the others, pretending to hunt for new bolts but really trying to control a sudden pang. Fear. Guilt. Grief. The vampire’s condition was deteriorating. It wasn’t only his self-control—it was his supernatural abilities as well. She had hoped a vampire could recover from tether snap. That if he stayed within his home territory of the airship, his tether would reestablish, and he would find his full wits once more. It seemed, instead, that he was getting worse. How did I miss that until now? How much have the other teachers been working to hide his condition?
She stared at Professor Lefoux, who was bandaging her wrist and leading the vampire away from the students. She looked tired and older than before.
Will he become even more dangerous? After all, werewolves went mad at full moon. What might happen to a vampire who was losing his mind? Preshea was correct, for even Geraldine’s girls weren’t equipped to deal with that. The debuts, for example, were at risk. She hoped the teachers were locking the vampire down after the students went to bed.
After his snack and a brief rest to digest, the vampire seemed able to continue the lesson. By the end of two hours the girls had sore arms and fingertips and were eager for supper. The incident seemed to have been largely forgotten as simply another one of Sophronia’s pranks—except by Sophronia.