Home > Imprudence (The Custard Protocol #2)(5)

Imprudence (The Custard Protocol #2)(5)
Gail Carriger

Dama gave Rue a reproving look. He bent over Lady Maccon, taking her bare hand in one of his. The action turned him human, as Mother’s preternatural power stole away his soul. It wasn’t like Rue’s abilities: Lady Maccon did not turn into a vampire herself. She simply made Dama mortal while he touched her. It was a mark of concern that he would take the risk; Dama was usually so careful about such things.

Mortal, Dama was less ethereal – less like some woodland sprite and more like a warn attic-bound artist with a taste for laudanum. There were lines on his face and smudges under his eyes. His hair was dulled to an ashy tone, and his movements became weighted.

“Don’t worry, Alexia, my dearest posy. We shall get you both moving soon. You’re right. It’s past time. We must merely find the right chivvy.”

Lady Maccon stood and reached for her trusty parasol. “I should go and find him. He’ll need my touch. Would you—?” She hesitated, unsure.

Another frisson of fear spun up Rue’s spine. Paw is ill; there’s no other explanation.

Lady Maccon closed her eyes and took a short breath. “Would you consider talking to Rabiffano? He might listen to you. Quite frankly, I’ve run out of options.”

Dama let go of her hand. His features and manners snapped back into smooth immortality. “I don’t know that it should come from me.”

“You’re right. I shouldn’t have asked. I apologise. I shall send an aetherogram to India. Perhaps it’s not too late.”

Dama smiled without showing fang, a sympathetic smile. “Now there, my dear dandelion, I can help you. I have already alerted them to the situation.”

Lady Maccon relaxed. “Good. Good. Thank you.”

“Mother, what is it? You’re looking quite green round the gears.”

“Infant, I do wish you wouldn’t use such ghastly modern vernacular. It’s nothing for you to worry about. Just… I should find that errant husband of mine.”

She whisked out of the house. She didn’t stride, not like Rue strode, although she was a good deal taller and more stride-worthy. No, Lady Maccon kept to the current fashions, her movements hindered by underskirts, but she still managed an air of purpose and authority which Rue envied. She’d never have her mother’s presence, curse it.

Rue turned back to her vampire father. “Dama, what on earth is going on? What is wrong with everyone? And why do we need the Kingair Pack? I assume that’s who you sent for in India.”

“Ah, my dearest Puggle, if your other parents haven’t told you, it’s not my place at all.”

Rue frowned. Someone else had said something exactly similar to her recently. Who was it? “You sound like Uncle Lyall,” she remembered out loud.

Lord Akeldama started. His mouth twisted a tiny bit. Which surprised Rue. Uncle Lyall, London Pack Beta before Uncle Rabiffano took over and now stationed with Kingair in India, was a sublimely good egg. Why should Dama not like him? Everyone liked him.

Dama would not allow her to question him further. “Enough, Puggle. This is not your problem to solve, especially when a solution is already in place. It simply needs to be acted upon.”

He was annoyed enough for Rue to hear some long-forgotten accent slip into his words. Everyone was fracturing this evening.

“I hate it when you are cryptic. I’m all grown up now, remember? I assure you I am equipped to handle truths.”

Dama tilted his head at her and raised his monocle. “No, I don’t think you are if it means too much change. But you’ll have to be soon. You were a little tough on your mother just now, dear. Not to put too fine a point on it.”

“Oh, really! That is unfair. I had no idea she would be sensitive. This is my mother we’re talking about. She’s never sensitive.”

Dama puffed out a suppressed laugh. “You must begin to think through the consequences of your actions. Sweetling, you’ve already caused an international incident and risked your own safety. You can’t go around mucking up London politics as well. They’re quite absurd enough already.”

“Are we still talking about Mother or have we moved back to the weremonkeys again? I am sorry I had to bargain away your tea, Dama. Really, I am. But I couldn’t think of another solution. I was trying to save lives.”

“Oh, lives.” The vampire flopped one hand dismissively. “I’m concerned about you, Puggle. You gave the queen her opening and she’s removed Crown protection. Plus you’ve achieved your majority, so you no longer have me as a guardian.”

“Freedom!” crowed Rue. “I shall shop wherever I please.” Rue had always known her majority had all kinds of legal repercussions, but she’d never bothered with the details except the part where she no longer had to do what any of her parents told her to do.

“Exactly, you take on great responsibility and danger now, my reckless little poppet. The proper shoes alone…”

Rue knew he was being flippant to cover genuine concern. “I know it doesn’t seem so to you, my darling Dama, but I’ve got old. Twenty-one and no one’s ward. But you needn’t worry. I’ve got my own dirigible and friends and everything. You and Mother and Paw have given me all the advantages of a” – she paused, struggling for the right words – “peculiar upbringing.”

Dama looked modestly pleased. “We have done our best. But, my dearest child, we have all trained you, in our way, to compensate for the mistakes of our own pasts. We cannot predict your future. I worry that you are no longer quite safe.”

“Isn’t that part of being an adult?”

“Yes, but you’re not the same type of adult. You’re unique, not exactly human, and there is some question as to your right to legally exist. I don’t think any of us fully understand the implications. Without government protection, or we vampires looking out for you, there are people who may want you dead.”

Rue rolled her eyes. Really, this was too far. “Everyone wants me dead. That’s nothing new. Dama, I love you, but you are overreacting. I can take care of myself.”

“Like you tried to take care of a drunken pack? You cannot expect me to believe that you stayed out of that, puglet. Your mother may be distracted, but I am not.”

Rue pursed her lips, suppressing the urge to frown furiously. All right, so she shouldn’t have challenged Channing, but someone had to do something! However, there was no way to justify the action to Dama when she was already fighting from an inferior position. She didn’t want to admit to any wrongdoing.

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