Sophronia sank into the shadows. She couldn’t afford a confrontation with her old nemesis, not if she wished to stay in character. Sophronia had to bite down her pert answers at the best of times, and Monique practically begged for them. Agatha was never pert and rarely had answers. Better to avoid all contact.
So far as Sophronia knew, Monique’s main drone assignment was to keep an eye on the Picklemen. Their free enhancements to all mechanicals over the past six months must have driven her crazy. Despite vampire opposition, anyone who owned a mechanical was delighted to see it upgraded with a new crystalline valve frequensor, which reputedly fixed the spontaneous opera problem of last winter and improved performance.
Sophronia, her friends, Monique, the vampires, and a handful of others knew the real reason for the valves. The Picklemen wanted complete control over all the mechanicals in England. Yet since the upgrade, no attempt to seize that control had occurred. The vampires’ fuss over the enhancements had been dismissed as supernatural hysteria by the government and passed unnoticed by the popular press. Everyone who knew there would be a problem was forced into waiting for that problem to occur. And they had no idea what the Picklemen intended to do with their army of mechanical domestic servants. Last time all they’d done was have them sing “Rule, Britannia!” What was next? A ruthless bout of ballet?
Still, if Monique is supposed to be monitoring the situation, static as it may be, what is she doing here?
Someone sat down in the chair recently vacated by Pillover.
“Ria, my dove, it has been too long.”
Sophronia had actually relaxed her guard. Debut move! She marshaled her irritation into a defensive mask of Agatha-like nervousness. “Why, Lord Mersey, how do you do?”
“Like that, are we?”
Felix was no intelligencer. His training was in machinations and evil machinery. He cut directly to the point, with no attempt at subterfuge, “He’s my father, Ria. I had no choice.”
There is always a choice, or at least evasive tactics, would have said Sophronia. “Why, my lord, I’m afraid I fail to follow your meaning,” she said as Agatha.
“Please don’t be like that. He is working to save the country. Save the Empire. His ends are noble.”
How unexpectedly revealing. How much, Sophronia wondered, can Agatha get out of Felix where Sophronia failed? She had underestimated how much he wanted her good opinion. Not to mention how much frustration brought about confession.
“My lord, please, that isn’t necessary.”
“Ria! What else was I to do? Surely you would have done the same in my position.”
White-hot anger almost threw Agatha out of Sophronia’s head. She might be a spy, and a relatively good one, but she was loyal to her friends. Felix had betrayed them all, not only Sophronia, when he revealed their disguises. And then…
“Your father killed Soap,” she hissed, breaking character.
Felix was cheered by her return to form. “Ria, my dove, look on the bright side, at least he has stopped trying to kill you.”
Only because I’ve been safely at school for three-quarters of a year. If there was anywhere the Picklemen couldn’t infiltrate, it was a mobile academy for female intelligencers.
She reached once more for Agatha’s quiet spirit. “Oh, Lord Mersey, you are so droll. What makes you think I care two whits for your father’s murderous opinion?” She tapped his arm with her fan in a self-conscious flirtation, as though she were awkwardly following instructions. On the pullback from the tap, she sent the wrist swirl signal with her closed fan, Damsel in need of rescue. She had no idea if Dimity would see, but she required an extraction.
Felix looked grim. “Back to that, are we? Very well, if you insist on playing games. Would you care to dance? You’d be afforded the opportunity to cut me in public by leaving me on the floor as per usual.”
If Sophronia had any guilt over her shoddy behavior in the past, his ungentlemanly mention of it certainly cured her. She’d had good reason for abandoning him on the dance floor, every time. It was poor manners for him to discuss her indiscretions.
Then, of all people, Agatha came whirling up. Her partner, Lord Dingleproops, seemed taken with the pearl-drenched Agatha version of Dimity. Odd, as he had once rejected Dimity herself.
“My lord, might we rest a moment?” Agatha whipped out her fan, in evident need of cooling. You requested rescue? she signaled Sophronia.
Sophronia blew out her cheeks in a sigh of both exasperation and relief.
Agatha understood this silent commentary on social predicament. She turned her attention onto Felix. “Lord Mersey, how do you do this fine evening?”
Felix looked confused. Prior to that, Agatha had barely strung three words together in his presence. “Miss, uh, Woosmoss, is it?”
Agatha curtsied. “I understand from Lord Dingleproops that you are something of a whiz with waistcoats? He claims you have three apparatus, a monocle, and a pack of cards stashed at all times. Is this true?”
Felix was no inferior gentlemen to resist a request from any lady when couched in such incontestable terms. He stood, bowing over Agatha’s proffered hand. “Dear lady, indeed it is.”
Agatha tittered. “La, my lord, how droll of you. Can you show me any of them without, ah-hem, unbuttoning?”
Sophronia was driven to gasp! To mention the act of undress, and to a young man of little acquaintance! That was flirting beyond even Dimity. Agatha was taking things too far.