The dark-haired boy made his way across the room to Sophronia, despite the fact that Monique had moved to intercept him. He avoided her with consummate adroitness.
“We meet again, Miss Temminnick.”
“To be perfectly correct, sir, we have never properly met at all.”
He gave a little half smile. “Of course, one must always be correct.”
“Oh, haven’t you heard, sir?” Monique said. “Sophronia is always correct.”
“Is that your given name, Sophronia? Pretty.”
“Sophronia Temminnick. And it most certainly isn’t pretty. It’s a mouthful. Now, shall we do this properly? Lady Linette is watching.”
“Whatever you like, Ria.”
“Miss Temminnick to you,” hissed Sophronia.
The boy smiled wider. His eyes were a very nice shade of blue. “No, I prefer Ria.” He grasped her hand. His thumb made its way inside the top of her glove to caress her wrist. Scandalous.
Sophronia jerked away. “Stop that.” Her heart was racing. Undoubtedly in anger.
Lady Linette was upon them. “Show me.”
The dark-haired boy—I still don’t know his name, pox upon him—stopped smiling and made a very neat bow to Sophronia, as though he were encountering her at a hive house door.
Lady Linette did not look inspired.
Sophronia executed a near perfect curtsy in reply, perhaps a little brief.
Lady Linette called her out. “Why so curt, Miss Temminnick?”
“We haven’t been introduced. I wouldn’t want him to get ideas.”
“You wish to discourage the hive? Did I say we were practicing ways to dissuade a vampire’s interest?”
“You did not direct us to focus on encouragement or reluctance.”
“Very well, proceed.”
The dark haired boy said, “How do you do? My name is Mersey, Felix Mersey.”
Lady Linette interrupted him. “Family names only, young man. What kind of lady do you take her for?”
Felix smiled that quirky half smile. “The best kind, of course.”
Lady Linette was shocked. “Mr. Mersey!”
Lord Dingleproops said, from where he partnered a self-satisfied Preshea, “Actually, my lady, he’s a Golborne.”
Lady Linette was impressed. “Son of the viscount?”
The four boys in the class laughed.
Felix Mersey said softly, “Golborne is a duchy, my lady.”
“And Felix here is the eldest,” added Lord Dingleproops.
Lady Linette looked even more impressed, for that meant that Mersey was a landed title, his father’s second holding.
Sophronia narrowed her eyes. Heir to a duke, is he? No wonder he’s so arrogant. The entirety of Monique’s attention swung in their direction. Felix Mersey outranked everyone else in the room. Monique’s two years older than him, at the very least. She should be looking for someone her own age!
“We call him Felix. Doesn’t hold with titles, do you, Viscount?”
“A luxury only the titled can afford, I’m sure,” said Sophronia.
“Don’t worry, Ria,” a molasses voice whispered near her ear. “You will call me Felix, regardless.”
A fan snapped down between them. “None of that! No vampire would ever be so intimate!” Lady Linette did not hold with obvious flirting. Flirting, yes, but not obvious flirting.
Felix said, pertly, “I object to having to portray a vampire. It is beneath me.”
Lady Linette rolled her eyes and clapped for everyone’s attention. “Now, gentlemen, I understand that Bunson’s predisposition is against any contact with vampires, but the fact is they pervade high society, and you will have to fraternize with them eventually. It is always better to be prepared. And what better way to understand the enemy than to pretend to be one?”
This mollified Felix. Sophronia wondered at the strength of his dislike. With Professor Braithwope, who was a dear, as her primary model, Sophronia was rather more in favor of vampires than against. She’d been raised relatively progressive. She didn’t think her father had any business dealings with vampires or werewolves, but she was tolerably certain he wouldn’t be against such a thing.
“How do you do, Lord Mersey?”
“It is a very great pleasure to make your acquaintance at last, Miss Temminnick. Amusing reticule you have.” Felix gestured to where Bumbersnoot sat, discarded among the other accessories on Lady Linette’s mantelpiece.
“Oh, yes, indeed. A gift from a friend, Italian design. How do you feel about the weather? One might expect rain soon, might one not?”
Lady Linette interrupted, “Weather is only safe with a male vampire. Never discuss the weather with a queen. Since she can not leave her hive house, this is considered a rude reminder of her loss of freedom. Lord Mersey, how would a vampire respond?”
“Rain, in your glorious presence, Miss Temminnick? I hardly think it should dare.”
Lady Linette interjected. “No, no, too much flattery. Only roves would be so aggressive. Miss Temminnick, a rebuttal, if you would?”
Sophronia said, “And how are you enjoying your sojourn on board our ship?”
Lady Linette said, “Nicely played, except, of course, no vampire except Professor Braithwope floats. We are pretending that Lord Mersey is a hive-bound vampire. Let us say, instead, that you are both visiting Vauxhall Gardens of an evening.”
Felix’s eyes twinkled at her. “I’m finding myself quite enchanted with… gardens, at the moment.”