Home > How To Marry A Werewolf (Claw & Courtship #1)(11)

How To Marry A Werewolf (Claw & Courtship #1)(11)
Author: Gail Carriger

“Oh, what a good idea,” said Teddy.

Minnie perked up from where she had been watching the fitting avidly. “I’d love it, miss!”

Miss Honeybun looked cautiously relieved. “Are you adept with a needle, girl?”

Minnie nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

Miss Honeybun’s smile was tight-lipped, but not mean. “I cannot ask for more. Are you willing to leave her with me immediately, miss?”

“Minnie?” asked Faith.

“Yes, please, miss.”

“Teddy, will I do without a maid for tonight?”

“I’ll loan you Emeline for your hair if necessary.”

Mrs Iftercast stood at that. “If that’s settled? I think we had best get on, my dears. You’ll need white gloves for that dress, Faith. Do you have opera-length?”

Faith nodded.

“Oh, good. I’m assuming you have dancing slippers? Yes? Good. Then we only require something for your hair and a ribbon for your neck. Miss Honeybun, can you whip up something to match or should we shop further?”

“I am a full-service concern, Madame, and with this one’s help, all should be ready in time for your ball.”

“You’re terrific,” praised Faith, because she was. Also, Miss Honeybun seemed to be bristling slightly at an assumed insult to her skills, and one did not want one’s dressmaker in a snit.

It worked. Miss Honeybun blushed. “You haven’t seen the finished product yet, miss.”

“I have faith in you,” said Faith, because she felt the woman needed it. And then: “Have fun, Minnie. Let me know how it goes and if you require anything, please.”

“Yes, miss.”

The big night had arrived and Mrs Iftercast was patently nervous on the way to the ball. With Faith’s mother, this would have meant tiptoeing around her for fear of a slap or a cruel rebuke. But with Mrs Iftercast, it only manifested in the form of her talking nonstop in the Isopod. She issued instructions to her three children without pause for the entire quarter hour’s drive. Faith imagined her as a small, round brigadier hell-bent on strategic attacks of virulent politeness.

“Theodora, do not talk overmuch of horses. You know horses and werewolves are not compatible. It might offend the supernatural guests.”

“Yes, Mums.”

“Cyril, please don’t disappear immediately into the card room. You must dance at least once with your sister and once with Miss Wigglesworth. And check back as the evening progresses. I expect both my girls to have full dance cards, but you must do your duty to the family first, before you go gambling away the family’s money.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Colin, try not to bumble. You will keep bumbling your Viennese waltz. Better not to undertake it at all than be a bumbler. And do not pay too frequent address to that young Miss Fernhough. She’s too young. You both are.”

“But Mother! Miss Fernhough is a pip.”

“Such vulgar language! One dance and one dance only. Now, Faith dear…”

“Yes, cousin?”

“Of course, you look absolutely ravishing, but perhaps no mention of rocks right away?”

“Not a single sedimentary sequence shall pass my lips, I promise.” Faith attempted to look grave.

“I don’t know what that means, dear, but thank you. Now, are we ready?”

The Isopod hissed to a stop.

Papworth House was a large concern with a most excellent aspect and desirable address. Faith would have known all this as they trod up the stairs even if Mrs Iftercast hadn’t seen fit to tell her of it at length.

They arrived fashionably late, although not so late as to have missed the receiving line.

It was one of the first prestigious events of the season, so everyone who was anyone was in attendance. Either Mrs Iftercast or Teddy constantly explained precedence in Faith’s ear as they waited. Before they even gave over their wraps, Faith counted nearly a dozen explanations as to who else important was arriving alongside and who was who in the receiving line. Once through that hubbub and into the ballroom itself, it became a constant barrage of who was everyone and anyone of note.

There were major politicians, minor royalty, aristocrats of every ilk, acceptable gentry, leading members of the ton, the very wealthy (which included a few fellow Americans), and, of course, noted members of the supernatural set. Because the hosts were progressive, the bevy of musicians set to entertain were drones belonging to the Wimbledon Hive. There were some clearly theatrical young men sent to fill the numbers and dance with all the ladies, but whom Faith took note to avoid, because they were clavigers. Faith had mingled with clavigers before, much to her shame. She would not ruin her chances in London.

There was one solitary vampire, the stunning Lord Ambrose, about whom all in attendance were curious. The last few decades, he’d rarely left his hive, and to have stretched his tether so far as Papworth House was an honor for all concerned (and a sublime coup for the hostess).

Lastly, there were three members of the London Pack – its Alpha, its Beta, and, much to everyone’s shock, its Gamma. Major Channing caused quite the stir, as he never attended social events and eschewed balls as if they conferred alongside the punch some plague only werewolves could catch. And he was not wearing gloves. At a ball!

Lady Papworth-Walmsley was in ecstasies. Teddy explained that hers would be the assembly to beat for the remainder of the season. So long as the evening went smoothly, of course.

“No doubt she is a little nervous to have werewolves and a vampire. It’s known they rarely mingle well. But I suspect even an altercation could only add to her standing.”

“Teddy! You are wicked. Do you think it likely?” Faith’s eyes flicked between the vampire to one side of the room, and Biffy and his Beta (a nondescript sandy-haired gentleman) on the other.

Teddy scoffed. “With Lord Falmouth present? I think it highly unlikely. He is so civilized, especially with his Beta nearby. But Lord Ambrose is an unknown entity. Just look at him. There is a gentleman who could tempt any young lady into sin.”

Faith could only agree. On an aesthetic level, Lord Ambrose formulated anyone’s ideal of what a vampire ought to look like. He was tall, dark, and handsome with a pale, sardonic brow and sculpted lips. Even as she stared, he seemed to sense her regard, and his eyes, predatory and sharp, homed in upon her. He took in her dress and hair and then focused on her neck, white and exposed with only the narrow velvet ribbon to indicate she was not available for feeding. He looked like he wanted to lick his lips.

Faith only barely kept herself from flinching.

His eyes caught on something behind her, and he sneered and turned back to his conversation, expression just this side of insultingly bored.

“Lazuli,” said a voice with which Faith was now unfortunately familiar.

Faith prepared for battle and turned to face a man equally as tall, with lips equally as shapely as those of Lord Ambrose, but with maybe too many teeth and eyes the opposite of dark and brooding. “Major Channing. How are you this evening?”

“Very well.” He looked it too, his lanky form in perfectly executed evening wear. His blond hair was queued neatly back.

“I understand this is not your typical haunt, sir.”

“Haunting? No. Hunting, yes. Would you like to dance?”

Faith fumbled with her chatelaine, searching for her card.

“Now.”

Faith offered up her hand, feeling, it must be admitted, a little overwhelmed by his presence and by his insistence. She shivered, thrilled.

This was what she’d always hoped for in a werewolf.

They had a simple waltz. His hand on her back was sure and cool and very strong. She could feel power in those fingers, that supernatural strength, not that he muscled her about the floor, but it colored all his actions with caution. He did not wish to hurt her.

“How goes your hunting, Miss Wigglesworth?”

“I’ve not gone hiking for rocks yet. Although I seem to have caught myself some hats.”

He seemed to be trying not to smile. “That was not the hunting to which I referred.”

“Isn’t it gauche to talk of such things?”

“Look around you, my Lazuli, see all the matrons with their precious daughters? See how they bend and flutter. See how they circle in on prospects and targets. Hunting is Britain’s favorite sport, especially amongst the ladies of the ton.”

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