Home > How To Marry A Werewolf (Claw & Courtship #1)(13)

How To Marry A Werewolf (Claw & Courtship #1)(13)
Author: Gail Carriger

Faith found herself smiling. “Well, I’m fine with it. I don’t think I’d make Mr Nightingale a very good wife.”

Teddy was shocked enough to snap her fan closed and lean forward. “Cousin, you grossly undervalue yourself!”

No, I don’t, thought Faith. For while Mr Nightingale’s family may rise above my lowly American state, they could never rise above my other deficiencies of womanhood.

She dared not say it, but in his way, Major Channing was doing her a service. She had no desire to secure any mortal gentleman’s full attention. She did not consider herself available to a wholesome, proper husband, no matter how kind his words or genuine his interest. She was, after all, soiled goods. No decent man should want her and she was not about to ruin any man’s life with her affection. Werewolves were another matter.

But there were only the three werewolves present at the ball. Lord Falmouth was unavailable, and Major Channing was impossible, and Professor Lyall… well, Professor Lyall was interesting.

Faith danced one dance with the London Pack Beta. She found Professor Lyall relaxed and, if not overly scintillating like the Alpha, at least not cold and fierce, like the Gamma. In fact, the good professor was oddly restful and accommodating – for a predator.

He mentioned the major, but only insofar as to say, “I should warn you of his nature, Miss Wigglesworth, but I suspect that is part of the appeal.”

“I haven’t any designs on Major Channing, I promise. Despite whatever he’s said to you.”

“That may not matter.”

“I’ll be careful.”

“That may not matter either.”

Faith wondered if she could make delicate enquiries after other members of his pack. After all, he should know of any suitable, well, suitors amongst the ranks. But she was frightened to be on the receiving end of one of his sardonically raised eyebrows.

Professor Lyall was overly enigmatic, but she ended up liking him. They talked of rocks (despite Mrs Iftercast’s warning) and he had a scientist’s appreciation for her enthusiasm. He himself was more interested in animal husbandry, although the moniker of professor was honorific rather than descriptive. While their particular intellectual pursuits did not intersect, their spirits of inquiry were well matched.

He left her, after their dance, feeling enriched for the brief encounter and somewhat saddened that it was not he who set her pulse racing. For if any werewolf were to make a fine husband, it would be Professor Lyall.

But while Faith had been given a task by her family, a match to make and future to secure, she had her own agenda. She would marry a werewolf if she must, but she knew enough to wish for something more than complacency in a match. There would be no children, no growing old together. Knowing this, Faith wanted what she was not supposed to want at all and should know even less about. She wanted what had nearly destroyed her.

She wanted passion.

Faith danced twice with Alpha Biffy, Lord Falmouth. He was a most excellent dancer, to the precise step and not beyond. Not very imaginative, but then, he couldn’t be anymore. The last of his mortality had taken with it most of his creativity, or so most physicians believed. Only his lovely hats now remained. Nevertheless, she enjoyed his dancing. Biffy made her laugh with his pithy commentary on the gathering and did not mention Major Channing at all.

When their second dance was over, Major Channing came once more to loom next to her, saying nothing. Biffy bowed himself away with a knowing smile.

“Your Alpha doesn’t seem very fierce,” Faith commented at last, genuinely interested but also desperate for something to say. Of course, what she was really saying was, I understand that he isn’t for me. And I’m not for him. He’s too much a dandy and not enough a danger.

She tried not to sound at all disappointed.

“Fierce? No. He does not need to be. That is what I am for.” Major Channing left her again, looking reassured by their brief exchange and a little smug.

Only one incident marred Faith’s enjoyment of the festivities. It was heralded by a slight hush about the room. Faith raised her head to find her card seized without ceremony and signed by the vampire, Lord Ambrose. He gave her a nod and then drifted away, only for her to discover that he had demanded the dinner dance.

During the course of their subsequent reel, she was given cause to suspect he looked upon her as the dinner.

“You are quite the excitement of the evening, Miss Wigglesworth.” The vampire spoke gallantly as he led her into the pattern. He was very stiff in his movements.

“I assure you, sir, it’s a big surprise to me, too.”

“Is it indeed? I suspected it to be, in fact, by carefully crafted design. Lord Falmouth has taken an interest. Your attire reflects his taste and not inconsiderable influence. Do you deny it?”

“I’m honored by the smallest scrap of his attention.”

“Yes, he has that effect. You know he could have been one of ours had Lord Akeldama not bungled his household management? Such a tragedy.”

Faith thought of Biffy and the way he looked at his Beta with eyes that shone. “I think he’s good where he is. And your comments to a stranger on the matter might be considered impertinent.”

“You dare to reprimand me over a breach in etiquette, as though I were a schoolgirl?”

“You are gossiping like one,” Faith snapped back, daring a cheeky smile.

Lord Ambrose started at that. A spider who thought he had caught her in his web, only to find the web itself shaken and disrupted.

He leaned in, too close but still the correct distance to whirl her around the floor. “You are a ripe and ready young thing. Bold. Is it the American upbringing?”

“Maybe.” Faith thought it probably paid to be cautious with vampires.

His smile was both pointed and pointy.

Their reel ended, and Faith was profoundly grateful for the short and invigorating nature of a dance that prohibited too much intimate talk. Then she was horrified to remember that this was the dinner dance and he was shortly to find her a plate and keep her company while she ate.

Lord Ambrose led her from the floor. His touch was cold. He seemed some marble god of old somehow squeezed into the confines of polite society.

“I see why the werewolves like you.” It might have been a compliment.

“Do you indeed?” said a mellow voice, all the more threatening for its calmness.

Major Channing was back. He moved in a delicate but firm motion, and Faith found herself neatly separated from the vampire. The werewolf now stood between her and Lord Ambrose.

Lord Ambrose hissed, surprised and snakelike. “That was the dinner dance.”

“You signed for it without request. I watched you. Regardless, she is American. She knows not what she offers, to dance the repast reel with a vampire.”

“Ignorance of social rules does not pardon her blunder.”

“You’re crabby because you’re hungry. That does not change the fact that this one was my prey from the beginning.” Channing’s tone was beyond mocking.

Lord Ambrose looked highly affronted. “You cannot have a prior claim to this lady.”

“I saw her first,” answered Major Channing, sounding not unlike a child with his favorite toy.

“Never doubt, wolf, that we make the rules here. Have you offered her a claviger contract?”

“Stand down, blood-sucker.” Channing sounded every inch the soldier.

Faith looked between the two posturing predators. “What about what I want?”

The two men looked at her, startled.

She turned to Lord Ambrose. “No thanks for my part, in either regard. I don’t want to be your meal for the evening, nor your indentured drone for the year. I’m not creative, even if I were interested in metamorphosis. Which I’m not. Besides, as a woman, my chances of surviving a bite are tiny. Frankly, I don’t like those odds and I find the idea of immortality off-putting. Although you honor me with your consideration.”

She added that last bit because he was, after all, a vampire and an aristocrat. It wouldn’t do to cause offense.

Channing grumbled. “He should have put it in writing.”

Faith knew little about vampire drones and only slightly more about clavigers. She had once spent too much time with a claviger, but Kit had been cagey about the details of his service. She knew they provided daylight protection for their supernatural masters and that they worked to curry enough favor and show enough potential to be turned immortal. Vampire drones, Faith felt, probably had it worse, since they were also food.

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